Gen exited his home’s personal operating room. Both Ageha and Kaika stood up from the sofa upon seeing the doctor.
“How is she?” asked Kaika.
Ageha stared intently at the visibly fatigued doctor. Gen closed his eyes and shook his head.
“I did all I could,” he said.
Sound disappeared from Ageha’s world. His face went blank with his lips slightly ajar. His vision was flooded by white.
A tug on his bloody shirt woke him from his stupor.
“He’s lying,” said Kaika.
“Impressive, as always. Yes, the surgery was a success. She’ll be fine,” said Gen.
In an instant, Ageha rushed to the doctor and grabbed his collar.
“You son of a bitch,” said Ageha, his eyes wide and flaring with anger.
“It was just a little joke.” The doctor was not smiling and did not look amused at all.
His three years with the emotionless doctor had taught Ageha that Kanou Gen did not have a sense of humor. That “joke” had been a test, and he had failed miserably. He grimaced upon realizing his mistake.
“It seems you’ve become significantly more human since the last time we talked,” said Gen while looking into Ageha’s eyes.
“While you’re still the same psycho.”
“I won’t deny it. Can you let go now?”
Ageha released the old doctor and took a deep breath to calm himself.
“And I wasn’t lying. He merely jumped to conclusions,” said Gen, glancing at Kaika.
“True enough,” said Kaika as she shrugged her shoulders.
Gen turned to Ageha and said, “That was amazing. I was looking right at you but couldn’t react to your movement at all. It’s quite ironic how much of a monster you’ve become despite regaining some of your humanity.”
“Is it really that surprising? You’ve operated on him before, so you should know how enhanced he is,” said Kaika.
“Wait, what do you mean?” asked Ageha.
“He was the one who fixed you up when you got shot. You should be thanking him for that, but I guess that prank he just pulled makes you even.”
“I don’t expect gratitude for a paid service,” said the doctor.
Ageha’s gaze turned cold. He looked at the old man as if he was eyeing a bug destined for extermination and said, “We can’t trust someone who can be bought by money.”
“Normally I’d agree with you, but Gen’s case is a little special,” said Kaika.
Ageha raised an eyebrow. “Special?”
“He and my brothers had a falling out. He was part of the research team that developed those cyborg soldiers you killed. He had different ideas on the direction of the project, so he was stripped of his position.”
“You were fired?” asked Ageha, looking at the doctor.
“So you want revenge?”
“You should know that isn’t the case.”
Gen was right. Ageha fully understood that the absurdly rational doctor would not move due to such an impulse.
“I only want to continue my research. This lady here allows me to do that in exchange for my services.”
“Your bullet wound cost me most of the equipment in that operating room,”said Kaika. “Gen’s expertise is very expensive, so I don’t really call on him unless absolutely necessary.”
“But that means he’ll betray us if someone offered a higher reward.”
“Of course I will, but that’s not a possibility in the case of Kazuki Nikaidou. That man cannot be trusted,” said Gen while shaking his head.
It made sense. That was enough to convince Ageha that his old doctor was telling the truth. He knew Gen did not like lying. The doctor preferred to create situations where he would not have to. Ageha decided to cease his hostility for the time being. The doctor was not their ally, but at least he was not their enemy.
Ageha made a small bow. “Thank you for saving Saya.”
Gen’s eyes widened. “…You just keep surprising me. I’m at a loss as to whether you’ve become a more interesting or boring subject.”
“I’m not doing this for your entertainment.”
“Right, he’s doing it for mine,” said Kaika, her lips curled into an adorable grin.
Ageha shrugged his shoulders and sighed.
“I’ll move the patient to one of the bedrooms. Ageha, please help me.” Gen walked back to the operating room.
“Understood.” Ageha nodded and followed the doctor.
They pushed the operating table with Saya on it across the spacious living room. The blank white walls and sparse furniture did not give the place a very homely feel.
Ageha noticed something out of place. A strange stuffed animal sat on the corner of a bookshelf, as if carelessly abandoned there. It looked like a white cat with perfectly round red eyes and a long fluffy tail. An extra pair of longer ears, each decorated by a gold ring, sloped down the the sides of its head. The doctor he knew would never buy something so superfluous.
He decided to ignore the odd display and focus on the current task. After passing several doors, Gen guided the rolling bed into one of the free rooms. They then cooperated in gently lifting and laying Saya down on the bed. The pair returned to the living room after they had ensured that all the machines and tubes were properly attached to Saya.
Kaika had been observing the two of them. She made a puzzled face and said, “It’s kind of scary seeing you two together. One of you was about to kill the other just seconds ago, but then you worked together like nothing happened.”
“You’re perfectly capable of doing that too,” said Ageha.
“But mine’s an act. You actually don’t feel any anger anymore, do you?”
“Of course I don’t.”
Kaika shot Gen a questioning look. “And you call him more human in this state?”
“Yes. You should’ve seen him in his early teens,” said Gen.
“I’m curious. Do tell.”
“I’m sure you have better things to do than tell old stories,” said Ageha.
“I do. I have an appointment that I’m already late for. Call me if anything happens.”
“Wait, you can’t leave a patient right after surgery.”
“Yes I can. She’s stable. Her injuries aren’t as bad as they look. Blood loss was the main problem, so she should be fine now. I also used special drugs to curb postoperative infection. You can stay with her as you please.”
“Don’t forget that I was the one who plugged up the hole in your side.”
Ageha fell silent. He knew first hand how skilled Gen was. It was merely his affection for Saya that clouded his judgment. He agreed with Gen’s analysis of him. The killer was becoming too human.
Gen put on his coat, grabbed his suitcase, and left the house. Ageha took a seat on one of the chairs in the recovery room. Kaika sat on the left side of Saya’s bed and stroked her cheek.
“Don’t scare me like that…” whispered Kaika, a mixture of sadness and relief appearing on her face.
Ageha had been too busy with his own emotions to pay attention to Kaika’s state. Looking at her now, it was obvious how anxious she had been. It had been her quick and accurate instructions that had saved Saya. Ageha admired her composure and sought solace in it.
“What should we do now?” he asked.
“First, I have to find a safe place to stay. We can’t trust anyone who knows who I am. I still don’t know how they were able to narrow down their search area enough to actually encounter Saya.” She closed her eyes and held her chin. “It might have been peripheral information that we unwittingly gave out during communication with our subordinates. I say subordinates, but most of them have probably already defected to Kazuki.”
“Can’t you just stay here?”
“As much as I would like to accompany Saya until she recovers, I can’t. Gen also brings other patients in. Most of them are shady too. A single bed-ridden patient is much easier to hide than a mobile person. I’ll wait for Gen’s return then leave.”
“You can’t stay with me. I’m probably on their list of suspects. How about getting another hideout?”
“And stay there by myself? Are you mad?”
Ageha remembered that despite the long list of talents this prodigy had, taking care of herself was not one of them. Kaika without Saya was like a bird with a broken wing.
Kaika closed her eyes and delved into her thoughts. After a while, her eyelids snapped open. “I have an idea, but you’re not going to like it.”
Ageha frowned. “…What is it?”
Rin, wearing only her bra and panties, rummaged through her closet. It was past her bedtime, but she was looking for something nice to wear instead of laying in bed. She had been in her usual nightie when she had received a call from Ageha.
I wonder what kind of favor he needs?
He had said that he would be coming over. A favor that must be asked in person limited the possibilities. Factoring in the timing and location, Rin felt her face heat up.
It can’t be that, right?
Rin imagined a scene that she usually fantasized about while in the shower. Did Ageha finally notice her feelings and want to reciprocate them? The hands flipping through her clothes quickened. However, they gradually slowed down as she entertained another possibility.
Did he find out?
Things had been a little awkward between Ageha and her. She had discovered a facet of his likely much larger secret during her hike. She did not know the details, but it was definitely not something reputable. Due to this knowledge, she had unconsciously distanced herself from him. She worried he might have caught on and was coming to confront her. Or to silence her.
She imagined a masked man entering her apartment door and choking her. She quickly shook off those thoughts because she refused to believe that Ageha could be capable of something like that. Rin had faith that his kindness was real.
The fact that she was busying herself trying to look good in front of him despite having glimpsed his other persona shed light on her feelings for the young man.
This settles it… I love him.
She was surprised that she felt excitement instead of regret for falling for a mysterious, likely dangerous, man who seemed to be uninterested in her romantically.
Two knocks came from the door. She panicked and quickly stood up. Forgetting she was only in her undies, she went to answer the door. Realizing her mistake right before she turned the doorknob, she quickly ran back to the closet but tripped on the mess of clothes on the floor. A large bang echoed in the room.
“Rin?” Ageha’s worried voice came from behind the door. He had probably heard the crashing sound.
“P-Please wait, I’m coming!”
She had never cleaned up and gotten dressed as quickly as she did then.
She settled with a sky blue one piece dress because it would be odd if she wore more layers in her well-heated room. Without checking the peephole, she opened the door.
Standing outside was the expected visitor, Ageha. Rin gaped upon seeing the person beside him.
“Kaya-chan?” she asked.
“Sorry for barging in this late,” said Ageha.
“I apologize for the intrusion,” said Kaya while bowing elegantly.
“Eh?” Rin’s face was clouded with confusion.
“I know this is unexpected, but can you let me explain?”
“…Okay. Come in.”
“Thanks,” said Ageha.
Rin closed the door after the two visitors had gone inside her apartment. She invited them to take a seat in the small living area and prepared tea. Ageha sat on the sofa while Kaika chose the bean bag. After a while, Rin served them hot black tea.
“Thanks. This really does the trick in this weather,” said Ageha.
“You’re welcome.” Rin did not have her usual buoyancy.
Rin sat down on a chair, took a sip of her tea, and placed the cup back on the saucer. Her eyes alternated between the two visitors. After several seconds of silence, Ageha spoke up.
“I need a favor.”
“…What is it?”
“Kaya-chan needs a place to stay for a week or so. Saya and Kaya-chan moved to Tokyo recently, but Saya got caught in a traffic accident. She’s currently recuperating in a hospital, so that leaves Kaya-chan alone in their apartment.” Ageha scratched his head. “I considered taking her in myself, but I work part-time at nights and usually come home late. I also have no idea how to take care of a young girl, so-”
“I know this is too much to ask- Wait, what?”
“She can stay here. That’s what you wanted to ask, right?”
“Well, yeah. I didn’t think you’d agree so easily.”
“I live alone, so there’s plenty of space. And who would miss a chance to live with such a cute girl?”
Rin’s explanation was true but incomplete. She hid two other reasons. First, she was worried about leaving a little girl to someone who was likely involved in illegal matters. Second, her jealousy compelled her to not let such a beautiful lass stay with the man she loved.
“Thanks. I really appreciate this.”
“You can count on me!” Rin smiled innocently, hiding her tainted thoughts.
“Thank you very much, Rin-san,” said Kaya, her head bowed.
“Just call me Rin.”
“Okay.” Kaya smiled shyly with a blush on her cheeks.
“You’re so cute!!!” Rin grabbed the girl and tightly embraced her.
“Rin, I cannot breathe..!”
“Oh! Sorry! I got carried away.” Rin quickly released the girl, her cheeks flushed from embarrassment.
“I’m glad you two seem to get along,” said Ageha, smirking for some reason.
They discussed the details of Kaya’s stay, such as her food expenses, sleeping quarters, and the like. After coming to an agreement, Ageha prepared to leave.
“Don’t tease her too much, okay?” said Ageha.
“Of course I won’t. We’re going to get along like real sisters!” said Rin.
She decided not to ask why Ageha had been looking at Kaya when he gave his parting line.
Rin immediately sighed in relief after Ageha left. Seeing that, Kaika scrunched her eyebrows.
Kaika knew that Rin liked Ageha romantically. Sighing in longing would be one thing, but Rin’s reaction to Ageha’s departure was relief. That meant part of her had been wary of him. Kaika decided to take a shot in the dark.
“You know his secret?” she asked. It was a safe question because it could be easily explained away.
Kaika could not hide her amusement at Rin’s reaction. Rin looked like a child caught with a hand in the cookie jar.
“W-What secret?” asked Rin, her lips trembling.
Kaika effortlessly interpreted Rin’s trepidation. It was not something that belonged to daily life. Kaika did not know how, but Rin had probably glimpsed Ageha’s truth. Ageha had told her on the way to Rin’s apartment that his recent relationship with Rin felt awkward, so he was unsure if she would let Kaika stay over. That change in their relationship could be explained by Rin learning something about Ageha’s secret persona.
Not liking the idea of feeling each other out, Kaika chose to take the initiative.
“His other job,” said Kaika coldly, dropping the Kaya facade.
This sudden change caused fear to surface on Rin’s expression. She unconsciously took a step back.
“That confirmed that you do.” Her eyes staring sharply at Rin’s, Kaika maintained their distance by stepping forward.
Rin appeared to have understood that Kaika was part of Ageha’s dark secret. Her eyes swam, and her frame trembled.
“Relax, I’m not going to hurt you, or rather, I can’t, considering our difference in stature,” said Kaika, a wry smile appearing on her face.
“…Who are you?”
It’d be better to be selectively truthful here to gain her trust.
“I’m Kaika Nikaidou, Ageha’s employer for his other job.”
“His moonlighting as a personal chef?”
“I’m pretty sure you already know that’s not what it is. Would you like to know more?”
Rin fell silent. Her fearful face gradually changed to one full of determination. She nodded.
She likes him that much? I have to say I’m impressed, Ageha.
“He’s my bodyguard. Aside from his culinary skills, he’s also well-versed in martial arts,” said Kaika.
“Why are you telling me this?”
“Because you asked?”
“I mean, isn’t this supposed to be a secret?”
“If I’m going to live here for a while, it’s going to be revealed anyway. I intended to tell you from the start.”
“Then why didn’t you do it when Ageha was here?”
“Because I don’t want him to worry. He specifically told me that he didn’t want you involved in any danger, but we simply had no choice this time. Telling you too much could put you at risk.”
“Well thanks a lot,” said Rin sarcastically.
“No, I’m really sorry about this. If I had another place I could go to, I would’ve gone there.” Kaika made a sorrowful expression.
“Saya’s indeed hospitalized, but that’s because she was attacked. I’m being pursued by certain people, so I can only hide in a place that has no direct connection to me.”
“What makes you think I’ll let you stay after hearing all this?”
“The fact that you love Ageha.”
“Eh?” Rin’s face quickly turned crimson after she processed what Kaika just said. “I d- don’t feel that way-”
“Oh please. The only one who doesn’t know is the man himself. Even Saya and Kureha found out immediately.”
That was a lie. Kaika was perfectly aware that Ageha also knew of Rin’s feelings.
Rin’s expression took a rollercoaster ride. It switched from confusion to embarrassment, then to anxiety, and then finally to resignation.
“…Even if that were true, that doesn’t mean I would help you.”
“Ageha is also in danger.”
“My enemies are probably targeting him as well. If I stay with him, he wouldn’t be able to fight at his best. Both of us would likely die.”
Rin did not reply. She seemed to be deep in thought.
“I’m desperate. It took me a lot of pleading to convince him of this plan. He only agreed after I promised to try my best to keep you out of harm’s way.” Kaika sighed and made a resigned expression. “Of course, I can’t force you. If you want me to leave, I will.”
“…That’s unfair. I can’t very well kick you out after hearing all that.”
“Yes, you love Ageha, after all.”
“Stop saying that over and over!”
“…Thank you.” Kaika bowed deeply.
Rin sighed, slumped her shoulders, and lazily said, “You can count on me.”