Beyond a Thief’s Power Episode 6

In Order to Survive


“? Kenshi? What’s wrong?” While the others were poking fun at Atsumu, Rina had noticed Kenshi’s silent state and turned her head towards her left. “You don’t look well right now. Is something troubling you?”

The others stopped and gave their undivided attention to hear what Kenshi had to say.

Kenshi was staring down at the counter. His shoulders were slumped and he let out an exaggerated breath. His face began to fill will pinkish-red tints of color, giving him a mad blush. “I’m not exactly sure how to say this, but…” Then, he gulped. “I think… I’ve fallen in love with Sayuri.”

Hiro’s eyes widened with great shock. He could not believe his ears. “WHAT?!”

Unlike Hiro, however, everyone else inside Le Renard Noir was calm about the situation. They stared blankly and seriously at the firefighter.

“Kenshi,” Riki began with a stern expression, “Are you really sure you have any romantic feelings towards her? You might just be mistaking how you feel with a large admiration and respect for her appearance tonight.”

Rina sighed. “No, I’m positive he’s actually developed feelings for Sayuri. He was lost in thought just now, Riki. It was different than before, so I don’t think Kenshi’s gotten the wrong idea.”

Kenshi looked at Riki and gave a light nod with his head. Then, he looked down and the floor. “Yeah. The way she looked tonight was so beautiful, I was captivated by her entire being. Her wings were also glowing with a bright white light and they were elegant. It was like she sent feathers down to my when she was in the air. Her movements and agility were also astounding, I couldn’t believe she was really there. She looked so hot—“

Riki had closed his eyes and put his right hand out, right in front of Kenshi’s face. “Stop! That’s enough out of you for now.” He seemed distraught by Kenshi’s blabbering and felt as though his entire face was about to twitch any second now. A sigh came out from his mouth and he placed his hand on the top of his forehead. “I know you really like her, but you have got to let things go. All this talk about Sayuri is making me irritated, so don’t add on to how sexy you think she is.” He opened his eyes, displaying his frustration and annoyance. “It just sounds so wrong coming from you, Kenshi.”

“It was pretty disgusting to hear about near the end,” Takuto commented indifferently. “I thought I was going to puke.”

Hiro nodded with a sickening expression. His frown and eyes made him appear as if he was a puppy on the verge of tears and illness. “I have to agree with Takkun and Riki there, Kenny. My stomach doesn’t feel good when you say it like that.”

Kenshi’s eyes widened in surprise. He didn’t think everyone would act this way. “W-What? Am I really that repulsive when I put how I feel in words? I just thought it’d be fine to let you guys know how I was thinking, that’s all!”

“But tell me, Kenshi,” Atsumu urged, “Do you really feel that way about Sayuri? I mean, if your emotions and words are genuine, I believe it’s okay for you to like her for the time being. Although, I’m not sure how long that will be. If she doesn’t leave your mind, then I think you can continue loving her for the rest of your life, and perhaps even beyond. It’s up to you to decide how you really feel about her.”

Kenshi smiled warmly at Atsumu’s words. “Boss…”

Rina frowned with her arms folded across her chest. “But to think you’ve fallen for Sayuri, rather than a normal girl. It’s really worrying, Kenshi.”

“Huh?” Kenshi asked. “What do you mean, Rina?”

Rina turned her back towards the counter and took a seat next to Kenshi. She glanced at him and told her fellow thief and friend something for everyone else, along with him to hear, still having her arms against her perfectly rounded bust. “Kenshi, not only have you grown feelings for a magician, but you’ve also begun to harbor them for a magician of fate.”

“A magician of fate?” he inquired further.

“Sayuri is one of the magicians with a power that can draw others to her, hence she is one of the magicians of fate,” Rina elaborated. “In Neon, magicians are classified under three categories: intelligence, power, and fate. Those under the name of fate are the magicians who many are pulled towards. Sayuri’s beauty and wings have created a romantic effect on you, which in turn, has caused you to fall in love with her. Though it may sound like an illusion, it is not. Your feelings for her are indeed the real thing, so it’s no doubt you kept thinking about her after we came back. Anyone who is attracted to a magician like similar to Sayuri’s powers in a sexual direction is going to fall for them no matter what. It is inevitable, and there is a high chance you will never be able to fall in love with someone else even if you wanted to as a means of forgetting a magician of fate.”

“So, that means Kenny’s forever stuck with liking Sayuri that way?” Hiro asked. He was astonished once again since he heard Rina’s explanation. “Then, he’ll never get a girlfriend!” he exclaimed, realizing with zeal of Kenshi’s unfortunate circumstances. “Alright! Seeing as Kenny won’t be able to stand a chance against any guy who has Sayuri’s heart, he’ll be doomed from love forever. Yay~!”

Kenshi felt as though he was going to burst from the inside out. “Hiro, that’s pretty cruel of you to say right now! I’m in a giant buzz, you know!” He frowned uneasily, and asked, “Can’t I at least get some support from you guys on this? Boss is the only one who’s given his okay so far, and I’m really in a pinch when it comes to Sayuri.”

“Well, we’re only telling you our emotions and opinions,” Hiro stated. “Plus, even if you wanted to go out with her, everyone will instantly acknowledge the fact that you two would be the unfit pairing of all of us. I can’t say I’m fine with that thought myself. It just makes me sick to think of you and Sayuri together.”

Rina narrowed her eyes. “Sorry, Kenshi, but I can’t give you my approval for this, either. Sayuri is a magician, after all. You don’t seem to be suitable for someone out of your league. In fact, I have to be honest and tell you my outlook on your hopeless case. I think an ordinarily woman would be the best choice for you to date. Of course, it’s all up to you. However, I could never picture you and my best friend ending up together. I know it’s a bit harsh of me to say this, but considering what it’s like to be around you, maybe it’s better if you married a human girl instead.”

“See?” Hiro laughed. “Even Rina knows what’s right and wrong. You’re a good person and all, Kenny, but you’re more like the guy next door. You’re just an average person in the universe, and you can’t change that about yourself. It’s all about luck and having a set life. You should know that by now since you don’t really have anything that makes you an elite like Rikkun and Takkun, who tend to make more money with their careers.”

At that second, Kenshi could sense a raincloud over his head, letting all the bad things pour down as small droplets of rain. “…” He knew Hiro’s words were true, but he didn’t want to admit it. A conflicted expression overtook his face. Inside, it felt like he was dying, rotten to the core of his body—his heart and soul.

Riki breathed with a strained smile, letting himself relax while he looked at Kenshi. “In love with the enemy, huh? That’s something I never would have imagined in our group, but I guess it’s just like Kenshi to be the tragic one of all. Poor guy. It must be pretty rough to be in his shoes. He seems even more exhausted than before.”

Takuto was still as stoic as he usually was at times like these. “It can’t be helped in his case. He was born to be less than a star-crossed protagonist and we can’t do anything to adjust his life to how he wants. He’s going to have to deal with it, rather than sulk under a cloudy, gray sky.” Then, his playful grin came onto the scene. “But that’s what he gets for letting his guard down while we’re executing our missions. I bet he’s been up all night playing his horror RPG games again.”

Rina looked up and glanced at Takuto with a quizzical expression. “Like ‘The Beast’s House’?”

“I was thinking more of ‘The Twisted Man’ or ‘Death Demon’, but that works, too,” Takuto mentioned. “But maybe he’s more into ‘Mutilation Party’ even though it’s for one of those game consoles, instead of his PC.”

Rina frowned with a fearful (in a calm way, somewhat) look on her face. “That’s the one where a bunch of kids get transported into another dimension, right? I don’t like the amount of blood and carcasses in the game. They freak me out.”

“Don’t worry,” Takuto reassured his ex-girlfriend. “If Kenshi has you go over to his house to watch him play that game, call me and I’ll punch him right in the face for giving you a scare. I can land a powerful hit in no time.” Another grin formed on his face due to his enjoyment. “I should try beating him at his own hobby sometime. It’s been a while since I was over at his house, so it’ll be a good warm-up for me.”

Rina held her right hand near her face, and it was already curled into a fist-like structure as she giggled. “Think I should give you a massage when you decide to go there? I could also prepare some food for you two to eat while you’re in his room.”

“Mm…” Takuto was really into that notion. “Yeah, I’ll need one to shake off all the stress from work, so you can go ahead. In fact, I don’t mind if you gave me one now.” His nonchalant expression returned with a frown. “I’ve been tired lately, but I know I’m not the only one who’s been getting worn out. So, I won’t force you to do something like that for me if you don’t want to. Even if I’m a deadbeat, I can still try to make it on my own. I’m sure it must hurt to be held down by your own friend’s power, huh? Are you still unable to use most of your powers, Rina?”

Rina smiled at Takuto weakly. “If it didn’t, I wouldn’t be using only my physical strength. I was only able to lift Riki up and throw him into the air to retrieve the orb for Rie and Ken’s sake. Even if I wanted to use my other abilities right now, it would take a lot of damage from my body and…” She trailed off, gazing at the programmer sadly while still managing to smile. “Other than that, I can’t use my magic to do much.”

Takuto lowered his eyes. A guilty sensation flowed through his chest. “Why didn’t you use the orb for yourself? You could have gained you powers back if you did.”

Rina shook her head while looking down at her lap. “I couldn’t think of doing something for myself because my family needed it. They have to secure the shrine with it so they can survive there. I have to do what I can to help them build a location to live peacefully in this world, Takuto. They’re not as use to the area in Tokyo since they’ve just arrived here. Ikebukuro’s also a dangerous place, and it’s far worse than where we are. Since their powers are limited right now, they can’t use most of their abilities to harm the people in the city. Ken and Rie are trying to hold up on their own with raw strength, but it won’t always last long for them, and Ikebukuro’s amount of hazards isn’t allowing any of the orbs to appear, so they’re being sent in Ginza. Takuji’s also living in Roppongi at the moment but he’s been getting busy with the work they give him at an editorial department. He doesn’t have as much free time as any of us do and he’s also got a girlfriend who’s also a magician from Neon living with him.”

Hiro tilted his head to his left. “Hey, does that also mean Sayuri’s involved with helping out your comrades from Neon, Rina? She was also after the orbs and she got away with the other two. Is she using them for something right now?”

Rina glanced at Hiro and smiled. “She’s probably in Roppongi by now giving them to Takuji and helping his girlfriend out. She’s been getting weaker since they got here and her health has always been in pretty bad shape since she was born. She’s also a member of the royal family.”

“Wait,” Riki said with a stern expression. “I believe Mitsuki told me this before, but isn’t the surname of the royal family in your world Suzushiro?”

“Yes, that’s correct,” Rina confirmed. “The person Takuji is seeing is the middle child of the Suzushiro family and her name is Asuka. She’s a teacher who helps out at some of the local schools in Roppongi and is known to be an elegant beauty. Her personality is sort of like a Yamato Nadeshiko, so you can think of her as one in a magical form.”

“Elegant, young in appearance, and a princess all in one, huh,” Atsumu mused. He was becoming interested in the girl Rina had described while having his right hand gently placed on the side of his face. “She seems to be someone from a fairytale, don’t you think? Just my type of girl. A teacher, even. How marvelous. She must truly be a sight to see.”

Kenshi had a perplexed expression as he looked at Atsumu. “Boss, you’re still going on about the kind of girls you want to date? Are you already too old for that?”

“And switching between each and every one of them, too,” Hiro narrowed his eyes in annoyance. He showed his irritated state shortly after. “Just how many are there whom you’re into? You’re a widow, so you don’t need to make any comments about liking other girls.”

Riki smirked. “Looks like Hiro’s really pissed off tonight. I guess even our youngest member has to feel sexually frustrated about women sometimes.”

“How gross can you be, you perverted old geezer?” Takuto questioned with aggravation.

Atsumu waved both his hands in front of himself like they were a sword and shield. “Stop attacking me, guys!” he laughed fretfully and could feel himself becoming sweatier with each second that passed by. “I was only kidding about it!”

Rina sighed. “Why don’t we just concentrate on our missions more? We still have several orbs to collect and send out, so try thinking more about our situation right now. There isn’t enough magic to sustain the magicians residing in different cities here, you know.”

Riki nodded. “Rina’s right. It’s also putting a lot of effort on her part to participate in them, which implies that we need to find the rest before something happens. We don’t want the worse-case scenario, so let’s call it a day and take a good rest until tomorrow.”

“Then, I’ll walk you home tonight,” Takuto proclaimed. “Unless…” He had a devilish grin on his face. “…you want me to carry you there in my arms?”

Takuto’s preposition made Rina blushed furiously. “W-What are you saying at a time like this, Takuto?! I can walk home by myself or teleport there without any problems!”

“You don’t have to refuse, you know,” he continued with the same expression. “We used to date, so it shouldn’t be such a big deal to get carried home at night.”

Rina’s anger was flaring up. “No thanks! I don’t need my ex-lover to do anything like that for me, so you can just leave it and go home by yourself.”

“Ooh!” Hiro perked up. “Things are getting steamy in here!”

Riki started fanning himself with his hand. “Tell me about it. I can feel chili peppers coming from those two. Ugh… It’s getting to hot in here.”

Indeed. It was becoming uncomfortable to bear for the leader of the Black Foxes. Riki felt like his body was on fire, and Kenshi couldn’t agree more.

“Whew!” Kenshi exhaled. “Maybe I should get the fire department to make a special case for Rina and Takuto. I can see too many sparks flying between them. It’s getting too much to bear in here.”

Atsumu took out a fan and waved it towards the lit-on pair. “I wonder if things will be okay.” He was wearing his usual smile on his face and was getting into the situation. “I haven’t seen this happen between them before, so maybe I should try grilling some food near Takkun and Rina.”

“Don’t,” Riki panted. “The food you make will be burnt to crisps. Ah, geez! Will you knock it off, Takuto? You started the fire, so put it out.”

Takuto’s indifference returned when he heard Riki’s complaints. “Fine.” His shoulders dropped and he looked at Rina. “Suit yourself. Whether or not you decide to go home is fine with me.”

Rina frowned irately and disappeared in an instant. She had landed inside her apartment and the flames from before died down. It felt cool again inside Le Renard Noir and everything returned back to normal.

“Wow, Takkun,” Hiro said. “You really upset Rina. She was totally blazing just now!”

Riki started to catch his breath with some remaining pants. “Guess… something really happened while I was asleep a few days ago. Rina’s never this angry and we all know it.”

Kenshi sighed. “Yeah, I figured. Things weren’t looking too good when she got so flustered. Everyone could tell something was going on.” He glanced at Takuto and asked, “Takuto, did you do something to her a while back? Rina was pretty stoked there. It didn’t seem like anything you two would normally say to each other.”

Takuto frowned and averted his gaze towards the floor.

Atsumu put up with it and smiled lightly. “Takkun, be honest. If there’s something going on between you and Rina, you should at least say what’s on your mind. You know we’re all here for you, don’t you? We’re all ears for anything you want to relay to us.”

“That’s right,” Kenshi agreed. “We’re partners in crime, Takuto! A member of the Black Foxes is still part of the same team as the other members. We all think of you as a nonpareil friend and there’s no one who could ever beat you at your job. Each and every one of us has something the others can’t completely fulfill when we’re together or apart. Isn’t that what makes us a band of thieves at night, while having our own careers to do during the day?”

Riki grinned. “I hate to admit it, but Kenshi does deserve some credit for saying something commendable as that. It makes me want to knock him out myself.”

Kenshi’s shock got to him once more. “What? You’d hit me right here and now, Riki? I can’t believe you would consider doing something like that when we’re all together.”

“I’m playing around, you idiot,” Riki replied with his usual sedate expression implanted on his face. He placed his left hand on his waist and hip. “But are trying to suggest that I should put a punch on the side of your face when we’re alone together? Man, you can be pretty sickening sometimes, Kenshi.”

Hiro laughed. “Haha! Picking on Kenny is actually fun when you think about it. It makes all the serious stuff go away.”

“So, are we lumping him in with Beady over there?” Takuto asked. “I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, but Kenshi’s on a whole different level than an old barf who’s got no sense of commitment to anything or anyone.”

Atsumu’s eyes popped opened a bit further. “Hey! I’ve always been committed to Shinobu and the bar this whole time. If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t be here right now, would I?”

“Not like you’ve shown your worth,” Takuto bluntly countered. “Riki’s got better commitment than you. Just look how happy he is in love and work.”

Riki smiled contently with closed eyes. “What can I say? I try to make everything a success, so I guess it really does work out in the end for me.”

“Not like I was complimenting you or anything,” Takuto retorted dully. “I was just stating the facts.”

Riki glowered. “Tch. Should’ve known you were the one to ruin things whenever you wanted to break the ice, Takuto. But, anyway. It’s about time you tell us what happened between you and Rina. Why is she like this now? She’s usually so jovial and calm around everyone.”

Takuto looked at Riki with an apathetic expression on his face. “Riki, do I really have to? I don’t really have the energy to talk about it.”

“Yes, you do,” Riki answered in a composed manner. “And it’s not that you don’t have the will to speak about it; it’s because of your personality, Takuto. You refuse to talk about Rina much, and it kills the living hell out of us. Don’t you think it’d be a good thing to rely on us every time something bothers you to the point where it gnaws at your shoulder or the back of your mind?”

Takuto looked down at the floor and stared at it. “It’s not as easy as you think it is. There’s still too much to apologize for and I haven’t done anything to convey that feeling yet.”

Hiro’s eyes lowered with sorrow when he saw how much Takuto was suffering. It was as though a knife went straight through his heart. “Takkun…”

When I think about it, he did have a hard time deciding on whether or not he had to hurt others, especially Rina, Hiro thought. But it’s even more painful just to see his heart aching again. It really wounds a person who knows how he feels about everything.

Kenshi lowered his head. “I bet it really makes you feel guilty, doesn’t it? But there’s still something we need to know, Takuto.”

Atsumu smiled helplessly at the group of men. “But I can think of a certain day in particular.” His expression became serious as he looked at Takuto. “Takkun. It was right after you went after Rina, wasn’t it? I could sense you two had something connecting your bond with each other due to the amount of time you were gone. I’m positive you must have done something that affected Rina in a few ways. While you all weren’t here, she kept getting lost in thought for several minutes. Luckily, she didn’t get off track before a customer showed up, so it was only before we opened the bar. It was just as if something in her system was full of bugs.”

Riki grimaced at that last sentence. “Boss, she’s not a robot or computer. She’s a living girl who has extraordinary qualities.”

“I know what I’m talking about,” Atsumu responded casually. “Still, Rina wasn’t like her usual self. I wanted to ask her about it, but I figured it was best not to. There seemed to be a lot on her mind, so I left her alone to think for herself. I know you might not appreciate the thought of any of us meddling into your affairs, Takkun, but it could help mend things between you two.”

Takuto nodded. “I know, but… Is it really alright to discuss about this? I’ll only cause trouble for you and everyone else.”

“Of course it is!” Atsumu exclaimed with a broad grin. “You can always count on us, so don’t hold back now! How long do you think we’ve known each other, anyway?” He relaxed a little. “If you say that we don’t understand you at all, then you’re wrong. We’re basically family, remember?”

Hiro’s face brightened when he heard the word ‘family’. “That’s right, Takkun! We’re like brothers, so you don’t have to take in all the pain for yourself to handle. We’re always with you no matter what!”

“Don’t forget the good and bad times now, Takuto!” Kenshi smiled energetically. “We’ve gone through plenty of difficult times together, haven’t we? There’s no way we could abandon anyone in our team!”

“You really think we’d leave you alone?” Riki inquired with a sneaky grin. “C’mon, man! We’re always together even when we’re apart. Don’t you feel the same way, Takuto?”

The other fours’ words made Takuto realize how close they truly were to one another. “You guys…” He smiled back at them and allowed himself to speak the truth, which was a rarity not many knew about. The next thing he knew, he was looking back to what occurred not too long ago with unsettling emotions. “To be more precise, after we walked to Rina’s apartment, I…”


Rina gazed into Takuto’s eyes when she found out (unintentionally) about Takuto’s feelings. “Takuto, do you still love me?”

Takuto was unable to meet his past lover’s gaze, so he averted his eyes from Rina’s. A whirlpool of emotions overflowed within his body, and his appearance was resolute. “Yeah, I’m still in love with you, RIna. I’ve never stopped loving you, even after we broke up.”

I still love you, but I could never say that before, Takuto thought. It always hurt to see your sad expression, but I had my reasons for breaking up with you.

Several feelings from the last few years were sending themselves into Rina’s heart as she looked at Takuto with sad and uncertain eyes. “Takuto, I—“

She was soon cut off with a soft, warm sensation on her lips, which came from Takuto’s, and her overwhelming emotions became one big surprise when she realized what was happening. Takuto had kissed her—something he had not done since the day they broke up—and that hit her pretty hard. Once he pulled away, she looking down at the floor of her apartment and ground with disorientation.

“About that kiss just now…” she brought up. She was very flustered at that instant and could not look at Takuto at all. “I… Um…”

Takuto only nodded and said, “Those are my true feelings. Whether or not you believe me depends on what you decide in the end. Anyway, I’ll take my leave, so you don’t have to get me anything. I’ll be at the bar to get Beardface to reheat my pork noodles.” He held up his right hand in a wave and turned around, making his way towards Le Renard Noir. “Well, bye. I’ll see you later.”


Hiro’s eyes widened in shock and surprise at Takuto’s confession of the night that took place a few days ago. “You kissed Rina?!” It was still novel to him and the others what they had heard from Takuto’s mouth.

“Takuto, you—“ Riki started to say before stopping himself. He let out a sigh and understood the situation. “I see. So that’s what pulled her trigger.”

Takuto gave a light nod with his head. “Yeah. It’s not like I meant to set her off, but it just happened. I couldn’t help myself from kissing her, so I guess it must have come off as a huge shock to her when I did it.”

“Of course it did,” Hiro frowned. “Anyone would be surprised when someone they used to be with just kisses them out of nowhere, and without any warning, too. I can certainly tell you that it only makes a person more self-conscious when someone decides to plant a sucker on their lips.” He exhaled in a sigh. “I think Rina’s been going through too much because of it. She’s probably trying as hard as she can to concentrate on everything, including our missions.”

Kenshi placed his left hand on the back of his head. “I feel bad for Rina, but there’s just too much to think about right now.” He had an unyielding look on his face while observing the others. “We have to help out the other magicians who are here on Earth. They’re not going to last long without the help of those orbs, and we’re slipping away from our duties as members of the Black Foxes. Didn’t we learn anything at all tonight? If we don’t get the orbs and send them over to Ikebukuro, they won’t be able to live there without any conflict between themselves and the natives. We have to do this, or we’ll no longer be able to carry out another mission for the rest of our lives.”

“Kenshi’s right,” Riki declared. “We have to do something for their sakes, as well as Rina’s. I’m sure we all know this by now, but she’s also getting weaker by the day. Let’s do what we can to aid Rina and all the magicians living in this world.”

Atsumu nodded firmly. “Right. We can’t let them die out. The magic orbs are able to provide a means for their survival and we owe Rina a debt we can’t repay. I’ll see if I can locate them so we can take on a mission tomorrow night.”

“I’ll ask Seiko if she’s seen or heard anything about them,” Hiro offered. “There has to be something about it before then.”

“I’ll check out if anyone from work is into them,” Takuto announced nonchalantly. “I’m sure a few of them might have some valuable information on this. If not, we’ll just meet here and hurry to a location.”

Kenshi glance down. “Maybe the orbs won’t appear in front of anyone. They could be in a hidden place like the cave we were at a few hours ago.”

“So they could be at the top of a mountain?” Hiro asked. “But we won’t be able to run all the way there on foot!”

“We could use Rina’s teleportation to get to faraway areas if necessary,” Riki suggested. “As long as she’s not carrying any one of us, we’ll be fine. For now, we should get to bed. It’s already pretty late, so we’re practically wearing out our bodies.”

Atsumu yawned. “Perfect timing. I was just feeling sleepy, so I’m turning myself in to my room.”

Kenshi nodded tiredly. “I’m getting exhausted myself.” He stood up from his seat and gave a wave with his hand. “Good night, guys. See you all tomorrow.”

It was a matter of minutes before the entire group went to sleep for the night. Taking a place to stay in the bar, they permitted themselves to lay down on a bed and finally had some shut-eye.


XXX


The next night, the Black Foxes were gathered inside of Le Renard Noir. An explanation was about to be told by none other than Rina herself.

“I can’t believe this,” Rina breathed in exasperation. “To think an enormous amount of orbs suddenly appeared throughout the whole area.” She took a sigh. “I guess the survival of the magicians depends on them now that it’s come to this. By the way, I believe I have enough energy to teleport us to the mountain. Just take a sprint towards the door and let’s hurry!”

Everyone nodded and followed Rina’s instruction, preparing to run over to the entrance. Atsumu, however, was staying behind as usual. Once the other five began to dash, they were immediately teleported to the mountain summit they were supposed to arrive at. The members of the Black Foxes were on what appeared to be a battlefield, and the trembling sensation they felt added to it. They steadily walked further, just several feet away from being near the edge of the cliff.

“Is it just me, or does it feel like we’re on the death grounds of countless soldiers from decades ago?” Hiro asked, shaking at the thought of someone—perhaps an army or group of men—passing away right at the spot they were standing on.

Riki shook his head. “No, I don’t think it’s only you, Hiro. But something feels out of place about this location. It’s as if we’re going to encounter someone soon.”

“Uh, Riki,” Kenshi put forth, “I don’t want to burst your bubble, but I think it’d be better if you didn’t say something to jinx us. We’ve already had enough failures now, so we don’t want to have any more.”

“Sorry,” Riki apologized. “The air gives it that kind of feeling. It’s not like I can really help it, either, Kenshi.”

Takuto scanned the area. “My laptop’s telling me the orbs should be around here, but I don’t see them anywhere.”

“I can sense them and their presence is getting stronger the farther we go,” Rina informed. “Maybe we should walk a bit more.”

Hiro frowned once more. “You mean, go to the edge of the cliff? Are you sure about this, Rina?”

Rina’s shoulders dropped and her face clouded over with an indefinite expression. “Not entirely. I don’t really know if we’ll see something there, but it’s worth a try.”

“Hopefully we’ll be able to find something,” Riki remarked. “Black Foxes, let’s go. It’s show time.”

They all agreed and made their way towards the inner surroundings of the pinnacle. Hiro was anxious about it, but continued with the others who were by his side.

“Well?” Riki asked. “Find anything down there?”

“No,” Kenshi voiced his disdain. He had searched where he was standing and even looked down, but did not see any of the orbs. Only the sea and eroding rocks were visible. “There’s not much over on my side. What about you?”

Riki gave another shake of his head. “No, not here, either. Why aren’t they here? I thought the orbs were supposed to be somewhere on the mountain, but is the signal off?”

“There’s definitely an indication from this point,” Takuto affirmed after taking another look at his laptop. “It’s pretty high, so there’s no doubt about it.”

Hiro also stood in place. “I have a bad feeling about this. There’s no telling where the orbs are, so maybe we need to inspect the mountain some more.”

“There’s a vast pull coming from here,” Rina mentioned. “It’s like I’m being taken down.”

Hiro tilted his head to his right. “I don’t feel anything, though.”

“Oh, but you will,” a female voice said from behind.

The Black Foxes turned to see who it was, and as they alleged, Sayuri was right there in the air with her extravagant wings, floating in front of them from a distance.

“Sayuri!” Hiro shouted with surprise displaying in his eyes.

Riki placed his left hand on his hip again. “So, it’s you. Why are you here? Did you already take the orbs?”

“Who can say?” Sayuri questioned in a deliberate, toying manner. “All I can really articulate to you is that you’re no wrong about them being in this place. However, you’re not going to be able to find them if you just dilly-dally around all night.”

Hear those words made Riki smirk. “Well, aren’t you a mysterious lady? You know, you could be a great addition to our team. What do you say?”

A look of fury overcame Sayuri’s sophisticated expression in a matter of second and all hell broke loose. “Me? On the side of the renowned Black Foxes?! Who the heck do you think you’re speaking to?! I’m a magician who’s on the side of the law, not a troublemaking criminal like you! As if I would ever wish to join you band of thieves!”

Sayuri’s wrath was enough to blow the guys away, as she utilized her wings to create giant gusts of wind towards the men standing in front, not counting Rina as a thief. Riki and the others were about to be blown away by the time Sayuri flew off and were struggling to keep their feet on the ground.

“Ugh!” Riki yelled. He, Kenshi, Hiro, and Takuto weren’t going to be able to stay on land for long, and it was only getting worse on them.

At that moment, Rina started to glow with a blue light. “Riki! Everyone!”

A bizarre power was preventing the Black Fox members from nearing their falling deaths and held them back from the cliff’s brink. It was as though a miraculous force was upon them. Just as they were being saved, Rina’s body gradually slipped toward the cliff and her eyes began to close. Soon, she reached the border, and started to fall down into the sea.

Takuto, Hiro, Riki, and Kenshi’s eyes widened as they saw Rina’s unconscious body dropping.

“Rina!” Takuto shouted. He felt his heart sink as he and the others witnessed the scene, and a feeling of terror and trepidation quickly asphyxiated his entire body.

Beyond a Thief’s Power Episode 5

Old Feelings, New Ones, and a Chase for Magic


Takuto had finally caught up to Rina in a matter of seconds, having dashed in a frenzy after leaving Le Renard Noir without taking his time to sit down and eat his dinner for the night. He interrupted his ex-girlfriend’s quiet expedition home the second he grabbed onto her left arm with his right hand, instigating her to turn around.

“Just what do you think you’re trying to do, leaving without waiting for me to finish?!” He asked aggressively. Then, Rina’s gaze caught his attention, making his heart to waver as it skipped a beat, and he suddenly thought back to the day he had always regretted.

Like how they were at the moment, it felt like that winter day over three years ago. The season they were in was different, but it still gave Takuto a memory of the past he and Rina shared the last time they saw each other until now.


December 14, 2003


After Takuto and Rina finished their date that afternoon, they began to go their separate ways. But then… He decided to turn around, and walked a few steps forward, taking hold of Rina’s left arm with his right hand. Rina looked back and gazed into Takuto’s golden eyes with her honey-colored ones. This caught Takuto off-guard, as he felt a stinging pain in his chest when he looked at his girlfriend’s innocent and pure expression. While Rina didn’t know what was going on, Takuto’s look changed to a grief-stricken frown. He knew he was going to have to go through the saddest thing that would happen and he glanced down, while his eyes became shadowed from the seventeen-year-old girl’s eyesight.

“Sorry, but let’s break up,” he apologized.

Rina’s eyes widened with confusion swirling around in her mind. “Huh?” She could not believe what she heard from the twenty-one-year-old young man she was in love with.

Takuto looked up with a cold expression on his face. “I don’t love you anymore, Rina. My feelings for you have changed now, so I think it would be better if you forgot about me.”

Tears formed in Rina’s eyes as she lowered them by a small fraction. “But why…? It wasn’t like that a few minutes ago. Everything was going fine before, so why now…?” She placed her hands on Takuto’s jacket and held onto it with her fingers. “I don’t want this to happen. I want to be with you forever, Takuto…!”

Takuto frowned, staring into Rina’s eyes. “If you stay with me, you’ll never truly be happy. That’s why, I’m letting you go.”

Seeing Takuto’s indecipherable expression made it even worse. Rina’s tears began to fall, and she lowered her head with a sob. Her forehead was slightly touching Takuto’s jacket, and her hands were stilling holding onto it in anguish.

“Please don’t do this, Takuto…” she begged. “I don’t want us to break up so suddenly. I just… don’t like having to drift away from you without any warning. Why can’t we stay together like we always did? Why does it have to come to a bad ending? Can’t you… explain your reason for cutting us off from each other…?”

Takuto shook his head and narrowed his eyes after hearing Rina’s painful cries. “No… I can’t tell you anything for your sake.” He pulled Rina’s body away from his by putting his hands on the upper sides of her arms near her shoulders, and gently separating them a very small distance from one another. She raised her head a bit to look at him and in turn, Takuto focused on her tear-stained face. He set his right hand on the side of her face and smiled softly. “I’m sorry it had to come to this, but I wanted to say one last thing before we stop seeing each other. Thank you, for falling in love with a despicable guy like me. I don’t actually deserve to be loved by a kind girl like yourself, Rina. Take care and goodbye.”

He leaned down and closed his eyes, kissing the blonde magician as a farewell sign. In an instant, Rina’s painful emotions came pouring out, and her tears fell once more. She closed her eyes and accepted Takuto’s lips for a final time.


XXX


Takuto currently had a blank expression and was frowning in an unhappy manner. Rina was still gazing at her ex-boyfriend’s face. She was perplexed by Takuto’s abrupt stop and tilted her head to her left in concern.

“Takuto?” she asked. “Is something wrong? You don’t seem like your usual self today.”

There was no answer from the dirty blond man. He was stuck in the memory of the past and would not come back.

“Takuto?” Rina called out again. “Hello? Earth to Takuto Hirukawa~.” Knowing he would not return to reality yet, she gently placed her right hand on the side of his face, making his eyes widen. Her eyes lowered by about less than a tenth and she had a solemn expression on her face. “Looks like you’re back. Where did you wander off to? I was worried about you this whole time.”

Takuto blinked a couple times. Then, he dodged the question after releasing Rina’s hand. “Huh? Oh.” He was back to being nonchalant towards anyone he knew. “It’s nothing. You don’t have to worry about me. I’m just here to take you home since you walked out before I even got to eat.”

Rina frowned. “Then, you should have just stayed at the bar until you were done. I was only going back to my apartment for the night. You don’t have to go that far to—“

“Shut up!” Takuto yelled. “Of course I do! You’re my partner, aren’t you?! We’re part of the same team, so I have to take you back to your place no matter what. Wouldn’t you do the same for me?” His eyes narrowed and his tone of voice calmed down. “You said that you would support me no matter what, so I’ll do the same for you. I’ll continue to do my portion of our promise as long as we’re both alive.”

“But that was for our missions,” Rina pointed out. “We haven’t even had one since the incident with Sayuri. It’s not the same like when we’re doing our job as thieves, remember?”

At that moment, Takuto’s face quickly flushed red. He realized what he had blurted out and was humiliated yet again. “I-I know that! I was just reminding you, s’all. Since we’re both… you know.”

Rina gave an eye smile. “Yeah, I know.” She opened her eyes. “We can’t say it in public, so let’s just leave it at that.”

She narrowed her eyes with a soft expression.

We can’t say anything about being part of the Black Foxes in front of other people, but that’s fine, she thought. Another frown appeared shortly after. However, being a thief is basically a night job, as well as a risky one to boot. We can’t afford to get caught, but the real problem is: Can everyone else in our group resolve any conflicts with Sayuri and come to a resolution? She’s a magician whose strong sense of justice opposes any crimes that are known to the public, especially those we have made. She won’t attack those she considers a friend, but she will take action against everyone else. I can only hope things will go well from now on between the guys and Sayuri. It won’t be easy, but we’ll have to figure something out.

Takuto held out his left hand this time in front of Rina. He dared not to take a glimpse at her and had his right index finger on the side on his face, moving it up and down. In truth, he was still a bit flustered from being put in an embarrassing situation. “Here. Take my hand. I’ll walk you back to your place for at least making the food with Beardy.”

Although she appreciated the thought of holding hands with her former lover, Rina shook her head. “Thanks, but I’d rather not do something that will embarrass you even more, Takuto. I’d feel bad for you.”

Takuto frowned. “I guess not.” An impish grin spread on to his face. “I wouldn’t want to get anyone on our case, especially the guys. They’ll just tease us, and you’d be the only girl in our group who has to put up with them for now. If they bring anything else up, you could beat them to it like you did with Kenshi the day of our last mission. Let’s hope he doesn’t make any more RPG game references. He’s too into the downloadable ones from the Internet, so he’ll keep getting bitten by everyone. He can be a nerd at times, but it’ll only make things funnier for us to pick on him.”

Rina laughed. “Not like it wasn’t obvious or anything, but Kenshi does have some of the qualities of a gamer who can’t stop playing those types of games. He really likes playing the horror genre they have, but he gets freaked out every now and then from the jump scares.”

“Right?” Takuto asked. “When he screams, we can mug him.”

Soon enough, the two of them strolled all the way to Rina’s apartment. They were in front of the door, and Rina unlocked it with her key. Then, she walked in, and looked back at Takuto.

“Why don’t you come in for now?” she offered. “I can give you something to eat if you want. But then, maybe you’d rather have me call Boss to bring your food here instead.” She had another soft expression on her face, but when Takuto saw it, his chest started to hurt. “It’s fine if you don’t want to. I just thought you might like something to fill your stomach since you haven’t eaten anything yet.”

Takuto looked down. “No, that’s not it. I…”

Seeing the expression on his face, Rina immediately knew something was on Takuto’s mind. Then, she gazed into his eyes and asked, “Takuto, do you still love me?”

Takuto’s eyes widened and he looked up, unable to avert his eyes away from Rina’s. A surge of his past feelings began to resurface, and his complexion became stern. “Yeah, I’m still in love with you, Rina. I’ve never stopped loving you, even after we broke up.”

I still love you, but I could never say that before, he thought. He was still staring at Rina with so many emotions running through his entire body. It always hurt to see your sad expression, but I had my reasons for breaking up with you.

Rina’s heart was filled with different feelings she kept inside for the last few years. She wasn’t sure what to think, but she felt a mixture of sadness and pain. “Takuto, I—“

Before she could say anything else, Takuto’s lips were suddenly on hers. Rina’s eyes widened with surprise taking the place of her burdening emotions from a split second ago. It was not until a few seconds later that Takuto pulled away, looking into Rina’s eyes with his own; unlike Rina, however, he wasn’t surprised about anything that happened within the short time they shared.

Rina was now blushing and swiftly glanced down at the floor/ground in front of them. “About the kiss just now… I… Um…” She could feel her face getting hotter, but she couldn’t look directly at Takuto.

Takuto, however, nodded. “Those are my true feelings. Whether or not you believe me depends on what you decide in the end. Anyway, I’ll take my leave, so you don’t have to get me anything. I’ll be at the bar to get Beardface to reheat my pork noodles.” He held up his right hand. “Well, bye. I’ll see you later.”

Takuto turned around and walked downstairs towards Le Renard Noir; Rina was still at the door in a frozen state, and the heat had already drained from her face. Her shoulders dropped slowly and she stared at the scenery in front of her.

“Takuto… kissed me…” She trailed off with her dazed expression before turning around and closing the door behind her. The second after, she looked down and took her shoes off at the foyer. “…He really… kissed me…”

It’s been a while since we shared a kiss together… but why now…? She asked in her deepest thoughts. He hasn’t been trying to tell me how he really feels until now. Guess he really dropped the bomb there, didn’t he? Takuto. What are you thinking, doing that to me? I’m your ex, not your current lover. We’re not an item anymore, remember? You can’t just plant a kiss on my lips like that without confessing your feelings beforehand, or letting me finish. That’s not how things work in my world, but I guess you humans really don’t have any decency towards loving someone who’s out of your league. Geez… You’ve changed since then, yet you can’t at least tell me anything first? What happened during those years we spent apart from each other? Rina sighed, closing her eyes in exhaustion. I really want to ask, but at the same time, I’d rather focus on our missions before any romance happens between us.

She opened her eyes and placed her fingers on her lips, narrowing her eyes in a trance of some sort.

But… she continued. It really brought back a lot of memories. I never want to forget about the times we had together, but it makes me wonder if we’ll ever be something more than a broken up couple from the past. Again, I knew somewhere down that you had a lot on your mind. There were so many things I wanted to do for you, and it looks like the most I can do is to back you up when the time comes. However, it makes me wish you’d think more about how everyone feels every now and then.

A smiled appeared on Rina’s face.

Takuto Hirukawa, she said in her mind. You do know that you’re going to have to try harder to convince me, along with Sayuri and the other guys how you feel, don’t you? And with that, you should also know what you’ve done to THE Rina Tokuhara. I’m a magician of power, and I’m not your average young woman, so you have a price to pay for kissing me. After all, you’re my one and only partner, so I’ll throw those words back to you whenever you’re ready.

Once she completed her thoughts, Rina nodded to herself and went to the kitchen to prepare a late-night meal to eat, including a cup of tea. She had a new resolve which she had yet to reveal and it only made everything more exciting on her side.

Meanwhile, Takuto was back at the bar with Hiro and Atsumu still inside. He was sitting on a seat in front of the counter besides the art student and was absorbed on eating the rest of his pork noodles.

Hiro turned his head to his right to face the dirty blond. “So, did you get to see Rina off at her place?” Just like Atsumu, Hiro was interested in hearing what happened while Takuto was away.

Takuto stopped and gulped down a few of his noodles. Then, he looked at Hiro and said, “Yeah. That’s about it.” Suddenly, he started to cough and made a funny face. “Ack!”

Hiro closed his eyes and gladly patted Takuto’s back. “Haha, you really love eating those pork noodles, Takkun.”

Atsumu nodded. “I’ll say. Rina did help with preparing them, after all. I bet he really missed her cooking! Ahaha!”

Takuto was catching his breath and gave Atsumu an irritated look. “I’ll tell you… something, old man. If…” He coughed once more. “…all you really think about is how much I miss her, then you’re wrong.” Another cough came after that. “I…” Cough. “…don’t even like her as more…” Cough. “…than an accomplice for our missions.” And another cough. Soon, he regained his normal pace and added to his rant. “The only thing I really have to say about Rina is that she’s no more than a member of our team. There’s nothing more than a companionship between us. You got that?”

Hiro frowned. “But I think it’d be fine if you two got together again. I really liked how things were between you and Rina before you two broke up.”

“I agree,” Atsumu casually stated. “By the way, are you sure you only saw her off at her apartment, Takkun? It took some more time than I imagined for you to get back here.”

“Yeah,” Hiro kept frowning. “Is that really all you did? I mean, you could have stayed with her and asked her to get me—us, some of her strawberry cake. Rina still has some in her house, right? I—Well, Boss and I were wondering what to get for some extra dessert. I’m sure Rikkun would have wanted to have some, too.”

Atsumu smiled. “Speaking of Riki, he hasn’t gone out of his room for quite some time now. He’s probably dying of starvation at the moment, so why don’t you go to the store and get something? I’ll make you another bowl of pork noodles, Takkun. What do you say?”

A crosshurt appeared on Takuto’s head. “Do I look like an errand boy to you?! And what this about Rina having cake and pastries at home, anyway?! Also, you could just get some yourself, you lazy Beard-covered pervert!” He quickly glanced at Hiro and continued. “And don’t try to make me get stuff for you, Hiro! You can charm someone with your looks and have them buy your sweets anytime, so why don’t you think about adjusting your playboy schedule for once? I don’t have to do anything for you guys, and I don’t have to tell you about what happened between me and Rina! It’s none of your business what we do, understand?!”

Hiro and Atsumu exchanged glances with one another and devious smiled formed on their faces.

“So something happened, after all,” Hiro teased. “Did you kiss Rina? Or, did you do something to her and caught her off-guard?”

Atsumu laughed. “Ahaha! Oh, Takkun. You little devil. You must have really made her push you away! It makes me wish I could comfort her myself.”

Takuto’s face contorted and he was disgusted by the two around him. “What the heck are you thinking about?! I would never put a move on Rina. She’s my ex-girlfriend, not anything else! You guys really need to keep your dirty minds away from me, or I’ll shave off the perv’s beard and break his bones.”

Tears began to form in Atsumu’s eyes like they usually did. “That’s so mean, Takkun! I can’t believe you would really do that to me. It really hurts when you put it that way.” He wiped his clear and salty tears with a white, lacy handkerchief that he pulled out shortly afterwards. “I don’t want you to put me in extensive care, you know.”

Takuto frowned with his typical indifference. “Whatever. At any rate, I bet Riki’s cried himself to sleep by now. He doesn’t need you to get him anything until tomorrow.”

Hiro smiled wryly. “He can barely hold himself together at a time like this. We’ve also been doing poorly on our missions and we haven’t gotten anything back so far. Maybe we need to take a break from this for now. Kenny’s also been tired lately, and everyone else is, too. We should—“

“No,” Takuto refused. “We can’t do that.”

Hiro’s eyes widened. “Huh? What do you mean? We haven’t taken some time off in a while, Takkun, so we—“

“If we don’t get these missions done, we won’t be able to be thieves who have a large reputation for long,” Takuto pointed out. “We’re the Black Foxes. We need to get ourselves back in shape and do something about it.” Then, he grimaced. “Don’t you remember? Your ‘friend’ is our enemy now, Hiro. She isn’t the same person you knew from the café. That’s all been a façade for everyone when she’s actually siding with the police to bring us behind bars, and you know it. We have to win against her, or we’ll never be able to live out our normal lives again. You know what that means, right?”

Hiro nodded. “Yeah, I know. But we can barely catch up to Sayuri. She’s a magician who can corner others in a split second. She won’t let us go without a fight.”

“You’re forgetting that we have a magician in our group as well,” Takuto reminded the twenty-one-year-old. “Rina’s able to confront her, so she won’t be able to attack us that easily. We have an advantage here and we can use it to defeat that girl at her own game.”

Atsumu sighed and frowned. “You’re right, but I don’t think it’s something Rina wants, Takkun. She’s not the type of person to strike down her own friend. Since they come from the same world, they’re bound to refuse any act of harming one another when they have a close bond. We can’t afford to hurt Sayuri even if she is our enemy. You know what it means when someone goes against a magician, don’t you? We have to find a way to compromise with her. That’s how we can solve our differences and come to an agreement.”

“But how do you suppose we do that, Boss?” Hiro asked. He was hesitant about crossing paths with Sayuri and wasn’t certain what he should do the next time he saw her. “Sayuri’s pride might not allow her to come to a truce with us. It won’t be a simple task to carry out when you think about the consequences we’ll be going through.”

Atsumu put on a reassuring smile. “Don’t worry about it, Hiro. We’ll come up with a plan if we can. For now, we have to think about replenishing our strength to the fullest before taking on a new mission. Then, we’ll gather everyone here and go through with it. We’ve always done that in the past, and we need to do that sooner or later. We just have to give everything a bit more time. In a few days, we’ll get ready to steal something else. Now, I believe we should all rest for the night. We might as well call Kenshi in tomorrow and let him know.”

“I already sent him a message, so it’s fine,” Takuto replied. “We don’t need to do that anymore. He knows what to do, and he’ll be here as soon as he can later.”

“Wow, Takkun!” Hiro exclaimed in amazement. “That fast, huh? I guess you beat Boss’ speech.”

Takuto shrugged. “Well, we both knew sooner or later he was going to say something like that, so I decided to contact Kenshi about it. It was also getting boring in here, and there was nothing else to do besides listening to Beady talk about it.”

“Hey!” Atsumu shouted. “I can at least say a few great things now, can’t I? I’m the boss of the Black Foxes, so I have to be one a few times!”

Takuto laughed. “Pffft! Like anyone wants a middle-aged man to be the boss of the team, anyway. We can turn the tables around and shove your words in your face without any problems, so it shouldn’t matter if you’re the boss or not.”

“Uuu…” Atsumu whimpered. He was on the verge of tears again. “I know…”

Hiro sweat-dropped. “Takkun, I think Boss has cried enough times today, so let’s just leave him be for now.”

“Now way,” Takuto rejected. He was still enjoying himself. “This is pretty entertaining. And a lot better than having a girlfriend.”

“Ahaha…” Hiro laughed awkwardly. Hearing Takuto’s last sentence was a bit harsh for his heart to handle. “I hope you’re only joking about that. I feel bad for Rina.”

“Who knows?” Takuto grinned. “Might as well splurge on this while we still can.”

“I guess you’re right.”

The night went on with many cracks and amusing scenes, but there was more than the average person could stand. Within a few hours, the day was over and the early hours were arriving on the clock.


XXX


A few days had passed by and it was after closing hours at Le Renard Noir. The members of the Black Foxes were gathered inside and were about to begin their next mission.

“Alright,” Riki said. “Let’s go over the plan and make it fast. First, we’ll get to the cave and search for the orbs. Once we bring them back, we’ll disperse them to different parts of Tokyo and get them ready and set up. Then, if there aren’t any problems, let’s go!”

Hiro nodded. “Right!”

Everyone except for Atsumu dashed to their destination and were soon inside the cave Riki brought up. Within a matter of a few minutes, they were in the deepest part within. Inside was an underground lake with sparkling blue water; sitting above it in the center was an array of three beautiful orbs emitting a mysterious sensation and power. They each had their own colors and there were a magenta, blue, and red one lined in the exact order listed.

“Look!” Kenshi blurted out.

Riki’s eyes widened. “Are those…?” He started to ask, but was taken in by the incredible sight.

Takuto nodded. “Yeah. Those are the magic orbs that were sent out from the magician world. We’re in the right place, so let’s get them and hurry back to Beardface.”

“Not so fast!” a recognizable voice shouted. There was no one to be seen inside the cavern, but it was definitely someone Hiro, Takuto, and Rina knew.

Hiro’s eyes widened at the sound of the voice. “…!”

Takuto’s expression immediately changed with alertness. “Don’t tell me she’s already…!”

“That’s right,” Sayuri answered. A bright light suddenly flashed and Sayuri appeared a far distance behind the orbs. This time, she had a set of long wings that glowed with a pure bright light, resembling an angel’s, but they were much more captivating. She had her staid expression from before, which was unwavering towards the group. “It’s me. I see you’ve brought your other members along, as well. It’s a pleasure to see you again, Black Foxes. I know you’re also after the orbs from the looks of it, so let’s see who can get to them first.”

“Who are you?” Riki inquired. He was on his guard and prepared for action.

Sayuri smirked assertively. “I’m Sayuri Mitsuyoshi, if that answers your questions. But, isn’t it a bit rude for you to ask such a question when you haven’t introduced yourself first? I heard it was a custom here in Japan, but perhaps I was mistaken or told otherwise. However, that does not matter in this situation.”

Riki grinned. “Oh? Then, I guess I can let you know something about myself. I’m the leader of the Black Foxes, Riki Yanase. It’s nice to meet you, but playtime’s over. We’re going to get the orbs back no matter what, so we’ll be the ones who get the last laugh out of this.”

“Idiot!” Takuto berated. “Why did you tell her your name? Now she’ll be able to find you during the day!”

Sayuri’s eyes narrowed.

It couldn’t be, could it? She thought.

“…” There was no direct reply from Sayuri as she stared at Riki.

Kenshi tilted his head to his left. “Huh? What’s wrong? She’s not saying anything.”

“She’s looking at Riki,” Takuto noted. “Now’s our chance to grab the orbs!”

Riki shook his head. “No, wait. I’d rather have a fair contest with her for them.”

Hiro blinked twice. “? So, we’re going easy on her?”

Riki nodded. “Yeah. I can’t seem to bring myself to take advantage of her. I’m sure Mitsuki wouldn’t approve of me doing this, anyway.”

Kenshi smiled. “So, it’s Saionji’s influence, after all.”

“Love seems to chain a man down, doesn’t it?” Hiro beamed. “Riki’s become softer thanks to Mitsuki.”

A disgusted expression spread onto Takuto’s face. “Ugh… So nasty!” His anger quickly showed and he felt mortified by Riki’s behavior.

Rina narrowed her eyes and was looking at Sayuri. “Hello? Sayuri, you there?”

This snapped Sayuri out of her thoughts. She glanced at Rina, then aimed her gaze at Riki. “…”

“I’ve got a question to ask you,” Riki declared with a frown. “Were you the one behind the incident at the mansion? If so, did you know we were coming there that night?”

Sayuri sighed and her shoulders slumped. “You’re partially correct about that. I did take the actual painting of Takuji, but that was all. I intended to bring it back to its rightful owner, nothing more.”

“What about the fake painting and the explosion?” Riki inquired further. “Didn’t you also swap the original one with a replica? And why did the mansion blow up? What’s your reasoning behind it?”

Sayuri tilted her head to her left and blinked. “A fake painting of Takuji? I have no knowledge about switching the painting, nor do I know anything about the mansion exploding. I was only there to take the painting back to Takuji’s friend in Roppongi. That’s all.”

“Wait, what?” Riki couldn’t believe what he heard. “You didn’t plan to set off the explosion? Then, who—“

“It was probably the mafia,” Rina deducted, having placed her curled hand near the side of her face. “I see. They must’ve wanted to sell the original painting overseas, but when they went to recover it, they saw it was missing, so they put the copy they had on the wall, and decided to blow the mansion up once we went there.”

Kenshi’s eyes widened in realization. “Then, that means…”

Rina nodded. “Yeah. They may know what we look like. However, they don’t know about Takuto, I’m sure, since he wasn’t in there. He’ll be safe even if they try to find us, but there’s not much we can do about it now.”

Riki bit his lip. “Damn it!”

“I guess Sayuri helped us resolve that case,” Hiro smiled.

Sayuri’s eyes were unmoving. There were no emotions of care for the male members, which left Rina out of her muse as she had barely made a movement in the windless air. “Are you through with all this chatter?” she asked. Though she had been patient enough to let them talk for some time, she was somewhat growing impatient on the inside. “I’ll be retrieving the orbs from you soon enough!”

With Kenshi’s help lifting his weight up, Rina held both of Riki’s ankles and threw him; Riki was launched towards the orbs. Sayuri swiftly flew toward them and grabbed hold of the magenta and red ones with her wings, while Riki was able to take the blue one away in time.

Sayuri dropped the ones she caught onto her hands and took a look at them. Then, she narrowed her eyes once more and scoffed. “Che. These will have to do for now.” She glances at the members of the Black Foxes. “We’ll meet again soon. I can just feel it in my wings. Until then.” She turned her head slightly to her right and gazed at Hiro. “Au revoir, Hiro. It was nice seeing you again.” Then, she looked back to view all of the members before smiling faintly. “Take care of Rina for me. You most of all, Takuto.”

With a flap of her wings, Sayuri vanished once more and was no longer in the Black Foxes’ sight. By the time she was gone, Riki was walking to the ground, having emerged from the water with the orb in his right hand.

“Come on,” Takuto held out his hand with a monotone expression. “Let’s get you back. And fast. We don’t want you to catch a cold from the water temperature.”

Riki smiled softly and took hold of Takuto’s right hand with his left. “Thanks. Sorry things had to be dramatic there.”

Takuto shrugged. “We know how you are, Riki.”

Kenshi nodded. “Yeah. You’re always pulling off stunts like these, so it’s not very uncommon to see you do something for the sake of completing the mission.”

“That’s right,” Rina patted Riki’s back with her left hand. “You also deserve some credit for doing that.”

Riki grinned. “You guys helped. I couldn’t have gotten this one without you two.”

“Now, you’re making things even more dramatic,” Takuto commented. He was still as unemotional as ever. “What’s with you?”

“Haha!” Hiro laughed. “That’s our Riki! Always being a nice guy in the end.”

“Hey,” Riki frowned. “I can’t help it. The leader of the Black Foxes has to praise his underlings.”

Everyone but Takuto laughed. He was in a sour mood due to Riki’s large amount of pride. They all came back to Le Renard Noir afterwards, and were welcomed by Atsumu, who was waiting for them with a set dinner at a different table than the night they returned from the mansion. Everyone but the boss changed back to the clothes they wore during most of the day and washed their hands before eating.


XXX


After the six of them ate together, they were sitting in front of the counter. Atsumu was behind it like he usually was, and they were about to send the blue orb away. A young woman’s face appeared on the screen that belonged to Takuto’s laptop. She was also another beauty to behold and had spring green hair which was long, and mauve eyes.

“Thanks for getting the orb,” the young woman thanked the group. “I truly appreciated the effort you all put in to finding it.”

Rina gave a strained smile. “Sorry we only got one back, Rie. There wasn’t much we could do about it. My powers were held back a bit.”

Rie lowered her eyes and smiled back affectionately. “No, I understand. Sayuri was there, wasn’t she? Her powers can hold someone as strong as you down for quite a while, so I know you couldn’t do much in that situation, Rina. I’m just glad you were okay. If something were to happen to you, I’m not sure what Ken and I would do about it.”

Rina held the orb in her right hand and it disappeared, making a type of liquid-like sound when it went. “Well, I’m sure you’ll be able to use the orb’s power to fuel Ikebukuro soon enough. See you later.”

Rie held her hand up. “Take care, Rina.”

The image on the screen faded out, leaving everyone in the bar to themselves.

“Your cousin seemed pretty nice,” Takuto said in a stoic tone of voice. “But she looked like a lily pad.”

Rina glanced at Takuto without moving her head and smiled in an ambiguous manner. “She did not. She was pretty.”

“I think she looked really colorful,” Hiro remarked. “Her hair and eye colors were different from what I’ve seen before.”

Riki smiled casually. “Since she’s also a magician, it’s normal for her to have an unnatural hair and eye color. We’re human, so we usually have bland physical features. It’s nice to see someone who has a bright look every once in a while.”

“Rina’s kinda normal for one,” Takuto stated. “But she looks pretty natural.”

“Sayuri does, too,” Hiro added. “Maybe there are some magicians like that in Neon.”

Atsumu let his shoulder fall. “I’m jealous, though. Rina’s cousin is such a beautiful young lady. I would have liked to marry someone like her had she not been taken already.”

“That’s taking a step too far, Boss,” Kenshi grimaced.

Takuto frowned nonchalantly. “We all saw it coming. He always says something perverted about girls now that he’s single.”

Riki sighed. “I feel bad for Shinobu. She was married to a man who would betray her through sexual harassment to another girl.”

Hiro nodded. “And a married one, too.”

“You all need to learn how to take a joke,” Atsumu sweat-dropped. “Try following Rina’s example. She doesn’t complain even though she doesn’t approve of it.”

“It’s your fault for starting it in the first place,” Riki frowned.

Atsumu burst into a panic. “What? It’s my fault.”

“That’s right,” Takuto grinned. “You’re the oldest, so it’s your fault.”

Hiro sighed. “You really dug your grave, Boss. I’m ashamed of you.”

While the guys were adding to their banter, Kenshi was silent. All he could think of was the sight he and the others saw in the cave.

Rina noticed this and glanced to her left. “? Kenshi? What’s wrong?”

Everyone stopped talking and paid attention to Kenshi, who was in deep thought until now.

“Well, I’m not sure how to say this,” he announced. He was looking down at the counter with slumped shoulders. “But I think I’ve fallen for Sayuri.”

This caught Hiro off-guard. “WHAT?!”

Everyone else was calm about it, unlike their youngest member.

Beyond a Thief’s Power Episode 4

Waiting for You


The next night, Hiro was at home. He was still depressed over what had happened the night before as he sat on the couch in his room. His hands were clasped together on his thighs and he looked down, staring into space for what seemed to be a while. At least, just before his younger twin sister Seiko barged in.

“Hiro!” she exclaimed with force. “Are you in here?!”

Hiro looked up and turned around. After that, he blinked. “? Seiko? What’s up?”

Seiko frowned with an angered expression. “Don’t ‘What’s up?’ me! I’m here to get something from you, remember? You promised you’d have the pumpkin pudding ready, so I came in here to get it!”

Hiro eyes widened faintly once he realized what his sister was in his room for. “Oh. Okay, uh…” He trailed off, placing his right hand on the side of his head. “It’s in the fridge. Did you want me to bring it over to you?”

Seiko’s eyes narrowed in discontent at her older brother’s tone of voice and expression. “Get a grip, Hiro! Don’t you even know your twin’s feelings about this right now? You’re not usually like this! What’s wrong with you tonight, anyway?” He face relaxed a bit, and she frowned. “You’d be more upbeat than this, but it’s not showing anywhere around you at all. Did something happen?”

Seiko’s concern for him caused Hiro to acknowledge his gloomy vibe. His shoulders slumped and he also gave a frown of his own.

“Sorry, Seiko,” he apologized. “I know I’m not myself at the moment, but there’s been a lot going on since yesterday. I can’t just get things out of my head all of a sudden.” Hiro sighed. “What’s wrong with me? I’m not even sure what’s happening anymore.”

Seiko had a sad look on her face. “Hiro…”

So that’s why he’s acting this way? Seiko thought. She felt a twinge of pain in her chest, and it was aching so much it was too unbearable for her to endure. Hiro… Can’t you even depend on me at a time like this? We’re family, so it’s okay to let it all out. But if you don’t, it’ll only make things worse between us, along with everyone else. So please… Think of me as a person you can cry in front of without holding back. I won’t be able to do anything for you if you can’t tell me about your feelings.

At that second, Hiro smiled sadly while looking down. “I’m, pathetic, aren’t I?” Those words made Seiko’s eyes widen. “I can’t even say anything in front of anyone about this, but I’m sure the guys all know since we’re always together. Even Rina knows about it, but we never thought things would turn out this way for us. Why… did it have to come to this? Just tell me why…” He looked up in anguish, which displayed all his sorrow. “Isn’t there a way I can solve this without getting the others involved? Can I really do nothing to put things back in place, Seiko?” Tears began to form in his eyes. Shortly afterward, they dripped down, landing on his hands and pants. “It hurts so much. It really does. My best friend… Things suddenly took a turn for worse between us yesterday and it’s all my fault for not being honest with her. If I had only told her more about myself, Sayuri wouldn’t have—“

Seiko was facing the floor and her entire body shook with many emotions welling inside. She felt she had to do something about Hiro’s current state, and that she was going to. She hastily looked up with a furious look on her face. “Stop it, Hiro! Quit blaming yourself for everything and just suck it up!”

Hiro looked up with surprise. He had never seen his sister this angry at him before. “…Seiko?”

“Don’t you even know how much everyone around you feels when you’re like this?!” Seiko continued to argue. “You get so depressed without consulting anyone that it drives me insane to watch you, Hiro! You need to learn how to rely on someone for a change and face your problems, instead of sulking all the time! Why don’t you tell me or your friends how you really feel about this?” She sighed, letting her shoulders drop after lowering her voice by an octave. “You’re not alone, you know. I’m here with you, right? You can tell me about it, but don’t force yourself to do so if you’re not ready. We’re twins, so we should know everything about each other that regular siblings don’t. Even if you refuse to let me know about this, I’ll always stick with you. You’re my big brother, after all. No one could replace you or me no matter what happens.”

“Seiko…” Hiro understood the love Seiko was always showering him with due to the fact they were family, an unconditional truth that could not be altered in one way or another.

Seiko’s expression took another switch, becoming a disapproving frown while blushing. “I mean, I know you like her and all, but you can always spoil me every now and then. I’m the baby of our family, so it wouldn’t hurt to be treated like I was before you met her. To be honest with you, I don’t actually hold anything against Sayuri. From what you’ve told me so far, I’d really like to meet her soon. She is someone important to you, so she’s important to me, as well. Don’t forget that, you hear me?”

She sauntered over to the refrigerator and opened it, grabbing the box of pudding with her left hand before closing it. Then, she hurriedly rushed back to her room, shutting Hiro’s door behind her. Hiro blinked, mystified at what had just happened.

Well, that was weird,” he said to himself. “I got told off by my own sister.” He laughed. “I can’t believe it! Seiko actually yelled at me. But,” his expression softened, and a warm smile appeared on his face, “I’m glad she did. I never would have thought something like this would happen, but I’m lucky to have her around.” He closed his eyes. “Thanks, Seiko. I owe you a lot of things that won’t be paid completely. It’s only a little, but at least I can do something for you when the time comes. I promise I’ll try to help you out one day.”

It was evident Hiro was grateful for Seiko’s assertive push moments ago. He felt relieved of the pain which stormed around his heart earlier. A few seconds later, his cell phone began to vibrate and Hiro opened his eyes, taking a glimpse at the caller ID that showed up. Apparently, the call was from Takuto.

“Takkun?” Hiro asked in a somewhat confused manner. “What could he possibly be calling me for at this time of night?” He slowly reached his hand towards the purple device and took hold of it. Then, he flipped his phone open and placed it near his ear. “Takkun? What’s up?” he smiled casually. “I wasn’t expecting you to call me at this hour. It’s only nine-twenty-seven right now. Did you need something? Or, did you want to hear my voice before you fall asleep?” Hiro inquired seductively, narrowing his eyes with a playful grin.

On the other end of the call, Takuto made a quick sickened face. “Ew! No way in hell I would ever call you for that, idiot! Did you get wasted or what?!” He calmed himself down, returning to his detached expression before Hiro picked up. “Anyway, you’ve been down in the dumps lately, so I was thinking maybe you’d want to go visit your detective friend together tomorrow or something. You know, to keep your spirits up.”

“Huh?” Hiro’s eyes widened. “You’re asking me to see Sayuri together with you?”

Takuto nodded on his side. “That’s what I’m sayin’. Do you want to come with me or not? We don’t really have to if you still feel bad about what happened yesterday. I just thought you’d like to talk things out with her, despite the fact that she’s still our enemy. She seems like someone you would rather see than the rest of us right now. So, what’s your answer?”

Hiro knew that Takuto was trying to do something for him in his own way. It was a little surprising, sure, but it was it was probably the most wonderful thing Takuto could ever do for him, seeing as how he isn’t absolutely the same person from back then. Nonetheless, Hiro understood that kindness that didn’t change all the way. It still left a loving warmth in his chest.

Hiro closed his eyes happily.

Takkun… You’re still there, he thought. Thank goodness you’re not saying anything terrible this time.

Hiro could feel tears running down his cheeks. He realized how much he missed Takuto’s old self.

If only things could go back to how they were before you two broke up, he resumed. Things wouldn’t have to be like this. You’d still be…

Right then and there, Hiro was interrupted from his mindset.

“Hello? Hiro?” Takuto called out. “Are you still there? If you’re not, I’m hanging up.”

Hiro swiftly opened his eyes in a panic. “W-Wait! Don’t hang up yet! I’ll go with you tomorrow!”

“Guess you made up your mind, huh?” Takuto acknowledged. “Then, we’ll meet up at your place at nine. Got that?”

Hiro nodded cheerfully. “Yeah. I hope Sayuri’s going to be there. Thanks, Takkun.”

Takuto blushed. He was becoming more flustered with his friends’ gratitude towards him. “I-It’s not like I wanted to help you repair your friendship with her, okay?! First Riki thanks me, and now you do the same thing, Hiro. What’s gotten into you guys lately?! Geez…” He looked down a bit and felt the heat rising from his embarrassment. “It’s like all I’ve been getting from you two are compliments for saying a few things. You don’t need to do that for me. I’m…” Takuto’s eyes lower as though he were going into a miserable state of mind himself. “I don’t even deserve something like that for what I’ve done…”

“Takkun…? What’s the matter?” Hiro asked with bewilderment. “You haven’t spoken like this since…”

Hiro feel silent, pondering about Takuto.

…since the break-up, he thought. Takkun… I’m sorry I couldn’t do anything for you until now. I’ve always wanted to help you and Rina out, but it looks like there haven’t been any improvements in your relationship this time. I really hope things will go well for you two. I never wanted to see you guys in so much pain, so why can’t we just go back to when everyone was happy? I don’t like how things are now! I just want you to be able to make amends for what happened. That’s all there is to it, Takkun.

Without any hesitation that time, Hiro shook his head and force himself to smile, looking back up.

“Ehe!” he laughed joyfully. “Oh, Takkun. You don’t understand how much we love you. It’s because you’ve supported us and brought Rikkun and I back on our feet. Don’t you know that? We’re only trying to show our appreciation, you know! That’s why you’ve gotten a thank you from the both of us!”

“Hmm.” Takuto was back to being indifferent to everything. “Well. You don’t have to go that far. I can keep at it without any worries, so… Thanks, I guess. Everyone’s been taking care of me for a long time now. It actually made me happy to see you stick with me since we were kids.”

Hiro’s lips curled up into a smile. “What do you mean? We could never abandon you, Takkun! You’re a part of our group, so don’t think you don’t belong with us or anything. We’d rather have you around, and we all think of you as an irreplaceable friend. The same goes for Rina, right? Try not to ignore her and let her be with us, too. She’s also important to all of us, including you. Hehe!” He made a cat smirk and closed his eyes. “I know you’ve been thinking about her every night. You always make it so obvious for everyone to figure out. Are you thinking about dating her again~?”

Hiro had found the perfect opportunity to tease Takuto, which got on the dirty blond’s nerves soon enough.

“Huh?!” Takuto shouted. “You trying to pick a fight with me, Hiro? I’m not the kind of guy who dumps a girl just so he can get back together with her again! And I keep trying to tell you all that’s not even the case. Get your facts straight or I’ll shut you in a closet when I find one! You’ll be regretting your words by then. Anyway, just so you know, I don’t even have any feelings for her. That’s why I broke up with her. Understand?! Now, leave her out of it and get ready for tomorrow. I’m picking you up first thing in the morning, got it?!”

He hung up, which left Hiro perplexed at his actions. The art student pouted shortly afterwards.

“Oh, Takkun…” He said, a little sad and more worried about what happened. “Can’t you just be honest with your feelings for a change? It’s not like we’re trying to pick on you that much. We all want to let you know how we feel and that we care for you in our own way. You’re too hard on yourself. Try to lighten up a little.” He closed his cell phone and sighed, leaning forward a bit from his seat. Then, he smiled tenderly. “But, I guess that’s another part of you we like to see. Thanks for letting us push your buttons, Takuto.” He laid down on the couch, resting on his left side. A recently familiar face popped into his mind, one from the night before. “Sayuri… I want to talk with you so much right now. My chest hurts from wanting to see you again. I didn’t think you had another appearance than the one I saw in the café, but you looked so different I could hardly even recognize you. Am I… still your friend? I have a lot to ask you, but I don’t think I’ll be able to at this point. We’re not comrades, but enemies. Maybe I should have expected that from the start. If I had known more about you, would this have been prevented?” Hiro lazily frowned. “Sayuri, are you thinking about me right now? Even if you aren’t, I’m still thinking about you. Please let me see you once more. Sa…yu…”

As he was saying Sayuri’s name, Hiro feel asleep. The drowsy feeling he felt when he lied down finally caught up to him, since he tired himself out. He had such a peaceful expression on his face, but it was also showing how lonely he felt. Yet, the remainder of the night passed by in to the early hours of morning, until it was dawn and the sun rose up from the sky.


XXX


A few hours later, Takuto was in front of Hiro’s house. He rang the doorbell with a press of his right index finger and waited for an answer. Within seconds, Hiro opened the door and was smiling lightly as he always did.

“Let’s go,” the programmer beckoned.

Seeing a wave from Takuto’s hand, Hiro nodded. “Yeah.”

The two of them made their way to the café Sayuri had been working at for a few weeks now. Unfortunately, it was closed for the day, but there was still a bit of hope for them. From the outside, they saw the manager/owner of the café cleaning the glass which held the parfaits served there. He quickly gained notice of Hiro and Takuto’s presences and looked up, seeing them waiting outside the window. Then, he stopped what he was doing and put away the glass in his hand, walking over to the door and letting them in.

With a gentle smile, he said, “My, it’s good to see you again, Hiro. Have you been faring well again?”

Hiro smiled back. “Of course. How are things going, Manager? It looks like you’ve closed up shop for today.”

The older man kept smiling when he closed his eyes. “Yes, I’ve been doing fine as always. I’m also closed for the day because I’m going to be expanding the café soon.” He opened his eyes and continued to speak. “Someone has been giving out large sums of money to the people in this area for quite some time now, so many shops and restaurants have had a splendid business boom beginning from the last month. It makes all the residents who have received this profit happy, and I am, as well. I’m also going to make new uniforms for the employees here and add something special to them.”

Hiro’s eyes widened slightly. “Oh? What are you going to put on them?” He smiled warmly. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to see the design you’ve come up with.”

The manager chuckled fondly. “It’s nice to hear your support. However, I’ll tell you after you two eat. I see you also brought a friend with you, so please make yourselves comfortable. If there’s anything you’d like me to prepare, I’ll gladly accept your orders.”

“Well we haven’t really eaten yet, so do you think we can have breakfast here?” Hiro asked politely.

The manager gave a nod. “Certainly. I hope the young man with you enjoys the food.”

“I’m positive Takkun will, Sir,” Hiro replied. “Whatever’s on the menu is the best I’ve ever eaten in my life, along with the food from Le Renard Noir. Your homemade cooking is what brightens my day.”

Takuto pulled an angry face. “H-Hey! Don’t call me that in front of someone else! I’m not as familiar with this place as you are, Hiro. This is the first time I’ve ever been here and I’d rather eat Riki’s miso soup right now, instead of some sweet stuff.”

“Takkun, that’s not a very nice thing to say,” Hiro frowned. “You know we aren’t with Boss and the others right now, so there’s no way we could eat Riki’s cooking until later.”

Takuto looked down with a gloomy expression. “Tch. You really know how to toss my feelings aside, don’t you?” He looked up with yet another nonchalant expression after that. “Whatever. I’m hungry, so I’ll have whatever the owner of this café makes for us. You said so yourself we could eat here.”

The manager laughed delicately. “It looks like you have quite a unique friend there, Hiro. I hope he’ll stick around for a while. I wouldn’t want to disappoint him with my cooking.”

“Don’t worry,” Hiro guaranteed the manager. “Takkun’s a good person, so don’t mind his harsh tongue. He just has a hard time telling people how he really feels.”

The manager’s expression softened. “Is that so? I wonder if he would gladly work here. He seems like a promising young man, after all. I’m sure the rest of my staff would welcome him in an instant.”

“I’m sorry to tell you this,” Hiro broke the news, “but Takkun already has a job. He works for an IT company and is a successful programmer there. He’s really intelligent as well, and can do more than the average person in an hour.”

The manager’s eyes widened in surprised when he heard Hiro’s proclamations. “My! How incredible, Hiro. I didn’t know you had such a magnificent friend who was so talented.” He was impressed with how the art student stated the facts about Takuto and felt a genuine sense of awe for the twenty-four-year-old. “If I had known earlier, I wouldn’t have asked about permitting him work here. This is a small café, so there isn’t really much I can offer. Please accept my most sincere apology.” He gave a bow with his head and closed his eyes.

“It’s fine,” Takuto said, trying to keep himself calm. “I’m just interested in the food right now.”

“That’s not what you said before,” Hiro whispered in Takuto’s right ear.

Takuto frowned angrily once more, whispering back. “Idiot! I told you I didn’t want any sweets right now. Stuff like ice cream and parfaits are for later on after you’ve digested your morning meal. I thought that was obvious to you, Hiro.”

Hiro nodded, understanding what Takuto meant. “Oh, I see!” His expression softened. “You’re such a genius, Takkun. I’m a little jealous you would think about the types of food that fit the day. It makes me want to be like you sometimes.”

“Now’s not the time for that.”

Their whispering continued, which puzzled the manager a bit. However, he liked how the two were close with each other and couldn’t help but smile admirably when he saw them going back and forth with their words.


XXX


After Hiro and Takuto had eaten their breakfast for the day, Hiro began discussing what was on his mind with the manager, while Takuto was basically acting as a bystander.

“So, there’s something I wanted to talk to you about,” Hiro announced with a serious expression on his face. “It’s something I’ve been thinking about, but it’s also—“

The manager smiled softly, lowering his eyes. “I’m sure I know who you’re talking about. It’s Sayuri, isn’t it?”

Hiro blinked, astonished by the interpretation. “Huh? How’d you know?”

The manager only kept smiling. “Whenever you come to visit, you would always see if Sayuri is around. It would make her happy because you’re her only true friend at the café. During her shifts, she would speak with a polite manner to the other workers I have. Every person I have seen her interact with has been spoken to with courtesy, even myself. Seeing you two together made me realize that she could only trust you and no one else with all her heart. Hiro, you were the one who was able to warm Sayuri’s entire being just by talking with her and promising to see her as much as you could. Even the staff are envious of you for doing that.”

“Oh no, I don’t really deserve to get any credit from this,” Hiro brushed off. “I just… wanted to see her again. Sayuri’s an important friend I’ll never be able to forget, and she’s also someone I would trust my whole life to. But I guess she might not want to see me right now.”

Takuto glanced at Hiro. “Isn’t Rina your friend, too?” He frowned unhappily and was as grouchy as anyone would expect from him. “Are all your best friends girls, Hiro? I thought Rina was your only best friend.”

“Well, yeah, Rina’s one of my best friends, but…” Hiro trailed off, surprised by Takuto’s words. “Sayuri is one as well.” He was still shocked at that moment. “What’s gotten in to you, Takkun? To suddenly bring Rina in to this even though she’s not here right now. It’s as if you want her to be part of this.”

“It’s nothing to be surprised about,” Takuto commented. “I just thought you’d also want to mention her since you both know this girl. That’s all there is to it.”

Hiro blinked twice as though he didn’t understand anything and tilted his head to his right. “…??”

The manager smiled at them before looking down with sadness in his eyes. “Sayuri… When she first came here, she didn’t really interact with others very much due to her insecurity towards the people in this city. I first saw her when I looked out the window of the café. She was looking around like a lost young pup and didn’t seem to know where to go. I decided to speak to her after that and I even welcomed her inside. She was very cautious of everyone, including me. Nevertheless, I offered her a job and a room to stay in. It was only after you came to the café that she could find herself at ease with others. I still remember that day.” The manager chuckled affectionately, thinking back to over a month ago.


Friday February 28, 2007


It was another spring day in Ginza. The manager was inside, cleaning and wiping some of the glass bowls as usual and was humming happily to himself. He looked up and saw something outside the window. However, it wasn’t an object, but a person standing outside. A girl with very light and long orange hair that reached past her waist was looking around, turning her head left and right every second. She was a pretty and didn’t seem to be familiar with the area, so he stopped what he was doing and walked outside to talk to the girl.

“Is something wrong, Miss?” the manager asked.

Hearing his voice, the girl looked up quickly. “…!” She regained her complexion, a stern look on her face. “…”

“I’m not going to harm you,” the manager smiled. “If you’d like, I can treat you to something to eat.” He glanced at the café. “I own this café, and I’m still hiring young people like yourself to help out. Would you care to go inside?”

The girl cautiously stared at the manager for a moment before giving a small nod. Shortly afterward, the manager patiently guided her to the café and they were soon facing one another at a table.

“…” The girl was obviously not in the mood to talk, as she was on her guard towards any strangers.

The manager felt nervous, but he was able to bring himself to start another conversation. “Er… Well… It’s nice to meet you. Can you tell me about yourself? I don’t mean to pry, but I don’t know anything about you, and I’m sure you don’t know anything about me, either. We did meet a few minutes ago, after all.”

“…Sayuri,” the girl said softly when she lowered her head. It was barely audible, but she definitely spoke.

The manager tilted his head. “? Did you say something, young lady?”

The girl looked up and faced the manager. “Sayuri Mitsuyoshi. That’s my name. I’m twenty-one years old as of today. I can’t tell you much about myself, but that’s all I can really say, so… Anyway, it’s… nice to meet you, too.”

The manager could not believe his ears and eyes. The young girl sitting across from him—Sayuri—had actually said something to him.

“Do you have a place to stay, or even a job, Miss Mitsuyoshi?” he inquired. “If not, I can provide you with both. You can work here and there’s also a room for you to stay in upstairs.”

Sayuri gazed at the manager with her beautiful agate eyes and blinked, curious of the middle-aged man’s kindness. “No, but… Why are you doing this? I don’t even know the reason you would even let me stay here, so it baffles one such as myself what your intentions are. What is your purpose for doing this?”

The manager smiled gently. “I’m just an old man who wants to look out for those in need. It might not be much, but this is the least I can do.” He looked towards the interior of the café and continued the chat. “As you can see here, this café is made out of wood from several years ago. Although it shines, it can only support itself for a little longer. What’s more is that it doesn’t give way and stays strong for the sake of allowing me to run my café and bringing joy to others. So, I wish to make everyone here happy and give them a warm sensation with love and care before I pass on to the other world.” He laughed. “It might sound strange coming from someone who’s in their late thirties, but it’s what I want to accomplish for others who come here with their family and friends.”

“You’re right,” Sayuri remarked. “It does sound strange. But… You seem like a good man, so I’ll try to help you fulfill that goal of yours for the time being, if you will permit me to do so.”

The manager’s eyes widened. “You mean to say you will actually accept my offer?”

Sayuri nodded with a faint smile. “Yes. I’m not sure if I can do a very good job, but it’s a sign of my gratitude. Thank you for having me over.”

Not much was said from Sayuri, but her words made the manager very happy. He showed her around the café, gave her a bright pink uniform that dazzled those who say her in it, and took her to her room. He also helped her with taking orders, and Sayuri understood with swiftness and understanding.


XXX


A couple days passed and it was March 2nd that year. While Sayuri was getting ready to work at the café, a young man around her age walked in.

“Oh? It looks like we have a well-acquainted customer,” the manager distinguished. “If it isn’t Hiro. Are you here for another sundae from the menu?”

Hiro smiled lightly. “Of course I am. I just love them, Manager!” He had a jubilant expression on his face before he noticed someone hiding behind the manager, and that person was clearly visible. “Huh? There’s someone I’ve never seen before near you. Is she a new member of your staff?”

“Yes,” the manager confirmed. “She just joined two days ago. Allow me to introduce her.” He glanced to his right and nodded. “It’s okay, Sayuri. Hiro’s a regular of ours.” Sayuri immediately knew the manager was correct and showed herself to Hiro, giving a slight distance from her employer. Then, the manager said, “This is Sayuri Mitsuyoshi. She’s a few weeks older than you, Hiro. Please be kind to her. She’s not used to everyone working here, yet, but she’s a marvelous young lady, I can promise you without any doubt.”

Hiro nodded and looked at Sayuri with another smile. “It’s nice to meet you. I’m Hiro Sarashina. As Manager just said, I’m not the same age as you yet, so I’m still twenty right now. If you don’t mind, I’ll keep coming back here to see you. We can be friends, so you don’t have to worry about anything. By the way, I’m also an art student at one of the universities here, so I’m not too far away. Would you like to see some of my drawings some day?”

Sayuri nodded back and a smile appeared on her face. She walked over to Hiro and took hold of both his hands with her own, entwining their fingers together. “I want to see you again, so come and visit often like you said, okay? I’ll be waiting for you, Hiro.”

It as a sight that took the manager, employees, and even Hiro by surprise. But then, Hiro smiled back. It was a splendid friendship that formed between the two of them, one that was full of promises and approbation, changing the atmosphere in the café for everyone around them.


XXX


The manager smiled and looked at Hiro. “It was an unbelievable occurrence that you would make her smile so wonderfully when you two met. Sayuri allowed you into her world in an instant, and everyone felt an admiration for you, Hiro. She was very happy to see you and it seemed like you were a light in the center of her eyes.” He looked out the window and kept smiling. “I felt as though Sayuri was hiding something from me that she couldn’t reveal to anyone. Perhaps it would be better not to ask her about herself, but it does make a man like myself isolated from her. There was always something I wanted to know, yet I never pried into her life. She always seemed far away from everyone, but a few mornings ago, I felt closer to her than I had ever been.” He stood up and walked to his room on the first floor.

A few seconds passed, and he came back with a medium-sized object in his left hand. Takuto’s eyes widened when he saw what it was.

“Hiro, look!” he exclaimed in a hushed tone.

Hiro did as Takuto ordered and glanced toward their left before replying in the same manner. “…! I can’t believe it! It’s the—”

Takuto nodded. “Yeah. So it belonged to him.”

The manager had brought out the cymophane from before, shocking the two of them. He kept smiling by the time he returned to his seat and placed it on the table.

“This was something I lost shortly after I started this café,” the manager mentioned. “Somehow, Sayuri managed to get it for me. She said someone gave it to her as a gift, so I truly appreciated the fact that I got this back. To be honest, I didn’t think I would ever get this back. I don’t know how, but it’s finally been returned to me after so long. I was considering a way to repay Sayuri and my staff with this, so a notion came to mind yesterday. It came to me in a blink of an eye, and I knew I had to put a piece of this on each of their new uniforms as a thank you gift.”

Hiro understood straight away and smiled tenderly at the manager. “I see.”

So that’s why Sayuri was intent on getting it, he thought. It makes sense now. It was probably stolen from Manager and ended up in the building for a wicked purpose, which was why she came to reclaim it.

“There’s one thing left for me to tell you about Sayuri, Hiro,” the manager resumed his speech. He looked at Hiro sadly, but kept smiling. “She’s going to leave the café this afternoon.”

Hiro’s eyes widened. “What?!”

“Hiro’s girlfriend is going to leave?!” Takuto jested.

Hiro hurriedly looked at Takuto with a disgruntlement frown. “Takkun!”

Takuto’s stoic expression was back. “Sorry. Just thought I’d liven up the circumstances.” Then, he confronted the manager. “Where is she right now? We might still have a chance at finding her.”

“Well,” the manager started, “she left a note telling about her plans for the day.” He took out a sheet of paper and placed it on the table in front of Hiro and Takuto. After that, he let out a sigh. “I believe it’s better if you read it yourself.” He picked up the crystal and held it in his hands. “For me, what’s left of her memory is this cymophane, which I had anticipated never to see again. But because of Sayuri, I was able to get it back after so long.” He smiled at the two young men, saying his parting words to them and Sayuri [indirectly]. “I’m glad to have met her, and I hope she lives a happy life from now on.” He closed his eyes and tears ran down his cheeks.

Hiro and Takuto saw his expression before speedily taking a look at the piece of paper Sayuri left, which read:


Owner,


Right now, I am writing to you to say my farewell. Are
you wondering how I’m feeling at this moment? Please do
not think of something sad. I am actually smiling while
writing this letter. Do you know the reason for this?
It’s because I was able to have a temporary home to
live in, as well as a job for myself, which led me
to meet Hiro. Thank you so much for what you’ve
done for me since my twenty-first birthday. I will
never forget how kind you were to me. I wonder if
it was fate that brought me to meet you two
shortly after my arrival here. Haha, that
actually sounds pretty cheesy, coming from
someone like me. However, I don’t regret
writing this letter, nor do I regret our
first meeting. Tomorrow afternoon, I will
be at the park waiting for Hiro. If he
decides to see me, I will keep waiting for
him. I’d like to talk with him one last
time before severing ties with him.
Please do not question my motives.
This is something I have decided
To do, and it’s part of my
duty in this world.
Thank you and
Please take
care.


—Sayuri


After reading the letter Sayuri left for the manager, Hiro and Takuto glanced at each other and nodded. They stood up from their seats and looked at the manager for one last time.

“Thank you for letting us see this, Manager,” Hiro said with a grim expression. “It’s about time for us to say goodbye. I’m glad to have come to this café, and I know Sayuri has, too.” He smiled and lowered his eyes tenderly. “I know this was very sudden for you and everyone else who’ve worked here, but I’m grateful to you and your staff. Thank you, for introducing Sayuri to me when I came in that day. I won’t forget the opportunity the two of us received thanks to you for helping her out, and I wish you a good life.”

The manager nodded. “Of course. It was nice having you as a customer, Hiro. Go and find Sayuri before dusk. I’m sure she’s still there waiting for you and your friend.”

“Right.”

Hiro and Takuto made their way to the park where they saw Sayuri’s back. She was standing and was wearing a light blue hoodie. Her hair length was also the same as how it was when she was working at the café. Soon, she turned around and their figures came into her view.

“Looks like you came to see me, after all,” she breathed. Her shoulders collapsed and she sighed. “Perfect timing. You already know why I’ve been waiting here, so let’s just get this over with. I see you also brought your friend from the other night, as well. It’ll be a good thing for this to get settled soon, anyway.”

Hiro frowned. “Wait. There’s something I’d like to ask first.”

Sayuri narrowed her agate eyes. “What is it? There’s not much to talk about, Hiro.”

Hiro shook his head. “No, there is at least something I have to say before you sever ties with me. What are you going to do from now on since you don’t work at the café anymore? Are you just going to leave the city?”

“Oh?” Sayuri questioned. “You’re worried about me at a time like this? How noble of you to think about me when we’re not in the same boat at this moment. Well to answer your questions, I’m going to work on what I’ve been doing for the last month as an anonymous hero of justice. Was that not transparent enough for you? So, no. I’m not going to leave Ginza when there are people in need. Many of them have been wronged and I can’t let them get bamboozled by the malicious intent the rogues in this world have in mind. Still, this is a good chance for me to ask your friend over there something.” She shifted her gaze from Hiro to Takuto, who was on the latter’s left. “If I may ask, what is your relationship with Rina? Surely, it isn’t ‘nothing.’ I knew there was something going on with you and my best friend when I first saw you on the company’s rooftop. That’s why, I’m asking you myself.”

Takuto’s eyes widened in surprise. “You want to know about my relationship with Rina?”

Sayuri gave a nod. “Seeing you two together makes one interested to find more information about your connection to one another. Are you two just comrades, or something more?”

Takuto furrowed his eyebrows. “Why should I tell you? You’re not even my friend, so there’s no need—“

Hiro glanced at Takuto. “No, we should probably tell her. She did say they were best friends, so it would be best to comply for today.”

“Hiro, what are you—“ Takuto was soon cut off.

Hiro looked down. “No, I’m sure Sayuri’s also a magician, so it’s only right to respect her wishes on this.” He looked up and gazed into Takuto’s eyes determinedly. “Trust me. It’s better not to provoke them. From our last mission, she was more than likely going to attack you. If she did, you might have died from the impact. You also know they’re allowed to kill anyone on Earth, right? So, don’t try to argue with her. I’m saying this for your safety, Takkun.”

“Hiro…” Takuto knew Hiro’s statements were precise. He nodded and turned to face Sayuri. “About me and Rina. I’m…”

At that time, Rina was in the kitchen of Le Renard Noir with Atsumu. Together, they were preparing a batch of pork noodles for Takuto and the oncoming customers for the day.

Rina smiled. “I bet Takuto’s going to happy when he comes here tonight.”

Atsumu nodded. “I know! He’ll love how it tastes and he’ll be craving for a few more bowls when he takes a bite out of this! Ahaha! It’s been a while since you’ve helped made pork noodles. I’m certain he remember the taste of your cooking, Rina.” He smiled fondly, remembering the ‘old’ times they had back then. “Maybe it’ll move him to tears when he eats the noodles. I know he’s just dying for the food you make.”

Rina looked down and smiled. It was a bit sad, but there was so much to it than that. “Perhaps so. But I don’t Takuto to cry because of me. I want him to keep smiling like he used to, and I’d like it if he could move on from the past. Unlike myself, I know he’ll be able to do that. That’s why… I’m doing what I can for his sake, rather than my own. That’s what I promised him before we went our separate ways, so I’ll keep doing whatever I can for him, even until the end of this journey.”

Atsumu looked at Rina, realizing her consideration for Takuto. “Rina…” Before he knew it, tears were forming in the depths of his eyes. They flowed down with sorrow and he found himself covering his mouth with his right hand, sobbing shortly after.

Meanwhile, Takuto and Hiro were taking a stroll towards Le Renard Noir. They were walking side by side, and their chat with Sayuri had ended a few minutes ago.

“Hey, Takkun,” Hiro called out. “Do you think it was okay for you to just tell Sayuri about it?”

Takuto sighed. “You’re the one who said not to provoke her, remember? Besides, I knew it was a good idea to listen to you for a change, so I went along with it.”

“I know, but…” Hiro looked down, unsure if what he did was right or wrong. “Maybe I shouldn’t have forced you to say anything. I know how painful it is when it comes to Rina, but still. I’m the one at fault for giving you a push forward.”

“Hiro, now you’re just contradicting yourself,” Takuto pointed out. “It’s either you compromise with someone, or you don’t. Even on our missions, we’ve had to do something about it to get what we want. It’s how the world works, you understand?”

Hiro nodded, thinking about what had happened a bit earlier.


At the park that afternoon


Takuto looked up and responded to Sayuri’s enquiries. “Rina and I used to be in a relationship until I broke up with her. I did that for her sake and not one else’s. Whether you believe me or not is up to you, but that’s the truth.” He looked down with a conflicted expression on his face. “You might not understand this. But still. I had to do that so—“

“—so she wouldn’t get in trouble,” Sayuri finished. “Isn’t that right, Takuto Hirukawa?”

Takuto’s eyes widened, filled with astonishment. “How do you know my name? Did Rina tell you about me?”

Sayuri’s eyes narrowed. “Even if she didn’t, it would also show up in the books.”

“What?” Hiro asked in a flabbergasted tone of voice.

Sayuri shook her head. “Never mind that. Anyway, I’ll cut to the point. From now on, we’re enemies. I don’t consider Rina as my adversary since we’re both magicians who don’t harbor any malice towards our world. Don’t think I’ll just turn over a new leaf for your sakes. I’m on the side of the law no matter what you and the rest of the Black Foxes plan on doing. I won’t take Rina down, but I’ll defeat you men who have no sense of strictness towards crime. That is all.”

She turned around and disappeared from their sights, leaving them both standing in place before they decided to head back.


XXX


Inside Le Renard Noir, Rina was waiting a bit. She was sitting on one of the stools in front of the counter and was looking down with disheartened eyes. Then, she sighed and stood up from her seat, turning her figure towards the entrance. Atsumu walked out from the kitchen and noticed Rina’s actions.

“Leaving already?” he asked. “Why don’t you stay here a little longer? It’s also dangerous for a young woman such as yourself to be walking out by herself at night, so you could try to wait until Takkun’s finished with his meal before heading home.”

Rina turned her head to face Atsumu and smiled once again. “No, it’s fine. I’ll be going soon, anyway. When Takuto gets here, could you just give him a serving of the pork noodles we have left? I think he’ll be expecting them to be there once he walked inside.”

Atsumu nodded. “Sure thing. Have a safe trip home, Rina. If you need anything later on, don’t hesitate to call, okay? We’ll do what we can to assist you.”

“Thanks, Boss,” Rina accepted the generous offer. Then, she walked out, leaving only Atsumu and Riki, who was on the upper floor, alone for the night.

While she left, Riki was already on his cell phone talking to someone.

“Think you’ll be back soon?” he asked with a stern expression. “We have our hands busy during work, along with the missions. We might need your help soon. If you can’t get to Ginza in time, it’s fine. I’ll handle everything for you.”

“Sorry,” the voice on the other line apologized. It was a woman’s voice and it seemed she was still occupied from the sound of it. “I don’t think I’ll be able to get back to where you and the other guys are yet, Riki. There’s been a lot of trouble on my end, so I’ll be here for a little longer. I’ll book a flight to Tokyo when I’m finished. Did something happen while I was away? For you to need me right now. It makes me worry about you all.”

Riki sighed and rubbed the back of his head with his left hand. “Well, you can say that again. There’s been a bit of trouble for the past few days, and we’ve been failing our missions since then. Other than that, maybe some relationship problems between the guys. It doesn’t seem to get any better. It feels like we’re only taking a turn for the worse. I can barely do anything about them. Boss is still the same as ever, so he’s been the butt of our jokes lately.”

The woman giggled. “Looks like you’ve been having too much fun.” She lowered her eyes in concern while still smiling affectionately. “How’s Ibuki doing? Has something changed in her condition since I left?”

“She’s been doing pretty well, actually,” Riki admitted with a satisfying smile. “Nothing’s happened so far, so there’s nothing to worry about at the moment. By the way, have you been doing well yourself? It’s been nearly two weeks since you left. Even Hiro’s been depressed since you went away. You were gone after his birthday, so he’s been worried about you.”

“I’ve been doing fine over here,” the woman breathed. “I’ve actually been thinking about you since we parted ways. I miss you, Riki. I want to see you again soon.”

Riki looked down, still smiling. “Yeah. I’ve missed you, too. Don’t push yourself, okay? If something happens to you and I get a call from where you are, my heart will stop in a split second.”

“Haha, don’t worry,” the woman said. “You shouldn’t, either. Bye. I’ll see you when I get back. Have a good night over there.”

Riki nodded. “You too. Call me when you get back. I’ll be waiting for you, Mitsuki.”

“Of course,” Mitsuki replied in a loving voice.

Soon, she hung up and their call ended. Riki looked at his phone and closed it. He set it on a nearby table and sighed in a downcast manner. All of a sudden, his body began to shake and he put his hand over his mouth. Tears had formed in his eyes and he started to cry. Not many people had ever seen him cry, but those that did knew how much he missed Mitsuki’s presence. He kept weeping to himself while he sat on the bed, waiting for her return.

It was around that time when Hiro and Takuto entered the bar. They were greeted by Atsumu who was delighted to see them as always.

“Welcome, Takkun! Hiro!” he beamed. He was in quite a pleasant mood at the moment, and it showed on his face how happy he was. “Have a seat! Oh, and here are some pork noodles ready for you two! There’s also drinks and dessert, so enjoy them while you can.”

Takuto narrowed his eyes. “What’s with all this? Your upbeat expression and voice just ruins my appetite.”

Hiro looked around. “Yeah, and where’s Rina? I don’t see her anywhere. Did she leave already?”

Atsumu smiled lightly. “Yeah. She said she had to get going, so she left before you two came here. She also helped me make the food, but she at least wanted to cook up some pork nodded for you most of all, Takkun. She even waited a bit before she walked out.”

“…!” Takuto’s eyes widened when he heard what Atsumu told them. “Why didn’t you stop her, you useless Beardface?!”

Atsumu had a solemn expression, lowering his shoulders. “Takkun, it’s Rina’s choice whether or not she wants to do something. You should know that by now. At any rate, she didn’t want me to prevent her from going. I know this more than you do, so I was only letting her leave because wouldn’t have wanted to stay here until you came.”

“The hell I’m going to let her go off to her house by herself!” Takuto angrily bit back. “She’s my ex, and I’m supposed to be her guard. Don’t try to tell me to let her put herself in danger like that! What if someone attacks her?!” He turned around, but did not take a step forward until he said, “I have an obligation to protect her whether you like it or not. She’s my partner in crime, so I’m going to get her no matter what.”

With that out of the way, he ran out the door and searched for Rina. Atsumu sighed and smiled wearily.

“He sure lets his feelings for Rina show, doesn’t he?” Atsumu stated.

Hiro nodded, smiling happily for Takuto. “Yeah, but that’s something that’s stayed the same since we first met her.

“Right?” Atsumu replied, agreeing with Hiro.


XXX


Outside, Takuto endorsed his instincts to drive him to where Rina was. He found her walking to her apartment and ran up to her, reaching his right hand on to her left arm, causing her to turn around and face him.

“Hey, what do you think you’re—“ He began to reprimand his former lover until he saw her gaze into his eyes and by then, his heart skipped a beat as he looked at her.

It felt like that winter day three years ago when he had reached out to take hold of Rina’s arm. Unlike back then, however, it wasn’t snowing since it was sometime during spring. Yet, it felt like it did before. Many emotions erupted inside Takuto’s mind as he thought back to the day he regretted most of all.

Beyond a Thief’s Power Episode 3

A New Enemy Appears!!


It was around seven o’clock that morning when everyone was gathered in Le Renard Noir. Atsumu had a stern expression etched onto his face while the TV was on.

“Something major has happened, and that’s why I called you all here today,” he began. It seemed quite drastic for him to elaborate on the event that had yet to be addressed. “Do you know what is being featured right now?”

Riki’s shoulders slumped. “No, but…”

“What exactly is going on?” Kenshi asked. He was just as exhausted as everyone else. “Why are we even here this early in the morning, Boss?”

Hiro sleepily rubbed his eyes. “Mm… Can I go back to sleep? I still have a bit of a hangover from last night after we came back from our mission.”

Takuto narrowed his eyes. “Tell me about it. My day has barely even begun and I only had a few hours to rest.”

“But there’s a reason for this, isn’t there?” Rina yawned, covering her mouth with her right hand with her eyes closed. “It might be a good thing to hear what he has to say for a change.”

Riki frowned grumpily. “Even if we did, would it make much of a difference? We’re all tired, but he looks like he’s got more energy than us. This isn’t what our morning should even start off with. And Kenshi and I have work in a few hours, too. What did we even do to deserve this, anyway?”

“It’s actually more important than you think!!” Atsumu grinded his teeth with an angry expression. His eyebrows were furrowed as he looked at Riki. “Why don’t you all just listen to this news report to find out about it?!” He relaxed and returned to having a laidback smile on his face. “It’ll tell you the reason I gathered you guys here in the first place.”

They all turned their heads towards the TV and saw a reporter smiling as he announced what was currently taking place in Ginza.

“Lately, there have been reports about a mysterious person,” he said in a calm manner.

“A mysterious person?” Takuto questioned. “What’s so great about someone like that?”

“Just wait and you’ll see what it’s about,” Atsumu advised the programmer.

The reporter was standing in front of a police station and he turned his head a bit to look at it. “Here we have the local police station where the anonymous person was at two hours ago around five a.m. It was not until an hour later when the authorities released an announcement, telling of a young woman who has been capturing criminal and turning them all over to the law to handle. Apparently, she had also told the police about the stolen artworks, gemstones, jewelry, and even weapons they had stolen, or were planning to steal, along with priceless artifacts and rare items, giving them over to a nearby museum. She was also known to be a very beautiful person, and has been known to give off the aura of a professional detective. Furthermore, she has even seized those who are amateurs at committing crimes, such as robbers, and is mostly known to be a magician. She also has a strong sense of justice and believes that stealing and harming others is wrong, with hopes of putting an end to the relentless threats to our city. What’s even more intriguing is her declaration to turn these villains over to the hands of justice.” He took out a piece of paper from his pocket and held it out so it could be seen. Then, he glanced at it and read the note aloud. “This is a sheet of paper with a written proclamation from the magnificent young lady who has helped us out since her arrival in Ginza. This is actually addressed to the Black Foxes, who are well-known throughout many parts of Japan and other countries and continents for stealing for the sake of art. They are dubbed as Ginza’s version of Robin Hood, but have not been seen by the public eye. However, it does not appear to be an ordinary game for both sides, as the note reads, ‘I vow to apprehend those thieves with my own hands. The Black Foxes are going to go to prison once and for all as soon as I get my hands on them. I will be turning them over to the police and I will rid the world from their filthy presence because it is my duty to bring peace to all of Earth and its innocent people.’” The reporter then looked up at the screen and added, “That said, I will lend my support to this courageous beauty for her efforts and commitment to stop these crimes from occurring. It is because of her bravery that we have begun to smile once more. It is not a dream, but reality, and we owe it all to her for saving our troubled hearts from this upcoming danger. This wonderful person has only started her goal, and she continues to touch our souls from a distance. If possible, I’d also like to wish for her happiness. She’s been doing so much for us lately; it’s only natural for us to want to help her in one way or another. Let’s wish for her victory against the Black Foxes, and—“

At that moment, Atsumu pushed a button on the remote control, which instantly turned the TV off. After that, he looked at the group sitting in front of the counter with a casual smile implanted on his face while his shoulders dropped.

“So, do you all see what I mean now?” he inquired. “When I saw this in the newspaper, I just had to find out more about it. When you think about it, doesn’t the thought of a beautiful woman standing up against us sound interesting? Not many have taken their time to do anything about what we’ve always done in the past, so it certain peaks your curiosity about who could be trying to put us behind bars.”

Hiro frowned nervously. “Hmm… But it does sound a little troubling to think we might have a rival now. And if we get caught by whoever’s after us, it’ll be even harder for us to break out of their grasps.”

“True,” Kenshi noted with concern. “The reporter also mentioned that the girl was probably a magician. If what he said is a hundred percent spot-on, it could put us at a disadvantage. We don’t exactly have the kind of power magicians do, except for Rina and Saionji. They’re the only ones who can stand up to this person without getting damaged much.”

Riki responded with a staid expression. “While this poses a high possibility of danger for us, I say we’ll have to find out ourselves about this girl if we want to know more about who she is.” He turned his head to the right, looking at Rina, who was almost at the farther end of the counter with Takuto. “Think you can lend us a hand, Rina? We might as well enlist your help. Since Mitsuki’s still in Europe right now, it’ll take some time before she gets back. You’re the only one we can really get to check and see if the secret person is a magician or not right now. I don’t want to harm her, even if she’s our enemy.” A loving smile appeared on his face. “If she’s one of your kind, I’m sure she’s not a bad person. Plus, Mitsuki wouldn’t approve of us hurting a girl if she knew about it. We’ll have to relay the news to her when she gets back to Japan.”

“Haha, looks like Riki’s really been tied down because of her!” Atsumu teased. His expression relaxed shortly afterward. “But he’s right. We can’t just attack a magician out of nowhere, so we’ll have to be careful when we meet this young lady. We should try to loosen our guard around her if we get a chance to meet her. She might be a great friend or foe for the Black Foxes, don’t you think?”

Takuto’s eyes narrowed as he considered the idea. “…” He looked up with a stoic look on his face. “It doesn’t sound like a good thing to me. We can’t have someone who’s supposed to be our nemesis help us. She’s on the side of the law, after all. There’s no way she would ever think about letting a group of thieves roam free. Didn’t you all hear her message to us?” His eyebrows drew towards the center of his nose bridge. “She simply hates us because we’re stealing artworks from the bad guys! She opposes people who would do that sort of thing, and she won’t forgive anyone who does something to disrupt the entire city—heck, the entire country even! Do you really think we can allow her to get hold of us and drop all the charges she’s going to penalize us for?! We’re not even stealing for the sake of hurting other people, but even if we try to convince her, she’ll still be after us. We might endanger Rina and Mitsuki if we go through with this.” He temper went down and he returned to having an indifferent expression. “I don’t actually approve of crossing paths with this girl, but it’d be better to put those two first before we do anything else.”

Riki’s eyes widened. He didn’t expect Takuto to lecture them on the subject at hand, and it was quite a surprise to hear how much he thought about the girls in the team. “Takuto… I didn’t know you cared so much for everyone, including the both of them. You’ve never said anything like this before, so it’s a bit shocking for you to say anything about their safety, especially Rina’s now that things have changed between you two.” He smiled affectionately. “Thanks, Takuto. I’m glad you also put Mitsuki before the rest of us since we have more male members. I know you like her, too, so it’s nice to see your concern for her.”

Takuto’s cheeks were glimmering with bright pink shades. “I-It’s not because I don’t want you to regret losing her, okay? I’m just looking out for you, is all. Hmph!” He averted his gaze, looking behind Rina at the entrance to the bar. Everyone knew how embarrassed he was, but didn’t say a word about it.

Rina glanced at Takuto before looking at the counter’s smooth, wooden surface. “Well, I don’t mind helping out, but it gives me an uneasy feeling. Somehow, I’m not really sure we should confront her at all. There’s a high chance of her being a magician and if it turns out that she is one, it’ll be difficult for us to strike her down or run away from her, unless…” She trailed off, several emotions moving around past one another in her mind.

Hiro saw her expression, understanding the feelings Rina had. With another frown, he spoke up. “I have some mixed feelings about this myself. There just seems to be something out of place about it.” He smiled faintly. “I don’t know why, but it makes my heart waver. It’s as if something has struck the strings within it, creating a rippling effect in my chest. It kind of hurts, too. I’m wondering what’s causing it, but at the same time I don’t think I want to find out yet. Strange, huh?”

“It could be that you don’t want to find out the true identity of this mystery girl,” Atsumu pointed out lightly. “Perhaps you’re even afraid to know who she is and what she looks like. It happens every now and then. You can always talk about it with someone and sort out your feelings if that helps. Usually, I’d think of you as someone who would rather talk about your problems with a girl, instead of an old man like me. We also have more guys than girls in our group, so you’d probably want to find some comfort in one of your female classmates at college to seek a solution. I think it’s easier for you to relax with a young lady whom you’re fond of, Hiro.”

“So you admit you’re an old perv who doesn’t know how to keep himself away from cracking sexual harassment jokes,” Takuto insulted the bar owner. An evil grin suddenly appeared on his face. “Aren’t you the honorable one to give Hiro advice like that? Sounds pretty suspicious to me.”

“You have a point there, Takuto,” Riki agreed. “You seem to be trying to coax Hiro into committing a crime yourself, Boss.” He frowned with dissatisfaction. “Don’t you think it’s a selfish thing to do to a college student who loves art more than anyone else in our circle?”

Kenshi folded his arms and nodded with closed eyes. “That’s right, Boss.” He opened his eyes, revealing a solemn look in his eyes. “If you tell Hiro to find peace and comfort in a girl, he’ll probably do something to seduce her! In fact, he might even fall asleep in her lap to get his mind off this hidden person. If the girl he goes to visit turns out to be a few years older than him, it’ll really be a crime! Also, what if they already know about who we really are and decide to wait for the perfect opportunity to get to us one by one like that game, ‘Lurking within the Shadow Grounds’? Then, what do we do?!”

Rina’s eyes narrowed as she turned herself to face the firefighter. “Kenshi, that’s just an RPG horror game. You can play that on your PC after downloading it from a website like any other game in the category. You exaggerated the joke to the point where it’s like Halloween is coming up months before the actually date. Try to learn how to take it to a mild level, okay? It’s one of your flaws, and it hasn’t changed since you were in high school.”

Kenshi laughed eagerly. “Haha! Sorry,” he rubbed the back of his head, “I got carried away there. It happens from time to time, but it’s not much of a big deal.”

“Hey, you remembered what I told you back then,” Takuto said with his usual stoic personality. His monotone voice matched his appearance. He placed his right hand on Rina’s head just like the night before. “Good girl, good girl. Keep listening to me and crack some more insults in the future.” His mischievous sneer was back when he started on his last sentence. “It’ll make things funnier when you’re around this buffoon.”

Rina was slightly irritated by her ex-boyfriend’s order. “Takuto, you know I’m not going to do that. Anyway, we should give Hiro some time to think about this by himself. It seems to be tugging at him more than anyone else here. I’m sure he has a lot to think about without us.” She closed her eyes and folded her arms against her chest, crossing her right leg over her left while smiling warmly. “Besides, he’s the youngest member here right after me. He should be able to relax somewhere with his girlfriend.”

“Now, I would love to meet her,” Atsumu stated. “Hiro’s girlfriend must be quite a cute little thing. I bet her looks can melt a person’s heart with one glance from any guys around Hiro’s age.”

“I knew Beardface was a pedophile,” Takuto commented with disgust. “Ugh. He must really be into shorties if he’s mustered up the courage to say something like that out loud for everyone to hear.” Another nonchalant expression ran onto his face as he looked up from his seat. “Such a sick old man runs a restaurant like this, but never says anything about it to the customers. That’s just the kind of thing he would do.” He pulled another repulsed face. “Nasty.”

Atsumu’s eyes widened, making him look like he was in a daze. “Takkun, that’s not a nice thing to say. I’m not into young girls who are under five feet tall. You know that, don’t you?”

Takuto frowned, preserving his indifferent assertiveness. “See? He is a pedophile. Who would want to date a man like him, anyway?” His expression changed again, becoming annoyed once more. “He’s so gross to the core! That’s what makes him unattractive to people. Anyone who’s ludicrous enough to fall for him has to be out of their mind. Otherwise, they wouldn’t brainwash themselves into believing they have any romantic feelings for him.”

Tears formed in Atsumu’s eyes and he wiped a tear from his right eye after closing both of them. “Uu… Takkun’s being so cruel to me… Someone help out my poor soul…”

Hiro giggled. “Boss and Takkun are pretty funny. It’s like I’m watching a TV show!” Since he and the others, excluding Atsumu, were still sitting in front of the counter, he grabbed the opposite side of his stomach with his right hand and continued to laugh merrily. “Ooh! Ahaha! This is awesome!” He exhaled and inhaled a few times, trying to catch his breath. “Oh! That hurts! But it feels so tingly whenever I laugh too hard.” He panted a bit more before recovering with a, “We better get ready for business soon. It’s almost time for us to open.”

Indeed, it was twenty-five minutes before nine that morning on the clock. The others stood up from their seats.

“Well, I’d better get going,” Riki proclaimed. “It’s almost time for me to go to work. See you guys later.”

Kenshi smiled. “We have another mission tonight, so we still have some time before it starts to get ready with a full plan. If we run into the girl who’s set on turning us in to the police, it’ll keep us from getting it accomplished. We better be cautious of her if we want to get away without any problems.”

Takuto nodded. “Yeah. It’ll be even worse if she blocks our path. We’ll have to maneuver our way around her somehow.”

Hiro smiled calmly. “Don’t worry. We’ll figure something out. I’m not sure if my techniques will work on her, though. I mean, if she’s a magician, it’ll just be an insult, right? I don’t want to get on her bad side, especially if she is one.”

“Rest assured, we’ll at least be able to see for ourselves whenever we encounter her,” Rina replied. “That is, if we get the chance to meet her in person. We need to keep our guards up to about sixty percent in case she makes the first move. It won’t be too challenging to achieve our goals if we can get to the cymophane first. Since it’s going to be embedded into a new necklace, it’ll be a rare find for those in the mafia to get hold of it. Hopefully we can prevent it from being sold to the black market or donated to the museum the retrieved artifacts have been given to. We can’t afford to let it get away from our clutches no matter what. They’ll be after it again if we fail the mission like last night.”

Riki nodded. “Right. We have to be get it this time and uphold our reputation as the legendary Black Foxes.” His serious expression transformed into a regular smile. “As the leader, I don’t want to lose to this pursuer. We were already too late to find the painting yesterday. Though it was one that depicted Takuji Uramoto, it couldn’t be helped that it was switched with a replica. Perhaps the painting was precious to someone who knew him. Whoever was behind yesterday’s explosion is probably trying to toy with us. We could be lured into their trap at any moment, even now.”

“Let’s just leave the subject until later on, okay?” Hiro suggested. “We don’t really need to think back to what happened yesterday. It was pretty late when we all left, so we were also tired from having dinner right after. What’s done is done, and we can’t time travel back to when we went to the mansion. It would risk having to go there again and we’d only end up failing a second time. Who’s to say we could have really prevented that unless we would have known sooner? It was all according to fate, so it was pre-determined we would lose our chance of getting the painting. We should focus on getting the next item and securing it without conflict. I know it’s very naïve of me to think this way, but I’m hoping for the person who’s fixed on catching us to let us off the hook just this once. I believe she may be a good person at heart, but she’s also strong-willed. It truly impresses me how much she’s going through just to get to us for the sake of helping others. Despite what’s she’s trying to do to us, it gives me a warm feeling to think there’s someone who has the guts to stand up on their own feet against the Black Foxes.”

Atsumu smiled tenderly at Hiro, recognizing his beliefs. “Hiro…” The next thing he knew, he had given a nod. “That’s right. We can’t exactly say that she’s a bad person, but it depends on who she really is. If we know more about her, it’ll certainly help us out with trying to understand her reasons for trying to capture us. While I’d like to meet her and all, today’s going to be a busy day as ever. Time to get to work, everyone!”

Kenshi and Riki nodded, leaving through the front. Takuto glanced at Rina with fixated gold eyes. He placed his left hand on the side of his face as he stared at the young woman.

“What are you going to do?” he asked. “You don’t have a job on Earth, so how are you gonna provide for yourself?”

Rina only smiled at the dirty blond next to her. “I’ll be working at Le Renard Noir, of course. Since Boss needs help around here, I’ll be working at the bar for a while. Hiro also needs to take some time off to attend his classes, so let’s cut him some slack until things settle down for him.”

Watching Rina’s dedicated friendship for him, Hiro could only smile after standing up. “Thanks, Rina. I owe a lot of things to you.”

Rina also stood up and placed her right hand on her hip. “What? It’s nothing to thank me for. You don’t have to say something nice to me, Hiro. We’ve been friends since near the end of our second year, so it’s what friends do for each other. Helping you out is basically a token of companionship. You don’t really have to worry about it.”

“Haha, I just can’t help it,” Hiro closed his eyes gleefully. “It takes some time and devotion to do something for another person.” He opened his eyes and was still smiling happily. “I’m glad you offered to work in my place, Rina. Really. I could have kept working for Boss’ sake, you know!”

Rina moved her right hand back and forth in a rapid movement. “No, no. I insist. I’m just working for free, though. There’s no need for me to get paid.”

“Pffft,” Takuto snickered. “Like she even needs a job. Seeing as she’s a magician, she doesn’t have to work as hard as any of us here to earn a lot of money. She’s already pretty wealthy, so she’s living a well-earned life for herself. Originating from a paradise-like world is lucky enough for her, Hiro. You and the Beard covered old man over there don’t have to think of giving her a coin or paper bill for what she does here. She’s got plenty of cash and coins for what she’s worth.”

Hiro frowned in disapproval. “Takkun, that’s such a rude thing to say about Rina! You should know better than to treat girls—especially female magicians—that way! You two used to date back then, so you have to be nicer to her. You were never one to take a rough attitude towards Rina back then, so why are you being like this now? It just doesn’t make any sense to me.”

Takuto’s temper was beginning to boil up. “Nice? Since when was I even nice to her in the first place? By the way, you shouldn’t bring up someone else’s past right in front of them. It’s none of your business, Hiro.”

Rina sighed, and her shoulders slumped, but her kind expression didn’t change much. “Just let it go, Hiro. You don’t have to do anything for me. I don’t really mind what anyone says about me, so take it easy and try to relax a little. You’re still tired, so I can understand a lack of sleep. You also drank yesterday and I know you also have a minor headache from it. It shows on your face in the morning, you know.” She closed her eyes as though she were signaling for him to rest for a few hours.

Hiro pouted with uncertain emotions in his eyes. “But…”

Rina opened her eyes. “Come on. Just go upstairs and lie down until this afternoon. If you keep holding back, you’ll eventually get bedridden with a fever. We wouldn’t want you to get one all of a sudden, right?”

Hiro’s shoulders moved down a bit, as he reluctantly gave in to Rina’s advice. “Alright. I’ll get some more sleep.”

He turned around and lowered his head. In his mind, he couldn’t help but feel some kind of concern for Rina and Takuto, while also thinking about the unknown young woman who was hoping to put the members of the Black Foxes behind the cold bars in the prison cells. It was still bothering him in many ways and he knew he had to get rid of the tingling feeling in his chest somehow. Unfortunately, he couldn’t repel it away from his heart. It kept coming back with a stronger attachment while the day passed by without any luxury to him.


XXX


It was ten minutes past two p.m. that afternoon when Hiro was outside taking a stroll. He had work up fifteen minutes before the clock struck at two to get ready and was making his way towards a familiar place, one he knew for a few years. As he was nearing his destination, a female figured came into sight. He soon stopped almost in front of the place he was heading to and looked to his left. His gaze was fixed on a certain young girl who was around his and Rina’s age. Inside, he saw Sayuri in her café uniform, working on orders for some customers. She wore her usual bright smile, which he loved more than anything whenever he saw her. Seeing her made his depressed expression soften, melting away the sad feeling that was on his face seconds ago. His eyes were filled with tenderness and things didn’t seem as hurtful as they were hours before. A few seconds later, Sayuri noticed his stare and looked up. She smiled back, and Hiro stepped inside shortly after. It was only a bit more before Sayuri was on her break for the day, the time when they finally got to talk to one another with others looking at them enviously.


XXX


“You must have really wanted to see me to have been standing outside the café looking through the window, Hiro,” Sayuri noted. “What’s up? I sensed someone staring at me, and it turned out to be you.”

Hiro smiled in a warmhearted manner. “It’s nothing in particular, but… Well. There’s been something on my mind since this morning. Think you can guess what it is?”

“You saw it, didn’t you?” Sayuri asked. “The picture I sent you while you were asleep. You told me you wanted to see me in a cute uniform, so I had the owner of the café take it. He asked if I was trying to get you to date me. Of course, that’s not it at all. You know he gets like that when it comes to the two of us. It becomes hard to get him off our case.”

Hiro giggled. “I’m flattered you would agree to it. But that’s not what I wanted to talk to you about today. It’s something else I really need to discuss with you.”

Sayuri blinked, tilting her head to her left. “? What is it?”

“It has something to do with this morning’s news report,” Hiro answered. He frowned, showing his uncomfortable expression. “It’s been really troubling me since I heard about it, so I’d like it if you’d let me indulge you about it.”

Sayuri smiled, understanding what her friend meant. “Oh, that? I saw it, too. You’re thinking about the person who’s set on bring the Black Foxes to piece, right? Is it… a problem for you, Hiro?”

“Huh? No, not really.” Hiro’s eyes had widened when he heard the light orange-haired girl’s words. “I mean, I’m a fan of the Black Foxes, so I really like the fact that they’re kind of like Robin Hood in a way. If they were to get caught, I don’t know what I’d do.”

Sayuri closed her eyes and kept smiling. “Is that so? It’s interesting to see that you’re really into what they do. I don’t really pay a lot of attention to them, though. I guess you’re really a diehard fan, huh? Though, you actually seem like someone who would rather participate in what they do, rather than just stay and wait for something new about them, Hiro.”

“Really?” Hiro inquired. Then, he pouted. “Do I seem to give off that sort of vibe, Sayuri?” His shoulders fell. “I thought I looked more like an ordinary guy who goes to an art college. It really comes to me as a shock when you put it that way.”

Sayuri looked down and smiled sadly. “Ahaha, you know… If you were actually one of the Black Foxes, I think it might suit you to be part of their team. I don’t really want to think of you that way, but you just seem to be into them right now that I can’t help but think you’d rather join them instead of staying with me.”

“Sayuri…?” Hiro frowned. He was beginning to worry for his friend. “Is something wrong? You don’t seem like yourself today. If I did something to upset you, then I’m sorry for hurting your feelings.”

Sayuri looked up with a puzzled expression. “? No, it’s not like you would do anything to hurt me, Hiro. I was just thinking since you’re a fan of the Black Foxes, you might like them more than me. We’re friends, so I’d like to see you more often when you’re not busy. It would make me lonely if you were to stop visiting the café to learn more about them, that’s all.”

Hiro opened his mouth to respond, but then, the manager turned on the TV, and another news report was heard. There was also a different male reporter from before.

“Lately, it seems there have been several breakouts where a card signed by the Black Foxes has been received by the wealthy art dealers who own different types of artworks, including paintings, sculptures, and other rarities. However, this morning, a young woman who has started to bring criminals and offenders to the side of justice for the past few weeks or so, is currently trying to hunt down these so-called ‘noble thieves.’ Although she began her virtuous career not too long ago, an announcement from the police station these horrid felons are locked up in, was finally released with her permission. This outstanding young lady’s actions have moved my heart, and I am rooting for her. Hopefully, she will be able to capture those wretched thieves from the uproars they have caused several years ago to the people of Ginza.”

Hiro frowned after hearing the attacking statement about the Black Foxes. “It’s not like they’ve caused enough trouble to start a mob or anything, so I don’t think this guy understands the concept the Black Foxes have in mind. Don’t you think so, Sayuri? They’re not bad people from what I’ve heard about them, so I don’t think they should be judged just because they steal for a purpose.”

Sayuri had an intense stare. She wasn’t looking at Hiro, but she was focused on the TV. “Hm. I don’t know. I’d like it if they didn’t steal from others, though. You see, I’m not actually fond of the Black Foxes because of what they do for a living. It makes me wish they wouldn’t do anything against someone, even if the person they steal from is a bad person.”

Seeing how much Sayuri felt towards the Black Foxes, Hiro could only gaze at the café worker with mixed feelings.

Sayuri… he thought. Do you really hate us that much? Are you against us just because we try to steal artworks from people who have wrong intentions? If so, I don’t know if I can properly tell you anything, or even apologize to you. I don’t want you to hate me, but maybe you already do. I did bring up the subject in the first place, so I can’t blame you if you don’t want to talk about it anymore. I just wanted you to hear me out.

With regret overflowing within him, Hiro could only look at Sayuri with sorrow. Nothing else was said between them, as Sayuri’s heart and mind were focused on the report for the rest of the day. It felt as if they drifted away from one another, which seemed to have put a dent in their friendship. It wasn’t the same as before, but Hiro was still worried for Sayuri, even after he left.


XXX


Everyone was gathered inside Le Renard Noir to start their mission. With their dark outfits, they were ready to commence it without any problems.

“Let’s go and get back the cymophane, everyone,” Atsumu smiled. He was also going with them and was excited about coming along for the ride. “This is a very important job for us to do, so let’s get to it.”

Riki and the others nodded. The six of them headed towards a large corporation and ran inside from the back doors successfully. Then, they searched around for the gemstone.

“Find anything yet?” Atsumu asked with stiffness.

Riki shook his head. “No, not yet. It should be around here somewhere.” He spoke into his transceiver. “Takuto, did you pinpoint the location it’s in?”

Takuto, who was already on the third floor with Rina and Hiro, replied back immediately. “It should be somewhere on the last floor. We’re on our way there right now. Try to catch up with us.”

“Seriously?!” Kenshi shouted. He was on the second floor. “That’s the sixteenth floor. We’ll have to use the elevator or staircase just to get up there without Rina’s teleportation!”

Riki yelled, “Kenshi, don’t complain. You’re not even on the first floor with Boss right now, so get to it and go all the way up there!” Then, he turned off his transceiver and sighed. “Geez, this guy… He’s a firefighter, so he’s had some experience with this before. It’s supposed to be a simple job for him.”

Atsumu shrugged with a laidback smile. “You can’t blame him now, can’t you? He’s probably exhausted from the countless amount of missions we went on this year. He’ll get there soon enough. Don’t worry too much, Riki.”

“I know, I know,” Riki answered as his shoulders dropped. “I’m tired myself. Anyway, we better catch up to them. I have a weird feeling something’s going to happen tonight.”

Atsumu laughed. “As expected of the leader of the Black Foxes! We might actually run into some trouble. Aha!”

“Hurry up!” Riki was already near the staircase. “We gotta get to where Takuto and the others are, so don’t slow don’t and pick up the pace!”

Realizing how held up he was from the mission, Atsumu hurriedly rushed over to the spot.

“Ah! Wait up!” he exclaimed, running after Riki, who was already ahead by twenty steps.

At that time, Rina, Hiro and Takuto were making a mad dash towards the top from the fifteenth floor.

“Do you think this is going to be okay?” Hiro asked with anxiety building up within his body. “We might run into another trap once we reach the room.”

Rina panted a bit. “Even if we do, I’ll think of something. Since Senpai’s not here right now, we’ll have to find an escape if we get caught.”

Takuto coughed. “Ugh! These floors are really long! How long do these workers expect themselves to get all the way to the top of the building?!”

“No time to complain, Takuto,” Rina reminded the hacker who was getting behind. “We have to find that cymophane before it gets into the wrong hands!”

Hiro nodded. “Rina’s right. We can’t lose it to the mafia or anyone else! We have to get to it first.”

“I get what you two mean, but it’s not easy for me to catch up to you two when you’re nearly neck and neck with each other!” Takuto barked. He had quite an unpleasant expression on his face, but it was just a typical thing. “We’re almost there, anyway, so try to give me a break from this after we get back.”

Soon, they entered the sixteenth floor and found the cymophane rested on a display table in front of the main desk. It was circular and was beautiful like the moon with a bright golden yellow color. Rina was catching her breath, and Takuto finally caught up. Hiro stared at the jewel passionately as if something were pulling him towards it without creating any movement.

“Looks like it’s real,” he said, “but we can’t exactly be sure of it. What do you think, Rina?”

Rina nodded cautiously. “Yeah. It’s the actual thing. I can feel it’s aura.”

“Then, let’s just grab it and get out of here so we can finally rest for the day,” Takuto stated. “We have to finish the mission.”

“Wait,” Hiro advised. “We can’t just take it, can we? We have to make sure it’s safe to take.”

Keeping his cool, Takuto answered nonchalantly. “Don’t worry. I check it just now. There aren’t any booby traps or sensors around it. Plus, the security system’s not that great, so we can get it back to the bar. Touching it won’t trigger anything, Hiro.”

As they were speaking, Rina had already walked forward and took the cymophane with her right hand. She made it back to the two of them, who noticed and looked at her with surprise.

“That was fast,” Takuto responded, returning to his usual monotone voice. “Let’s go. I’ll report to Riki and the others.”

“Right,” Rina followed after Takuto and Hiro, and they made their way to the roof.

Takuto turned on his transceiver and contacted Riki. “We got it. We’re almost on the roof, so just meet us there and let’s leave.”

Riki smiled from where he was. “Got it. We’re almost where you guys are, so I’ll get Boss and see you soon.”

“Roger that,” Takuto replied, turning his transceiver off.

The three of them walked up to the roof and Hiro opened the door, closing it behind Rina. He let it open a little for Riki, Atsumu and Kenshi, who were still running upstairs.

Without warning, Hiro sighed. “Phew! That was easier than I thought it’d be. A bit of running wasn’t so bad, right, Takkun?” He beamed at the dirty blond with his casualness.

Takuto frowned with a stoic expression. “Like it was a good thing for my sides. They’re still in pain, you know.”

“It’s not going to hurt that much, Takuto,” Rina assured her previous lover. “You’ll get used to it when you’re out more on these missions. You mostly keep inside from a distance, so you’re cooped up in the back of the van, or you stay in Le Renard Noir to help out. You should come along more often to restore your physique.”

Takuto narrowed his eyes, while his expression remained the same for the most part. “I didn’t have much of a choice. We couldn’t bring the van, either, so we had to get here on foot.”

“But man, it’s really hot,” Hiro fanned himself with his right hand. “It’s not even summer yet. We’re still in March right now.”

Takuto was still standing with Rina as he looked at Hiro. “We’re almost nearing April. I can’t disagree with you, but we’ll have to bear it this year. We’ll also have to turn the cooler on higher when we get back, so let’s wait until they get here.”

Hiro nodded. “Yeah. I’m also pretty hungry right now, but I guess it can wait.” He stood up and held the cymophane. “This is like an orb filled with an untapped potential. It’s making my heart race just by looking at it.”

“I don’t have that feeling right now,” Rina commented informally. “It’s not something related to my world, so I don’t sense something from it that could make me heart pound.”

Takuto glanced at Rina. “They’re taking their time. At any rate, we should hurry back with it soon. I don’t want to stay here much longer.”

Suddenly, a figure appeared on the top of the building in front of the one the three of them were standing on.

“I don’t think so,” the person said. It was definitely a female voice. “That crystal belongs to someone I know. I can’t let you dirty thieves handle it and take it back to where you came from. I’ll be taking it with me and turning you all in once you other members run to meet up with you three.”

Takuto’s eyes widened. “What?”

Out from the midst of the shadows, the moon shone on the young woman standing on the other side. She was wearing a red blazer with a white dress shirt underneath and a pair of brown paints, along with a pair of white high heels. She also stood there confidently with a smile and had long, orange hair that reached the middle of her thighs, and had emerald green eyes.

“You can’t have the cymophane, so just hand it over to someone who works on the side of justice and let yourselves repent for what you’ve done, Black Foxes,” she demanded with a firm tone of voice. “I’m turning you over to the police whether you like it or not.”

Takuto’s anger flared up when he heard those words. “Who in their right minds would just go over to someone and have themselves get arrested by the likes of you?! Unlike an old sap who feels guilty for what he’s done, we’re not the kind of people who would do something like that!”

“Is that so?” the orange-haired young woman questioned. Her eyes narrowed and she frowned. “I knew you were much more clever than the average robber, but I guess you leave me no choice. I’ll have to come over there myself and capture you without fail.”

Rina had been staring at the girl standing in front of their view and looked closely. “Don’t tell me that person is…”

Hiro looked at Rina and blinked. “? Did you say something just now?”

Rina’s shoulders slumped. Without answering Hiro’s question, she stepped forward. “…! I knew it. So it was you, after all. Am I right, Sayuri?”

“Huh?” Hiro immediately turned his head, facing the orange-haired girl. “…Sayuri?”

Sayuri glanced at Rina with realization in her eyes. “Rina? What are you doing over there? You shouldn’t be with—“ She caught herself, now understanding the situation. “Don’t tell me you’re part of the Black Foxes.”

“I didn’t expect you would be the one after us,” Rina sighed. “But this is quite a surprise to see you here in Ginza. Why don’t you let us off the hook for now? If we give you the cymophane, you’ll do that, right?”

Takuto quickly shot Rina an angry glance. “Hey! What do you think you’re doing?! We can’t just give away the gemstone to someone who’s after us!”

Without looking at Takuto, Rina continued. “I know it’s important to you, Sayuri. That’s why I’m offering you a chance to get it back. You said yourself that it belonged to someone you knew. However, this is the only time I’m giving you the opportunity to take it in exchange for letting us escape. What will you say now that we have the cymophane in our hands?”

Sayuri hesitated. “…” She knew there was no way she could win against Rina. She let out a sigh. “…Fine. If I let you and your friends go, will you give it to me? I didn’t think you of all people would be a member of that band of thieves, Rina. But I’ll make an exception if you hand over the crystal.”

Rina turned her head to her left and looked at Hiro. “Listen, Hiro. I need you give the cymophane to me. Do you understand?”

Hiro looked down and nodded, giving the gemstone to Rina, who took it gently and tosses it over to Sayuri.

“There you have it,” Rina smiled. “It’s all yours now, so you should go and give it back to whoever owns it.”

Sayuri glanced at Rina, holding the cymophane in her left hand. She turned her head towards her right and said, “…Are you Hiro…?”

When he heard his name, Hiro looked up, and his eyes met Sayuri’s. He relaxed a bit and nodded. “Yeah. Are you really the same Sayuri I know from the café?”

Seeing how confused Hiro was, Sayuri smiled. “Of course I am. But I’ll have to leave now that you found out my identity. It was nice seeing you two.” She turned around and held her right hand up. “Later. I don’t know if we can think of each other as friends now, but I can only say that we’re enemies now. Thanks for everything you’ve done for me, Hiro.” With that, she took a step forward and vanished, leaving the three of them to look at where she was.

Riki, Kenshi and Atsumu soon came to the rooftop, and Rina explained the situation to them. They left shortly afterwards and went back to Le Renard Noir. Hiro wasn’t sure what to say with the stinging pain returning and hitting his heart. To think the girl he met almost a month ago to be his foe was difficult to withstand and it was quite a shock, as well.

He lowered his eyes and let his shoulders fall.

Why did this have to happen? He thought to himself. My best friend is now my enemy, so what I can even say to Sayuri the next time I see her? This sucks… We were getting along so well, but then things just changed between us. I don’t think she’ll forgive me for going behind her back and being a member of the Black Foxes. I should have said something about it sooner. This is all my fault.

He sighed, becoming even more depressed than he had ever been in all his life.

The others looked at him with concern.

“Hiro’s barely hanging in there, isn’t he?” Riki frowned.

Kenshi nodded. “Yeah. I just can’t believe one of his friends is actually our enemy. It’s just not right…!”

“You can’t always do what you want and not expect something to backfire,” Takuto said nonchalantly. “Things like that will happen more than once in a lifetime, so it’s better to go through it and make a comeback later on. Hiro will be able to get back on his feet when he finds a resolution before we know it.”

Kenshi’s mouth dropped opened. “Wow, I didn’t think Takuto could say something like that.”

“I know,” Riki agreed. “This is such a rare occurrence. It’s like he’s changed all of a sudden.”

Atsumu chuckled. “Maybe he has. He’s not even getting angry right now, so it’s a possibility.”

Rina looked at the surface of the counter. “Hiro probably wouldn’t have to go through this if I had told Sayuri about my part in the Black Foxes before she came here. I overlooked the fact she would have a high moral value towards stealing.”

“It’s not your fault,” Takuto answered in a calm manner. “You didn’t know things would turn out this way, so don’t take the blame for yourself. If anyone’s at fault here, it’s the old man for indirectly using his sexual harassment jokes on Hiro in the first place. He’s the one who said he wanted to meet your friend, so we can make him pay for breaking Hiro.”

Rina looked at Takuto, who was on her left, and smiled softly. “Thanks, Takuto.”

Takuto nodded. “Anyone would know right away that Beardy was being a bad example for everyone. It’s normal to blame him for stuff like this.”

“Hey!” Atsumu cried out. “I’m not that bad of a guy, am I? I mean, yeah, I’m older than you all, and I run the bar, but that doesn’t make me a terrible person, does it?”

“I don’t know,” Takuto began his retort with his stoic voice, “but it sure sounds like it. You even admitted that you were old again, so it should make much of a difference since you said so.”

Atsumu looked away, tears forming in his eyes. While he wiped them away with a cloth, everyone else but Hiro laughed, savoring the comical feeling of seeing his “hurt” expression.

Beyond a Thief’s Power Episode 2

Partners Once Again


Riki’s curiosity got the better of him, but he put up a staid front. “Hiro. About what you said earlier. Just what exactly do you mean by someone else joining us on our mission? Mitsuki’s away, so there can’t be someone else in our team. We’re not going to wait for anyone else to show up if you’re playing around. We have to start the mission before it’s too late to do anything about it.”

While he had spoken his part, someone’s footsteps drew near towards Le Renard Noir. Whoever was walking was unseen, except for their lower legs which wore a pair of black ankle boots.

Despite the fact Riki didn’t believe his words, Hiro kept smiling in a casual manner. “Rikkun, I’m not playing with you all. I’m serious about what I told you, and I’m not lying about it, either. If you still don’t believe me, just wait and see. Even if you ask me more about our friend, I can’t tell you because it’s a secret. For now, at least.”

Riki was now dumbfounded by Hiro’s reply. It took a moment before he could react; however, when he tried to respond, the owner of the mysterious footsteps entered the bar. Riki, Kenshi, and Takuto held their heads up and looked near the entrance. Seeing this, Hiro and Atsumu smiled, knowing what was about to happen next.

A look full of shock and surprised overcame the three when they saw who it was. They could not believe their eyes, but it was indeed true they had seen…

“RINA?!” they shouted in complete harmony.

The young woman with long blonde hair [which extended down to her upper thighs] closed her honey-colored eyes, tilting her head slightly to her right. Simultaneously, she had put her right hand up and smiled faintly.

“Did you guys miss me?” she asked them, dressed in a set of black clothes of her own. She was ready to begin the mission as they were.

Riki’s eyes widened. “Is that really you?” He smiled at his old friend tears forming in his eye. “I can hardly believe it. Here you are standing right in front of us, and you haven’t changed all this time. It’s… good to see you again, Rina.”

“It’s nice to see you’re still the same old sap, Riki,” Rina replied. “But of course, none of us have changed since then, have we? We’re still comrades after all these years. I mean, I never really left the Black Foxes, right? Unless, you counted me out after I had to go back to Neon.”

“Now why would we do that?” Kenshi gasped. “You’ve always been a part of the team, and you still are one of us, Rina.” He smiled, relieved to see the blonde all of them knew from the past. “You never even left our hearts and minds since the last time we saw you. No one could ever replace you or mark you out from the Black Foxes!”

Rina’s eyes narrowed. “Reeaaally. And what was that you were saying about not having another member besides senpai? Hmm? Don’t you even dare to think that I didn’t hear what you said earlier. My hearing’s not like the average person, Kenshi.” She glanced at Riki with an angry frown. “And you of all people should know better than to say that there isn’t any other member in our team, Riki. It sounded as though I never existed in your lives—not once. Did you ever care to consider how I would feel about being cut from this?”

At that moment, Riki paused, realizing the fault of his actions and words. “…” He stared blankly but decided to speak up about the matter. “I’m sorry, Rina. I didn’t know you would show up here in front of everyone. You’ve been an important companion to us, and yet I blurted out some insensitive words. I’m sure I must have shattered your feelings for not figuring out what Hiro meant until now. However,” the leader of the Black Foxes cut himself off, switching his apologetic expression to a tender smile, “you’re still our first female member, and that hasn’t changed since the day you came into our lives. You’re Rina Tokuhara, and no one can ever take your place even if they tried to. That’s what makes you special to our group.”

Seeing Riki’s sincerity, Rina couldn’t help but smile back. “Riki… It’s been so long since I was here. I’m glad I got to see you all again. I’ve missed the time we had together, but despite what’s happened in the past, I look forward to the present instead.”

With the situation settled between Riki, Rina, and the rest of the team, it seemed as if everything was the same. But there was something that was brewing up in Takuto’s heart. He wasn’t happy about how things turned out, and his core overflowed with pain from Rina’s presence.

His eyes were shadowed and he frowned at the same time as he muttered his next words. “…Why did you come back?”

Rina and the others looked up. She stared at him, taking note of his expression. Then, she spoke up.

“Takuto, I—“ Before she could say anything else, Takuto broke her off.

He had an aggressive expression patched onto his face which represented his anger. “The guys and I have been doing well without you after our relationship ended over three years ago, and yet you decide to show up all of a sudden tonight. What’s with you?! Are you really here to help us out, or are you going to ruin our mission? I can’t believe you would arrive just before we’ve even gotten to the destination. You’ve been stirring things up for me today, and you’re still doing it! Why don’t you go back to where you came from and leave all of us alone for a change?! We were known as the Black Foxes before you even joined in the first place and we had no intention of letting you in, so just get out of here before you distract us any further, you got it?!”

With a somber expression on her face, Rina said, “Look. I’m didn’t come back to this world because I felt like surprising everyone without any warning. In fact, I never had the intention of seeing you again, Takuto. I have my own reasons for being here, and they don’t lie with wanting to build up a storm for you or anyone else in this city. Try to at least understand my side of the story.”

“That’s right, Takkun,” Hiro agreed with a stern expression of his own. “I was the one who called her to help with the mission. It’s not Rina’s fault for being here, so don’t put the blame on her. It was because of my actions that she even came back to Ginza in the first place. At any rate, taking your anger out on your ex isn’t going to solve your problems. We still have to start the mission and finish what we came to do. Let’s just go already and get the painting back for Pete’s sake!”

A look of surprise appeared on Takuto’s face as he stared at Hiro. “Wait, what do you—“

“No time for that, Takuto!” Kenshi shouted. “We’re running out of time! We’d better hurry before the art dealer makes his move.”

“Just stick with Rina for the time being and let’s do this!” Riki commanded.

While Takuto was still baffled, the guys nodded and everyone except for Atsumu headed toward the location of the painting.


XXX


Inside a large mansion, Riki and the others, excluding Takuto and Rina, were about to begin, with Riki initiating the mission.

Instead of grinning victoriously, he had a serious expression on his face. “It’s show time. We’re ready for action, guys.”

“Roger that, Leader,” Hiro replied.

Kenshi smiled. “If anyone tries to stop us, I’ll take them out in no time at all.”

“Right,” Riki answered. “Hurry straight down the hallway. We’ll head to the door at the end and break in.”

The three of them ran forward and commenced their part of the mission. Meanwhile, the two blonds were sitting in the back of the van, observing the scene. They silently gazed at the computer screen. After a few seconds, Takuto gave a set of instructions.

“Riki, there’s an alarm in the room you’re heading for. When you arrive at it, wait for twenty seconds. I’ll disable it.” He began to type at an astoundingly fast rate.

Riki nodded, awaiting for Takuto’s approval. “Alright. I’m counting on you, Takuto.”

“Got it.” Takuto finished typing and stared at the screen with precaution. “Go.”

At Takuto’s command, Riki, Hiro and Kenshi opened the doors and ran inside. They walked up to the painting, which was on the wall in front of them, and Hiro examined it.

“…Huh?” the youngest member’s eyes widened in confusion.

“What’s wrong, Hiro?” Riki asked.

Kenshi’s mouth opened. “Did you find anything?”

“…! It’s a counterfeit,” Hiro said, pulling himself away from the painting.

“What?” Kenshi blurted out in bewilderment.

A solemn expression ran across Riki’s face. “Are you sure it’s fake, Hiro? There wasn’t another one that looked just like the one in this room.”

“I’m positive it’s a false copy of the actual painting,” Hiro frowned. “If possible, someone may have taken the real one from this spot. I can just feel something different about the place it’s hanging from.”

“Then,” Kenshi uttered, “what are we going to do now?”

Riki sighed, and his shoulders slumped. “Guess we don’t have much of a choice here. We’ll retreat and return to Le Renard Noir for now. We’re going to have to report to Boss about the situation when we get back.”

Rina stared at the screen in the van for a moment. All of a sudden, her eyes widened, realizing something. “…!” Her expression became dead serious in an instant. “Riki! Hiro, Kenshi! Get out of there right now!”

Takuto looked up and turned towards his right. “Huh? What is it?”

“The room’s going to give away soon, Takuto!” the young woman informed her former lover.

Takuto’s eyes widened. “What?!”

“There’s no time for them to escape normally. I’ll have to help them!”

She took one more look at the screen. Then, she teleported into the room the three male members were in. She dashed towards them and they looked at her with surprise in their eyes.

“Rina?” Riki said in an astonished manner. “What are you doing here?”

Rina frowned. “Quick. Just grab hold of my hand. The room’s going to explode in a less than a minute.”

“Wha—“

Before he could express his shock, Rina swiftly put her left arm around him; her right arm was around Kenshi. She had taken hold of them, and the two grown men were now facing the floor. They had to comply, however, since they knew Rina was correct somehow. Hiro glanced to his right and smiled. He and Rina sprinted towards the entrance as fast as they could on foot. Due to the fact she was holding both Kenshi and Riki, Rina didn’t have enough power to teleport with them back to the van. Additionally, if she did, they would more than likely crash into Takuto and his laptop, sending them toppling and suffocating the dirty blond. Just as they reached the front door, the entire interior exploded, and debris was everywhere when they leaped out. It was a blast that annihilated the building they were in, and parts of it were crumbling from the vast impact. Glass had shattered and many fragments were currently laying on the grass, along with what was left of the mansion. What used to be a beautiful and long creation was now an obliteration.

As the four of them turned their heads toward the destroyed mansion, Rina panted a bit, having placed her curled hand over her chest. Takuto came out of the back of the van afterwards.

“Is everyone okay?” he asked. There seemed to be some hint of worry in his expression when stepped to the outside world. “I saw what happened on the screen. Are you guys hurt or anything?”

Hiro smiled kindly. “No, we’re not hurt. In fact, that was actually pretty awesome just now.”

Riki nodded. “Yeah. And it’s all thanks to Rina for coming to our rescue when the mansion blew up.”

“If she hadn’t been there at that moment, we would have been goners tonight,” Kenshi added. With the back of his right arm, he wiped off the sweat on his forehead. “Phew! That was quite the most I’ve ever seen anyone make of it! You should have been there, Takuto! It was a blast that made my heart pound faster than it had ever done before!”

Seeing his friends’ expressions of gratitude, Takuto realized he was wrong to have judged his ex-girlfriend. He knew she was a good person deep down, but he couldn’t muster up the courage to say anything amiable about her in front of everyone, not even to Rina herself. The truth was, it was because of Rina’s efforts that Hiro, Riki and Kenshi were fine and still alive. He understood the bravery that not many people would have been able to utilize for the sake of saving others if they were to find out about an upcoming explosion. Although Rina wasn’t an ordinary girl, she did what she could to save the guys from harm, and that was what mattered the most.

Takuto lowered his eyes, sinking into his thoughts.

Man… What was I thinking, trying to argue with her? He sighed. I know that she’s not trying to do anything wrong, but I just can’t… I can’t even bring myself to be nice to her. I can’t believe I’ve turned into this jerk who’s always being harsh towards others. Why did I become this way? His shoulders slumped and he glanced at Rina’s back before looking back down. Anyway… I better say something before it’s too late.

He looked to his left, averting his gaze from everyone. “…Thanks. For saving them.”

Rina, who was still staring at the place the mansion was, looked up and turned her head clockwise. “…” She didn’t say anything, but she gazed at the hacker as if she were trying to see through him.

Riki’s eyes widened. “Takuto…” A smile appeared on his face with comprehension. He knew of the dirty blond’s hard time expressing his true feelings as he watched him.

If only things were back to what they used to be like, he thought. I’m sure Takuto would be better off returning to his old self, but there’s only a small part of him that’s still there from the past. But… He looked down, acknowledging how things were now. It’s not a completely bad thing that he’s here with us today. Rina came back, but it’s thanks to Hiro. He must’ve phoned her this morning around eight. That little rascal. He’s always full of concern for Takuto, but he’s not the only one. We’ve all worried about him and Rina more than anyone else. I wonder if things will be fine for them. Takuto’s words are pretty severe, but down in his heart, I’m sure it’s more of a way he protects himself from getting hurt. He may try to say something rude to keep someone else from getting hurt, but it’s worse for the receiving end of the party. I’m sure Rina’s the only one who can truly turn things around for him, but it won’t be easy. Takuto has a wall around himself that shuts him away from those who try to reach out to him. He won’t let the ice surrounding his heart melt no matter what, but I know that he actually wants someone to free him from being a cold person. What worries me the most is how he’ll act when he’s with Rina. Their relationship took a sudden turn downhill because of him, so will things really be okay? He might regret his harsh personality later on, and there might not be a way to help him if something happens to affect his emotions. At any rate, he’ll need to open up to her more if he wants to be someone who’s nicer to others. I can’t exactly help him out much, but I’ll be there when I can.

Riki looked up and smiled once more. “Let go home. I’m sure everyone’s tired.”

“Yeah. We can’t stay here for long, anyway.” Takuto gave a nod, his gaze still facing the ground.

Hiro and Kenshi smiled when they saw Takuto’s expression.

“I’ll drive,” Kenshi offered. “I wasn’t of much use during the mission, so it’s the least I can do.”

“You always drive the van when we go on missions, Kenny,” Hiro beamed. “So it’s about the only thing you can do when we go on one!”

“Hey!” the sniper exclaimed. “It’s not like that’s the only thing I can do, right? I can fight when there are enemies, Hiro! You’re the one who checks the art, so there’s not exactly a lot coming from your side most of the time. We have our own parts to fulfill.”

Takuto sighed. “Whatever. It’s already late, so let’s just go already.”

“There’s nothing like Takuto’s complaints that keeps us on track, huh?”

Takuto was back to his usual nonchalant attitude once he heard Riki’s words. “Shut up. I’m just as exhausted as you guys are. That’s all. Plus, I was sitting at the back since I always do that during our missions. The old man’s waiting for us with food, so we should fill our stomachs before going home for the night.”

“Yeah, we know,” the leader replied. He stood up and turned his head around. “Rina, let’s go! We’re heading back to the bar like we always do.”

Rina nodded and stared walking. Hiro and Kenshi went ahead and they all got in the van. While everyone else was chatting inside, the female member was a hundred percent silent. She did not say a word on the way back, only staring at the car floor in the back. Takuto was looking at her, but he didn’t say a thing to Rina. However, he did join in the conversation the guys had in front. When they reached back to Le Renard Noir, they got off and Atsumu welcomed them back. Once again, Rina was the last one to follow after the rest of the team. The atmosphere became lively again with the large amount of food that was laid out on one of the tables.

“Well that was a success!” the bar owner beamed with a broad grin; he was holding a glass of beer in his right hand was as enthusiastic as ever. “To tonight’s mission! And to Rina’s return to our group! Cheers!”

“CHEERS!”

Everyone else held up their drinks and put them together for the celebration.

Before they began eating, Takuto pointed out with a smirk, “But it wasn’t actually a success since we didn’t get the painting back. It was a total failure.”

“But it couldn’t be helped tonight,” Hiro stated. “We fell into a trap and almost died in the inner room.”

Kenshi nodded. “If it wasn’t for Rina, we’d be all over the place in particles. The mansion exploded when we were about to get out.”

“I didn’t do anything that great,” Rina smiled. “I did what I could to get you guys away from being terminated in there. It wasn’t much, though, so you don’t have to keep saying anything about me.”

“But it’s true!” Kenshi proclaimed. “You were the only one who detected the explosion and saved us from being blown into bits and pieces. You should get all the credit for what you did!”

“But I wonder why it did,” Hiro said with bewilderment. “We checked it before we went there. We didn’t even find any bombs or dynamite planted inside the mansion, so it’s something that’s been intriguing to me since we got out.”

“Hmm…” Riki pondered. “That’s true.” His expression became serious with deep thought. “The painting was also gone and was switched with a replica once we reached the last room. But who exactly could have done all those things? It could also be that someone planned the explosion and alteration. They may have known we were coming and set us up with a trap before we carried out the mission, so they might have wanted to get rid of us.”

Takuto frowned. “About that. I checked once we were on our way back, and found that it was indeed a fake painting. However, I didn’t find much about it. There were a lot of clues as to who took the painting and since the mansion was destroyed, there wasn’t much I could trace back. Someone was definitely there since the real one was already gone by the time we reached the building. We might have someone targeting us, or even any of the works of art we’re after, so it seems almost like a game to get there first.”

“We can’t do much about it now that it’s been swapped,” Atsumu reminded. “Buuuuuttt. We can always work on the rest and get those later. Anyway, the food’s getting cold, so we should all eat up before speaking another word about this incident. I’ll try to get some info about this tomorrow if I can. Let’s dig in, guys!”

Everyone nodded.

“Let’s eat!”

After their late dinner, Atsumu, Hiro, and everyone else put away their dishes. While the owner of Le Renard Noir and the art student washed the dishes the rest of the group was about to part ways from one another.

“Well, see you guys tomorrow,” Kenshi smiled. “It was nice seeing you again, Rina. Have a good night’s sleep once you get home.”

Rina smiled back lightly. “Thanks, Kenshi. It was nice seeing you guys, too. Make sure to take some time off and visit your mother when you’re not busy. I’m sure she wants to see you soon.”

“Ahaha,” the firefighter chuckled. “Will do. Bye.” He gave a motionless wave with his left hand and walked home.

Riki turned his head towards Takuto and Rina with a stern expression. “Takuto, make sure to walk her all the way to her apartment. Don’t be half-assed about it, either, you hear me?”

“Yeah, I know,” Takuto responded with indifference. “It’s not like I would leave here out on the street so some weirdo would take her somewhere. You should at least trust me more, Riki.”

Riki frowned. “With you, I’m sure any one of us would worry whether or not you’re doing things right. You always say something that makes the people around you depressed or sad. Sometimes, they’ll also get angry because you’re too inconsiderate with your words. It’s not uncommon for something like that to happen. Try to keep things in moderation, will you?”

“I will,” Takuto replied. “You should get back before you get a headache from drinking that glass of beer. You should already know what you’re like when you get drunk and try to go home. It’s not exactly the best part about you every time you decide to drink.”

There was a sigh from the twenty-seven-year-old man, but he smiled short after that. “Thanks for trying to save me some trouble. I’ll see you guys later.”

With that, he walked out and made his way home, leaving the ex-couple standing next to each other. They glanced at the other before taking a stroll to Rina’s home.


XXX


Takuto and Rina hadn’t said anything to each other during their walk. Rina was in front of Takuto for a portion of the way to her apartment after about half a minute. It took another fifteen minutes before they reached the complex.

Rina stopped and turned around. “This should be fine. Thanks for taking me here.”

“It wasn’t because I wanted to, you know,” Takuto commented with a stoic quality to his voice and composure.

However, Rina kept smiling as she looked at the programmer. “I know. You don’t really have to say anything about it. I just wanted to let you know that I’m glad you at least took the time to get me back to my place safely.”

“Is that really all you wanted to say?” Takuto asked. “Wouldn’t you usually offer me something to drink since I walked you here?”

Rina lowered her eyes and exhaled. “You’d say that it’s a bother. I’m certain of it since we’re not even dating. We’ve both changed since the day we broke up.”

Takuto sighed. “Man, what a pain. I even took the time to ask. You could at least give me a cup of tea to help me wash down the taste. We ate a lot of food, but I’d rather have something to get rid of tonight’s beer.”

“Alright, you can come in if you want.” Rina had placed her right hand on her hip. “But I might not be able to give you much since I just came back to Tokyo.”

“Whatever. I’ll take what you can make for me. I’m still a little thirsty, anyway,” Takuto added.

They both walked up the stairs and stopped in front of the second door. Rina took out her apartment key and opened the door, letting them both in. She took the key out and closed the door behind them, locking it immediately. After the two of them took of their shoes, Rina headed in to the kitchen and began preparing a small pot of tea for Takuto, who took a look inside the room and sat down at near the wooden table. He waited for a few seconds before looking toward his right. He could see Rina’s figure moving in the kitchen a bit, but he felt somewhat anxious to be in his ex-girlfriend’s shelter. He didn’t even know what to say to Rina when he sat down on the cushion!

How did I even get myself into this situation? He asked himself. I only wanted to get some tea, but it still makes me uneasy to be around her. Geez… I’m such an idiot for asking Rina for something like this. Argh! I shouldn’t even go to her apartment just to get a drink or two, but I just couldn’t find myself to leave yet! What’s with me, anyway?!

As he scolded himself for staying inside his old lover’s house, Rina poured out some green tea into two exquisite cups that didn’t seem to be made out of glass, but something much more… rare and expensive, which reflected the light of a gemstone. It was like two light green emeralds, rather than just ordinary cups on the tray. Then, she picked up the tray and walked over to where Takuto was sitting, and set it on the table, placing a cup in front of Takuto before serving herself.

“Here you go.” She smiled at the twenty-four-year-old man. “I made sure let it cool down a little so it won’t burn your tongue. Just take your time when you dink the tea.”

Takuto nodded, having returned his typical nonchalant expression by the time Rina arrived. “Thanks. I know I’ve caused you some trouble tonight.” He looked down and frowned. “You even had to save Riki and the others’ lives during the mission, too. And… sorry for what I said to you earlier. It was just—“

“—an impulse, right?” Rina had a forgiving expression as she gazed into Takuto’s eyes. “I know you get angry more than once, and you’ve gotten a harsher tone than back then. That much I’ve noticed since I saw you a few hours ago. But that doesn’t mean that you haven’t retained part of your old self. You’re still the same Takuto Hirukawa I know, despite the turn in your personality. We can start over and be friends this time if you’d like. I don’t mind if you don’t want to, and if you hate me, but I’ll bear with it no matter what. I’m a part of the Black Foxes and that hasn’t changed like Riki said, so I’ll continue to stay in the team, even if we get into fights every now and then. I’m Rina Tokuhara, after all. I can’t just abandon my position in our group and you can’t, either. You’re the hacker and I’m one of the helpers. We are who we are, so let’s stay like that and put up with everything.”

“…” Takuto stared at Rina with empathetic emotions. He understood the feelings her words carried within a second. “Rina…”

Rina closed her eyes; she kept smiling and lowered her head faintly. “No matter what happens, Takuto, I’ll always support you. You don’t have to think about me or anything, but I’ll keep thinking about you, and I will always wish for your happiness. We’re… in this together. We might encounter some bumpy roads during our missions and everyday lives, but we’ll make it through because we have each other. You and I are one mind and body. And that won’t change at all, Takuto. We’ll never be apart since we’re partners in crime. We were comrades in the past, and we came to be comrades in the present and future. As long as we have each other, everything will be all right.”

Takuto gave another nod and put his right hand on Rina’s head. “Yeah. We’ll be together even if we’re far away or close to one another. I swear we’ll be able to carry out our purpose as thieves, so don’t worry about a thing and let’s walk forward together with everyone.”

Rina held on to Takuto’s arm with her right hand and they stayed like that for a while. Even after she felt asleep, Takuto continued to watch after her before leaving early in the morning before anyone else was awake.


XXX


Meanwhile, there was a figure inside a museum who was smiling. It was a female whose eyes were shadowed and covered with her bangs. The room she was in was filled with rare artifacts and other statues. She was also holding a small statue in her right hand.

“Now,” she said with satisfaction, “I just have to hand these items over to the authorities and capture the ones who stole them from their rightful owners. That’ll be enough to bring justice for now. However, I’ll have to continue my duties and turn in anyone who opposes the peaceful life of the civilians in this city, especially those dirty Black Foxes who are rumored to be stealing for good. They may be doing Robin Hood’s job in their own way, but that doesn’t mean they’re not criminals.” She looked up, revealing her green eyes in an intense expression. “I’ll have to put them behind bars once and for all.”


XXX


It was around four a.m. when he finally reached his house and entered the gate. For some reason, he didn’t feel tired, despite having stayed up to keep an eye on Rina since eleven-thirty the previous night. He felt relieved and found himself smiling without a care in the world. He was also glad to have made up with her. He was now at ease as he stepped into his house, waiting another two hours for the day to become brighter.

Beyond a Thief’s Power Episode 1

Surprises and Nostalgia


While Takuto Hirukawa spurred through his sleep, he began to dream. A very nostalgic dream.


Sometime, somewhere, in the past


“Ne. Takuto,” a female voice said to him. She seemed to be smiling as she called his name. “We’re going out, right? So that means, we’re lovers. But… Even without hearing that from someone, you’d already know the fact that we are. You’d love me forever and always think about me. No matter what happens, or how far apart we are from each other, I’ll always be in your heart, mind, and soul. The same goes for me; you’ll be with me in my eyes and entire being every fraction of a second for all eternity. After all, our love will never end.” Her fingers and the bottom of her palms came together in front of her chest as she kept smiling at Takuto. “I love you, Takuto. I’ll always love you with everything I have.”

In the dream, Takuto stepped forward. “Yeah. I feel the same way. You’re the only one for me, and I’ll always protect you, Rina.”

When he held his arms out to embrace the girl, the dream became blank, and his present self woke up from the slumber and opened his eyes.


Back in his bedroom, Takuto lazily blinked. Sleep filled his eyes, despite the fact that they were opened. He knew he was awake, but his whole body felt lethargic as it usually did after some shut eye and daytime hours of work. Without any warning, his eyes lowered a small fraction.

“…Ngn…” He tiredly let out. “…What was I even dreaming about?” He sighed, still laying on his bed. “I don’t even remember, but it felt very familiar for some reason. Just… what was it?” He slowly blinked, and looked at the analog clock sitting near his bed on a tabletop after turning to the other side. Then, his eyes widened when he saw the time. “Crap! It’s already nine?! I better get going—and fast, too!”

Takuto quickly jumped out of bed, washed his face, brushed is teeth, and went out through his house’s door. He made sure to lock the doors after closing them before hurrying to Le Renard Noir that morning. In a rapid sprint, he finally arrived and started to pant, placing his hands on his knees until he caught his breath, regaining his composure right in front of the bar owned by Atsumu Kashiwabara. Soon enough, he entered through the front door calmly. Once he was inside, he saw said owner and Hiro.

“Alright, I’ll say this once and only once, you got it?!” he began with his eyebrows furrowed toward the center of the top of his nose bridge. “Sorry for being late.” Takuto’s face had tints of pink on his cheeks as he tried his best to face the two looking at him. It became awkward for him to say anything else once he uttered those words of apology to them.

When they heard the dirty blond’s word choice, they were puzzled.

“? Why are you apologizing, Takkun?” Hiro asked, still perplexed at Takuto. “It’s not even noon yet, and you’re here to say sorry to us for something? That’s strange. We’re not opened for business at this time.”

Atsumu smiled and nodded. “I get it. It’s about tonight’s mission, right? If that’s the case, I’ll have to tell you that you’re not late at all, Takkun. In fact, you’re quite early.” He beamed and let out a wholehearted laugh. “Ahaha! It’s actually rare to see you come visit the bar at this hour. I bet you haven’t eaten anything yet!” His expression relaxed itself and he opened his eyes. “Wait here. I’ll get you something to start the day off.” He walked into the kitchen and prepared a Japanese-style breakfast for the three of them to eat together.

Takuto was frozen in place with a confused look of his own. “Huh? I came here early? What was that about?”

“That’s what I’d like to ask,” Hiro smiled lightly. “Did something happen for you to get up and rush all the way over here? It’s not often that you would come and say that you’re sorry for arriving late. To be precise, this is the first time you’ve ever done anything like this. Care to explain the reason for it?”

Takuto’s shoulders slumped while he exhaled. His expression was now solemn when he gave his answer to Hiro’s questions. “Well, I’m not sure how to say this, but… I had a really mysterious dream. I don’t remember the events that occurred in it, but I know it felt very familiar to me like a sort of soothing effect.” His eyes narrowed as if trying to find out more information about something. “I think… it might have to do with what happened a long time ago.”

Hiro tilted his head to his left. “From a long time ago? Do you remember the time period of the dream?”

Takuto nodded with precaution. “Yeah, I think so. It was probably around the time when I was in college. I can’t seem to remember much except…” The blond trailed off, uncertain of the dream he had sawn before he woke up to the morning rays shining through his window. “Maybe, just maybe… Rina was in it. I couldn’t see her eyes, but I’m positive she and I were both in my dream. She was smiling. It’s very peculiar. I haven’t seen her in years, but I still remember her smile. It’s as though it never left my mind, not even once since that time we were together. Even now, I still can’t get her image out of my heart.”

Hiro’s expression became a soft once, with understanding eyes and a warm smile to go with his realization of his friend’s emotions. “So it was a memory of you two.”

Perhaps… the orange-haired twenty-one-year-old thought, it’s finally occurred to him how much he really wants to see Rina again. It’s been a while, though. He usually doesn’t mention her at all. Hiro giggled. Typical Takkun. He hasn’t changed one bit. But maybe he has, just a bit. Ahaha!

“Argh!” Takuto gritted his teeth angrily. “Why can’t I stop thinking about her?! This is too frustrating!”

Hiro laughed at the sight of the blond’s infuriated state. “Haha!” He started grabbing his sides as he kept at it. “Ah! That look on your face! It’s really funny, Takkun! Ahaha! Ow! My stomach! Someone help me!” He couldn’t stop laughing as he held himself in place. There was much enjoyment to experience at the moment, which gave the latter quite a large amount of bliss from what he had seen.

“Hiro!” Takuto chided. “It’s not funny! My head actually hurts from thinking about Rina! Everything’s popping inside and you’re not helping the situation right now!”

Hiro opened his left eye. “Sorry, sorry! I had a strong urge to laugh just now, Takkun! I don’t mean any harm by it, really! Maybe you should calm yourself down. Boss is almost done with the food, so it might be a good thing that you thought about Rina for once. She’s an important person to everyone, you know.”

“More like a nerve-wracking nuisance who’s still invading my concentration,” the blond retorted. “I’m not into little girls who are your age, Hiro. I like sensible women who know how to love guys who are in the center of the gap! Older guys wouldn’t suit a girl who’s over a year or more younger than them. It’s the same for older girls dating younger guys—it just doesn’t work out, and you know it.”

Hiro’s eyes widened. “But Rina’s not the way you’re describing her, Takkun. In fact, you’ve never said anything like that about her until now.” Then, he frowned. “What’s wrong? All of a sudden, you’re saying these insults like an irritated thirty-year-old man. It’s not like you to say something rude about Rina.”

Takuto turned his head toward the counter. “I don’t know. I only said that because of an impulse. It happens all the time, so don’t think of it as something out of the ordinary. Focus on your own life, Hiro, and stay out of mine for a while.”

Atsumu came up to face the two standing in his bar with his casual manner. “Well, you were contradicting her a few seconds. I’m sure it was just the dream’s effect on you, but it was also a part of the past you saw for a bit of your time. It could be a sign of some sort, so try not to think too much about it right now. I believe your hunger’s also getting to you, so why don’t we drop the subject and go eat our meals? An empty stomach isn’t going to help you through the day, right?”

Takuto sighed. “Fine. I’ll go eat your disgusting food, Beardy.” After that, he added, “But you better make me a bowl of pork noodles later. I can’t do my part of the job without them to finish off for the night.”

“Of course!” Atsumu beamed. “There’s nothing that can beat the noodles I make here, except some of the other food here.” He paused for a couple of seconds. “Huh? Wait. Hey!” His expression transformed with anger when he realized Takuto’s harshness towards his food. “My food is not disgusting! Everybody eats it, and they all love the taste!”

Takuto frowned nonchalantly. “Yeah, whatever. No one really cares, anyway.”

Tears formed in Atsumu’s eyes as he averted his gaze to his right without moving his head. “You’re so cruel, Takkun. I really cared about you, yet you shattered my hopes and dreams.”

Closing his eyes, he placed his right hand over his mouth in agony over Takuto’s indifferent comments. He pretended to let out anguished and sorrowful cries with his mouth while his hand still covered it. Takuto, on the other hand, was already repulsed with the middle-aged man’s actions. Simultaneously, Hiro smiled with his mouth opened, giving a “Haha…” to what he and Takuto were witnessing. It seemed as though their day was going to drag on for slow and [internally] painful hours before the bar was opened for business.


XXX


Having finished work for the afternoon, Takuto took a stroll around Ginza. There wasn’t a lot for him to do that day, as with each and every day he woke up to. He always seemed to be the one (besides Hiro) to have more than enough free time, excluding a few occasions. Nonetheless, he was bored the whole time and even going home was not something he felt he could gather any energy to execute yet. It was an ordinary day, but it was as if something was missing deep within himself. Coming to a stopping point, Takuto frowned with a gaze that was looking down.

Why…? He thought. Why does it keep recurring to me? This empty void which holds a section of my heart… Could I really be thinking about Rina at a time like this? Even if that’s true, I don’t even want to look back on these lingering feelings of a forgotten past with her. My time with the girl whose face I can’t get out of my mind today is still binding me to her without a doubt. But… Is she still the same as before? She couldn’t have not changed in the past few years, so that’s not it.

Takuto sighed. “There’s no way I’d ever see her again, though. Why the heck am I even thinking about her at a time like this? I need to get a life of my own and just focus on getting things done without fail.” After shaking his head, he began to walk forward again. However, it was a short amount of time before something caught his eye as he glanced to his right. His eyes widen in surprised at what he saw. “?! Hiro?”

Several feet across from where he was standing, the art student was sitting at a table inside a café with a girl who had long, light orange hair which reached past her waist a little. They two seemed to be enjoying their time together as they chatted.

“You know, you could always think about hanging out with me sometime,” Hiro said thoughtfully. “I could also introduce you to the gang and it’d be a fun experience for everyone. How about it?”

The girl sitting on the opposite side laughed. “You’re funny, Hiro. But no thanks.” She had turned down the offer with a raise of her right hand. “I have other things to do than go out and talk with your group of male friends and female companion right now. Besides, I’m still at work and I have my own interests. I’d feel bad to just disrupt your daily life with my presence. You also told me about how it’s always fun for you and your friends, and while it does sound very lively, I can’t go and become a part of the family-like atmosphere all of a sudden. It would become a burden to me if I did.”

Hiro pouted. “But, Sayuri, I only want you to have a good time here since you said you didn’t have many acquaintances to contact in Japan. Plus, you’re still new to the country even though it’s almost been a month since you came to this world. Can’t you say yes and come to my place instead? There’s more than enough room for you, and I’m sure you’ll like it there.”

Sayuri shook her head. “No can do. I’m really sorry, Hiro, but try to think about yourself, rather than about me. Although I appreciate your kindness and everything you’ve tried to do for me, I don’t really need to have such a wonderful gift from anyone. I can just work here during my stay in the Human World and live in the café for a while. That’s the life I want right now, and I don’t want anything to change it yet.”

“Mm…” Hiro looked at the female worker and continued to smile as he did so. “Then, why don’t we share something we can both drink together like a couple? I’ll try not to say any more about it if we can at least do something just the two of us.”

Sayuri’s expression softened slightly as she placed her right hand [which was curled] near the side of her mouth. “The Milk Tea Special? Or perhaps, a tropical fruit juice in a large glass with two straws? Either way, we’ll both be staring into each other’s eyes while we drink it together.”

“Ooh!” Hiro’s eyes widened before an agreeing smile appeared on his face. “That’s a great idea! We should get both, or just the milk tea today. We could get the tropical juice for next time. It’d make everyone think of us as an actual couple, rather than just friends.”

“But you’re the only one who would request to hold my hand,” Sayuri blushed with a smile of her own. “The owner’s been letting you off since you’re such a popular customer, and you’re always here to see me. Don’t you have any classes to attend? You’re still in college, aren’t you? I’m sure that would fill your schedule up for a few portions of the day. Also, don’t you have a part-time job at that bar, Hiro?” Then, she frowned. “Can you really waste time here for an employee such as myself?”

Hiro kept smiling. “Well, you do have a point there. I really like art and going to class is a nice start for me. I’ve studied many types of artwork and it makes my heart melt with admiration, but you’re important to me, too, Sayuri. I mean, college courses are great and all, but I don’t have to go to my class every single day in order to kill some time. I’m human like most of the people residing here. I believe that’s much more of a reason to let you know how much I really want to be there for you. And working at Le Renard Noir is has its perks. I get to make people smile when I serve them. I’ve also helped out here after meeting you, so it’s not such a bad life. After all, we became friends and it shouldn’t matter to others how we appear to them. Just being with you, Sayuri, is what makes me happy.”

“I know,” Sayuri responded. “I’m really grateful to you, Hiro. However, I just feel anxious about how you’re always so… carefree with your life. It’s not like I hate anything about it, but I do worry about you since you’re one of the only people here whom I’ve come to trust. You’re… a very special human friend to me since you’re one of the only people I’ve met so far who’s taken the effort to know me as the person I am.” She gazed tenderly at Hiro as if he were the only person she considered her ami.

Likewise, Hiro gazed back with compassionate eyes. Despite the fact that the friendship they had with one another was simplistic and not like most heterosexual ones, having a hint of fascinating interaction to it, the relationship they had was quite misleading to many people who saw them together. They were notably mistaken as a loving couple who had never been seen as more than twenty percent affectionate with each other. Furthermore, they would always be seen talking and eating (sometimes) together, but no lip contact or any further skin aside from Hiro’s habit of holding Sayuri’s hand, was really seen. Of course, there were times when they were working together due to the freelancer’s dedication to his female companion. There was no more than a mere bond between them, but it was still believed they were lovers from any distance in which the two were viewed from.

Outside where he was still standing, Takuto stared at Hiro and Sayuri from the opposite street that was facing the café. He had a longing expression, which his eyes were burning with a small kind of envy before the turned his head to the center. Within seconds, he looked down with lowered eyes and drew out his cell phone. He flipped it open and gazed intently at the screen with a depressed expression on his face. His heart was encased with sad emotions for what felt (not what actually was) like a long time before he closed the flip phone in his hand. He slipped it back into his pocket and resumed his pace to take his mind off his prolonged feelings.


XXX


Later that evening at Le Renard Noir, Hiro and Atsumu were working in the restaurant, briskly serving the customers that came in. Many of them were either regulars or tourists who were excited about eating the food and drinks on the menu, and were piling up faster than those who came during the daylight hours. Unlike the other nights they had, though, the bar was full of people in less than five minutes. There was plenty of pressure in the air as Hiro ran back and forth to take orders and serve the correct orders. He was getting tired, running like he had never ran before. His heartbeat was pounding like crazy and the side of his stomach began to hurt, so he rested outside to catch his breath and wait for the pain to go away. It was truly a first time experience for him and just as his palpations were starting to slow down, someone came up to him, which in turn, made him look up at the person standing in front.

“Takkun…?” he said, somewhat puzzled at the blond. “Are you here for your pork noodles for the night? It’s crowded in there, so we might have to wait for a few minutes before Boss can serve you a bowl.”

With his usual nonchalant expression, Takuto replied. “I could tell by the exhausted look on your face. Why don’t you take it easy until a fourth of the customers in there have already paid for their meals? It might help you relax more if you wait until going back.”

Hiro smiled wryly. “Thanks, but… I’m the only one besides Boss who can help with serving everyone for now. Kenny and Rikkun are still working at their jobs, and being there for Boss is something I can do since we always seem to have up to a full house in the bar. Why don’t you start helping out sometime, Takkun? You have more free time than you can handle on your shoulders, so maybe you can at least help with cleaning up the tables. I feel like I’m about to pass out here!” The college student began to fan himself using his right hand and it was clear his words were true. “Hah… hah… Ooh, that’s hot!”

Takuto frowned. “Well, I can’t really say that I’m good with what waiters do, but I think you should sit down inside, instead of staying out here? I’m hungry, anyway. You’ll be fine if you stand up and walk yourself to a chair.”

Without lending a hand to help Hiro, Takuto stepped into Le Renard Noir in a casual manner. This gave the former a chance to react as he instantly stood up and followed behind.

“Hey! Wait, Takkun! I’m coming, too!” he shouted moderately, doing his best to hurry into the bar.

When they came into the busy restaurant, some of the customers were leaving from their tables to go and pay for their bills. As always, Atsumu gave a generous smile and dealt with them with courtesy, thanking each and every one of them for their patronage. When he saw this, Hiro immediately went over to the empty tables and quickly cleaned up, wiping off the surfaces, and taking the dishes back and for to the kitchen. Soon, the rest of the people who had savored their food and drinks began to leave, emptying Le Renard Noir. While Atsumu washed the dishes and put them away, Hiro made sure to clear the tables and cleaned them properly without any failures At last, they could have some peace to eat without any outside disturbances after closing for the night.

“Good job, Hiro!” Atsumu beamed. He was in a delighted mood due to the success of his bar’s reel not too long ago. “The way you handled everyone coming in tonight was amazing!” He added—approvingly, “I should have you work here full time when you graduate. It’ll be fun, and we could run the bar together. What do you think? Sounds fantastic, doesn’t it?”

Hiro gave a strained smile and sweat-dropped. “Uh… That’s a nice idea, Boss. I might think about considering your offer later on, but don’t you think we should get some more helpers around here? It was pretty packed up once the clock hit seven, and I’m just one person. We could have a few more people come and work here when they’re not busy with anything. Everyone else has their hands full with their careers, but we can gather a bigger group this time. We’ve always had the five of us, in addition to Mitsuki-san, so maybe we should try to change things up a bit.”

“Hmm…” Atsumu trailed off, contemplating the suggestion. “Well, let’s see if Takkun agrees to it. We might get some more positive feedback from—“

Takuto grimaced. “No thanks. We have more than enough here. Anyway, I’m starving.” At that moment, the blond went back to his old self. “Are my noodles ready yet, Beardy?”

“Takkun, be patient,” Atsumu pouted in a pleading manner. “Please~?”

Takuto’s eyebrows furrowed and his face displayed his ruthless anger. “The way you said that was horrifying! I can’t put up with this unless you act more mature, so just get to it already!”

Atsumu’s shoulders slumped and he sighed in resignation. “Alright… I’ll get them for you. You don’t have to yell every time…” He turned around and prepared a bowl of pork noodles for Takuto, smiling fondly as he used careful methods to complete the serving. His eye closed and he giggled as though relishing Takuto’s severe reaction to him.

I’m really loving this, he thought. I just hope Takkun doesn’t say something rude to a girl, though. He probably will, but he just needs to like them more. Atsumu sighed with a barely changing expression. It’s been a while since then, huh? I wonder if he’ll reconsider things later on. It makes me worry seeing him like this. He used to be more tolerant about being around them. It was a bit of a shock to see him go through a transformation that’s left him to be an empty shell. All I can really say is that I want things to shift towards a better life for him. If this could only be granted gradually, I…

He shook his head and looked down.

No. This is an ordeal he has to face on his own in order to decide what he wants. That’s the only reason why he’s going through such a hard time without letting anyone help him. I know he wants to become a better person, but his stubborn personality won’t let him do what’s right. Oh, Takkun. Thin streams of heard flowed down his cheeks when he closed his eyes with a lifted head. He was also crying on the inside with stifled sobs. Why did things have to go this way? Everyone here loves you, so why can’t you accept our feelings?! Ah ha…!! My little boy’s been so cruel to me and it hurts!!! Wahhhhhh!!!!!

Takuto tilted his head to his right, confused and perturbed by the bar owner’s emotional alteration. “What’s with him? He’s going to make the pork noodles taste bad with all his crying.”

Hiro sweat-dropped once more. “Who knows…” He had a feeling it would come to this, but he did not say more to it.


XXX


Now that everyone was gathered inside Le Renard Noir, they were about to discuss the night’s mission. It would only be several minutes before they began. With a completely different attire from before, each of them were preparing their duties and plan.

“Now that everyone’s here,” Atsumu initiated the conversation with his laidback quality of speaking, “You all know what to do, don’t you? It’s very important that we get this painting back from being sold to the black market, so—“

Riki sighed, brushing off the speech. “Yeah, yeah. We all know how much of a prized possession this is. Let’s just get to it already and start the mission. We don’t have all the time in the world for this, Boss.”

“Before that, I’d like to announce something,” Hiro declared. “We have another member coming.”

Everyone else except for Atsumu glance at the youth with perplexed looks on their faces.

“Another member?” Riki asked.

“Who is it?” Kenshi also inquired curiously. “We don’t have anyone else in our team besides Saionji, and she’s in Europe right now. There couldn’t be another member, Hiro. It’s just not possible.”

Hiro’s lips curled into a sly smiled. “Oh, but there is. It’s someone we all know, so it should be obvious who’s going to ‘join’ us tonight. I can’t exactly reveal their identity, yet, but once they’re here, you’ll all thank me and rejoice for this.”

“Huh?” Riki, Kenshi and Takuto said at the same time.

The three of them glanced at each other before looking back at Hiro, who only smile lightly at them. At that time, a set of footsteps were coming closer to Le Renard Noir.

Riki stared at Hiro with a stern expression. “Hiro, care to explain what you mean by that? We need to get this over with as soon as possible. Time’s ticking and we’re waiting for someone to aid us with this mission? Come on. You can’t expect us to wait for this mystery member.”

“Well…” Stalling for time, Hiro trailed off with closed eyes. He did not mention anything else besides, “It’s a secret.”

“Huh?” Riki blinked. “A secret? What the hell are you talking about?! We don’t have time for—“
Just as he was about to reprimand the orange-haired young man, someone stepped into the bar. All eyes immediately turned to look at the person standing near the entrance. Hiro and Atsumu smiled when they saw who had arrived, while the other three were suddenly filled with a mix of shock, surprise, and astonishment.

“RINA?!” they shouted in unison.

To add to their stunned positions and expression, the blonde young woman closed her honey-colored eyes and smiled, putting her right hand up almost as if she was about to wave at them [which she didn’t]. Dressed with a black sleeveless shirt, along with a pair of near knee-length shorts that had white turn-up folds, and black ankle boots with gold and brown square rhinestones on them, she asked, “Did you miss me?”

It was truly an unanticipated moment for Takuto, Riki, and Kenshi as they stared at the sight of their former comrade. Many emotions stirred in Takuto’s heart the most at that moment, pulling it in different directions.

First Love and the Promise of the Future Chapter 8

Chapter 8

Our Future Full of Hope


Kirie could hardly move from the dark orb’s impact and was now laying on her side as tears formed and flowed down from her eyes. “…Please save me… Mirai… I don’t want everything to end like this…” As she cried for the college student to come to her rescue, she felt her body’s weight becoming heavier from the huge amount of pain that was enforced on her body.

Kirie’s father, Tomio Kuroki, could only belittle his daughter as he saw the position she was in. “Well, well, well. What do we have here? It looks like you can’t even lift yourself up, my dear daughter. And here I was truly hoping for you to fight back against my strict demeanor towards you. But alas, it seems that I must rid this world of your existence.” His expression represented a kind of sadness from having to view the dark magenta-haired girl’s suffering state as he let out a half sigh. “It pains me so to see you experience such injury, my wonderful and lovely Kirie. You have always held a special place in my heart. After all, you are my one and only child, as well as the little girl your mother gave birth to with all her strength. Unfortunately, I must purge your very being so that we can be a family once again.” His took out a long sword from within the left side of his coat jacket, which had given him the appearance of a rich man and/or butler. “With this sword, I shall take away your misery. You will not have to suffer anymore once it goes through your heart, my pride and joy. Do not fear your caring father’s actions, and embrace them, for you will be able to reunite with your late mother, who died of illness when you were ten years of age. Think nothing but the happy times we shared together with her before her death. Daddy will make things all better.” He stepped closer, wielding the sword in his right hand with a calm expression. “Now, take heed, and let me congratulate your final moments, Kirie.”

“I don’t think so!” A familiar voice shouted through the room. “Keep your filthy hands away from Kirie right this instant, you monster!”

Tomio looked around but saw no one in the room with him and Kirie. “Who’s there? Show yourself or I will hunt you down before I kill my daughter.”

At that moment, Mirai appeared after jumping from a high place inside the warehouse. He landed in front of Kirie’s body with a tall stance, showing his protectiveness over his girlfriend. He stared at Tomio with an inner wrath that appeared within his eyes. “I won’t allow you to put your hands on Kirie, so I’ll be your opponent instead, Mr. Tomio Kuroki.”

Kirie’s eyes widened when she saw the college student, who wear currently wearing casual clothing. “Mirai! What are you doing here?”

“What else do I need to say?” Mirai looked back with a positive smile. “I’m here to save you, of course.” Then, he turned his attention back towards Tomio. “I’m very disappointed with you, Mr. Kuroki. To think you would use such uncouth methods to put your own daughter’s life in danger. I’m ashamed to think we might be related someday, but the fact that you’re Kirie’s father won’t change. However, I will take you down myself and put you behind bars once this is all over.”

Tomio’s eyes narrowed. “What?” He immediately found himself in a dire situation. He had not anticipated the possibility of being challenged by someone who knew about him outside of his underworld status. “What are you talking about, young man? I do not even understand what you mean with those outlandish words of yours.”

Mirai closed his eyes and opened them with a look of anger, power, and determination. “Let me start over with an introduction. I am Mirai Kageyama, a second-year student currently attending Rentomi College. I am also the same person you met yesterday night at the restaurant and I am nineteen years old. Furthermore, I am in love with your daughter and I am in a relationship with her right now. Kirie is the most important person to me, so I will protect her at all costs. If it means that I will have to save her from your clutches, then I will do everything I can in order to defeat you once and for all.”

“What? You are Mirai Kageyama? The same young man who I meet before?” Tomio questioned. “I cannot believe such a thing. Surely, Kageyama-kun and you are not the same person. Plus, my daughter would never date someone younger than her. You are lying, that, I am certain of it.”

Mirai frowned. “I would never lie about my love for Kirie. At any rate, I will win against you, and take Kirie away from here. As long as my feelings for her stay the same, you will definitely lose.”

“Heh,” Tomio scoffed at the idea of having a college student overcome his power. “If you truly insist on beating me, I have no choice but to accept your courageous proposal.” He held his sword up and pointed it at Mirai shortly after. “Why don’t you use this as your weapon? It will be quite a treat to see if you can turn the tables against me with my own sword. Let’s observe what you can do with your abilities, Mirai Kageyama-kun.” He tossed the sword in Mirai’s direction, to which the youth easily caught it in one hand. “If you win, I will surrender and spare Kirie’s life. However, if I win, I will kill her right in front of you for your eyes to witness. The shocked expression that results in my daughter’s death will be a pleasurable sight to see indeed.” He breathed in deeply and exhaled with a content smile with his eyes closed. “Oh, how sweet it will be to observe your horrified appearance and the tears that come with it.” He opened his eyes. “What do you think, my future son-in-law? Doesn’t it excite you?”

Mirai’s eyebrows furrowed with silent fury. “I don’t like the fact that you would try to harm Kirie. But. I’ll be sure to win this match and put you to justice, Mr. Kuroki. Anyway, let’s get started.” He held the sword with both his hands and readied a fighting position with a stern expression. “It’s you or me, not Kirie. I’ll protect her through this battle.”

Tomio smirked. “As you wish, Son.” He took out another long sword and their fight began. While he was overpowering Mirai, a grin spread onto his face like butter or jam on a slice of toast. “It seems you aren’t half-bad at this, little boy. On the contrary, you’ll need much more than that if you want to beat me at my own game.” He pulled back and gave a full swing, cutting the sword Mirai was holding; the top came off and about seventy percent of it still remained. This made Mirai more alert, but before he could do anything to combat the older man’s next attack, Tomio swung by turning counterclockwise, severing another sixty percent off with sheer strength.

Mirai’s eyes widened in shock as he stared at what became of his weapon. “No way…”

His eyes lowered while he looked at Kirie’s father, trying to keep his composure.

This can’t be… he thought. If he takes another swing, I’ll be done for! I won’t be able to save Kirie’s life if this goes on…

He bit his lip in frustration, and his grip on his broken sword’s handle became stronger.

“Mirai!” Kirie shouted as she got up from her spot.

Her eyes widened when she saw Tomio’s next attack coming towards the college student. Just as she began to reach for her scythe with her right hand, her father pulled his hand back and a manifestation of dusky, shadowy power began to form from his right palm. It wasn’t a sphere this time, but a beam aimed at Mirai. The youth saw it nearly finished developing and held onto his sword with unwavering feelings, fronting his adversary head on.

“It was fun while it lasted, but it looks like you’re history, Mirai Kageyama!” Tomio shouted with maniacal hilarity.

As he fired the ray of darkness, something happened right before it hit Mirai. The nineteen-year-old’s eyes widened as he heard something come from the sword.

“…!”

Let me lend you my power, the voice said.

All of a sudden, the broken edge of the sword began to glow and a pink light and mist formed around it. Finally, a light blue one ran up from the center of the sword, and completed the weapon’s transformation. Mirai’s previously broken sword had reformed itself on time to protect its utilizer. Standing before Kirie, the college student and his blade were prepared for action.

“Wh-What’s that?” Tomio asked, stunned from seeing the sword he had broken renew itself. “How did the sword I broke reform?! Don’t tell me that it’s fully accepted Mirai Kageyama as its new master?!” He held his sword out to defend himself as he grinded his teeth. “It can’t be…! There’s no way he could have tamed it!”

Mirai smirked. “But it is. And now, I’ll show you its true power.”

The pink and blue sword created another mist around itself; this time, it was a pure white fog-like one. Without any hesitation, Mirai jolted towards Tomio and took a swing with both hands on the hilt and shattered the blade from the mastermind’s grasp. Tomio’s eyes widened; he dropped the sword’s remains on to the floor and stood frozen in place. Then, he fell down onto his knees and put his hands on the surface of the warehouse’s base.

“I… lost…?” he inquired. He felt the taste of defeat running throughout his entire body as he stared at the ground. “No…!” His hands tightened into to fists that faced sideways. “I can’t believe it…! I lost… against a nineteen year old boy…? How…? Why…?”

Mirai looked at the collapse king of the underworld. “It’s because you had someone who felt so strongly for your daughter that you were faced against me and lost the final battle. And this time, I was able to free Kirie from the chains of torture from your hands. That should be more than enough to explain why you ended up sinking to the depths of hell, father-in-law.” He took out a set of handcuffs from his right pants pocket and secured them around Tomio’s hands. “Now, you’re going to have to stay here for a while. I’m going to call the police, so they can take you in.”

Within fifteen minutes, the authorities arrived at the warehouse and quickly arrested Tomio Kuroki. Takuji and Asuka came to check up on Mirai and Kirie, healing the dark magenta-haired girl’s wounds. Kirie was able to walk around and move her arms and legs with too much trouble. Mirai, on the other hand, gained all of Tomio’s assets and financial belongings. He gave most of it to Satsuki and donated the remainder to the Sea Breeze Garden foster home, which were accepted gratefully. Reporters and journalists came afterward and the incident that night became big news everyone in Tokyo. Weeks later, things died down and everything returned to normal.

Ayame and Atsushi had a discussion with Yuzuki’s agency about the magazine Ayame had finished. The CEO and manager nodded and gave their approval, and Cinderella’s magazine became a top hit. Many female and some male fans of Yuzuki’s bought the cover story, and it immediately sold out in stores everywhere. This humongous number of sales added to Roppongi’s wealth and fortune, especially for the two companies who contributed to the magazine. It even received foreign translations and imports to countries outside Japan.

After it was released to the public, Ayame quitted her job, and she and Yuzuki moved in together. News of their engagement and marriage sent a wave of supporting screams from the actor’s diehard fans. Another few months passed by after that, and it was currently nearing the end of the first week of October 2007. At that time, Takuji and Asuka were packing up the rest of their possessions inside their apartment, and finished within a few minutes.

Takuji sighed as he took a look around. “Guess we’ll have to say goodbye real soon, huh? It’s been a good three years and seven months since we first came to live here.”

Asuka nodded as she stood next to Takuji. “Sou da ne. We had a lot of fun times with Kirie-chan. I’ll miss the memories we made together with her in this city. We even got married a few months ago at Satsuki-san’s casino.”

“Yeah,” the husband of the marriage breathed. Then, he glanced at Asuka with a smile. “Let’s go and say our last farewell to him. I’m sure he’ll at least want to see us off before we leave Roppongi.”

Asuka nodded, and Takuji took her left hand in his right. After that, they made their way to the Urban Casino and Resort Roppongi.


~


Inside the hotel, they were greeted by the owner himself.

“Takuji, Asuka, welcome,” Satsuki smiled pleasantly. He was glad to see them for the last time that year. “How have you two been?”

With his right hand, Takuji gave the new king of the business world a thumbs-up and winked with his right eye. “Everything’s going swell for me and Asuka. How about you, old friend?”

Satsuki laughed. “Hahaha. I’ve been doing fine myself.” His eyes lowered and he gazed fondly at the two magicians standing in front of him. “But… I can hardly believe this will be your last day in Roppongi. There’s still so much I wanted to talk to you with, and spend some more time hanging out.” Tears formed in his eyes and began to flow down his cheeks. “I’m sad that I won’t be able to see you again for some time. You were truly a great friend to me, Takuji. I’ll never forget you and Asuka for the rest of my life.”

Takuji’s eyes narrowed. “Huh? It’s not like we’re leaving the country, Satsuki. We’re just moving to a different city. And anyway. You were saying those words like we’d never get to see each other again. It felt as though your heart killed me, along with my marvelous wife over here. What exactly were you trying to imply? That we would stop being friends just because Asuka and I are leaving Roppongi tonight? Geez, what a nice friend you are.” He folded his arms, closed his eyes, and swiftly turned his head to his right. “Hmph.”

“Ahaha,” Satsuki laughed once more. His tears disappeared as he stared at his young friend. “That’s not what I was trying to do at all. I was only telling you how much I was going to miss you two in my own way. You know that, don’t you?”

The mint-haired young man shifted his position and looked at the financial monarch. “Of course I do, you big goofball. If I didn’t, I would act like this. You’re the best friend I ever had, and you’ll always be. That’s why, I’m not going to say farewell to you.”

Satsuki’s expression was perplexed. “But I thought you were going to today. I even came prepared to hear you say goodbye to me.”

Takuji frowned. “Yeah, well, I lied. And you want to know why? Because of this.” He went over to the elder man and wrapped his arms around him in a hug.

Satsuki’s eyes widened and his tears came out again as he put his arms around his the male magician, closing his eyes. Asuka watched the two men and smiled softly. Several moments passed by before they let go of one another and it was a touching and beautiful sight to behold.


~


As they strolled through the city together, Mirai and Kirie were standing side by side. They conversed with each other as they passed by the autumn trees which were filled with many maple leaves.

“Sorry to drag you into this,” the college student apologized with his usual smile. “It came up while I was on my way back from class.”

Kirie smiled back. “It’s fine. I like being with you, even if it’s to solve a crime, Mirai. It makes me happy that you would bring me along, despite the fact that I’m not much of an assistant to you for these trivial requests.”

Mirai frowned with his arms behind his head. “But having you with me gives me more confidence in getting the job done, Kirie.” His expression suddenly perked up. “Hey, I know. Why don’t we get married once I graduate from college? What do you think?”

“Sorry, but I can’t accept your proposal just yet, Mirai,” Kirie rejected as she glanced at her boyfriend. “I’d rather see you become more of an adult before I can.”

Mirai’s expression was a mixture of astonishment and confusion. “Huh? You mean I need to have a more mature attitude? But that’ll take forever!”

Seeing the look on Mirai’s face, Kirie couldn’t help but laugh. “Ahaha! You’re such a strange kid, Mirai. But I really like that about you. Just wait a few days after you turn twenty, okay? I’ll agree to marry you after you become the legal age.” She took hold of the youth’s right hand with her left and together, they walked through the busy streets of Roppongi.

Mirai smiled once more as they made their way towards their next destination. “Mm, okay. I’ll wait a bit and ask you again during the first week of April.”

It was a long ride for us, he thought. But in the end, it was worth risking my life to fight against Kirie’s dad. Even so, there were so many emotions and hardships we had to go through before and after that happened. Many tears were shed, and there were those that represented sadness, along with the ones that displayed happiness. What matters now is not the past, but the present and future. The promise we made three years has not left my mind, or Kirie’s. With the passage of time, the two of us are still carrying it to the fullest with our love for each other. The fateful day that brought us together has strengthened our bond as we continue to face forward.

First Love and the Promise of the Future Chapter 7

Chapter 7

Infiltration at the Warehouse; When Love Comes to the Rescue


It was one o’clock in the afternoon that day after Mirai had taken Kirie home early in the morning. He was in disguise with a black wig, glasses, and a blue business suit and had the appearance of a young entrepreneur who was earnest and sincere, unlike his usual self. His smile was quite splendid and fit perfectly with his cover. It would be a rare occurrence if someone who didn’t know of the plan Takuji had conjured up hours ago suddenly figured out who he was.

He sighed as he stood outside in the streets of Roppongi with a worried expression. “Is this really going to work?” He was barely even confident of what he was going to do, but he needed to believe in Takuji’s words. That was when he thought back to his conversation with the CEO of Rapunzel which took place before three a.m.


“Takuji… Are you sure the plan is going to actually work out the way you said it would?” Mirai asked in an uncertain tone of voice. He even had a matching frown to go with his self-doubting expression. “I mean, I know things mainly go the way you say they would, but this is a little ridiculous, don’t you think? To suddenly go out with everything according to this strategy… Doesn’t it seem like something will backfire on us?”

Takuji waved his right hand back and forth in an upward/downward motion as if he was trying to put out a small fire. “Don’t worry, Mira. Everything will be fine. And even if something does go an unintended way for us, we’ll get to you and Kirie somehow.”

“Wait…” Mirai trailed off with a disapproving frown. “Is Kirie actually going to play a part in this, as well? If so, I don’t think she should—“

Takuji kept smiling at the college student. “If you think she should just stay away from this, then you’re just being naïve on your part, Mira. I know you care a lot about Kirie, but it’s her choice if she wants to participate in our plan to defeat Tomio Kuroki. You also know deep in your heart that she truly wishes to end things with her father. However, keeping her away from doing that will only result in a bad ending for everyone.” He posture relaxed a bit as he gazed into the tan eyes Mirai had. “You understand what Kirie desires, yet you’re trying to stop her from accomplishing the only thing that can free her from her father’s grasps? Mirai, if you truly love someone, you must think about the feelings of the person most important to you. That’s what love is.”

“But…” Mirai hesitated with a conflicted look on his face, looking down at the grass the two of them were standing on. “What if I let her go to see her father, and it becomes the worse-case scenario? If that happens, I don’t know if I could live on after that. Even if I manage to defeat him, can I really forgive myself and be the same person that I am now?”

Takuji sighed with narrowed eyes and his mouth formed a thin line. “Look, Mira. Don’t go thinking that it won’t work out; keep your cool together for this, and believe that it will bring a better future for you and Kirie. Isn’t that the true meaning of your name? Mirai Kageyama. Aren’t you a person who can bring a brighter future for those around you? Can you not seize the future you want with your hands?”

Mirai’s eyes widened and he looked up at the mint-haired magician. “Takuji…”

A reassuring smile appeared on Takuji’s face as he stared back at the youth. “Trust yourself, Mira. And also believe in Kirie’s feelings for you. That is the only way to take control of the future you will for. Love will prevail no matter how much it gets beaten down. Fight for your love, and put an end to it all.”

Mirai nodded and smiled back. “Yeah. Thanks, Takuji.”


In the present, Mirai shook his head and scolded himself. “No. I can’t think that way if I want to save Kirie. I’ve got to find out more about her father and get him to fall for the trap.” He walked forward, facing everything with determination.


~


Meanwhile, Takuji and Kirie were doing their jobs as usual, with the mint-haired young man finishing up several loads of paper at his desk with a pen in his right hand. Kirie sorted out some files and types away at her computer, dealing with articles that needed to be published. The other employees were carrying on with office calls and newspapers, prints, etc. as the day went on without any trouble. Asuka, on the other hand, was teaching at a daycare, moving to the local elementary school and even helping out other teachers along the way. Although the three of them were busy, they were enjoying the work they did.


~


At Cinderella, Ayame was wrapping up the magazine she was working on. Finally, she would be able to finish the last pages and edit them. A smile appeared on her face as she kept at it with her rapid typing.

“It’s almost done,” she said to herself as a blush formed on her cheeks. “I hope Yuzuki will be happy with this.” Her expression softened as she put the last few touches on it. “Yatta!” She closed her eyes happily before opening them.

Then, she saved her work, and checked over the entire a hundred thirty-six pages, revising any mistakes and errors, before doing another save. It took over five hours, reaching six-thirty that evening. Ayame hadn’t taken any breaks since that morning when she started working on it. Soon, editor-in-chief walked into the office.

“Irodori?” he said with his eyes widened at seeing the twenty-four-year-old young woman still working at that time. He held a latte in his right hand at the same time. “What are you doing here? I thought you were going to go home half an hour ago, but you’re still on the Yuzuki Kitaoji magazine project? Aren’t you tired right now?”

Ayame turned around in her chair and narrowed her eyes at Atsushi. “I just finished it, you know. “I’ll be eating in here in just a minute or two. There’s no need to be that worried about me, Jinnai-san. You’ll make your hair age faster if you keep checking up on your employees.”

Atsushi frowned at hearing Ayame’s rude comment. “Keep that up, and you’ll really pass out sooner or later. Anyway, forget eating in here. Contact Mr. Kitaoji right this instant to arrange dinner plans with him. I’ll handle everything else for you. Did you send the file to his agency yet? Hurry up and get going, even if you haven’t. You need to take a few hours off before your body gets fatigued.”

As he walked towards Ayame, the brunette screamed.

“Ahh! The boss is trying to assault me!!” she shouted loud enough for everyone else in the room to hear, having closed her eyes quickly. “Someone get him away from me!”

Within a second after hearing Ayame’s cry for help, the other workers turned in Atsushi’s direction and sent glares at him. Feeling the pressure he was receiving from them, he gulped nervously.

He held up his hands. “Wait, everyone! This is all just an act! I was only trying to prevent Irodori from overworking herself, that’s all! Please believe me!” He started to back away as the co-workers made their way towards him.

One of the male employees looked at Ayame. “Now’s your chance to make a run for it, Irodori-san!”

Ayame nodded and took her flash drive out from her computer. “Right! Thanks for everything you’ve done for me tonight! I’ll be back later.” She then made a mad dash towards the door.

Atsushi glanced back and yelled at Ayame in a fury. “Irodori! Did you plan this from the start?!”

“Who knows?!” Ayame grinned without looking back as she escaped outside. She ran to the restaurant she and Yuzuki were supposed to meet and saw him standing there in front of the door. Her expression shifted delightedly as she waved to the actor. “Yuzuki!” As Yuzuki turned his head towards Ayame, he was suddenly embraced by the editor from Cinderella.

“Whoa!” Yuzuki exclaimed as he caught Ayame, who was still in his arms. He frowned as he accepted her embrace. “That scared me, you know! I thought you were going to pummel me onto the carpet, Ayame.”

Ayame kept smiling jubilantly with closed eyes. “Sorry, Yuzuki. I was really happy to see you, so I couldn’t help myself from hugging you.”

“Yeah, I could tell,” Yuzuki muttered. “Think you can let go for a while? I’m hungry and this isn’t exactly helping.”

The two of them pulled apart and Ayame pouted.

“Uu…” She looked into Yuzuki’s eyes helplessly. “I really wanted to stay there a bit longer. Food isn’t everything in the world.”

Yuzuki sighed and frowned once more. “But I bet you haven’t eaten yet, either. You were working all day, weren’t you?”

“Sou dakedo,” Ayame replied. “I really wanted to finish the magazine no matter what.” She looked down with a sad expression. “Was that… something I shouldn’t have done, Yuzuki?”

“It’s not that,” the celebrity denied with another sigh. “It just concerns me that you would work so hard for something without even thinking about yourself for once. But…” He placed a hand on the dark brunette’s head. “That’s what I really like about you.”

Ayame’s eyes widened and she knew Yuzuki was smiling, so she looked up.

“I’m sorry,” she apologized. “For making you worry. I’ll try to take better care of my health after tonight.”

Yuzuki nodded. “Let’s get going, shall we?”

He held out his right hand and Ayame smiled back, taking hold of it with her left. And together, they walked inside the restaurant, still holding hands with one another.

Meanwhile, Mirai was still dressed in his disguise and was chatting at a table with a man who had long black hair that reached his neck. He had the appearance of a refined and handsome man who seemed as if he was in his thirties—particularly, thirty-two years of age to be more precise. They spoke with each other without any difficulties, continuing without a care in the world.

“So as I was telling you earlier, Mr. Kuroki,” Mirai reminded the older man, “if you were to kindly distribute a portion of your assets to my company and hotel, I would gladly turn them into a prosperous paradise where you could build more wealth with every day, effectively giving you 1.5 billion yen every month on the hotel, making that 18 billion yen for you annually. Although it might not be as great as the amount of money you have right now, it’s a start for someone as young as myself. I am still a beginner, despite having a year’s worth of experience in the business I run.”

The man—Tomio Kuroki—nodded acknowledging the situation he had been told of earlier. “I understand completely. At your age, I was also struggling to create a successful corporation. I was not yet married until I was twenty-two years old, which would probably take about three or four years before you reach the same age as I was back then. It must be harder for you since you’re still trying to make a fortune for yourself, Kageyama-kun. I’ll tell you what: I can give your over three-fourths of my money and you could start anew from there. What do you think?”

Mirai’s eyes widened in genuine surprise. “You’re willing to give me that much, Mr. Kuroki? But… I couldn’t. That’s more seventy-five percent of what you have to offer…!”

Another nod from the advocator. “Indeed. I realize that it may be more than what a young man such as yourself can handle, but I am honestly trusting most of my resources to you. It is yours to use however you would like. You see, an old man such as I, has no need for that much currency. I would like you to accept it as a token of my compassion for you, Kageyama-kun.”

“If you wish it, then I will gratefully receive your wealth,” Mirai responded, having a comprehensive expression on his face. “Thank you very much, Mr. Kuroki. I won’t let your hopes down.”

Tomio Kuroki let out a chuckle with closed eyes. “You need not to apologize to this elderly businessman. I am thankful to be able to do something for a youth of your capabilities, so please think nothing of it. Then,” he said, taking a contract out. He signed it at the bottom and handed it over to Mirai; after that, he stood up from his seat and bowed, “I shall take my leave here. It was truly pleasant to meet you tonight for dinner, Kageyama-kun. I do hope we will meet again soon.”

“Yes,” Mirai agreed, “I am looking forward to seeing you once more, Mr. Kuroki. Have a wonderful evening.”

The older man gave a slight nod and parted ways with the college student. It was only after he was completely out of sight that Mirai carefully gripped the contract Kirie’s father had left behind in his fingers. He examined it with caution and was not surprised at what he saw.

“He’s not kidding,” Mirai noted with a serious expression as he distanced the sheet of paper away from himself. “He’s actually turning over his possessions to me. Why?”

He has to have something planned, he thought. But what exactly is he trying to do?

Then, a notion came to mind.

Could he be trying to get hold of Kirie after giving away most of his fame and fortune? If so, I must stop him before that happens. I’m sure of it now; rather than using his money for himself, he’s going to set a trap for Kirie to confront him and kill her. After he achieves his goal, he’ll have his men cover up his crime and pay them in tremendous amounts of cash for obeying his orders. Then, he’ll escape and leave Roppongi for good. I can’t let him do as he pleases; I have to get to him before Kirie does and defeat him once and for all.

Without another thought, Mirai stood up and placed the contract inside his suit jacket, making his way to the door. Right then and there, he walked past Yuzuki and Ayame who were arriving and strolling towards the table Yuzuki had reserved for the two of them.

Yuzuki stopped and looked back. “?”

Ayame blinked a couple times while looking up at her boyfriend. “What’s wrong?”

“Ah, it’s nothing…” the actor trailed off. He was still staring in the direction the college student went. “It’s just… I thought I saw Mirai, but I guess it was only a guy who looked like him.”

“Huh…” Ayame’s shoulders slumped as she tilted her head to the left, following Yuzuki’s gaze. “Maybe it was just your imagination, Yuzuki. Mirai wouldn’t be here, would he?”

Yuzuki frowned. “Yeah. Maybe. But I can’t help but think that he passed us. I’ll have to see after this if it really was him.”


~


The next day, things seemed different from before as Kirie looked up at the sky. She felt as though something was missing; then, she looked forward and walked into Rapunzel through the entrance. When she entered the editorial department, there was no sign of Takuji inside the office. Neither was Asuka, but the white-haired young woman would sometimes be there, so it wasn’t every day that Kirie saw her at work with her husband.

After blinking a few times, Kirie asked, “Hey, where’s Takuji? I don’t see him around. Is he at another business meeting today?”

A female co-worker noticed the dark magenta-haired girl’s expression. “Takuji? I have seen him this morning. Perhaps you should contact him later, but now’s not a good time for that.”

Kirie frowned. “What do you mean? Is Takuji in trouble or anything?”

The co-worker shook her head. “No. It’s just… He hasn’t said anything, except that he won’t be back for quite some time. Asuka’s also with him, so I believe they left for an important meeting with someone. Have they not told you their whereabouts or what they’re doing, Kirie?”

“No,” Kirie replied. “I didn’t see them this morning, so I was sure they were already at work. They didn’t even leave a note for me to read. Still, it’s unusual for them to not tell me if they’ve gone somewhere.”

The co-worker smiled. “Well, I’m sure they’ll be fine. Let’s get to work, okay?”

Kirie nodded. “Alright.”

She stared at Takuji’s desk, which was visible from afar as a look of unease was manifested on her face.

Takuji, Asuka, wherever you two are right now, I hope you’re okay, Kirie thought, taking a look at the ceiling where the sky was seen through the glass windows. Please… Be safe. I don’t want anything to happen to you guys, so come back to everyone.

With a vast plead, she could only wish for the married couple’s well-being. She didn’t know how long they would be away, but she comprehended the fact that it would be a while before they came back. As she focused on her job as an editor and journalist, she couldn’t help but feel lonely without the pair of magicians who she had only known for the past three years of her life. She let out a sigh and the weight of slow time she was at Rapunzel became a heavy push on the top of her back near her shoulders.

Hours later around the time Takuji told Mirai to carry out the plan, the college student was already inside the warehouse Tomio Kuroki and his henchmen would be at to meet Kirie. He quickly caught the attention of the men in black suits, though.

“Hey!” one of the men shouted, looking at the nineteen-year-old boy who was not wearing his disguise anymore. “Who are you?!”

Another one narrowed his eyes, those of which were mainly shielded with a pair of dark tinted shades. “Do you have any business with Tomio-sama? If not, then turn back now before we dispose of you!”

Mirai smirked slyly at the two men standing before him. “Sorry, but I can’t let you do that.”

“What?” the first man’s eyes widened.

However, Mirai ignored his comment with his daredevil grin. “I have a mission to finish right now, and you’re in the way, so I’ll have to get to your boss before you can catch me.”

“Get him!”

Several men wearing similar outfits began to run towards Mirai. The youth’s expression didn’t change and he held up his right index finger, swaying it back and forth.

“Tsk, tsk.” Without moving from his spot, Mirai berated the numerous workers who were heading his way. “Didn’t I tell you? I’m not going to allow any of you to put your hands on me. So… I’ll just parts ways with you with this.” He jumped into the air and as he came down, he swiftly went in different directions, kicking and punching each and every one of the men employed under Kirie’s father, knocking them out within a few minutes. He seemed to enjoy himself as he took out them suited men without too much effort. A feeling of ecstasy budded inside his chest and he experienced a frenzy of excitement as he fought the henchmen preparing to attack him. “Ahaha! You’re too slow for me. Are you really working under the man called Tomio Kuroki?”

A surge of frustration clouded them few remainder of the employees as the stared at Mirai.

“Argh!” A worker gritted his teeth as he stood in place. “Someone get him before he makes his way to Tomio-sama!”

The others nodded. “Yes, sir!”

As the rushed into the battlefield, something else as taking place deep within the building. On the other side of the warehouse, Kirie was face-to-face with her father. She wielded a scythe and her hair had grown longer, so much that it reached past her waist and stopped at her upper thighs, near the middle of them. She also wore the black, white, and red battle outfit she had during her days at Souseizouma Academy.

Tomio grinned at the sight of the dark magenta-haired girl. “Kirie. How nice of you to pay me a visit. It has been a long time since I got to see my lovely daughter. Have you been faring well while we were apart from one another?” He let out a malicious chuckle. “I would assume that you were since you came all the way here on your own to see me. I feel like a young man again, and not to mention how happy I was the day you were born, as well. It makes me think of myself as your wonderful and caring father once more.”

“My father?” Kirie questioned with a dissatisfied frown. “You have never once been a father to me, and you never will. You don’t even understand my feelings at all, and yet you dare to call yourself my father? How absurd. You have never treated me the way a father should, so why are you addressing yourself as one? The sole reason I have come here after finding out your location is to defeat you by myself once and for all. I am here to sever my ties with you, Father. I will not permit you to torment me any longer. As a person—“ Kirie shook her head. “—no, as a living being of this world, I will take you down and bury your sins in the depths of the netherworld and erase your existence for the sake of humankind.”

Tomio Kuroki let out a hysterical laugh. “Hah! You—my very flesh and blood that I created through reproduction—are going to attempt to triumph over me? Now that is something I find truly amusing, my dear offspring. You have never even tried to fight back before whenever you were in the torture chamber, but this time, you are willing to risk your life just to defeat me?” He sighed, shaking his head in disappointment; after that, frowned with a look of distaste. “What an obnoxious daughter I have. Your way of thinking really makes me wonder why I kept you alive all these years, Kirie. Do you really believe you can harm me? Well, then.” He smirked, baring his teeth at his daughter. “See if you can continue to stand up after this.”

He clenched his hand, forming a fist with it. Immediately afterwards, a black and purple sphere that had gray sparks around it manifested at his will. He glanced at it and kept grinning. Then, he pulled his right arm back and launched the small circular orb of darkness at the dark magenta-haired girl.

Right before it hit her, Kirie’s eyes widened in astonishment. “…!” In an instant, it knocked her down, inflicting pain all around her body. She could barely manage to lift a muscle due to its massive impact on her. She steadily opened her eyes. “Ugh… What… was that…?” As she laid on her side, she felt a bruised sort of pain preventing her from moving when she tried to move herself up, which forced her to close her eyes. “Ack…! Uh…” She fell back down and tears formed in her eyes. “…Please save me… Mirai.” Her tears flowed down as she stayed on the floor feebly. “…I don’t want things to end this way…”

“My, what a pathetic sight to see,” Kirie’s father remarked as he watched his daughter’s heart-wrenching state. “It appears that you can’t even move without having to endure the great amount of agony I’ve caused you, my beautiful daughter. It looks like I’ll have to get rid of you.” He sighed in resignation with a sorrowful expression on his face as he placed his right hand on his left breast. “As much as it hurts me to do so, I must do whatever it takes to make you to understand that none of this would have occurred if you had not tried to oppose me in the first place. But do not fear, dear daughter. It’ll all be over soon. You won’t have to cry in misery anymore. I shall end it all for you, so just listen to Daddy this time and be a good girl, alright?”

He inched closer, but then, a voice called out.

“I won’t let you touch Kirie with your tainted hands!” Mirai suddenly arrived at the scene. He stood in front of Kirie’s battered body. The look on his face indicated his protectiveness towards Kirie as he stared at the underworld’s ruler. “Don’t even think about coming closer to her. I’ll be your opponent, Mr. Tomio Kuroki.”

Kirie’s eyes widened as she saw her lover in front of her. “Mirai!”

“What?” Tomio asked, confused at the situation he was faced with. He was not sure how Mirai found out where he was, or even the youth’s identity, as he was brusquely challenged by the young man standing before him.

First Love and the Promise of the Future Chapter 6

Chapter 6

Private Matters to Attend to


“You don’t even know a thing about me, Kirie!” Mirai shouted after he stood up from his seat. His eyes lowered, and he was still upset about Kirie’s opposition to let him meet her father. “Don’t you think you should at least try to understand my side for once?!” His tone of voice calmed down right after that and tears formed in his eyes. “Just because you don’t want me to meet your father, doesn’t mean that you should run away from the problems you have with him, Kirie. I know I wouldn’t. I mean, yeah, I don’t get to see my dad very often, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t at least try to get in contact with him or sort out my own feelings with him. He’s my only family, after all.” He blinked twice, and his tears began to flow down his face. “You may think that I’m just a little kid who can’t protect himself from others around him, but that’s not actually it. Kirie, right now, you’re not even letting me help you.” His gaze shifted towards the floor as he continued. “Maybe it’s because you don’t believe that I can defend myself and those important to me from harm’s way. However.” He looked up and focused his gaze directly at the girl in front of him. “I can tell you that you’re wrong because… deep within your heart, you’re doubting who I really am, along with my abilities to carry out and keep my promise to you. If you don’t trust my words, then it’s fine. I can prove to you how much I really mean what I said to you.”

Just before Mirai was about to move away from his seat, Kirie grabbed hold of his right arm with her [right] hand, having an apologetic and regretful expression on her face, showing how sad she felt about their argument.

“Wait, Mirai,” the dark magenta-haired girl pleaded. “I—“

Mirai looked at Kirie one more time before saying his parting words as he gently reached for the hand that was on his arm with his left. “You don’t have to worry about me anymore, Kirie. I can take care of myself. So, just… think about yourself, and don’t go after me.” He slowly pulled his right arm away from Kirie’s grasp and turned away from her as he made his way towards the front door.

After he left and was no longer in her sight, Kirie stared at the door for a few seconds. Then, tears quickly formed from her eyes and rolled down her cheeks. She shifted to face the surface of the counter in the bar and placed her right hand over her mouth to drown out the sobs that expressed the pain and sorrow she felt from the dispute she had started with Mirai.

Several moments passed before she stopped articulating her cries. There were still tears in her eyes as she continued to look down. Just as she blinked away the remaining drops of tears in them, the door to the VIP room opened, and a familiar voice was heard.

“Oh? Who do we have here? A damsel in distress?” Ryoichi Hirose smiled as he typically did and walked up to Kirie.

Noel was also with him but did not say a thing. “…”

When she heard Ryoichi’s voice, Kirie lifted her head and turned towards her left.

“Ryoichi?” she said. “What are you doing here with Noel?”

With folded arms, the writer answered. “I was working on my next novel while I was relaxing with our wonderful F1 racer until now. I just finished my rough draft of it, though. Might I ask, what brings your lovely presence to a place like this, Kirie Kuroki-san? It’s unusual to see you here, rather than when you’re working as an editor for your young CEO over at Rapunzel. What was his name again?” A smirked ran across his face in an instant. “Oh, yes. It was Takuji Uramoto, was it not? A very interesting magician with a young wife of the same age as him, isn’t he? He sure knows how to entertain the people around him without a moment’s notice, just like he did before the wedding weeks before. He’s the type of person who can lift up one’s spirit in no time, so I was thinking about meeting him later to see what his thoughts are if I were to write a book about him. In a way, he perks my curiosity.”

Kirie frowned. “That sounds as though you’re trying to harass him, instead of actually planning on negotiating with him fairly.”

Her eyes narrowed at the sadistic proposal.

And indirectly, too, she thought. I wonder if I should really let him go for actually doing that with the way he speaks. He’s such a player on the outside, but he doesn’t show his inner emotions get the better of him at a time like this.

She stopped her inklings for a second before continuing with fully opened eyes.

It’s not such a bad thing when I think about it, but…

She frowned with a look of worry showing on her face.

Maybe it’d be better if he wasn’t like that, she finished.

There was that inquisitive smile on Ryoichi’s face once more as he studied Kirie’s expressions and emotions.

“It seems that you’re worried and vexed about something,” he noted. “But you also looked depressed earlier when Noel and I came out. Did something happen while we weren’t here to see you?”

After seeing Ryocihi’s face for a moment, Kirie’s eyes lowered simultaneously with her shoulders slumping motion. On the contrary, Noel had been staring at Kirie for a while. His eyes widened with realization shortly afterward. Other than that, he had an indifferent look on his face as he stood in place.

“You…” he trailed off as he continued to look at Kirie.

Kirie blinked and glanced at the half-Japanese man standing a few feet away from Ryoichi.

“Huh?” she uttered. “Did you say something just now?”

A thin line took over the place of Noel’s mouth as he gazed at the dark magenta-haired girl. “You fought with Mirai, didn’t you?” he asked nonchalantly. “That’s why your face was drained from crying so much. The whole area was soundproofed, so we couldn’t have heard what was going out in here since we were separated by the VIP room and bar. Mirai brought you here and left some time after that.”

Kirie nodded as she stared at the floor. “Yeah. He asked if he could meet my father, but I didn’t let him. Truthfully, I was afraid something was going to happen to him if that were to happen. I wanted to protect him from ever encountering my father, but then…”

“Mirai took it the wrong way and started to argue with you,” Noel finished the sentence for Kirie. This earned a nod from her as the F1 racer understood the rest of the story. “It’s not your fault. Mirai didn’t know your true feelings about it. That’s why he stormed out on you and left you here alone.”

Kirie shook her head. “No, I’m equally at fault here. If I hadn’t shouted at Mirai, none of this would have happened in the first place. In fact, I was the one who started it, not Mirai.”

Noel frowned. “No, that’s not it. Mirai was being immature on his part because he was taking things too fast in your relationship. It was only a few weeks since you two dated, but he’s rushing things farther than most people would.”

“Now that I think about it,” Kirie mentioned, “Mirai’s the one who takes the initiative in our when we’re together. But…” Kirie’s eyes lowered as she thought back to the fateful day she met the college student. “I was the one who asked to make a promise with him so that we could meet again if we ended up crossing paths a second time. I’m certain Mirai took it to heart and longed for the day when we would. Everything started due to my actions, so the person who needs to be blamed the most for stringing him along is me. I don’t even deserve to be with Mirai, but…”

Ryoichi smirked, but it was a bit more lenient this time. “But you love him with all your heart, right? Mirai holds you dear to him more than anyone in the world we live in, so you shouldn’t think that you’re the one who’s been deceiving him all this time. Yes, Mirai has his own flaws, those of which he should be reflecting on afterwards, but that’s just how he is. You know that, don’t you?” Without waiting for an answer, the novelist continued his rant. “However, there is one thing that makes him the adolescent young boy he is, and that’s the desire to protect the woman he loves. You know that more than anything, I presume. After all, you’re the type of girlfriend who might actually do more of the pampering when it comes down to it.” Ryoichi laughed at the suggestion. “Perhaps it’s not bad if Mirai was the one being taken care of, instead of the other way around.”

Kirie sighed and smiled. “You’re such a jokester, aren’t you, Ryoichi? I don’t particularly like to pamper anyone, though.”

“But Mirai might be an exception, right?” Ryoichi asked rhetorically. “He’s the type of guy who captivates a lady’s heart easily because of his looks. He’s also young externally, but old internally. What’s more is that he doesn’t want to let go of the things and people he cherishes. Although it may seem cheesy, it’s how he truly feels. Don’t you think so, Kirie?”

Kirie stared at the author with an acknowledging expression. Then, she nodded. “Un. That’s matches him perfectly. It comes to a person’s mind in an instant, doesn’t it…?”

“Of course it does,” Ryoichi answered. “That’s the kind of image he gives off wherever he goes. It’s Mirai we’re talking about. I bet if you were to say that to him, he would become flustered enough to look like a drunk young adult, or perhaps even a tomato. At any rate,” he added, “It might be best if you were to visit him at this time.”

Kirie tilted her head to her right. “Right now? Isn’t it getting kind of late, though?”

“Well…” Ryoichi contemplated. He put his right index finger near the tip of his chin. “There might be just one place he would probably be, despite how late it’s gotten. We might as well tell you since the three of us are gathered here.” She turned his head to his right side. “Isn’t that correct, Noel?”

The bright blond nodded. “I’ll write down the address.” He took out a piece of paper from his left pocket located on his pants, along with a pen from his right one. Then, he walked over towards a brown leather armchair and sat down on it, placing the piece of paper on the glass table as he wrote down the primary building Mirai could have been at that very moment. Shortly afterwards, he stood up from his seat and put away the pen. Next, he walked over to Kirie and held out the white sheet. “Here. You should be able to find him at this location. But, you need to wait a bit. I’ll make sure he’s there and if he is, I’ll speak with him.”

Kirie’s eyes widened as she looked at Noel’s face. “You mean… You’re going to find Mirai right now?! But… Are you really sure about this? What if he doesn’t turn out where you said he would be? It’d be a waste of your efforts if he isn’t there.”

A smile manifested on Noel’s face as he reassured the dark magenta-haired girl. “Don’t worry. Mirai will be there. I’m positive of it. If everyone else but Mirai was here, they would more than likely tell you the same thing.”

“You can at least count on that, can’t you?” Ryoichi inquired. “We’ve all known Mirai for quite a long time now, so there’s no way Noel and I would ever lie about this. If one of us says he’ll be at a certain place, then it’s ninety-nine point nine percent true. And if it isn’t, we can think of another place he’d be.” His expression softened as he continued to converse with Kirie. “Mirai’s still young, and the fact that he’s still growing can be a little problematic for others since he acts like the kid he is. Having someone talk to him about his rights and wrongs might help him become more mature, even if it’s only a tiny amount. Just wait and see for yourself; once Noel finds him, he’ll call and I will inform you about it. Then, I’ll escort you there. If Mirai were to know that you would walk there by yourself at night, he would throw another fuss about it. I’d truly savior the expression he’ll create if he found out, but it won’t hurt much to take you to him safely after hearing from Noel. How about it? Would you like to prevent Mirai from worrying about you, Kirie Kuroki-san?”

Another sigh escaped Kirie’s mouth as she stared at Ryoichi in an irritated manner. “Again with the –san, huh? You even called me by my name without any formalities earlier, didn’t you? Hearing from you kind of makes me tired, Hirose-sensei. It turns the blood and arteries within my left wrist inside out, along with my muscles there. Wouldn’t you think so?”

“A bit of a disturbing way to put it,” Ryoichi smirked. “Why don’t I hire you as my editor from now on? You might love the fame and fortune I have with my novels, Kuroki-san. I could also—“

The writer was immediately cut off with a raised hand from Kirie.

“No thanks,” she replied. “I’d rather look for Mirai, but I’ll leave things to you two for that part.” She glanced at Noel and smiled faintly, taking the piece of paper from him. “When you find Mirai, can you stay with him until Ryoichi and I get there? I… want to be able to face him without any mixed feelings this time.” She looked down a bit with quarter-closed eyes. “I know that I haven’t been able to give him an actual answer to his feelings yet, and I’ve caused you all some trouble since the night of the wedding. But this time, I really want to let him know that I’m not going to run away anymore.” She looked up and her expression didn’t budge, indicating her new resolve for the future between her and Mirai.

As he saw Kirie’s determination, Noel smiled back. “You can leave things to us.” He placed his left hand on Kirie’s right shoulder before walking out.

Kirie turned her head towards the direction the bright blond left and gave a slight nod. “Un. It’ll be okay. Once we meet each other, I’ll make sure to mend our relationship with Mirai. It wouldn’t work with only one of us, after all.”

“Hmm~,” the author mused as he gazed at Kirie’s light expression with folded arms. Then, he looked at his right side. “Perhaps it will turn out to be so. Once the skies clear up from all of this, we might not have to worry about anything and continue with our lives as they are.”

As they waited, Noel was making his way towards the place Mirai was currently staying. It was a matter of time before they would meet.


~


Meanwhile, the college student was crouching outside a building named Sea Breeze Garden. It was a foster home he had always gone to when he was younger. Back then, he was alone until a few kids around the same age brought him there to play when his father was busy with work. Even after studying abroad in Switzerland, he would come to visit often, as it filled his entire being with a sense of nostalgia. He was very fond of it since it was also like a second home to him, rather than the house he lived in with his parents years ago.

He donned a sad expression on his face as he stared at the ground. As he thought back to the argument he had with Kirie a while ago, he let out a sigh. “Maybe I said too much,” he said to no one in particular. “Kirie… I wonder if she’s been suffering all this time. If so, then it’s all my fault for saying such horrible things to her.”

Within seconds, tears began to form in his eyes. Right after that, they dripped down and Mirai lowered his head in guilt. He held his knees close to his body as he wiped away his tears with the back of his right hand.

“I’m sorry…” He apologized. “I’m really sorry…”

A voice rang out as footsteps walked up behind him.

“Mirai?” the voice asked. “What’s wrong?”

Mirai looked up and turned around. “Director…”

The director’s eyes widened, and a concerned expression took over his previous one. “Were you thinking about something? Your face is full of tears. Did something happen between you and your girlfriend?”

Mirai nodded and looked down. “Yeah. I got myself into a fight with her and left her alone while we were on a date. I said some really harsh things to her and it hurts my heart to think that she might still be there crying by herself. I don’t even know if I can even face her.”

The director’s expression softened and a smile replaced the worried look on his face as he placed his left hand on his hip. “Then, wouldn’t it better if you apologized to her in person? I know you’re not the type of person to intentionally inflict pain on those you care about, Mirai. I’ve always known you as a sweet young boy who would never hesitate to help those in trouble. You’re much more kindhearted than some of the people in the city, and it shows all around you, especially on your face. You’re like a living radiator because of your bright personality, which warms up the hearts of those within your presence. If you truly love your girlfriend, Mirai, I’m sure you’ll come to see her before it’s too late to make up with her. Isn’t that how all relationships work out in the end?” His eyes lowered as he gazed into Mirai’s eyes, which made the college student realize what he meant. “Answer me, Mirai; do you truly love her, or not? What happens from now on depends on your emotions and the actions you take with them. Those two combined will determine the ending you’ll have with your lover. Love works with more than one person, so it is also up to her to decide what to do. Whatever takes place in the near yet far future you have with her is something I cannot do for you. It’s a choice that foreshadows the events afterward.”

“Director…” Mirai stared into the kind eyes that guided him. “I…”

“Mirai.”

A voice had called the youth’s name and Mirai turned to see who it was.

His eyes widened once more at the sight of one of his friends. “Noel?!” he shouted in shock. “What are you doing here?!”

“To talk to you, of course,” the F1 racer responded with his usual nonchalant tone of voice. “It’s important for you to hear me out right now.”

Mirai tilted his head to the side. “Huh? What do you mean by that?”

“You’ll have to find out,” Noel replied. His eyes lowered in what seemed like disappointment. “Mirai, you…”

The director smiled. “Well, I better check up on the children. I’ll take to you after this, Mirai.” As he began to walk away, Mirai turned his head around.

“Wait!” he exclaimed. “Director!”

The director had already stepped into the orphanage and Mirai sighed, facing Noel again.
He frowned and looked up. “What is it?”

“You fought with Kirie Kuroki, didn’t you?” Noel questioned. “That’s why you’re here.”

Mirai suddenly had a surprised look on his face, and he stood up from his bending position. “How do you…?”

“I happened to see her after walking out of the bar’s VIP room with Ryoichi,” the blunt man told his younger friend as he sighed. “She was already finished with crying by the time we spoke with her. But she seemed to be in a better mood than before,” he smiled. “She wants to talk with you, too.”

“Kirie’s okay…?” Mirai trailed off. A troubled look quickly replaced the expression he had before. He looked down after that. “But… I… I took it out on her, yet she’s willing to forgive me? Is that really all there is to it?”

A solemn frown formed on Noel’s face. “Mirai. Isn’t it obvious that she wants to make up with you, despite what happened beforehand? Don’t you trust your girlfriend’s feelings at all?”

Mirai looked up. “Trust… Kirie’s feelings…?”

Noel nodded. “In order to compromise and admit your mistakes, you must also trust the person you love. Is that not what being in a relationship is about?” He took out his cell phone and pressed a button on the top side of it, and a red light began to flash on and off. “You know, don’t you? She isn’t someone who would hold a grudge against you, because she loves you.” Another smile appeared on his face.

Seeing Noel’s smile, Mirai understood the blond’s words, nodding to himself. Before he could say anything to express his gratitude, rapid footsteps rushed to the entrance of the foster home, and soon came to a stop. In front of them were Kirie and Ryoichi. Kirie was panting heavily and looked at Mirai, having regained her breathing as she stood up straight along with the renowned writer, who was folding his arms across his chest after helping the dark magenta-haired girl up.

Kirie stepped forward and placed her right hand over her heart. “Mirai…” She smiled at the sight of her boyfriend and her expression softened as she looked at him.

“Well,” Ryoichi breathed, “it’s about time we take our leave. Right, Noel?”

Noel nodded and walked over to Ryoichi. Then, the two of them took left the couple alone as they made their way back to their homes. Now a few feet apart from each other, Kirie and Mirai stared into their designated partner’s eyes.

“Kirie, I—“ Mirai began, but was soon cut off with a shake from Kirie’s head.

The editor from Rapunzel kept smiling and walked up to Mirai with both her hands by her sides. “Mirai, I was wrong to have refused to let you meet my father. I was actually scared of the outcome if you were to encounter him, so I tried to stop you from doing anything.” She frowned and apologized for her behavior. “I’m sorry for everything I did to hurt your feelings. If I hadn’t tried to prevent you from meeting him, none of this would have happened.”

With a similar expression etched onto his face, Mirai embraced Kirie with a tender movement of his arms. “No, it was because I was too selfish to even consider your feelings. I just wanted to get his approval for our relationship, so you wouldn’t have to worry about being with me, Kirie. I’m sorry for getting so worked up and pushing my feelings on to you.” He slowly pulled apart from his lover. “Will you… forgive me?”

Kirie nodded and closed her eyes, which conveyed the answer to Mirai’s question. While they weren’t completely separated from one another, the college student knew what his girlfriend meant. He leaned downward and soon, his lips rested on the dark magenta-haired girl’s. The moon glowed brightly above them as they were locked in a long and loving kiss that lasted for hours before they pulled apart from each other.


~


It was two-thirty in the morning when Mirai and Kirie reached the apartment the editor was staying at after they had made up at the foster home. Kirie was sound asleep on Mirai’s back, and the youth pressed the doorbell, which rang shortly afterward. The door opened immediately, revealing a smiling Takuji and Asuka.

“Looks like you finally made it here,” the mint-haired young man greeted the college student. “Come on in. I’m sure you’re tired from walking home with my daughter on your back, Mira. You can drop her off upstairs on her bedroom before you leave.”

Mirai looked up at Takuji and saw the married man’s sincerity, but then, he glanced down at the ground in front of them. “Um… Well…”

“Do you want us to take Kirie-chan off your hands, Mirai-kun?” Asuka asked. “I can do that and carry her to her bed, if you wish.”

Mirai nodded. “Yeah, sorry for bringing her home this late and early in the morning, too. I’m sure I’ve caused you two to stay up because I didn’t take Kirie home before midnight.”

He turned around and Asuka gently grabbed hold of Kirie’s body, carrying her as if she were a bride. The white-haired magician walked up the stairs and laid the dark magenta-haired girl down on the bed near the window. She stayed with Kirie while Takuji and Mirai were downstairs. As Mirai turned around to face Takuji, the CEO of Rapunzel smiled in a welcoming and friendly manner.

“Hey, Mirai,” Takuji called the nineteen-year-old’s name, “why don’t we step outside for a bit? There’s something I need to talk to you about.”

Mirai tilted his head to his right. “?”

He didn’t know what it was about, but he could feel that it was something regarding Kirie and nodded as Takuji walked out the door and closed it behind them.


~


“It’s a good thing you came,” Takuji brought up as he and Mirai walked to the nearby park together. “I’ve been meaning to say this to you for a while now.”

Mirai followed behind the mint-haired magician and kept a distance from him. “Um… What was it that you wanted to tell me…? If it’s about Kirie and I dating—“

Takuji shook his head. “No. That’s not it.” His voice sounded much more serious when he spoke those words. Although Mirai could not see Takuji’s expression, there was a grave look on the young man’s face. Takuji stopped in his tracks and waited for a couple seconds before he turned around. The bright light from the moon was shining on his entire body, giving his physical appearance a much more beautiful look than the sun did. Mirai’s eyes widened once he saw the look on Takuji’s face. “What I’m about to tell you is something that you and Kirie need to prepare for.”

“Huh…?” Mirai blurted out gradually. “What… Kirie and I need to prepare for…?”

“Correct,” the magician confirmed. “You of all people have to take precaution on this matter. This is about Kirie’s father, Mirai.”

A stunned expression appeared on Mirai’s face as he heard the last few words that came out of Takuji’s mouth. “Kirie’s… father?” he inquired like before. “But what exactly do you mean by taking precaution…? Is Kirie’s father far more dangerous than anyone from the underworld, Takuji?”

Takuji nodded. “Yeah. In fact, he’s the king of the underworld that you’re part of, Mirai.”

“The king?” Mirai questioned. He placed his right hand [which was closed] in front of his lips as he contemplated about the fact. “But then that means that he overpowers everyone else working there. Since he’s also been there for several years, there’s no chance of actually defeating him. But wait.” He looked up and gazed into Takuji’s eyes. “Takuji. Could he have built of his status in the underworld in order to get hold of Kirie all this time? If that’s true, then he’s still searching for her right now, and when he finally finds her, he’ll…”

“Take her away and keep her locked up in an eternal hell,” Takuji answered. “He has been planning to take her away since she was fifteen, right before she enrolled in Zouma Academy, which has now been combined with Sousei Academy to form Souseizouma Academy. There were several times when he’s found her and tortured her in a chamber for disobeying his orders and running away from home. And Kirie used to have scars that ran over the upper part of her body that ranged from small to long ones. There were also some on the side of her legs. Kirie’s father has even used knives and leather belts to beat and cut her after she graduated from high school as the punishment he believed she deserved for her rebellious personality. When Asuka and I met her, her scars and wounds instantly recovered and were no longer visible. Rather than letting her live all alone, we took her in our care and moved to where we are today.”

Suddenly, Mirai heard something which he was certain was a voice from the past.

“Help me…” the voice cried. Mirai could see an image of Kirie holding her knees close to her chest. Her hair was shorter just like when they first met each other, which meant that it was somewhere after she had moved in with the couple. “Help me… Mirai…” Tears from Kirie’s eyes fell down as she started to break down from the pain she had endured not too long ago. And she started to weep as she sat on the wooden floor across from her bed. “I want to see you again, Mirai… Please, don’t leave me alone… I’m scared… I don’t want to go back… So please… Hurry up and find me…”

Kirie’s past voice and image disappeared from Mirai’s mind as he stared in place.

“Kirie…” he trailed off with a sad expression on his face. His eyes lowered as he looked down a bit. “I’m sorry…”

Takuji took note of Mirai’s expression and asked, “Did you see it?”

Mirai nodded and kept facing the direction of the ground. “Yeah… Kirie was crying by herself and the sight of her in pain started to hit my heart when she called for help. But… What should I even do to save her, Takuji? I don’t even know how to help her, or what I can do to defeat her father.”

“Well,” Takuji sighed. His expression remained unchanged as he continued his side of the conversation. He glanced up from his right and stared at the night sky filled with stars. “What I can really say at this moment is that you might want to go undercover and find out more information on her father. He looked back at Mirai with an unwavering gaze. “His name… is Tomio Kuroki. He is also a well-known business man whose wealth exceeds that of Satsuki’s in the financial world, which makes him the king in both business and the underworld. Due to his immense fame and fortune, he has enough power to push those behind him farther away so they can’t reach the amount of money he holds. However, if you were to stop him and overturn his status in the underworld, you would be able to steal his assets away and free Kirie from this mess he has created for the people of Roppongi. Right now, my powers, along with Asuka’s have been repressed because of the law the world we came from has placed on us. We will have to go back and ask for permission to use our full powers against Kirie’s father, but it may take several hours before we can aid you and Kirie in this battle. Though it may be difficult without our help, we need you to make a deal with him.”

Mirai looked up with a serious expression. “I understand. But first, I’ll have to gather some materials. Do you think you can help me with gathering them, Takuji?”

At that second, a smirked spread across Takuji’s face. “Mira, who do you think I am?” He placed his right hand on his hip and took out a sack with a rope around it out of nowhere using his left hand. Then, he tossed it in Mirai’s direction; the latter caught it with both his arms extended and looked at the bag. “I’ve already got that part covered, so you don’t need to worry about the items you need. There’s even an outfit and wig included, which I had to buy over here, but the rest are from my world. See for yourself what’s inside of it and make sure to use them wisely.”

As instructed, Mirai loosened the rope and opened the sack he was holding. He pulled something out and was amazed by the item in his right hand.

“Wha—“ His mouth dropped and his eyes widened at the sight of what he was holding. “Is this a whip?!” The whip he held had a shining cyan and turquoise color to it; the handle, on the other hand, was golden and magnificent to behold. “It’s so beautiful, Takuji! How’d you get this?”

Takuji grinned. “I requested it to be custom made. There’s a blacksmith in the city Asuka and I live in. Her work is topnotch in the magician world and she’s a married beauty everyone knows. She also has a daughter who runs a shrine there, but don’t mind that right now. We have a mission to carry out and we’ll need to finish it by tomorrow night.”

“But why tomorrow night?” Mirai asked curiously. “Can’t we finish it within a few days or something?”

“First thing’s first: We need to get you and Kirie well rested so you can fight her father and defeat him quickly,” Takuji explained, brushing off Mirai’s enquiry. “This will take a while, so perhaps by noon, you’ll both be fully recharged. In addition, you’re going to be asking around for Tomio and when his henchmen agree to let you meet him, you’ll have to negotiate with him to lure him into a trap to make a transaction for whatever you want. For example, the Sea Breeze Garden. I heard from Satsuki that you’ve made large donations there, so you can find a way to do that and fetch the money right after he decides to establish a contract with you tonight. Then tomorrow night around seven, you’ll knock out his men and get closer to him after you’re done with the disguise; Asuka and I will be back in our world for a while, but I’m sure you’ll be able to handle most of it without us. After that’s been settled, you’ll fight him face-to-face and beat the hell out of him. Got it?”

Mirai nodded in an insecure manner after sighing. He had no idea if Takuji’s plan was going to work or not, but it couldn’t work to try, right?

I guess it might be a success if I can pull this off without any problem, he thought. But Takuji seems to believe that there’s a chance this will work, so I’ll just put my faith in him and see how it goes.

In an upbeat fashion, Takuji made a motion to his left, lifted his right arm up, threw it in a way that made it seem like he was pointing a gun, and winked with his right eye at Mirai. “Saa! Go and get ‘em, Mira!”

Mirai sweat-dropped at seeing Takuji’s eccentric personality play out, but it was normal—at least, that was what he knew for a few years or so. He couldn’t exactly complain about it, but the mint-haired magician’s actions were truly… unexpected. Nonetheless, he could only hope that Takuji’s plan would be able to bring victory to their side. Indeed. Hope was something that they would need to ensure Tomio Kuroki’s defeat, but they need more than that. What they really needed was the power to fuel the task at hand in order to help create a better world for the human population.

First Love and the Promise of the Future Chapter 5

Chapter 5

When Drama Ensues, Tears Begin to Fall


The Point of View of Kirie Kuroki

Two weeks have passed since Mirai and I started going out. It’s been relaxing around him and I’ve been thinking about him more often. I would never have imagined that we would actually start a romance together until now. After we parted ways three years ago, I would think about him from time to time, but not as much as I am today. I wonder if anyone else felt the same way I did after meeting their significant other. However, I’m glad that Mirai chose me as his girlfriend. If he hadn’t thought about me all this time, we probably wouldn’t have gone out at all. Our love for each other would have died out like a flame that gets blown away by the wind at night. I’m very grateful to him for loving me all these years, but at the same time, I’m worried about the two of us. What will become of the future we hold? Will it stay like this with happy memories? Or, will it start to get worse over time? I just can’t help but become anxious for the both of us. If things stay this way, what will happen to the life we have together?

While I’m currently inside Rapunzel’s main office sorting out files, I looked up at the ceiling with many restless feelings forming in my mind. I could see a clear view of the sky filled with pure, white clouds that extending throughout the entire scene. The glass windows made it seem too beautiful for anyone to reach. My eyes lowered as I let out a very brief breath.

“It may seem near from here, but it’s farther away from our grasps.”

I stared at it for a while as my shoulders slumped a little. The sight I saw was indeed too magnificent to touch with their hands, much less feel around them. It was an endless horizon someone like myself could never be able to experience without the help of someone else.

Takuji might have sawn my expression when he walked up to me.

“Looks like you’re at it again,” he pointed out. He placed his right hand on his hip while his left one was near his side. “You always wore a worried and sad expression when you were thinking about something. Guess it must’ve been about Mira again. You’ve been like that since you two started dating. What’s up?”

I turned towards Takuji’s direction, facing him before lowering my head a bit. “It’s just…” My eyes lowered as I expressed how I felt about the situation I was in. “I’m concerned about what’s going to happen now that Mirai and I are in a relationship together. I just can’t stop thinking that something’s going to happen to split us apart, and that’s what scares me the most. What do you think I should do, Takuji?”

As I stared at the floor, I could hear a sigh escape Takuji’s lips.

With lowered eyes, he said, “Well, I don’t know if you’ll really end up breaking things off with him, but there’s something I can at least say about this. Whether or not something will tear you two apart depends on the actions you and Mira take to get to that point. Once something happens, there’s no turning back. You can only keep going forward until you reach your goal. Let me ask you this, Kirie: What do you think will be your largest obstacle in your relationship with him?”

When I saw his solemn expression, I could help but look into Takuji’s eyes. I felt his stare piercing right into my soul and I knew he genuinely cared for my well-being, as well as Mirai’s. Then, I answered him.

“My father.” Before I knew it, my mouth became a thin line and I had a grim expression on my face as I gazed back into those periwinkle eyes that belonged to my friend and boss.

Takuji nodded. “That’s right. He’s one of the strictest men in the world, and his tone is harsher than anyone else’s in the world. If he finds out about your whereabouts, he’ll not only come to get you; he’ll take you away from Mira at all costs. That’s why, you must not let him get to you. If you do, it’ll become much more difficult for Asuka and I to do anything about him. This world limits a magician’s power, so we can’t do anything that can counter your father’s at the moment. Facing him would take more effort, but don’t do anything reckless while we’re not around to protect you. Understood?”

Kirie nodded back. “I understand. I won’t try to do something useless unless I’m under any drastic circumstances.”

“Good.” Takuji stared deeply at me as he continued what he had to say. “If he gets to you before we can find your location, wait for us. We’ll be on our way. You can trust Asuka and I on that.”

The air around us felt so grave that I was also beginning to worry about how Takuji and Asuka would react if something were to happen to me before he could save me from the clenches of my father. I did not know what was going to happen later on, but a foreboding feeling was stirring in my entire body for hours.

End of Kirie’s Point of View


Inside Cinderella’s editorial department, Ayame was sitting in front of her computer, typing away just like she’d been doing for the past few weeks. There was still another page being added to Yuzuki’s cover magazine, and each one was detailed with his personal life and work. It seemed as if it was going to be finished soon with a release date coming its way, but there were still some things that were missing from it.

Ayame frowned and was holding a mechanical pencil as she thought about what to put next on it. “Hmm. There’s still a lot I need to write about Yuzuki, but what else is there to do?”

As she said this to herself, her friend Fuko, who was working at another part of the building, came up to her.

“Ayame?” she asked. “How are you doing on the Yuzuki Kitaoji biography?”

Ayame looked up after turning to face the bright orange-haired girl. “Oh, Fuko. Umm… I’m almost done with it, but there’s still some stuff I need to add to it. What do you think I should add?”

Fuko smiled at the troubled look on Ayame’s face. “Well, why don’t you go over what you have, and see for yourself? Maybe an idea will come to mind and you’ll be able to finish it in no time?” She gave an eye smile and tilted her head to her left. “Still, it’s great that you were able to get such an incredible offer from THE Yuzuki Kitaoji himself. I’m sooooo jealous! Who knew you would score a cutie like him and end up becoming his editor? You’ve finally struck a gold mine, Ayame!”

“Ahaha…” Ayame laughed at Fuko’s cheerfulness. “Thanks, but… I still have a long way to go before I can actually do anything that awesome. Besides, this is the first time I’ve ever written about a celebrity. I don’t know how it’ll go with my level of experience in our field.”

Fuko frowned. “Come on, Ayame! That’s not how an editor should be. You gotta be more positive about this and believe in yourself more. Otherwise, how are you going to convince Yuzuki’s manager that you can pull this off?” Then, she returned to having a smile etched onto her face. “You’re my best friend. It shouldn’t matter what you do with this story. If you decide to do something, I know you’ll get to the finish line by the end of the month. You’re also in a relationship with Yuzuki, right? Go and take his hand, and run with him to stardom, girl. I’ve got your back even if someone throws a boo or two at you. Don’t let anyone else get in the way of your love life and just take off like a rocket!” A laugh came out of her mouth as she closed her eyes once more. “Ahahahahaha! Am I an amazing friend, or what?”

Ayame laughed at the sight of her upbeat roommate and companion. “Ahahaha! That, you are, Fuko.” She grabbed her stomach, which was starting to hurt from the burst of laugher that filled the room. “Ah! You’re the best person to come to for this kind of thing.” She opened her eyes and smile back at Fuko. “Thanks for everything, Fuko. I could never get up if it weren’t for you.”

With her right hand, Fuko curled her fingers into a thumbs-up sign and grinned. “Hey, there’s no one who can put that smile on your face like I can. Yuzuki might be able to top me, but he’s more than a friend to you. He’s your hubby, after all!”

The enthusiasm that spread throughout the entire office also brought several smiles from the other employees around the two of them, impacting the atmosphere at Cinderella. Everyone, including Atsushi, were having a pleasant time as they kept working on the articles that packed their schedules, making it a more productive day for the company. A meeting soon began and the workers brought up the topics for their magazines.

“Right now,” Ayame announced, “I am working on a project for Yuzuki Kitaoji on his daily life, which includes what he does during his free time and how he carries out his job. A bit of his background and birth has been added on the first few pages, and a list of his close friends and acquaintances are also in it. The purpose of this magazine is to help promote his agency, as well as Mr. Kitaoji himself into gathering more people to have an interest in him and who he is, not just the image he puts forth whenever he’s surrounded by the media and paparazzi. Rather than being known for your outer appearance, I think it would be better to allow others to get to know you for your true self. That is why, I have decided to capture the person Yuzuki Kitaoji is on the inside, instead of the outside.” A loving smile appeared on Ayame’s face as she concluded her pronouncement. “Yuzuki is more than what the public thinks of him. He is an outstanding young man who is worth more than what has been taken granted of him. I will continue to support him during this entire time, and after I am finished with this magazine. If anyone else were to spend more time with him, they would discover Yuzuki’s best qualities and understand what makes him Yuzuki Kitaoji.” She bowed and smiled amiably at the co-workers who were gathered around the large table.

A round of applause filled the room; Atsushi saw the dedication within Ayame’s brown eyes and smiled at his employee. Fuko smiled as well, and saw her best friend in a new light that shined down. Tears formed in her eyes as she and everyone else in the meeting room clapped approvingly for the brunette. Ayame’s speech had not only filled their hearts with respect; it had also given each and every one of them the inspiration to keep doing their jobs with efficiency.

It was seven o’clock that evening and many reported surrounded Yuzuki as he was standing in front of his agency. Ayame was on the side, taking pictures of him for the Cinderella edition of his coverage. There were also questions that were spoken aloud as the commotion spread around the famous actor. An interview took place at that time.

“Mr. Kitaoji,” a male reporter began, “if I may ask, you are one of the main characters of the new drama airing on Thursday nights at nine, correct?”

Yuzuki smiled affably and gave a reply to the reporter’s enquiry. “Yes. I will be portraying the lead with a co-worker of mine. It will spur the hearts of our viewers, or so the director has said. At the very least, I am hoping to do an excellent job on my part.”

“The person you’re starring with is Yurika Nakasono, who is playing as your romantic interest in the series, right?” another reporter asked. “What is your relationship with her?”

A third reporter nodded. “Are you dating her? There have also been reports of you being involved with that editor from Cinderella standing in the crowd over there. Who is to say that you aren’t actually cheating on Ms. Nakasono while you are with the other beauty?”

Yuzuki let out a chuckle at the accusations. “Ahaha. I think you have mistaken Ms. Nakasono and I to be a couple of sorts. To answer your questions, no. I am not dating Yurika Nakasono at all. We have never been more than close friends in the entertainment industry, and will remain as such for the rest of our careers decreed us to. I am actually in love with someone else, and I hold that person to be the most important woman in my life. She has a much more special place in my heart than my mother, but that doesn’t mean that I have come to hate my mom. I love both of them dearly, but for the first time in my life, this young lady has made my heart skip a beat every time I’m around her. Within a short amount of time, I have fallen for her. She is always in my thoughts, even when I am working, and I am currently seeing her at this very moment.”

“Mr Kitaoji,” the first reporter pressed on, “who is this woman that fills your entire being? Please answer this. We must know who you are in love with before we can say anything else. Could she be another celebrity like yourself, or is she an ordinary woman? We are all dying to know who it is.”

Before Yuzuki could respond to the reporter’s question, a young woman around his age walked towards him and faced the reporters and journalists. She had the appearance of a haughty actress and resembled a fox.

“That would be me,” she said. “Yuzuki is actually in love with me, but he denies it whenever my name is mentioned.”

The paparazzi gave rapid glances and mutters as they looked at the person standing next to Yuzuki. Then, one of them looked up and confronted the young woman.

“Ms. Nakasono,” he called out. “Are you and Mr. Kitaoji officially going out with each other?”

Without a change in her expression, Yurika looked at the reporter. “That’s right. Yuzuki and I are seeing each other. We fell in love after working together in a few dramas after our debuts. Our agency has permitted us to date and if our love for each other continues, we will get married after a year or so.”

Yuzuki furrowed his eyebrows as he glanced at the actress. Instead of making a retort, and turned towards where Ayame was and walked up to her. With his left hand, he quickly pulled her out from the crowd and the two made their way far from everyone who were surrounding them.

“…!” Yurika’s eyes widened when she saw them leave. “Yuzuki! Where are you going?!”

Yuzuki did not look back, but Ayame did.

“Yuzuki,” she frowned. “Is it really okay to just leave with me? Everyone’s looking at us.”

Suddenly, a grin appeared on the actor’s face as he ran away with the editor. “Why are you talking about? Of course it is! I’m having the time of my life right now. Don’t you feel the excitement in the air?”

“Well, yeah, but…” Ayame trailed off. She was still a bit anxious about escaping with Yuzuki. “I’m not sure if we should be doing this. It’ll attract too much attention from the journalists and reporters back there.”

Yuzuki frowned as they kept going. “To be honest with you, I couldn’t take Yurika’s attitude back there. She’s someone who twists another person’s words to make them seem as though it’s the truth when there’re just lies.”

“Yuzuki…” Ayame caught a glimpse of the celebrity’s expression and gazed at his face as they kept running for what seemed like a very brief time, which it was.

Soon, they came to a stopping point and Yuzuki turned around, looking into Ayame’s eyes with a serious expression.

“I love you, Ayame,” he professed his love. “I could never love anyone else but you. No one—not even Yurika could ever replace you in my heart.” He placed his right hand on the side of Ayame’s face and held up as though it was the most fragile thing in the world. Then, he embraced her. “It can’t be anyone else but you. You’re all I ever think about whenever I’m not with you. Please… Don’t think about someone other than me. I said it before, but you’re the most important person to me. You’re the only one who’s been making my heart pound faster than I would have thought it would, so stay by my side. I need you.”

While she was in Yuzuki’s arms, Ayame’s eyes widened. “Yuzuki, I… I love you, too.” Tears formed in her eyes and flowed down her cheeks. “I don’t ever want to be apart from you…! You’re the only person I have left besides Fuko, and I don’t want to be alone. I want to be with you forever… That’s all I really want. There’s nothing else I really need, but to be by your side.”

They both pulled away from each other for a few seconds before leaning in for a kiss that enveloped their whole bodies. With each time their lips met, their feelings for each other became even more passionate than they would have predicted in all their lives. Yet, they could not find themselves pulling apart anytime soon. So, the two of them stayed almost glued together in long make out session.


~


An hour after Yuzuki and Ayame retreated from the lot of paparazzi, Mirai and Kirie were inside a bar that was owned by Satsuki. They were both talking to each other and were sitting near the counter.

“It’s been a while since I was last here with everyone,” Mirai smiled. “We all came here together, and Yuzu would end up getting drunk most of the time. It was really fun to see. Sometimes we would have to watch over him while he slept on the couch in the VIP room here.”

An inquisitive expression spread onto Kirie’s face as she looked at Mirai. “Really? I never would have thought that Yuzuki would sleep like a rock after drinking. He gives off the impression of someone who tends to hop from place to place in little to no time at all since he’s always working on his acting career.”

“Well, when you’re in the entertainment industry, you have to stick to your schedule all the time,” Mirai explained. “It gets tiring every day since you have to stay in shape and move around more often. Idols also have it tough since they have to memorize the choreography for each dance when they perform on stage and sing. They can also pursue Yuzu’s forte if they want to, but then, they would have to go through all the acting lessons like he’s already taken before appearing in a drama or movie. It’s a really interesting but time–consuming occupation at times. You’ll get more experience as time goes by if you work real hard to get to the top, but every career is like that in some way.”

Kirie swiftly found herself smiling at the college student and placed her left hand on the side of her face. “Hnn… You make a good point, Mirai. But. You really are a good kid, you know?” She closed her eyes and kept smiling. “I just can’t help but like that about you.”

Mirai’s eyes widened as a blush came to his face. “Wh—“ Then, he frowned embarrassingly, which proved Kirie’s comment about him being a child. “Uun… I’m not a little kid; I’m nineteen for crying out loud! Quit treating me like one, Kirie. I’m almost an adult.”

Kirie let out a laugh. “Ahaha!” She pointed at Mirai with her right index finger. “See? You really are one, Mirai! It’s no wonder people tease you about it all the time! I bet Yuzuki and Ryoichi tell you that, too!”

Shortly afterward, Mirai fell silent and stared at Kirie’s joyful expression with admiration. Up until that moment, he had noticed something that he didn’t realize beforehand.

This is the first time that I’ve ever seen Kirie laugh so wholeheartedly, he thought. She looks so happy that I just want to see her smile like that no matter what. Seeing her expression really brightens up me day.

He smiled gentle at the sight of the dark magenta-haired girl. Then, he had the urge to ask her something.

“Hey, Kirie,” he brought up. “There’s something I want to ask you. It’s a really important matter for me.”

As Kirie kept smiling at Mirai, she tilted her head to her right. “Hm? What is it?”

Mirai gazed deeply into Kirie’s eyes and said, “I want to meet your parents. Do you think it would be okay for me to?”

Hearing those words come out of her boyfriend’s mouth, Kirie’s eyes widened with a surprise. “You want to meet… my parents?”

Mirai nodded. “Yeah. If it’s possible, I’d like to introduce myself to them. We’re dating, so—“

“No! You can’t,” Kirie objected fiercely. All of a sudden, she had an angry look on her face, which backed up her statement. “I can’t let you meet my father no matter what, Mirai, so a no is a no.”

Mirai was confused and shocked by the editor’s change of heart. “Huh? Why not?”

“It’s for your own sake,” Kirie quickly replied. “You wouldn’t understand the situation I’m in, Mirai. Right now, I’m trying to prevent you from ever seeing him because it’d be better if you didn’t. I have an obligation to protect you from involving yourself in this. After all, you’re still someone who—“

Mirai frowned with a similar expression. “Wait a minute. I think you’re the one who doesn’t understand, Kirie! You don’t know anything about me, so don’t think you can just keep me out of your life just because you don’t want me to meet your father!” He stood up and continued to argue with Kirie. “I may be an underaged little brat who can’t seem to have to have the capabilities to defend myself in your eyes, but that isn’t true at all. But if you want to tell me that I don’t stand a chance against anyone, then you’re wrong. I can protect myself without any trouble, but you’re doubting who I really am on the inside. If you don’t believe me, fine. I can handle everything without you worrying about me.” Mirai turned away and walked out the door, leaving Kirie by herself to look after him.

Once he was out of her sight, she shifted towards the direction of the counter and looked at its surface. Then, she started to cry, covering her mouth with her right hand. All of her painful feelings poured out and she sat there with her an aching heart as she continued to feel hurt from the dispute she had with Mirai seconds ago.

First Love and the Promise of the Future Chapter 4

Chapter 4

The Unstoppable Feelings that Bring Our Hearts Closer to Each Other


Mirai stared fixedly into Kirie’s eyes as his chest overflowed with many emotions. His heart was beating faster and he looked into the blue eyes that reflected a gemstone’s light. “Kirie,” he said, beginning his sentence, “I love you. I always have, and I still love you, even today. My feelings for you have never died out since the day we met, and they never will. S, please…” His feelings grew stronger and his eyes lower slightly to convey what he had to say next. “…Please go out with me, Kirie!” He looked down with a sad expression on his face. “I know you might not think of me as more than the boy you met three years ago, but…” He looked up and gazed into Kirie’s eyes again. “I want you to at least give me a chance to prove my worth to you. Let’s start a relationship together.”

Kirie’s eyes widened at the sudden confession. Deep into the depths of her mind, she could tell that what he had told her were his true feelings. She knew that Mirai was still in love with her and she also felt the same way, but…

“I can’t,” she looked down with mixed emotions reflecting in her eyes. She shook her head without facing Mirai. “I just can’t go out with you, Mirai. It would only cause the both of us pain. If we’re with each other, it would become too unbearable for us to even be happy. Don’t you think so?”

Mirai quickly realized Kirie’s sorrow and frowned. “I would never want to hurt you, Kirie. I’ll protect you with everything I have, so don’t think about feeling any pain from being together with me. I’ll always be there to shield you from anyone who tries to harm you.” Seeing Kirie turn her head to her left without responding, Mirai stood there for a few seconds before stepping forward and embracing the girl he loved. “Please, trust me, Kirie. I promise I’ll protect you no matter what. You won’t have to think about anything else if you’re with me. You’re the only one I love.”

Although Kirie did not say anything, she stayed in the heartbreaking enfold, and nodded. Mirai’s body heat conducted right through hers and it was a warm sensation that made her happy but also concerned for the former. Mirai couldn’t see it, but there was a tender smile that showed on Kiries face as she hugged him back.

They didn’t let go of the other for a while, which made it seem like time had stopped in place. Somewhere in Kirie’s heart, she felt a twinge of guilt and pain that resonated inside her chest. She had a presentiment and was still worried about what was going to happen to her, or even worse, Mirai. A look of doubt spread onto her face as she held the youth in her arms, wrapping them around his back. Mirai sense Kirie’s anxiety and closed his eyes. As the night went by, it was a going to be a long time before they let go of their beloved.


~


The following day


Out in the city of Roppongi, Mirai and Kirie were holding hands in public. Kirie frowned and turned towards her right, avoiding any eye contact with the college student.

“Hey, Mirai,” she began. “Are you really sure we should be doing this? We’re not in a private area or any place with fewer people, so it’s a little embarrassing to hold hands while we’re here. Everyone’s watching, you know!”

However, Mirai only smiled without a care in the world. “Haha! Kirie, you’re too tense about this. We’re dating, so it shouldn’t be a problem, right? Try to be yourself while we’re out. It wouldn’t hurt to let everyone else know that we’re a couple.”

“Yeah, but…” Kirie trailed off hesitantly. She was not confident about the idea of becoming lover the next day, despite the fact that she reluctantly agreed to be in a relationship with Mirai. “What if someone finds out about this? For example, your parents… What if they don’t want us to be together?” She glanced at Mirai with a worried expression on her face. “If they discover our relationship, they might force you to leave me and study abroad so that we won’t see each other again.”

When Mirai saw his girlfriend’s expression, his eyes widened. “Kirie…” It was only a short matter of time before he started to laugh a little. “Ahahaha. Don’t worry about a thing. Didn’t I tell you that yesterday? I never knew you were such a worrywart before now, but I’m glad you’ve been thinking about me.” His smile became softer as he looked at Kirie. “It’s going to be all right, Kirie. I’m here with you, remember? Anyway, my dad wouldn’t break us up. He’d understand that you’re older than me, and I’m sure he’d love to meet you one day.”

Kirie sighed. “Is that how it is? I think your family’s more laid back than I would have guessed. But is it really okay for us to be together? Aren’t there girls who like you?”

“What, are you jealous already?” Mirai asked innocently. “I don’t have an interest in anyone else but you, Kirie. Anyway, to answer your question, there have been girls who have liked me, but I never paid any attention to them. Besides, I’ve even turned them down whenever they asked me out. Things should be fine now.” He closed his eyes and tilted his head to his left with the smile he had on his face. “My side’s A-OK. How about yours?”

Kirie frowned once more. “…That’s not what I meant. I feel like someone else would be more suited for you, Mirai. Wouldn’t you think so if you were in my place?”

“Aw, come on, Kirie!” Mirai blurted out. “I wouldn’t think twice about going out with you!” Then, he pouted. “I really mean it when I say that I want to be with you, but you have negative views on how things will work out.” His usual expression appeared on his face as he continued. “Look, Kirie. It’s not about how we look to others, but rather how we show our love for each other. What matters in a relationship between two people is how you feel about your partner. That’s what love is. Trust me; I would never want to leave you, even for a second. If our love ended right here, I’d regret separating from you. You’re my one true love, Kirie.”

As she gazed into Mirai’s eyes, Kirie’s eyes widened. Her uncertain emotions were soon filled with hope as she smiled at him. “Mirai…” She nodded at the younger boy. “Un. Thank you.”

Mirai smiled back and closed his eyes. “You’re welcome. I want to see you smile forever, okay?”

Kirie nodded again, and the two of them made their way towards an ice cream shop for their date.


~


On the other hand, Yuzuki and Ayame were at a flower field to finish the job Ayame had been assigned to do. She had been taking pictures of the wavy-haired celebrity since the day before, and was currently resuming from where she had left off.

“About a few more shots before we wrap things up for the day,” the brunette declared. She smiled and said, “Well, not really. We still have tonight for work, right?”

Yuzuki frowned. “Yeah. It’s gonna be a real pain in the neck to get interviewed, especially at night. Those who are in the entertainment industry have to put on fake smiles and do what their agencies tell them to.” A smile appeared on his face. “But hey, that’s what we do, and it’s not that hard to pull something like this off in front of everyone. I have a reputation to keep up for several years to come by, so I’ll still be well-known in Tokyo before I hit my forties. Maybe I’ll still be in showbiz by the time I’m eighty. Who knows? You might become famous at that age, too.”

Ayame let out a laugh as she answered the twenty-four-year-old male. “Aha. I’d rather not be. This is just a job I want to do, that’s all. There’s not much for someone outside your field to accomplish before they die, but sometimes it’s actually worth trying. Living a civilian life isn’t too difficult for someone like me, and it’s fun every now and then to do something you haven’t done before.”

Yuzuki tilted his head to his left with a perplexed expression. “? You’ve never done something like write some coverage about someone before?”

Ayame shook her head. “I have, but it’s more like I haven’t been put in charge of someone outside my league until now. It’s really amazing to even receive an opportunity like this. It just brightens up my day knowing that I’ll at least get somewhere with this career. I haven’t been able to do anything this important at my previous company.” She looked down, thinking back to her memories. “Back then, I was hospitalized for a year and three months. It seemed as if I would never be able to reach outside no matter how long I waited to get discharged from there. I would always look out the window in my room.” With a sad smile, she added, “It was so lonely that I wished someone would save me from being trapped in there. Of course, my friend and roommate, Fuko would always come and visit me. But… because she couldn’t stay the whole time, I felt like breaking down every second without her.”

Tears formed in Ayame’s eyes and fell down her cheeks. She brought the back of hand up to her face and wiped the tears coming down the right side of her face and did the same with her other hand. Yuzuki’s eyes widened a bit at the sight of Ayame crying several feet in front of him, and he walked over to her, bending down on the young woman’s left. He turned his head towards her and sighed. Then, he faced forward.

“Well,” he breathed, “there’s not much I could have really done to free you from there when you were hospitalized for what seemed like an eternal hell.” His shoulder slumped as he stared at the sky. “There is one thing I can tell you, though. If I had met you back before you were sent to that empty room, I would have definitely taken you out without a second thought.”
He turned his head to his right and Ayame looked up, gazing into his eyes with surprise as she took her hands away from her face.

“Really?” she asked as the rest of her tears slide down her visage. “You would have done that for me, Yuzuki?”

Another frown formed on the actor’s face. “Isn’t it obvious? Of course I would. You’re…” He caught himself before saying anything else. Then, a couple tints of pink appeared on his cheeks as he got a close look of the hazel eyes staring back at his own eyes. He quickly averted his gaze before retorting in a flustered manner. “I-It’s something anyone would have done if their feelings for you were strong enough. I’m sure your friend felt sorry for not being able to do anything for you, but I would have gotten you out no matter what. You can trust my words on that.”

Ayame soon realized something as she stared at Yuzuki’s posture. He was now sitting on the ground, holding his knees, and would not look at her and hid his expression away from her sight. She knew that there was only one reason for him to behave like that and she had to say it for him to hear.

“Yuzuki, do you… Do you like me?” she asked cautiously as a blush formed on her face.

Yuzuki’s eyes widened once more as he looked at the editor next to him. Then, he stared into Ayame’s eyes, while his were chockfull of emotions for her. He confirmed the inquiry after nodding.

“Yeah,” he said, having a red blush on his face this time. “I like you, Ayame. Ever since the night of the party, I’ve started to develop feelings for you. The moment I saw your sleeping face when we were alone together in the hotel room, I couldn’t help but think about you.”

He gazed into Ayame’s eyes for a few more seconds before closing his own. He was slowly leaning forward and Ayame closed her eyes, moving towards Yuzuki. Their lips found one another’s and touched, their hearts melting with a soft and warm sensation with each lock their mouths made. Never before had their chests overflowed with love and affection for anyone else until that very moment. Their hands were touching and they were at the beautiful scene for hours before finishing up with their passionate kisses.


~


Later that night, Ayame was sitting in front of her desk in a daze. She placed her fingers up to her lips, still mesmerized from the feeling of Yuzuki’s lips.

Just then, a voice called out to her and she knew who it was.

“Working late again, Irodori?” Atsushi asked as he entered the room. “You know, it’s going to put you back in your bed if you don’t stop to take a break from work soon. You’ll end up running a high fever before you know it.”

Ayame shook her head without looking back to face her boss. “No, that’s not it. It’s just…”

“What? Are you thinking about Yuzuki Kitaoji right now?” the man pressed further.

Ayame looked down at her keyboard. “I guess you can say that. I can’t stop thinking about him no matter how much time passes by.”

Atsushi blinked. “Don’t tell me you’ve fallen for him. He’s a celebrity, and reporters tend to follow his kind everywhere whenever he takes a step in their presence. You can’t delay things just because of that, Irodori. You’re a member of Cinderella; you have a duty to fulfill as an editor here, and we need you!”

Ayame turned around and frowned. “I know. I’m not even letting this affect my job, Jinnai-san. I’m still focused, but Yuzuki’s all that comes to mind lately. Whether or not I’m working on this magazine right now also relates to him in every way possible. Is that not what an editor’s job is supposed to be? Are we not allowed to think about our clients when we’re at work?”

Atsushi gulped at the serious situation he put himself in. “Er… I know that you like him and all, but don’t let it get to you, okay? This is just a step toward our goal to keep our company going, and to beat Takuji’s team.” He nodded firmly. “Yeah, that’s it. We’re in for the win. Our competition is still taking place in these harsh times, so we need to build up a leading foundation for ourselves.”

“You mean, for your reassurance.” Ayame’s eyes narrowed in an unpleasant way with her mouth becoming a thin line. “Can’t you just let it go? We all know that with Takuji in business, there’s no way you could ever win against him. He’s a magician, after all.”

There was yet another heart-wounding effect on the editor-in-chief. “Ugh…!” He reached out with his right hand towards Ayame, relentlessly getting pounded with the beauty’s words. “Irodori, you… You are a cold woman, aren’t you…?” He felt back, landing on the tile floor with a soft thud.

“As cold as a woman can be,” Ayame frowned, staring at the man whom she called her boss. “Unlike you, Jinnai-san, I’ve still got my work cut out for me. I am a young employee here, so I’m always going to be your junior for as long as I’m working at Cinderella.”

Rivers of tears flowed down the (almost) middle-aged man’s eyes as he laid where he was while he made a crying sound. “You’re so mean! I’m not that old, you know! Uu… Why does it always have to be me…?”

Ayame sighed, shaking her head with closed eyes. “Get a grip, will you? You’re so pathetic for the CEO of this editorial department. It really makes me wonder if you really are in charge of everything here.”

It was going to be another long night before work ended, which would be in a short amount of time for the employees at Cinderella.


~


Asuka smiled at Kirie inside the apartment. “You look nice today. Are you going out with Mirai-kun, Kirie-chan?”

Kirie nodded. “Yeah. He said he’d take me to dinner since we’re officially dating now.” She looked at her reflection in the mirror and smiled. “It’ll be our second date as a couple.” She closed her eyes with a cheerful expression on her face.

“Sou ka,” the white-haired young woman glanced contently at the dark magenta-haired girl. “You should enjoy the time you have together. It sounds fun. Perhaps Takuji and I should go on a date, as well. We could even try to join in with you two later on for dinner.”

Kirie frowned. “Unfortunately, I’d rather not have Takuji say anything to humiliate us at the table, so that’s a no. It’d be too weird having him around, so maybe you should find another restaurant to eat at if you feel like going out tonight, Asuka.”

“But Takuji’s a lovable person to be with,” Asuka replied. “He’s like the bright sun that pulls everyone to him.”

Kirie sighed. “That’s the problem. Takuji attracts too much attention. Don’t you remember what happened yesterday in the office? He practically made everyone else fawn over him just by acting in front of us. His tears weren’t even real.”

“I’ll have you know, my tears are one hundred percent genuine,” the mint-haired magician told the younger woman in the house. He walked down the stairs and looked at Kirie. “Don’t think that what I do in front of other people is completely fake. I’m Takuji Uramoto, after all. As your father, I’m obliged to make you have a good time, so you’ll smile more often. That’s my role while I’m still taking care of you, Kirie.” He folded his arms together and nodded. “Un. That’s what fathers are for.”

Kirie narrowed her eyes. “Takuji, you aren’t my father. We’re a year apart, so you’re just a friend I’ve known since I was eighteen. Besides, you don’t even act like a dad.”

Takuji smirked with his eyes closed. “But I’m better than your father, right? He doesn’t even compare to me and my good looks.”

“Uh, yeah,” Kirie responded with her left hand on the back of head. “You’re swell.”

At that moment, the doorbell rang and Kirie rushed towards the door. She placed her hand on the doorknob and opened the door, revealing Mirai’s smiling figure in front of her.

Her eyes widened as she looked at him. “Mirai… Um…”

“Hey,” Mirai greeted. “I came to get you. Are you ready, Kirie?”

Kirie nodded happily. “Yeah. Let’s go.”

“Have fun!” Asuka waved at the handsome college who showed up at the doorway.

Takuji grinned with opened eyes. “Make sure to bring her home before ten, Mirai. You have a curfew, too, don’t you?”

“Yeah,” Mirai affirmed. “You can count on me to walk Kirie home safely. It’s dangerous for a girl to be out by herself, so I’ll make sure no one lays a hand on her.”

Takuji gave the youth a thumbs-up, then he waved. “Yeah! That’s my boy!”

Mirai smiled jubilantly before taking Kirie’s hand and walking out the door with her. Soon enough, they made their way to the restaurant that he reserved for the two of them and had a lovely dinner together.

“Thanks for agreeing to go out on a date here with me,” Mirai smiled lightly at Kirie, who was sitting across from him. “I really wanted to go everywhere with you today, so I hope it’s not too much trouble for you.”

Kirie smiled back. “It wasn’t any trouble at all. I’ve always wanted to go somewhere with you. When I think about it now, I’m glad I got to be with you, Mirai. I feel like I could go anywhere with you when we’re together.”

“Kirie…” Mirai felt a blush appearing on his face as his eyes had a softer look to them. “From now on, you can rely on me. I’ll always be there to protect you no matter what.”

Kirie found herself blushing and nodded. “Un. Thanks, Mirai.”

As they chatted, the two of them felt closer than they were three years ago when they first met. It was a warm sensation that brought their feelings together and filled their hearts with the love they had for each other. As long as they had one another, they didn’t have to worry about anything. With the night sky lit up with beautiful lights from every building in Roppongi, it only enhanced their feelings as they held hands and looked out the window together.

First Love and the Promise of the Future Chaper 3

Chapter 3

Starting Over… with a Confession?!


Once she walked into Rapunzel, Kirie greeted the other employees inside the editing office.

“Good morning, everyone,” she said with an eye smile. As usual, she wore her glasses, which made her look very beautiful for someone who didn’t wear any before going to college and graduating. She tilted her head to her right and blinked. “? Is Takuji not here today?”

One of the female co-workers bowed upon seeing Kirie enter the building. “Good morning, Kirie.” She glanced around and smiled when she turned her attention back towards the dark magenta-haired young lady. “To answer your question, he’s out right now. He has a meeting with Kunihiko Aikawa in Azabu today. They’re going to discuss some ways to improve some of the places there. They seem to get along well when it comes to business negotiations.”

“I see,” Kirie noted thoughtfully. “And I was just hoping that he’d be here when I came in. I was going to ask him something, but I guess I’ll have to wait since he keeps his cell phone turned off during these meetings.” She took out her cell phone and checked the time after flipping it open. It read: 10:03 a.m. Then, she closed it and placed it back into her right pocket located on her skirt. “Asuka’s also teaching the preschool and elementary kids today, so she won’t be here until noon. Takuji’s probably going to be back around that time, so I guess they can have lunch together if I’m busy. By the way, did anything good happen to you today? You seem to be in a good mood.”

The co-worker smiled and nodded. “Un. But it’s not about me, though. Someone came by this morning after Takuji-sama left and left a message for you.”

“A message?” Kirie asked. “Who was it from?”

She lowered her eyes, a bit annoyed from the last sentence.

Takuji-sama? She thought. Well, I guess it’s only natural for her to call him that since she’s been in love with him since he started working here. Still, she’s never addressed him with –sama before until now. Maybe she’s too embarrassed to call him that whenever he’s around. She also seems to be jealous of Asuka since he’s never look at anyone but her. Plus, they just got married yesterday. I kind of feel bad for her, but what can you really do about a magician’s love life if it’s not something that actually involves you? Those two have been joined at the hip since before they met me. Besides, wouldn’t it be a good thing to see the person you love happy, even if they don’t love you back?

She sighed, her eyelids fully opened.

Maybe I don’t really understand it because I’m not in love with a magician. Is there something that differs from like a non-immortal being and liking someone who is immortal? I don’t really understand it, but there must be something that’s different. Humans are more complicated than I thought when it comes to living in the same place as a magician. Still, I wonder if you would only love a magician for eternity if you fell in love with them? Would you be doomed to never fall for anyone else? If so, I don’t think I’d ever want to be in the same situation as her.

The co-worker closed her eyes with benevolence. “It was a college student who was wearing a black and white blazer.” She opened her eyes and continued. “He wanted to meet you for a bit at Rentomi College today if you could make it. Ah.” She remembered something and was generous enough to relay the rest. “There was also another person with him. I believe it was Ryoichi Hirose, the renowned novelist in the city. He said he would like you to meet the little guy by 10:30, but is that even possible? We have a lot of work to finish today without Takuji-sama.”

Again with the Takuji-sama! Kirie shouted in her mind. She was already getting annoyed with how the employee was addressing the mint-haired magician and was not pleased with it. Is she going to call him that every time he’s not here? I don’t want to be in the same office with her right now, but I’m going to have to bear it if I want to hear everything.

She smiled politely as always, hiding what her inner thoughts had to say. “Aha… Well, I guess work will have to come first. There’re piles of papers to fill out and get done by the end of the day, so we shouldn’t think about doing anything but our job, right?”

The co-worker placed her left hand on the side of her face and tilted her head to the side with a frown. “But… Won’t you b keeping him waiting for a long time if you don’t get going now? Everyone else and I can take care of the files while you’re away.”

“No, I can—“ Kirie was soon cut off when the woman had come up behind her and started pushing her back.

The co-worker smiled and was still pushing Kirie towards the front doors. “Come on. You can count on us. Go and meet that cutie, okay?” Without any time to respond, Kirie was already outside and the female employee had turned her back to work on the stacks of papers in the office.

Kirie sighed. “I guess I have no choice. I’ll have to get there soon, but that means I’ll see Mirai again.” She started trudging and began making her way towards the famous college.

Over half an hour later, she was finally there. She stopped and stared at her surroundings. Then, she caught a glimpse of a familiar figure. It was Mirai, and he saw the dark magenta-haired girl. He walked up to her and stopped in his tracks. They were a few feet away from each other and the two of them were gazing into the other’s eyes. It seemed like a long time had passed by before the silence between them broke.

“Kirie…” Mirai trailed off. He continued to stare into the beautiful blue eyes that belonged to his first love, but couldn’t say anything else. He was entranced by the unchanging appearance Kirie had since they first met. It was as if Kirie would never age on the outside, but he knew in his heart that they were both human and had a short lifespan compared to an immortal being.

Kirie’s eyes widened a bit as she gazed right back into Mirai’s eyes. “Mirai…” She then realized that she still loved him, but could not bear to admit it if he were to ask her if she was still in love with him. Her lips formed a smile as she began to blush at the younger man. “I have something to say; will you hear me out?”

Mirai nodded. “Yeah. What is it?”

“I wanted to apologize for what happened yesterday,” Kirie answered. “You see, a lot has happened since we last saw each other and I’m not exactly the same as I was then. I’m sure you already know this, but I’ve changed in the past three years. Everyone has, including you, Mirai. Anyway, I’m really sorry for everything.” She gave a bow and looked at the college student. “I hope we can get along from now on as friends, instead of lovers. That’s all I wanted to say.”

Mirai’s eyes widened but he immediately understood. He gave a sad nod and said, “Yeah. Let’s do that. But…” He looked up and stared into Kirie’s eyes once more. “Can we talk inside? There’s still a lot that I have to say and I want you to hear me out on this.”

Kirie blinked. “?” She wasn’t sure what was going on, but after that, they ended up in the cafeteria, along with some other students as time passed by.


~


“Now that I think about it,” Mirai mentioned, “it’s been a while since we got to talk like this, hasn’t it?” He was smiling like his did around everyone else around him and was back to his usual self. “So, how have you been since then?”

Kirie smiled back. “I’ve had my fair share of fun and games before graduating from Souseizouma. It was nice and all, but I quickly moved on from everything I experienced there. I met Takuji and Asuka after that and they asked me if I wanted to join the Rapunzel editing team, so I agreed and went to college to learn more about journalizing. It was really great; I’d never thought it would be fun to take classes there. I graduated this spring, and I’m sure you can guess how old I am right now.”

“You’re twenty, right?” the college student asked. “That’s amazing. I’m going to graduate from here at the same age next spring on my birthday, but I guess you’ll already by twenty-one by the time I leave Rentomi. You’re a year older than me, so I wouldn’t expect you to alter time and stay the same age until then. It would destroy the balance of the world, after all.”

Kirie laughed. “Aha! It’s not like I could ever do that, though. I’d probably have to be on Takuji and Asuka’s level, but changing time would be even worse than just not doing anything at all. Besides, the two of us are only human, so we could never do something like that. Still, I’m glad you’re speaking on logical terms, Mirai. It makes me happy to at least have a normal conversation with someone who isn’t like the people at Rapunzel. They tend to be weirder than you’d think they’d be.”

“Is that so?” Mirai smiled lightly when he heard those words. “Then, it was worth asking to talk with you for a bit, Kirie. It’s been on my mind for a while, but I still need to say this before the day’s over.” He looked into Kirie’s eyes and kept smiling. “I’m sorry for what happened, too. It was my fault that you ran off like that, and I don’t know if you can ever forgive me for that, but I really am sorry. I wanted to let you know today when I went with Ryo to your department.”

Kirie shook her head slightly. “It’s okay. I was just shocked that you would still remember everything, so it was also my fault for going home like that. Thank you, though. It was really nice seeing you again after all these years, so it was a good thing you brought it up in the VIP room. I know I’ve caused you and the others some trouble, so I’ll give my condolences to you. I even made those two run after me.”

Mirai closed his eyes. “Hopefully we won’t have another incident like that one anytime soon. It wasn’t too serious in the end, but who knows? One of these days it’ll probably happen again to someone like Yuzu. Definitely not Noel since he’s always so bland around everyone.”

“Haha,” Kirie giggled. “Hopefully not. It’d be even worse if everyone got involved in another one.”

As they continued their chat, a few students came over to their table.

“Oh? Mirai, you’re already here? It’s not even time for lunch,” a male who was around Takuji and Asuka’s age blinked when he arrived at the table.

Mirai acted as carefree as his looks would deem him. “Yeah, I had some more free time than I thought I would. But it’s almost time for it, right? You guys came a little early today.”

“We wanted to sit with you like we always did,” a female student answered. She closed her eyes and kept smiling at the nineteen-year-old boy. She took a set and sat across from Mirai; the two guys with her sat down as well. “So, who’s the girl next to you? Your babysitter or something?” She observed and glanced at Kirie and Mirai back and forth before her eyes landed on the college student across from her. “Or maybe she’s your older sister? Well, she could be both, so it wouldn’t matter, either way.”

Mirai waved his right hand as if to deny it, which he did. “No, no. You’ve got it all wrong.” He glanced at Kirie and introduced her to his friends. “This is Kirie Kuroki, a friend of mine. She’s also one of the editors at Rapunzel. You know, the most successful editorial department in all of Roppongi.”

The girl’s eyes widened in surprise. “Eh?! And how do you know her?! You’ve never told us anything like this before.”

“Aha… It’s kind of a long story.” Mirai sweat-dropped nervously. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you about it.”

“So, is she your girlfriend?” the other male student asked curiously. “She’s really pretty, so it could be that you’re actually dating her instead. You don’t seem to have one, but… it could be possible.”

Mirai blushed and his mouth dropped in an exasperated manner. “What?!”

The previous guy laughed. “You know he’s just kidding, Mirai. Don’t let it catch you off-guard. He’s always got that little-to-interested face around everyone, so he’s more of a straightforward type of guy.”

Kirie smiled. “Well, I’m not Mirai’s girlfriend. Anyway, I’ll take my leave here. I have to get back to work soon.” She stood up and got up from her seat. Then, she bowed. “It was nice meeting you all. Have a good day!” She pushed in her chair and strolled out the cafeteria.

The students turned around and looked in the direction Kirie had walked out before turning back towards Mirai.

“Well, that was nice,” the first guy stated delightedly. He clasped his hands together and was very supportive of Mirai’s so-called “friendship” with Kirie. “If you two were actually going out, I might have at least given you some tips, l’il bro.”

Mirai sweat-dropped once more. “But we’re not even going out. We’ve known each other for a few years, that’s all.”

Liar! He scolded himself angrily in his mind. He knew that wasn’t how he truly felt, but had denied it for Kirie’s sake. He frowned, another blush coming onto his cheeks. That’s not how I really feel, but I have to hold back on everything since that’s what Kirie wants. If it weren’t for this, I’d be able to say it properly.

The female student gave a relieved smile, closed her eyes for a second, and opened them again. “Well, I’m glad you’re not dating anything, Mirai. I don’t know what I would do if you were taken.”

Mirai frowned awkwardly. His blush had already faded by the time he saw the girl’s smile. “Um… Thanks. But I don’t even want to date you. I can’t think of you as more than a friend no matter how hard I could try to. In fact, I actually have someone else in mind, just not you. I’m sorry.”

“Wow, Mirai.” The female student who was around Kirie’s age lowered her eyes in discontent. “I never thought you’d shoot anyone down that easily. And here I thought I might have had a chance with you.” She sighed. “I guess my luck’s run out when I think about it. It’d be a bit of a crime if I were to take you for granted. I really need to consider the possibility of dating a younger guy before trying to make a move next time.”

Mirai couldn’t help but feel bad for the girl in front of him. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to reject you that way. I was just—“

The girl held out her hand, which resembled a stop sign due to the fact that it was facing Mirai. “Look. There’s no need to apologize.” She smiled, knowing that she could never stand a chance against Kirie. “I’ve known that you’ve had your eyes on a certain someone for a long time just by looking at you. You’ve always had a distant expression when you stare off to the sky, or anywhere else. We can all tell whenever we see you, so you should at least go for it and confess your love for the reporter—I mean, editor. She has the appearance of someone you’d only get to meet once in a lifetime.”

The upfront student nodded. “It’s better than not conveying your feelings at all. Go for it, Mirai.”

Seeing the encouraging characteristics the three sitting near him were giving off, Mirai’s eyes widen before a happy smile appeared on his face. “Thanks, guys. I’ll tell Kirie how I really feel about her. You can count on it.”

As he felt inspired to profess his love later on, Mirai enjoyed every second he spent with the older college students around his table. They had looked out for him since his second semester during his first year at Rentomi College, and would continue to be there for him until he graduated from campus.


~


It took several minutes before Kirie finally came back to Rapunzel. When she entered the doors, Takuji was already back with Asuka at his left side. The two of them greeted the dark magenta-haired girl when she arrived.

“Kirie!” Takuji smiled elatedly. “You’re back! Took you long enough. We had lunch together without you. Bet you took some pretty slow steps from where you were, huh?” He nodded with his eyes closed, still smiling. “Un, un. I get it. You were exhausted, but you wanted to come back to me and Asuka at all costs, so you dragged your aching feet all the way here.” He whole body shook like a rocking water bottle before rivers of tears ran down his eyes like an anime character’s. He opened them and looked at Kirie with ‘water’ flowing down them. “My little girl wanted to come back home safety to her father’s side no matter what…!” He started bawling, holding the sides of his face with the palms of his hands. “Oh, Kirie…! I’m so sorry! It was my fault you had to do this in the first place! I don’t think I can ever beg for your forgiveness, Kirie…” He sobbed, holding a handkerchief up to the bottom of his left eyelid, which was closed. It was a very dramatic sight to see, but it was something that occurred randomly most of the time. “Uuu… I’m the worst dad in the world, aren’t I…?”

While Asuka smiled and tried to comfort her husband, Kirie sweat-dropped with narrowed eyes.

“Uh, you know,” she started to respond, “I’m not actually holding anything against you, Takuji. But there is one thing I’m curious about. When exactly did you become my father?” She frowned, tilting her head to her right. “I know we’re roommates and all, but aren’t you a year older than me? I mean, I’m really grateful that you’ve looked after me for quite some time now, but…” She glanced in the direction where the crying scene took place without moving her head and felt a bit nervous at seeing her boss look like a little puppy in front of everyone. “You don’t have to go through all that trouble just because I came back a little later than usual. We’re friends, so… It would really make me happy if you stopped crying for a while and go back to your normal self, okay?” She quickly went on to the next sentence. “Ah. But that doesn’t mean that I’m trying to hurt your feelings or anything. I’m just saying that you’ll ruin your good looks if you keep at it. Anyway, I really like you the way you are—yeah, that’s it!”

The mint-haired CEO looked up with tears still in his eyes, which was very adorable in a way that pulled the female employees’ (and perhaps even a majority of the males’) hearts towards him. Kirie could sense the heat rising up in the air as everyone else stared at the newlywed.

“Really…?” Takuji asked. His expression was so cute that many palpations were spreading through the inside of the office.

Everyone except for Takuji himself, Asuka, and Kirie were unaffected by the male magician’s pretty face. It was a sensation that made their hearts beat faster and the blushes on their face wouldn’t go away as they keep looking at him.

Kirie nodded nonchalantly. “Un. Everyone… Er…” She was mortified in an irritated way at the sight of having to see her co-workers secretly (or not) fawn over their boss”…Likes you, I guess. It might be kind of hard to tell most of the time, but they really… respect you, Takuji.”

A second later, Takuji’s tears disappeared and he smiled. His expression had come back to its fullest and Kirie knew that it was the one he usually had.

“Yeah,” Takuji responded. “I know.”

Kirie’s eyes widened a bit when she realized what was going on. “Takuji…”

He was putting on a show for everyone, she thought. Then, a smile appeared on her face and her expression softened. So that’s what it was. He was only trying to put me in a good mood. Ahaha… That rascal. He really is a good CEO, after all. Taking care of his employee like that. But that’s what everyone at Rapunzel likes about him. He’s good at pulling off a stunt like that, but in the end, it works out just fine.

“By the way,” Takuji reminded, “did you go see Mira and make up with him? You weren’t here by the time we came back, so I figured you might have actually gone to see him.”

That woman didn’t even tell him, did she? Kirie’s eyes narrowed as a crosshurt manifested on the side of her forehead. Why that little…!

Kirie nodded with a normal expression. “Yeah. I went to his college this morning while you were at a business meeting. We agreed to be friends, rather than lovers this time.”

“I assume things went well for you two,” Takuji proclaimed. “You don’t seem to be bothered by anything this time, so I’m hoping that you’ll keep on smiling while you’re here.”

Asuka had a thin line where her mouth was. “Hmm… I don’t think it might solve any problems you’ll have later on, though. Are you really sure everything will be fine for the both of you, Kirie-chan?”

A female co-worker nodded with closed eyes and folded arms. “Sou, sou.” She opened her eyes and smile at Kirie as she glanced in the dark magenta-haired girl’s direction. “Mirai’s actually a well-known underground dog, you know.”

Kirie blinked. “What do you mean? I’ve never heard about any of that before.”

Suddenly, the co-worker’s lips curled up into a cat smile as if she was trying to lure Kirie in. “Oh~? Don’t you know about your ‘friend’, Kirie? He’s actually a conman, or so I’ve heard. Some of our employees over here have actually seen Mirai Kageyama do some things to trick others into getting what he wants. I’ve also seen him a few times while I was doing some undercover work for our company. He’s much more clever than he looks.”

Asuka frowned. “That’s not what I meant when I asked Kirie-chan about it. I actually support the two of them. Mirai-kun’s also a friend of ours, so it shouldn’t matter whether or not he’s doing something like that. He’s a really good kid at heart.”

“Oh ho~,” the co-worker glanced at Asuka and smirked. “So, what you’re saying is that he’s free to do whatever he wants, even if he were to go as far as to rob us of our wealth?” She had a stern expression shortly afterward. “I don’t think so. That little boy might be someone you and the boss know on a personal basis, but he has got to be stopped. What if he decides to bankrupt us? What are we going to do then?—Let him continue to run wild like a safari beast? Then, what do we do about our jobs? We can’t just switch over to Cinderella! As young as their editorial department is, I don’t want to lose to anyone from there. It would hurt my pride more than anything if we were to suddenly be under their chief’s employment. We’re the eldest of all the tabloid offices here in Roppongi. We shouldn’t have to bend to their mercy, Asuka-san. We’re the ones who have reached beyond the top of the others, so it’s up to us to keep ourselves from falling down to the bottom of the pit.”

“I know,” the white-haired young woman understood the co-worker’s feelings, “but Mirai-kun’s not like that. He hasn’t even done something to harm others that way.”

Takuji smiled brightly before saying anything for a couple seconds. “Still, he would make a great maou (魔王; dark lord/king), wouldn’t he? Mira’s like a resistance fighter. In fact, he could be the ultimate one this world has to offer! Better than that guy whose father wanted him to be one at Souseizouma, huh, Kirie?” He tilted his head to the right in a swift motion as he displayed an eye smile towards Kirie.

Kirie caught sight of Takuji’s smile a little before she nodded. “Yeah. Something like that.” Then, she smiled back acknowledging the mint-haired magician’s words. “You have a creative way of putting things, Takuji. It’s like you’re a positive thinker every second of the day.”

Takuji grinned and held out a thumbs-up with his right hand. “That’s because I am one. You know what they say: Geniuses are the rarest ones to come by out of all the people in the universe, and I’m one of them.” He then made a gesture and had his eyes closed again. It seemed like he was side fanning the air back and forth with just his right hand. “Go on. You can bask in my awesomeness all you want. I won’t mind.”

Kirie and the female co-worker looked away with awkward smiles on their faces. While Kirie was turned around to her left, the co-worker was facing their right.

“No thanks,” the both rejected simultaneously. It was funny enough that their employer was having fun over at the top of the stairway with his wife by his side, but it was even more interesting that he received a dejected answer from two of his own workers.

Soon enough, Takuji’s shock showed on his face as though a bolt of thunder had struck him right then and there. “…!”

Things continued like they typically did, and the others employees felt sorry for their boss. They knew Takuji as a good person at heart, despite all the dramatic things he did in the building, and they even loved him for doing what he did. It was painful seeing him have an oversensitive reaction to anything, but they saw it coming more or less.

Meanwhile, at Cinderella, Ayame was finishing the article she had been offered to write and publish. She kept typing at her computer and was nearly done with everything for the first part. However, there was something on her mind that she could not get out of her head. It was Yuzuki Kitaoji, one of the most famous celebrities in the city. She remembered the events from that very morning and was still working away rapidly while somewhat lose in thought. Her eyes narrowed as she kept at it.

It really wasn’t a dream, was it? She asked deep within her mind. Yuzuki had given me the opportunity to interview him, and so I did. But… His smile was so kind when he told me about it. I felt as though I could trust him wholeheartedly, and I knew for sure that he wasn’t lying. Furthermore, I’m sure of it. Of every guy I’ve ever met, Yuzuki is the only one who was able to make my heart flutter. Not once before I awoke to find him in the same room with me that I had ever felt that way before. And I’m only on the first sixteen pages of the magazine. I don’t want to take this for granted, but I’m sure his fans would be more likely to pick the copies up after it’s all finished.

She nodded to herself and did as much as she could before she heard a voice snap her out of her concentration.

“I see that you’re working hard on the project for Yuzuki Kitaoji, but try to take a break every now and then, will you?” It was her boss, Atsushi Jinnai who had hired her the day before. He had a grin on his face as he stood behind the brunette. “You the new employee here, so you should take it easy. Besides, you just recovered from your fever this morning, so you can get off anytime soon. I’ll even give you my permission for it.”

Ayame frowned. “Thanks, but I’d rather work on this. Yuzuki’s already said I could, so it should be fine, right?” She turned around and continued to type at her usual pace, which was faster than any of the other workers’ at Cinderella. “Why don’t you take the rest of the night off, Jinnai-san? I can finish what I’m doing in another hour, so you can go ahead and leave.”

Atsushi rubbed the back of his head with his left hand and sighed. “You really are a hard worker, aren’t you, Irodori? It’s no wonder you’re cut out for this job. But you know, you’re a beauty not a lot of girls can compare to. I also know your backstory at least, so please think about yourself more. Anyway, you’ll let your good looks go to waste before you leave this world if you keep this up. You have such nice, long hair, but it doesn’t compare to Asuka’s since it’s still above waist length.” He let out another sigh and continued. “I’m pretty sure you’ve really attracted Yuzuki Kitaoji just by being within his line of sight yesterday night. Tsk, tsk. I feel bad for him if he actually has any feelings for you. You’re basically a pair of star-crossed strangers who met at the party, and that’s led to this.”

Without looking back, Ayame said, “You’re quite a perverted old man, aren’t you, Jinnai-san? I’m sure this is why you don’t have a girlfriend at your age. That must explain why you’re still single, too.”

“Ggh…!” The thirty-three-year-old was appalled by the young woman’s insults and felt as if he had been struck by an arrow through his heart when he heard those words. He reached towards his heart with his right hand in a shaking manner. “Irodori… You… really are a cruel woman, aren’t you…?”

Ayame didn’t look away from her PC and finished the rest as fast as she could. “Only because I know how to play it straight.” She was too absorbed into her career at the moment to put any shape into her expression. “I’m striving for the best I can do with my own abilities, so you should be more of an employer. That’s all. If you don’t have anything else to say, go home.”

The rest of the night played out perfectly for those who were continuously working at Cinderella, and it remained that way. Thus, it became a success for them, along with those from Rapunzel. A few hours later, the workers from both soon closed up, with Cinderella shutting out its company lights before Rapunzel did. It gave many of the employees a sense of accomplishment since they did their jobs all the way throughout the night, putting hundreds of smiles on their faces as they made their ways back to their houses.


~


Later that night, Mirai was waiting outside under the full moon. He stared at it, taking in the sight of the bright light that emitted from it. A few minutes later, he heard footsteps on the grass and turned in the direction of them. Standing in front of his eyes was Kirie, who he had called out a bit earlier after she left the building she worked at. She wore casual clothing and didn’t have her glasses on this time.

“Kirie…” His eyes widened before becoming a serious expression. “There’s something I need to tell you. I really want you to listen to what I have to say, so please stay where you are and don’t run away like last time.”

Kirie nodded. “What is it?” She was curious to find out what Mirai had to say to her and stayed in place.

Mirai gazed into Kirie’s eyes as several emotions danced around within his chest. It took nearly a sixth of a minute before he said anything. “I’ve decided that I don’t want us to remain as friends forever. That’s why, I’ll say this to you. I’ve always loved you Kirie, and I still do. So, please go out with me.”

“Huh?” Kirie’s eyes widened when she heard Mirai’s confession. She didn’t think that he would actually profess his love to her, but she realized that his words were indeed real as she stared back into his eyes.

My Not-so-Forged Wedding Episode 5

What’s Led Us to Where We Are Today


“Yamato,” Mashiro said with a stern expression, “I want to know… about your family.” As she look at Yamato, Mashiro had an intense stare, which soon transformed itself into yet another sad expression from the fawn-haired girl. Her eyes lowered and she looked down. “There’s just so much I don’t know about you, and it’s been bothering me this whole time we’ve been married. I was wondering whether or not I was really suited to be your wife since we haven’t talked to each other about our families very much. That’s why…I want to get to know you better, for both our sakes.”

Yamato’s eyes widened when he finally understood the situation. His expression relaxed and his arms came down to his sides. “Mashiro…” He looked down with his own sorrowful expression dawning his face. “I never knew… that you felt that way. I’m sorry for not noticing sooner. Please forgive me.”

I didn’t see any signed of concern for me, not even once, he thought. Perhaps it was because I never check on her this whole time, or even turned around in the mornings when I left for work. I always saw a smile on her face as she waved at me. Damn it all… It was all my fault for not being a good husband to her even though I promised on the day of our wedding.

He sighed, continuing his thoughts.

Man… I still don’t know why I even said those words, but I knew I was pretty happy to at least say something like that for someone else’s sake, and it turned out to be for Mashiro. But should I have told everyone that day that I would be giving her a false sense of joy? And what did Kuni meant by wanting to give me true happiness, anyway? I still don’t get it. Is there a purpose for this, or what? What is it that he’s trying so hard to do for me? Well, not that he’s actually trying that much since he’s a lazy bum, but still. He could have to me more about his intentions. If he had done that, I wouldn’t have been dragged into this mess in the first place. I do have to admit that it was mainly because of me that he pitched in, though.

Another sigh.

I guess it’s up to me now to get myself, along with Mashiro, out of this fake marriage. But before I can do that, I have to be honest with her.

After finishing his inner point of view, Yamato glanced up and stared strongly into Mashiro’s eyes. “Alright,” he said, “I’ll tell you. About my family. You see, I was raised by my mother for most of my life. But when I was eighteen, she passed away. That was about five years ago. At that point, I had already graduated from high school with Yuta. You and the girls were probably about to start your last year of high school by then. At any rate, I was preparing to go to college within a few months, but… It was during the summer three days before my birthday.”


July 17, 1999


An eighteen-year-old Yamato Kougami was on his way towards the college he was going to go to during the fall semester of that year. He had always dreamt of becoming a physics teacher for quite some time now, and he was proud of the occupation he had chosen before his graduation with his friend, Yuta.

Within a few minutes, he stopped and gazed at the large building that was several meters away from where he was standing. His mouth opened and his eyes widened in astounding awe and amazement at the sight. He could not wait until he could finally take his designated classes there in a few months.

“Man,” Yamato breathed, “I can’t believe I’m almost in college… It’ll be a long ride, but I’ll be able to work my way towards being a physics teacher in just five years. I bet Mom will be happy when she hears this. I better go tell her about it today.”

He walked forward, crossing the street once the light turned green, and went around the corner. As he made his way towards the hospital his mother was staying in, he felt as if someone had blessed him with the chance he had. It seemed too good to be true since he had been living a great life; he even went to school with his friends and was into baseball while also focusing on his studies every year. He and his friends had also met a rare member in their group, and their new companion was a girl who was on her way with Ren to their third and last year of high school. However, she had transferred after the past school year had ended.

Too bad Airi won’t be able to keep Ren any company this year, Yamato thought. He doesn’t have many friends outside our group, and neither does Airi, but the get along pretty well. It’s kind of refreshing to see them understand each other, actually. I hope she’s having fun at her new school after the next trimester starts. She might make a new friend or rival there, but I’ll have to ask her about it later on. Plus, it’s for Saeki’s sake since he’s been working late at night on his scripts. It’s a bit of a pain to keep checking up on him, but he’s also hopeless when it comes to love. If he keeps thinking about her all the time, he won’t be able to get out of his depression. Honestly, that guy… He’s too lovestruck to think about himself nowadays.

Then, Yamato smirked to himself.

Ah, well. It kind of helps get me going since he gives me a job to clean up his place. It’s not s bad when I think about it. I hate to admit it, but I feel bad for him. If anyone could get him back outside for any pastime activities, it’d be Kuni, Takao, and Airi. Maybe Yuta, too. I just don’t get how he finds Yuta’s jokes funny. He rids them of any sense of humor, so it’s like having Ren’s deadpan expression all over the place.

He looked directly in front of him and walk almost at the entrance of the hospital. Then, a smile crept onto his face. “Well, looks like I’ll at least be able to say hi to Mom before she has to have the nurses take care of her.”

Soon, he was inside the building. He walked to his mother’s hospital room, knock and opened the door.

“Excuse me for the intrusion,” he pardoned himself as he walked in and closed the door.

A woman who was looking out the window turned towards the auburn-haired high school graduate’s direction and smiled at him.

“Ah, Yamato,” she kept smiling as she greeted her son. “I’m glad you’re here. Why don’t you have a seat next to me? We can talk as much as you want until it’s time for you to go.” She had weary eyes and a tired expression spread across her face. Her breathing seemed slower than usual and she closed her eyes for a bit.

Yamato’s eyes widened and he quickly ran towards his mother’s side. He had a firm grip on the bouquet of roses in his right hand.

“Mom!” he shouted. Within a few seconds, he was already by the woman’s side. He placed his hands on her shoulders. “Are you okay? Does it hurt anywhere?”

Yamato mother shook her head with the same smile she had not too long ago. She smiled right away as she lifted her head gradually to look at Yamato’s face. “No. I’m just a little exhausted, that’s all. You don’t have to worry about me, Yamato. I’ll be okay.”

“But…” Yamato hesitated with a worried look on his face.

His mother kept smiling as she gazed at the auburn-haired young adult in front of her. “I’ll be fine.” She put her hands on Yamato’s and gently took hold of them, bringing them away from her shoulders. “You should think more about yourself, my dear son. Just look at you. Your face is so full of panic that I’m not sure I’ll be able to rest properly and recover in time to see you go off to college. Where’s the happy grin you always showed me? I’d rather see that than having you get so concerned about my sake.” She let go of Yamato’s hands and rested her head on the pillow on the bed. “You’re my son, remember? You’re stronger than you think you are, so I always want to see you smiling. I don’t want to be sad, Yamato. I only want you to be happy. That’s my wish.”

“Mom…” Yamato understood his mother’s feelings. He had always known that she didn’t want to trouble him, but it only made him care about her even more. After all, they were family. She was all he had left in the world they lived in, and other than that, only his friends were his remaining support to keep him living. He nodded sadly and sat down in the chair next to the hospital bed. “I know.” He brought himself to smile and held out the bouquet. “I got these for you. They’re your favorite, so I wanted to give them to you before going home today.”

Yamato’s mother smiled once more as she looked at the bunch of roses. “My, they’re very lovely, Yamato. If only I could hold them… My arms and legs have been getting weaker lately, so I don’t think I have enough strength to take them from you. It’s almost time for me to rest, anyway. I’m sorry.”

This time, Yamato shook his head. “No, you don’t have to apologize for anything, Mom. I just wanted to give you something since I won’t have much time to visit you after I go off to college. Oh, yeah,” he added as he smiled warmheartedly at his mother. “I saw it on my way here. You know, the college I picked for my first choice. I can’t wait to get in. I’ll study a lot and become a great teacher in the future. You can count on that.”

“So, my little boy has finally grown up and decided to go off to college,” his mother responded in a relaxed tone of voice. She closed her eyes, revealing an eye smile. “I’m glad. You’ve been wanting to apply to Jouin College (定因大学 Jouin Daigaku) for a while now. It’s a good thing you were accepted short afterwards. I’m proud to see you head towards your dream, and I hope I won’t ever forget this happiness for the remainder of my life. I love you, Yamato.”

Yamato could sense a foreboding feeling welling within him. It was as if something was going to happen right before his eyes, and he did not like what he had felt. He blinked, retreating into his thoughts.

What is this? Even though Mom’s congratulating me, I don’t even feel as happy as I should be. What in the world is going on? Don’t tell me that she’s going to…

Yamato’s mother saw the troubled expression on her son’s face and said, “Yamato? What’s wrong? You don’t look well. Is something the matter?”

“Mom,” Yamato called out to his mother while looking down. “Are you… going to…” He trailed off, knowing what was going to happen.

So, this is it, huh? He thought. It’s about time to say goodbye and soon… I won’t be able to see her again.

Yamato’s mother smiled tenderly at him. “I’m sorry, Yamato. It looks like I couldn’t hide it from you, after all.” Her breathing slowed a bit more as she closed her eyes. Then, she opened them and looked at Yamato once more before saying farewell to him. “But… If there was anything I could have done to prevent your sorrow, there is one thing I must say before I go to the netherworld. I should have told you about your father a long time ago. It was because of me that you didn’t get to grow up with him by your side. However…” Her eyes lowered as she thought back to the memories she had with Yamato’s father and smiled at the remembrance. “He was a good man I didn’t think I would fall in love with. I don’t regret meeting him because… If he hadn’t been a part of my life, I would have never had you. You were the gift he gave me before I… Well.” She sighed, staring at the ceiling. “That’s all I can really say about him. Please try to understand. I was the one at fault back then, not your father. He really was a good man to this day, and I’ll never think badly of him.” She glanced at Yamato and continued. “Thank you… for being born my son, Yamato. I’ll always love you from the bottom of my heart, and I hope that you will find that special someone one day to share your happiness, sorrow, and emotions with. I’d like you to get married and have children one day so that you can forget about me and live out your life without regrets. Can you promise me that you’ll find your own happiness…?”

Tears formed in Yamato eyes and he nodded, closing his them. “Yeah…! I promise! I’ll always love you, too, Mom… So…” He opened his eyes and faced his mother with a smile forming on his face. “I’ll keep smiling and be happy, for your sake.” His voice was breaking, but he still tried his best to put on a happy face as tears kept rolling down his cheeks. “Thank you… for everything you’ve done for me up until now… Thank you… Mom…” After that, he couldn’t help but burst into tears, crying in front of his mother.

She smiled back and tears also formed in her eyes, dripping down her face like a waterfall. Shortly afterwards, she closed her eyes, and the heart rate monitor on the other side of the hospital bed stopped. Yamato’s eyes widened before he broke into more tears. Within a few seconds, he had called for help from the nurses and told them of his mother’s passing.


Back to the present, Yamato finished the rest of his family background.

“I never knew who my father was,” he continued. “My mother always told me that he was a good person and that he had died when I was a kid. However, I soon found out on the day of her funeral that it wasn’t true. The morning after she died, my grandmother told me that my father wasn’t dead, and that he was still alive. She had visited him from time to time, along with my grandfather to check on him. Whenever he asked them to let him see my mother, they would refuse and tell him to give up on her. They stopped going after she died, and I would come see them from time to time. To be more precise, he was the reason why I decided to apply for a job at the school I currently work at. He still is, though, of course, and I’m positive that he’s forgotten about my mom.”

Mashiro frowned. “But… Are you sure of that? Maybe he hasn’t actually forgotten about your mother as you suspect. It’s too early to assume something like that without knowing what he’s buried down in his heart.”

Yamato shook his head. “No, I have a strong feeling that he probably didn’t care about my mom, and that he tossed her away when she was pregnant with me. I’ve tried many times to get closer to him, but it seems like he’s put up an overfriendly and caring image. He’s the principal of my school, Mashiro.”

“Eh?” Mashiro blinked. “Your father’s the principal of the school you work at? But I…”

“Anyway, what about you?” Yamato asked, turning away from the matter. “What’s your family like?”

Mashiro looked down like before, but decided to reveal her familial background to her husband as she had wished to get to know one another better.

“What I’m about to tell you is something that’s similar to yours,” she began. “To be honest with you, Yamato…” She looked up and gazed into the auburn-haired man’s eyes. “I don’t have any parents.”

Yamato’s eyes widened when he heard that. “What?” He certainly did not expect to find out about Mashiro that way, but he knew it was true.

However, Mashiro only nodded firmly, matching her expression. “My parents died when I was thirteen in a car accident, so it’s been over ten years since they passed away. I was also left to fend for myself and take care of my younger sister back then. She was only eight, and we were orphans. But… One day, Kun Kun walked up to us and took my sister and I in his care. He took us to his home in Shinjuku and provided a home, along with daily meals, for us. At first, I didn’t trust him when he tried to be nice at his house. But soon, I quickly accepted his kindness and opened up to him the day he crossed our paths.” She smiled fondly, thinking back to that time. “It was a winter day, but when he told us it would be okay, it felt as though all the ice had melted, and it became warmer.” She looked up and kept smiling, but it was more casual this time. “I ended up getting scholarships, and eventually enrolled in Seishin Academy. If it wasn’t for Kun Kun, I wouldn’t have made it to where I was. There’s just one thing that I keep thinking about, though.”

“What is it?” Yamato inquired attentively. He felt a sense of nostalgia within him when Mashiro had mentioned his baseball coach and was able to relate to Mashiro somehow.

Mashiro frowned once more, having a distant expression. “I can’t remember anything about my parents or sister besides that incident. My parents’ face and names don’t even appear to me whenever I try to remember them. And my sister… I can only remember the day we met Kun Kun. After that, however, I can’t even remember anything else about her. I was diagnosed with amnesia before the end of my third year at Seishin Academy. I know something happened to cause it but I don’t remember the event. Sophie, Airi, and Lia probably remember what happened, but I didn’t ask them about it because I wanted to move on from that time. Kun Kun also knows, but…”

“He’s probably keeping it from you for your sake,” Yamato figured. He was still as grim as ever. “And I’m sure the others are doing the same thing because they care about you, Mashiro. You trust them, right? I’m sure they mean a lot to you, too, so you’re both helping each other one way or another. Your bonds are stronger than a person who doesn’t know that would understand. Everything’ll be okay as long as you have each other. The same goes for me and the guys. Without them, I wouldn’t have been able to move on from my mom’s death.” He grinned and added the rest. “They’ve always been there for me, so don’t worry about it and keep smiling. I like you the way you are, and I wouldn’t have married you if I didn’t. You’re my wife, you know? I promised to support you, and vice versa. So, I’m here for you. We’re family, after all. That’s what marriage is about, right? Supporting your family.”

Mashiro nodded and smiled softly. “Arigato, Yamato. I’ll continue to support you, as well. I’m your wife, so I’ll help anyway I can.”

“Yeah,” Yamato answered. He felt better after talking with Mashiro and a warm yet clear sensation filled his heart as he saw his wife’s smile.

I wonder if this is what caring for your spouse feels like, he thought. Whenever I see Mashiro, I become happier knowing that she’s here with me. But. Could it be more than just caring about your one and only family that makes me so… loving? I’ve never felt this around anyone before, so what exactly is it? I don’t know how to describe it, but it’s like a waltz that never ends, or a seasonal change of some sort. Either, it’s like a rechargeable battery that doesn’t die out for some reason.


~


Inside the bathroom, Yamato sat inside the bathtub, which was filled with warm water that wasn’t too hot. He thought to himself as he soaked in the water.

Mashiro’s parents are deceased and her sister’s nowhere to be found. At least, that’s what she can remember, anyway. She doesn’t even know if she’s still alive, and it’s like the only person who knows is Kuni. Sophie and Airi might also know where she is, but I’m not sure if they can provide enough information to get them to reunite with each other. So, I guess the only choice I really have is to ask Kuni. I’ll do that tomorrow morning before noon. For now, all I can really do is find out more about Mashiro’s past before she suspects anything.

While Yamato was still thinking to himself, Mashiro was laying on the bed on her right side. She stared off into space before closing her eyes and falling asleep shortly after.


—The following day—


Yamato opened the door on the right entrance of Long Island and stepped inside.

“Kuni?” he called out. “You here?” He scanned around the area, searching for the bar owner.

As anticipated, Kunihiko came out from the kitchen with his usual expression. “Yamato, what can I help you with today? You’re pretty early, and I mean earlier from last time when you came to check on Saeki.”

“There’s something I need to ask,” the auburn-haired man told the IT company CEO. “It’s about Mashiro.”

Kunihiko tilted his head to the side. “About Mashiro? Why don’t you ask her yourself? She is your wife, isn’t she? There’s really no need to come to me about her, you know.”

“Yeah, I know,” Yamato replied. “There’s just something that been bothering me since yesterday. We talked about each other’s family, and I told her about my mother and my father. I heard her side, as well, and I thought about what she’s had for a while now.”

“What Mashiro’s had for a while?” Kunihiko asked. “Care to elaborate on it while we’re here? I can’t help you if I don’t know what you really want, Yamato.”

A staid expression crossed Yamato’s face as he stared at Kunihiko. “I want to know… about Mashiro’s amnesia. She said that she was diagnosed with it years ago around her senior year at Seishin Academy, but she doesn’t remember what caused her to lose her memories. She doesn’t remember much about her family, either, so I thought you might be able to explain more about it since you and the girls know something about it.”

Kunihiko sighed and frowned. “So she’s told you about her family, huh?” A conflicted expression replaced the perplexed one he had a few seconds before. “Well… I’m sure she’s already mentioned about the time she met me, but anyway.” He started explaining about the next matter. “When Mashiro and the girls were at Seishin, there was a large battle in which all of the third-years had to protect the school from a criminal organization that was planning to attack a factory in the area. All of them had a special weapon or more to go along with their abilities and since Seishin was a school that was built for the sake of helping others around Japan, this came in handy against any adversaries that threatened society. The seniors immediately tracked down the factory and went there to disable the detonators that were implanted all inside the building.”


Four years ago, on the night of March 1, 2000


Airi nodded, a stern expression on her face. “Shiro, we’ll go and take out the ones we find first. You and Sophie go ahead and take out the rest.”

“Right,” Mashiro nodded back. She had a red uniform on with a blazer over a white, long sleeve button-down shirt and a red flared skirt that was about the length of a miniskirt/school uniform one. She also wore white thigh-high stockings and brown knee-high lace-up boots and carried two thin long swords, one in each of her hands. “Let’s hurry. We don’t have much time left to disable and destroy them.”

Another girl nodded, on with short green hair and brown eyes, carrying a large tambourine that didn’t have a drumhead in her left hand. Her right hand was empty, and she smirked. “Don’t you worry, Mashiro. We’re the most powerful students in our school and we have a duty to protect the world from danger. It’ll be a giant piece of cake.”

Mashiro frowned. “Yes. But don’t forget that this is the last mission we’ll have before graduation, which is in less than two more weeks from now. Our school may be one that finishes the school year a bit earlier than other schools, but we still have to go through with this and protect the other students and citizens in Japan who aren’t involved with Rose Blade.”

She ran ahead at a rapid speed, and the other two follow after her to back her up.

Airi sighed. “Well, that’s basically how it is. We are an elite combat school, after all. Immense training to become the strongest fighters against evil. It may sound cliché, but we really are doing what the slogan says.”

The green-haired girl narrowed her eyes in irritation. “Get to work, Airi. We’ve got to hurry on this. Who knows what’ll happen if we don’t do our job properly.”

“It’s not like I’m trying to stall for time, Lia,” the light purple-haired girl argued. “Anyway, you know it’s the truth. Plus, we’re already running towards the factory at this moment! Aren’t we carrying out our mission already?!”

A cruciform appeared on Lia’s forehead, and she shouted, “We’re only going there on foot right now! We haven’t come across the path of a detonator yet, you idiot! Someone needs to knock some sense into your head every once in a while, so just focus on finding them and deactivating as much as you can.” Her composure returned to normal and she added, “Besides, this might be the last thing we ever try to do if they blow up by the time we get there.”

Airi sighed. “I know. It’s not like I’m happy about it, either. This could be the end for us and all of Shinjuku if we can follow the principal’s orders.”

They hurried and within less than a minute, they were already at the entrance of the building. Lia and Airi glanced at each other quickly and nodded before heading inside. They soon found detonators all around themselves, and prepared their weapons, splitting up to different parts of the factory; Airi pulled out a long silver pole that extended itself from both ends, hitting the detonators on her side, while Lia beat her tambourine in the air, creating a musical flow that swiftly malfunctioned the ones in the entire area. It soon spread over to where Airi was, and disabled the rest. Shortly afterward, Sophie came in with a large hammer, running past them to where Mashiro was. The light purple and green-haired girls’ eyes widened and they understood what it meant.

Shiro! Airi thought.

Mashiro! Lia’s shouted inside her mind at the same time.

After realizing that Mashiro was in danger, Lia used her tambourine and began ringing it several times as she and Airi ran to find Sophie and Mashiro. The light purple-haired girl’s pole extended left and right, breaking the detonators it smashed as they continued to make their way through.

At that time, Mashiro and Sophie were in the last room all the way to the end of the building. There was only one detonator left to inactivate. As Mashiro took a few steps ahead, Sophie stopped.

“Wait, Mashiro,” the turquoise-haired girl said. “It could be a trap. This one might have more than enough power to create an enormous explosion here than the others. Who knows what will happen if we decide to deactivate it now.”

Mashiro frowned, and a very severe expression was on her face. “But if we don’t do anything, we will endanger the lives of everyone else in the city. We can’t just let Rose Blade have their way with the people here, Sophie.”

“I know,” Sophie sighed, “but we can’t be reckless about it. Usually, the last part of every mission we’ve had was to check to see if something was wrong with the way it was set up. We aren’t really doing that right now.”

Mashiro glanced at her best friend before smiling to reassure her. “Don’t worry. Things will all be fine once we’re done here.”

Sophie stared at the fawn-haired girl for a moment, and knew there was nothing she could do to stop her best friend from completing the mission they were assigned. “Mashiro…” She glanced at the floor and nodded with a trusting smile when she looked back at Mashiro. “Un. I know you’ll be okay, so I’ll leave it to you.”

Mashiro closed her eyes and smiled back. “Thanks, Sophie. It’ll be over soon, so we can have fun afterwards. I promise.”

She turned her attention at the detonator and took a step forward. Then, she held both of her swords out, and crossed them together, piercing the machine. It let out a small spark of static, seemingly having been disabled. Mashiro pulled out her swords and turned around. Just as she and Sophie were about to leave the room, something they did not expect to happen shocked the both of them. They quickly turned towards the direction of the detonator. What they saw in front of them was static it was shaking and smoke came out from it. It rocked back and forth rigorously; the girls’ eyes widened. Sophie had a horrifying premonition from it and rapidly glanced in Mashiro’s direction.

“Mashiro!” she shouted.

Right after she called out the fawn-haired girl’s name, the detonator exploded, blowing away the objects in the room, burning them without any warning. After it ended, there were bits and pieces of machinery, boxes, and some other things that were sprawled out on the floor.

Sophie was coughing, covering her mouth her right hand for a couple moments. She opened her eyes and continued to cough a little more as she scanned the area around her. Within a few seconds, she saw Mashiro’s unconscious form laying on the floor where she (Mashiro) had been standing not too long ago. Sophie’s eyes widened and she rushed over to her best’s friend’s side.

“Mashiro!” Sophie was frantically checking the fawn-haired girl’s tattered body as she held Mashiro’s body close to her. She soon calmed down, checking the side of Mashiro’s neck with her index and middle fingers. Then, she felt a pulse and sighed, relieved that Mashiro was still alive. Although there was dust and tiny, broken grains of gravel on the fawn-haired girl’s uniform, hair, and whatnot, all that mattered was that Mashiro was safe and sound.

Soon enough, Airi and Lia came in and found the two who had gone ahead of them. They could hardly believe what they saw. Airi’s body dropped down and she was on her knees. Lia understood what had happened from the sight and her shoulders slumped. Everything that happened that night was reported to the Shinjuku police and staff of Seishin Academy within a phone call from Lia’s cell phone. The event was explained to the authorities, and the third-year students were thanked and apologized to for their hard work. It soon became known as the Abandoned Factory Incident, and journalists and news reporters had gotten hold of what had happened. Although not fatally injured, a few of the students who were recovering in the nearby hospital had external wounds or memory problems. They were still fine, however, due to Seishin Academy’s illustrious feat of training the students enrolled there to withstand such casualties. Without the bravery of the students who travels all the way to the factory and risked their lives to immobilize the detonators that were inside, Shinjuku would not have had a single survivor. It was thanks to those who participated in doing something for the sake of others that Shinjuku, and its people, still exist today.


“Along with some other students who were involved in disabling the detonators,” Kunihiko continued, “Mashiro was one of the victims to have had any signs of memory loss. There were also others who had some wounds and injuries, but no one was killed thanks to them. It’s an incredible story that made Seishin Academy even more famous than it was many years ago when it was first built. If Mashiro hadn’t been the one to draw her swords, the timer would have went off and blew all of Shinjuku away. Sophie and the girls still regret not having been able to protect her from getting hit by it sooner. It took less than a second to explode right in front of them and hit Mashiro. As for her memories and family, she hasn’t been able to remember anything besides the day I encountered her and her younger sister.”

Yamato listened on for any more details. “So, what happened to Mashiro’s sister? There has to be something that she must want to tell Mashiro. I’m sure she would want to see her again, too. The two of them are family, after all.”

“You’re right,” Kunihiko answered. He smiled moderately as ever before and explained further. “But she can’t for Mashiro’s sake.”

The auburn-haired man blinked. “Huh? Why is that?”

Kunihiko let out a sad sigh and looked down. “Even if they were to meet face-to-face, Mashiro wouldn’t be able to remember her. I’m sure by now that her memory of that day has faded away completely. Ever since that incident, Mashiro’s forgotten about those who were related to her, and the doctor who were in charge of the injured students said that those with memory problems would eventually forget everything about what their own family members looks like, and even their personalities. There has been nothing we could do to prevent that, but Mashiro knows that something is missing from deep within her mind. She wants to remember, but she can’t even though she’s tried to.”

“You mean…” Yamato trailed off, having another bad feeling about what he was told. “…Mashiro might never be able to remember who her sister and parents are…? Not even once…?”

Kunihiko nodded gravely. The answer was just as clear as the strong look in his eyes when he gazed at Yamato’s stunned state. “Unfortunately, yes.” He then smiled, as if to say that it was alright. “However, I can tell you this: Mashiro’s sister is safe and living well at the Kanzaki residence which is located in a hidden village not known to many outside the countryside. I can tell you the address, but maybe it would be better if you and Ren looked more into Sophie’s family. But even so, it would be tougher to gain access to their home. Sophie’s grandmother rules over the village and is a very notorious figure. How about you wait for a little while before you decide to head off to where her family lives? And when you do, make sure to get Ren to come along with you. He’s her fiancé, and they might not let you into their household without someone who has a connection to her.”

Yamato nodded and had a solemn expression on his face as he understood the meaning of the CEO’s words. “Alright. Don’t worry about it. I won’t be hasty and go there right away. Besides,” he added, “it isn’t time for something like that yet, so I’ll just head home after getting some stuff from the supermarket. Thanks, anyway, Kuni. I’ll see you later.”

“Have a good trip back home, Yamato,” Kunihiko replied. He gave a small wave with his left hand and bid the younger man a few more parting words. “Don’t forget to check up on Mashiro. Also, you might want to stop by Saeki’s to get him some stuff. Airi’s helping him out with his next script, and they’ve been working on it together after breakfast. Just bring them some groceries so they won’t forget about having lunch later on.”

“Got it,” Yamato grinned.

After that, he turned around, headed out, and walked to the supermarket for the things he needed to purchase, and started his grocery spree. He was going to have a great time there since it was like a haven for him and he could not help but keep his smile on his face when he arrived in front of the store.


~


Inside Takamasa and Airi’s apartment, the lovebirds were sitting at a table near the living room furniture, and were happily enjoying planning out the current script for Takamasa’s current work. With the scriptwriter’s laptop in front of them, the continued to add to the numerous amount of pages.

“Ah, it’s almost finished!” Airi exclaimed with a bright smile. She was wearing glasses as she commented on the next lot of pages. “This goes by faster when we’re both working together, doesn’t it?”

Takamasa nodded with fulfillment at the nearly finished script. Then, he turned to his right and looked at Airi with a gratified smile. “It’s all thanks to you, my dear. If you hadn’t asked to help me with it, none of this could have been done so early. And we’re just in time for…” He leaned in closer for a kiss, closing his eyes as his lips were about to reach Airi’s.

The light purple-haired girl did the same and slowly leaned forward with her eyes closed. Just as their lips were about to touch one another’s, the doorbell rang. The both opened their eyes instantaneously at the same time and quickly pulled back. Takamasa grimaced with irritation, while Airi averted her gaze towards her right, flustered by what had just happened.

Takamasa sighed and got up from his seat. “I’ll get it.” He walked to the door and opened it. The next thing he knew, Yamato was right in front of him with filled grocery bags in both or his hands. “Yamato? What are you doing here?” he asked, puzzled by the appearance of the married man.

“I came here to give you guys some stuff,” the auburn-haired man replied. “Kuni told me you and Airi were working on your next script for the current drama that’s been airing for two weeks now. Since the series is nearing its third week, I bought some stuff for you guys in case you forget to eat lunch together later on. You’re almost done, right? Go ahead and take these.” He held out two of the bags in his right hand, which were soon in front of the scriptwriter’s face.

Takamasa frowned with narrowed eyes, but took the plastic bags, anyway. “Thanks for the concern, but you were interrupting something important here. By the way,” he considered, “how did you know we were almost done with it? Every room here is soundproofed, so there’s no way you could have heard anything outside the walls.”

“What?” Yamato asked with baffled eyes. “I just had a feeling you’d be finished with it soon. Two heads are better than one, you know.”

Takamasa smirked. “As expected of a high school teacher. You haven’t changed one bit since you went to college, but that’s one of the great things about you.”

“What can I say?” Yamato shrugged with his usual, broad grin.. “I like that about myself, too, so I appreciate the sentiment you’re giving me.”

Takamasa laughed. “Ahaha. Don’t get too full of yourself there, bub. You’ve still got a long way to go before you can catch up to your elders.”

“And since when did you care about your age?” Yamato asked a bit angrily. His tone was milder than it was before Mashiro and Sophie’s arrival. “You’ve never said anything like that until now.”

Takamasa grinned. “Guess it’s just me. You’ll understand someday, young man.”

“Now, you’re starting to sound like Sophie,” Yamato narrowed his eyes; they felt sore from seeing the sight in front of him. “Friends are nice and all, but sometimes, it’s a little disturbing to see what rubs off onto the other.”

Takamasa frowned in disappointment. “You just don’t understand the kind of friendship writers and authors have with one another, Yamato. That’s why you think it’s a turn off.”

“I don’t even want to understand the point of your friendships with other writers,” Yamato retorted. His eyebrows furrows and he sure wasn’t going to listen any further before leaving.

Around the same time, Mashiro had gone outside the apartment she and Yamato were living in, and was wandering around, glancing from side to side as she walked further ahead. She searched around for a few more seconds before ending up in front of a large building. The entranceway was that of a school’s and she stepped forward through it, staring at the academy while blinking at the sight of the large structure it had.

Two chapters in a day! It’s been a while since I posted that much in a day—this time, they were longer chapters!