Hellping

[Hikaru V6] Chapter 4

It was the next morning.

The road surface was still chilly in the morning, and Koremitsu strolled to the Gonomiya residence, brooding over the events that transpired the previous day.

“Are you thinking that you finally had a chance to deepen your relationship with Miss Shikibu?”

“Don’t you lump me with you, you pervert ghost.”

Koremitsu replied the teasing Hikaru with a sour look.

(That’s not the case…but why did Shikibu show such a face and ask me a thing? I don’t understand at all…)

Is it alright that I find myself liking you?

Which boy in the world would refuse when asked with such a feeble look? Though he would say so, he could not simply answer ‘yeah, whatever’ so casually. What exactly do you want me to do? Koremitsu did ask Honoka before, but even he did not know.

(I just wonder how things should go between Shikibu and me…)

Should they continue to maintain their relationship as classmates? Or was he seeking a relationship beyond that phase?

(Speaking of which, do I even like Shikibu as a female?)

Though it seemed similar, the pain he felt from Yū and the bewilderment he felt from Honoka seemed different too. Koremitsu concluded that they did seem similar after all, and whenever he thought about this, his mind throbbed in agony, his heart winced like a cloth being strained.

(Ah damn it, this is harder than my holiday homework.)

Just when he was about to scratch that perplexed head of his.

 

“Erm, Mr. Akagi.”

 

A tense voice could be heard.

“Huh?”

Koremitsu turned around to look, and found a blushing girl running to him from behind. It was a girl with fluffy, curled shoulder-length hair.

“Hanasato.”

“Go-good morning, Mr. Akagi. I-it-it really was a coincidence.”

Michiru, panting, said shyly.

On this day, Michiru still had her hair down and her glasses removed. Though she was dressed in the school uniform.

“I’ve something going on at school, so I’m rushing over now. I guess I got some benefit out of this too.”

Michiru raised her head at Koremitsu, her lips showing a delighted smile.

“A class rep’s job is really tough, huh?”

“No. I do it because I like it.”

“I see. You’re aiming to be the number 1 class representative in Japan, huh?”

“Right.”

Shall he discuss Honoka with Michiru? Certainly, she is Honoka’s friend, and as Koremitsu could not understand some things since he was a boy, perhaps a girl like Michiru could understand instead.

“Anyway, Hanasato.”

“Actually, it wasn’t a coincidence.”

Just when Koremitsu was about to speak up, Michiru said bashfully, her head still lowered.

“Huh?”

“I’ve been waiting for you, Mr. Akagi.”

“Huuh?”

(Wait, wait for me? Where?)

In front of my house?

Or this road leading to the Gonomiya house?

(It’s quite a distance from my house till here. If she’s waiting for me in front of my house, and stalked me till this place, does that mean she overheard my conversation with Hikaru? If she’s waiting here for me instead, that’s quite some patience she has there.)

Perhaps she was looking for Koremitsu regarding something important?

Koremitsu was troubled at this point, just like the moment when he saw Honoka dressed in the flowery apron when he returned home.

(Are girls always act so suddenly? If there’s something, can’t she just send me a call or a message?)

He thought about how little time it would require,

“I see. What do you want?”

And asked her directly,

“E-erm…”

Like Honoka the previous day, Michiru looked away and stammered, unable to answer for quite some time.

“Koremitsu, I suppose your happiness will last longer if you do not ask too much right now. Also, do not give such a fiery, masculine expression when waiting for her answer.”

Hikaru grimaced as he gave some mysterious advice.

“Is it about Shikibu after all?”

“Eh?”

Michiru was shocked as she looked up at Koremitsu.

If there was anything connecting them, it would undoubtedly be their classmate, Honoka.

There had to be a reason why she avoided him like the ordinary students, trying her best not to speak to him as she waited in hiding.

And speaking of which, Honoka’s tone had sounded very strange recently, from the moment Michiru called them out to do their summer vacation homework in the library.

Perhaps Michiru was worried about Honoka, and came to discuss this with him.

When he thought about it, it really did make sense.

“I also think that Shikibu has been acting weird. She came over to my house for some reason.”

“…Hono went over to your house, Mr. Akagi?”

Michiru widened her eyes as she stared at Koremitsu, looking completely startled. Hikaru was beside him, putting his hand on his forehead, going, “Ahh, he said it out anyway.”

(What? Is it a bad thing to say that Shikibu came over to my house?)

“I-is that so…so Hono, went to your house, Mr. Akagi…”

Michiru’s expression gradually became gloomy as she lowered her head sadly.

“Hey, what’s with you.”

“…as expected, Hono.”

“?”

Michiru lowered her head more, and Hikaru too grimaced much more. While Koremitsu was feeling extremely squeamish.

A killing intent came from in front of him.

The icy stare was ostensibly trying to stab through Koremitsu’s face.

(Ack, Saiga.)

Asai too was on her way to the Gonomiya residence.

It was such a perfect coincidence that she appeared during this mess, and Koremitsu frowned.

Also, her expression was sharper than usual, and he could feel the animosity and frostiness towards him being ten times that of normal.

“Asa looks really terrifying here.”

Hikaru, who always took his cousin’s side, was trembling because of that terrifying appearance.

And with that expression, she exchanged looks between Koremitsu and Michiru.

Michiru, having noticed Asai, gulped and froze in place. She was akin to a tragic house rat caught by terrifying, murderous jackal in a savannah.

The frostiness emitted from behind her as she approached Koremitsu with icy footsteps. Tak…tak…

(Wh-what the? What’s with this pressure? Is this some horror movie?)

Like Michiru, Koremitsu too gulped.

Asai was not glaring at Koremitsu, but at Michiru, speaking with a bone-chilling voice.

“You are a student from our school, right? What is your year and class? Your registration number? What is your relationship with this wild dog? Siblings? Relatives? Childhood friend? Girlfriend?”

It seemed Asai had yet to recognize Michiru as the braided class representative as she interrogated the latter in a rapid-fire manner.

And Michiru was so terrified she was unable to answer.

“Hey, Saiga.”

“If you are his girlfriend, please allow me to express my pity.”

“That’s not it!”

“Yes, how can it be possible for a human to date a lowlife of a dog? Are you the master of this wild dog? If so, please drag it along to a place where I cannot see. It is because you let this despicable brute loose that I was called this wild dog’s fiancee—”

And in the midst of her sentence, Asai froze, biting her lips in fury and remorse. A gust of wind ruffled her radiant black hair, causing the strands to blow over her face. That scene truly was reminiscent of a horror scene.

Michiru, thoroughly pale this time, stammered as she quivered her lips,

“E-erm, I just so happened to bump into Mr. Akagi just now. I-I still have some important things to deal with!”

Please excuse me! She shouted, and ran off at her usual speed without looking back. Her curly hair and the petite back soon disappeared without a trace.

Left behind was a heinous looking Asai and a similar fiendish looking Koremitsu.

After a long bitter silence, Koremitsu hissed,

“…Hey, don’t scare a kind student from our school like that. Your expression’s already rather intense normally.”

Asai continued to give off that cold, freezing aura as she hissed back.

“I do not wish to hear those words from you. It is because of you that I suffered the greatest humiliation in my life.”

“What’s that about?”

The moment he asked this, the air around her chilled, and her eyes were brimming with thick killing intent.

“It has nothing to do with you.”

“And you just blamed me for that.”

“Yes. All the calamities in this world are your fault. Your existence by itself is already a catastrophe, bringing lots of hardships,disasters, and mass misfortune. And so, my expression became as heinous as yours. I am more concerned by this terrifying expression, rather than being humiliated and belittled by you. Please leave me alone.”

Just when Koremitsu was nearly unable to handle Asai’s intimidation, he realized it.

While Asai gave a startling cold look, dishing out such vicious words; Hikaru’s eyes were filled with bitter guilt as he watched her.

 

—All would be well if I could cry.

 

(Argh, don’t give me such an expression, stop giving me that look. Don’t let yourself give that look, Asa.)

Whenever Asai said such vicious words, Hikaru’s eyebrows would frown further, and the light in his eyes would dim. Koremitsu felt intolerable as he watched this, and his mind was burning as he yelled,

“That’s not it!”

Asai stopped, her expression still sharp. Hikaru too widened his eyes.

“Aren’t you the cute brat who wrote about looking for Tsuchinokos in your summer vacation plans or something?”

Her right eyebrow was slightly raised. The fury in her heart reached a new level as she suffered another humiliation, causing her lips to quiver slightly, her lips groaning vaguely,

“How many times…must I say the same thing? Do you really want to humiliate me?”

She glared back at Koremitsu’s eyes, giving off such frostiness. And in seeming response to that cold, Koremitsu’s head heated up,

“I never thought about that before. I just want to fulfill your initial promise with Hikaru. He really wants to fulfill that first promise with you, and he told me that if you grew up like that, you’ll definitely become a kind, cute girl who likes to smile.”

Hikaru, standing between both Koremitsu and Asai, looked ready to burst into tears because of the former’s words. His clear eyes however did not shed any tears as he merely stared at Asai, seemingly wanting to convey something to her. It was a look of worry for Asai, till his heart got entangled.

The moment she heard Hikaru’s name, a wavering glint appeared in Asai’s eyes, and they narrowed in sadness. She reverted back to her firm-willed look the next instance however, and eked a voice out of her throat as she said,

“…If I become a cute girl, I will not be able to protect Hikaru, will I?”

His heart throbbed.

At that moment, he realized this was the first time Asai expressed her true thoughts.

And at the same time, he felt that something was amiss.

“Isn’t Hikaru already dead?”

What Asai said made it seem that Hikaru was still alive at this point.

With an icy stare, she stared at Koremitsu.

“That may be the case for you, but it is different for me. It is because Hikaru is no longer present now that I have to continue to protect. Or else, Hikaru—”

“Hikaru? What about him?”

Asai was being strange after all.

She definitely did attend Hikaru’s funeral there. Perhaps in her heart, Hikaru did not die? What exactly about Hikaru was she trying to protect?

Hikaru’s eyes continued to look at Asai, his clear eyes increasingly clouded. The light brown, thin hair swayed feebly in the wind, and his transparent body looked ready to melt into the air at this point.

(Hikaru, do you know anything about ‘the thing Saiga is protecting’…?)

Quite some time passed while the trio stood still.

The frigid air was slowly replaced by the summer heat.

And Asai reverted back to her stoic expression, showing a tinge of remorse.

“…”

She seemed to mutter something, and looked away from Koremitsu, walking off. She moved forward towards the Gonomiya residence without any signs of doubt.

“Wait for me.”

Koremitsu immediately gave chase to the back that was moving quickly.

“Do not follow.”

“I refuse.”

“Disappear.”

“I refuse.”

“Die.”

“I refuse.”

Like a panting dog, Koremitsu continued to follow Asai while she never turned her head back.

“You really do not understand anything. Hikaru’s always at my bed side, crying and telling me that he can’t go to heaven if I don’t look for the Tsuchinoko with you.”

And upon reaching the doors of the Gonomiya resident, Asai turned back with a hideous look.

“There is no way Hikaru can cry! If you continue to harass me, I will kill you.”

Upon hearing this, Hikaru lowered his eyes in anguish.

At this moment, a gentle voice came from the other side of the door.

“Do not say anything dangerous like killing now, little Asai.”

After hearing that voice that was similar to Hikaru’s, Asai scowled, and Koremitsu’s eyes sharpened.

Using that relaxed, smiling face of his to counter the heinous glare that would cause most people to cringe, Kazuaki Mikado said,

“It is rare that I wish to see the Morning Glories bloom in this tranquil porch. If you are to give such an icy tone, the Morning Glories may mistake it for the looming winter and remain shut, unwilling to bloom.

♢ ♢ ♢

In the room where they could see the Morning Glories from the corridor, Koremitsu and Asai glared at Hikaru’s older brother, Kazuaki.

(What’s this guy doing here? He dares to smile and have tea with us here after doing that sicko perverted thing?)

It was back before summer vacation ended.

Kazuaki wore a wig and paraded around the school corridors, dressed as a student, ripping off all the flowers Hikaru took care of. The wig he wore had long black hair, and the uniform was the girls summer uniform he forcefully took off from Tsuyako.

It seemed Kazuaki’s cross-dressing fetish was already thoroughly ingrained. A long time ago, Kazuaki once snatched Tsuyako’s dress and hat, put on it himself, and threw a dead rat carcass at the window of Aoi’s house, even destroying all of the tulip buds Aoi and Hikaru planted.

After Hikaru died, his twisted personality escalated further, as he not only abducted Aoi, but also forced her to agree to marry him. He revealed his true personality as the descendant of the Spider in that room filled with Poppy aroma and white smoke.

“I can be forgiven by anyone no matter what I do.”

And Kazuaki, who harped on this, was punched by Koremitsu.

His nose bleeding, Kazuaki panicked as he rolled about in a deranged manner, “M-My face!”

That was the only moment where Asai did not berate Koremitsu’s actions,

“I wanted to beat him up.”

Asai hissed nonchalantly back then, indicating clearly that she had the same feelings as Koremitsu.

Though she left him in the hills immediately afterward as if he deserved it.

But either way, both Koremitsu and Asai felt that Kazuaki was an incorrigible pervert who could not be understood, and that was to be expected.

(Has this guy forgotten what he did before? Anyone who revealed their cross-dressing fetish will be embarrassed by it, right? How can anyone just sample the tea so frivolously? Is he just a shameless person after all?)

Kazuaki narrowed his eyes beneath the glasses quietly, showing a serene smile at his lips.

121

There was none of the madness he showed at the villa.

And Hikaru too looked conflicted as he stared at his older brother.

Kazuaki’s obsession with Hikaru was such that he stole Aoi’s painting for Hikaru,

“Because Aoi here is Hikaru’s most beloved.”

And continued to harass her,

“And I wish to have Hikaru’s ‘most beloved’.”

One had to wonder whether it was out of his favoritism for his half-brother, or whether it was malice.

Hikaru personally spoke little of the legitimate wife’s son Kazuaki, and the latter was like a person from another world to him. From this sense, Kazuaki was pitiful in a certain sense. However, there was no sympathy for him.

Orime too could tell from Koremitsu and Asai’s serious looks that they were not on good terms with Kazuaki, and perhaps she was able to remain so posited due to her many years of experience.

The granddaughter-in-law, always coming over to say ‘it’s time for medicine, grandmother’, brazenly hoping that they would leave, was very welcoming of Kazuaki as she personally present him tea and sweets.

“This is what we bought for you, Mr. Kazuaki. Please take your time with it.”

She showed him courtesy.

And so, Kazuaki put on the facade of a well-bred young lord, speaking courteously.

“Is that so? Why, thank you. I do really like the water yōkan of this shop. You really are very kind and efficient, Miss Kitoko.”

“Well, that is…” and with such pleasantries, the granddaughter-in-law looked delighted.

(This two-faced bastard.)

If a glare could burn through a human, Kazuaki’s face would surely be wrecked completely by both Koremitsu and Asai’s bombardment. No matter how they glared at him though, he continued on nonchalantly.

And also, Kazuaki threw a bomb at them with a smiling face.

“Asa, Mr. Akagi, both of you have been looking terrifyingly silent for quite a while. Even if you had been jealous and squabbling since morning, it is rude to give such attitudes in an elder’s house. It cannot be helped however, since both of you are in high school, still children after all.”

Both Koremitsu and Asai’s shoulders shivered.

(What jealous and arguing?)

“I never expected the rumors of little Asai and Mr. Akagi going out together to be true. I would not believe it either if I had not witnessed it personally.”

(Who do you say are going out together!!!?)

Koremitsu’s neck had goosebumps all over it as he screamed out in his heart, probably shouting the exact same things as Asai herself. She showed her cold eyes, her back straightened, and the hands resting on her knees were shivering.

Koremitsu was about to lash out ‘you gotta be kidding me’, but it was not wise to let out an outburst in front of Orime, so he kept it within himself.

“That thing about her is just completely bogus.”

He whispered,

And Asai too concluded with a frigid voice,

“Eh, it is completely baseless.”

But Kazuaki continued to laugh, as if not hearing them as he said,

“Ahaha, there is no need to be embarrassed about it. There is no way a couple not dating would say such words that would make people smile. I simply am embarrassed just listening to both of you.”

(What do you mean words that would make people smile? I threatened to kill you here!)

“If Mr. Akagi cheats on you, you may think of killing him, and die together with him, will you? You really like him this much, I suppose, Asai.”

The overly embarrassing topic left Asai and Koremitsu unable to say anything.

“Ahh.” Hikaru, floating in the air gasped.

With a pretentious gentle look of a big brother on his face, Kazuaki smiled.

“That is good for you, Asai. You always had been independent and intelligent. Feared and isolated from the surrounding boys. So as a cousin, I do worry that you are unable to marry. However, Mr. Akagi does not have that sort of common sense, and he certainly is a match made in heaven for you. You should focus on being a bride, little Asai, and simply leave little Aoi to me as a member of the Mikados.”

Asai’s face was dyed beetroot, and the hands placed on her knees shivered again, even her lips were quivering.

Koremitsu too clenched his fists tightly, and just when he wanted to stand up, Hikaru could be heard from behind, trying to restrain him,

“Endure it, Koremitsu.”

(Uugh, but that pervert brother really speaks whatever’s on his mind.)

You cross-dressing pervert! He wanted to shout this and send him flying opposite the corridor with a kick.

“Even Asa as a girl managed to endure it. You have to do so too.”

(Uuu, damn it.)

Asai seemed to have frozen her emotions as she spoke coldly,

“…That really is far from reality, far from the truth, such that it cannot even be considered a joke. And right now, Aoi has yet to give up her love for Hikaru, and never had the chance to meet you, Mr. Kazuaki.”

“Hm, is that so? But I do still have the wish that little Aoi is married to me. Ah, Lady Orime, do you mind giving me a few words? When that happens, Aoi or the Saotome head will recognize my authority, will they not? Because, the only ones allowed to marry the Mikados’ head is either the Saotomes or the Udates’ daughter.”

(What the?)

Koremitsu knew very well Orime’s word was something Asai yearned so much.

That was why Asai came to visit the Gonomiya residence every single day.

Orime’s word was also something Hikaru mentioned as special.

The current head of the Mikados, and even the former, were given a word from Orime.

If Orime handed her word over to Asai, perhaps the Mikados’ power would favor the Wisteria faction—?

Hikaru widened his eyes greatly, and Asai leaned forward, giving a nefarious look.

“I was the one who asked for Lady Orime’s word first—”

Kazuaki cut off Asai’s words gently yet decisively.

“Little Asai, even if you do get Lady Orime’s word, what can you do with it? The only ones able to receive the blessings of the Asagao Princess and her word are the males of the Mikados. Will that not mean me? Or is there another one worthy of being the head of the Mikados?”

After hearing this, Hikaru looked shocked as he watched from the sight and faltered. Koremitsu glanced aside slightly, and found his friend looking very pale, apprehensive and distressed.

Like Hikaru, Asai too seemed conflicted by something, her anxiety clear for all to see.

“Well, what is it about, actually? Little Asai?”

Kazuaki’s tone got stickier at the moment, his expression seemingly pressuring Asai too, giving a lascivious glint.

Koremitsu had never heard of another Hikaru’s brother other than Kazuaki, and at this point, with Hikaru dead, Kazuaki should be the only son of the head able to inherit the title.

However,

(Is there someone else after all?)

Asai looked as if she was enduring Kazuaki’s interrogation, apparently frantically thinking in her mind with all her might. Also, there was Hikaru’s fearful expression, wondering if Asai would mention that.

And while watching both their expressions, the doubt in Koremitsu’s mind gradually became belief.

Was that Asai Saiga fighting a losing battle right from the start?

If however, there was a heir that could oppose Kazuaki, and that heir was hidden secretly by Asai—

Then why would Asai and Hikaru have such tense, grim looks? Should this topic not be led towards the hidden ‘heir’?

Asai’s closed lips opened slightly,

“Regarding the potential heir to the Mikados, it is not just you, Mr. Kazuaki…”

Hikaru’s face was contorted.

“Another—”

There appeared a stern glint in Asai’s eyes, willing to oppose Kazuaki. Just when Hikaru was about to turn aside.

Orime, who had been silent all this while, spoke gently,

“You are being too formal here, Mr. Kazuaki. My word is not such an amazing thing.”

Her words immediately eased this volatile atmosphere, and the crowd gathered their sights upon her.

With a comfortable look, she continued her words,

“There is nothing significant in the words I write, but if you state your desire to have this old lady’s words, I will be willing to write a few words and hand them to you.”

♢ ♢ ♢

(Lady Orime just protected me just now.)

Asai left the Gonomiya residence as she walked down the scorching road that ostensibly melted her shoes, biting her lips lightly due to the shame of her own immaturity.

If Orime did not interrupt her words, she probably would have revealed all the important information to Kazuaki back then. Her intent to plead Orime for help had long been conveyed, which was why Orime proposed for Asai and Kazuaki to challenge each other, and for the winner to have a word. This helped to prevent Orime’s short-sightedness and Kazuaki’s probing.

Kazuaki too probably realized the trump card that was in Asai’s hands.

But even so, she should not have spilled out what was going on in rage at that moment.

(I wanted to calm down, but I got riled up by Mr. Kazuaki, and became so emotional and impulsive.)

It was because Kazuaki continued to press the matter about her and Koremitsu, and brazenly proclaiming that he wanted to marry little Aoi.

(No, that cannot be the excuse for my failure.)

It was because she lacked patience and poise that she fell for Kazuaki’s words. She would have to go through much emotional control against that Kazuaki, the smooth-talker who had been making one lie after another.

She too felt regretful, and was reflecting on her actions, but Orime’s proposal really gave her a great chance.

 

—On Sunday, four days later, please write your favorite words in front of me.

 

—If I do like any of your words, I shall receive it as a gift, and return my own word.

 

And so,

 

—For fair judging of this competition, I shall invite judges other than myself.

 

She said.

Neither Asai nor Kazuaki raised any dissent.

And Kazuaki calmly smiled.

 

—This certainly is very elegant, is it not. It reminds me of the poetry contests held during the Heian Era, where people would compete in poetry recitals to determine the quality. In this case, our contest can be said to be ‘calligraphy’. Please allow me to take part. What do you think, little Asai?

 

He turned over to Asai, looking very confident

 

—Yes, I too accept this challenge.

 

Asai too straightened her back and answered.

If she was to win this calligraphy contest, she would be able to obtain Orime’s words. Also, it would convey to the judges and all those related to the Mikados who Orime would support, Kazuaki or Asai.

With that, the power struggle would change.

But if it went south, and if Orime gave Kazuaki her word—

Kazuaki would basically end up being the next head of the Mikados. If that were to happen, it would be nearly impossible to overturn the situation.

(I have to win no matter what.)

Asai continued to walk in the scorching day as the sun rays baked her head, her long legs trying their best to support her body that would collapse if she got careless. She looked aside clumsily.

The red hound she hated the most had his back slouched. His face in a scowl as he kicked his gangly legs out with the same stride as her, possibly to keep his pace with her. Though he was walking beside her, he continued to keep his lips shut, silently moving forward with that arrogant, insolent, sidelong expression of his.

Neither Asai nor Koremitsu said a single word ever since they left the Gonomiya residence. Koremitsu would never look at her once, let alone talk to her, but he still followed her.

Should she ask Koremitsu to write the words in her place? Asai felt perplexed as this skepticism lingered in her heart.

Orime really liked Koremitsu’s words. If Koremitsu was to write instead, the chances of beating Kazuaki for Orime’s words would greatly increase.

Asai wondered if Koremitsu himself was an advantage granted to her from Orime, given that Asai was fighting alone against the Rose faction.

(But do I have to ask this dog?)

Her body shivered whenever she thought about it, her cheeks froze, and her heart felt queasy.

This to her was nothing more than humiliation, and she did not wish to borrow the strength of this man who lied about being Hikaru’s friend.

She would rather bite her own tongue than ask for such a request.

(But…that is something required to protect Hikaru.)

During the past few months, Asai met Hikaru quite a few times in her light sleep. When he was young, when he was in middle school, when he was in high school—

Each of those Hikaru would give her an anguished look, whispering hoarsely,

I cannot say.

To prevent Hikaru from showing such an expression, to prevent anyone from telling him if only you were not born on this world.

She would give up even her own heart. She could seal her own emotions completely, never to use them again.

Right, this was not a request, but utilization.

(I can lower my head to a dog as long as it is for Hikaru’s sake.)

Koremitsu surely would not refuse.

He had been silent all this time, but it seemed he was waiting for Asai to speak up, his lips pouting as he followed her by the side.

Right.

She would not beg for help.

She would simply make use of this confounded dog, and dispose it when done.

She held her breath, imagining herself to be a corpse. A corpse would never feel shame or hatred, but this was not able to extinguish the fury in her heart completely, instead causing it to rage uncontrollably. She inadvertently clenched her fist.

And with such a worst mood, Asai tried her best to eke out her voice,

“For the calligraphy contest, can you…”

Koremitsu’s ears twitched in surprise,

“Take…my place…”

She felt repulsed

Though she had been taking the bare minimum of supplements these few days, her throat felt numb, and she felt nauseous. She had to endure this for Hikaru’s sake, and she trained herself many times for that purpose.

And beside her, Koremitsu seemed interested as he focused his attention on his ears.

Suddenly, he stopped.

(What is the matter?)

Asai too stopped.

Koremitsu stared forward into the distance.

Aoi was standing there.

She was dressed in a simple white cotton one-piece dress and sandals. It was the dress she liked to wear at home. However, the ribbon usually tied on her hair neatly was a little messy this time around. She looked awful, tears welled in her eyes, her eyebrows drooped weakly, her lips tightly shut in the opposite direction. She looked extremely frail at this point, and also perilous.

“Aoi.”

Asai immediately walked forward worriedly.

And she immediately heard Aoi’s trembling voice,

 

“What Mr. Kazuaki said is true after all…Asa and Mr. Akagi are being on good terms.”

 

Asai was stunned.

“You met Kazuaki? When?”

Asai did send someone to watch over Aoi while the latter did her part-time work, but she did not receive any report of Kazuaki meeting her! She should have known of Aoi’s actions and whoever she had contact with.

“What did Kazuaki say to you?”

Flustered, she grabbed her elegant shoulders firmly, her tone seemingly berating Aoi sternly.

“Hey, Saiga.” Koremitsu rushed in from behind, trying his best to stop Asai.

But before Koremitsu could pull Asai’s arm around from Aoi, Aoi shook it off.

There was a small, sharp pain below Asai’s right elbow that came with a snap, and Asai looked back at Aoi incredulously.

Did Aoi just shake my arm off…?

Aoi’s eyebrows were raised, her eyes wavering as she clenched her fists tightly, shouting with a precarious voice,

“Please do not act as if you are worried about me!”

This was the first time Aoi had expressed her fury at Asai like this.

Whenever Asai badmouthed Koremitsu, Aoi would at most say things like ‘that is too much! I am not talking to you again, Asa!’ That was simply the indignation of a child against an adult, a cute show of stubbornness.

At this point however, Aoi was glaring at Asai with a perilously heinous expression one could normally not imagine her giving. Her outburst too cause Asai to be startled furthermore.

“You sent someone to watch over me, pretending to protect me. You were just looking down on me all this time, right?”

The surveillance got revealed?

That was not all.

(Look down—wait!)

Asai recalled the conversation she had with Tsuyako in the student council office during midsummer vacation, and the blood flowing in her froze.

Tsuyako was berating Asai for sending someone to watch over Aoi.

In contrast to the Saotomes, the eldest daughter of the Udates was by nature a carefree individual, and not only did she cancel her engagement with Kazuaki, there was also the scandal with Hikaru, and even she told Asai off,

 

—It seems that you know something.

 

Asai shot Tsuyako some cold words, and the latter stared back with her bewitching pupils, answering I know about it. Answering,

 

—You and I are the same type of person.

 

Tsuyako’s tone and expression was full of pity, and then, she became stern again as she clearly expressed to Asai.

 

—Miss Asai, you are always pretending to protect Miss Aoi. In fact, you are looking down on Miss Aoi, am I correct?

 

“…You overheard my conversation with Miss Tsuyako? Aoi?”

To Asai, it was a shock akin to the whole world freezing.

Aoi bit her lips, lowering her stare.

That was her answer.

Suddenly, darkness loomed upon Asai’s eyes, and the light vanished.

Aoi’s yell struck Asai’s ears sharply,

 

“Please leave me alone! If you hate me, please do not get involved with me!”

 

Her eyes were teary as she ran out.

“Wait, Aoi!”

Koremitsu frantically tried to call for Aoi, but the she ran off without looking back.

“What happened there, Saiga? What did you discuss with senpai!? Hey, Saiga, Saiga!!”

Koremitsu continued to holler beside Asai, who had lost all expression, standing there blankly. She had already lost all strength to chase after Aoi, and to chase the noisy dog away.

At this point, she was as cold as a corpse.

(Aoi…knew.)

About Asai’s true thoughts.

That ever since they were children, Asai had been condescending with regards to Aoi when they were together—

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