Chapter 25

Red River

The gravel crunched under her feet, as she slowly walked through the cemetery. Her black skirt swished around her knees, as she passed by the many, blooming sakura trees. It was early spring, and the rose petals were everywhere.

Crystal found it fitting that those plants were planted at the cemetery. After all, they stood for the transience of life, because of their short period of blooming. The beautiful petals were flying down towards her in the strong wind, and she almost regretted bringing only a simple rose.

Walking through the rows of well-kept gravestones, she at last found the one she had been looking for. In simple kanji it read 'Inoue Kouji'. Bending one of her knees, she lowered herself until she was almost level with the top of the stone.

She could still barely believe it. Five years had passed, since that horrible day. It had taken her a very long time to get over it. The guilt had been too much. She hadn't even been able to attend the funeral. It still ate at her.

But once she had become able to handle the pain, she had become a frequent visitor. Somehow, over the course of time, her memories of him had changed. She was still not able to explain it, but he had become some kind of spiritual guide for her. Whenever she had some kind of problem, she'd come to his grave and talk to him about it.

That day she had come, because of her doubts about visiting her father back in the States. After all the events that had happened, she had been unable to cope with her family. The short time that she had spent with them after Koujis' death had been torture for her. Her friendship with Alex also hadn't been able to keep from falling apart.

Her parents had begged her to stay, but she had been able to take it only until her graduation. Once that aspect of her life was finished, she had told them of her decision. Jin and Rena had said that, if she ever changed her mind, there was more than enough room in the Inoue mansion for her. As soon as the chance had come, she'd gone for it.

Despite the fact that she loved her parents, she had not felt adequate in the States anymore. There was always a shadow looming over her. It didn't go unnoticed. Most people saw that the carefree girl from before had disappeared. The reasons were unknown to them, since she hadn't told even her parents of what had happened. They could only speculate.

Thus, she had left for the one place she felt at home. She hadn't realized how much she had come to love that foreign country. Upon her arrival, she had been surprised by the fact that Natsumi had disappeared. Rena had told her that she hadn't seen her sister since Koujis' death. They had never searched for her, because their emotions were too exhausted at that time to care.

For Rena it had been the hardest. Jin had tried to suppress it all, pushing it into the deepest abyss of his mind. The only indicator of his pain was the way he walked like a ghost around the house on every anniversary of his brothers' funeral. He blamed himself, for it had been his plan to put the two enemies together. Crystal had tried to talk to him, to explain that he wasn't at fault, but he wouldn't listen.

Rena, on the other hand, had carried her pain visible for all. Her constant sobbing had been heartbreaking for Crystal. The girl had not wanted to accept what had happened, making it worse for herself. Another reason why Crystal had wanted to go back to Japan was to be there for the girl.

Two months after she had moved, her parents had given her something else to worry about. They had filed for divorce. Crystal had half expected it, but having it verified was still a low hit for her. She especially regretted it later on, when it came out that her father had cancer. He had nobody to support him. Thus, she had taken to visiting him when he didn't feel so good.

Placing the rose she had brought gently on the mount of earth that was Koujis' grave, she picked up a clump of earth, letting it slip past her fingers.

"So, this is it, I guess," she said. She knew that it was worthless to talk to a dead person, but the thought that he was maybe listening to her, soothed her and gave her courage. "I'm flying back to Philly tomorrow. Dad's not feeling too good, so I said I'd come. Although, I feel somewhat sorry to leave all of you alone here. Oh, and just yesterday I was translating for one of those upcoming American companies. They really weren't too familiar with the Japanese culture. You wouldn't believe some of the things they said."

After she had come back to Japan, Takuro Inoue had surprised her with a generous offer. She did not understand where the charity had come from, but he had fixed all of her papers for her. In addition, he had quite literally forced her to go to Todai, the University of Tokyo. There she had studied the Japanese language, graduating after a full three years of constant work.

She had afterwards turned down Takuro-san's offer to work for him. That was another thing that surprised her – he had been quite adamant about her calling him by his first name. It was as if he was trying to make up for the time he had lost with his own children. Jin had told her that he had changed for the better since the fateful meeting.

Crystal had opted for working as a translator for foreign firms. Many of her employers worked for American companies. Despite the fact that she couldn't live in the States anymore, she missed her countrymen once in a while. The work she had chosen made her feel slightly less homesick.

"Rena is doing also quite well at Todai. Moreover, I don't know what you'll think of it, but she's dating Ichiyo. They are so adorable together."

It had taken Jin fairly long to find out who had called the police. In the end, he had found that it was Ichiyo himself. His old friend had been snooping quite some time in on Kouji's and Hiro's activities. Like that, he had found out that one of the other clans had paid Koujis' men to go behind his back. Despite his desire for revenge, he had chosen to stop them, by calling the police. Jin forgave him, for if the police hadn't come, who knew what else would have happened.

Rena never found out about all of the circumstances concerning her brothers' last minutes. In the end, the pain of the loss slowly faded, as it had done when Ami died. She was still constantly remembered of him, but it didn't cause her as much hassle anymore.

Crystal was, until, that day, still amused as to how Rena and Ichiyo met up again. As it seemed, Rena had been shopping. In a moment of inattention, she had forgotten her handbag, with her wallet and everything else, in a café. Ichiyo, who had seen this, had run after her to give it back. Just as he'd caught up, she'd realized that her handbag was missing. Seeing it in his hands, she'd begun hitting him, without questioning the situation. It had taken him a full five minutes to make her understand what was going on. Once she did, she'd been profusely sorry, her embarrassment enhanced by the fact that she only then recognized him.

He kept on reminding her every chance he got of the incident, saying that it was payback for all the blue spots she'd given him.

"Yeah, they're such a happy couple. And last week…" her expression grew somber, as if she was unsure of how to break the news to her deceased friend. "Last week… I saw Hiro. You know, they finally came to a verdict. They've sentenced him to death."

She remembered all too clearly seeing Hiro in the prison. It had been so oppressing – the grey walls, the suffocating silence. In all the years that she had known that he was in prison, she hadn't visited him even once. Doing so would have equaled to tearing her own wounds open again. Although, she had to admit, she missed him. She probably wouldn't have visited him for a much longer time, had it not been for the news that he was to be executed.

When she had seen him, it had felt as if she was going back in time. He had changed; prison life had given him a much more somber look. Nevertheless, the second that he had seen her, his eyes had come alive, shining with joy. How much guilt he had laid on her with that single look – it was as if he had waited all those years for her.

"You came." Despite the twinkling in his eyes, his voice still had that same mischievous, mocking quality to it.

"Yes, I did." She had wanted to see him; she had to admit now. There was something so familiar about him, that it made her want to cry. He belonged to her old life. He belonged to the life before Kouji's death. That day, she had been reborn. Not that it mattered anymore.

His face softened, as though he had read her thoughts. "I guess you've heard that I'm on death row now. No more than a matter of time, and I'll be leaving this place." The gruesome message was carried over so jokingly, it sounded as though he was talking about somebody else, not himself. It stunted her.

"Aren't you afraid?"

He glanced at her, searching for something. Then, he gave her that old, mocking grin. "Of what?" He kept on smiling, as they sat there, each in their own world. He, behind the glass, waiting for his end; she, looking at him through the glass, watching a moral drama, hoping against hope that the main character would survive. "Your Japanese has improved," he noted all of a sudden.

She smiled at the change of topic. They had been talking in Japanese the entire time. "I studied. Takuro-san actually forced me to."

"At Todai, I heard. Takuro seems to have taken a liking to you." He left out any kind of honorific, signifying how much he held of the man.

Tentatively, Crystal went off into dangerous territory. "Couldn't he have helped you? He was the one who told me how you tried to save Kouji."

"No," he whispered, looking tired. "I don't know if you realize it, but murder under such circumstances as I have committed it is highly ostracized. The only thing that you can expect is capital punishment."

She must have looked stricken, for he gave her one of his rare encouraging smiles. "Don't think about it too much. Just trust me when I say that everything will be alright. And believe me when I tell you that I'm sorry for everything that I did to you. I never meant it to come to this."

The rest of the conversation had been idle chitchat. She had been able to see that he was wary of any conversation concerning his persecution. The last thing he had told her, once she had gotten up to leave, had her nearly sobbing. He'd begged of her to not look back, in any aspect, and to remember him as a friend. She had been all too glad to oblige.

Almost breaking out in tears at the memory, Crystal caught a sakura blossom in her hand. Taking it delicately between her fingers, she had to laugh. "You should have seen his surprise at seeing my hair. Although, he wasn't the only one that was shocked."

Catching a lock of her hair, she stared at the newly dyed black thread. She had dyed it two weeks ago, and hadn't regretted it since. Despite Jins' constant mocking, the change had made her feel more connected with the people of her new home. Japan had become her new home, and there was no place she'd rather be. She loved everything, from the people, to some of the strange parts of the culture. She believed there was no other country in which grown adults could read comics without being dubbed bizarre.

With regret, she saw on her watch that it was time to leave. She had quite a lot of packing left to do. Rena had offered to help, but since Crystal knew that she had an important exam coming up, she had declined.

"I'll be leaving now. In a month, I'll maybe come visit you again. I'm sure you'll be waiting." She smiled at the gravestone, before grimacing. "Maybe you won't be waiting alone. But let's hope for the best."

Getting up, she smoothed down her skirt, which had ridden up her thighs. With a last wave, which she knew was worthless, she turned and walked away. As she reached the gate, a man held it open for her.

"Domo arigatou," she thanked him, as they bowed to each other. Then she quickly marched off. Seeing something pink on her white blouse, she picked it off, only to find another blossom. It made her smile, for the sakura blossoms also stood for a fallen hero. It felt as though Kouji had spoken to her.

Carrying it with her, she walked over to a newsstand and bough the newest issue of the local newspaper. She had taken an interest in reading it since Hiros' trial had started.

Walking on, she let her eyes scan the page, whilst avoiding by passers. She still had a long way to walk to her car, as finding a parking place was tough in any metropolis.

All of a sudden, she froze to the spot, almost causing some pedestrians to walk into her. What she had read made her want to laugh aloud at the world. So that was what he had meant when he had said 'No more than a matter of time, and I'll be leaving this place'. The bastard was quite cunning.

Shaking her head in amusement, she continued walking, feeling more vital than ever. The headline kept on repeating itself in her head.

Death convict Yoshida Hiro escaped from high security prison.

The End.

So. Any comments? Good, bad? I feel kind of sorry that it's over, but mostly, I'm insanely happy. This is the first story I have ever written, and I'm well aware of it's flawe. Hopefully, they've become less during the writing.

I'd like to also thank everybody who's stuck with me and read this, even if you didn't review. And much love to those who did. It means a lot to me.

So. Any comments? Good, bad? I feel kind of sorry that it's over, but mostly, I'm insanely happy. This is the first story I have ever written, and I'm well aware of it's flawe. Hopefully, they've become less during the writing.

Savvy0X: I hope the chapter meets your expectations. I'm actually quite happy with it, which is a rare occurence. In the last chapter, the second half was supposed to be kind of confusing, to go with the mood. The first part was sopposed to be more clear. So, I'm sorry if it seemed rush and disconnected. For sone reason, the chapters always end up sounding like I feel. During the writing of the last one I was in a rush to write everything down before it became too tangled in my thoughts. That's why it probably ended up sounding like that. As for a bulletproof west... I went from the fact that Kouji knew Hiro well, thus knowing that he wouldn't relly on other people. Since he was coming with a lot of men, and didn't believe anybody else would be coming, he'd just forget about the west. Now, my logic is quite flawed, I'll admit, but it fit in with the plot. Lastly, thank you a lot for all the wonderful support. Your reviews were fun to read, and I'll miss them. Maybe we'll hear from each other again?

: Sadly, Kouji's time had come. May he rest in peace respectful silence. Anyway, of course I'll read your story. I would have done so without you asking, even. And forget about the shameless advertising thing, I'd have been angry if you wouldn't have told me ;P. I hope the end wasn't too bad. Oh, and I'll write you some more if you, let's say, send me a nice cake. I love cake. Thanks for all the awesome reviews and for sticking with me!

Melissa Norvell: Thanks for the review! And, yes, it was meant as a compliment. I can only dream of writing more than one story at once... As for another story, I don't know in which way you mean that question. Most probably, for this story, there won't be a sequel, although I left the ending open in case I change my mind. I will write more stories, but I'll be leaving the manga section for a bit. I'd like to test new waters, you know? Also, this story took a lot out of my, so I simply need to write something else, to relax. Thanks a ton for following the story till the end! True, you weren't there since the beginning, but I think you were with me the longest. Thanks, again, for that. It's always nice to know that people are reading your work.

A last announcement, and some advertising, at that. Later this evening I'll be putting up a one-shot of mine. Just to warn you, though, it is totally different than this story. And I'm not over exeggarating. In any case, if anybody feels like reading it, please do so, by all means.