“Akane,” said Kazuki after tapping a finger on his desk terminal.
“Yes, Nikaidou-sama.” Her voice naturally had a slightly lower pitch compared to most Japanese women. It had a seductive timbre.
“Get me a cup of coffee.”
“Will you keep working? It is almost midnight.”
“What’s so odd about that? I’m usually at my office when the day changes, and so are you.”
“But it is Christmas eve.”
“So?” Kazuki realized something. “Do you have plans? You don’t have to wait for me. You can go now. Well, after you bring me my coffee,” he said and then laughed.
“Th-That is not what I meant! I do not have plans! I mean, I do not have anyone like that…”
Kazuki found her reaction cute. He did not have many chances to see her interact with others, but from memory, she only got flustered when speaking with him. She usually carried herself like a strict teacher and exuded an aura of dignity.
“A-Anyway, I will bring your coffee immediately.”
The communication was severed.
…Does she have feelings for me?
Unlike his brother Kousuke, Kazuki had never been popular with the ladies. He was obese and unattractive. All the women had flocked to Kousuke when he was still alive. Even during his funeral, Kousuke’s lovers had visited in droves and cried together despite knowing they had been merely one of his many playthings.
Kazuki lacked innate confidence. He had built his pride from the ground up. His intellect and pragmatism had taken him to where he was. Unfortunately, none of that translated to him becoming popular. Of course, he could simply buy women to sleep with them. That was something he did from time to time, but believing that someone genuinely liked him was a luxury he had abandoned in his teenage years.
But Akane seemed different. Kazuki wondered if she had actually seen something beyond his physical appearance and shield of money.
While pondering, Kazuki had also been writing a draft of his next proposal to the board. He currently had a firm foundation in NGC. Aside from his position as CEO, he also had support from most of the board members. He was thriving on the business front.
Once Kaika was eliminated, he would have no need to stay in hiding. Jin was taking care of Ageha at the moment, and Kazuki was waiting for his report. It would signal his conclusive victory over Kaika.
Several knocks came from the door.
Akane walked in carrying a tray with a cup of coffee.
Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to try again.
He stared at her face as he pondered his options in romance. He noticed that she looked a little distracted as she approached his desk.
“Is there something wrong?” asked Kazuki.
“Oh, it is nothing. I almost bumped into one of the guards on the way here.”
“He has such a pretty face.”
She likes handsome men as well. Women.
Kazuki felt slightly betrayed.
“So that’s your type?” he asked, trying his best to hide the thorns in his voice.
She almost dropped the cup but somehow avoided spilling a drop. She placed the coffee on his desk before answering.
“No, I just did not recognize him. I do not rate people based on their appearance.” She smiled sweetly at him. The odd contrast between her dignified air and her innocent expression exuded a mysterious allure. “There is much more to men than good looks.”
Kazuki realized that her last line had been referring to him in particular. He, who could manipulate an entire room of wiley directors with his eloquence and acting, fell silent and sipped his coffee to hide his nervousness.
After taking a few gulps of the aromatic black liquid, Kazuki cleared his throat and said, “You can go home now. I’ll finish up in a few more minutes.”
“Actually, I have been staying in one of the guest rooms for a while now. I figured it would lessen the chance of this place being discovered. It is also more convenient, considering my hours.”
He had not known of this arrangement, but that was expected because he delegated most of the house and personnel management to Akane. It was well within her scope of responsibilities to decide such a thing by herself. He gained a renewed appreciation of her dedication. Akane was apparently the type that worked far harder than she let on, like a swan on the water.
Kazuki was suddenly assailed by intense vertigo. Placing both hands on his desk, he tried to steady himself.
“Nikaidou-sama?” asked Akane, noticing his abnormality.
Kazuki started wheezing. He could not breathe.
What’s happening to me!?
His world swirled, and then his head fell on the desk. In front of his face was the cup of coffee Akane had just delivered.
“Nikaidou-sama!!!” shouted Akane. She frantically went around the table and shook his shoulders. She immediately used his desktop terminal to call for help.
Kazuki could no longer see properly, but he still heard the panic in her voice. This confirmed that she had not betrayed him. Then who poisoned him? He recalled their conversation just moments ago.
“Oh, it is nothing. I almost bumped into one of the guards on the way here.”
“He has such a pretty face.”
“So that’s your type?”
“No, I just did not recognize him.”
He normally would have found it suspicious. However, he had let down his guard because of his confidence in his victory. Kazuki’s addled mind made one final deduction.
It’s your win, sister.
He was swallowed by the darkness.
Ageha stood at the open door of the love hotel room Kaika was staying in.
“What happened to your arm!?” she shouted.
The young man stared at her as if he was in a daze, his lips slightly ajar. He slowly walked towards her. Once she was within arms reach, he suddenly pulled her into a tight embrace.
“Wh-What are you doing!?” asked Saya in a fluster.
Why’s he hugging me!?
Her mind boiled trying to come up with answers to her rapidly bubbling questions. It had not been long since they last saw each other, so this was too much for a normal greeting. Her face turned beet red from embarrassment.
Ageha held her tighter.
“Ageha-sama, it hurts..!”
However, he did not let up. Saya felt warm droplets fall on her neck.
“You’re alive…” he said.
A possible explanation for Ageha’s odd behavior popped into her head.
It can’t be…
She tried to turn her head towards Kaika, who was standing behind them, but before she could, Ageha released his embrace, marched to Kaika, and slapped her in the face. The force knocked her to the ground.
“Kai-Ojousama!!!” Saya quickly ran to Kaika.
Kaika’s lower lip was cut and bleeding profusely. Her cheek was bright red, contrasting with the rest of her pallid white skin. Saya wanted to scream at Ageha for hurting her so badly but realized how much he had held back. His palm could have easily pulverized Kaika’s beautiful face.
“Why?” asked Ageha in a freezing, low voice.
“It was necessary,” said Kaika.
“Deceiving me was necessary?” His eyes narrowed in anger.
“No, deceiving Rin was necessary.” Kaika slowly got up with the help of her aide.
Saya quickly took out a handkerchief from her pocket and wiped off the blood on Kaika’s chin.
“Rin had to genuinely believe that Saya was dead. If I had told you about the plan, your amateurish acting would’ve given it away. It’s particularly hard to fool people that you trust, after all.”
Ageha furrowed his eyebrows. “Why would Rin need to believe that?”
“Because of Yuuji.”
“Well, I didn’t know he was Jin before his call, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that he’s a spy sent by Kazuki. I figured that out after hearing about him from you and Rin.” She licked her bleeding lip. The blood coated her pink tongue red. “The timing of his appearance was already suspicious, and so were his constant displays of sincerity. But the real clincher was the fact that even you seemed to trust him. That was unnatural and had to have been engineered.”
Saya furrowed her eyebrows. So much had happened in her absence. She looked at Ageha’s left arm and clenched her fists.
Who could’ve done this?
“Yuuji must be an excellent actor or con artist in order to fool you,” said Kaika as she gingerly touched her swollen cheek and winced. “Taking that into consideration, I planned to fake Saya’s death and use Rin to inform the spy. If the information came from her, Yuuji would easily believe it. Liars are confident in their ability to detect lies. We know what to look for.”
“What’s the point of faking Saya’s death in the first place?” asked Ageha.
“I can answer that, Ageha-sama,” said Saya as she moved her eyes from Kaika to Ageha. “One of the recon teams located Kazuki three days ago. The information could not be trusted, so Ojousama asked me to confirm its validity. I had already recovered enough to move normally at that time, so I immediately left Kanou-sensei’s place to verify it. The information was accurate.”
“Seems I still have some loyal retainers that won’t be bought by money,” said Kaika.
Saya nodded to her mistress. “Ojousama decided to fake my death at that point. Since then, I have been trying to find a way to infiltrate Kazuki’s safe house.”
Ageha looked at Kaika and asked, “Why didn’t you tell me about this? I would’ve killed him myself.”
“That’s why I didn’t tell you. Kazuki knows all about you. Did you really think he wouldn’t have countermeasures?”
“Ojousama is correct,” said Saya. “I checked the defenses of the safe house during my infiltration. A forceful intrusion would have been impossible, even for you.”
“You knew everything?,” asked Ageha. He looked hurt.
Saya gasped. “No! I mean, I-”
“She had no idea that I kept you in the dark,” said Kaika. “You should know by now that Saya would never agree to something like that.”
“…You still haven’t answered my original question,” said Ageha. “Saya could have done all that without pretending to be dead.”
“I wanted to raise her dismal chances. In Kazuki’s eyes, Saya’s death is equal to my defeat. I have no one else I can trust aside from you, and your cover was already half-blown. Faking her death allowed her to move freely and also lowered Kazuki’s guard. It was a big gamble, but I had no other choice.”
“If all you needed was to fool Rin, you could’ve told me about all this after we left her apartment.”
“I sent Saya on a suicide mission. There was a high chance of her being discovered and killed while infiltrating Kazuki’s fortress. It would’ve been crueler if I told you that she was alive only to take it back a few days later.”
“Besides, you seemed stable at the time. I didn’t know how you would’ve reacted if I told you about my deception. I still think I made the right choice.” Kaika softly caressed her swollen cheek as if saying it was proof of her statement. “But that doesn’t make it fine to hurt you. I’m sorry.” Kaika bowed her head deeply.
This was the first time she had ever bowed her head in apology to anyone, at least from Saya’s memory.
Kaika raised her head. “It’s no consolation, but the plan was a success. Kazuki is dead.”
Ageha looked surprised by the news.
“I had just given my report to Kai-Ojousama before you arrived,” said Saya as she tried to placate Ageha’s anger with her victory spoils. “A few hours ago, I successfully entered Kazuki’s safe house disguised as one of the guards and slipped poison into his coffee. I did not visually confirm his death, but judging from the chaos in the premises as I escaped, the plan succeeded.”
Ageha did not look satisfied at all. This information should have been fantastic news to him because vengeance for Kureha had finally been served, but he simply closed his eyes with an emotionless expression. The most difficult trial had been cleared, but nothing looked resolved for him.
After a long and tense silence, Ageha opened his eyes and walked towards Kaika. Kaika stood her ground despite visibly shaking from his approach. Saya prepared herself to defend Kaika if Ageha attacked her again. When the two were within two feet from each other, Ageha went down on a knee and lined up his eyes with Kaika’s.
“Tell me the truth,” he said.
“…Alright,” said Kaika with a nod.
“Why did you give Rin your contact number?”
“So she could contact us if there was an emergency.”
“What other reason could there be?”
“How about creating a situation where I could fight the enemy without having to protect you?” he asked.
Kaika did not reply.
“We needed to get rid of our hunters, especially if Saya failed in her mission. But it’s pretty much common sense how difficult it is to fight with extra baggage, especially if that baggage is a fragile little girl.”
Saya tilted her head at Ageha’s speculation. She had too little information about the situation to follow his reasoning properly.
Ageha continued, “Rin’s only a co-worker from Kazuki’s perspective, but that’s only if she knew nothing about you.” Ageha took one of Kaika’s bandaged hands and gently ran his thumb on top of the covered wound. “That act and that contact number were all for this.” Ageha raised his mutilated arm.
Kaika remained silent.
“You wanted Kazuki to bring out the big guns when I could fight at my best. If a contact number was all they could get from Rin, the only way to use it would be to lure us out using Rin as a hostage. It was a coincidence that Jin wanted me alone, but I would’ve gone alone anyway since there’s no merit in bringing you along. I can understand the logic behind your scheme. However…”
Kaika stared into his eyes. She did not deny or affirm his accusations.
Ageha released her hand and made a pained expression. “All of Rin’s fingernails were pulled out.”
Her expression settled into a frown.
“Jin touched her… many times, and tore her pride apart. She hates herself now. That Rin. I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it,” he said with a stern expression.
She bit her lower lip, disregarding the effect on her cut.
“You broke her.”
Saya wondered why Kaika was not denying any of Ageha’s accusations. The prodigy she knew would have easily made up convincing excuses and stopped Ageha from doubting her. However, she had chosen not to do so. Kaika had changed. Was it her relationship with Ageha or Rin that changed her?
Ageha made a sorrowful smile and looked into Kaika’s eyes.
“I’m sorry, Kai. I can’t trust you anymore.”
Kaika flinched as if his apology had stabbed her. Ageha stood up and walked towards the door.
“Ageha-sama! Where are you going?” asked Saya.
“There’s no longer any need for you to know.”
His words pierced Saya’s heart. She froze in place but woke up the moment Ageha closed the door behind him. Saya, intending to follow him, rushed towards the exit.
“Don’t go,” said Kaika.
“But Ojousama, I have to stop him!”
“Don’t go,” she whispered. Kaika had been trembling ever since Ageha had voiced his words of parting.
Saya approached Kaika and embraced her. Kaika, like a baby, fumbled around as she tried to wrap her arms around her butler.
It was likely that all that had transpired had been part of Kaika’s plan. However, she had not been able to execute it perfectly in the end. Saya understood that just because one planned for a situation did not mean they already knew how they would feel once it really happened.
Kaika cried quietly in Saya arms. Saya did not know how she felt upon seeing such a human side of her mistress. On one hand, she was glad to see Kaika honestly depending on her. On the other, she was afraid of seeing her mistress, always proud and loud, so weak.
This isn’t over.
Even without considering her own feelings for him, Saya wanted to get Ageha back. She did not care about his power. All she knew was that the girl in her arms needed him just as much as she did.