A crisp bang came from the freshly opened bathroom door.
Rin, seated on a bathroom stool, reflexively turned to the noise. Her naked form started quivering, causing droplets of water to quickly drip down her seductive curves. Her face flushed to an extent far beyond what could possibly be caused by bathing in hot water.
“Wh-What are you doing!?” she shouted.
Kaika was standing on the doorstep. She had expected Rin’s surprise. The door had been locked, but picking it open had been child’s play for her. Lock picking was a valuable skill for someone who had such a high risk of being abducted, so it had been part of her training.
Still, such an exaggerated reaction…
Kaika was also undressed, save for a small towel that hung over her shoulder. Her wavy hair was not tied in her usual twintails and sloped down her shoulders and back.
Is she blushing from seeing me naked? No, this is too much even for that.
Kaika had absolute confidence in the beauty of her uncovered body, but Rin’s panic aroused her suspicion.
“Taking a bath,” said Kaika as she closed the door behind her.
“The door was locked!”
“Don’t worry about such trivial details.”
“…People in this world have different values. What’s trivial to you may mean the world to me. Right now, I’m very, very interested in how you got that door open and why you’re in here.” Her face was still fiery red, her left eyebrow twitching in anger.
“I wanted to bathe with you. Isn’t that reason enough?” asked Kaika as she gracefully approached Rin and moved behind her.
With her pout unyielding, Rin closed her eyes and said, “Reason enough? You don’t simply barge in on someone while-”
Kaika quickly slipped her right hand between Rin’s thighs and slid her fingers over and slightly into the young woman’s special place.
“-while she’s having fun by herself?” asked Kaika, continuing Rin’s line.
“Eh?” Rin’s face showed utter confusion as she turned to Kaika, who had stepped back two paces away from her. “What the hell are you doing!? And th-that’s not true!”
“But it’s wet.”
“O-Of course it is! I’m showering!!!”
“But it’s sticky.” Kaika rubbed her index finger and thumb together in front of Rin.
Rin covered her face with her hands and let out a tiny shriek. Her entire body reddened from embarrassment.
“Don’t worry about it. Everyone masturbates, you know?”
“Don’t say that so clearly while acting so damn calm!” Rin glared at Kaika.
“I didn’t think you were a late bloomer. How odd.”
“Who’s the odd one here!? Why’re you so perverted at that age!?”
“Who isn’t perverted at sixteen?”
“Not everyone is like you! Horny I can understand, but-”
“So you were already horny at that age?”
“…You tricked me! You little…” Rin stood up and extended her hands towards Kaika.
“Were you fantasizing about Ageha?”
Rin screamed frantically as if to drown out the young man’s name. She tried to grab Kaika while the latter nimbly escaped her grasp in the small bathroom. Only a few seconds had passed when the bathroom door slammed open again.
The two turned to the door and saw Ageha, dressed in a thick brown winter coat. His worried expression quickly turned to a surprised one.
Rin froze in place. Kaika quickly dove into the bath as Kaya would have. Ageha’s expression changed once again, this time to an appraising one, as he ogled Rin’s nudity from top to bottom.
Rin quickly grabbed the bathroom stool and threw it at Ageha. He easily avoided it by tilting his head to the side. He also readily slapped away the incoming shampoo bottle, soap bar, loofa, and feminine wash. Kaika had been grinning at the situation the entire time.
“Why the hell are you still staring at me!!!” screamed Rin.
“I have no choice. I won’t be able to dodge or block if I look away,” he said as he snatched a flying plastic bucket from the air and dropped it to the floor.
“Stop calmly explaining and get out!”
“Then stop asking me questions and throwing objects at me.”
Having run out of objects to throw save for Kaika, Rin crouched down and covered as much of herself as she could with her arms. Ageha quickly turned around, exited the bathroom, and closed the door. His silhouette was visible through the frosted glass door.
“…Why did you do that?” asked Rin.
“Do what?” asked Ageha.
“…Peek into the bathroom.”
“I didn’t mean to peek. I was about to ring the doorbell when I heard a scream and clattering noises from inside your apartment. I got worried, so I rushed inside and followed the sound of the ruckus.”
“Well, it’s not like you meant any harm. Just… please forget what you saw.”
“No, I meant that I was sorry for breaking the lock on your front door. I’m actually happy with what I just saw, so I can’t grant your request.”
“Ageha…” Rin’s voice rumbled within the tiled bathroom.
“I’m kidding! We’re separated by a door, and I’m out of your elbow’s reach. It was the perfect chance. I couldn’t help it.”
Rin kept her eyebrows scrunched for a while and then sighed deeply.
“So why the sudden visit? Worried about Kaya?”
“That, and I wanted to cook for you as thanks for letting Kaya stay over. You told me before that you usually bathed before preparing dinner, so I had a rough idea of when to visit.”
“So you did have impure motives. Your timing’s too perfect.”
“…I can’t completely deny that.”
“I don’t know what’s more troublesome, you being honest or not.”
“I’m always honest, except when I’m joking.”
“The fact that I can’t tell when you’re joking is the problem.”
“Well, you’re just gonna have to live with that.” He chuckled.
“Hmph. You better be grateful that I’m so forgiving.”
“I am, and not only for that.”
Rin did not reply. Kaika could see Rin’s receded blush returning slightly.
“Anyway, take your time in the bath. I’m going to prepare dinner in the meantime,” said Ageha as his silhouette on the frosted glass grew fainter.
“Wait,” said Rin.
“My stool is on your side of the door.”
“You do know that stool also means-”
“Don’t push your luck.”
“…Got it. I’ll toss it inside, so go somewhere where I won’t see you.”
“Curry?” asked Rin with a hint of disappointment in her tone. Her hair was down and still faintly damp. She was wearing a yellow V-neck shirt and white shorts.
“Japanese lamb curry, to be exact,” said Ageha. He placed three plates of rice topped with fragrant brown stew on the square coffee table. Kaika and Rin sat on the floor facing each other with the table between them. He took a seat at a vacant spot.
Rin seemed a little hesitant. “That’s an odd choice for a chef at an italian restaurant.”
“Save your doubts until you’ve given it a try. I’ve had a lot of practice with other cuisines recently.”
Kaika was the first one to scoop up a mix of curry and rice. Her face lit up as soon as the spoon went into her mouth. She looked ecstatic as she quickly gobbled up the contents of her plate.
What has Rin been feeding you..?
Ageha felt proud that his cooking was loved by such a picky eater. He thought her Kaya act was slipping a bit because of her honest reaction to delicious food. Even so, Kaika did not voice her comments like usual because doing so would not fit Kaya’s demure personality.
Kaika’s enjoyment seemed to have whetted Rin’s appetite. She eagerly took a bite.
“…How can this be so good?”
“No, seriously. I’m asking how you made this.” Rin looked astonished. She started quickly stuffing her cheeks as if the meal had a time limit.
“That’s a long story. I used more than twenty ingredients in the spice mix alone.”
“Wrow! Thash amashingh!”
“I’m flattered you couldn’t stop eating, but please swallow first before talking. That’s dangerous.”
Rin quickly chewed and gulped down what was in her mouth.
“Wow! That’s amazing!”
“You didn’t have to repeat that. I understood despite how garbled it was.”
“What makes this so different from normal curry?”
“I made it.”
“You like it enough to completely ignore that brag, huh? I guess it can’t be helped.”
Ageha usually refrained from talking in length, so he was not fond of explaining his cooking process. However, he had grown accustomed to doing so because of Kaika, who always pestered him about it.
“I simply catered to the audience,” he said.
“What do you mean?”
“I know you like sweet, fruity flavors, so I added mashed mango to the stew. Since you also like spicy food, I added fresh chilies at the very end to give it a kick while keeping the flavors bright and fresh. I chose lamb because its flavor blends well with the mango. It also gives the dish some novelty for a Japanese palate.”
Rin looked surprised by how much consideration he had given not just to the dish, but to her as well.
“Where did you even get the lamb? I don’t think supermarkets have that.”
“I bought some from Sapore’s supplier. I got to know him when I went over to his shop to check his selection during our inventory restocking. I specifically used lamb chops because it’s less gamey and more tender than the usual stew cuts. I didn’t have all night to cook after all.”
Rin had been eating during Ageha’s explanation. After gulping down another spoonful of the curry, she drank half a glass of water.
“So there are no vegetables in this because-”
“That’s right. But you really should eat more vegetables. Eating meat and crepes all the time isn’t good for you.”
“Says the chef who omitted veggies just to match my tastes.”
“This is my thanks. It wouldn’t make sense if you didn’t like it, right? And while I did say I tailored it for you, this is still a dish that could be served in a Michelin starred restaurant. The herbed basmati rice alone is already fine dining quality.”
“Adding ‘Michelin starred’ in there makes you you.”
“Didn’t you know that Sapore is a candidate for a star?”
“Just kidding. There’s no way I would know, considering how secretive that organization is.”
“Ugh. I thought I was finally going to get a raise.” She munched on another spoonful of curry while obviously faking a frown.
Ageha noticed that Kaika was irked, despite her rather cheerful expression. He had grown to sense certain swings in her mood.
Is she irritated because we’ve been ignoring her all this time?
Ageha saw her empty plate.
Maybe she wanted to ask for seconds but couldn’t find the right timing?
Ageha knew that Kaika could not be her usual talkative self because she was pretending to be his shy cousin, but it seemed she had reached a limit of some sort.
“You know, in the bath earlier, I saw Rin touch-”
In a motion so swift he barely managed to follow it, Rin used her fist like a mallet and hammered Kaika on top of her head.
“Ouch!!?” shouted Kaika, her face absolutely bewildered.
Ageha barely managed to contain his laughter at the scene. This was probably the first time Kaika was hit in her entire life. Karasuma would never have laid a hand on his precious treasure, and Saya only grabbed Kaika’s hair once.
Oh, Saya did try to strangle her before, but since she was forgiven, Kaika was probably unscathed.
“Behave,” said Rin, her eyes glaring coldly at Kaika.
“…Okay.” Kaika’s shocked expression dissolved into a more repentant one.
I guess you’ve finally met your match.
Ageha did not know what had happened between the two but felt glad that they were somehow getting along.
Dinner proceeded peacefully after Rin’s display of violence. Rin tidied up the table and washed the plates, insisting it was her job since Ageha prepared the meal. Ageha had made a large amount of curry, so she poured the leftovers into a plastic container and placed it in the fridge. In the meantime, Ageha and Kaika had been chatting about his workday at Sapore and other everyday topics.
“I’m going to take out the garbage. You guys can relax here for a while. I’ll be right back,” said Rin. She walked out of the room carrying several garbage bags.
“Shouldn’t you help her out with that?” asked Kaika, dropping the shy act.
“She carries much heavier trays from the cucina to the sala. She’ll be fine.”
“Point taken. I felt that strength firsthand earlier.”
“How’s your head?”
“It’s fine. Do you wanna hear what I was about to say before she hit me?”
“I’ll pass. We won’t get off with just a smack on the head if she finds out that you tattled on her.”
They both chuckled while thinking of the rough yet vibrant young woman.
“Saya has woken up,” said Kaika.
Ageha was surprised by the news but felt relieved immediately after.
“How is she?”
“She could already talk on the phone. Gen also said there was nothing to worry about.”
Ageha nodded without replying. He trusted Gen’s skills as a doctor.
Kaika looked at Ageha with a serious expression. “More importantly, she told me about her attacker.”
Ageha’s eyes narrowed, and his lips pressed tightly together. He had been patiently waiting for this information. He listened to her report silently.
“He’s a man in his fifties with short grey hair and scars on his face. From what Saya could deduce, both his legs are cybernetic. He’s highly skilled in melee combat. He managed to wound Saya that badly, after all.”
“Any clues that could lead to his location?”
“Saya said she shot him in the shoulder, but I don’t think a mercenary Kazuki hired would be stupid enough to go to a hospital. Right now, this is all we have.”
Ageha gritted his teeth. He tried to suppress a scowl but failed.
“You should be careful as well. We don’t know how many skilled killers Kazuki employed. Who knows when your cover will be blown, assuming it hasn’t been already.”
“Let them come,” said Ageha in a frigid tone. The air around him felt like it dropped several degrees in temperature. His face lacked emotion, but his eyes sharpened as if seeking prey.
“I know how you feel, but we need to be prudent for now. We should refrain from anything rash until she has recovered. Go visit her. That should improve both of your moods.”
Ageha’s expression softened. “I’d like to, but I’m not sure if visiting Kanou-sensei’s place is a good idea. I don’t want to risk leading the enemy there.”
Kaika raised an eyebrow and asked, “But it’s okay to visit here? Does that mean Saya’s safety is more important than mine?” She was smiling, so she obviously just meant to tease him.
“No, it means that visiting a friend’s house is much less suspicious than visiting an underground doctor’s. A lot of people think Rin and I are a couple anyway.”
“Do you really feel nothing for her?”
Ageha fell silent and thought seriously about his relationship with Rin.
The sound of the opening door interrupted his reply. Kaika returned to being Kaya and shyly greeted Rin.
Rin was woken up by a tapping sound. She gazed at the digital clock on her bedside table. It was 1:47 A.M. She had gone to bed shortly after Ageha left her apartment. She was usually a heavy sleeper, but her excitement from Ageha’s surprise visit had made tonight’s sleep lighter.
Sitting up, she turned her head to the faint repetitive noise.
“Sorry. Did I wake you?” asked the young girl sitting beside the coffee table.
Even her sleepy head remembered Kaika’s preferred term of address. The young girl was quite adamant about it, and Rin wanted to respect that. The fact that she actually liked calling such a cute girl by a manly name was secondary.
“That’s odd. You didn’t wake up from this much before. I tried typing as silently as I could.”
“Don’t worry about it. More importantly, why are you still awake? It’s almost 2 a.m.”
“I’m always awake at this time.”
A look of worry formed on Rin’s face. “…What time do you usually sleep?”
Kaika tilted her head. “It varies, but since coming here, around 5 a.m.”
Rin normally woke up just minutes earlier than Kaika in the morning. She had probably been waking Kaika up inadvertently during her preparation for work.
“That’s less than two hours of sleep!”
“I can subtract just fine.”
“That’s not what I meant. You’ll get sick like that.”
“I’ve been like this for as long as I can remember. I’ll be fine.”
“Haven’t you tried-”
“No offense, but I can do without your advice.”
Rin realized that someone as smart as Kaika had certainly tried all available remedies for her condition already. She became aware of her unintended condescension.
“I’m sorry,” said Rin.
“It’s okay.” Kaika, her eyes glued to her terminal’s screen, started typing again.
Rin wanted to know the cause of Kaika’s condition but decided not to ask. Knowing might satisfy her curiosity, but it would do nothing for the one afflicted. If Kaika wanted her to hear about it, she would have already told her.
“Besides, insomnia can be useful. I can get a lot more done because I have more time,” said Kaika, as if pruning the thorns from her earlier replies.
Rin figured out that Kaika did not want to hurt her feelings. Seeing an opening in the girl’s prickly defense, she decided to probe further.
“You mean you got used to it?”
“There’s no such thing as getting used to sleep deprivation. I just learned to act fine after years of it,” said Kaika without a hint of sadness on her face.
Rin felt a pang of guilt in her heart. She had unconsciously pitied Kaika. Rin had intended to understand her, not look down on her.
“…You said your condition is useful, but if given a chance to be able to sleep longer, would you take it?”
“That’s a foolish question. I would take it in a heartbeat.”
Kaika stopped typing. “…I’ve always wondered how it would feel to sleep under the shade of a large tree on an endlessly wide meadow without a care in the world, just slumbering for hours on end and waking up actually feeling refreshed.” Kaika made a wry smile. “It was a childhood dream of mine. Go ahead, you can laugh.”
The combination of the words “childhood” and “was” in her explanation irked Rin.
You’re still a child, you know?
Without saying anything, Rin got out of bed and walked over to where Kaika was sitting. She swiftly picked up the young girl by her armpits.
“What are you doing!?” shouted Kaika in shock.
“You’re lighter than I thought.” Rin carried Kaika to the bed and flopped her on it.
“That’s because you’re an amazon!”
“You mean ‘athletic,’ right?” asked Rin with her hand looming dangerously in the air.
“…Yes.” Kaika cowered in the face of Rin’s hammerfist.
Rin quickly got into bed and covered both of them with the thick comforter. Kaika tried to squirm her way out, but Rin prevented her escape by snugly embracing her from behind. After a momentary struggle, her body slackened as she resigned herself to her fate for the night.
“I’m no meadow, but it’s better than nothing, right?” asked Rin.
Rin relaxed her embrace after confirming that Kaika no longer intended to escape. She thoroughly enjoyed the soft bolster that she had just acquired. After a while, sleepiness gently assailed Rin, but she checked on Kaika first before succumbing to the temptation. The young girl’s breathing was steady, and her body was completely relaxed. Rin followed Kaika into the land of dreams soon after.
They both woke up at roughly the same time as always. Rin looked at Kaika and asked, “Did you have a good night’s sleep?”
Kaika’s face clouded in confusion, as if she could not figure out the answer to a test question.
“…I did,” said Kaika.