Rin strolled with Ageha underneath a line of cherry trees in Ueno park. The golden sunset gleamed between the tree branches, painting an enthralling silhouette of color and shadow on the ground.
She looked at the pink petals dotting the natural floor art and mumbled, “Things never go according to plan, do they?” A surge of melancholy flooded her chest.
The couple had come for flower viewing, but due to a brisk rain earlier that day, the delicate cherry blossoms had fallen to the earth.
“Can’t do anything about the weather. Besides, we have the park to ourselves and got to see this beautiful sunset,” said Ageha.
“I really wanted to see the flowers.”
“There’s always next time.”
No, there isn’t.
“We should’ve gone out earlier,” she said.
Maybe if we got together a year, no, a few months earlier.
“It’s too late to say that now.” Ageha smiled.
“It is, isn’t it?” Rin looked at him with budding tears.
Everything is too late.
“It’s not something to cry about.” With a worried expression, Ageha reached out to her face.
Rin stepped back to avoid his touch and turned away from him. While recalling the past week, she walked over to a nearby tree.
It was fun.
Everything was back to normal. She and Ageha went home and ate dinner together, went on dates, cuddled in bed, and kissed like newlyweds.
Jin was gone, both from the world and from inside her, but she still did not take the final step with Ageha. Rin feared that her determination might waver if Ageha invaded her any more than he already had. Still, she bathed in bliss every moment they were together.
It was happiness.
Just like a dream.
And as such, it had to end.
No, she had to end it.
With her back to him, Rin said, “I can’t do this anymore.”
The footfalls approaching her fell silent.
“Sorry, I didn’t catch that.”
“I tried my best to forget everything, to go back to before, but I can’t. I thought if I kept laughing and smiling I’d eventually get over it. I mean, I liked you so much, you know?”
“I’m not following. What are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about us, Ageha. I can’t keep going.”
“Wait, where’s this coming from? …Did Kai say something?”
“Don’t insult me! This has nothing to do with her!”
Rin was telling the truth. Even though Kaika had given her a push, it was ultimately her decision.
“Then tell me!” he said. “Weren’t we doing okay? I don’t get this!”
“You’re the one I don’t get. How can you act so normal after everything?” She looked at her palms. “I can’t sleep, Ageha. That woman keeps appearing in my dreams!”
“That wasn’t your fault. You had no choice.”
“Yes, I did. I could’ve just left her there after stealing her gun. I could’ve shot her in the leg or something! I chose to kill her. But that doesn’t matter right now.” Rin shook her head. “I’m talking about you.”
“How can you be fine after killing so many people?”
Ageha did not reply.
Rin’s voice shook. “I don’t understand you.”
“I… never felt anything like that.”
“That’s… sick.” Rin’s heart silently wailed as she continued her life’s finest performance. “I thought I was okay with it. I tried my hardest to be. I mean, you were a bodyguard, you protected people. I could live with that… But killing for fun? I… I don’t, I can’t understand it.”
“It’s not like that!” He stepped forward. “I-”
“Don’t come any closer!” Because I’ll give in and run into your arms.
Ageha flinched to a stop.
Keeping her back to him, she said, “…I’m scared when I’m around you.” You’re my savior.
“I keep remembering painful things when we’re together.” Our memories are my treasure.
“When I look at your face sometimes, I don’t recognize who I see.” Your smile always makes my day.
“After killing a person, I finally understand what you are.” I’m sorry I can’t share your burden.
“I care for you, Ageha. I do. But I… I can’t be with you anymore.” You deserve to be happy.
Rin turned to face him.
Ageha was crying.
Her heart shriveled.
But that was for the best.
He was too loyal, too stubborn, to leave her for anything less.
She loved him too much to completely let go if any hope still lingered.
For both their sakes, she had to kill the root of their bond and poison the earth in which it dwelled, preventing anything from sprouting ever again.
Rin walked towards him, but he stood frozen with a blank expression, tears trickling down his cheeks. Without looking at his face, she passed by his side.
“Rin, wait, I-”
“You’re a monster.” And I love you.
She hammered the final nail into the coffin and bid farewell.
Sapped of vitality, Ageha waddled to the nearest bench and roosted on it. Eventually, the full moon rose to the middle of the night sky, imparting a haunting hue on the scenery around him. Staring at the ghostly satellite above, he unfolded and tidied up his thoughts repeatedly.
Something obstructed his view.
“You normally cover both eyes when you do this,” said Ageha.
“Don’t be so picky. I only have one usable arm.”
“…How are you doing?”
“I’ll live, but I can’t say the same for you. You look like you’re about to wither away.”
He chuckled. “I’m amazed you have the gall to say that when everything went according to your plan.”
“I know I’m amazing. No need to state the obvious.”
“Getting shot didn’t change you in the slightest. Can you let go now? You’re blocking my view.”
Kaika uncovered his left eye and went around the bench. “Can I have a seat?”
“Thanks.” She plopped down beside him, patting down her black miniskirt as she did so.
“You’re too close. It’ll get stuffy.”
“You looked cold.”
And he was, down to his very core.
“How long were you watching?”
“I just got here. If you’re asking about my scouts, even I don’t know. I just told them to keep an eye on you. How diligently they do that is out of my control.”
“That’s hard to believe. When I close my eyes,” and he did, “I can see everyone dancing on the palm of your hand. Is that shoulder wound part of your plan too?”
“Would you believe me if I said it wasn’t?”
“I don’t know what to believe anymore.”
“It wasn’t. The last thing I remember was Akane pointing a gun at Rin. Then I woke up in a hospital room. Even I’m not ballsy enough to gamble on bullet trajectory.”
“Did you use that to convince Rin to dump me?”
“Is that what she told you? From your expression, I thought she said something, you know, more…”
“She told me I’m a monster. Hurt like hell. Just like when Airi said the same thing.”
Ageha cared for Saya more than Rin, but he still treasured the lively cameriera. To him, her words bore the most weight because she belonged to the light. She was his lifeline to normalcy, to peace.
“After sitting here for a while, I figured out that she didn’t mean it. Rin isn’t like that. But I still don’t know why she said those things. Can you fill in the blanks for me?”
“I showed her your match with Saya. She also heard your conversation in the ring through a remote speaker. That’s why I brought her there that night.”
Rin had not explained to him why she was with Kaika at the arena during the finals. Ageha, who kept a multitude of secrets from her, had been unable to ask.
“…So she did it for me? That makes me wanna cry.” He exhaled a dry laugh.
“Wanna borrow my shoulder?” She dusted off the shoulder seam of her sleeveless white blouse.
“I don’t think I can put it back on after plucking it off.”
“You say some terrifying things. But I guess I deserve that.”
“Why are you here?”
“I thought you needed some company.”
“I don’t have the energy to play your games, Kai.”
“Fair enough. I want you back.”
“What makes you think I’d ever work for you again?”
“What would it take?”
“The truth, for starters.”
“I’ve told you about how I want to change the world, right?”
“A genius like myself can come up with a bunch of ways to do it. If I took my time, maybe I could have avoided hurting you, Rin, Saya, and many others. But I can’t.”
“Are you serious?”
Kaika formed a bitter smile. “You’ve probably noticed some of the signs. My pale complexion, severe sleep deprivation, stunted body, lack of appetite, oh, your cooking is an exception for the last one. The longest I have is a few more years, and that estimate is from my most optimistic doctor.”
Ageha gazed into her eyes with a distraught expression. “I had no idea it was that bad.”
“Of course. I’m the one keeping the secret, after all. I don’t want to be pitied. It doesn’t excuse anything I‘ve done, anyway.”
Ageha mulled over her revelation. It certainly made sense. Mortality provided enough motivation for her pragmatic cruelty. Like she said, it did not justify her actions, but at the very least, the thick fog shrouding her heart’s desire had cleared.
Without any direction or purpose at the moment, Ageha contemplated her offer. He found himself tempted to grant the ethereal girl’s wish. Putting aside his inability to trust her silver tongue, Ageha genuinely cared for Kaika. His panic upon seeing her wounded a few weeks ago proved that much.
He turned to her and said, “Okay. I’ll help you out. No promises, though.”
On the verge of tears, Kaika parted her trembling lips and said, “April Fools.”
It was April 1st.
Ageha’s hand shot out and grabbed her back collar. Without moving from his seat, he hung her in the air in front of him like a kitten, their faces inches apart.
“Wow, not even a ‘What.’ comeback,” she said.
“Are you dying or not?”
“Now before you kill me, I did that for a reason.”
“You have one second.”
“That’s too short!!!”
“It’s proof of my promise.”
Ageha peered into her eyes.
“Can you put me down now? This isn’t exactly comfortable. I’m injured, as you can see.”
“…Okay. Remember when I first offered you a deal? We were sitting on a park bench, just like this one. Well, that’s how the line in my script goes, but I’m not really sitting down right now.” She shook her head as if clearing her thoughts. “Anyway, that was the first time I lied to you.”
“Are you sure you should be wasting your last moments telling old stories?”
“Calm down and listen!” The young girl thrust her open hand in front of him. “You’re messing up my delivery.” She coughed to clear her throat. “That was the first time I lied to you.”
She actually repeated her previous line.
Kaika stared into his eyes and continued, “And that April Fools’ joke just now is the last.”
“I have no reason to believe you.”
“But you do. That’s half the reason for that final lie. You agreed to help me, even if it was out of pity. I could’ve simply continued lying about my imaginary terminal illness. However, I chose to risk my life to prove my resolve to you.”
“I’m not falling for another of your schemes.”
“Then ask your questions. Judge me after hearing the truth.”
Ageha fell silent and thought for a moment. It could not hurt to hear her out. “Okay, first off-”
“Sorry to interrupt you, but seriously, can you put me down first? My armpits are getting sore, not to mention my dignity is in tatters.”
“I suggest you talk fast then. You said proving your resolve was half the reason for that sick joke. What’s the other half?”
“It’s April Fools, Ageha! There was no way I could pass that up!”
Ageha shook her around like a popcorn bag. He was pissed off and flabbergasted, leaving him no room to be depressed.
What a cheeky brat.
He asked about everything, and Kaika answered. She concisely explained her bet with Valeriya, her plan to convince Rin to leave Ageha, Arashi’s story and what she did to her, and how she gained control of ARMS production worldwide by absorbing NGC’s only significant rival.
“What’s the point of monopolizing ARMS production?” asked Ageha. “It’s not like you need more money.”
“I didn’t do it for money. I did it for power.” While hanging in the air, Kaika raised her index finger as she explained. “ARMS technology is advancing by leaps and bounds. Soon, military organizations, be it state or insurgent, will have no choice but to rely on it. Having full control of that technology gives me real power, something money cannot buy.”
“Power for what?”
“I can’t tell you.”
Ageha gave her a shake.
“Stop that!” she said. “Do you have any idea how valuable the brain you’re sloshing around is!?”
“No lies, that’s what you said.”
“That’s why I can’t tell you. I can’t lie about it anymore.”
“Then tell the truth.”
“…You’ll kill me.”
As expected, you’re a villain.
“Come back, Ageha. I need you.”
But so am I.
“I have several conditions,” he said.
Kaika flourished an ecstatic grin. “Name them.”
“One, I will work on a case-by-case basis. Think of me as a contractor. The same compensation as before is fine.”
“Two, when you achieve your goal, tell me everything. Then I’ll decide if I’ll kill you or not.”
“Are you really fine with that? It’ll be too late to stop me by then.”
“I kill people after they do something I don’t like. I’m not a cop or a hero.”
“Three, give Arashi her eyes back.”
Kaika’s jaw dropped. She used a moment to collect herself and put on a sour look. “That’s something I can’t do. She’s hunting you, Ageha. I don’t want either of you to get hurt needlessly.”
“Who do you think you’re talking to? I’ll just kick her ass hard enough to make her lose motivation, again and again if I have to.”
The young girl stared at him in wonder and whispered, “I worried endlessly about this, but you blew it all away just like that. I can’t believe I trust you this much…” The young girl pinched her chin, her eyes furrowed. “But if she finds out that her mother is fake-”
“Four, make that actress Arashi’s real mother.”
Realization flashed in Kaika’s eyes. “You mean…”
“Fix the actress’s face, body, whatever is necessary. Make sure that woman lives the rest of her life as Arashi’s mother. You can buy that much, can’t you?”
“Why are you going so far for Arashi?”
“I owe her one. This is payment.”
“Is that all? There’s nothing Saya should be worried about, is there?”
“No. I’m Arashi’s god. I should do at least this much for her.”
“Deal, but not right away. I need enough time to keep her from getting suspicious,” she said as she wrinkled her brow. “Considering how difficult this condition is, can I add one of my own to balance it out?”
“Please cook for me again. I miss your food. It’s okay even if it’s just from time to time.”
He was undeniably pleased with her request. When they had been working together, Kaika was not only his boss but also his best food critic. Cooking for such a refined palate was a delight for any chef. Kaika’s words were probably designed to stroke his pride, but she spoke about his cooking. She had to be telling the truth.
Ageha moved Kaika closer until their faces were practically touching. “One last thing,” he said in a much lower, colder tone, “if you ever use Saya to manipulate me again, I will punish you.”
“…I think I got wet,” she said with a blank face.
“I meant to scare you, so that’s fine.”
“Not that kind of wet.”
“You perverted brat.” He sighed and put her down. “We have a deal.” Ageha then placed a hand on top of her wavy mane and gently rubbed it.
“This is a first.” She looked at him from below with a complicated expression.
“Is it? You don’t like it?”
Slightly blushing, Kaika shook her head. “It’s not bad.” She tugged on the hem of his shirt. “Thank you, Ageha.”
“Save that for when I actually do some work.”
“Not just that.” She took a deep breath and smiled. “Thanks for saving Arashi and me from myself.”
Ageha realized how conflicted Kaika was. Even he could not find himself until recently. It was normal for a girl a decade younger to have doubts about herself. Her usual abnormality had prevented him from seeing that.
Kaika bobbed her head away from his hand. “With that settled, get your ass over there.” Whipping her left hand out, she pointed at the other end of the park lawn.
“I should’ve added more respectful treatment as a sixth condition.”
“That would’ve been a dealbreaker.” Kaika grinned mischievously. “Hurry up. She’s waiting for you.”
By process of elimination, Ageha easily figured out who she was referring to. “So you knew I was going to say yes from the beginning?”
“Of course not. I didn’t even tell her why she’s waiting there. I couldn’t have her butting into our negotiations.” Kaika looked away and mumbled, “I regretted that a little when I was getting manhandled though.”
“Did you forget my final condition?”
“This is no scheme. Even if you had declined my job offer, this part wouldn’t have changed. I’m doing this solely for her.”
Ageha pressed his lips into a thin line. “…I don’t know what I should say to her.”
“Don’t be a loser. At least think of your pick-up lines yourself.”
“I just got dumped, you know?”
“Then go and get consoled.” She then mumbled under her breath, “Your oversized head is too much for my delicate shoulder.”
Ageha cracked his fingers. “Want to go for another ride?”
“I’m sorry. Anything but that.”
He smiled at Kaika, who trembled like a wet hamster, and then headed in the direction she indicated.
The prodigy’s methods were as unpalatable as usual, but the results were undeniable. Kaika had ended his warped love affair with Rin, the bond he lacked the courage to sever himself. Both of them had gotten hurt in the process, but not as severely as they could have been if his lie had continued.
“Hey.” Ageha approached Saya from behind.
She turned to him and said, “Good evening, Ageha-sama,” with an immaculate bow.
“You don’t look surprised.”
“Apologies. I have been watching the two of you the entire time. This model has excellent zoom and night vision specs.” She traced the skin under her left eye with a finger.
“Are you angry because I shook Kai around like that?”
“No, she deserved that much. She ordered me to stay here and ran off without explaining why. I got so worried I resorted to peeking like a stalker.”
“Is that why you’re so pissed?”
“N-No. I am not angry at all. I… I am just nervous. I have something important to tell you.”
“Please let me go first. My confession will likely change what you have to say.”
Ageha’s left brow rose slightly. “Okay.”
“I… lied to you. In the semi-final fight, I acted surprised when I saw your face, but that was all a sham.” Enduring her fear, she bit her lower lip. “I knew all about it… No, I initiated all of it.” She unconsciously pinched her black slacks. “I tried to think of ways to get you back, but nothing came up. That is when I asked Ojousama for help, and we drafted a plan together. Ojousama firmly believed you would not kill me if we met in the ring. I was not as confident, but risking my life was a cheap price to pay. If it was to get you back, I would… I even involved Natsume-san like that. I am so sorry.” She bowed deeply, her shoulders quivering.
He sighed. “Kai already told me all about that.”
“Eh?” Saya raised her head.
“I can’t blame you for that because I’m no different. Not anymore. Maybe I’m even worse.” He looked down, as if ashamed. “While we were on the run, I met Jin. He was the one who guided us out.”
Saya had no idea that happened while she was unconscious.
“In exchange for helping us escape, I promised I wouldn’t kill him. But in the end, I kinda rearranged his intestines.”
Ageha-sama broke a promise?
“I also promised Rin I would always stay with her, but here I am. She got hurt and sacrificed so much for me, but I gave her nothing in return. She even severed ties with me for my sake.” He clenched his jaw, his eyes still on the ground. “I’m nothing but a hypocrite. I’ve become the very thing I despise.”
“That is not true! You are asking too much of yourself! No one can live like that!”
He raised his head and approached her. “I’ll return those words to you.”
“Ageha-sama?” She took a half-step back.
He continued forward until his body almost touched hers. “I’m not the person you knew, Saya. I’ve changed too much.” He then wrapped his arms around her, taking care not to press on her injury. “But if I can finally give you my answer, then maybe… maybe that’s okay.”
Saya’s heart rejoiced as she endured a torrent of guilt. Her confession about entering the tournament had gone according to plan.
Saya knew all about Rin’s sacrifice. When Ageha grabbed Kaika by her collar, she was worried the bug she planted on her mistress’s blouse would break, but it transmitted the entire conversation clearly.
Kaika had decided to face Ageha with the truth.
Saya had decided to embrace her own lies.
Ageha’s guilt was the primary roadblock preventing their relationship from developing. By admitting her misdeeds, Saya indirectly absolved him of his sins. If he judged himself harshly, he would have to judge her with the same standard. The Ageha she loved would not do that.
Saya admired Rin’s courage for letting Ageha go. But she did not envy it. What she realized in the time she and Ageha were apart was that she could do anything to be with him, even deceiving him if necessary. She had already dirtied herself for that purpose and carved out a place by his side.
Rin was willing to sacrifice her own happiness for Ageha, but Saya was prepared to offer everything except that. Rin had given up after realizing how far away Ageha was. On the other hand, Saya had clawed her way to him, going so far as to drag him down to a place she could reach.
Rin stayed pure.
Ageha had become more human.
Saya had become less.
The latter two now stood on the same ground.
A wicked smile floated on her lips as she savored victory while in his arms.
“Did your breasts get bigger?” he asked.
“Really!?” she asked happily.
Her right hand instantly grabbed his hair.
She then pulled his head down and planted her lips on his.
Kaika finished typing on her desk terminal and stretched her arms up. She then rotated her shoulder while giving it a rub. There was no scar thanks to her skillful surgeons, but a faint discomfort still remained. She looked over the proposal she just finished drafting.
This should convince the Japanese government to speed up cybernetic enhancement of the armed forces.
Now I just need to offer the same deal to China, Russia, and the United States.
Kaika noticed her parched lips. “Saya, can you get me a dri-”
She remembered that her hardworking butler was on a rare day off.
The young tycoon pressed a button on her terminal. “Get me a chai iced tea.”
“Yes, Ojousama,” said one of the maids.
Kaika leaned back on her chair and slid down languidly.
Good luck, Saya.
Her big sister was on her first real date.
Make good memories.
We won’t have time for that soon.
“That was pretty good for an animated movie,” said Ageha.
“I liked the twist,” said Saya. “It was quite dark compared to the prequels, but the happy ending made up for it.”
“Ria raved about it way before it came out. I was skeptical, but I guess she has decent taste, in movies at least.”
“…You do remember that Varrenikov will likely become Ojousama’s enemy sooner or later, right?”
“That doesn’t mean I’m going to be Ria’s enemy. At most, I’m just Kai’s pinch hitter.”
Saya’s lips curled into a cute pout. “What’s so good about that woman?”
“Her breasts? That hurts. I know my arm is metal, but so are your fingers.”
“Endure it.” Saya, her cheeks flushed, wrapped her arm around his and leaned on his shoulder. “It’s your fault I’ve become like this.”
They left the movie theater and strolled down the shopping district’s main street. Colorful banners and signs decorated both sides of the road.
Saya let go of his arm and pointed at a store window. “Look at those dolphin socks! I bet Ojousama would look great in them. I think I’ll get them as a present.”
Ageha noticed her glittering eyes and smiled. Saya, who rarely shopped for herself, only got that look when buying things for her mistress.
Remembering Valeriya’s positive reaction to his gift on White Day, he asked, “Wouldn’t a plush toy be better?”
“Ojousama wants to keep her fixatio-” she coughed, “preference a secret. Socks are perfect. Wait here, I’ll go buy them.”
“I’ll go with you.”
“It’s fine. I know you don’t like going into female-oriented stores.”
“It’s not that I hate it, but everyone inside looks at me like I’m a wild beast.”
“You probably have that backward.”
Ageha raised an eyebrow.
“You’re the meat.” She laughed. “I’ll be quick.” Leaving Ageha on the street, Saya entered the store and spoke with the clerk.
Ageha watched her with a smile on his face.
Some things never change.
Kaika’s shyness about liking cute animals and Saya’s doting over her mistress had not faltered one bit. Ageha felt relieved that he could enjoy peaceful days like this despite all the chaos just a few weeks prior.
Ageha saw an unexpected face. “Yama-san? What are you doing here?”
“I called you on the phone many times.” Yama’s shoulders heaved as he tried to catch his breath. “A couple of our regulars told me they saw you at the cinema so I ran over here.”
Sapore was walking distance from the shopping district. Some of their younger guests strolled around the merchant street before heading to the restaurant.
Ageha checked his phone and saw more than a dozen missed calls. “Sorry, it’s my day off so I had it on silent.” He scratched the back of his head and showed a regretful smile.
With a small paper bag in hand, Saya appeared from the store and went to his side. “Ageha, an acquaintance?”
Ageha turned to Saya and said, “Yeah, this is Koujirou Yama, a chef I-”
“Look out!” said Saya.
A fist flew towards his face.
He easily dodged it by tilting his head. “Yama-san?”
Was Yama an enemy? But his punch was too amateurish for an assassin.
Saya poised herself for combat, but Ageha raised a hand, signaling for her to stand down.
“So it was all your fault,” said Yama.
“It’s because of you, you cheating bastard!” Yama glared at him and then at Saya. “We got a call a few hours ago. Rin, she…”
The rest of Yama’s words faded into an ear-splitting buzz. The next thing Ageha knew, he was sitting on the asphalt with a bleeding nose. He blankly watched Yama walk away.
Saya tightly embraced him from behind, but all he could feel was emptiness.
“Sorry, can you say that again?” asked Kaika as she firmly pressed the phone to her ear.
“Rin Natsume hung herself in her room this morning,” said Saya.
Kaika stood up and swept everything off her desk.