Chapter 19: The Real Dr. Hikari


Enzan watched the lights on the side of the walls flash through the window of the subway. The subway was five minutes away from the Akihara stop, and Enzan had spent the whole trip in silence. Rockman hadn’t dared trying to speak to the white-haired boy. He was worried about Enzan’s silence, but he didn’t want to bother his operator. He didn’t want to make Enzan upset.

He thinks it’s all his fault, I can tell, Rockman thought. He’s the type of person that would bare the weight of the world on his shoulders because he thinks it’s his job. I know I can’t take all the blame, but we both failed in the netbattle. He shouldn’t blame himself for everything.

“I’ve been going about this the wrong way,” Enzan said softly.

Rockman blinked, surprised at Enzan’s words. “Excuse me, Enzan-sama?”

“I’ve been doing this all wrong,” Enzan replied, looking at the PET. “I’ve been trying to relive my life in an effort to change it back to normal, or find something that will. That was the wrong way to do things.”

“So what do you have in mind now?” Rockman asked.

Enzan sighed. “I don’t know. We need a new plan, but I’m not sure what. I’ve been relying on the differences between my home and this reality, and I haven’t considered anything else.”

Rockman smiled slightly. Enzan still looked disappointed at the loss of the netbattle, but at least he was trying to move on to other things. “I’m sure we can think of something once we get home, Enzan-sama,” Rockman replied. “You’ll see.”

Enzan gave Rockman an amused look. “So I’m supposed to believe everything you say now?”

“It’s only fair,” Rockman pointed out.

A voice on the subway sound system announced the upcoming Akihara stop, and Enzan could feel the subway slowing down. He carefully stowed the PET in its carrier. Fortunately the subway stop was only a few blocks from his home and he didn’t have far to walk.

Enzan slipped into the Hikari house. It was dark inside, and he had been forced to use his key get in. That meant Haruka was working late again. Enzan sighed as he made his way up the stairs. He would come up with a new plan in the morning, and once he had one, things were going to get better. His life as Hikari Enzan could only improve from this point on until he became Ijuuin Enzan again.

Those thoughts didn’t make him feel any better.

Why do I feel so awful? Enzan wondered as he entered his room. I already won the N1 Grand Prix, I proved my skills as a netbattler. I don’t need to prove it here. Why does it bother me so much? He placed the PET in its charger and got dressed for bed slowly.

Oyasumi, Enzan-sama,” Rockman said softly.

“Good night,” Enzan replied, sliding into bed. I know why it bothers me, he thought. I wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t good enough to win with Rockman, even though he had all the potential to win. I proved I couldn’t do it when it mattered the most.

The only difference in this world—give or take a few missing people—was him. He and Netto had somehow switched roles and places. With his life, Netto had matured and calmed. He had done well as Ijuuin Netto. He might not have accomplished as much as Enzan had, but he was the better person. Enzan had taken his life and his role, and everything went downhill. Sure, it wasn’t his fault that Dr. Hikari lost his job. It wasn’t his fault that Haruka had to work so hard. But didn’t his negative reaction to what had happened contribute to what had occurred? Didn’t his cruel, mean-spirited behavior toward his family, his navi, and others make things worse?

Netto thrived in any situation because he was Netto. His personality could be bent and shaped differently, but he was still the same person. Enzan had only survived his life by pure stubbornness. If anything had gone wrong or pushed him in the wrong direction, he would be worse off than Hikari Enzan.

Enzan would have dwelled over the situation more, but his eyes refused to stay open. He finally gave up, letting his mind slide into blackness.

--                         --                         --

“Well, well. If it isn’t Enzan!”

Enzan’s eyes flew open and he sat up abruptly. “What—”

“Hello, son!”

Enzan stared at the man standing in his room. The man’s clothes were crumbled and torn. They had been nice once, but had been treated harshly. His pants were covered with discolored stains and burn marks and his shirt looked like it used to be white, but it wasn’t anymore. The man’s face was covered with a thin beard. His brown hair hung greasy and limp from his head. He grinned at Enzan, his teeth matching the color of his shirt. Dirty glasses covered his eyes; they were hanging crookedly from the man’s ears.

“Who are you?” Enzan asked quickly, a bit frightened at the man’s appearance.

“Don’t you recognize your own father?” the man replied. He talked with a slur and was obviously tipsy. Enzan could smell alcohol coming from the man, along with many other unpleasant smells.

“Papa!” Rockman said sharply from the PET on the desk. “You’re drunk!”

“Hikari-hakase?” Enzan breathed.

Dr. Hikari Yuuichirou smiled lopsidedly. “Give your father a hug, Enzan.”

“I think not!” Enzan hissed, driving across the bed. He rolled to his feet on the floor and backed away from the man. He slowly moved toward the desk, reaching out for Rockman’s PET.

“Enzan, don’t be that way,” Dr. Hikari pleaded. He made a clumsy grab for Enzan. Enzan quickly yanked the PET from the charger and escaped through the bedroom door.

“He won’t hurt you,” Rockman said, sounding ashamed.

“I don’t care,” Enzan snapped. He nearly tripped over his pajama bottoms running down the stairs. “I don’t want him coming near me.”

“Enzan!” Dr. Hikari called, stumbling down the stairs after him. “Come back!”

Enzan turned to corner and nearly plowed into Haruka.

“Enzan!” she cried. “What’s wrong?”

“I saw—that guy—he isn’t—” Enzan stammered, unsure of what to say.

“Honey!” Dr. Hikari hiccupped, staggering off the bottom step. He smiled drunkenly. “So nice to see you again!’

Haruka’s expression changed drastically. She shoved Enzan behind her and crossed her arms in front of her. “Enzan, stay behind me,” she said, her voice dead serious. “Let me deal with him.”

Enzan held his PET close to him and watched Dr. Hikari warily. Rockman made a whimpering noise, and Enzan glanced down at the PET. Rockman was quivering and he had his hands clamped against the sides of his head. He was crouched in the corner of the PET, nearly hidden from view.

“Yuuichirou!” Haruka cried, clenching her fists. “Look at you! You’re a drunken disgrace to this family!”

“I wouldn’t say that…” Dr. Hikari said. He looked confused for a moment as his sluggish brain tried to think about Haruka’s words.

“You always come home in this state!” Haruka shouted, raising her voice. “Any money you get you waste on alcohol! Have you ever thought about what impression you’re making on your son?”

Enzan shrank away from Haruka. She had transformed from a concerned, kind mother to a screaming, furious stranger. Her face was twisted with anger, creating lines and wrinkles that made her look much older than she was. Everything from her posture to the shrill tone of her voice made her into a completely different person. Enzan slowly backed away until he was pressed against the wall.

“He was beaten nearly to death by delinquents claiming that you owed them money!” Haruka screamed.

Now Enzan knew why Rockman had covered his hearing receptors. He would have done the same, but he couldn’t bring himself to let go of the PET. He was holding it tightly in his hand with both hands; his hands were shaking slightly, but he didn’t notice.

“Oh, yes,” Dr. Hikari snorted. He didn’t seem fazed at all by Haruka’s verbal attacks. “And where were you when he was attacked? He probably couldn’t stand being around your nagging, ugly personality and escaped the best he could! If anything, you drove him away so he could be attacked!”

“How dare you…” Haruka hissed. “You’re the one who abandoned him to begin with! He was playing with that stupid navi you created when it happened!”

Enzan stared wide-eyed at what was happening. He had fought with his father in the past, and his father shouted sometimes, but it was nothing like this. This was an all-out war using insults and screeching tones. It had no purpose or point, unlike the arguments Enzan’s father made.

“And you!” Dr. Hikari shrilled, imitating Haruka’s tone of voice. “Been out on the town, huh? Have you replaced me yet with some handsome guy? Tell me… have you been leaving Enzan home alone to hang out with your boyfriend?”

“I have been working as hard as I can to provide for Enzan!” Haruka snapped. “You’re still my husband, Yuuichirou! I would never do anything like that!”

“Like I’d believe what you’d say,” Dr. Hikari replied. He was still drunk, but his voice had a sharper, crueler tone to it, and Enzan had no doubt he knew exactly what he was saying. “Have you slept with your new boyfriend yet?”

“Stop it!”

The two adults turned to face the young boy behind them. Enzan was glaring at them, his expression a mixture of sadness and anger.

“Oh, Enzan, I’m sorry,” Haruka said softly. “We didn’t mean to…”

Enzan stormed passed her and stomped up the stairs without responding. He felt physically sick by what he had witnessed, and he couldn’t stand it anymore. He reached his room and slammed the bedroom door behind him. He stood still in the middle of the room for a long moment, his PET in one hand and his other clenched into a fist.

“How could they?” he hissed, not trusting himself to raise his voice above a whisper. “How could they do that to each other? How could they say those things?”

He got no answer from Rockman and realized he didn’t want one. He put the PET on his desk and dressed quickly, trying to shut out what he had just witnessed. He had just pulled on his vest when a noise stopped him.

“Rockman?” he asked softly, walking toward the PET. “Are you crying?”

Rockman nodded, sobbing again. Tears were streaming down his face and he was crouched in a small ball.

“Don’t cry,” Enzan begged, picking the PET up. “I’m not mad at you.”

“T-they always fi-fight like th-that,” Rockman choked, barely able to speak through his sobs. “I hate it! I hate it when they fight!”

“Yeah, I bet you do,” Enzan said softly, truly sympathetic to Rockman’s pain. “They shouldn’t fight like that when they love each other so much.”

“It’s my fault!” Rockman howled, looking away from his operator. “If Papa hadn’t spent so much time on me, he would have—he would have—”

“Stop that!” Enzan said sharply. His command made Rockman jump, and the navi stared at him fearfully. “Stop blaming yourself,” Enzan said in a softer tone. “You can’t live your life blaming yourself for something you couldn’t have stopped.”

“Then why do you blame yourself for your mother’s death?” Rockman asked quietly.

Enzan froze. “That’s different,” he protested.

“Is it?”

Enzan sighed and looked away. “I don’t want to talk about that right now, Rockman.”

“You told me—you said that sometimes you can’t stop what happens.” Rockman looked at his hands, his voice shaking, but he continued to speak. “Some things aren’t your fault. But if that’s true, then why does everyone blame me?”

“Rockman—” Enzan tried to say.

“The last time Papa came home was almost six months ago,” Rockman said, interrupting Enzan. “He and Hikari-san got into a big fight. They yelled about everything, including me. My operator heard every word. He was there in the room, watching them as they fought.” Rockman stopped and rubbed his eyes as more tears fell. “Enza—my operator finally couldn’t stand it anymore, and he ran upstairs. He started screaming at me, saying it was all my fault. If I hadn’t been created, his family would still be together and happy. He punished me then, but that time… the punishment didn’t hurt as much as his words.”

“Rockman…” Enzan trailed off, unable to think of what to say.

Rockman looked at Enzan. His eyes were bright and full of tears, some of them spilling down his cheeks as he spoke. “If it’s not my fault, Enzan-sama, then why does everyone say it is? Are they wrong?”

Enzan looked out the balcony window. The early morning sun was just peeking over the distant hills and heavy shadows still covered the areas the sunlight couldn’t reach yet.

“Yes, they’re wrong,” he said softly. “You couldn’t have stopped Dr. Hikari losing his job anymore that you could have stopped the sun rising. Maybe I was wrong too, for thinking I killed my mother.” He fell silent for a moment. “I’m going to get something to eat, and then we can walk around town for a bit,” he said finally.

“That sounds good,” Rockman replied softly.

Enzan placed his PET in its carrier without another word. He walked downstairs to see Haruka hard at work at the stove. Dr. Hikari was sitting on the couch quietly, staring down at his hands. Unless a person had been there to witness it, there was no evidence of the intense fight that had taken place moments before.

“Enzan, why don’t you sit down?” Haruka asked quietly. “I’ll have something hot for you to eat in a few minutes.”

I thought you were making that for me!” Dr. Hikari said loudly.

“My job is to provide for my son, not his useless father!” Haruka screamed back.

Enzan sat in a chair at the table and placed his hands against his ears. He knew this was the start of another long fight.

--                         --                         --

“This is where Enzan lives?” Netto asked, leaning back to look at the house.

“Yes. Dekao and I live in the same neighborhood,” Meiru replied. “It’s a really nice place to live in.”

“It’s nothing compared to my home, of course, but it is pretty nice,” Yaito commented, looking around. “I don’t think I’ve ever been in this neighborhood before.”

“After we visit Enzan, we should visit Dekao’s and Meiru’s houses,” Netto said.

“Sounds good to me,” Dekao said. He swung an arm around Netto’s neck and pulled the smaller boy into a headlock. “I’ll have to show you all my videogames and beat you at every one!”

“Dekao, save it for after we visit Enzan,” Tohru complained. “Besides, you’ll choke Netto to death at that rate.”

Dekao released the brown-haired boy and Netto stumbled away, gasping for breath. He rubbed his neck gingerly and glared at Dekao’s back as the group walked up to the front door.

“I’ll knock,” Netto offered, shoving passed Dekao and Tohru to reach the front door.

“You lazy, drunken fool!”

Netto froze, his arm poised to knock on the door.

‘Oh, I’m a fool, am I?” another voice shouted. “At least I still have my self respect!”

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“You know perfectly well what it means!”

“This isn’t Enzan’s house, is it?” Yaito whispered. As if to answer her, another voice joined in the conversation.

“All you do is scream at each other! Can’t you stop for five minutes straight?”

“Enzan…” Netto breathed, backing away from the door.

“Don’t you talk to me like that, Enzan! I’m your father, and you had better—”

“I’m sick of this!  All of it. I don’t care who you are, but I’ve had enough!”

Slamming sounds and noises of things scraping against linoleum could be heard by the group outside the house. Netto heard someone approach the door and he stumbled back onto the lawn, away from the walkway that led up to the house. The others also moved away, and they almost hovered behind Netto.

“Wait! Where are you going, son?” a male voice called.

The door flew open and Enzan appeared. His attention was focused on the inside of the house, and he didn’t notice the Netto and his friends. “I’m going out!” he yelled. “Is that okay with you?” He slammed the door before getting a response and leaned against it, rubbing his forehead as if it pained him.

“Enzan…” Netto said softly.

Enzan stiffened and looked at the group. His pupils shrank in horror and he grew pale. Yaito looked at her hands and Dekao and Tohru turned away as well. Meiru covered her mouth and looked at Netto. Netto stared back at Enzan, unable to look away.

The sound of a woman sobbing cut the silent air around the netbattlers, and Enzan slowly clenched his fist. He turned away from the gang and drew his fist back as if to slam it into the door. Instead he lightly tapped it as another loud sob was heard; he unable to complete the action.

“Enzan, I’m sorry,” Netto whispered.

Enzan ran. He took off down the street, not looking back at the house or the people standing in the lawn. Netto and his friends watched him flee sadly.

“I never thought about it before,” Yaito said sadly.

“Thought about what?” Dekao asked, looking at her.

“What his father’s reputation has done to him,” Yaito replied softly. “What kind of family life he must have. It’s sad, but I never thought about why he was such a jerk before.”

“Let’s get out of here,” Meiru said softly. Everyone but Netto nodded and started to leave, but the young netbattler stayed for a moment. “Netto?” Meiru called.

Netto turned toward her, away from the house and the direction Enzan had gone.