That was his childhood nickname and birthday, though his mother still called him Maxxie in private even now. Max clicked the login button on the password screen. The loading icon appeared on the mouse pointer for a second before his mother’s computer desktop displayed in full.
He glanced at the bathroom door. His mother always took long baths, so he had enough time to read her emails and get out before she finished. However, the fear of getting caught still compelled him to check from time to time.
As usual, he scanned through his mother’s recent emails and typed any important information into the mobile Kaika gave him. According to her, the line was secure, so he confidently sent classified U.S. government and military information using the device. He had been doing so for a while now.
While gulping down pangs of guilt, he pressed send once more. Betraying those close to him was not easy, but he valued Kaika’s praise more than those bonds.
Kaika was his savior.
Even though he was born into a family of prestige and power, his mother had sheltered him from politics and always treated him like a child. Rebelling against that felt like second nature.
Tricking Mashiro was harder on his conscience because she was a genuinely good person. He never liked her underlying condescension towards him, the junior, but that was not enough for him to hate her. Fortunately, Max felt jealous of the power and recognition her father gave her, something he yearned for all his life. He had fanned that jealousy until it sprouted crackling flames, empowering his betrayal.
At first, Kaika had treated him no differently. She had constructed a facade of the perfect fiance: rich, powerful, cultured, and beautiful. She was the perfect tool for Max to gain power of his own, so he had agreed to the engagement, faking affection to use her.
However, when Mashiro told him about Kaika’s darkness, he decided to confront his fiance. She denied it at first. But after the evidence against her started piling up, she casually admitted to all of it. That was when everything changed.
Instead of pushing him away, Kaika explained her grand plan to him. She even revealed how she would use him to move American politics. With an utterly despicable smile, Kaika said she needed him to be victorious.
That was exactly what he had wanted his entire life: to be taken seriously, to be part of the bigger picture, to be needed.
Kaika had rescued him from mediocrity, and he loved her for it.
If I work hard enough, she’ll recognize me as an irreplaceable partner someday.
I’m sure of it.
“Maxxie, it was you?”
Max stiffened on the computer chair. He casually slipped the mobile phone in his chest pocket before swiveling to face his mother. “M-Mom, I-I was just-”
“I’ve been investigating the info leak…” Rachel tightly gripped the sides of her bathrobe. “I didn’t want to suspect you, so this was the last possibility I checked… To think, my own son..!”
Max stood up. “You’ve got it all wrong! I-I…”
“You what!? Go on! Explain! Explain why you’re using my computer!” Rachel marched towards him.
The bedroom window shattered, scattering glass on the floor. Rachel fell to the carpet with a hole in her chest.
He looked at Rachel as blood soaked into her beige bathrobe.
Mom was shot…
Their estate was miles away from any sniping spots.
Max came back to his senses and rushed to her side. “Mom!!!” He grabbed her shoulders. “Oh my God! Oh my God!!! What do I do!?”
The light in his mother’s eyes flickered out. In her dying breath, she mouthed a word to him.
Max let go of her and stood up. A bullet went through his waist. He squealed and fell on his side. He reflexively grabbed the wound, soaking his hands in blood.
I don’t wanna die!
I don’t wanna die!!!
No more shots came. His adrenaline boosted brain figured out that the sniper had lost sight of him when he fell. He crawled on the floor, inching himself away from the broken window. While panting from the pain, Max leaned his back on the wall and took out the mobile from his pocket, smearing blood all over it.
I need to contact Kaika!
The phone had only one number saved. To avoid getting tapped, Kaika had warned him to only call that number in the case of a life or death emergency. That time was now.
He pressed the dial button and pressed the speaker to his ear. While waiting for the phone to ring, he squeamishly checked on his wound. His white shirt was dyed deep red. The pain in his abdomen grew worse every second.
It’s not ringing.
Max looked at the screen.
What’s going on!?
He pressed various buttons on the device to no effect. Then he tried removing the battery, but the formatting process continued.
That was when he realized what was happening.
“She did say she’d use me.” Blood bubbled out of his gut as he chuckled.
His quivering fingers dropped the phone. He did not bother putting pressure on the wound. Too much blood had leaked out. He was too weak to call for help.
I wonder what face she’ll make after finding out I tried to call her.
I really wanna see it.
His back slid down the wall as he welcomed the long night.
“How is it?” asked Mashiro.
Makoto, inside an armored suit sans the helmet, jumped up and down and then threw a few punches. “Not bad.”
“Not a hundred percent, but this baby doesn’t need much muscle to use.” He flexed his right arm.
They had been watching TV in Mashiro’s living room when the suit arrived. After seeing them in action, Makoto had begged her for one, so she had the engineers make one for him.
“I’m glad you like it. It’s custom made.”
“Cool. What makes it different?”
“Better specs. The ones we used against Kaika were only prototypes. This one is based on the production model, but I asked them to add better safety features. Also, the helmet looks less villainous.”
“Why don’t they include those features on all the units?”
Mashiro made a ring with her thumb and index finger. “This.”
“How much do I owe you?”
“More than your annual salary.”
“…This is a gift right? If not, I’ll send it back.”
Mashiro laughed. “You’ll be using that even if I have to force it on you. Though I don’t think it’ll do much against Shikimi-san or that robot. Good thing we’re on the same team as Kaika.”
“I’m still surprised you kept the deal with Nikaido after that mess.”
“That wasn’t her fault. Our side brought that robot to the meeting, and she didn’t know about Ken’s killer.”
“You believe her?”
“She had no reason to mess things up at that point. She might be insane, but she’s not stupid.”
“Be careful. Those people are dangerous, especially Shikimi.”
“You say that, but you were the one who rushed into danger to save him at the gas station.”
“Under your orders.”
“You were never that desperate to follow my orders before.”
“…He saved my life. Your life. I owe him that much.”
“Nice excuse coming from the guy who went crazy over how cool Ageha’s rampage was.”
“Can you blame me!? I’m a guy, you know! We all dream of going berserk at least once in our lives.”
“And piloting a robot?”
“Yes! I mean, that’s not important! What I’m trying to say is that it’s better to stay away from that bunch.”
“Don’t be like that. We need all the help we can get against General Walker.” She rose from the sofa and touched his cheek. “I don’t want you to get hurt anymore.”
“I’m your bodyguard, stupid. It’s my job to get hurt in your place.”
“Then do a better job so we’re both safe.”
He nodded and held the hand on his cheek. Mashiro flinched.
Makoto quickly released her. “Sorry! Did I overdo it? I’m not used to this yet.”
Mashiro frantically shook her head. “I was just… surprised. I’m not used to this either.”
“I meant the suit.”
“…Listen, I have something to tell you.” He gently held her shoulders. “I’m sure you already know how I feel, but I want to say it properly.”
She gulped as her eyes wandered around, driven by a mix of shyness and excitement. That reaction caused Makoto to sweat nervously, but he did not need to. Her answer had been determined a long time ago. She simply never knew how to express it properly.
“Mashiro, I love-”
“…You could at least let me finish.”
“Not that! You’re in the way!” She pushed him aside and watched the breaking news report on TV.
Makoto followed her gaze to the screen. “A coup…”
“That midget tricked me!”
The program continued to a segment about a series of assassinations that had happened as the coup broke out. Rachel’s and Max’s names were on the list.
Mashiro unconsciously covered her mouth with a hand. “No… Max…”
Makoto embraced her tightly. “I never liked that guy, but he didn’t deserve this.”
The news report ended. Mashiro switched to other channels, but they all showed the same thing: a nightmare come to life.
She gently pushed Makoto away. “I need to talk to Dad.”
“Should I go with you?”
“I appreciate it, but I’ll be fine.”
“…Okay. I’ll be here if you need me.”
“Thanks, Makoto.” She stood on her toes and gave him a smack on the cheek. “I’ll listen to the rest later.”
Mashiro rushed upstairs and knocked on her father’s study. After receiving permission, she went in and closed the door behind her.
Her father pushed up his glasses and looked at her face. “What is it?”
“Did you see the news?”
“I’ve been busy all morning, so no.”
Mashiro did her best to relay the news, including Max’s assassination. Then she went on to explain Kaika’s involvement in the coup and how she broke her deal with Mashiro.
“So that’s what you’ve been up to in Japan. I have to say I’m disappointed in you.”
“I know I screwed up. I never should’ve trusted her. But I can still make this right. I need your help, Dad. I’ll never forgive Kaika for killing Max.”
“Nikaido didn’t kill the Garveys.”
“How can you be so sure!? That girl is insane!”
“I killed them.”
Mashiro’s next words caught in her throat. “…I don’t understand.”
“My men did, to be precise. They killed everyone on the list you saw on TV, assuming the media got it right. Maxwell was just collateral damage, though.”
“W-Wha…” She shook her head, her eyes still glued on her father’s stern face. “Why!?”
“They were hindrances. It’s nothing personal, just like when I arrested your real father or got rid of Zhang Wei Long.”
“Zhang Wei Long? The triad leader? Wasn’t he assassinated by a rival triad?”
“No. He was killed by my men for going on a rampage on U.S. soil. That was the excuse, at least. I would’ve killed him anyway. He was too stubborn to supply our faction with the resources we needed for the coup. He wanted peace, the exact opposite of my goal.”
“…This is a joke, right? There’s no way you’d do something like that.”
“That’s why I’m disappointed in you, Mashiro. You’re extremely talented, but your naivety chains you down. I gave you the resources you asked for, but you spent it all on a wild goose chase in Tokyo. You got as far as finding Walker but never looked past that. Now you’re in denial when faced with the facts.”
“You mean, you and Walker…”
“He’s a good friend and my right hand in this operation.”
“The coup, everything… It was you?”
Without changing his stern expression, he nodded. “Yes. If you had paid more attention to your surroundings, you would’ve figured it out.”
“T-There must be a reason, right? You were the one who told me to pursue my justice… You helped me!”
“Ever since we met in Okinawa, I wanted to help you follow that path. I wanted to see how far you could go and where it’d take you. That has nothing to do with my own ambitions. A carpenter’s son need not be a carpenter. You are your own person.”
“That’s irrelevant right now! What you’re doing is wrong! Many people are going to die! You’re better than this! You’re a good man! An honorable man!”
“I am. I’m not doing this for fun. Like you, I want to lead the world down the right path. I’m a military man, and you’re an activist. Our methods differ, that’s all. The world needs strong leadership, but our country has become too flaccid to provide that. I’m just helping it back to its feet.”
“…Why are you telling me all this? Why now?”
“Because you asked. I have no reason to lie to you. That, and you deserve an explanation for what I’m about to do.”
Mashiro backed away and touched the doorknob behind her.
“Don’t be foolish.” Butler shook his head. “I’m not gonna hurt my own daughter. I’ve spoiled you too much, so I’m going to discipline you, that’s all.”
“I’m stopping all financial and political support for your campaigns and organizations. You can keep your personal funds, but knowing how frugal you are, that isn’t much. If you get into a bind, give me a call and I’ll send you an allowance. You can keep Makoto and the suit you gave him. I’m sure he’ll keep you safe. I’m going to be very busy in the coming months and won’t be around to help if you get into trouble.”
“…You’re just as crazy as Kaika.”
“Not at all. We used the same method in this specific case, but that doesn’t mean we’re similar. I hold a clear vision of the future, while she thrives in anarchy. Our goals are more different than yours and mine. She doesn’t even know I’m behind Walker, though I’m sure she suspected it as a possibility.”
Mashiro glared at her father, her former hero. “I’m going to stop you, Dad.”
“Go ahead. I raised you to be able to try.” He stared back into his monitor. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a rebellion to run.”
Mashiro left the study and told Makoto everything. Using her mobile, she checked the accounts her father had given her, but most of them were already frozen.
“If he told me that much, that means the information is meaningless in my hands.”
“You’ve gotta be joking…” Makoto flopped onto the sofa. “Your father..? I couldn’t have named a better man if you asked me five minutes ago…”
“…He is a good man. But that’s what makes him extremely dangerous. He’s convinced he’s doing the right thing. Some of the worst things imaginable have been done with the best intentions.” Mashiro grabbed her purse and jacket. “We’re leaving.”
“At least give me a minute to let it soak in.”
Mashiro pulled him up with both hands but struggled due to the weight of the armored suit. “Grrr… Get up! C’mon!”
He got to his feet as ordered. Mashiro almost fell backward from the sudden loss of resistance, but he caught her waist.
Makoto showed her a confident smile. “So it’s you and me against the world?”
“And Kaika. Stop acting cool. It doesn’t fit you.”
“Wait, what? That kinda hurts by the way.”
Mashiro slipped from his grasp and headed for the door. “I’m calling Kaika for help.” She dialed Kaika’s mobile number, which she got by borrowing Kaika’s phone during the kidnapping.
Makoto jogged to her side, making clicking noises with his metal boots. “Why her of all people?”
“Because that’s the last thing Dad expects.”
Kaika stared at her mobile.
Another unknown number?
“Were you lying?”
“…Mashiro? What are you talking about?”
“Were you lying? About wanting to stop Walker.”
“Of course, stupid! Why the hell would I stop the plan I’ve been working on for so long!? You believed my lies and sat on your ass until today! I even tricked Max into sending me classified info to help Walker go through with the coup earlier! You were betrayed by your friend! That’s what you get for being a naive idealist! You can’t change the world with empty words! I hope you’ve learned a lesson in reality, you sheltered bitch!!!” Kaika maniacally laughed at the top of her lungs.
Then she pressed the unmute button.
“…Kaika, are you there?”
“Sorry, I was on mute. Someone dropped by, but I’m alone now. Back to your question. No, I wasn’t lying. I can’t blame you for thinking that, though. I screwed up. He probably got wind of my betrayal and rushed the coup. I wanted to move earlier, but my team was heavily injured during your kidnapping.”
“That’s a very good story.”
“You don’t believe me?”
“Can you blame me? You sound awfully calm for someone whose fiance was just assassinated.”
“Naturally. We weren’t real lovers, but you knew that. That doesn’t mean I’m fine with it, though. Believe it or not, I was fond of him.”
That was true. Unlike a certain employee of hers, Max had been very obedient. The confirmation message she received when he unwittingly formatted that phone before dying reaffirmed that.
“Then help me stop my father.”
“…Where did that come from?”
“He’s the one behind the coup. He also killed Max. He told me you didn’t know. Guess he was right.”
The information took Kaika off guard.
She did not know that the person behind Walker was the U.S. Secretary of Defense. He was a candidate but way down on her list of suspects.
If that was true, the entire conflict with Mashiro had been pointless. Kaika’s team had risked their lives for nothing.
No matter how perfect a plan may be, it was no match for stupid coincidences. Ying killing Ken, something she found out from Mei Xing after the incident, was one such coincidence. So was Mashiro being the coup schemer’s daughter.
While clenching her teeth in frustration, Kaika did her best to sound composed. “News to me.”
“So, will you help me?”
It was a very attractive proposal. Kaika knew that the coup leaders wanted to push the U.S. back into a seat of world supremacy. Even if she sat back and relaxed starting now, the world would drastically change, whether they succeeded or not.
However, that was meaningless.
She had to change the world herself.
That did not mean she refused to use people for her goals. In fact, she frequently did just that, and immensely enjoyed doing so. However, sitting on the sidelines was a different matter. The coup was not her plan. She had merely helped push it along.
From the start, Kaika had only intended to help the coup come to fruition. Afterwards, she planned to follow her own road map to her final objective, and that involved going against Walker, no, Butler.
Mashiro was the perfect pawn for that.
She knew about her father’s plan but was still alive and free. That meant Butler truly loved her as a daughter, and love was the thing Kaika excelled at manipulating the most.
Not only that, Kaika would get the chance to sully the pure Mashiro.
Her diatribe on mute earlier reflected her true feelings. Mashiro had to be wrong. Otherwise, all the sacrifices Kaika had made so far would become symbols of her incompetence.
Kureha would haunt her until her death.
Kaika made her decision, but she should not appear too eager. “Can I think about it?”
“Why hesitate now? You wanted to stop the coup, didn’t you?”
“Getting in Secretary Butler’s way is a different matter. I’m not sure if it’s a battle we can win, and as you know, I hate losing.”
“…Fine, but don’t take too long. The longer we wait, the harder this battle becomes.”
“She’ll be able to live normally after rehabilitation, but regaining full control of her legs is likely impossible.”
“If this is about money-”
“I’m sorry, Zhang-san. Japan has the best nerve reconstruction technology in the world because of ARMS research, but I’m not a magician. It’s impossible to completely fix the patient’s damaged spinal cord.”
“…Does she know?”
“I haven’t told her yet. I can inform her if you wish.”
Mei Xing shook his head. “No, I’ll do it.”
The female doctor left him in the hospital corridor. After calming himself down, he knocked on the door to Mao’s private room.
“How are you feeling?” Mei Xing went inside and took a seat beside the bed.
Mao, laying flat on the bed, made a bitter smile. “Bored. I can’t wait to get out of here.”
A sharp bitterness polluted Mei Xing’s mouth, making him grimace. He wanted to gently break the news to her, but the truth boiled in his chest like molten lava, rising up his throat.
Her hand appeared from under the sheets and touched his thigh.
“What’s wrong, Boss? Did something happen?”
“It’s…” Mei Xing held his breath and desperately searched for the right words.
“Is it because I couldn’t save Ying? I’m sorry. If I caught her earlier-”
“It’s not that, Mao. It’s… about your condition.”
She blinked twice before taking a deep breath. “…I’m ready.”
He took the hand on his thigh and squeezed it. It was hard, like a rubber coated metal pipe. Wanting to warm it as much as he could, he held it even tighter.
“With rehabilitation, you’ll be able to live a normal life.”
Her face lit up. “That’s, that’s good news!”
“Normal… means you can’t live in the underworld.” He felt her hand twitch in his grasp.
“Is that what the doctor said?”
“She said it’s likely impossible to regain full control of your legs.”
“Likely? So it’s not impossible, right?”
“Then wipe that frown off your face. I’ll be fine, Boss. Trust me. It’ll take more than a broken back to keep me down.”
“Can you come closer?”
“Hm? Sure.” He got up and leaned over her.
She touched his face with her free hand. “Can you open your eyes a bit more? I can’t see them.”
Mei Xing chuckled. “Your tongue is as sharp as ever.”
Mao pulled his head downward and planted a kiss on his smile. It lasted only a moment. Their lips parted as she gently released him.
“See? I can even do something like that. I’ll be back before you know it.”
“…I’ll be waiting.”
They chatted about Ying’s funeral in China and Li Xue entering kindergarten. They discussed why Ying killed the boy, but the truth still eluded them. A few stories later, Mao yawned and rubbed her eyes.
“You should get some rest. I’ll be back tomorrow.”
“Don’t skip out on your duties just to visit me, okay?”
“Setsu is doing a better job at it while I’m gone, though. She’s always been a better manager than me. The society might be better off if I stay here all the time.”
Mao laughed. “Sounds about right.”
“I was kidding, okay?”
Mei Xing left the room after bidding a casual farewell. He leaned back on the closed door and sighed deeply.
What am I doing?
I’m so pathetic.
She ended up consoling me instead of the other way around.
I have to learn from her strength.
I can’t let this get me down.
He heard a moan from behind the door.
Is she in pain?
I should go check.
Mei Xing reached for the doorknob but froze an inch from it.
Mao’s heartbreaking cries leaked out of the room. She wept and wailed. She cried without restraint like a lost child. Her sobbing continued with no sign of ending. Mei Xing wanted to run away but rooted his feet to the ground with sheer will. He had to hear this.
About an hour later, Mao finally fell silent.
Mei Xing walked away from the door while clawing away the tears on his face.
I will avenge you, Mao.
No matter what.
No matter who.
Arashi accepted Mitsuki’s call on her mobile. “What’s up?”
“Huh? For what?”
“I can’t leave her alone. I can’t abandon her.”
“What are… you talking about?”
“I’m nothing but a coward, but she always took my place. She’s always protected me. I can’t let her suffer alone anymore.”
“…Is this a new game or something?”
Mitsuki began sobbing as she continued. “I can’t be friends with you anymore, Arashi. I can’t stop her, not after feeling how she feels. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
“I don’t understand. Who are you talking about?”
“…Myself. It was fun. Goodbye.” She hung up.
Arashi tried to call her back countless times, but she never answered.
“I come back from a business trip and this is what I find.” Valeriya crushed a lollipop to bits with her molars. “Why did you bring Sakuya and the prototype there?”
“She asked me to,” said Gen.
“You’re not supposed to take orders from her. You’re supposed to follow mine.”
“It was a good chance to test the new unit. That experiment provided excellent data.”
“But my daughter got hurt because of it.” Valeriya pulled a compact pistol from her cleavage and pointed it at Gen.
“You’re not going to shoot me. You need my skills and research. Threats like that don’t work because I’m an irreplaceable asset.”
“You’re right.” Valeriya shot him twice. “But I wasn’t threatening you.”
Gen toppled to the floor, a bullet lodged in each of his thighs. He groaned on the ground like a trapped animal.
Valeriya picked up a first aid kit from behind her desk and dropped it beside the bleeding surgeon. “This should be enough for a genius like you. Survive.”
Gen shakily reached out for the box and fumbled around its contents.
“Don’t worry about the mess. I’ll have someone clean up after you.” Valeriya left her office.
Saya stepped into her room and found her boyfriend and mistress in bed together. She dropped her purse on the floor. “W-What’s going on here..?”
Ageha frantically sat up. “I-I can explain! This isn’t what it looks like!”
“The hell are you blabbering about?” Kaika slapped him on the head.
“Figured I’d go along with the flow.”
“Choose the time and place for your jokes. Unlike yours, my hair isn’t thick enough to survive Saya’s onslaught.”
“I’m sure you’d look cute even without hair.”
“I’m flattered, but that’s not happening.”
“Excuse me, you two.” Saya cracked her knuckles. “I’d like an explanation.”
Kaika knelt on the bed, facing Saya. “I was just giving Ageha a head massage.”
“On your lap?”
Kaika pointed a finger at Ageha without hesitation. “He made me do it.”
“Is that so?” Saya turned to him with a perfect poker face.
Eyebrows furrowed and eyes closed, Ageha bowed towards her. “I’m sorry, but I have needs you just can’t fulfill-”
Kaika slapped his head again. “I know you like teasing her, but don’t do it at my expense!”
“Okay, just lay off the head.” He made a resigned smile. “It’s for the headaches. Kai’s lap pillow massage does wonders for it. Don’t ask me why it works, but it does.”
Saya relaxed her shoulders. “I see.”
Kaika hopped off the bed and trotted to the door. “I’ll take my leave while my scalp is intact. See you two tomorrow.”
“Good night, Ojousama.”
“Close the door on your way out.”
After Kaika left, Saya picked up her purse from the floor and placed it on the bedside cabinet.
“Are you angry?” asked Ageha.
“…I was a little ticked off, but my legs are like steel pipes, so I can’t do that for you.”
“I gotta admit Kai’s thigh’s are strangely comfortable, but your massage technique is still a cut above, God Finger.”
“Don’t call me that! I can’t believe Ojousama told you about that stupid nickname!”
“The maids told me, actually.”
“Those little…” Saya cracked her knuckles. “They’ve been underestimating me recently.”
“Go easy on them. They were just joking around. I think.”
She pursed her lips and turned away in a huff. “Hmph! Who cares.”
Ageha grabbed her wrist and pulled her towards him, sitting her on his lap. Then he locked his arms around her and kissed her ear, stifling any attempt to resist. “I won’t ask Kai to give me a massage again.”
“…You don’t have to go that far. I’m okay with it.”
“Great. I was worried you’d actually say yes.”
Saya flashed a frown and then kissed him on the lips. “Don’t make me worry too much.”
“You’re always especially jealous around Kai. Why is that?”
“…An inferiority complex, maybe.”
“Towards that brat?”
“You know what I mean… You two share something. Something I can’t.”
“That’s a good thing, trust me.”
Hearing him confirm it hurt. It also made her realize that she was tired of playing second fiddle to Kaika.
“…But not good enough for me.”
She had no intention of ruining Kaika and Ageha’s relationship. She loved them both too much. All she wanted was to get rid of her insecurity, her guilt. Unlike Kaika, she never relished manipulating or lying to people, especially those she cared about. If Kaika and Ageha shared their darkness, then she could at least share her light with him. That was something her mistress could not do.
Ageha kept quiet and waited for her to continue.
She prepared herself for him to push her away the moment she opened her mouth, but it was a risk she had to take.
“I… killed Zhang Wei Long.”
“Kai told me when she convinced me to trick Mashiro.”
“To be more specific, I asked her about it as a condition for going along with her farce. I was worried about what you two were quarreling about, but she had refused to tell me anything before then.”
Saya was utterly confused.
“What did Ojousama say?”
“She said she forbade you from telling me about killing Zhang, and that you two had a heated argument about it. She didn’t go into the details.”
Of course not. The details involved Kaika killing Kureha, a fact Ageha must never know.
He tightened his embrace. “But she did tell me why you did it. You wanted to keep us safe and to strengthen Kai’s resolve. She mentioned that it was her weakness that forced you to dirty your hands in her place… That she should have killed Zhang herself.”
“I’m so sorry, Ageha.” Saya bit her lip as she held back her tears. She had no right to cry in his arms after all the lies.
“You don’t need to apologize.”
“But I conspired with Elder Chen to trick Mei Xing’s father! The Americans killed him because of me! I stole their chance for reconciliation!”
“And I kept that a secret from him, so I’m an accomplice. That’s why I did my best to save Mao’s life at the gas station. Maybe with that, he could forgive me for lying to him, for keeping you safe from his revenge. It’d be best if he never found out though.” Ageha ran his cold fingers down her back, as if soothing her. “I don’t know if it’s any consolation, but Kai told me just now that the Americans would’ve killed Zhang even without your involvement. Mashiro told her.”
Kaika had woven an elaborate lie with threads of truth, fooling Ageha completely without lying to him even once. Terrifying.
What was the point of telling him all this?
Kaika already knew Saya would never tell Ageha about Kureha’s death because doing so would destroy their “family” completely. Like a nuclear war, that ensured mutual destruction.
Was it to remove Saya’s leverage?
No, telling Ageha all that did the opposite. Now only Saya had an ace, albeit unusable, up her sleeve. Kaika had willingly discarded hers and even defended Saya while she was at it.
“Almost forgot. Kai told me to give you a message if we ever spoke about this.”
“‘It was payback for that night. Smiley.’ She told me you’d understand with just that and refused to explain any further.”
Payback for that night?
Wait, the last one is irrelevant.
Saya mulled over it, shuffling through her recent conversations with Kaika.
Then it all clicked into place.
That night: When Saya blackmailed Kaika.
The payback: Kaika throwing away her humanity at the safe house.
The clue: Kaika continued to keep her promise to Ageha.
If Kaika had truly chosen the devil’s path, her promise to Ageha would not matter. There would be no reason for her to tiptoe around him just to keep it. But she did.
That meant Kaika had tricked Saya at the safe house to get back at her for the blackmail. Kaika had not chosen to throw away her humanity at all. She could not. Not anymore.
A single drop of white was enough to pollute a sea of pure black. No matter how much more black was added, it would never be black again, remaining just a dark shade of grey. In Kaika’s case, countless white streaks stained her once majestic raven form.
That realization led Saya to Kaika’s true motive for revealing her secret. Kaika wanted to save and protect Ageha and Saya’s relationship.
No one understood the weight of secrets better than Kaika. Ageha would never forgive her for killing Kureha. There was no happy ending for her. However, Ageha would likely forgive Saya for killing Zhang Wei Long, especially with the excuses Kaika had lined up. To prevent Saya from following her tragic path, Kaika had torn open the scabs and drained the pus in their relationship, allowing Saya to feel clean in front of Ageha again.
In short, Kaika’s actions had been all for her.
“Thank you, Ageha. For forgiving me. For staying.”
“Where would I go? I had nothing, Saya. Nothing.” He leaned his forehead on her left shoulder, immersing himself in their combined warmth. “Finally… I have something.”
Maybe that’s how Ojousama feels.
When the serpent persuaded Eve to tempt Adam, did it really want to exile them from Eden? To rebel against God?
Maybe it just wanted someone to understand it, to keep it company.