Fanfic by RiverAlpha.
The coming of spring symbolizes many changes.
First, the changing of seasons; the moment when the snow melts and the sakura bloom. The spring breeze that flows through Japan makes it seem like the coldness of winter was nothing more than a distant memory.
Second, the changes in relationships. Over winter break, many couples would get together or break up. For those that got together, they enter spring as a new couple. For those that broke up, after the cold of winter fades, new hope can sprout and they can move forward with their lives.
For us, spring symbolizes a change in our lives, the beginning of a new chapter. Kindergarteners become new grade schoolers, grade schoolers would become new middle schoolers, and middle schoolers would become new high schoolers.
Of course, for each new beginning, there is also a corresponding end. For us third year students in the Advanced Nurturing High School, spring spells the end of our three years of competition.
Ever since we had entered the school in April three years ago, we've been locked in fierce competition with each other to reach the final goal: to graduate as Class A and obtain all the benefits that being Class A entailed.
We've endured numerous struggles, prevailed over countless challenges, and we even had to say goodbye to some of our classmates in the process. But in the end, here we are, at the end of it all: the graduation ceremony.
In this ceremony, it all came to a head. The winner of our three years of competition would forever be engraved into the annals of this school's history.
"Next, I want to invite the students who, after three years of hard work, have graduated in Class A up to the stage. Class A's representative...."
This was it, the moment of truth. Whoever would be called up to the stage as the valedictorian would spell the victor.
"Horikita Suzune, please come up to the stage."
The moment that name was called up, various expressions could be seen. Some people were smiling. Some had tears in their eyes. Others had expressions of regret and bitterness. Still others had congratulatory looks or looks of contentment, recognizing the hard work and effort that the winning class had given.
However, whether it be joy or sadness, regret or contentment, the feelings that everyone experienced in these past three years would remain precious to us forever. These feelings would propel us forward into the future and whatever it may hold.
We would have to continue moving forward, no matter what result we ended up with. But even if we had to move forward, these memories will remain in our hearts. Our time in this school would be over soon, but the memories we had made will always be an important chapter in our lives.
"Still, it really was quite a short period," I whispered.
Three years had passed so quickly for me. It felt like I had only passed through the school gates just yesterday. When I first entered, I thought that these three years would be my only years of reprieve before I went back into a cage.
But as the years passed, I grew in ways I had never known possible. I had drastically changed from when I first entered, and now, I would continue to change. No longer was I chained to my past. I would now actively create my own future, whatever it would be.
'And whatever future I would make, I would do it with her beside me,' I thought as I glanced at the person seated next to me.
It was a girl with waist length hair, tied into a ponytail. She was silently watching Horikita give her speech.
The girl was Karuizawa Kei, my girlfriend. We had been together since the end of our first year, and although there were many bumps in our relationship, our relationship grew to the point that I could not imagine a future without her.
We had faced so much adversity together over our three years together, spent so much time together, and had our fair share of conflict, that she had become the closest person to me and the person I held most precious in this world.
As if sensing me glance at her, Kei turned her head slightly to glance back at me from the corner of her eyes. Kei and I had grown so close that we could communicate a lot of things with each other just through our eyes.
'I'll be with you always too, Kiyotaka,' was what her eyes told me she was thinking.
Suddenly, a soft feeling entered my hand. Glancing down, I saw that Kei was now holding my hand in hers, as if to reassure me of her feelings and her conviction.
Looking back at Kei, she just gave me a gentle smile before turning back to listen to Horikita's speech.
'There are some things I cannot win at, it seems,' I thought as I too turned back to listen to Horikita, with my and Kei's hands still intertwined.
Eventually, the graduation ceremony ended. The graduating students stuck around for a bit to reminisce on the last three years ago together and ask each other what their plans were moving forward. Kei and I talked to people such as Sakayanagi, Ryuuen, Ichinose, and more.
Eventually, some of the second year students approached us to give their farewells. Nanase, Amasawa, Tsubaki, and Utomiya talked with us for a bit, them saying their congratulations. Although there were quite a few instances of us competing despite our different year levels, they didn't hold it against us.
That said, Kei got heated up at Amasawa again, what with Amasawa's personality and Kei getting constantly annoyed at her. Although the both of them had quite the bad start, the sight of them bantering had become a regular occurrence going into the third year.
Eventually, the second year students left. Kei, having become very heated talking to Amasawa, just huffed in relief at their departure.
"Seriously, that girl... no matter how much time has passed, I'll never get used to her. She should be grateful that I haven't hit her once for all the antics she's pulled on us so far."
"Just leave it be, Kei. You won't have to deal with her anymore after we graduate."
"That's true... unless she somehow becomes even more of a stalker and follows me after graduation. That would really be the worst. I don't think I would be able to handle it. I might actually have to kill her if that happens."
Over the last two years, Amasawa constantly managed to interfere with our time alone together. On dates, she'd 'coincidentally' bump into us. When we'd gather in my room, she'd turn up at the door, asking me to cook for her. Even at school, she'd pass by during lunch, asking to eat with us. It was really a hassle for me, and it got on Kei's nerves a lot.
"I doubt it'll happen. She'll probably find her own path after graduation."
Kei raised an eyebrow at my words. She had a look of doubt at my words. To be fair, I could understand her feelings. After all, I didn't really believe my own words. That was just the kind of person Amasawa was.
"Well, if that happens, I'm counting on you to tell her off."
"Yes, yes, I will." I, too, found it a hassle to deal with Amasawa, but Kei found it even worse to deal with her, so I had to be the one to scold her instead.
Eventually, we ran into Yousuke, Sudou, and Horikita. They were discussing something amongst themselves.
"I'm telling you, we should go to the beach! The beach is where it's at."
"We could go to the beach anytime. It doesn't need to be now. What's your aim, Sudou-kun?"
"I'm sure Sudou-kun has his reasons, Horikita-san."
"I'm sure they're impure reasons."
"It's not like that, Suzune!"
"What are you guys even talking about?" Kei and I had approached them wondering what they were talking about.
"Ahhh. Karuizawa-san and Kiyotaka-kun." It was Yousuke replying. "They're arguing about where we should go for our graduation trip."
Right, the graduation trip. After we had won the last special exam for the third year, our graduation from Class A was assured, barring any special circumstance. Because of that, the five of us decided to go on a trip after graduation.
Originally, it was supposed to be six of us, with Mii-chan, who Yousuke had only recently started to go out with, accompanying us. Unfortunately, Mii-chan said that she would probably visit her relatives back in China after graduation and wouldn't be able to come, but that we should have fun and she would accompany us the next time.
"Really? They still haven't decided?"
Kei let out an exasperated sigh. Since Kei and I were fine with any place, we decided to leave the decisions to Yousuke, Sudou, and Horikita. However, since Yousuke was the type to take a neutral stance, it was essentially up to Sudou and Horikita.
Unfortunately, neither Sudou and Horikita could come to a consensus on where to go. Although, they've gotten a lot closer, especially in the third year, there were just some things they couldn't agree on.
"I still think that we should go to a beach. Maybe somewhere like Okinawa?"
"You still are an uncultured fool. We've been to a couple of beaches in the last three years. Why go to another one? Maybe you should learn to appreciate the value of Japan's cultural heritage."
"But we never got to really enjoy those times! Every time we went to a beach, we were in the middle of an exam. We hardly had any time to relax."
Sudou did make a good point in that we never got to enjoy the beaches we went to, but I doubt that was his main reason. He probably just wanted to see Horikita in a swimsuit.
"Mou! If you two can't decide, then I'll decide for you. Kyoto, and I won't take a no for an answer. Sudou-kun, you make a point, but I don't want to see another beach for a while. It just reminds me of those gruesome tests, and that's not what I want for our graduation trip."
Kei intervened out of impatience. If Sudou and Horikita were left to decide, we'd never finish figuring out where to go. Also, if I'm not wrong, Kei chose Kyoto since it's big enough that we can split off from the group and have some time alone to ourselves.
"Hmph. See, Sudou-kun. Even Karuizawa-san agrees with me. It's too bad for you, but our destination's been decided. Majority wins, after all. Besides, you might finally graduate from being an uncultured fool."
Horikita shot a smirk at Sudou, having gotten the upper hand.
"It's okay, Sudou-kun. We can probably go to a beach in the summer."
Yousuke did his best to console Sudou, although he did seem excited at the thought of going to Kyoto.
Having finally reached a decision, our group split the responsibility for the preparations for our trip. Yousuke was in charge of transportation and planning where we'll eat. Sudou and Horikita were in charge of our accommodations. Kei and I were in charge of researching various destination spots to visit.
Soon enough, it was time for us to leave campus. Our plan was to go straight to our trip after exiting the school. Horikita Manabu had agreed to partially finance the trip as a graduation gift for his sister, the rest we would pay back to him in installments.
As we were about to board the bus leaving campus, I took a look back at this campus where my life had changed. We had so many memories here, both good and bad. It was a shame to finally have to leave it.
"If only our time here would last a little longer." I said to no one in particular, but Kei, who was standing beside me, heard me.
"Un... It's a little sad leaving this place behind. This was the place where we met, struggled, fell in love, and became who we are now. I hope we can return to this place one day."
"Yeah..." I said a bit wistfully.
"It's time to go, Kiyotaka," Kei said. She planted a chaste kiss on my lips, held my hand, and led me to the bus.
The bus ride from the school was quiet, despite the amount of students onboard. Everyone was probably a little sad to have to leave the school. Our high school lives, the symbol of our youth, was now over. Everyone had lingering attachments to the school where they spent the most precious time of their youth.
Eventually, the five of us were dropped off at Shinagawa Station, where we would board the Shinkansen headed to Kyoto. Despite the fact that we had graduated as Class A and were now on our graduation trip, the mood was somber.
After a while, seemingly tired of the sad mood, Yousuke spoke up in a soft voice so he wouldn't be heard by other passengers.
"Sometimes, I can't believe we managed to graduate. It was really tough, wasn't it? All those academic exams and special exams really gave us so much trouble."
"Yeah. They sure were troublesome. Sometimes, I don't know how I survived half of those exams near the end, much less Sudou-kun."
"Hey! I got decent grades towards the end. What about you, Karuizawa? Even in the end, your grades were just so-so and you weren't great, physically."
"Huh!? Don't be even more of an idiot, Sudou-kun. Do you know how difficult it is to subtly manage all the girls in the class? You think you could do it!? Besides, if it weren't for Kiyotaka and Horikita-san, you wouldn't have even lasted two months in school. How do you think you even passed the first midterm?"
Whoops. It seems that in the heat of the moment, Kei accidentally said something I asked her to keep secret. Not that it matters anymore, I suppose.
"Is that true, Ayanokouji, Suzune?" Sudou looked at us surprised.
"That's right, Sudou-kun. If Ayanokouji-kun and I hadn't paid 100,000 points on your behalf, you wouldn't have passed that first midterm exam. Know your place." Horikita dealt a considerably large blow to Sudou's pride.
The friendly banter that emerged from the discussion had lifted our moods considerably. We started talking about our favorite moments from school, the relationships between people such as Ike and Shinohara, things such as Ibuki's obsession with watching movies, and more.
The previously heavy atmosphere surrounding us had lifted considerably. That's right. Even if we would no longer be able to spend time in that school, its presence would remain carved in our hearts until the end.
We would always remember our time at the Advanced Nurturing High School. That much was certain.
Soon enough, we were halfway to Kyoto when something unexpected happened.
At the time, Kei had fallen asleep, her head lying on my shoulder. Sudou was looking up some basketball videos on his phone. Horikita and Yousuke were discussing the pros and cons of the universities they were planning on attending. A peaceful scene... but not for much longer.
All of a sudden, the overhead lights started flickering on and off. It was odd, but it wasn't much of a cause of concern.
What came next was what startled everyone on the train.
Normally, even at high speeds, the Shinkansen was very stable. It truly was a technological marvel unique to Japan. Thousands of people ride the Shinkansen every day and it was maintained by the best engineers in Japan.
Accidents on the Shinkansen were rare and there's never been a fatality or derailment in its entire history. It was as safe as could possibly be. That's why when the Shinkansen started shaking terribly, everyone became worried.
At first, it was a subtle shaking, but then the shaking grew to the point that people started being thrown around the train like ragged dolls.
"Uwaah!" Kei had been sent stumbling down the coach due to the heavy shaking.
Horikita was sent sprawling across the seats due to the shaking. Sudou was sent stumbling face-first into Horikita's chest. Yousuke had fallen from his seat and was holding the chairs for stability. I was able to hold onto my seat, miraculously, but I was thinking at a mile per second.
There could only be one reason for what was happening. Derailment. The one thing that has never happened in the history of the Shinkansen was happening now while we were on it.
As much as it could be totally coincidental, I didn't believe that such an incident would happen at such a timing. In my mind, there was only one clear explanation: my father.
During the events of the third year, I had become free from the shackles of the White Room. In the process, my father's involvement in the White Room had suddenly become revealed and he lost most of his influence. At the same time, the White Room was forced to shut down.
Despite that, I had no illusions that that man still had enough influence to do something like this. I was certain that my father would stop at nothing to either get me back, or get back at me.
Although I was sure, now was not the time to think about things. Right now, what was important was making sure the others were safe.
As I thought that and started heading to get to Kei, a loud noise was heard.
The Shinkansen was in the middle of a tunnel when a 'boom' sound occurred. At the same time, the people who were already being thrown around so much were sent hurtling through the train. The windows that had previously shown the lighted tunnel were now showing only darkness.
Then it occurred. A series of loud explosions could be heard from the coaches in the front of the train. Screams were being heard before being drowned out by the explosions, the sounds of which were drawing closer at a rapid speed.
I didn't have much time. I ran towards Kei as fast as I could, doing my best to keep my footing as much as I could with the train derailment. I was getting close... but it wasn't enough.
That was the last thing I heard before a bright light filled my vision.
My world became dark and I knew nothing more.