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A New Path

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"Good morning everyone! Today is the second of January, 2022. I hope everyone is enjoying their Japanese New Year celebrations so far. And what great weather do we have for the second day of the New Year! Even though the temperature remains below 20 degrees, all parts of Eastern Tokyo will be bright and sunny from day to night today. So if anyone is planning to do some shopping or simply have a nice walk around the city, you'll be happy to know that today is a wonderful day to do so!"

Yukari smiled as she heard the weather forecaster speaking cheerfully on television while she is almost done cooking an egg omelette for her mother. When she finished, she turns off the stove and gently places the omelette over a plate of rice. She puts the frying pan aside and picks up the two plates of omelette rice she made for her mother and herself.

"Mom! Breakfast is ready!" Yukari calls out to her as she walks out of the kitchen. Yukari's mother lowers the volume of the television before she gets up from the couch and walks over to her daughter who placed their food onto the dining table.

Both Yukari and her mother sat down and clap their hands together. "Itadakimasu!" They cheered before they begin to eat.

When they finish eating their breakfast, Yukari picks up the empty plates and walks back to the kitchen. As she cleans the plates at the sink, her mother walks up to her.

"Are you planning to do anything today, dear?" Her mother asked.

"Well, I'm thinking of visiting the Miyamizu Shrine today to pray. I wish the Miyamizu Shrine's God will continue to look out for us throughout the year." Yukari replied.

"That's good. Give Miyamizu-sama my regards during your visit." Yukari's mother smiled.

"No problem." Yukari said. Suddenly, they both heard the doorbell.

"Oh, who could it be early in the morning?" Yukari's mother asked as she and her daughter turn to the kitchen doorway.

"I wonder too. I didn't make any online deliveries lately." Yukari commented as she turns off the sink and places the clean plates aside. She leaves the kitchen and walks over to the main door. She pushes a strand of hair away from her eyes before she unlocks the main door and opens it.

As soon as she opens it, Yukari widens her eyes and drops her jaw in surprise. The person who is standing before her now isn't a deliveryman, but rather someone awfully familiar from her past. The man has short black hair, black eyes and stubbles above his lips and under his chin. He is currently dressed in a grey zipper jacket with a white shirt underneath, grey trousers and white shoes.

As the man looks back at Yukari with sad eyes, he lets out a sigh and greets her, "Good morning, Yukino-san."

After staring at the man for a few more moments, Yukari takes a gulp and finally wrenches enough control of her vocal cords to reply to him, "Itou."

After inviting the man into her home, Yukari gestures Itou to sit at the dining table while her mother goes to the kitchen to make a cup of tea for their guest. Yukari heads into her room and picks up her phone from the table beside her bed to call her friend.

"Moshi Moshi, Yukari-chan!" Taiga greeted from the other side of the line.

"Hello, Taiga." Yukari replied. "There's something I want to ask you."

"What is it?" Taiga asked.

"It's Itou. He's here in my apartment." Yukari said.

"Ah, so he found your address."

"Yeah, he told me that it was you who told him where I live. Is that true?"

Yukari could hear Taiga chuckling at the other side. "Yes, it's true. Yesterday, Itou called me up asking where you live because you have since changed your phone number."

'He still kept my number after all these years.' Yukari thought as her eyes softened.

"So he called me up since I'm the only person left in Tokyo whom he still has contact with." Taiga continued. "He asked me where you live because he wants to see you. He sounded very sad, as if he has been through a lot, so I actually do feel some sympathy and told him your address."

"I see." Yukari said softly.

"Yukari-chan, I know the relationship between you and Itou ended really badly, and I'm sure it's something you don't want to be reminded again. But I think you should try to talk with him. He seems really down so you should at least learn what's going through his head right now. Who knows? Maybe talking to him will finally help give you a peace-of-mind." Taiga said solemnly.

Yukari's lips curved into a wan smile. "You might be right. Arigatou, Taiga-chan."

"No problem, Yukari-chan! Good luck!" Taiga replied cheerfully before hanging up her phone. Yukari chuckled as she places her phone back down on the table. She folds her arms and lets out a heavy sigh, standing there quietly for a moment before she turns to door and walks out of her room.

Itou takes a sip of his tea before he turns to Yukari's mother and gives her a nod. "Arigatou." He said to her.

"You're welcome." Her mother replied just as Yukari walks over to the table. "So who are you exactly? A friend of my daughter?"

"I guess you can say that." Itou said softly as he places his cup down.

"Mom, this is Souichirou Itou." Yukari said to her mother as she takes a seat and sits in front of Itou. "He is…" She paused for a moment as some bad memories return inside her head. After regaining her senses, Yukari continued, "A former co-worker of mine."

"Yes." Itou said to her mother. "We used to work together at Shinjuku High."

"Ah, you are a former teacher." Her mother responded to him.

"Hai." Itou nods his head. "But I have since left and landed another job."

"I see. Well, at least it's nice to see two former colleagues reuniting with each other again after a long time." Her mother smiled. Yukari and Itou turn to each other and frown, knowing that she isn't completely right about what she said. "Now then, I'll leave you two alone for a while. Oh and Yukari, since you are going to Ikebukuro later, maybe you two can have a walk around the city to catch up with each other?"

"That sounds like a good idea. Thanks, mom." Yukari said to her mother with a wan smile. Her mother turns around and walks back to her room.

Yukari and Itou sat together in the dining area for what seems to be an awfully long period of silence. Finally, not wanting to maintain this awkward silence any longer, Yukari spoke up with a frown, "Why are you here, Itou? I heard from Taiga that you moved to Sapporo with someone else."

"Yes, she was right. I got into a relationship with a colleague of mine. She was a former classmate who went to the same school as me. After graduating from a university in Cuba, she came back to Japan and I happen to reunite with her. We both started dating with each other…after you left Shinjuku High. One year after you left, I leave the school as well so that Natsumi and I can move to Sapporo to continue our relationship and start a new life together. And two years later, we both got married." Itou explained.

"Congratulations." Yukari said softly.

"No. Don't say that." Itou shakes his head sadly.

Yukari stared at him in confusion. "What?"

"I honestly thought my relationship with Natsumi was going smoothly…" Itou said, his voice now sounding somber. "But just last month, after nearly five years of marriage, Natsumi and I divorced."

"What happened?" Yukari asked incredulously.

"Natsumi got pregnant two months ago. I thought knowing that we're finally going to have a child of our own would be the happiest day of our lives. But when we paid a visit to the hospital, I was shocked to learn from the doctor that the baby does not have my DNA." Itou explained.

"Which means…" Yukari said. Itou nods his head to her.

"My wife was actually pregnant with another man." Itou said grimly. "She had an affair behind my back the whole time, and I was both horrified and heartbroken. When I confronted her why she kept secrets from me, she said that for the last five years, I never cared about her. I was always so focused on my new job as a real estate agent, and whenever my wife needs me desperately, I refused to help her in any way, thinking that she can handle it herself. She grew frustrated and depressed over our relationship, and that's why she ended up falling in love with a co-worker of hers."

"I'm so sorry that all of this happened to you." Yukari said as her eyes softened.

Itou clenched his fists tightly. "Of course I was furious with her that she had fallen in love with someone else…but at the same time, I feel ashamed…knowing that what she said to me is the truth. I never cared about anyone."

"Itou." Yukari uttered.

"When you got into trouble at Shinjuku High that day, I never stood by your side and defend you from your detractors. You were completely helpless, yet I did nothing. I let you deal with your problems when you have no idea what to do. Some boyfriend I was." Itou said hoarsely. "And now, I made the same mistake all over again with another woman. I truly am a horrible person."

"So why are you here now?" Yukari asked.

"Shortly after learning every secret that Natsumi had kept from me, we divorced, and I spent the last seven weeks living on my own, in a small rundown apartment. I spent the entire Christmas season in misery, even cried for a while, trying to figure out what I've done wrong. Eventually, I remembered you. I never helped you that day when you needed me the most, and now this is God's punishment to me for what I've done." Itou explained. "So I was wondering…"

Yukari lets out a soft gasp as Itou places his hand on top of hers.

"Can we get back together? Just like we were meant to?" He asked.

Yukari stared wordlessly at Itou's hand for a moment, as so many emotions came flooding inside her right now. This is it. This could be her chance to start all over with her former boyfriend. She was upset that Itou completely disown her after the scandal that got her fired in the first place. Since then, she thought about Itou, clinging onto whatever hope she had that they may someday reconcile. But those dreams vanished when Taiga told her the truth that Itou had since married another woman after her departure from Tokyo. But finally, after so long, Itou has returned into her life, and he is willing to give her another chance. Yukari can finally reunite with the man she thought of so much.

However, at the same time, Yukari recollects the events that had happen to her after she left Shinjuku High. She has since gotten a new job where she made new friends to fill in the hole that the incident left in her heart. And it is thanks to her new friends, she had regained her strength and self-confidence to forget about the past and move forward again. She even got back her job at Shinjuku High, reunite with Taiga and Hitomi, reconcile with Aizawa and even meet and fall in love with Takao.

Yukari couldn't believe how many wonderful things have happened to her after the incident, and she never looked back ever since. And now, Itou has returned to Tokyo, hoping to have a relationship with her again.

But now that she thought about Takao and how she had since moved on from the incident, Yukari couldn't help but contemplate. Is she really willing to have a relationship with someone from her past again? If she were to accept Itou's request, then what does everything that had happened to her after the incident really mean after all? Is she just going to forget about the people who helped her regain her self-confidence, and her relationship with Takao, just to be with Itou all over again? Did she truly never get over her past at all?

Yukari lets out a heavy sigh. After much thought and consideration, Yukari looks back up at Itou and told him straight into his face.

"I'm sorry." Yukari said. Itou widens his eyes as Yukari removes her hand from underneath his. "Itou, I know how you feel. I know you want something to replace what you have lost, which is why you look back to your past. However…I'm not like you. I'm not under the shackles of my past anymore. I've moved on."

Itou stares incredulously at Yukari from a moment before tears begin to brim in his eyes. He nods his head and said hoarsely, "Let me guess. You're now in a relationship with someone else."

"That's right." Yukari nodded.

"I understand." Itou said. He tries to get up from his chair but Yukari swiftly grabs his arm. The man looks back at her in surprise.

"Where are you going?" Yukari asked.

"I'm sorry it's just…" Itou took a gulp and wipes away his tears. "Now that you have moved on…I have no one else left in my life."

"That's not true." Yukari tried to reassure him.

"No it is!" Itou cried as he sat back down. "My parents have since passed, I never cared about you and even my own students, and it is my own fault that Natsumi and I broke up. I seriously have no one to turn to anymore!" Itou sobbed as he tried to fight back the urge to cry. "It's all over for me."

"Itou, please. Get a hold of yourself." Yukari said to him firmly. After wiping away a few loose tears, Itou looks back at Yukari and the two silently stare at each other for a moment. Yukari gave Itou a weak smile as she gives a gentle pat on his hand. "Itou…I'm sorry that so many awful things have happened to you for the last two months. You are now overwhelmed with sorrow and regret, to the point that you have no idea what you want to do now moving forward. But you can't give up. The Itou I know back at Shinjuku High was a man who is strict, resilient and full of pride and confidence. So where is that spirit now?"

Itou lowers his head and stares down at the desk. "I've lost it." He replied somberly.

"If you think you have, then let me help you regain it." Yukari said. Itou widens his eyes and looks back at Yukari, seeing the determined look on her face.

"Yukino…" Itou uttered.

"Come along with me. I know the perfect place where you can remove all of your doubts away." Yukari said.

"Where are we going?" Itou asked. Yukari's smile widened.

"The Miyamizu Shrine."

Yukari and Itou sat together on a train as they travel to Ikebukuro. During the ride, Yukari shared with Itou all the times she had since she left Tokyo eight years ago. Itou was amazed to learn that Yukari spent her time travelling around the world and doing all sorts of activities with her new friends to overcome her depression, such as tasting wine in Bordeaux, driving through deserts in Western Australia and hiking mountains in Tierra del Fuego. Of course she never told him what they actually did there. Otherwise, he would be completely dumbfounded. What she also did tell him though is that through these travels, she realized that her spirit and self-confidence never left, and it convinced her to return to Tokyo to work as a teacher again.

"So you're working at Shinjuku High again, huh?" Itou asked.

"Yes. Even after all these years, my passion for teaching and inspiring others to become better people never left." Yukari replied.

"I remember my time as a teacher…I was pretty rough back then. Looking back now, I wish I never stopped being soft and kind like you." Itou said dejectedly. Yukari gave him a gentle pat on his shoulder.

When they arrived at Ikebukuro Station, Yukari and Itou stepped out of the train. The two walk through the station until they step out through the exit. Itou widens his eyes and examines his surroundings in awe upon leaving the station. The district is huge, consisted of many office buildings and shopping malls and crowded with over thousands of people.

"You seem amazed by all of this." Yukari said to Itou in amusement.

Itou chuckled as he rubs the back of his neck. "It's been so long since I walked around Tokyo. So everything in this city looks new to me all over again."

"I assume Sapporo is smaller compared to this?" Yukari asked.

"Do you even need an answer for that?" Itou replied. The two laughed as they walk their way to the pedestrian crossing. When the cars came to a halt and the pedestrian light turn green, Yukari, Itou and several people walk their way to the other side of the road.

When they arrive at the middle of the crossing however, Itou accidentally bump into a woman by her left shoulder. She groans in annoyance and both Itou and Yukari turn around to the woman and her muscular boyfriend.

"I'm so sorry." Itou bows his head apologetically to them before he and Yukari turn back to the front.

"Ugh! That really hurts!" The woman cried as she rubs her shoulder. She turns to her boyfriend and nudges him on his arm. "Hey! Deal with that bastard!"

"Huh?" Her boyfriend replied stupidly to her.

"Make him grovel and beg for his life, dumbass!" The woman shouted at him as she stomps her foot.

"Okay, geez!" The boyfriend replied in annoyance as he hastily walks over to Itou and Yukari who just crossed the road and stepped onto the pavement. "HEY!"

Itou and Yukari whirled about to the muscular man. While Itou began to look worried, Yukari remained calm and kept a solemn frown. When he approached them, the muscular man gave a rough push on Itou's shoulder, causing Yukari to quickly place her hands protectively on her colleague's shoulders.

"You owe my girlfriend a god damn apology!" The man barked at Itou.

Itou trembled before the man who is about five inches taller than him, and he tried to bow his head to plead for mercy. "I-I-I'm so-"

Suddenly, Yukari holds up her arm in front of Itou, cutting him off. Itou looks back up in surprise as Yukari glares at the muscular man before her. "Sir, even if we owe you a proper apology, using violence on us is never the diplomatic way to resolve such a trivial matter." She responded calmly.

"Shut yer mouth!" The muscular man yelled at Yukari before pointing his finger threateningly at Itou. "This sneaky asshole hurt my girlfriend and walks off like it ain't worth shit. Someone owes us a god damn apology!"

"Damn straight!" His girlfriend yelled furiously while standing behind him. Yukari snorted in response.

"Please don't talk to us like that. Just don't." Yukari scoffed at the man. She gave a pat on Itou's back, gesturing him to turn around. "Let's go."

"Hey! Don't turn your back on us, assholes!" The man shouted at them as Yukari and Itou turn around and depart.

"Get him! Take that bastard down!" His girlfriend shouted as she points her finger at Itou.

The muscular man proceeds to swing his fist at the back of Itou's head. But suddenly, Yukari whirled about and shoves the man's fist away. The muscular man looked surprised for less than a second before Yukari swiftly swings her fist across his face. Her punch sends the man turning around and Yukari takes the opportunity to wrap her arms around his neck. Itou, the man's girlfriend and several bystanders all look equally stunned to see Yukari possessing the strength and agility equivalent to the mixed martial artist.

The muscular man choked and gasped for air. He wraps his hands around Yukari's arms, trying to pull them off. But Yukari firmly kept her grip around his neck and manages to get him down on his knees.

"Oh my God, please! Let him go!" The man's girlfriend cried in horror as she also fell on her knees. She bows down to Yukari and plants her face and hands on the road as she begs for mercy and forgiveness. "Please! Stop hurting him! We're so sorry, just let him go!"

After hearing the pleas from the helpless woman, Yukari releases her arms around the man's neck. The man gasped in pain and began taking deep breaths as he quickly gets up and staggers away from Yukari. As he approaches his girlfriend, the woman got up and wraps her arm around his back.

"Are you okay? Breathe!" The girlfriend said to the man.

"If you two are done wasting our time, I suggest you go away." Yukari said to them flatly. "Now."

"Yes! Yes! Of course!" The girlfriend replied to her in sheer terror before she and the man quickly cross the road just as the pedestrian light is about to turn red.

As the bystanders casually go back to their business, Yukari turns to Itou and sees the incredulous look on his face. Yukari chuckled as she places her hands behind her back.

"I forgot to mention, my friends also taught me self-defense during our travels together." She said.

Itou manages to crack a smile after slowly regaining his senses. "Can you teach me some of that?"

Yukari laughed in response. She wraps her arm around Itou and the two continue walking through the streets of Ikebukuro.

At the courtyard of a small traditional shrine located in the middle of a district, a young red-haired woman, dressed in a white haori and red hakama, hums to herself as she brushes off the stray leaves on the ground with a bamboo broom. When her job is done, the woman places her hand on the side of her hip and lets out a sigh of relief.

When she heard footsteps, the woman turns to the entrance and sees Yukari and Itou walking down the pavement. She smiles as she instantly recognized the former. The two adults stood in front of the Torii gate and bow down to it before entering the premises of the shrine. The red-haired woman approaches them and the three bow to each other.

"Welcome to the Miyamizu Shrine, Yukari-chan!" The woman greeted.

"Nice to see you again, Kasumi-chan." Yukari smiled at the red-haired woman as they all stood up.

Kasumi chuckled at her before turning to Itou. "I see you brought a guest. Who is he?"

"Kasumi, this is Souichirou Itou." Yukari explained, introducing Itou to the shrine maiden. She turns to Itou and said to him, "Itou, this is Kasumi Kinomoto, a maiden of the Miyamizu Shrine."

"Nice to meet you, Itou-san." Kasumi greeted the man as she extends her hand.

"Nice to meet you too, Kinomoto." Itou said, grabbing Kasumi's hand and shaking it. Just then, the doorway to the shrine's main building opened. Yukari and Itou look up to see an old woman, dressed in a dark green kimono, stepping out of the building and walks over to them and Kasumi.

"Miyamizu-sama." Kasumi and Yukari both greeted the elderly woman as they bow down to her.

"At ease." The old woman said to them cordially. When the two women stood up, they see the elder Miyamizu now standing in front of them. "It's good to see you here again, Yukari Yukino."

"Nice to see you again too, Hitoha Miyamizu." Yukari said. "My mother gives you her regards."

"Thank your mother for me." Hitoha said to her. "How is she by the way?"

"She is perfectly fine and healthy." Yukari replied. "How are you and your granddaughters?"

"We are all doing fine as well." Hitoha replied. "As you can see, I'm still as fit as an ox despite my age. Yotsuha is doing well with her studies and preparing for her senior year, while Mitsuha is having a wonderful relationship with her boyfriend."

"Mitsuha found a boyfriend? That's wonderful!" Yukari said in delight. "I hope her boyfriend will bring her lots of happiness, as I do not wish to see my former student continue to live in despondency since the incident."

"I hope so too." Hitoha nodded. She turns to Itou and gave him a warm smile. "And who is this man you have brought to the shrine?"

"Miyamizu-sama, this is Souichirou Itou, a former colleague of mine." Yukari said, gesturing Hitoha to Itou.

"Good morning, Miyamizu-sama." Itou said as he bows to the elderly woman.

"A pleasure to meet you, Itou-san." Hitoha said, bowing her head back to him.

"Miyamizu-sama, Itou here had been through a lot of pain and trouble over the last two months." Yukari explained.

"Aye." Itou said with a disheartened tone. "Let's just say that…because I've made some wrong choices, I allowed my life to turn for the worse."

Hitoha nods her head and adjusts her glasses. "Please come in and tell me all about it."

Upon entering the shrine, Kasumi heads to the kitchen to prepare tea for everyone while Hitoha grabs four zabutons and place them on the floor. After kneeling down on one of them, Hitoha gestures Yukari and Itou to kneel down on the two cushions in front of her.

As Yukari and Itou kneel down before the elder Miyamizu, Kasumi returns to the area while carrying a tray that consists of a kettle and four small empty cups. She carefully kneels down on the zabuton besides Hitoha and places the tray down the floor. Kasumi pours the tea into the cups and passes each of them to Hitoha, Yukari and Itou. After pouring tea into her cup, Kasumi places the kettle down and the four drank together.

"Tell me, Itou. What have you done that led to the unfortunate events you experienced during the last two months?" Hitoha asked after placing their cups down on the floor.

Itou places his hands on his thighs and grimly explained, "Seven weeks ago, I divorced from my wife after realizing our child wasn't of my blood. She had fallen in love with another man behind my back because she felt that I've stopped caring for her." Itou paused momentarily, trying to maintain his composure before continuing. "She was right. Even after marrying the woman I loved, I never settled down. I remain devoted to my work, never caring about the people around me. Not my colleagues or my wife. I only think for myself. Even during my previous job as a teacher, I never helped anyone. It wasn't always like that though. When I started my teaching career back in Shinjuku High, I was helpful and friendly towards my students. I thought being kind would help encourage them to become better adults. But one day, when a student asked me for help to deal with a bully, I did so by reprimanding the one who bullied him. Then the next day, I learnt that the bully injured my student outside of school afterwards, and he was hospitalized. That is when my teaching philosophy made a complete U-turn. I became stern and unforgiving afterwards, believing that the only way people can become better is to experience hardships. I never helped anyone again after that. I stopped caring about my students, and even my co-workers."

Yukari frowns as she stares silently at Itou while she had been listening to him attentively.

Itou looks back at Hitoha and continued, "I even stopped being a teacher and marry the woman I loved. I truly have feelings for her…and yet, I ended up doing what I'm only good at since that day, not caring about anyone." Itou lowers his head in remorse. "And that was what led to our divorce, and it was all my fault."

"Apathy is harmful to all of us. We would stop caring for others so much, to the point that we eventually forget the meaning of love. Deny the people around you, and you will eventually deny everything, even the people you loved." Hitoha said to Itou solemnly.

"Miyamizu-sama, I have no idea how I can move forward from here. I lost every connection with every person I've ever met in my life. I'm all alone now." Itou said somberly.

"If you think you have lost your way, just find a new path to walk on." Kasumi said to Itou with a cheerful smile. Itou and Yukari turned to the red-haired woman as she continued, "I know how it feels like, believing you have lost everything, for I too have made a lot of messed-up decisions in my life. But then I realized that you can't feel tainted by your past mistakes forever. If you do, you'll never find peace and happiness again. We all lost something in our lives. But when we do, we just need to find something new to replace it."

"Exactly." Hitoha nods her head in agreement. "You must never be afraid to start all over. It may take some time to find your purpose to live again, but it is there somewhere down the road." Hitoha turns to Yukari with a wan smile. "Tell us Yukari. How did you find a new path to walk on after losing your job at Shinjuku High?"

"After leaving Tokyo, I try to forget about what happened in the past by taking a break from teaching. I found a new job and made some new friends. With my new friends, I travelled to many countries, seeing places that I've never been to before or never realize that they exist until now. The travels made me realize that I was so depressed over what happened to me in Tokyo, that I completely forgotten how big the world really is outside of the city. And through my friendship with my new friends, I also realized that I've forgotten how kind and strong people can really be. And it is because of them, that I have found the will to live again and restart my career as a teacher." Yukari explained. Itou stared at Yukari as he contemplates over what she had said.

"Nothing is impossible to accomplish, Itou." Hitoha said, causing Itou to look back at the elderly woman. "All of us have endured sufferings in our lives, and we are able to get through them because we always eventually find our way to move forward again."

For a few moments, as Hitoha and Kasumi smiled at him, Itou wordlessly stares back at them, reflecting on what he had heard from them and Yukari. He agreed with everyone present in the room. Everybody has experienced hardships in their lives as not everything will go the way they hoped for. Sometimes, it happens because it is their own fault, and sometimes, it is just something that they could not foresee. But no matter how bad life can be, they should remain positive and find a new way to keep moving forward.

Looking back now, Itou realized that he actually did the right thing to reprimand the bully, and the student's injury was never his fault as it was something that was out of his control. But instead, he chose to take it personally and ended up making the wrong decisions from there which greatly affected his livelihood in the long run. But if he had learned anything from Yukari and the Miyamizu Shrine, people will always have the option to start a new chapter in their lives after a bad situation has passed. And now that Itou had learnt from his mistakes, he is going to redeem himself by making the right decisions from now on.

Itou turns to Yukari and gave a solemn nod to her. In response, Yukari smiled back at him and nods her head.

After their visit to the Miyamizu Shrine, Yukari and Itou walked through the shopping districts of Ikebukuro while making their way back to the train station. They spent their journey conversing and sharing stories of what happened to them during the eight years since they last saw each other. When they arrived at the train station, they pass through the gantries and made their way up to the platforms.

"My hotel is in Itabashi, which means we'll be taking different trains from here." Itou said to Yukari. "And I guess this is goodbye as well."

"What will you do now?" Yukari inquired.

Itou stuffs his hands into his pockets and replied, "I will return to Sapporo and continue my job as a real estate agent. And I'll start making up for my mistakes by showing care to the people around me."

"That's a good idea. And I'm positive that somewhere down the road, you will find love and happiness again as your reward." Yukari said.

Itou was caught off-guard when Yukari suddenly grabs the zip of his jacket and pulls it up to his neck, causing him to lift his head up.

"So keep your head up," Yukari gave an encouraging smile to Itou as she looks up at him. "And never look back."

As Yukari releases her hand from his zip, a warm smile slowly plasters itself across Itou's face. He bows his head and said to her with gratitude, "Arigatou."

"You're welcome." Yukari said, bowing her head back.

"And Yukino," Itou said as he looks back at her. "I'm sure whoever you have fallen in love with, he will always make you happy."

Yukari's cheeks blushed as she stares at Itou in surprise. When she regains her senses a few moments later, a tender smile takes form on Yukari's face and she bows her head to Itou again.

"Arigatou, Itou." She replied.

Just as they finish their conversation, the train arrived. When the doors open, Itou turns around and steps into the crowded train that will take him back to his hotel. After placing himself in the middle of the car, he grabs the handle and turns back to Yukari. The two adults wave goodbye to each other before the doors close. Yukari stands where she is and silently watches the train depart from the station.

After Yukari disappeared from his sights, Itou turns away from the window and lets out a heavy sigh.

'You really have outgrown me, Yukino-san.' Itou thought. He closes his eyelids and his lips curved into a wan smile. 'Thank you for everything.'

Yukari sat down on an empty seat after entering the train that will take her to Shinjuku. As her train began to depart from Ikebukuro Station, Yukari stares into space as she reminisces what had happened today with a blissful smile on her face.

Taiga was right. Being able to communicate with Itou again has helped close the book on them on a positive note. Now, Yukari is truly free from her past. And that wasn't all. Itou is correct about him as well.

'You are right, Itou.' She thought blissfully as she lowers her head and closes her eyelids. 'Akizuki-kun will always make me happy. And that is why…I am still waiting for his return.'

As Takao Akizuki stands in the middle of a hallway inside the University of Florence, he looks through the large glass windows and up at the morning sky, wondering what Yukari is doing right now.

After what seem like a long period of silence though, Takao's lips curved into a smile. He turns away from the windows, closes his eyelids and murmurs to himself, "Just wait a little longer, Yukino-san. And I will finally fulfill my promise."

When he opens his eyes and lifts his head back up, he sees three of his classmates, smiling and waving their hands to him from a distance. Takao smiled back at them before he clings onto the books in his arm and walks over to his classmates, ready to start the first day of a new school year.

The End