Jun woke up. It was only a minor change to her mental state, from less aware to more aware, and she resented it. When she slept, she could ignore the pain in her heart, that gnawed at her every day. While she was awake, it was all she could think about.
Jun hadn’t really gotten out of bed much at all, in the last two months. Occasionally, she would get dressed, and go downstairs to the Snack J, at Jinpei’s urging, but she would just sit listlessly, staring at the walls, until she could sneak back upstairs, to her room, again. She knew Jinpei was worried about her; that everyone was worried about her, but she didn’t think this was going to change.
The world was at peace, but Jun was not. Joe was dead.
At first, her mind didn’t really comprehend this fact, and she had managed to get through the first few days as an automaton, working on instinct, and memory. But as the days passed, and her duties as the Swan grew less and less, she retreated from the world more and more. She often wished that she were dead too, because she couldn’t fathom living like this any longer. And yet, somehow, days turned into nights, and nights turned into yet more days, and now, it had been almost 10 weeks since his death.
10 weeks without him. It felt like an eternity.
Once, they had pledged that they had all the time in the world. They wanted to take things slowly. And they did. For awhile. Until the roaring maelstrom of their feelings for each other had caught them up in a fast and furious romance. They had been together a month before they had made love, and when they finally did, it had been glorious. It had been glorious every night afterwards, for the following month… until Joe became so ill.
At first, his headaches didn’t bother him so much, when he was with her. He claimed that her company could cure him of any illness. But as things got worse and worse, he had had to submit himself to Dr. Nambu’s care, and the nights of carefree love were over. Even then, Jun had stayed by his side as much as she could, and she had still thought they could get through this. It wasn’t until that fateful day when he said his goodbyes, on the grass at the entrance to that terrible Galactor base, that she had even accepted death as a real possibility.
Jun sighed and turned over, tears rolling down her cheeks.
Jinpei opened the door slightly, peering in at his sister. It was the same. He didn’t know why he expected this morning to be any different from the days before. It had been months, and Onechan was still grieving for Joe.
Jinpei had come to accept Joe, especially once he realized how happy he had made Onechan. Deep down, he still would have preferred that she be with Ken, but he also understood why she wasn’t. But now, of course, it was a different story. Joe was gone, and Ken was there. Joe had even told her to be with Ken. But Onechan was not ready.
Jinpei walked downstairs, with a heavy heart. He began to make breakfast for Jun, hoping that today, she might actually eat some of it. She was getting painfully thin.
A knock on the door startled him out of his depressing thoughts. He walked over to answer it, and saw that it was Ken.
Ken. Maybe he could talk some sense into Jun.
“Aniki. It’s good to see you.” he said. But his voice didn’t sound happy.
“How are things, Jinpei?” asked Ken. He was as concerned as Jinpei, if not more so.
“The same, Aniki. Jun is still…”
“I know.” Ken laid a comforting hand on Jinpei’s shoulder. “It’s not any better?”
Jinpei shook his head sadly. Then he looked up with a spark of hope in his eyes.
“Maybe, if you talked to her, Aniki…” he offered, “Maybe, if you went to see her, it would help.”
Ken shook his head vehemently. He had not spent much time with Jun, since the war had ended. He couldn't even think about talking to her, until she was past her grief for Joe. But it was hard on him too. Despite his feelings for Jun, Joe had been his friend too, and Ken had grieved in his own way. But it was time to move on. Only, Jun didn’t think so.
“How can I?” asked Ken, his doubts showing on his face, “How can I take his place? Is it even right?”
“He told you to, Aniki.” said Jinpei in a cold voice. He was getting fed up with Ken’s self-deprecating ways. “He wanted you to take care of her!”
This was something else that rankled Ken. Joe had given him permission to be with Jun. It was almost too much for his ego to bear. But deep down, he knew that Jinpei was right. Ken sighed. He saw the breakfast tray that Jinpei had been working on.
“Is that for Jun?” Ken asked. Jinpei nodded, a slow grin coming to his face. He couldn’t believe how much prodding it took, for Ken to do what he wanted to do anyway.
Ken picked up the tray and made his way upstairs to Jun’s room. When he arrived, he found the door ajar, and peeked inside. He hadn’t actually been near Jun in over a month and was shocked by what he saw.
Jun was sitting up on her rumpled bed, wearing one of Joe’s old Number 2 shirts. She had a dejected, far-away look. Even with her gaunt face, and dark circles under her eyes, she was hauntingly beautiful. Ken took a deep breath and entered the room.
“Breakfast is served, milady!” he joked with a smile.
Jun turned her head slowly to look at him.
“Thanks.” she muttered. Then she looked away again.
Uncertain, Ken set the tray down on a dresser. It would be so simple to just slink out, and not come back, but he knew he couldn’t take the easy way out. Instead, he forced himself to sit down next to Jun.
The silence between them was palpable. Jun gave no indication that she even knew he was still there.
“You can’t go on like this Jun.”
“We finally defeated Galactor. Katse is gone. You should have some peace in your heart.”
Jun quickly turned and glared at Ken, her eyes full of rage.
“I know!” Ken threw his hands up in surrender. “I know you’re having a tough time, dealing with Joe’s death. We all are. But it’s been more than two months, Jun. Two months.” Then he asked the million dollar question.
“When are you going to return to us, Jun?”
She pointedly turned her head away from him again.
Ken tried once more. “Joe didn’t want you to be like this.” He tipped her face up to his, so that she was forced to look at him. “If he could see you now…”
The thought was left hanging between them. Silent tears rolled down Jun’s face.
“Joe would want you to live your life. He wanted you to be happy.”
Jun’s face crumpled. “And I’ve let him down…” she whispered.
She collapsed into Ken’s arms. She clung desperately to him, as she remembered Joe’s final words to her.
You get along well with Ken now… go find yourself some happiness like other girls.
But how? How could she move on with her life, live her life, without Joe?
Deep inside, she knew Ken was right. Joe wouldn’t want her to be this way. He did want her happy, even if that meant… no. She couldn’t face that right now.
But the solid arms around her were comforting, and warm. She took the refuge they offered, and gained strength from it.
Jun’s emotional dam had burst forth, and was evidenced by the soaking of Ken’s shirt. He held her to his chest, stroking her hair as she cried. God, she felt good in his arms. How he had longed to be able to hold her, like this. To hold her, and protect her, and… He suddenly realized that even though she was in his arms, she was still wearing Joe’s shirt. His presence was still there.
‘But please, God’, he thought, ‘let it dissipate. She needs to let him go…’
He knew that his motives were not entirely honorable. It was too soon. But his face was buried in her hair, and the feel of her was intoxicating. He silently resolved to do what Joe had asked of him, and of Jun.
He didn’t want to think about whether it was for Joe’s sake, or for his.
After awhile, Jun seemed calmer. Reluctantly, Ken broke the mood by speaking.
“You need to eat, Jun. You need to regain your strength.”
Quietly, she nodded. He brought over the breakfast tray. Fortunately, Jinpei had only prepared some fruit and toast, so it wasn’t too bad at room temperature. Ken fed her small bites, and could see her chewing mechanically.
When she had finished, she looked up at him and said simply, “Thank you.”
Ken smiled, and picked up the tray. He decided to push her just a bit further.
“You really should come downstairs, and see how well Jinpei is doing with the Snack.” he began. “Why don’t you hop into the shower, and get dressed?”
She seemed to mull this idea over for awhile, then slowly she nodded.
“Okay.” she responded. “I can do that.” She quietly padded off to her bathroom.
When she came out of the shower, Ken was gone. She rubbed her hair dry with a towel, and realized how nice it felt to be clean and fed. She looked around, but her Number 3 shirt and striped pants were gone.
‘Ken must have taken them.’ she thought.
Suddenly, it occurred to her that Ken hadn’t been wearing his civilian uniform. With the end of the war with Galactor, the KNT weren’t on call in the same way as before. Jinpei had been wearing all sorts of wild clothes, and Jun hadn’t been interested enough to really notice. Slowly, she walked towards her closet and opened the doors.
Carefully avoiding a certain red dress, she let her eyes wander over the rest of her wardrobe. It wasn’t as extensive as that of other girls her age, but of course, most of it was barely worn. She would have to rectify that, she mused.
It occurred to her that she was making plans about the future.
Quickly, she pulled a sundress off of its hangar and slipped it on. It felt good to have clean, crisp clothing against her skin. She stepped into some sandals and went downstairs.
Jinpei’s brilliant smile when she walked into the room, made her effort worthwhile. He and Ken were sitting at the bar drinking orange juice. Ken smiled too, and it was somewhat reassuring.
“I’m so glad you’re here, Onechan! Sit down” Jinpei cried.
Gratefully she sank onto a barstool. The place did look nice.
“You’ve been doing a great job keeping this place up, Jinpei.” she said. “It’s practically sparkling!” Jinpei blushed at her words.
“I did it for you, Onechan.” he said. “I wanted you to have something to come back to.”
She wrapped her arms around him, holding him tightly.
“Thank you, Jinpei.” she said. “For everything.”
“You know, you’ve really been cooped up for a long time.” said Ken. “Why don’t you get a breath of fresh air?”
“Oh, I don’t know….” answered Jun, suddenly shy. “I’m not sure I should…”
“Go on, Onechan!” encouraged Jinpei. “I can take care of things here.”
“I know you can.” she smiled at Jinpei. “But…”
“Go!” shouted Jinpei. He gave Ken a broad wink and practically shoved Jun out of the door. Ken grabbed Jun’s hand and pulled her, laughing, out of the Snack J.
As soon as she stepped outside, Jun knew that Ken had been right. The sun was shining, and soft puffs of clouds dotted the blue sky. It was a beautiful day.
Ken put his arm around her, and slowly they walked down the sidewalk, not caring where they were headed. Jun took in everything as if she were seeing it for the first time. It all felt so new.
‘This is what I’ve been missing.’ she thought, ‘Life.’
After a few blocks, they came to a park. They meandered along a small walking path, until Jun saw a bench.
“Please, Ken,” she asked, “may we sit for a moment?”
“Sure! Whatever you want, Jun!” Ken hurried to answer. He shouldn’t have pushed her. She had spent the last few weeks in bed after all.
The bench was near a children’s playground, and shouts of laughter drifted on the breeze to their ears. A ball rolled across the ground, and bumped against Jun’s leg. She looked up to see a small boy on chubby legs toddling after it, his mother close behind. Jun picked up the ball.
“Here you are, sweetheart.” she said, as she handed the ball back to the child. “Have fun!”
The boy grinned at her, and Jun ruffled his hair. He ran off, showing his prize to his mother.
“You can still have that, you know.” said Ken, reading her thoughts. “You can still have a family.”
It was a lot to think about.
They walked around the park for awhile, and soon it was lunchtime. Ken grabbed some hot dogs and sodas from a park vendor, and they had an impromptu picnic on the grass.
“How did you pay for these?” Jun asked.
“Well, since we’re not in such demand anymore, I’ve started up my air courier business again.” Ken answered. “It’s still shaky, but I’ve been able to pay off my debts at the Snack J, and support myself.”
“You paid off your tab?” Jun was incredulous. When Ken nodded, she grinned. Her face was completely transformed, and she took his breath away.
“Well, I guess I should hide out more often!” she exclaimed.
“No.” said Ken seriously. “Don’t do that again. We need you here with us. I need you here… with me.”
Jun nodded thoughtfully. Her smile was gone, but she didn’t look unhappy.
After lunch Jun felt stronger.
“Are you still training?” she asked Ken.
“Yeah,” he responded, “we have a regular schedule, mostly just to keep in shape. We’re pretty loose about it, since it’s just the three of us.” He looked into her eyes. “You could come… if you wanted to.”
“I’d like that.” she replied softly, “but, I’m afraid I’m horribly out of practice. I wouldn’t want to embarrass myself.”
“You wouldn’t do that, Jun. We all understand what you’ve been going through.”
“Could we practice? Just the two of us? Just to work through the kinks. I don’t want to fall on my face, in front of Jinpei!” Jun said. “I’d never hear the end of it!”
Ken smiled. “Whenever you want, Jun. In fact, if you want, we could do it right now.”
Ken nodded toward the other side of the grass. A small tai chi class was just getting underway.
“Do you remember your forms?”
Jun smiled. “Better than you do, I’ll bet!”