Kaika sighed and put her utensils down on the table.
“Is it not to your liking?” asked Saya.
“This is boring.” Kaika sipped some water to cleanse her palate of what she had just eaten.
“It is delicious, though.”
“That doesn’t matter. This isn’t what I want,” said the picky gourmet as she pushed her plate of truffle risotto away from her. “I’m sick of dishes that rely on fancy ingredients. I want something unique, something more creative and exciting.”
“In other words, you want his cooking.”
“…I won’t deny that.”
The mistress and her butler were having dinner in the Nikaidou manor. The long dining table looked lonely with only two seats occupied.
Saya stopped eating for a moment. “Have you contacted him yet?”
“I’ve tried, believe me. He isn’t answering my calls. At least he hasn’t blocked my number.”
“No luck on my end either.”
“That, I find baffling.”
Saya raised an eyebrow. “What do you mean?”
“He definitely loves you. It makes no sense for him to ignore your calls.”
“Wh-Wh-What are you saying, Ojousama!?” Saya’s face went red.
“I’m merely stating fact. The way he took you into his arms proves it.”
“T-took me into his arms…” Smoke puffed out of her ears.
“Wait, he only had one arm, so that phrasing isn’t really accurate. Well, if the word ‘arms’ was in all caps, it would work.”
“A-anyway, I was thinking of visiting his apartment.”
“No! I am going to convince him to reconcile with you.”
“Kidding aside, that’s probably a good idea. It would be best if you go without me. My presence… would probably have a negative effect,” said Kaika with a melancholic expression.
Part of the reason Kaika had faked Saya’s death was to compel Ageha to act on his feelings for her. By losing Saya, Ageha would see what he had been taking for granted. Their reunion should have resulted in the two admitting how they felt for each other. That, in turn, would lead to Ageha forgiving Kaika, Saya’s irreplaceable mistress, for her trespasses. At least, that was the plan. The current situation indicated that her scheme was not going so well.
To think it would affect me this much…
Kaika had lost her appetite ever since Ageha left. It was not just because she missed his cooking. What he said to her that night had truly shaken her.
I didn’t think words could still hurt me.
Kaika had believed she could treat everyone as tools. A tool held no opinion, and even if it did, its user would not care in the least. Her current state meant they were no longer mere instruments to her. She genuinely cared about Saya, Ageha, and even Rin.
“It would help me a lot if he is around to guard you,” said Saya with a dissatisfied look. “Now that the CEO chair is open again, my duties as a member of the board are keeping me very busy. There will be times when I cannot attend to you. You need someone to protect you in my stead.”
“You worry too much.”
“But Kazuki’s faction could still attack at anytime.”
“Like I said when we returned to the mansion, I’m no longer in danger. Kazuki bought his support with money and threats. He had no charisma whatsoever, so he resorted to bribes and lies to control people. Granted, he was brilliant at it, but now that he’s dead, none of his subordinates would go out of their way to avenge him. A dead man can’t pay them, after all.”
“I am still not convinced. I will go visit him tonight. The sooner he returns, the better.”
“You’re contradicting yourself. You’re saying that you need to get him back so I can be safer, but you’re leaving me alone to do so.”
“Just admit that you miss him.”
“Ojousama!” Saya made a cute pout.
It was an expression she never would have shown before meeting Ageha.
A hint of guilt appeared on Kaika’s features. “…Tell him that I’m sorry for what happened to Rin. I thought she would immediately spill the beans. I… never expected her to go that far. It was my mistake.”
That was a lie. Kaika knew what kind of person Rin was. She was impressed by how long the young woman had lasted against torture, but that she would suffer to a certain extent was well within Kaika’s predictions.
That did not mean Kaika felt nothing about allowing Rin’s torture. It was precisely because she cared that Ageha’s words had damaged her so badly. However, just like when she had gambled with Kureha’s life and lost, Kaika willingly took on those burdens for the sake of her objective.
“Understood,” said Saya.
Saya nervously walked to Ageha’s apartment. Numerous simulated conversations kept running through her head. She felt like her brain was overheating despite the cold. After arriving at his doorstep, Saya took a deep breath and pressed the buzzer. She heard footsteps coming towards the door.
“I thought you were gonna be late tonight?” asked Rin as she opened the door.
Both Saya and Rin froze for a few seconds.
“Good evening,” said Saya, breaking the ice.
What’s she doing here..?
Saya felt her heart sink.
Rin’s welcoming smile disappeared and was replaced by a look of wariness. “…Saya-san.” She did not look surprised to see Saya alive.
“What are you doing here?” asked Saya.
“That’s my line, isn’t it?”
“…Apologies. I wanted to speak with Ageha-sama. But judging from your welcome earlier, he seems to be out.”
“Yeah, he won’t be coming back until later.”
An awkward silence enveloped the two young women.
“Pardon my curiosity, but are you staying in his apartment?”
“Yes. Ever since the incident, I can’t stay in my room anymore. It reminds me of… unpleasant things. Ageha lets me stay here for the time being.”
A small bud of hope bloomed inside Saya. She desperately tried to believe that Ageha was simply housing a good friend and a victim of his circumstances.
“We’re trying to find a larger place now that we’re going out, but he’s been busy so we haven’t gotten around to it.”
Her hope was instantly plucked.
So this is your answer…
Saya finally understood why he never answered or returned her calls. To Ageha, both she and Kaika were now in the past.
Saya’s shoulders almost slumped from the news, but she gritted her teeth and kept her perfect posture. She had been defeated, but her pride would not allow her to unravel in front of the victor.
“I see,” said Saya, her stoic expression unflinching. “I will return on a different date to address my business with Ageha-sama. Goodbye.”
“Take care.” Rin promptly shut the door as if warding off unwanted visitors.
Saya walked towards the elevator. Away from an audience, her mask gradually crumbled. Tears started pouring from her eyes and soiled her face, but she made no effort to wipe them away. Her expression was twisted with sorrow. She did not stop walking as her sobs leaked out.
She missed him so.
She loved him so.
But that no longer mattered. He had decided, and knowing him, it was final.
Her heart broke.
“Sorry for coming back so late,” said Ageha as he entered his apartment.
“No worries!” Rin beamed at him like usual.
Removing his coat and shoes, Ageha walked into the living room.
“Have you had dinner yet?” asked Rin.
“Yeah, I grabbed some takoyaki on the way back.”
Rin looked surprised.
“What?” he asked.
“I didn’t think you liked that kind of food.”
“I actually love takoyaki. My mouth is used to tasting hot food, so I can even eat it while it’s piping hot.”
Ageha started stripping off his multiple layers of winter clothing and piling them on the sofa.
“Hey, don’t just suddenly strip in front of me!” shouted Rin while blushing.
“Aren’t you embarrassed?”
“Well I am, so stop it. At least wait until I’m not in the same room.”
Girls are so picky.
He recalled Kaika’s reaction to his stripping but immediately erased the image from his mind.
“We’re a couple now, so isn’t it fine?” he asked.
“Th-That’s cheating! I’ll allow anything if you say something like that.”
That was not true. Even though they had been living together for a few days now, they had not slept together. Rin’s trauma from Jin’s torture caused her to shrink back in fear when he touched her sensitive areas. Ageha slept on the sofa to keep his lust in check.
Having gotten Rin’s permission, Ageha continued to undress while she faced the other way. Ageha heaved a sigh.
Another fruitless night.
Ageha had been out late trying to buy information from information brokers in the darker parts of Tokyo. He had been looking for clues on how to find Jin.
This would have been much easier with Saya’s help.
Saya’s information network was vast. She could find Jin much faster than any of the cheap information peddlers that he could afford. A large chunk of his savings had gone to fixing his left arm. The bill had been more expensive than expected because his ARMS were state-of-the-art.
No, I can’t do that.
Ageha reprimanded himself for thinking about his former companions. Putting Kaika aside, his feelings for Saya were unchanged. However, he had already betrayed her by accepting Rin. Even though he had believed Saya was dead when he made his decision, there was no way he could forgive himself for hurting her.
After changing into his house clothes, Ageha plopped down on the couch.
“What, that’s it?” asked Rin.
“What do you mean?”
“I… I thought, you know, since we’re a couple now like you said, we could do something more couple-like…” she said while fidgeting. Her cheeks had a shade of pink on them.
She really is cute.
Ageha was assaulted by guilt for thinking about Saya in front of Rin. He was being crushed by regrets on all sides, but he accepted them all. They were his punishment.
Rin obediently trotted to him and sat on his lap. He held her in his arms and kissed her. Each peck made his heart ache, but he endured.
“I’m so happy,” she said.
A growing cycle of lies and regrets tormented him.
It was a simple stroke of bad luck. Saya had left her side at the worst possible timing.
“Who are you?” asked Kaika.
She already knew who the girl in front of her was. Ageha had given his report on Arashi after their fight in the slums. The fact that she was pointing a large rifle at Kaika confirmed the girl’s identity. Kaika had only asked the question to buy time.
The teen had easily infiltrated the mansion. She had incapacitated several guards until she found Kaika, who had been on her way to a safe room.
I should’ve followed Saya’s advice and lay low a bit longer.
A part of her found it hilarious how she clung to the mansion despite the fact that it had already been easily attacked twice before. She realized that her prison since birth was also a home she unknowingly cherished.
As Kaika reflected on her mistake, she desperately thought of ways to escape this situation with her life.
“What do you want?” she asked.
“I don’t remember doing anything to you.”
Arashi shook her head and said, “Ageha.”
How popular do you plan to get?
“He no longer works for me. I can tell you where he is, if that’s what you want.”
Arashi shook her head. What the teen said next was completely outside of Kaika’s expectations.
Kaika had completely misread Arashi. She was a master at reading people, but in Arashi’s case, there was simply too little to read. Such an odd motive was impossible to discern just from looking at the teen with a frozen face.
“Why should I?”
Arashi tilted her head. The question appeared to be too difficult for the simpleton.
“Let me rephrase that. Why do you want me to hire you?”
“…Stronger. Need money.”
I see now.
Not minding the rifle trained at her, Kaika walked forward. She then extended her right hand towards Arashi and said, “Interview complete. You’re hired.”
Arashi’s half-closed eyelids rose slightly. She then warily lowered her weapon and grasped Kaika’s extended hand.
The stroke of bad luck turned out to be the opposite. Kaika needed someone exactly like Arashi. She already had a vague idea of why Ageha had not returned to them. Rin was the most likely culprit.
Kaika liked Rin a lot. She was bright and warm, like the sun. Kaika had managed to get truly restful sleep, an invaluable commodity to her, in Rin’s comfortable arms. She was thankful for that.
But that did not mean she would allow Rin to steal him. Ageha had become an essential spice in Kaika’s life. If she had to choose between Ageha and Rin, the answer was obvious. A wicked grin spread across her face.
Sorry, but he’s mine.
Preparing to cut away another part of herself, Kaika imagined her inevitable suffering and laughed.
Volume Two End.