Hellping

[Hikaru V6] Chapter 5

“So…Miss Aoi overheard our conversation outside the door.”

It was sunset.

While the school building was dyed red, Koremitsu and Tsuyako were having a discussion in the Japanese dance clubroom. This senpai of his whose long, radiant red hair akin to the red weeping cherry blossoms was tied loosely to the side in a knot, and was dressed in a water blue long-sleeved kimono. She frowned her pretty eyebrows, and let out a sigh.

On their way back from the Gonomiya residence, Aoi suddenly appeared in front of them, yelled, and vanished. After that, Asai simply froze there like an ice sculpture, unable to move.

No matter how Koremitsu tried to call her, she never responded. The moment he was at his wits end, she hurriedly took out her cellphone, and called for a vehicle to fetch in in a flat tone.

Once it came quickly, she got into the vehicle, and disappeared.

She did not respond to any of Koremitsu’s words at all while waiting for her ride, not even looking in his direction once.

Koremitsu knew that she was not intentionally ignoring him, but that she could not longer see him in her sights, so he did not leave her until the vehicle came.

He was really worried about what happened to Aoi,

“Asa! Asa!”

But Hikaru was worried about both Aoi and Asai, sounding uneasy as he said nervously,

“It will be good if Miss Aoi made it home safely. Ahh, Koremitsu, please give Miss Aoi a call for confirmation.”

After watching Asai leave, Koremitsu dialled Aoi’s cellphone, but she simply left it as a voicemail receiver, and never picked up a phone.

“Where are you right now? Call me back.”

He left a recording, and added on with a machine,

“I’m worried. Call me soon.”

But even so, Aoi never responded to the message nor called back, and Koremitsu had no choice but to go to her house and the cafe where she worked part-time.

“I managed to contact Aoi! It seems she was alone in a manga cafe single room spacing out. Right now, she says she’s cleaning the cat toilet.”

Sueko, who was hired by Tojo, informed Koremitsu this, allowing the him to be relieved.

However, the problem was not truly solved in any way. To understand the reason for Asai and Aoi’s discord, Koremitsu visited Tsuyako, who seemed to know something.

Tsuyako told him about what she talked to Asai about.

And after hearing it, Koremitsu too was greatly shocked, his heart crushed by sharp claws.

(Looking down on her—are you serious?)

Aoi definitely would be hurt if she heard that.

And this definitely was the reason why Aoi seemed so lethargic recently, why she had been evading Asai and Koremitsu.

Hikaru too remained silent with a gloomy face.

“…”

Koremitsu could sense gloom from Hikaru’s eyes, but they did not seem overly surprised; this gave him hint that Hikaru probably suspected Asai’s feelings regarding Aoi.

When Aoi’s painting got stolen back then, Asai barged into the Japanese dance room to growl at Tsuyako, and the latter did mention a lot of things about Aoi back at Asai.

 

—Since you are very intelligent, you should be able to comprehend the feelings you have about her?

 

—To keep protecting her, to guard her from being hurt, to prevent her from being sullied, you-

 

At that moment,

“No Tsuyako. You must not say such things!” Hikaru yelled.

Once Asai left, Tsuyako seemed to be reflecting upon her own actions.

 

—I think I said…too much unnecessary things to Miss Asai.

 

Tsuyako muttered ardently,and forlornly.

At this point too, Tsuyako was giving the same pained look as she did back then, the remaining red sunlight raining upon her alluring sidelong face, creating a dark shadow.

“I was the one who caused Miss Aoi to know of Miss Asai’s true feelings, and I do apologize about that…it is just that it is not a good thing to continue on with such an unnatural situation…”

Hikaru lowered his eyes and head as he stood at the red and bright window side. Most likely, he too had the same view as Tsuyako.

“Surely, if this is to continue for a long time, Miss Asai will be the one suffering.”

“Saiga?”

Not Aoi who was being looked down upon? But Asai, who had been looking down?

The clouds in Tsuyako’s eyes got thicker, and her expression became stern and stiff.

“Who do you think is suffering more? The one who knows that she has negative feelings about the one she is protecting? Or the one who continued to be protected without knowing anything?”

“That’s…”

Naturally, it would be the person who realized her own dastardly unsightliness.

“For Hikaru, it was necessary for him to be betrothed to the eldest daughter of the Saotome’s, which would be Miss Aoi. If not for Miss Aoi’s unique status, Hikaru would never be recognized as a child of the Mikados. Miss Asai probably understood that already since young. Even though she understood this logically however, it was to be expected that she had some annoyance against Miss Aoi emotionally, as the latter was betrothed to Hikaru as a matter of fact…to curb such negative feelings, Miss Asai probably had no choice but to look down upon Miss Aoi. Because of that, it was a convenience that Miss Aoi became a princess who is unable to do anything by herself and not know anything about the ways of the world.. That is why Miss Asai was able to establish herself as Miss Aoi’s guardian, always protecting her, staying by her side, taking care of her.”

After hearing Tsuyako’s words, Koremitsu felt the bitter saliva in his mouth. His body became rigid.

Hikaru seemed to be reproaching himself as he remained at the window side, his body dyed red as he remained motionless and stuck there. This caused Koremitsu’s gut to wince—

“!!, but that’s not all, right…?”

He raised his voice, overpowering Tsuyako’s voice.

“Saiga is really black hearted, hideous, cold-blooded, a woman who annoys me to no end—but she really showed some serious intent when she told me not to approach Aoi, and when I saved Aoi from Kazuaki, she was really worried about Aoi. She would visit Aoi’s part-time working place every single day even when she got so busy she collapsed due to lack of sleep—”

Why in the world am I defending her!?

Asai probably did not wish for Koremitsu to defend her either. However, he did notice thoroughly how Asai treated Aoi as an important person, how she continued to protect Aoi, putting in lots of focus.

Both Tsuyako and Hikaru stared at Koremitsu with tragic, clear eyes. With those 4 eyes staring at him, he felt sadness in his heart. Tsuyako spoke with some bitterness,

“Yes…that is definitely not all. Miss Asai’s feelings regarding Miss Aoi…however, Miss Asai right now will never admit to those feelings.”

The gaze in Hikaru’s eyes gradually diluted.

And while Koremitsu groaned, Tsuyako whispered to him with a gentle expression.

“A straightforward child like you, Mr. Akagi, will find this difficult to understand, I suppose? However, I cannot deny Miss Asai’s rebellious personality after all. She and I are the same.”

“You did say it before, senpai, about you and Saiga being similar yet different in some ways.”

After seeing Koremitsu curl his lips into a frown, Tsuyako showed a mature adult smile.

“Miss Asai and I do wish to become special people to Hikaru.”

“Special…to Hikaru…?”

Hikaru, engulfed in the sunset, twitched his eyelashes ardently.

With an adult’s look, Tsuyako nodded.

“Yes…Hikaru truly loved every single flower equally, truly and deeply. To Hikaru, every flower is so special, so important. Even so, both of us wish to be the most outstanding to Hikaru himself, the best flower. I chose to accept the path Hikaru took, including to accept all the flowers Hikaru truly loved…and I offered my body, heart and fate to him. I nestled to him, wanting to become one with him. I continue to remain proud as the most beautiful flower in Hikaru’s garden.”

 

—There is no one who separates herself from jealously like Tsuyako.

 

That was what Hikaru said.

No matter who Hikaru dated, Tsuyako would never compare herself to them. Even if it was Aoi, she never thought of wanting to exchange fates.

Tsuyako chose to be the most beautiful flower in the garden that was highly exalted.

But Asai—

“Miss Asai chose a path of not becoming one of Hikaru’s flowers. She would definitely not fall in love with Hikaru, never embracing Hikaru, never thinking of becoming one with Hikaru, and furthermore, to become the existence furthest from Hikaru. Perhaps Miss Asai was hoping to become such a person, to create an equal relationship with him—”

If she were to fall in love with Hikaru, Asai too would probably become one of his many flowers.

She would become one of the flowers waiting for Hikaru to pour in his love.

That was why she would not fall in love with Hikaru.

And she stood at a place closest to Hikaru, continuing to be Hikaru’s confidant and guardian

That was the path Asai chose.

“Because of my secret affair with Hikaru, I ended up returning to Japan, and whenever I met Miss Asai after that, I would think, this person truly loves Hikaru so much, protecting him with such a firm heart. She really is pure, like a unicorn that only allows the purest of heart…this probably is the reason why Miss Asai hates me, but also why I do like her.”

Koremitsu always thought of Asai, who always gave a cold stare, as a person he could not stomach.

And till this point, this fact still remained.

But Tsuyako’s point about Asai loving Hikaru was ingrained deeply in Koremitsu’s heart, and even the he imagined the sight of Asai’s cool face changing into something else.

(Hikaru, you definitely knew about that too.)

Hikaru’s eyes were looking into the distance as he remained at the dimming window side. It was a fleeting, gloomy look.

Perhaps he was thinking about the past.

About Asai’s promise—

“I do wish for Miss Asai to be happy. Well, Hikaru is no longer around after all…”

After muttering this, Tsuyako then teased as she smiled,

“I suppose Miss Asai will hate me more if she knew that I said such things. Please keep it a secret from her.”

♢ ♢ ♢

On the next day, Koremitsu went to look for Aoi at her workplace, the cafe.

“Welcome. Ah—”

Once she noticed Koremitsu’s face, she froze up.

She then quickly looked away, lowering her head, wanting to leave Koremitsu.

“Aoi.”

Hearing hearing his serious call, she stopped in her tracks, her back facing him.

“S-sorry for letting you worry about me the previous day.”

And then, she murmured,

“But, as I wrote in the message regarding my issue with Asa, I want to settle this on my own…Mr. Akagi, you do not have to do so much at this point.“

She swept her hair behind, revealing her slender neck, also showing her trembling little shoulders. The shoulders looked frailer than Asai’s, helpless.

(Senpai said that Saiga is suffering…but even Aoi herself is suffering here…this is the first time Aoi heard that the childhood friend she always relied on was looking down on her…)

If Aoi did not know about this, perhaps she could continue to live blissfully. However, she did.

“Miss Aoi…”

Hikaru reached his hand out for Aoi, but once he did so halfway, he showed a bitter expression, and pulled his hand back, lowering his head. Koremitsu’s heart ached.

“Did Saiga contact you?”

“…”

There was no answer.

In that case, it seemed Asai did not bother trying to defend herself.

Koremitsu gnashed his teeth with all his might.

“I think that Saiga just wants to protect you as a guardian, that looking down on you is, well…it’s like those parents saying ‘our kid here can’t do anything if we aren’t around to keep watch’.”

The back profile of Aoi looked so feeble, Koremitsu inadvertently wanted to say something. Even if that was just a one-sided wish on his part.

Aoi whispered softly,

“Am I…a useless person who cannot do anything without Asa protecting me?”

Hikaru lifted his head in shock, and Koremitsu too was flustered.

“No, that’s not it. Saiga is just someone a little more complicated, always unwittingly saying such harsh words. Those aren’t her true thoughts, she really treasures—”

“…you really understand Asa very well, Mr. Akagi, even though you always bicker with her when you meet.”

“—That’s what Hikaru told me.”

“Hikaru?”

“Yeah, Hikaru told me that Asa’s true personality’s that of a good kid.”

Aoi continued to lower her head, cringing.

Both Hikaru and Koremitsu watched her petite back with bated breaths.

And Aoi hushed her voice as she let out a whisper from her lips.

“Hikaru and Asa…would sometimes talk about things I do not understand, and they then go out together…whenever this happen, I feel that I am the one excluded.”

“Urk.”

“M-Miss Aoi, that is.”

Both Koremitsu and Hikaru’s faces were contorted at the same time.

(H-hey, Hikaru, is that really the case?)

He glanced at the latter, looking extremely anxious.

“Eh, I did not intend to leave Miss Aoi aside, but those are the things I can talk to Asa about, but not Miss Aoi.”

(Seeing how you’re so restrained, I guess it has to be about some other woman.)

“But you see, Miss Aoi cannot handle things like snakes and bugs, even saying that she hates kappas because they are sticky. Of course, it is not that I have intention of belittling Miss Aoi, but her skin is a little more sensitive, and catches cold more easily than Asa and me—”

Whenever the topic involved Aoi, Hikaru’s mind would end up in a complete mess, panicking, saying some random ramblings that he did not comprehend. Though he was hailed as a harem prince, he really was of no use whenever it counted.

But as his friend, Koremitsu had no choice but to follow up.

“G-guys do have their issues to worry about…you see, Saiga doesn’t have any charm there, no different from a guy.”

“I suppose Hikaru finds Asa more reliable than me.”

“-!! Why are you comparing yourself with her? Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that Saiga isn’t forcing herself to be with you.”

Aoi turned her body towards Koremitsu, but this did not imply that she had opened her heart. Instead, she looked really furious, raising her eyes sharply as she lambasted him,

“Are you standing on Asa’s side too, Mr. Akagi? Do you also think that I am a weak, pitiful person who is unable to do anything? Is that why you are being so earnest to me?”

Koremitsu was overwhelmed by Aoi’s presence, unable to say anything.

He wanted to murmur and say something, but Aoi suddenly lowered her soaked eyes, giving a feeble look as she looked ready to burst into tears.

That feeble expression caused Koremitsu’s heart to jump. His heart faltered.

“So-sorry.”

Aoi spoke with a hoarse voice.

The slender fingers were pinched into fists in front of her chest, her shoulders still quivering as she did her best to hold in her tears. All these caused Koremitsu’s heart to scream.

Koremitsu was always unable to withstand a girl’s tears; if a petite, feeble girl like Aoi was to show such an expression, his heart would pound uneasily, erratically.

“I-I am sorry. Do you mind going back, just for today? Mr. Akagi, you are the only one I do not want to think of me as a useless person…”

Aoi’s voice sounded so fleeting, seemingly about to disappear at this point. Her frail shoulders continued to shiver…

(I’m the only one…what does she mean?)

The next instant he realized those words, Koremitsu’s face went hot, and he was confused.

(Why am I blushing?)

This was not the time for him to get his heart racing, and furthermore, she was his friend’s fiancee. Hikaru would certainly have a weird misunderstanding again, and start pouting.

The girl reading the book at the wall stopped her hands, giving a refreshing look at them.

And Sueko, standing at the counter, ‘that’s enough already’, was giving him the middle finger, conveying that meaning.

“…Let us depart, Koremitsu.”

Hikaru whispered at Koremitsu’s ear.

It was true that Aoi would not open her heart to him even if he stayed her.

“Hey, I’ll contact you again later, so pick up my call, or else I’ll come look for you directly. I never thought of you as a worthless person.”

He quickly said a few words to Aoi, and left the shop.

But even so, both Koremitsu and Hikaru were still concerned about Aoi. They roamed outside the cafe, and even brought their faces to the window to peer inside.

Aoi still looked as if she was about to bawl as she lowered her head. She blinked her eyes, as if to remove the remaining tears. She took a deep breath, blinked her eyes again, before reaching below her eyes with her elegant fingers to wipe her face.

(Damn it, I can’t watch this any longer.)

Hikaru too kept his lips shut in anguish. At that moment, the shop doors opened again.

Even with tears in her eyes, Aoi turned around,

 

“Welcome.”

 

And welcomed brightly.

In fact, her voice was still trembling slightly, and the smile on her lips were flimsy. Her eyes were red because of her tears.

However, the way she did her best to smile and speak positively permeated through Koremitsu’s heart.

And Hikaru, right beside Koremitsu, leaning his face at the window, looked rather startled too as he opened his eyes wide.

(She’s in no mood to continue with her work, but she’s still doing her best in there…she held back her tears, and tried to smile and welcome the customers…)

157

Perhaps it was because he was touched by Aoi’s determination to remain resilient that his eyes were inadvertently watery, at the same time sad and miserable thinking for her sake.

And there was a tinge of bitterness spreading in Hikaru’s eyes.

“Let’s go.”

Koremitsu left the window.

“You are right.”

Hikaru removed his lonely stare away from Aoi, but before he left, he could not help but look back again, feeling solitary again. Certainly, his feelings must be as conflicted as Koremitsu’s.

And it was because Koremitsu knew this that he did not want to mention it.

“…Where do we go next?”

“Let us go to where Asa is.”

“To that granny Gonomiya?”

“No, at this time, she should be at school.”

“Ack…I have to go to school even during summer vacation?”

♢ ♢ ♢

The shocking matter was that Asai really was at the school’s student council, facing the computer alone as she worked.

When they went their separate ways the previous day, Asai lost all emotion, like an ice doll, and it was worrying.

He was relieved that at this point, Asai was showing her usual unhappy look.

“…Yo”

After hearing the brusque greeting from the door, Asai lifted her head and gave a sharp glare at Koremitsu.

“I am busy. Go back now.”

“So cruel without warning? Well, I guess it’s good as long as you’re not crying and wailing.”

“It is less likely for me to cry than the world to be destroyed.”

She spat back coldly.

Koremitsu saw Hikaru looking glum beside him because of these words, and he too felt anguished.

(Oh yeah…this girl did make a promise with Hikaru not to cry.)

 

—Since Hikaru cannot cry, I shall not cry either.

 

(But she’s still able to remain so calm even after what happened with Aoi?)

The image of Aoi’s feeble profile as she tried her best to make that face appeared in Koremitsu’s mind, and felt as if an itch is stuck in his throat.

“I just went to meet Aoi.”

Perhaps Asai already received a report from her informant.

“Do not do any unnecessary things.”

Asai averted her eyes and spoke in a voice more chilly than before.

“At least send a message to her or something.”

“If I send one now, Aoi will delete it without reading anything. That girl always has been stubborn and pure.”

“But even so, you can tell Aoi what you think about her anyway.”

“And so?”

“Eh, just use this opportunity to tell her that ‘looking down’ isn’t what it actually means, but that you used the wrong term because Japanese’s too tough or something.”

“That was not a mistake.”

“Huh?”

Koremitsu was left speechless.

“Asa.”

Hikaru too called out for Asai, seemingly wanting to stop her.

And Asai remained seated on the chair as she stared at Koremitsu.

The eyes were not wet in any way, and there did not seem to be any faltering or weakness, just a sharp glint of a sword.

“In fact, I was looking down on her, condescending about her.”

“Do not say any more Asa.”

Hikaru pleaded Asa with a bitter look, but being a ghost, his voice could not reach her.

“Well, I suppose it is to be expected. Aoi herself is a fragile princess who does not know anything about this world after all. It does suit her to be taken care of and despised for the rest of her life.“

Koremitsu felt completely infuriated, and yelled.

“You idiot! Even if it’s a lie, you shouldn’t say that!”

Hikaru knew that his voice could not reach out, yet he kept calling for Asai, for he knew that Asai was hurting herself as she said those words.

(Even you would be hurt after being rejected by Aoi like that! I can see you clearly when you stumbled into the car all dejected like that!)

But Asai did not stop her spite for Aoi.

“I am not lying. It is because Aoi is so fragile, so ignorant regarding the ways of the world, so incompetent, that I was able to remain with her, that I was able to pretend to like her.”

“Was it all an act?”

Koremitsu’s voice became vague, his blood sizzling as his blood ostensibly boiled.

Asai answered Koremitsu with an icy voice,

“That is correct.”

Hikaru seemed to be enduring his pain as he frowned hard, muttering,

“That is not the case..that is not true, is it, Asa?”

Koremitsu inadvertently gritted his teeth. He recalled what Tsuyako said. His head hurt like it was being strained to its limits.

 

—Yes…that is definitely not at all. Miss Asai’s feelings regarding Miss Aoi…however, Miss Asai right now will never admit to those feelings.

 

(That’s not the case, is it, Asai?)

“But Aoi has already changed, and it is your fault that I cannot pretend to care for her.”

Asai’s frigid eyes suddenly revealed a fiery fury of hatred.

“If you had not showed up, Aoi would not have done such a foolish thing, like to be independent, and she would not have noticed my thoughts, and then she would have lived a happy life under my care. You are the culprit who ruined all of this. It is because you spread your lies everywhere that everything is ruined.”

She was giving Koremitsu a glare filled with hatred, just as she did at Hikaru’s apartment. She then asked with a sharp, egregiously menacing glare.

 

“And what do you know about Hikaru?”

 

It was an intense glare that revealed her all—her emotions.

“The only one who really knows Hikaru’s heart is me. His sadness, his pain, his despair—I shall bear them all! I shall protect Hikaru! You are not needed!!”

Asai’s face was contorted as she let out a shrill, maniacal scream.

While she continued to become one with Hikaru and deny Koremitsu, the latter did not show fury at her, merely feeling pain like a pound of flesh wrought off his heart.

Miss Asai wishes to be a special person to Hikaru, and for that wish, she chose a path of not becoming one of Hikaru’s flowers, Tsuyako had said.

However—

“Saiga, don’t you want to be Hikaru’s ‘most beloved’? Hikaru’s ‘lover’?”

The words Koremitsu said were not stopped by Hikaru, who was beside Asai.

Instead, Hikaru stared at Asai with tension and anticipation, hoping that Koremitsu could destroy Asai’s twisted, passionate tower.

Suddenly, there was a loud sound at Koremitsu’s face.

Hikaru widened his eyes in shock, and Asai’s palm was red, her breathing erratic due to her fury as she yelled,

“My feelings for Hikaru are not that kind crude and commonplace thing!”

And that definitely was the taboo zone for her.

Koremitsu’s face, slapped by Asai, was searing with heat.

“Disappear from my sights right now! I am not like Aoi! I do not need your help, or anyone else’s! I do not need your suggestions nor your assistance!”

Koremitsu did not wish for the conversation to end at this point, but as he bit his lips, Asai shot him a volatile, cold stare as she hissed,

“As for Lady Orime’s word, I will write it myself.”

Asai refused any form of help from Koremitsu at this instant.

“I want to protect Hikaru using my own strength.”

♢ ♢ ♢

“Sorry for making you do all these annoying things, Koremitsu.”

Having left the student council office, Hikaru whispered with a gloomy face on the warm corridor devoid of any person.

The corridor during this summer vacation was completely silent, and it felt wider than usual.

Koremitsu slouched his back as he proceeded forth while muttering,

“Don’t worry about that. I’m already hated by that Saiga anyway. Tell me something though, Hikaru. What exactly is Saiga trying to protect? You’re already dead.”

Hikaru bit his lips tightly, hesitating over whether he should say it. The gentle effeminate face gave a troubled look.

“I know this is something you don’t wish to mention, and I did promise that if you won’t mention anything about your death, I won’t pursue the matter.”

Koremitsu continued with a quiet voice without looking over at Hikaru.

It was not that he did not want to know anything regarding Hikaru’s family, Hikaru’s death, and the reason why Hikaru lingered on Earth.

He also did have a desire to force Hikaru to spit everything the he knew. Hikaru certainly looked really distressed having to bear everything alone.

It was only recently that Koremitsu learned of it, that Hikaru did not close his eyes even when Koremitsu slept.

What exactly was he thinking about alone as he passed these long nights?

Whenever Koremitsu opened his eyes in the middle of the night, he would see Hikaru gaze into the darkness outside the window with his deep abyss-like eyes, the pretty face contorted into despair, his head leaning to the floor in ostensible remorse. When all of these happened, That’s enough already! Just say everything out already! He wanted to shout.

Since you’re dead already, it’s alright to just tell me everything and put yourself at ease!

And yet Koremitsu swallowed this impulse back because he made such a promise with Hikaru.

It seemed Hikaru was bearing everything alone as a redemption for his own sins.

“This isn’t just your problem this time; you got Saiga involved too. Can’t you just tell me what Saiga is protecting actually, even if you don’t want to reveal too much?”

Koremitsu glanced aside, and found Hikaru frowning, showing a feeble look as he whispered,

“…It is about my secret.”

“Your secret?”

“Once that secret is revealed, a person will be destroyed because of it. That person is someone very precious to me—and thus, Asa is protecting my secret with that person in my place.”

Who exactly was that precious person? One of Hikaru’s flowers? What exactly was the secret that Hikaru feared so much? That he went to such painstaking efforts to conceal it?

 

—It’s just…a little rumor—but Lord Hikaru didn’t die from an accident, but was actually killed by someone.

 

Koremitsu recalled Hiina Oumi of the news club giving him a boyish look, whispering to him such a rumor. There was also the chain message that ‘The murderer who killed Lord Hikaru is in Heian Academy’, and this matter fogged the circumstances further.

“In other words, Saiga joined the Wisteria faction, hoping to let your stepmom beat Kazuaki, to protect that secret?”

Hikaru’s face got pale as his lips quivered, and said,

“Yes…but Asa’s aim lies after the Wisteria takes control over the Mikados.”

“After…?”

Hikaru gave a frown.

“Asa wishes to let herself be at the top of the Mikados’ hierarchy.”

“Can such a thing actually be done!?”

“But even if it is impossible, Asa will do it, and if it is her, she might be able to do it. In that case, Asa can protect my secret under the protection of the Mikados’ head, protecting the one precious to me, protecting everything important to me.”

Hikaru’s face was contorted in anguish, the raging conflicts in his eyes appeared, and his tone agitated yet frail and erratic as he said those words.

“—But Asa is mistaken…that person and I, are not like what she thought…that person…”

Midway through his sentence, Hikaru suddenly went silent, probably because it touched a sore point for him, and continued with a look of grief. Soon after, he closed his eyes shut, waited for his emotions to calm down, before opening his eyes again. Those eyes were filled with sorrow.

“…Asa may look like the poised, stoic type, but she does have a silly personality to her…she is easily spited, acts on emotions, always reminisce the past, and fails because she is bound by memories. To be honest, Asa really is not suited to be an authoritarian, a leader.”

The words Hikaru desperately eked out were filled with his thoughts about Asai.

“If I have to say it, Asa is much happier when she is experimenting and adventuring alone. Her favorite things are the unknown creatures, imaginations, and such things, and she is a girl who did say that she wanted to be an adventurer when she grows up. She is definitely not the type to lead an enterprise, and even she herself may say that she is not interested in such things—however.”

Hikaru’s hoarse voice was interrupted again, his hands ruffled his hair messily.

“But Asa.”

The summer sunlight rained down on Hikaru’s face that would not cry. His messy, soft hair was permeated with a golden color as it shook weakly.

“Asa always chooses a path that would hurt herself, taking the path of being an antagonist. Even now, she is walking down the path with the most hardship.”

Hikaru lowered his head.

“Because I was the one who made Asa bear all of these.”

These anguished words scrubbed at Koremitsu’s heart.

“It is all because I left this secret behind, and because I died.”

Hikaru had agonizing thoughts regarding Asai.

And Asai had miserable thoughts regarding Hikaru.

(Damn it, I just feel a throbbing pain inside.)

There was Asai, who screamed ‘His sadness, his pain, his despair—I shall bear them all!’

And as Hikaru as said, she was a stubborn, troublesome, klutzy woman.

With a pleading look, Hikaru lifted his head at Koremitsu.

“I became the curse restraining Asa. Please, Koremitsu, remove me from her heart! Save her from my curse!”

♢ ♢ ♢

On the next morning,

Koremitsu was waiting for Asai in front of the Gonomiya residence.

The coolness in the morning was replaced by the stifling heat as time ticked by. Asai did not show up even as the asphalt was about to be burned.

But even so, Koremitsu’s lips scowled as he waited like a watchdog.

“Are you waiting for Miss Asai? In that case, instead of standing and waiting here, maybe you should come in and wait? I just made some fine eggplant pickles here, please try them out.”

Orime went out to greet him,

“And I suppose Miss Asai may have slipped back after seeing you standing at the door with such a terrifying look.”

“Ack.”

While Koremitsu was rendered speechless. “That might be possible,” Hikaru muttered this beside him with a serious look.

“…please pardon my entrance.”

Left with no choice, Koremitsu could only pass through the Gonomiya doors with his back slouched.

 

Most of the Morning Glories in the garden were sealed probably because it had been a long time since the sun rose. Nevertheless, there were many of these Morning Glories in full bloom, their petals covered with the standard colors of reddish-purple and blue, creating a perfect circle. Some of the Morning Glories had their petals covered, the whites in the irises resembling little stars. Some of the petals were white, some of them growing into stinging grotesque shaped ones. All kinds of Morning Glories were grown in this garden, overgrowing.

“Please have some.”

Orime personally served the pickles and tea.

“I-I’m tucking in then.”

Koremitsu reached his hands out clumsily, and then, using the toothpick that was served to him, he picked a piece of pickle, and popped it into his mouth. The eggplant pickle felt soft, and the salt amount was just right. It was nice.

Koremitsu continued to eat as he pricked his ears for any tiny movement, searching for Asai’s rhythmic footsteps.

(Saiga’s always scowling at me when I eat the pickles here…)

It felt annoying at first, but since then, it had became customary for him. Koremitsu was already used to Asai’s choice words for him, her displeased reaction, and the frosty voice of spite.

Certainly, without that icy stare beside him, there seemed to be something missing…

(!! I’m not a masochist here!)

He tried to defend himself in his heart.

(That person’s my…nemesis…rival or something, I guess…?)

Yes, a rival.

This would be most suitable.

Because of Hikaru, she and I are always loggerheads.

Maybe it is because we think of ourselves as the one who understands Hikaru most.

 

—You cannot possibly be Hikaru’s friend.

 

—I do not recognize you as Hikaru’s representative.

 

Asai had been giving Koremitsu that vicious look from the first day they met, and continued to deny him as being Hikaru’s representative. Perhaps that was because Koremitsu invaded the area of work she assumed she should be doing. At this moment Koremitsu understood it all.

Hikaru sat at the veranda with his hands supporting his face, staring at the wilting flock of Morning Glories with his fleeting expression.

 

—I made such a promise with her when we were young.

 

—When summer vacation arrives, let us look for the Tsuchinokos, fish for the kappas, exchange messages with UFOs and play with the snowman.

 

The moment the Morning Glories bloom, that would be the signal of their adventure.

 

—That is the first promise Asa and I made.

 

And that promise could not be fulfilled even till his death.

After Hikaru died, Asai forgot all about that first promise.

And so, she continued to keep her last promise with Hikaru in her cold, frozen heart.

 

—Since Hikaru cannot cry, I shall not cry either.

 

(Damn it. Why won’t that Saiga…come here.)

Koremitsu felt a sharp pain in his heart, his face contorted.

“Did you have a squabble with Miss Asai?”

A serene voice asked.

“Uu…”

Unable to noise, Koremitsu paused as he cringed his neck back.

“Well, to put it, we often quarrel…she really is good at making others angry.”

Koremitsu muttered back. Orime listened intently, and upon hearing that,

“Miss Asai is similar to me, no?”

She whispered quietly once she made sure Koremitsu was silent.

“Really…? You seem far better than Saiga, granny.”

Upon seeing Koremitsu look so surprised, Orime narrowed her eyes slightly and let out a chuckle.

“When I was younger, I was often told that I was obstinate, that my replies to every person is very cold, that I am an annoying woman. There were also others who said that I was haughty, so rational, and not cute at all, that nobody would marry me.”

“You got to be kidding me. That’s unbelievable.”

Would people actually mellow out in personality along with their age?

(No, that old man at my house scares the neighbors from time to time when he goes out for a stroll. Even now, he continues to have a grudge against my grandma who left him 20 years ago.)

Orime looked into the distance with a nostalgic look.

She probably was thinking back to the time when she was of a similar age as Asai.

“After I got married with my husband, he would sigh and lament, ‘I heard that you are not cute, but you really are not cute in any way’.”

“Isn’t your husband too rude?”

“He is an aloof, insolent man, but exceptionally upright. His verbal etiquette is also very crude. ‘Are you not hated? We are even here.’ that was what I often retort with. Both of us were betrothed to each other, and we were squabbling every single day…”

But even so, Orime was pleasant in her look and tone, filled with affection.

Was it because of the amount of time that passed? Or was it because both of them had a mutual thing they desired in their hearts even as they argued? Koremitsu did not understand a woman’s heart very well, but he had a feeling the answer was the latter.

Hikaru too stared at Orime with a tender look.

Orime told Koremitsu that her husband died due to falling rocks from a mountain. It was less than two years since we were married, she sounded really depressed when she mentioned this, looking really serene.

And so, as a widow, she raised her child painstakingly, yet that son of hers got into a great dispute with her because of marriage issues, left home, and never made contact with her.

“My son and I…were rather obstinate, I suppose. He had a face resembling his father, yet he inherited my personality…”

10 years later, a person informed Orime of the deaths of her son and his wife, leaving behind a 2-year-old grandson.

“I was extremely harsh, and my grandson was never close to me ever since I took him in and started living with him…even now, it seems he is terrified of me. But even so, he does bring his wife to accompany me…”

Koremitsu recalled the granddaughter-in-law who was aloof and haughty to both Asai and him, informing Orime to ‘take her medicine’.

It was truly impossible for the trio to live together in harmony.

But Orime herself did not change her expression.

“My parents…and my siblings, my husband, my son…they all died earlier than I did…the Morning Glories in this garden are the only ones left, scattering their seeds every year, blooming at regular tunes. The first Morning Glory that bloomed in this garden was the one my husband bought from a floral market. I remember back then, when I found myself unable to help but say ‘ah, what a wonderful blue’, and my husband made a snide remark, saying ‘yup, as blue as the relatives you talked down’. The next morning, I found a pot of the Morning Glories I liked lying on the corridor…”

Orime revealed the smile of a young girl.

“That person really was bad with words…a troublesome person.”

She spoke so cheerfully.

“It was really intriguing. Both of us were loggerheads all day, and we were not passionately in love like how the world dictates, but after my husband died, I found myself longing for him more. And so, whenever summer came, the Morning Glories bloom, and I remember the first pot of Morning Glories he gave me.”

Orime’s smile became more radiant, her eyes showed a gentle expression.

Her lover was someone she could only reminiscence in her memories.

But even so, whenever she remembered his face, his voice, his actions, she probably felt as she she would melt in bliss.

For example, Koremitsu’s mother, who wept as she kept apologizing to him ‘I’m sorry, Mitsu’, that mother of his who abandoned Koremitsu while he was still in elementary school, vanishing into the other end of the darkness; perhaps she would be like Orime, one day reminiscing about such events.

I hope she can do so. Koremitsu earnestly prayed.

Hikaru, staring at Orime with a pained, clear expression, definitely would have the same feelings as Koremitsu had, hoping that this pain in his heart would become dazzlingly pretty one day.

Orime looked over at the Morning Glories, seemingly hoping to look for something within as she showed a faint expression, and forlornly muttered,

“The first time Mr. Hikaru came to visit my house, it was when the Morning Glories were about to bloom…”

Hikaru’s eyebrows quivered slightly, his expression filled with reminiscence and gloom.

“That time, he was still in kindergarten, and hid amidst the Morning Glories with his knees tucked in as he took refuge from the boys in his class chasing after him.”

‘I was a child often bullied back then.’

Koremitsu recalled Hikaru saying such things back then.

‘A mistress’ child’.

Some were even spiteful words.

Koremitsu saw Hikaru was so effeminately thin during kindergarten, so androgynous and petite. It was likely he was easily bullied by the boys..

For the first time, Orime frowned slightly.

“Mr. Hikaru had to learn of his own circumstances at such a young age, and with his mother’s unfortunate death, was living alone in a new house. I suppose he had to be forlorn, anguished and uneasy back then. However, he never showed anyone even a single tear. He was not trying to hold back his tears, but that he really forgot how to cry ever since he was young.”

After hearing Orime’s words, Hikaru showed a modest smile.

That was a smile he would surely show whenever he was in grief and suffering miserably.

(I see…you couldn’t cry even when you were a brat.)

Hikaru’s profile overlapped with the memory of Koremitsu himself as the latter bawled his heart, looking completely erratic, and this caused his heart to wince in agony.

Hikaru had yet to cry.

Koremitsu himself had yet to smile.

Both of them were lonely children.

“When I went up to him, saying ‘did you have a quarrel with your friends?’, Mr. Hikaru shook his head bashfully, saying, ‘I have no friends’. He then looked up at me, asking ‘Am I a person who should not have been born? Am I a ‘problem’?…”

 

—Am I a person who should not have been born?

 

What feelings would a child at age four or five have when saying such words?

Thinking about this, anguish again filled Koremitsu’s heart.

An ordinary child would never think of such things, let alone say them out.

And this would not have happened if the people around Hikaru did not tell him ‘you are a problem’ or ‘you are a child who should not be born’.

Koremitsu was sizzling all over, furious at those who said such spiteful words.

“I could deny those words to him back then…but I do know that Mr. Hikaru was in quite the complicated predicament amongst the Mikados…and I did not think it would be wise to simply let the matter slide and pacify him.”

Orime certainly was a serious person, and she would not lie even to a child. No, it was because he was a child that she would not lie.

And then, Orime knelt down on her knees, her eyes level with Hikaru’s, staring right at him as she said.

 

—You are still on a journey in your life, and if you want to find that answer, you have to keep walking. Even if you are unable to find that answer, even if you are feeling lost, it is fine. Do not be anxious. Take every single step, and proceed forth firmly. Perhaps you will find a correct answer at a certain point in your life in the future.

 

—Correct answer?

 

—Yes, this correct answer is not one others would give to you, but is something for yourself.

 

—Can I really find such an answer?

 

—There is a larger chance for you to find it if you go with the mindset of ‘I will definitely find it’, rather than ‘I will not be able to find it’.

 

—Chance?

 

—Instead of just thinking about it, would it not be easier to find beautiful blooming flowers while walking down the road with an optimistic outlook? That is how it is.

 

Hikaru widened his eyes, staring at Orime’s face intently, and soon broke into a smile, saying ‘I understand’.

 

—I will find a correct answer that belongs to me.

 

—Yes. A correct answer only for you.

 

—If I understand what that is, can I tell you that, Madam Orime?

 

—I will be glad to listen to you.

 

—Then, if I cannot find a correct answer…can I come by to look at the Morning Glories from time to time? They give me a place of shelter, are really gentle, and pretty too.

 

Upon hearing Hikaru ask this question bashfully,

‘Yes, certainly’, Orime answered as she felt genial emotions within.

From that moment onwards, Hikaru would appear at the Gonomiya residence from time to time.

Basically, Hikaru would suddenly appear on the corridor, eating the pickled cucumbers and turnips Orime made, telling her about recent events that occurred.

 

—I have not made any male friends yet, but I am happy to have Asa and Miss Aoi to play with.

 

—Asa and Miss Aoi are a year older than me, older sisters. That is why when I call Miss Aoi ‘Aoi’, she would blush and tell me angrily ‘add the honorific!’. It was fine when I called Asa that however.

 

—The boys were all playing football during break time, and they would not let me in. The girls however let me join them in playing house though.

 

—The girls are really cute, kind and cheerful, soft like flowers. I really love flowers and girls.

 

—I will be attending elementary school soon. It would be great if I can make a male friend.

 

—I have yet to make a friend yet, but there are a lot of beautiful flowers in the elementary school garden, and I am made in charge of them. Also, Asa and Miss Aoi are both in the same elementary school. They come to pick me up every morning.

 

Hikaru would cheerfully smile, apparently engulfed in bright lights all the time, whenever he went to visit Orime. He would never tell her anything deflating, only about the flowers he liked, and the cousin and fiancee he got on really well with.

 

—One of these days, I will definitely find that answer, and I can go on an adventure with Asa. I definitely must abide by the promise to go looking for Tsuchinokos with her.

 

It was the summer vacation during Hikaru’s 4th grade, and his tone suddenly became mature and serious as he told this to Orime. At that time, his face, arms and legs showed injury wounds.

“Though he was still smiling and eating the pickles like usual…I wonder what happened back then…”

Hikaru again showed a faint smile on the corridor.

He definitely must have smiled this way to Orime too.

Orime silently awaited the looming summer and the growing Hikaru.

“Mr. Hikaru truly was a beautiful child. Whenever he was seated at that corridor, he would be dazzling brighter than the summer sunlight…I was looking forward to what sort of adult that child would grow into, what answer he would derive.”

However, Hikaru died before Orime did.

Her face, once radiant, suddenly froze, her eyes devoid of life.

Her stare was fixated upon the wilted Morning Glories, and Hikaru, being in that spot, stared back lifelessly and miserably.

However, Orime could not see Hikaru.

She sighed, and muttered.

“Again, I watched another person depart.”

Koremitsu felt a stinging pain in his heart.

He too realized that with people dying early like Hikaru, those surviving would feel miserable thinking about the memories that were made. Hikaru too looked melancholic.

Orime got up to walk towards the corridor, probably intending to head to the garden filled with memories of Hikaru. Her feet stumbled, causing her to nearly fall over.

“Watch out!”

Koremitsu hurriedly grabbed Orime.

Unlike Asai, who was relatively heavy despite her slim figure, Orime was as light as cotton.

“My eyes have been dizzy recently, and my head groggy. I suppose it is time for me to be sent off.”

Orime sounded as if she was silently waiting for that day.

“Don’t say such ominous things. The average lifespan is increasing.”

Koremitsu puffed his cheeks angrily, and at this moment, the granddaughter-in-law came in with a bowl of medicinal soup.

“Grandmother, you will ruin your body if you exert yourself too much.”

She glanced aside at Koremitsu, deliberately raising her voice for him to hear, and left the room.

(To think she was so polite to that Kazuaki. Now that’s annoying.)

Koremitsu cursed quietly.

Orime took the bowl with both hands, and slowly drank the medicine.

“You’ve been drinking that medicine all this time. What’s that?”

“I heard that it is the Greater Burdock tea. It is said to be able to boost the metabolism in my body. My grandchildren grew these flowers in the garden here. If I die, will they shed a tear or two at my funeral…or will they gleefully take the inheritance for investments…?”

Orime lowered her eyes as she calmly muttered quietly, slowly drinking the tea.

She sounded as if she was talking about another person.

Koremitsu frowned.

“Don’t say that now.”

Orime put down the medicine in her hands, looked over at Koremitsu,

And then, she gave a clear smile,

“I do apologize here. However, at this age, I do feel that nothing does matter at this point. All those that infuriated me back then, all the unforgivable acts, they all seem like nothing much now, and then I became disinterested in whatever I am good at. Now that I have nothing I wish to do, my body and feelings have all become numb…”

Orime quietly hummed a poem,

“’Our thoughts and lamentations in this world are merely like the dew on the Morning Glories’…this is what I am thinking right now.”

“What do you mean?”

He asked indignantly,

“This world is so fleeting like the dew on the Morning Glory petals, so why do we worry so much? Why do we lament so much…?”

She answered coldly.

“!!”

What do you mean, fleeting? As Koremitsu ended up scowling more than before, Orime stared at Koremitsu with the expression of one looking ready to meet her demise, her eyes murky.

“However, Miss Asai is still young. She probably would not be able to let go of Mr. Hikaru’s death no matter how painful it is, how much she mourned over it. She inadvertently felt that she had to do something for him after he died…and chose a life where she could continue living with him.”

As Orime talked about Asai, Koremitsu felt his heart bog him down.

Hikaru too winced miserably.

Her words made Koremitsu realize that even after Hikaru had died, Asai believed that she was one with Hikaru. Release Asa of my existence, though Hikaru did plead this of Koremitsu, was it really salvation for Asai to remove his existence from her heart?

The garden was littered with Morning Glories that were growing wildly.

They opened their petals proudly in the morning, while people were still asleep, and gradually shriveled them.

Appearing in his sights was a radiant blue, a noble purple, and a sensual white.

Regal yet sensual, outstanding yet grotesque, this garden of the Asagao Princess—

Orime, Koremitsu and Hikaru stared at the garden of Morning Glories, filled mostly with wilted flowers, with forlorn looks.

 

Asai did not appear at the Gonomiya residence that day.

♢ ♢ ♢

On the next day, Shioriko’s elementary school held a dodgeball tournament.

As promised before, Koremitsu went to cheer for her.

Draped on his shoulders were the heavy lunchboxes and cooler box of drinks Koharu forced him to carry, and he was spectating amongst the other parents and siblings present. Standing beside him was Masakaze, tapping at the digital camera with a grumpy look.

“This is the only…pachinko prize left.”

His grandfather explained to the family when he returned home the previous day, holding a new digital camera box. However, both Koremitsu and Koharu knew that he had no interest in pachinko.

“It’s a waste to just leave it as it is. There’s no calligraphy class due to break anyway.”

And so, he followed Koremitsu,

(Aren’t you the one who suspended class for this day at the last minute because of Shiiko’s tournament day, gramps?)

Koremitsu wondered, but did not retort back.

And he watched Masakaze grumble and wrestle against this digital camera he was not adept at, helping nonchalantly from time to time, saying some things. However, he himself was not particularly familiar with the latest technology either.

Thus, he reasoned with Masakaze the previous day, telling him to ask Koharu for help, for she was the best at using electronics in their household since she was always working on the computer.

‘How can I lower my head to a woman!’

However, Masakaze roared back and refused.

Masakaze finally learned the basics of using it in the end, and then, he raised his white eyebrows, staring at the lens, ostensibly not wanting to miss out on any of Shioriko’s heroics.

Soon after the match began, Shioriko was being extremely proactive.

She caught a ball that was flying straight at her, and charged forward to attack decisively. Her long hair was tied into two ponytails as usual, and now garnished with a twisted Japanese paper cord.

“That kid’s really cute.”

“A pretty girl, isn’t she? She’s definitely a child talent, right?”

She became the focal point of attention, and her petite body, wrapped under the gym clothes and spats, was sprinting from one end to another, ostensibly not knowing the meaning of lethargy. “Ehh! I can’t take photos from here!” Masakaze anxiously moved around, chasing after Shioriko’s movements.

“Gramps…pay some attention to your surroundings at least, will ya?”

However, it was unknown if Koremitsu’s advice was paid to heed…

(Well, at least he won’t be saying things like ‘dew on a Morning Glory’.)

Thinking about the events at Orime’s house caused Koremitsu to be somewhat relieved, yet downhearted.

He could not contact Asai at all.

He had been calling her since the previous day, but Asai would pick up and hang up on him immediately, and this exchange continued over and over again. Such obvious rejections were worse than simply refusing a phone call.

When he called Aoi, the voicemail was the only thing answering him. Soon after however, ‘Sorry, there is nothing going on here. Please do not worry about me’. Aoi would send him such a message. In fact, this alone made her a lot better than Asai in this regard.

Hikaru too was frowning like Koremitsu as he stood by the side.

And Koremitsu felt his heart wince when he recalled the heartfelt words from Hikaru ‘I became the curse binding Asai’.

 

—I became the curse restraining Asa. Please, Koremitsu, remove me from her heart! Save her from my curse!

 

Hikaru’s wish was to pull Asai away from the Mikados’ power struggle, to continue living and forget him.

(But isn’t Saiga’s wish to protect Hikaru even if she has to sacrifice herself?)

The first promise between Hikaru and Asai.

And the last promise.

They were completely opposite.

 

—However, Miss Asai is still young. She probably would not be able to let go of Mr. Hikaru’s death no matter how painful it is, how much she mourned over it.

 

Orime’s words echoed in his ears.

 

—She inadvertently felt that she had to do something for him after he died…and chose a life where she could continue living with him.

 

Once Hikaru died, the desire to continue protecting Hikaru became the pillar of support for Asai. If she were to lose it, what would happen to her?

(I’m Hikaru’s friend, and it is my responsibility to hear out any of his wishes.)

However, was it best to leave Asai as she were?

Was it okay for him to not attend the calligraphy duel the next day?

On that day he returned from the Gonomiya residence and met Aoi, Koremitsu was perplexed as to whether he should help Asai in the calligraphy duel until she denied him. While he would not boast about it, Koremitsu had been practicing calligraphy since young, and even when Shikibu called him a delinquent, she did praise him for having such a good handwriting.

If Asai had asked him for help, he would definitely take up the offer.

Hikaru wished that Asai would pull away from the Mikados’ power struggle, and if Orime gave her word to Asai, it would mean that Asai would be recognized as being a representative of the Wisteria faction. Koremitsu knew that to Hikaru, this was not what he would be delighted about.

(How would that Saiga even speak up when she hates me this much?)

Instead of being a fragile girl weeping, awaiting help from others, Asai preferred to protect Hikaru using her own power.

(But am I really going to let her bear all this responsibility and fight alone?)

Koremitsu’s lips got more contorted, and the frown on his eyebrows deepened.

Right beside him was Hikaru, who too was giving a solemn look.

Koremitsu’s lips inadvertently let out a sigh.

And the cellphone in his pocket rang.

It was an anonymous mail, and once he noticed the title, he felt his rage soar through the roof.

 

“The women who were with Lord Hikaru. Third Act: ‘Asai Saiga’.”

 

Hikaru too looked surprised, his breath bated, his expression frozen.

“Ugh, this person again?”

The first was Yū, and the second, Tsuyako.

The third time, it was Asai. Asai Saiga, Lord Hikaru’s cousin, had the facade of being an honor student, the student council president. Though she pretended to be aloof with regards to Lord Hikaru but in fact, she was forcing an illicit relationship with him, dominating him to satisfy her own desires.

Lord Hikaru wished to break off ties with Asai, and Asai killed him—

Koremitsu deleted the mail without reading the rest of it.

“What kind of person delights in sending such chain mails?”

The other students in school probably received the same message and read it.

Perhaps even Asai and Aoi too–

Though one could tell from the title that it was mere harmless gossip, the directed party would certainly be hurt even if it was a lie.

“This is unforgivable.”

“But why Asa…? How exactly is the person writing this message choosing the girls?”

While Hikaru muttered grimly.

 

“Mr. Akagi!”

 

A cute, cheerful voice changed the entire atmosphere.

Koremitsu lifted his head.

“You…”

Dressed in a raunchy outfit of tanktop and shorts was a petite girl with large breasts, Hiina Oumi of the news club.

Her limbs were wrapped in bandages, and there was a bandage stuck on her face. However, she was smiling heartily at Koremitsu with her large eyes.

“Ahh, I got injured because of some stupid things. I’m recuperating.”

“Are you sure you’re alright coming to such a place? It’ll be bad if you knock into someone and injure yourself while falling over. Anyway, what stupid thing did you do that caused you to be so wounded?”

“Ahaha, there was a dangerous scoop, and I got beaten up while getting my material.”

“!!”

Koremitsu again widened his eyes, and Hikaru too opened his mouth wide.

“Aren’t you a girl? Stop being so reckless!”

“Ah, you’re worried about me? Thanks!”

“That’s not funny in any way! Goodness!”

Hiina gave a frivolous smile as she looked back at Koremitsu, who was really infuriated. And then, she leaned forward, grinning,

“It’s really nothing.”

She blinked her eyes in a boyish manner,

“I got what I wanted anyway. These little injuries are nothing.”

Koremitsu stared at the busty girl with a childish face, yet has an intelligent appeal.

Was she such a mature person? Was her speech mannerism so deep before?

She used to be yapping away all the time, never one to be apologetic even when bothering others, utterly fearless.

“Actually, I have an important piece of news to tell you, Mr. Akagi. The president will be faced with an arduous trial tomorrow.”

“Huh? Are you some weird fortune teller?”

Koremitsu looked completely astounded, shocked within.

The next day would be the calligraphy duel against Kazuaki.

(Does that Oumi know something after all?)

With an innocent look, she said,

“It’s not a fortune, but a prophecy! This trial has already begun though, it seems.”

She said, showing her cellphone screen to Koremitsu.

Shown on it was the exact same message Koremitsu had read.

“Such news are really tasteless. There’s no objectivity in such news. All the words include the grudges and hatred of the women Lord Hikaru got involved with. As a member of this industry, I can only find this laughable.”

Didn’t you gossip about me a lolicon before? A vengeful spirit of delinquent? Koremitsu had the urge to retort back.

“But can president Saiga remain calm after reading this message?”

However, he swallowed his words back in after hearing Oumi’s serious tone.

Hikaru too listened intently, looking extremely worried.

“The Matriarch Asa will suppress her emotions and force herself to calm down, but she is a woman after all, one with great mood swings. If a part of her collapses, everything else will follow suit. You better support her well, Mr. Akagi.”

(What exactly…is she.)

Koremitsu was left confounded.

“Please help her.”

Hiina whispered,

“In place of brother…”

And continued.

However, Koremitsu did not hear the entire line clearly,

(What do you mean, oh bother?)

Just when Koremitsu was still thinking about what Hiina meant, she gave an earnest smile and a wink.

“Oh yes, I’ll leave Miss Shikibu to you.”

“Huh!?”

Stupefied, he turned back frantically.

And he spotted Honoka slightly distanced from the crowd.

Once her eyes met Koremitsu’s, she widened her eyes in fright, and then looked around, ostensibly wondering if she should run away.

And for that reason, Koremitsu hurriedly ran over to Honoka.

Having lost the chance to escape, Honoka looked up at Koremitsu with an awkward expression.

Koremitsu, being Koremitsu, approached her anxiously, but had no idea what he wanted to say. In his panic, he opened his mouth, but no words came out.

“Do you think…I can like you?”

He recalled Honoka’s voice as she said this to him, her large eyes teary, and his face sizzled red as a result.

Honoka’s face was similarly beetroot, and she said,

“Erm, I heard that Shiiko’s having the dodgeball match today. I came to support.”

“I-I see.”

Koremitsu’s eyes revealed some surprise as he nodded.

“Well, I’ve been busy recently…haven’t had time to do my homework.”

(Why am I talking about some excuses here? Don’t I have other topics to talk about?)

However, Koremitsu could only think about Asai, Asai and Asai at this point.

“Erm—well…there’s a certain person going further down the wrong path, and I can’t get that person back no matter how I called out.”

He said with some desperation.

Honoka was stunned.

Ahh, what am I saying here?

However, what he said could not be taken back. Koremitsu could only lean forward, saying,

“But that person just can’t see any path other than the one in front of her, and insists that finishing that path is something very important. What do I do with such a person? Do I grab that person by the chest, and pull that person back in? Or do I honor those wishes and watch that person walk till the very end?”

Honoka looked very perplexed, but she witnessed a serious-looking Koremitsu raise his eyebrows and widen her eyes,

She pondered, and answered,

“How about walking with that person?”

These words felt like a refreshing breeze in a sealed, humid room.

Koremitsu widened his eyes as he looked back at Honoka.

Beside him, Hikaru too revealed a similar expression.

“If you’re going to be troubled and remain where you are, that person’s just going to drift away from you, right? You may end up losing sight of that person after everything happened, never able to find that person. How about you follow instead of waiting and regretting? If anything happens, you can help that person, and that person might listen to your suggestions. If it’s me, I’ll definitely follow.”

Hikaru’s lip gradually broke into a smile, his stiff face easing up.

The darkness in his eyes were slowly dissipated by the bright light.

(Ahh, yes.)

Koremitsu’s heart too was brightened like the summer sky.

The important thing was not for him to deny nor watch, but to follow that person and follow her until the very end.

This is definitely the right answer for us now.

Koremitsu reached his hands out, grabbing Honoka by the shoulders,

“Thanks.”

And lowered his head while she was still flustered.

“You’re really my Heliotrope.”

“Wh-what?”

Her face was beetroot as she muttered. It seemed she just said what she thought of.

However, there was no one more reliable he could talk with. He finally understood the reason why her blog was popular. It was great that he could be Honoka’s classmate, for she was not terrified of him, and was able to talk to him as an equal. It was really great to have Honoka around!

Her face was blushing,

“I-I’m going to cheer for Shiiko now!”

She spoke with apprehension, and left.

Filled with thanksgiving and heartfelt emotions, he watched Honoka leave. He then pulled out his cellphone, dialed Asai’s number, and placed the phone at his ear.

After several beeps, Asai picked up the phone.

And before she could cut it off, Koremitsu declared firmly with vigor.

“I’ll definitely go tomorrow!”

Asai did not answer.

But Koremitsu did hear a sigh of hesitation before the line was cut off.

He put down the phone, and looked down.

Standing there was Hikaru, giving a tender look, his blond hair swaying in the wind.

Both of them exchanged looks.

Is this alright?

Yes.

Hikaru grinned in a dazzling manner.

6 comments

  1. Gahhhhhhhhh Hikaru just needs to be upfront with Koremitsu damn it! I get that there are secrets and a dark ugly past hidden behind all this struggle between the Udate’s, Mikado’s, and whoever else is involved, but damn Hikaru! You need to be honest with your one true ally if he is to fix everything in your place! Gahhhhhh!….. okay I’m calm now, I know that everything will be solved in the end but gahhhhh everyone besides Koremitsu is being so frustratingggggg

      1. I don’t think there’s a way to look at this that doesn’t make hikaru look unreasonable. I can understand he has secrets but he’s asking someone for favors that are related to that secret but is still keeping them in the dark. Koremitsu is basically stumbling in the dark, it would be easier if hikaru was straight with him.

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