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Tales of Love from the Intersection

Chapter Text

FOREWORD  

By Jinpachi Toudou

 

It was such a nerve for me to write this after observing the most teeth-grinding love story I’ve ever witnessed before I even graduated. To be honest, I never thought a story like this will exist in real life. I even thought this only existed in romance novels that my sister always read. 

I understand the obvious part of the story where this girl has been in love with her childhood friend and neighbor who couldn’t love her back because he is in love with something and someone else. But what made this story interesting and aggravating at the same time? There is this guy who was actually secretly in love with this poor girl and has been trying to reach her and then there is another girl who has been testing herself how she will feel towards this guy, only to end up falling in love with the guy whom she’ll forever chase his back while he’s looking at the girl he likes and the girl he likes has been trying to reach out to that stupid guy who cares less for her except mountains and a certain idol. On top of that, their stories are just a combination of the story where I initially got my inspiration from when I decided to write a novel again. 

You get my drift. And if you’re reading this part, you’ll probably hit your head in a wall, too, out of frustration – unless you’re not planning to finish the entire story. 

***** 

I, Jinpachi Toudou, witnessed the most head-spinning, heart-shattering love story in my three years in Hakone Academy, in which I, myself, never experienced, but by my fellow teammates at the Bicycle Club. I have to admit, that after finding out this involved my teammates, I decided to get involved as well, the moment I’ve learned that I actually have an ability to guess someone else’s past with another person involved with observation, and learned to control it by sharing them a thing or two on what love is through sharing a plot I’ve been writing... Although, to be honest, it has been since third grade that I have felt it. I thought of helping them as much as I can, by telling them their own story to help them realize the answer, only to end up hurting them... and myself. 

I thought that, since I’ve been surrounded by women who admired me from afar, and by learning the tropes and tricks from my sister’s collection of romance novels, those kinds of experiences are enough for me to provide them love advice through my plots, I’ll feel accomplished. It was only in my third year in high school that I understood the joy and pain behind it. If you can guess who gave me that idea to write again, you’ll get a prize from me... 

Okay, I’ll give it away, anyway. Fuku did. 

Surprised? Fuku rarely talks about his personal life, and if he will talk that much, it will be only about racing and how Hakone can be strong through training. When we talked, just the two of us, he said it himself: he has this someone who liked him back in middle school and surprisingly, he liked her as well, and he was about to confess but got caught in the race, only later to regret joining that race after seeing her, now with a boyfriend. The only person who knows about it is, obviously, Shinkai, because they were schoolmates back in middle school. 

Anyway, he once said, when you will realize that someone has been trying to reach you for a long time without looking behind you, and ended up still pushing forward, chances are you will end up being pushed to your failure. This isn’t related to that incident with Sohoku’s ex-captain. It was already too late for Fuku at that time to make up for the lost time to tell how he actually felt for that girl after winning that race back in middle school. As he was about to tell her... 

He saw her kissing another guy. 

That hurts like hell. Fuku was at his worst after that incident and then he saw that girl with another guy. She has moved on. She might have realized that she’ll never reach Fuku no matter how hard she runs towards him. It was like racing with someone who was too focused on winning rather than thinking that someone has been chasing him for miles away and for years. 

No wonder when he learned about this story (or what I’ve called a novel I’ve been working on), he couldn’t help but to share. A great reference coming from the great Juichi Fukutomi, but his story was just the background one, if you will read it as a novel, like a side story or whatever. Because the real protagonists here are those two women in the lives of those two idiots: they chased them, in different ways, almost gave up in the middle, only to end up... Well, if I’ll tell it here right away, it won’t be exciting anymore.  

It’s exciting. It’s heartbreaking. It’s even action-packed. I believe that their story is the greatest love story Hakone has ever produced. And I, Jinpachi Toudou, was honored to witness this kind of craziness before graduation – and be part of it. It was the biggest and the most meaningful lesson of love anyone can pick – even by the most laidback and the most annoying characters in the book called life. 

Chapter Text

JINPACHI

 

It was a quiet night of spring, and it as been last month since the first day of school – or so a young man with long, beetle-colored hair thought, when his cellphone rang. When he checked his caller ID as to who was calling him, he was having second thoughts if he will answer or not. But since he is done with his homework, might as well answer it... 

“What now!?” 

***** 

“Oh my GOD, you actually answered right away!” another young man with black hair slightly touching his nape squealed like a girl in excitement that the water in the tub almost splashed his phone (but good thing he was using a waterproof protector) when the other line unexpectedly answered right away. “This is the fastest record you made, Maki-chan!” 

Duh, it happened that I have spare time after studying,” the beetle-haired teen named Maki-chan replied casually. “So what now? ” 

“Have you heard?” 

About that squinty-eyed teammate of yours who is perpetually angry at anything for no reason? ” 

The black-haired teen whistled. It should be obvious, it appears that the teammate whom he was referring to and his family are a local celebrity. “The news has spread like wildfire, huh?” he grinned. “But here’s the thing, dude: no one, I mean, NO ONE ever thought he’s a spoiled rich brat and to think he’ll be marrying our student council president’s some news worth a billion yen if their wedding will be covered by all TV networks--!” 

Jinpachi, of course they are known. My folks used to work with them, duh? Unless you’re just bluffing that no one really knows, not even you – you've been teammates for three years, DUH!? ” 

If there is something Jinpachi would  always  forget is the fact that Maki-chan's family are also damn rich. 

“Anyway,” he learned towards the edge of the tub, “off to the main topic--” 

You’re telling me you’re not calling about THAT!? ” 

“Don’t worry, man, this is still related to tonight’s main topic, so listen closely...” 

The entire bathroom went silent, with only droplets of water echoing within the four walls were heard. 

“Remember the class project I’ve mentioned to you?” Jinpachi then asked 

You mean,” Maki-chan guessed, “the writing a novel thing? You got the highest mark in class for it. Planning to revive that? ” 

“Uhuh! Got a little inspired lately, but I thought I’ll share with you what the plot is.” 

He could hear the sighs from the other line, which could only mean he’ll be obligated to hear Jinpachi’s wild imagination again, thus he has to oblige. 

What about? ” 

“Ever heard of a story of four little idiots, starting with two childhood neighbors, where the girl has been in love with her neighbor, but the neighbor was totally clueless? Then enter this bad boy type of guy who has history with this sweet girl and is later showing some affection, but the girl is clueless? Then another girl who happened to be childhood friends with the bad boy type and has been hiding her feelings towards him because she wasn’t sure, and she was even shocked to find out that the boy neighbor has hots on an alternative version of her?” 

It took Maki-chan a minute to reply since the synopsis, itself, is already as confusing as his own hair. “What kind of shoujo manga is that? ” 

“Not the kinds you read on a daily basis,” he was referring to his friend’s collection of gravure magazines. 

There’s no romantic plot in gravure shots, idiot.” 

“Anyway,” Jinpachi decided to shove away his idea of a reading material, “there’s another guy who has hots for a girl – who already has a boyfriend.” 

Strangely, it piqued the other line’s curiosity. “Wait, does this guy know? ” 

“That she has a boyfriend? Of course! It started when he was about to tell his feelings to her but the girl can’t wait, she ended up with someone else. Tragic, huh?” 

Yikes,” a clicking sound was heard on the other line. “What about the boyfriend? ” 

“That... I don’t know,” Jinpachi admitted, “and I haven’t wrote about it yet. Which is why it’s tragic on every angle.” 

Maki-chan started to get intrigued – and irritated – at the same time, because “You’ve been telling me these stories without dropping off names,” he said.  

“That’s because first, I have just recently came up with this story. Second, I can’t name them yet, because I haven’t thought about it. But I can give you a clue and a giveaway.” 

You’re one unreliable storywriter slash gossip reporter, Jinpachi.” 

“I have sources, okay! Even they’re my OCs, I still respect their privacy,” and he stood up and went out of the tub and grabbed a towel. “Besides, my story’s just based on true-to-life events and I don’t wanna name characters based on real people. Anyway, one clue is, the childhood friends are first years.” 

You’re gross.” 

“WHAT!?” his towel almost slipped from his waist. “Between you and me and our reading preferences, you’re far more gross! Anyway, that’s the only clue I can give you.” 

And the giveaway? ” 

He gave a sly smile. “You know Fuku, right?” 

Maki-chan's voice changed. “Fuku? Fukutomi!? How did he even-- ” 

It took him ten seconds before he realized what Fukutomi’s story was... 

...Oh, yikes.” 

Maki-chan, or Yusuke Makishima, never thought that he will see himself sitting on his chair listening to the plots of his best friend slash rival, Jinpachi Toudou – who, for some reason, got inspired to grab his smartphone and open his Memos app to type in a plot he was willing to share. An unexpectedly juicy inspiration got him totally excited to write it down before it slips from his mind, and he needs someone to be his witness. 

And this is how the story goes.

Chapter Text

MAERA AND SANGAKU

 

Once upon a time, there was a little girl living with her parents in a distant town of Kasuga, roughly 4,000 kilometers from a town at the foot of Mt. Hakone. At a young age, she already wears glasses to cope with her nearsightedness. Since she was an only child, her parents can only give her the best, as long as she can also give them something in return, like she has to be a good girl or be a smart girl. Being the only girl, she learned to be blunt and bold enough to express her own opinions, even at a young age, that some parents would be concerned about her having friends in the future, but her parents find that trait of hers something to be proud of.   

When she was four years old, she and her family moved to Odawara, at the base of Mt. Hakone, after her father was promoted in his job. She wasn’t sure of the new neighborhood at first, and she finds it eerie because the place was too peaceful. Her parents, however, promised her that she will be able to make and gain friends right away, in a matter of time, as there is a certain hour in a day where children will play freely. What’s more, she can ride her bicycle freely, something that she got as her present for her fourth birthday. Their hunch came true when she peeked at her bedroom window on their third day in their new home.  

That afternoon, the little girl went to her bedroom to get something, when she heard someone crying from the window. She then decided to take a peek to find out why. There, she saw someone crying: a little boy, maybe the same age as her, his shirt off and was having a hard time breathing, coughing and crying at the same time while a doctor was examining his heartbeat through his stethoscope. Beside him was probably his mother, obviously she could feel her own son’s pain that she would also wanted to cry. After his examination, the doctor went close to the mother and they later left the poor boy to talk about something, probably about his worsening health.  

His tears and wails were contagious, the little girl didn’t notice herself crying with him as well, that the little neighbor stopped in wonder. Maybe he just noticed that he lives next door, to this unknown girl. For the first time, their teary eyes met, but only for a short time, when her mother heard her crying and came upstairs to get her and ask her what’s wrong.  

Because of that, the little sickly boy didn’t cry anymore. Maybe, out of consciousness, or concern for his new neighbor, that he decided to stop crying and endure the pain instead, in which relieved his mother but curious at the same time.  

It was only the next day that the two children decided to wait at their own bedroom windows to greet each other. The boy waited first, only to make the girl fluster when she found out that this little boy was waiting for her to show up – maybe because of what happened yesterday.  

“Don’t worry,”  the little boy first spoke . “I’m not crying anymore. So you don’t have to cry for me.” 

The little girl blinked in wonder. This kid knows that someone is worried about him, or maybe he knew because how his parents treated him like he was about to die anytime. He was now wearing a smile when he greeted her...  

It was the most bizarre, yet the cutest smile the girl has ever seen.  

“Are you okay?”  that was her first ever interaction with someone since they moved, showing concern over a boy she rarely knew.   

“Hm!”  the boy nodded.  “Mama said I can get out tomorrow.” 

“Were you sick?” 

The boy nodded again.  “But it doesn’t hurt anymore, so I can get out tomorrow.” 

It took the girl a minute to think of something different before speaking, but was surprised when the neighbor said something to her first:  

“I don’t know that I have a neighbor,”  he said in amusement.  “I can finally talk to someone!” 

The girl blinked.  “You,”  she pointed at herself,  “wanted to talk to me?” 

The boy nodded again, giving her a tint of red in her cheeks.  

“I don’t have someone to talk to,”  he admitted.  “Papa and Mama are always busy looking for a doctor.” 

“Why so?”  The girl got curious.  “Are you always sick?” 

The boy nodded, but slowly this time.  

“Why?”  her question has a tinge of pain.  

“Papa said I was born sickly. So they are looking for best doctor to cure me.” 

She was silent. At an early age, she was thankful she didn’t end up like him who was always in his room doing nothing but to watch near-healthy children playing outside in the afternoon. But at the same time, she felt bad for the boy. Is he bound to stay in his room forever?  

“Are you,”  she bit her lip,  “not bored?” 

He smiled.  “I’m always bored! That’s why I’m happy that I have a neighbor.” 

Deep inside, she was also happy. She never had a serious conversation with someone her age, since her own neighborhood didn’t have enough children for her to get along with, and ended up in the company of adults. She thought, maybe moving to a new place won’t be bad as she thought it was.  

But after finding out that the poor little boy has been bored in his room because he’s been always sick, the smart little girl tried to think of ways to make him feel the opposite, without realizing that their first meeting and conversation will be the start of everything between the two of them.  

***** 

Five years later, and maybe out of concern for his health, the little girl became the arms of legs of her sickly neighbor, much to his parents’ relief. Their parents were overjoyed as well on how their children socialized with other children with the help of each other, and seeing them together made them feel how normal their children are. Still, there would be times that she has to drop by the little boy’s home whenever he is absent to give him school notes to catch up, but it wasn’t as worse as before. To overcome his boredom whenever he will be forced to stay in bed, his father bought him a PlayStation Portable to play with, but it outgrew him eventually, as he easily gets bored with the same games he played. He couldn’t count anymore how many times he already played and win the last level on a particular game that he grew tired of playing and dying in the same games all over again, but the boredom easily subsided whenever he plays with her during her visits.  

The boy then noticed his neighbor that, whenever they go home, she was always in her bicycle, which piqued his interest. Thus, when he became strong enough to go back to school, his neighbor suddenly invited him somewhere.  

“Do you wanna try?”  she took him to a bicycle park, where one can borrow a bicycle for a little fun ride around town.  

Fascinated by how bicycles run and sound like, the little boy rented one, but it wasn’t an ordinary child’s bike. It has more gears, a different grip, and slimmer frame compared to her own. Even his neighbor was surprised with his pick.  

“A road racer!?”  she gasped.  “Are you sure--?” 

“This looks neat,”  was his simple reason, while he tried riding it the first time. Because it doesn’t has any training wheels to save a beginner like him, he almost slipped, but surprisingly, he managed to balance himself, which impressed her.   

“Hey, Class Rep,”  he called her,  “Let’s race there!” 

Class Rep .  Either the boy has already forgotten her name or he finds it more suitable for her nature, yet it didn’t bother her. After all, he is not bothered being called by his first name by a girl. If he is just like other boys his age, either they will get irritated or flustered whenever a girl will call them in their first name like they were their girlfriends.   

So the little girl accepted his challenge, too bold for him to assume he will win despite his first time in a  road racer  but only for fun. After a lap, she went past him, who was struggling to balance himself to the point that he fell in the bushes.   

“Are you okay!?”  she tried to come back to him, but...  

“Go ahead, Class Rep,”  he said as he tried to get up.  “I’ll catch up...!” 

When he lifted his head, the little girl was astonished to see her neighbor’s face: he was obviously in pain, but what struck her was the fact that he was smiling despite it.  

Yet, she couldn’t help but to worry.  “L-let’s stop here,”  she said.  “You need to--” 

“No,”  he insisted.  “This is good... Keep going, Class Rep...! I’ll be fine. I’ll definitely catch up... For the first time... I’ve never felt this excited... 

I’ve never been this alive...!” 

It took the girl a few more more years before she finally understood what he meant by being alive. Ever since she introduced him to bicycles, his health went on a dramatic improvement that his parents even paid her and her family a visit just to thank her personally. Out of excitement, the boy’s father even bought him a road racer similar to what he first used on his eleventh birthday, and even went against the doctor’s warning, that his doctor also noticed his improvement.  

Ever since that fateful encounter with bicycles, the boy became more closer to nature, that he challenges himself everyday to climb the slopes of Hakone little by little. The more he got used to his bike and new hobby, the ‘closer’ he became with the unforgiving wind and the harsh slopes. Without him realizing...  

The more he got used to his bike, the more he gets further away from the person who first introduced him on how to be alive. Or that was what the poor girl thought.  

***** 

Since then, in the girl’s eyes, it was just him and his bike, to the point that he was starting to neglect his duties as a student. He mostly comes to school late, forgets his homework, and even skips cleaning duties after school, just to be with the mountains. But she couldn’t blame him. It is just like he was only trying to enjoy the years that he spent at home almost all his childhood. Just like a bird who has been confined in his cage for years and only enjoyed the joy of flying in the skies for the first time.  

She understood that she couldn’t keep him chained in his cage forever. This is what he needed all his life: to feel pain and joy at the same time.  To be  free . To the point that he is starting to lose sight of his own environment and people around him.  

In exchange, she has to do something for him so he would not miss a normal school life.  

The girl became a constant leader in class even until they both entered middle school, where she became their class representative again. She did what she mostly do even before she met him. But things are different now. For her neighbor to enjoy the freedom taken from him on the earlier stages of his life, she has to act as his shadow: doing what he misses in class, but doesn’t forget her job to constantly remind him of his study habits, tardiness, and missed homework. In the end, she would have to search all over the school to just remind him what he missed.   

It has been that way, to the point that he totally forgot her real name and started to call her “Class Rep” even at home. She didn’t mind at first, but then she realized how much he changed ever since they raced for the first time.  

After all, this is what he wanted, so he doesn’t have to cry in his room again. 

***** 

First day of school at Hakone Academy.  

“Being a Class Rep really suits you,” a boy with short blue hair said while walking towards their classroom, in which his friend, a girl in pigtails and half-moon glasses, wasn’t sure if it was a compliment or a joke. “Congrats!” 

“Th-thanks,” she flustered, trying to hide her reddening face behind her thick glasses. “B-but I’m now in charge of all first years. Anyway, I’m also glad you made it.” 

“All thanks to you!” he beamed. “Sorry if I have been a hassle to you, but I’m glad you made it to the top.” 

The girl in glasses just sighed. It wasn’t a joke to just pass the entrance exams like that, especially in Hakone. 

Hakone Academy is famous in Kanagawa for their academic and athletic clubs, in particular, its Bicycle Club. Almost seventy percent of graduating middle school students wanted to get into the said school, if not for its grueling entrance exams, that only ten percent manage to pass – and that is already the maximum. The school’s strive for excellence in everything was evident in every tournament they join in, that it was heavily funded by the richest and the most influential individuals in East Japan, thus their facilities would really speak of how well-trained their students are.  

This year, the First Year Representative seat was won by a resident of Odawara, Maera Miyahara, after getting the highest mark in the recently-held entrance exams. But getting that position isn’t a joke, especially that she also has to help her best friend get in – and barely made it in, not by a sheer miracle.  

“We’re in high school now, Sangaku,” she told him as soon as they get into their classroom. “I might not be able to do your homework on your behalf now that I’m the First Year Rep. Frankly, you should be serious on your studies on your own! If you keep on doing that, you might repeat another year!” 

“Yes Ma’am,” the blue-haired boy, Sangaku, replied in a sing-song manner, making Maera more unsure if he is really serious or not, but he even managed to apologize earlier for doing things that was supposed to be his job.  

“So,” Maera suddenly remembered and changed the subject, “you’ve made up your mind to join the Bicycle Club here. You know how tough it is to get in to that team, is that why...” 

He only smiled as his reply. 

“Their team’s huge,” he said. “I thought I can meet someone who loves climbing like me.” 

“I’m sure you’ll find someone who’ll enjoy climbing with you.” 

Their conversation goes more awkward minute by minute. As soon as Sangaku mentions bikes and road racing, he would not stop talking about climbing, while Maera was running out of topics to talk about. Although she also rides a bike like him, she isn’t a competitive type... 

This really happens when your friend has become addicted to biking to the point that he couldn’t stop talking about it anymore, like biking saved his life once. 

***** 

After class hours.  

“I have to leave you here,” Maera said when she decided to accompany Sangaku to the Bicycle Club’s own building. “We’ll be having a meeting today, too.” 

“Thanks for bringing me here,” and he suddenly looked at him with such gentleness. “For everything. I won’t be able to make it here without you.” 

All Maera could do is to smile. After all, it was  her  who brought the world of cycling to him. 

It has been eight years since she introduced him to the world of bicycles, which later led him to the world of competitive road racing. It was this reason that Sangaku has gone gung-ho about climbing the slopes of Mt. Hakone almost every day, and he never stops thanking her for doing so. 

As she left Sangaku near the club room, Maera decided not to look back. She should be happy, she helped him gained his freedom – even if there is a price to pay. She understood. As she walks further, the pain in which Sangaku felt in his chest way back has been transferred to her own. The more she walks away, the more it hurts that she wanted to burst into tears. 

They are now in high school. She should be aware that change is constant. It won’t, and will never be, the same again. 

“OOOF--!” 

She didn’t realize where she was going that she bumped into someone, as a result... 

“The hell,” she heard a grumpy voice that froze her, “watch where you... 

Go... ing...” 

They faced each other. 

A taller high schooler, probably a year or two older than her, glaring at her with his piercing slant eyes and sporting a shorter black hair and wears a jersey of whatever sport that is, while the older male was sweating for some reason the moment he saw a familiar pair of brownish eyes hiding in those half-moon glasses. She, too, was sweating, but for a reason probably the same as his. Maera’s whole body froze upon seeing him, but that wasn’t total fear.  

As they were about to point at each other, probably to shout “You!” at each other upon seeing each other’s faces, another figure showed up and called the taller student-- 

“Hey, Arakita!” 

It’s her cue to run when the taller guy responded to a friend's call. 

Run, Maera!  

And she ran as fast as she could, away from him, without looking back to find out if this guy would wonder why she ran. 

Maera began to sweat. A lot. She has not yet running using her full force but seeing the said guy she probably knew just made things worse. But she has to shove it away, her job with Sangaku is done for today. The White Wing Council meeting will start anytime now, and that is all that matters.  

And yet, she couldn’t hide her crumbling fear and anger as to why, on her first day at Hakone Academy, she will encounter something – or rather, someone – unfortunate. 

WHAT IS THAT YANKEE DOING IN THIS SCHOOL!?  

Chapter Text

YASUTOMO AND MAERA

 

Once upon a time, there was this young pitcher in a known middle school in Yokohama, feared for his fast pitches and response to the field. Because of his skills, their baseball team has seen hope for the first time in him, especially when he was selected to play in the Regionals. Everyone has their hopes rested on his shoulders...  

Until a shoulder injury prevented him to perform like he used to.  

Upon learning about his injury, his own teammates began losing their confidence, fearing that they have pressured him too much. But for some, they blamed him for having an injury, which caused them a spot in the Regionals.  

It was official, as the doctor told him: he won’t be able to play baseball ever again, in which he didn’t mind. After all, he was really planning to quit the moment his injury slowed him down.   

His pride as a player crushed because of an injury, that even he didn’t anticipate, nor he wasn’t certain of his future anymore after that happened. He went on finishing middle school without a problem, but he started to cause problems with other schools. His frustration over the incident molded him into a fearful beast walking around the streets, looking for someone to unleash his anger against. During his final year in middle school, he became strong enough to gain followers, more than servants, to do his bidding. But they didn’t last long -- until he entered high school.  

Entering that prestigious school for him wasn’t just because it doesn’t have a baseball club. Someone told him to enter there for reasons that only his highly-influential family can benefit. “Might as well use your brains and influence in there if you wish,” his father once said, “but try not to cause injury over our family name. You should be thankful. Even after you decided to leave the manor, I don’t have any strength nor guts to disown the sole heir to the conglomerate. You still have some use.”  

It was a pain in the neck. Why was he carrying the family name anyway if he has been bringing nothing but shame, not just to his family, but to himself?  

*****  

It has been like this, People are expecting more of you not just because of your skills, but also because of the name you bear. And he has been carrying that burden even before he quit baseball.   

Yet, thanks to his name, he managed to get followers to do whatever he wanted. He thought being a feared leader of the pack would finally bring him the peace he wanted. Leading underground fights, driving around town with his scooter... It was just him and his scooter, and he believed it will take him somewhere farther and farther away, escaping reality and just to be free, forgetting who he really is.  

But things started to change in his life when he encountered a little middle school girl who was lost and got into trouble by that rival gang.  

As he was riding his scooter to cool himself down, he managed to notice a small group of boys surrounding a girl wearing a middle school uniform. Scared, but was trying to put a brave face, she tried to push herself away from those boys, but to no avail. Their leader, who has blonde pompadour, caught her wrist.  

“Don’t be boring, missy,” he was smirking at the poor girl in glasses. “All you have to do is to say yes and we’re good! Don’t lie that you’re not bored--” 

“I don’t have plans to get out with any one of you,” she hissed, even in fear,  “not even with YOU,”  she pointed at their leader,  “because I still have an exam to think about. And what you’re doing here slacking off? You’re wearing uniforms but all you do is just to ride around like you own this place!” 

“Because I do!” 

“I don’t think so! Where’s your proof? Are you even the mayor here? You can't answer? Are you just wearing uniforms for fun!? I’m sure either you’ve dropped out or got kicked out but you haven’t washed those uniforms of yours for centuries--” 

Taunted by her words, the leader grabbed her chin. “You know how to talk in that little frame of yours. How about I prove to you how to have fun here?” 

She is finished. She started to regret why she bumped into them in the first place. If she will not scream, who will save her? She was about to, especially that she was on the verge of tears, when a fast hand suddenly grabbed the leader’s wrist, crushing it onset that he screamed like a girl.  

The rest of his men started to panic and some of them even ran for their lives when they recognized who stopped them, much to the girl’s confusion, until the blonde-haired leader was the only one left, still being held by the mysterious savior.  

“Still crappin’ around, huh?” the mysterious savior with black pompadour smirked at him, which caused the blonde to shake. “Who told you to do that while I’m around...?” 

The blonde desperately tried to pull himself away, grabbing the girl’s ribbon supposedly to pull her on purpose, but the scooter-driving guy’s hands were too fast he also grabbed his other wrist and kicked him away in his stomach.  

Everything was so sudden that the girl couldn’t scream anymore.  

Overwhelmed by his strength, the blonde struggled to stand up and tried to run, but the rider was not done yet that he pulled his white uniform so he would not escape. “Why runnin’ now?” he grinned.  “I haven’t had any exercise since yesterday. You’ll be good enough...” 

He kicked the blonde again, this time in the shin, without thinking that a girl was watching them. Whether he was aware or not, he was planning to beat the blonde senselessly until he is satisfied, but before he could even have fun torturing someone...  

“STOP IT!!!” 

Both young men stopped. The black-haired rider’s momentum was ruined by a girl’s scream that he glared at her. But then, for some reason, upon seeing her watery eyes, his glare softened. Both didn’t even realized that the blonde already ran away.  

Silence filled the parking space.  

She was still glaring at him, amid shaking in fear, something that the rider somehow admired. He later smirked at her.   

“You’re one tough cookie,” he even complimented her, “but you smell like you’re about to piss your skirt--” 

The girl with glasses never felt that deeply insulted in her life that she was about to reach his face to slap him, regardless of his height, but his reflexes were amazing that he was able to grab her wrist before her finger could even touch the pores of his face.   

Under the developing moonlight, the ride could see her tear-soaked reddened face. He knew that this girl has been trying to act tough. For some reason, instead of admiring her, he threw another insult.  

“Kids like you shouldn’t roam around late at night,” he advised her. “You’ll end up a meal by those bugs if I didn’t come.” 

“You’re a kid, too, and probably a middle schooler like me,”  she guessed,  “so what are you doing here!? Are you supposed to go home, do you homework, or whatever a normal middle school boy should do!?” 

There it is again, he thought. He was tired. He was just fresh from a long lecture about how one should behave that it sickened him. “You’re not my momma to do what I have to do in my life,” he said, as he finally lets go of her hand like he really intended to. “Should you say that to yourself?” 

He walked away.   

“I’ll find a way to get home quickly if I were you,” he said last. “I’m not the type who would hurt the types of you: still smelled like you’ll crap in fear anytime. And lemme correct you on one thing… 

I’m in high school now.” 

He later took his scooter and rode away, leaving the girl completely dumbstricken and scared. The ex-baseball star has no time to deal with the girl’s drama that he didn’t bother looking at her from behind. Yet, for some reason...  

He couldn’t forget that face anymore.  

*****  

“Yasutomo?” 

He blinked. He didn’t realize he was walking with his two teammates, in which, for them, it is already considered a talent, much to his irritation. 

“So finally got a female fan, huh?” the teammate with headband was snickering. “Just don’t steal any of Shinkai’s or my fanbase, especially MY fanbase--” 

“I don’t think he’s the type who’ll steal fans,” the other teammate with wavy brown hair, in which the headband guy calls Shinkai, thought otherwise. “He could be the type who’ll give his own fans away--” 

“That doesn’t exist in normal life!” 

“But seriously, Yasutomo,” Shinkai called him again, “it’s like you--” 

“Don’t know her,” he corrected right away. 

“Yeah, the usual I-don’t-know-the-girl-but-actually-has-a-past-with-you trope,” the headband guy won’t stop snickering, “where you met her somewhere years ago after saving her from bad guys-kind of scenario. Ya think I’m blind with those kinds of tropes?” 

“How many shoujo manga did you read anyway?” Yasutomo stepped back and glared at him, albeit suspecting (and deep inside amused and scared by how accurate his description was), that shook the other teammate. 

“My sister read  real  books, okay? She doesn’t own a manga unlike you who has tons and I bet they’re the rauchy types--” 

“So you’ve read them!” 

“I already said I don’t--!” 

“Oh, you don’t read books? Yikes, how did you even reached high school?” 

“Shinkai, tell Fuku this guy’s bullying me, it’s against the school rules!” 

“Speaking of which,” Shinkai remembered by changing the subject, “have you already read the Castle of Montecarlo that I recommend to you?” 

“Man,” Yasutomo sighed, “that’s the most boring piece of crap I’ve ever read!” 

“You won’t say until you get the last part! You should have read it carefully--!” 

“Why the hell did we ended up reading!? It’s the recruitment period in the Bicycle Club, morons! We have those smelly first years to screen about! If we get late, Fuku-chan will roast us at practice!” 

The two just looked at each other and snickered at his bike-- 

“I can hear you, assholes!” 

So many things happened in the past three years since that incident, and now, Yasutomo Arakita, former baseball star, is a member of the elite Hakone Academy Bicycle Club, where he works as an assistant to the ace. And he has been doing greatly along with his new team, as he finally cast away his past self. Until he saw her again... 

Everything came back to him like a rewinded movie. 

Why the hell is she here!?  

***** 

Minutes ago.  

“Watch where you... Go... ing...” 

Time stopped in him when he saw that face  again. And her smell. It has been two years, as far as he remembers. But the real question now is why she is in Hakone. Sadly, he missed the entrance ceremony as he was assigned to fix their promos for their Bicycle Club. 

He couldn’t be wrong. Those big, brown eyes. That little face. That unexplained glare if she was really angry or trying to be. It was already registered in his head.  

“You!” he even pointed at her, the same thing she did to him. Obviously, the said girl still remembers his face, even if it has already been two years and his pompadour was long gone since he joined the Bicycle Club. As he was about to ask her the million-yen question... 

Someone called him. “Hey, Arakita!” 

And of course, he responded. It was just two of his idiot teammates, with that headband freak calling him when they found him talking to a girl. When he looked back again... 

The girl was gone. 

“Who’s that?” Shinkai got curious. 

“A nobody,” he grumbled. “Let’s go...” 

He decided to forget what he saw. It was just probably an illusion because he’s already tired even it has not been an entire day. Besides, it has been two freaking years, and someone like her can’t just get into Hakone’s grueling exams. 

Maera also thought it was just an illusion, where it just happened that the pale, tall guy has the same face as that guy in pompadour as she ran away. It’s impossible for him to get into such school... 

Or that was she thought.  

***** 

“I appreciate your help today, Miyahara-san.” 

The White Wing Council has just had their meeting adjourned, and to make up with the lost time, Maera took the opportunity to help the Council President, herself.  

“I’m really sorry for being late,” Maera remained apologetic after being late in the meeting for rougly two minutes because of her second encounter with that guy who saved her and insulted her in exchange. “Let me make up with you in this.” 

“This is supposed to be the work of the Council Secretary,” the president said gently, with light brown hair tied back in a high ponytail and also wears half-moon glasses just like her, but how she carries herself is like she was a princess, “but you volunteered to vouch for her. I should be the one to apologize.” 

“Y-you don’t have to, Ma’am!” she blushed. “Th-this is my job, after all! Uh I mean, as part of the White Wings... B-besides, this is already my nature...” 

The beautiful President smiled at her. “Well,” she piled the finished papers in the desk, “since we have managed to finish early, tell me more about what happened.” 

For some reason, half of Maera’s energy were drained by just remembering that annoying guy’s face. “Well,” she bit her lip, “I... I don’t know if I have to tell you or...” 

“You don’t have to worry,” the President assured her. “Now that you’re part of the team, you can confide in me, and I’ll make sure that whatever will happen in this room will stay in his room.” 

Maera has never been relieved before. The rumors about the fabled White Princess of Hakone Academy are true after experiencing it, herself. Well, the title “White Princess” has become synonymous to whoever will hold the position of the Council President in a student body ran by all girls, thus the name “White Wing” was attributed to Hakone’s Student Council.  

To put her at ease at least, the President stood up to get some tea. When Maera saw her... “N-no, I’ll do it!” she volunteered. 

“No, please sit down,” she insisted. “Let’s say it’s your reward for your diligence.” 

Those simple praises made her blush, and since the President insisted, she decided not to move from her spot and instead watch her make the tea. 

“If I may,” she began, “I would like to get to know you more. This is what I usually do to get to know the people who will be in my team for this year.” 

“I...is that so...?” she timidly waited for tea. 

“I heard that you and your childhood friend managed to take the exams and pass together,” the start of conversation surprised Maera. “I heard also that he was sickly before you’ve introduced cycling to him. Is he planning to join the Bicycle Club?” 

“Th-that’s what he said,” Maera replied. “In fact, I just took him to the club room to register.” 

“I hope he’ll do well. This school is best known for its bicycle team, the best in Japan. And we are currently defending our crown for this year’s Inter-High.” 

“Pr-President, do-do you ride a bike, yourself?” 

The question made the President chuckle. “Sadly, I’m not good at balancing my body, so no,” she answered. “But I know some people there. Some of them were my batchmates and I can tell how intense their training is. Anyway...” 

She later sat face to face with Maera. 

“You haven’t told me about what happened as to why you were late for 2 minutes.” 

She almost slapped her own mouth. “S-sorry,” and she calmed herself to get the right timing to tell her what happened... 

“I,” she began, “I’ve just met him again.” 

It piqued the President’s interest. “Who is it?” 

“B-back in middle school, that guy saved me from thugs, but he wasn’t that friendly. In fact he insulted me for not being careful. I... I didn’t know he goes to this school as well.” 

“Do you still remember what does he look like?” 

“Well,” she scratched her cheek, “I almost didn’t recognize him because of his hair, but I know he’s that guy because of his face and voice. H-he has eyes like this,” she even squinted her eyes to look smaller, “and has black hair and he grins like he’ll bite you to death anytime. That’s how annoying his face is!” 

For some reason, the President went silent when Maera described to her whom she saw that afternoon. 

“Thank you for telling me,” she said. “As promised, whatever happens in this room will stay in this room. Think about this intead: You won’t be here without his help at that time. But whatever he said to you is something I would not reprimand if I was there.” 

“S-say, President,” Maera suddenly thought of something, “since you’re the President, are you required to recognize names and faces of people in this school?” 

She smiled at the question. “Kind of. But it’s not that hard, especially if the database is always updated. Maybe from there I’ll be able to find that person you’re describing to me and from there I’ll be able to investigate.” 

“B-but you don’t have to do that! It’s been two years. Besides, I decided to move on. The damage is done, I decided to find a way to avoid him at any cost,” and she looked at the President. “I appreciate your help, though.” 

It was a light moment between Maera and the President, which she decided to treasure it forever rather than think about that indcident which it was already two years ago. What was done is already done, just as what she said. After finishing her tea, Maera excused herself to check on her childhood friend how he was doing in the Bicycle Club. 

This gave the mysterious President a chance to check the student database in her laptop after she was finally gone. After a few clicks, she stumbled upon a picture of one of its students filed under the list of enrolled third-years. 

“Looks like it will be a fun final year for us,” she said in the monitor. “Or maybe not.” 

She stared at the picture in the monitor, with no grunge nor distaste. Instead, it was the look of someone who is concerned about their well-being... and, probably, their past. 

“That first year will lead us in settling everything between the two of us once and for all... 

Yasutomo Arakita.” 

Chapter Text

SANGAKU AND YASUTOMO

 

The Hakone Academy Bicycle Club is widely known in the country for be the undefeated Kings of the Road for so many years. It also holds the largest member count up to this day. Their rigorous training has helped in selecting its members carefully, on who will be tough enough to compete in the Inter-High. And now, they are once again defending their crown, with Juichi Fukutomi leading the pack of white-and-blue-clad road soldiers as what his father and brother once did. 

The 41st Summer Inter-High is fast approaching, and of all the first years who wanted to join the elite team, one of them stood out, at least, according to Yasutomo’s senses: 

“I’m Sangaku Manami from Class 1-A, nice to meet you all!” 

All the members, even the newcomers, were staring at him like he was lost or not belonged to a club full of highly-serious and focused people. Even Jinpachi Toudou, the member with a headband, finds him annoying right away, because... 

“How come he has the same hairstyle as me!?” he whispered to Shinkai and to Yasutomo, who was, surprisingly, quiet. 

“Maybe he’s also a climber,” Shinkai guessed-- 

“No, no, no, no, no, if that happens, I’ll--” 

“I heard that you’re climbing Mt. Hakone during your spare time,” Captain Fukutomi interviewed him. “Is that true?” 

Sangaku just beamed. “I do! I really love climbing!” 

The headband-wearing teammate almost screamed internally when Shinkai’s guess came true. “This is  your  fault,” he hissed at him. 

“At least there will be promising climbers who’ll take your mantle someday,” Shinkai said positively. 

“I doubt about it. Climbing Mt. Hakone during spare time like it’s nothing!? Took me a lifetime and Maki-chan to work on it!” 

“Can’t wait to test him?” 

“If Fuku will assign that kid to me, I’ll be more than happy to make his life into living hell but we’ll see about that,” and he later turned to his other side. “Whatcha think, Arakita?” 

He has been quiet for an hour now, since he saw the first years for the first time, Particularly, when he saw Sangaku, much to their curiosity. Meanwhile, in Yasutomo’s head... 

Is it just me,  he squinted his eyes,  or I’m smelling that girl on him? But why the heck!?  

Just to feign his own thoughts on the mysterious newbie, “Fuku-chan,” he looked at him, “how about we test these kids now?” 

“That’s the original plan,” Fukutomi read his mind. “I already have planned a course for them to take to screen out who will stay and who will drop out.” 

“I’ll take care of that--” 

“I’ve already assigned Toudou on this one. You’ll take care of recording their time.” 

Jinpachi reacted when he heard his name mentioned by the captain. “WHAT!?” both he and Yasutomo chorused. 

“Dude,” Yasutomo tried to counter his decision, “I rarely ask for a favor, so why the hell--” 

“Toudou will be in charge,” Fukutomi said. “That’s final.”  

And he didn’t even flinch when he heard Jinpachi whining. “Good luck,” Shinkai whispered to him, plus a pat on his back, which only weakened him. 

“I hate you.” 

Meanwhile poor Sangaku has no idea what the upperclassmen were talking about the moment he introduced himself, like he wasn’t sure if he said something that will upset them or there was something about him that bothered them. Or, at least, accoding to Yasutomo, there is definitely something special about this first year, not because of his personal accomplishment. 

I just wanna know why do you also smell like that girl. If not for Fuku-chan's orders...  

***** 

It has been the whole day, and for some reason Yasutomo won’t keep his eyes away from that ‘special’ first year. And if there is someone who would notice his unusual silence first, it would be his classmate, Hayato Shinkai. 

“I’ve made a research about our new members,” he proudly say in front of the brooding classmate, who has been staring at Sangaku’s application form. “If you’re curious about this Manami guy...” 

“You’re gross,” was Yasutomo’s initial reaction at him. Hayato just laughed. 

“Between me and you, who’s far more gross?” his remark just made the broody teammate glare at him maybe for being too frank out-of-the-box. “You’ve been staring at his application form ever since club activities ended for the day. Were you as amazed as Jinpachi a while ago?” 

“Not really,” and he grabbed a bottle of his favorite soda. “Comparing to that headband-wearing mountain freak’s reaction, I couldn’t care less.” 

“Then why’ve you been staring at his application form for hours now?” 

Offended, and as what Hayato expected, he grabbed the form and crumpled it, but he immediately snatched it away from his hand. “Don’t let Juichi make you run for your life just for a piece of paper,” he was snickering, then he grabbed a choco-banana-flavored power bar and handed it to Yasutomo. “Hungry?” he offered. 

“No,” he refused. “And clean up afterwards.” 

“Anyway,” and he pulled out his notes, “we have a good record of new members this year. And if you’re as fascinated as Jinpachi over little Manami, so am I.” 

“I said--” 

“Apparently he has a medical history until he turned twelve. Says here that he was suffering from asthma since birth. Cycling somehow helped him, but there’s more to his biking. Rumors said he’s been climbing Mt. Hakone for years, that could be the reason he’s special.” 

He’s no special,  Yasutomo just sighed.  He’s just a climber. A sickly kid way back? So what?  

“But I guess,” Hayato kept on explaining, “you’ll never know how a person rides unless you experience it.” 

If there is one thing that Yasutomo finds Hayato’s reports sensible, it will be the last sentence he said. He understood after seeing a shocked (and satisfied) Jinpachi after a test race with the new first years. Maybe this Sangaku Manami guy is  really  special... 

For Yasutomo, however, he smelled something more to him. Not the smell of a crappy elite, or the smell of being a mysterious force to reckon with. 

He has that girl’s smell. Why is that?  

***** 

“You’re late again!” If Maera was that violent, she could have hit Sangaku on his head when he suddenly popped out from under her desk. “And it’s just only the second day of school!” 

“Sorry, Class Rep,” he apologized in whispers casually, like he wasn’t bothered about being later while in the middle of a class discussion, “just got fascinated while riding--” 

“S-seriously!? That’s the same excuse you’d always come up with since middle school! It’s not the same anymore, mister! Hurry up, there’s a recitation!” 

“On the second day?” 

“Tani-sensei’s strict and says he gives surprise quizzes even on the second day. If he finds out that you’re late--” 

“You  do  remember my rules when it comes to tardiness, don’t you... Manami-kun?” 

It was too late that the teacher heard them whispering at his back that both their worlds stopped turning in just a second. 

***** 

Both the Class Rep and the latecomer ended up outside of the classroom for disrupting a discussion. What made it worse is that they were given extra homework. Maera just sighed. 

“Sorry for dragging you to this,” all Sangaku could do is to say sorry for something that he should suffer alone. 

“It can’t be helped,” Maera dismissed their situation. “I’m used to extra work. But I’m not sure about you.” 

“What do you mean?” 

“Well,” she stared at the hall’s windows, “you’ve been like this since middle school. I guess you’ve enjoyed your freedom too much, huh?” 

It was what he wanted, after all. 

She couldn’t forget Sangaku’s words the first time he tried a bicycle. He felt alive, he said. It was the first time he felt that kind of thrill, even if he feels pain. It was like he wanted to experience it on a different situation rather than experiencing it while being bedridden. Maybe that was it. He grew tired of his own bed and videogames that he wanted to try something else – even if this will mean risking his health. 

Sangaku is right, and Maera could feel how lively he became the moment he rode a bicycle for the first time. She gave him freedom, even this costs his duty as a student... and something else. But then, she thought she made the right choice to introduce him to the world of cycling, even though she was surprised, herself, that he will be part of a racing team. 

Racing...  

“I guess so,” Sangaku replied, joining his classmate to stare at the windows. “But if you’re in my shoes, you’ll say the same thing. It feels good to be alive whenever you ride a bicycle. You feel the heat, the wind, the petals and leaves touching your skin... It feels so good that you’re starting to understand nature instead of fighting against it, that you didn’t realize you’ve already made a pact with nature... 

It was so good, that even if you feel pain, or you couldn’t breathe anymore, your body will still move forward and will still continue. It’s like,” he smiled, “falling in love with pain and nature, I guess?” 

Falling in love?  

Maera just let Sangaku talk. It should be refreshing in some way, that they are talking to each other again. But the atmosphere is different compared to way back in grade school, and she is starting to feel it way back middle school... 

She felt forced to listen to his words that only racers would understand. And she is no racer, thus their gap only gets farther and deeper. What more if this will continue on the days to come? 

Their world is getting smaller and smaller that Maera felt that she is about to get kicked out of Sangaku’s own world. 

“Class Rep?” 

But somehow, there is still a speck of hope for Maera, Sangaku can still notice her if she’s spacing out or she has been quiet for some time. She smiled in reply. 

“Glad to be of help,” she just said. 

“I’ve never been so thankful.” 

Cycling. For Maera, it could be the only thing to remind her that she gave that 'second life’ to Sangaku. It could also mean the only thing that will break them apart one day. Change is constant, as what people always say, and she knew that there will come a time that he will later spread his wings and fly... 

Away from her. For good. And their own world will crumble. 

If this will mean your freedom,  her heart just said,  who am I to stop you?   

“Hey, First-year Manami!” 

Both stopped talking as someone was about to approach him. Both recognized that annoying voice. When Sangaku felt excited over that voice, Maera felt their world will be hit by another meteorite. 

He knows Sangaku!? How the--  

“Kicked out of class, huh?” Yasutomo found him, who was been walking in the middle of the first-year's territory for an errand, possibly, and one of his errands is to find their members, much to his dismay first thing in the morning. “Can’t believe we have someone on the team who’s worse than-- 

WHATDA--!” 

His morning was ruined twice when he saw Maera with him as well. He knew from the start that this Manami has something to do with the girl he saved (and insulted) two years ago, but he never expected to see her in the same class as their new recruit. 

Maera was twice as shocked as Yasutomo. How the hell did he knew her neighbor and classmate? Out of instinct, and to Sangaku’s surprise and confusion, she shielded him from the senior. 

“Stay away from Sangaku,” she warned him. “You can’t do the same thing to him again!” 

“H-hey,” he pointed at him, “I’m not after you – WAIT, you know him!? I mean--” 

“Uhm,” Sangaku felt pressured between his senior and his neighbor. “I guess you made another friend, Class Rep--?” 

“He’s NOT a friend!” Maera opposed. “And how do you know him--!?” 

“W-well,” Sangaku decided to join in, “he’s my senior in the Bicycle Club.” 

She could hear the invisible walls shattering in slow motion when he, himself, told her of his relationship to this annoying (ex) yankee. 

“B-but  this  is interesting,” and Sangaku’s smile went back. “Arakita-san, you know my neighbor? Hey, Class Rep, you didn’t tell me anything about this!” 

That explains the smell,  Yasutomo realized it painfully. And he regretted being too curious about it.  

It was an unexpected morning for three people in the middle of the hall that they know each other, and to think that Sangaku and bicycles will be the reason for Yasutomo and Maera to meet again, unfortunately, they never thought things will get way too complicated on their second day at Hakone Academy. 

Sangaku keeps on blinking like a poor meat sandwiched between two pieces of stale bread. 

Chapter Text

ERIKO AND MUKAHI

 

Once upon a time, there was this beautiful, kind and gentle princess, who was given everything she desired, as long as she remained obedient to her parents. There are no complaints you will hear from her, as long as all her needs are met, to the point that she was also given a personal assistant, someone her age, to be friends and play with. Not just her, she was also friends with the son of a family friend who seemed weird in some way, but was cool with her company, nevertheless, and they play in their respective gardens every weekend, whoever is visiting who.   

But then, she has no idea that her world will change forever when she noticed something in her father. His health is declining, physically and mentally, to the point that he doesn’t see her as his own daughter anymore, but as the most important commodity. Then, her mother explained to her:  

Your father and I couldn’t afford to give you everything you want, ” she admitted. “ From now on, we have to work hard to bring everything back to the way it was.  

Why is that? ” she asked innocently.   

Dear, we... We are losing everything every single minute. And your father can’t make that happen again. So to save our family, you need to do something.  

Well... I can work hard to make him happy, right?  

Of course, ” all she could do is to hug her daughter. “ Of course...  

But it was just the start of their hardship. As she reached twelve, she was first sent to an all-girls' school to get educated as a perfect spouse to a powerful person. She immediately realized it the moment she entered the said school. When she was thirteen, her mother then revealed to her about his father’s plan for her.  

M-marrying me into his family!? ” her eyes widened in disbelief. “ Wh-what was Father thinking!?  

It has already been decided that you and him will get married once both of you have graduated to your respective universities. You should know that your father’s orders are absolute. Our families have been working together since the Warring States Period, so in that sense, we have thought that marrying you to him will save our family.  

She tried to calm herself down. She wasn’t ready for that kind of deal at all, yet all her father could see is an opportunity they should grab while their family still can. “ We’ve known each other since we were kids, ” she said, “ but he can’t just compromise our friendship by doing that decision without consulting me! Besides, have you heard, he ran away from his home a few days ago, no one knows where he is now! So how can I-- ”   

Your father said there is no need to consult you. After all, that has already been decided long before you and he were born.  

She turned pale. It was official: her father is starting to move and think desperately for their family fortune and prestige to remain in the game, in which she never asked for. As long as she has her freedom, by becoming obedient, she will not complain, but asking for her absolute obedience by marrying someone she wasn’t sure of was already a different thing.  

No matter what happens, you have to marry him. This time, it’s a way to save our family. You’re aware of our situation. If the marriage will not happen, our family...  

Our family... will be gone.  

*****  

“Good morning, Young Mistress.”  

This is how the day of Eriko Kagaho, current President of Hakone’s White Wing Council, goes.  

Eriko’s day will start off by waking up at 5:00 AM, for her to do her morning jog. By six, she will have her continental breakfast that she grew sick of. As soon as she ends her breakfast, she will dress up in the White Princess’ uniform: the same Hakone design but in mostly white, while her personal secretary, who was wearing the regular girl’s uniform, is providing her today’s schedule.  

“You will have a meeting with core members of the Council by 8 AM. By 8:30, you will have a meeting with the Principal and the Bicycle Club’s coach concerning this year’s Inter-High. Then by 11...”  

Her face changed when she heard that the secretary mentioned about the Bicycle Club.  

As soon as she finished dressing up, she faced her secretary. “Please have Hanasaki come in my stead by 8:30.”  

“B-but Ma’am--!?”  

“I’m sorry, I should have told you sooner, the Swimming Team will also have a meeting on that time and they need me to be there. It will also be my last Inter-High with the team.”  

But the truth is, even if it was valid, she is using the Swimming Club to stay away from the Bicycle Club. Because of  one person .  

*****  

“Good morning, President!”  

The all-girl members of the White Wing Council welcomed her by the time she arrived. Eriko smiled at them. “I hope I’m not that late,” she joked. “There was a little mishap on the road.”  

“We haven’t started yet,” one of them in light hair tied in right ponytail said. “The meeting cannot start without you.”  

Eriko couldn’t help but to smile. As they sat down, she called one of the members. “Hanasaki,” she called the girl with twin cinnamon-colored buns, “I know this is sudden, but please sub for me for the meetup with the Principal and the Coach.”  

“B-but why!?” Mao Hanasaki got startled.  

“I also have my obligations with the Swim Team. As some of our athletic clubs are preparing for their respective tournaments, our Swimming Club is no exception. Remember for us, third years...  

This will be the last time we will be with our loweclassmen, so we have to do whatever we can and treasure it while we are still here.”  

The Council understood her reason, thus Mao has no choice but to accept her order. Although the entire Council has no idea yet about the true reason behind her withdrawal from the upcoming meetup...  

After all, no one knows that she is already engaged even before she was born.  

*****  

8:30 AM, Swimming Club Meeting Room.  

“I know this is too early,” Eriko talked to her teammates, “but I would like to make sure that we will be able to make it to the Inter-High. We have barely made it to the Semi-FInals last year. This time, we have to show our fangs to this year.”  

“Yes, Ma’am!” the team chorused.  

“We, third years, have a shorter time with you, guys, so I hope in this year’s tournament, we will bring something not just for the school, and for us as a team. With that, we will double our routines later. First years, you are expected to catch up with your seniors, since this team won’t be able to function without your strength. Second years, you will be our hope and should guide your lowerclassmen in achieving what we need to get in to the Nationals. Do you understand your jobs?”  

“Yes, Ma’am!”  

The meeting adjourned fifteen minutes earlier than usual, in which her secretary took the chance to speak with her about the supposed meeting with the Bicycle Club’s coach.  

“We’re fifteen minutes earlier,” she said to her. “I think it’s great if we can catch up with the--”  

“I don’t think we can make it in time,” Eriko snapped her. “Besides, first period will start at nine. Nishina-sensei's quite strict when it comes to attendance, she doesn’t care if you’re even the owner of this school. And also...”  

She looked at her secretary meaningfully.  

“I don’t think bringing you with me on that meetup will be healthy for you. Especially if the coach has  him .”  

The secretary went silent. It wasn’t surprising on her part that Eriko knows about it, but she even thought that she also has some issues with a certain someone in that club that she used the Swimming Club as an excuse not to attend.  

“We’re really on the same boat, huh... Mukahi?”  

*****  

On the way to the school pool, 3:00 PM.  

“After practice,” Mukahi, the secretary, was laying Eriko’s afternoon schedule, “you will have an hour of free time, but you need to be at Asahina TV before seven for the TV show.”  

“Oh, I almost forgot about it,” Eriko scratched her cheek. “But my stint won’t be that long, right?”  

“Fortunately,” she closed her notebook. “Your stint won’t last for thirty minutes. After that, you will have all the night--”  

“I hope so.”  

Mukahi looked at Eriko with such concern. She understood right away what that meant. Ever since they have entered their third year at Hakone, Eriko’s parents won’t stop bothering her about an important matter...  

Her engagement.  

“Are they still planning to push your engagement?   Mukahi tried to ask. “ I thought--”  

“It looks like Father is getting more desperate every day,” Eriko explained. “I don’t blame him. The firm is all that he has. If the business will close down because of a particular person who betrayed his trust, and because of debts, marrying me off could be the most practical option to save the firm. And he believes that there is only one person left whom he can trust in this...  

Even if their own child wouldn’t like to cooperate as well.”  

Mukahi understood that as well. She wanted to say something to her mistress that can somehow lift her spirits, but as also someone who also has issues with someone from the Bicycle Club, she felt that she has no right to say anything.   

“Say, Mukahi,” Eriko decided to start another topic after noticing her secretary’s silence, “you seemed bothered even if you already have a boyfriend. I should envy you on that part, but I think it’s time to...”  

“I know,” Mukahi tried to smile. “I am hoping to get more time to do that.”  

“Why keeping him waiting if everything should already be over between the two of you? After all, it was  you  who closed the door for him.”  

...Which is the thing. Because Mukahi felt what happened between her and that person was entirely  his  fault. For that, she chose not to wait anymore. And she has been carrying that weight for four years.  

*****  

The two girls didn’t realize that someone has been watching them from the other side. And he has been looking at a particular long-haired secretary.  

It has been years, he thought. They were the best of friends. People thought they are perfect for each other. One can read each other’s thoughts. But as they grow, their world slowly gets bigger, and more and more people began to invade their own little world that they are starting to get distracted over some things.   

The girl has been constantly following him to the point that she began to chase him everywhere, hoping for a single spark of hope between the two of them. Mainly because he was given a task to do, and he has to do that for his family. It was a duty that made him neglect things around him...  

Including her.  

The win has become a loss for him, especially when he read that text from her, a text that made his world shrink again and made him realize what he has abandoned.  

Congratulations on your victory. But now I have realized that our world is getting too cramped between the two of us. You have a duty to do, while I have decided to move on.  

I finally said yes to Hatanaka-kun.  

“Juichi?”  

He stopped and realized that he wasn’t alone when they were on the way to the Bicycle Club Room. Hayato has been noticing him spacing out the moment they saw the Council President and her secretary, in which he understood why.   

“Do you think,” he dared to make a suggestion, “since we’re already in our third year, it’s time for you to--”  

“Defending the crown is what’s important right now,” and Juichi made an excuse. “We can deal about smaller matters once we managed to win at Inter-High.”  

Hayato just sighed. The proud Captain of Hakone Academy Bicycle Club can’t hide the fact that his pride as a champion is the reason why his and Mukahi’s own little world was shattered. And he knows that whoever has the most regret about it for the past four years, it will be none other than  him .  

You do still love her, huh, Juichi?  

*****  

“Thank you for your hard work!”  

The TV Execs were grateful for her to grace tonight’s episode for her upcoming single and as they have expected, ratings skyrocketed in just thirty minutes. The star wasn’t surprised about the overwhelming response, after all, she knew that it will rock their TV screens.  

The moment the cameras are gone, she and Mukahi are all alone in her make-up room, finally getting some air.   

“Your performance is great, as usual,” Mukahi congratulated her.  

Eriko was wearing a ruffled purple and black cocktail dress. Her curly brown hair loosened and has pink and purple highlight extensions. As she was removing her makeup, she noticed Mukahi who seemed quite uneased.   

“Is something wrong?” she asked.  

“The mistress called,” Mukahi said. “She is expecting you to meet her and the President at a restaurant just ten kilometers from here.”  

Her expression darkened a bit. She expected it, but why would her parents want to meet her in a high-class restaurant? Above all, why  now ?  

“Also,” she sighed, “your fiancé and his family are there. They’re... probably talking about your upcoming engagement.”   

Her face says it all. It was something she miscalculated.  

*****  

Forced to wear her best, Eriko, together with Mukahi, took a taxi to the said restaurant. When they finally reached the place, her feet began to feel heavy that she doesn’t want to get out of the car anymore. But seeing Mukahi’s pained face made her determined to go.  

“Everything will be alright,” she assured her. “After all, he’s not into this, either.”  

Since it was a family-only event, Mukahi decided to stay inside the taxi. Meanwhile, as Eriko tries to drag her own body to the building, she noticed an unexpected figure sitting in the parking lot. Instead of being wary about it, she just chuckled.  

“Is that how you wait for your future wife,” she asked jokingly as she looked at the young man she is obliged to marry, sitting on squats like some kind of a Yakuza member, “Yasutomo?”  

Chapter Text

YASUTOMO AND ERIKO

 

“Tch.” 

Yasutomo noticed several missed phone calls logged on his smartphone. He knows who was trying to call him since lunchtime. He turned his phone off so he wouldn’t be bothered while at school, but he never thought to be totally bothered by those several missed phone calls the moment he turned it back on. 

Feeling obliged, he decided to answer it. “I’m at school, idiot,” he growled at the other line. 

I-I’m so sorry, Young Master, ” the other line was shaking, obviously in his voice. “I-it was your father who told me to call you as--” 

“He won’t give a damn even if I’m at school,” he slapped his face. “Has he never attended one at all!? And what did I tell you about my number--!?” 

B-but this is urgent! H-he wants to have everything finalized and he will not take no for an answer!” 

He knows that. Even during those years that he has been in a bad company, the father  still  sees him as an important asset to the company. After all, the old man never regarded him as a son, as he thought, and he is used to it. 

“So what’s the snitch?” 

He wants you to meet him at this restaurant by 8 PM to discuss your marriage to the Kagaho Firm’s only daughter.” 

He rolled his eyes. “Fine. I’ll be there, give me the address or whatever, just let me practice in peace--” 

I’m sorry, Young Master, b-but the Chairman told me to fetch you after practice--” 

His patience was cut short. “What does he think I am, someone who’ll just ditch a stupid engagement party!? Just tell ‘im I’ll come, he doesn’t have to put his nose at me all the time like I’m some kind of a criminal! Tell ‘m that’s one goddamn reason why I left home!” 

He tapped the red icon so hard that he was about to smash his own phone’s screen and was in the point of throwing his phone away but good thing Jinpachi just came in and managed to catch his phone. 

“Do you know how much a smartphone this sleek cost!?” he scolded him as he gave the phone back. “I’m not sure how many phones you’ve already smashed but think about the companies who’re making them with all their blood and sweat! So what if you have money to--” 

“Just gimme that,” Yasutomo snatched his own phone at him. 

Judging at how he almost threw his own phone away, “Annoying phone calls?” Jinpachi guessed. 

“Not as annoying as you are whenever you call Makishima almost ten times a day--” 

“That’s different, okay!? A good rival should always check on his rival if he sleeps and eats properly--” 

“You sounded like my mom.” 

“Anyways,” he decided to change his subject, “your ex?” 

“Worse than that,” and he suddenly glared at his teammate about his assumption. “And don’t compare me to you with a list full of exes--” 

“There’s a big difference between fans and exes, Arakita. And I don’t go out with them out of respect--” 

“Yeah because you said you would better go out with Makishima than with a fan--” 

“HEY!” 

“Looks like the mood here’s lighter than outside,” Hayato just arrived while approaching his own locker. “Talking about girlfriends?” 

“NO,” they chorused. 

“Thought so. Especially if Yasutomo will talk about it--” 

“He, having a girlfriend!?” Jinpachi scoffed. “More like girls will run away from him--” 

“That will be better,” Yasutomo wasn’t bothered. 

“Anyway,” Hayato shifted his mood as he was taking his uniform to change, “we need to hurry. Looks like Juichi’s in a foul mood today.” 

They looked at each other. It’s not supposed to be surprising. Knowing Juichi, he looks like he is perpetually in a bad mood. But for them to hear Hayato say their captain is in a bad mood, this could mean something bad really happened. 

***** 

Three years ago.  

“I don’t wanna get married!” Little Yasutomo, still a first year in middle school, openly complained to his parents when he told me he will be betrothed to someone he knew. 

“Yasu-tan,” his mother tried to reason out, but he wasn’t sure if she will be believable enough, wearing a white gold turban and smoking with a long, elegant pipe, “you know this will be beneficial for us, especially that you’ll get married to your longtime friend and their family’s been helping us for years--!” 

“Don’tcha get it!? I’m still in middle school! I’m not in a legal age yet! And I don’t even love her! Why marrying someone you don’t have feelings to!?” 

“Oh dear, in these changing times, getting married because of love doesn’t give you any security anymore! Look at me, I have no complaints when my parents told me I was about to get married to your father. And don’t worry, it doesn’t have to happen now. Until you graduate from a university, you and Eriko-chan will only--” 

“You agreed because he’s rich, not because you love him, idiot.” 

The mother’s jaws dropped when her own son just called her an idiot like it was nothing. “I didn’t raise you to be that rude--!” 

“Did you even raise me!?” 

“DEAR!?” she already had enough that she called her husband’s attention to discipline their son. But the father didn’t say any word, as if he is entertaining himself with their banter. 

Before they could even wait for the patriarch to answer, Yasutomo had enough and stood up. “That’s it,” he said. “I’m outta here! I’ll get away from this place and you won’t find me, you’ll see!” 

His threat alarmed his mother that she ordered the servants to lock his room to make sure he won’t get out. But the next day, he successfully got out of his room, and of his house, leaving no choice but to leave his dog, his only friend in the mansion, packed some of his things and his savings, and went to a friend to live there in the meantime until he could get a decent home for himself. Surprisingly, however, instead of finding him, his father gave him an apartment unit to stay near the school’s premises, much to his surprise and aggravation. It took him a month before he reluctantly lived on that unit when he ran out of cash. 

Yasutomo figured out that whatever he does to stay away from his own family, the shadow of his father will continue to haunt him until he agrees to marry. It’s the law of the high society, and he has no choice but to abide by that ‘law’. 

***** 

The patriarch is now making his move. Has the princess’ family become too desperate to become part of their fortune? The young ex-yankee couldn’t care less about money as long as he can do whatever he wanted away from home, but the thing is, their families have been partners since the Feudal times, and they have been supporting each other in times of need. They have even come to an agreement that they will have their children marry each other if that time comes, and for the heads of these families, the time is now...  

Especially when he learned that the princess’ family firm is facing possible bankruptcy after one of their most trusted executives bought their entire share little by little – who turned out to be a spy from a rival company, where it started when they purchased a huge piece of land in the north to develop it into an indoor hot spring resort. Because of that, their family went into a huge debt that cannot be paid anymore by their remaining assets alone.  

He knows her as well, and in fact, they are childhood friends. They met the first time when her family visited them for business, and they have been playmates ever since, but they started to go on separate ways when they entered middle school. She was taken to an all-girls' school, while he was taken to a private middle school where his parents once graduated.  

He is also aware how dangerous she is whenever she is on the pool; her speed and agility in the water earned her a mocker ‘lady shark’ while he was considered a rising national hero when he joined their school’s baseball te am --  if not for an injury that ended his career prematurely. She knows about that as well.  

It has been that way. Both of them are looking each other at a distance, in which they are fine by it. After all, the ex-yankee doesn’t believe in first love or any similar crap. He is a free man, he does whatever he wants to do, and he thought and believed she feels the same...  

Until, a month after he quit baseball due to unexpected injury, and a year after he left home, both heads of their respective families suddenly called for a special gathering, in which his and her presence were required for some reason...  

It was their engagement being publicized, even it was only attended by several members of the high society.  

It was like having a nightmare within a nightmare. If he was stunned at the sudden announcement, upon noticing her reaction, it was twice as his own. Not only fate took what he loved the most, fate also took his freedom. And he had never been this pissed.  

His mutual relationship with the little princess has also been ruined.  

Even in his decision to run away, the stigma of being engaged remained in him that he started to cause havoc over several schools just after he quit baseball altogether. It was a year and a half of chaos. Within a year as well, he didn’t hear anything about the princess, but he thought it’s for the best. By not getting involved with his family and hers anymore, it’s one way for him to still enjoy his freedom...  

Then, on his first year at high school,  at the entrance ceremony, it  almost shot him in his chest after seeing her upstage as that year’s freshman representative.  It was like Fate is forcing them to meet still: either Fate sided with their cursed families or it was just her way of doing things. Nevertheless, he still checked on her, but their very last conversation left a bad taste to the princess’ mouth.  

They went on with their lives like they never knew each other nor they never knew they exist, except in titles where they are set to be together soon, as dictated by the society.  

A month later,  he met and saved a certain girl with glasses, a middle school student, whom he just insulted for being weak, that probably angered her since then. But back then, he doesn’t give a damn...  

Until he met someone from a certain athletic club and saved his life.  

Now that Fate decided to play with their lives again, he wasn’t sure anymore how things will turn since their last conversation two years ago. Either she will still see him as a nuisance to his life or she will greet him like nothing happened, the poor ex-yankee doesn’t even care anymore.  

***** 

The poor princess felt her world shattering into pieces after their parents made an announcement.   

She and him were casual friends. That’s it. But marrying each other is a different case. She never agreed to it, and she was sure he is, too, but her father has become too desperate to save the company. And in order for that to happen, he may have pleaded help from their partner family by having her sacrificed.   

Unlike her childhood friend who has the guts to run away even before that announcement, she remained as loyal as what a true family doll should be, but deep inside, no one hates the arranged marriage more than she does.  

To mask her rebellion, she sought help from another childhood friend to come up with a plan to escape. Luckily, her friend was resourceful enough to dress her as someone else, that it took a talent scout’s attention. Thus, her alternate form was born.  

The said secret idol has been a “perfect” type of idol and she has been constant for four years now, as a way to earn money on her own and to hide her frustration to her family. As of now, luckily, none of her parents notice it yet. The rebel princess felt it’s a way to help the family without a need for them to marry her off to someone like it was rushed.   

But now, her father was making another move, again, without her consent – to discuss her future with the partner conglomerate’s eldest son. It’s to ensure everything will be perfect, especially that they will be graduating anytime soon.  

***** 

“Is that how you wait for your future wife, Yasutomo?” 

He didn’t change a bit, at least that was what Eriko thought. Rough and intimidating, but not vulgar, she caught him sitting in a squatting position wearing a black and gray suit like a member of a Yakuza group. He even grew his hair longer and more mature the last time she saw him back when they were first years. 

“I’m cooling down,” was his excuse, as he stood up. “Ya feel like poopin’ ‘cuz you know,” he looked at her, “you’re really not into this, are you?” 

Eriko just tried to smile. “It can’t be helped.” 

“I’m talkin’ about you here.” 

If there is something she liked about Yasutomo, is the way he cares for someone, especially for her. He knew that she is also protesting, except that she couldn’t fight back. Maybe that was the reason why he said those words back when they were first years, when they met again, unexpectedly, entering the same school either by fate or by what their parents dictate. 

“I don’t like it, either,” she admitted. “But my family’s fortune and my father’s sanity is at stake here.” 

He sighed. “Do you care for him that much?” 

It took her seconds before she replied. “I can’t resent him for being too trusting,” she said. “My father is a good businessman and handles his people efficiently. It’s just that, in the world of business, someone will definitely try to bring you down, no matter how good you treat that person, for the sake of what they call practicality,” and she looked at Yasutomo. “I bet you’re not a business type, judging by how you deal things by yourself.” 

“I’m not good at handling people’s crap,” he snickered. “If this is a battle, I’m in. But before that happens, someone I know at school will definitely punch me.” 

Eriko noticed the change at the person she thought a rough one. Being part of Bicycle Club can actually tame someone like him. “Are you enjoying your stay in your new team?” she suddenly asked candidly. 

Yasutomo just blinked. She suddenly started an off-topic. “They’re a bunch of idiots,” he admitted. “But yeah, you could say that. I’ve become an idiot like them.” 

His answer somehow made Eriko’s smile faded. “I envy you,” she said, almost inaudibly. “You can go as far as you can, even if your own family will try to put you on a leash, you’ll definitely find a way to escape.” 

“Then why can’t you?” 

His unexpected question made the wind rustle, as if it was waiting for his cue to ask Eriko an important question. Yet, Eriko’s face didn’t change, but she understood the sincerity of his question. 

Her reaction only made Yasutomo sighed in resignation. “You’re too good for this kind of crap,” he said. “Why forcing yourself to marry me if you really don’t want to? As if I’m into it, either.” 

“We both resent the idea,” Eriko said. “Both of us are trying to figure out how to escape. You’ve managed to find a way...” 

“That’s what I’m saying! Why won’t you find a way, yourself!? You can’t be your father’s doll forever, in the first place that’s already his problem – not yours!” 

She suddenly glared at Yasutomo. he and his big, sharp mouth again, which made her drift away from him in the meantime to chill and think about it, but for Eriko, it was more than that. 

“If there is something I hate about you,” she admitted, “that would be how unbelievably frank you are. And yet, that is also something I envy you the most.” 

Silence filled the parking space. 

“You and I are different, Yasu.” 

It has been years since Eriko called him in a nickname she came up with, probably because his name was too long for her to say. Yasutomo admitted at some point that it was something he missed about her. 

“You have all the guts to do whatever you please, even on a leash, or in a cage. While I was bound to do my duty as an only child... and as a girl. It was never been easy to follow my parents’ wishes. I’m sure you feel the same kind of burden with your team.” 

Yasutomo raised his eyebrow. Since when did the Bicycle Club got involved in an arranged marriage? 

“I’ve watch your race last year. You were given a task to protect your ace and to make sure he’ll get to the finish line without you being too overboard. Fukutomi-kun managed to tame you and made it this far. You learned to control yourself because you were told to do so. And that is also what I am doing--” 

“Leave road racing out of this, don’t you?” 

It was Yasutomo’s turn to get pissed, which has somehow made Eriko fell silent. 

“It’s just a damn race. At the end of the day, we’re still students, studying for exams, doing homework crap, joining in some school programs whatsoever. The decision to do whatever we want is ours to make, not our parents, not even the damn school or society. We’re talking about our decision about this marriage thing, this has nothing to do with road racing nor swimming anymore!” 

Eriko didn’t get a chance to tell her side, because Yasutomo has said it all. And once again, she hated to admit it, he’s straight right again. No wonder... 

You’re really stronger than I am...  

The said racer looked up in the night sky – there are no stars to be seen at all, nor a moon. Only the street lights and the lights from parking space illuminate the place. The black, blank sky, he thought, was like their future – nothing to be seen, as long as they both remained searching for a needle in the middle of the night. And it is something he wouldn’t wish to do forever. He has a concrete reason to escape, while Eriko has her own reason to stay. Either way, they are still trapped in the dark created by their families and the high society... 

But noticing those street lights, he thought, if they couldn’t find a needle in the middle of the dark, why not find a way to get a light on their own? 

“How ‘bout this,” Yasutomo then looked at his phone’s clock, “wanna shut ‘em up? Let’s tell ‘em we’re in that engagement thing.” 

Eriko blinked in surprise and confusion. 

“Lemme finish here,” he continued. “All they want is for us to get married. So we’ll give ‘em what they wanted, simple as that. This ain’t for them, we decided because we want ‘em to shut up. From there, we’re free to do whatever we want while we’re, you know, engaged or what. You do yours, I’ll do mine, and trust me, they’ll even listen to you if you give they what they want. Just look at it as some kind of equivalent exchange.” 

It was a sensible deal, if Eriko would weight it. He has a point: if both of them will agree, all they need to do is to sign a contract, and they can do whatever they want without giving their families a thing to say about them. After all, it was what they want. If that happens, maybe from there her father will be sane enough to listen to her complaints. 

She never thought of entering such a sensible deal that can put both of them and their families in a win-win situation. 

It finally puts her at ease, and her body became lighter that she couldn’t wait to get inside that restaurant to tell them their decision. “In return,” she replied, “you will help me find my freedom, and I can help you escape as far as you can. Farther than what you’ve already reached...” 

Ans she extended her hand at Yasutomo. 

“Fair enough. You got yourself a deal, then.” 

He smirked upon seeing Eriko’s hand. “Not bad, right?” 

They shook hands. From there, a pact was sealed. 

Chapter Text

MUKAHI AND JUICHI

 

News about the upcoming engagement between two of the most powerful families in Yokohama has spread like wildfire – from media, to the school. But in Hakone Academy, what shocked the entire school the most is that... 

“ARAKITA IS ACTUALLY THAT RICH!?” 

“NO WAY!” 

“AND HE’S ENGAGED TO THE WHITE PRINCESS!?” 

THE WHITE PRINCESS!?” 

“NO WAY TIMES TWO!!!” 

The Bicycle Club was also on an uproar when they all learned that Hakone’s Number 2 is not just a shipping conglomerate prince, he will also be getting married soon – once he graduates from a university. But as early as now, his future is certain with the school’s White Princess and his secret identity.  

Yasutomo, meanwhile, is still in a state of culture shock when it comes to let the whole school know about his true financial status, but when it comes to his arranged marriage, he wasn’t that as offensive anymore as when the whole school has no idea about his social and relationship status at all. It’s like he is used to it, or he has to learn how to get used to it. And yet... 

“I HATE YOU, ARAKITA!!!” 

To think that Jinpachi will be highly affected by a teammate’s wealth and engagement is something he either anticipated it, knowing him, or not, considering that he has no idea about his secret for three years.  

“That ain’t new,” Yasutomo was surprisingly passive about the entire team’s reaction. 

“Why didn’t you tell us that you’re a prince!?” Jinpachi demanded answers.  “How long’ve you’ve been with her!? So your family and her family know each other, then arranged marriage, and--” 

“Calm down, Jinpachi,” Hayato held his head, “you’re not the one who’s getting married--” 

“But no one knows about this! I mean, the fact that Arakita’s actually a runaway prince because of the arrange marriage thing and to the White Princess, of all girls – and NOT MY HAIR, Shinkai--!” 

“Well, I don’t know about it, either. The whole team doesn’t. Even Juichi. But there’s no reason to get shocked about it,” and he turned to Yasutomo. “Congrats, by the way!” 

Well, at least someone he knew who’s sane enough congratulated him at first. “Yeah, thanks,” he took it half-heartedly, which another member with has more muscles than body took notice... 

“You seem not ecstatic about it. Did something happened that forced you to agree, Arakita-san?” 

Instead of glaring at him, Yasutomo just looked at the said member, acknowledging his observation skills. “I’ve been forced for years, Izumida,” surprisingly, he admitted. “Let’s say we’ve agreed to something that we decided for a li’l ceasefire.” 

Everyone looked at each other. Some felt guilty to congratulate their teammate for getting engaged as early as now without knowing the deep reason behind it, and considering that he never wanted it in the first place, which is the reason why he ran away five years ago. 

“Because I’ve been thinking,” Izumida went on, “if you agreed just to let them get what they want to let you and President Kagaho do whatever you want, that can be understandable.” 

The whole locker went silent with his guess, something that actually made Yasutomo shut up. If there is something about their all-muscled team member that sometimes surprises them, it will be his overthinking and extremely serious class rep-attitude that allows him to be highly observant and accurate with his observations. 

But before anyone could react with Izumida’s statement, Juichi arrived, just fresh from speaking with their coach. The tension shifted upon his arrival, especially now that he probably knew about Yasutomo’s certain future. Knowing him on a surface, he is probably the type who is not into those kinds of surprises, unless he, himself, plans a surprise birthday party to each member (but this year he missed Yasutomo’s due to unforeseen circumstances) and everyone gets involved.  

“We’ve wasted ten minutes already,” he started, which prompted the rest of the members to hurry out of the lockers, while Yasutomo chose to leave last, which gave Juichi a chance to... 

“Yasutomo?” 

He froze. Juichi only calls him by his first name on serious notes. Does this mean he’s pretty pissed as well? His inner self shook his head. Knowing Juichi for three years, he would only call him by his first name if he did something far beyond his expectations... 

But how he called him was something he noticed slightly. There is no tint of authority in it. Rather, when he noticed his face... 

“Congratulations on your engagement.” 

Why is he... sad?  

Yasutomo left the locker room still confused and in wonder why Juichi will congratulate him with such a concerned expression, like he has the same guess as Izumida’s. And he finds it creepy. 

But then, amidst the commotion within the Bicycle Club regarding their controversial teammate, strangely, Jinpachi turned quiet as he, too, observed him and everyone else’s reaction. 

***** 

The chained princess has a handmaid, about her age, and has been serving her for years. The said handmaid’s family has been serving the princess’ family for centuries. But after the unforeseen decline of their power and bankruptcy, only this girl remained their loyal servant – or, at least, loyal to the princess alone, much to her gratitude for staying with her through thick and thin. She makes sure that the princess will meet every engagement, eat three meals a day, making sure she will have her morning jog at least three times a week – without complaints. She was even grateful that the princess never treated her as a servant, but rather, more than a confidante...  

But right now, she felt that she has a right to complain, especially if this is now regarding her mistress’ freedom. Because what if she is in love with someone else? And that person was probably hurt at this moment?  

It was like a repeated scenario four years ago.  

Once upon a time, the handmaid fell in love with her own best friend – in secret. She met him because of his friend back on their last year in grade school. She once served as their club manager, and their friendship started there...  

But, in an expected twist, she gradually fell in love with him. However, her uncertainty kept her heart silent, for this man has a goal he has to attain for the glory of his family name – in which she understood, so she decided to wait a little longer...  

But then, there is this mysterious young man who has been watching over the handmaid for God knows how long, and he has been doing so out of love. He decided to watch her first, because he is aware that she has been trying to reach a star that keeps on moving forward, away from her, towards an invisible goal.   

The racer, meanwhile, kept on challenging himself to attain what he wanted, without realizing that he is moving farther and farther, away from the handmaid whom he regarded as his best friend. Until he finally got the victory he was ordered to get, he immediately texted her, asking her to meet him in the school hallway. Strangely, the handmaid didn’t text back right away, and he finds it unusual. So he thought of going ahead to their rendezvous, and there, he saw her...  

Kissing the mysterious man.  

He didn’t even notice his phone vibrating that it got another text message. It was a message from the handmaid, telling him that she has finally decided to move on... and to never chase him again.  

***** 

The White Wing Council President’s desk was full of flowers and greeting cards upon learning of her engagement. But instead of getting busy sorting them out, Mukahi was just staring at the gifts with such concern. 

“Are you still upset about my decision?” Eriko suddenly asked her, who was sitting in the lounge instead in her own desk due to lack of space. 

“I don’t understand why, Ma’am,” Mukahi finally spoke, her voice showing disappointment. “Until last night, you’ve been opposing their idea, and now...” 

“I’ve already told you,” she was trying to make her secretary at ease, “we came to an agreement. He’s not into it, either. But we are doing this not for our family’s sakes but for our own.” 

“Are you really sure about this!? I mean, he made that proposal. You’re exercising your freedom your own way, why now asking for his help!?” 

“Because I feel that,” her eyes cast down on her own hands, “what I’m doing right now is not enough.” 

“Wh-what do you mean!?” 

She later stared at a CD with a beaming picture of a beautiful idol in it, after fishing it out of her pocket. “Soon,” she said, “my parents will learn about my stint as a secret idol. Once they do, that will be the end of my freedom. So let’s say I’m putting myself on an insurance with Yasu. He’s... 

Between me and him, he’s far more fearless, and doesn’t care about money and such. If we have switched situations, he will do the same thing regardless. That is how fearless he is.” 

Upon hearing Eriko’s reason, Mukahi decided to stay quiet and helped instead in putting the flowers and greeting cards away to arrange them all in separate vases, while lamenting for her mistress’ waning freedom. Despite the assurance that even the son of Arakita Conglomerate isn’t into arrange marriage, she believed things can still change in a course of a day. One fatal mistake will mean a win for their parents, but their own loss in the end. 

***** 

Mukahi went out of the Council Room to go to the storage room to request for more vases for the flowers, when, in an unexpected time... 

She crossed paths with him. Again. 

It was only him and her in the middle of the hallway, God knows for how long they will be staring at each other. Both have something to say on their minds. But then... 

It has been four years.  

“It’s been a while,” surprisingly, he initiated the greeting, “Tsukigawa.” 

She doesn’t know what to reply. Should she remind him of his fault? It has been four years, though. Maybe, in those four years, and knowing how busy he has been polishing his own strength and now his team, without minding his own surroundings anymore, he might have already forgotten about it. She even thought that her last text to him has already been erased from his phone’s inbox. 

“Y-yeah,” she managed to reply. “It’s been... a while, Fukutomi-kun.” 

It was the most awkward ten minutes of Juichi’s life. After seeing her again in four years, all of his plans to talk to her and what to say to her were all crashed down, that he has to start from scratch, onset. The pride that he has as Captain of the feared Bicycle Club suddenly got dissolved in the blink of an eye just the moment he saw her image from a few meters away. 

“H-how can I help you?” 

The moment Mukahi asked him his business, his brain crashed again, and he immediately reverted back to his usual stoic self. 

“I would like to talk to the President about our upcoming training camp that will happen next week,” he said, holding the folder tightly. “We have already prepared the proposed budget for the camp.” 

She didn’t react right away. She knew it, Juichi Fukutomi is a hopeless case. 

“I’m afraid you will have to move that tomorrow morning,” she replied. “The Student Council is already closed and the President has some outside engagements to attend to.” 

Juichi nodded. “I understand,” he said. “S-sorry if wasn’t able to make it in time.” 

“Don’t worry,” Mukahi assured him, “I’ll let her know. I-if you like, I can give the proposal to her so she could have a look tomorrow morning.” 

“Th-thank you,” and he immediately handed the paper and after that, she was about to go on the other direction as quick as she could when Juichi suddenly remembered about something... 

“I forgot,” he said. “Please send my congratulations to the President.” 

She froze. 

“I learned it from my teammate, himself. He’s quite popular in a day for being engaged to her.” 

Mukahi almost forgot: Eriko’s fiancé is in the same team as Juichi, no wonder he knows about it, too. But the way he addressed the said engagement was a bit heartbreaking, if she would notice his voice and face, which bothered her. 

“Are you not happy about it?” she began to get curious. 

It took him seconds before coming up with a reply. “I’m happy,” he said, “and worried at the same time. Knowing Arakita, he’ll be the first person to protest about this kind of arrangement. But how he was convinced to do so is probably something that’s already out of my comprehension. As his teammate, I have to support him... 

But as a friend who cares, I wanted to tell him to follow his instincts.” 

His words were something Mukahi didn’t expect to hear, especially coming from a person who has nothing on his mind but certain victory to remain on Hakone Academy’s banner. Obviously, Juichi isn’t that happy. It made her realize that she wasn’t alone in this situation... 

But the biggest question as to why Juichi felt that way, as she excused herself to get extra vases, is why

Meanwhile, the moment Mukahi left, all his plans to talk to her and what to say to her only came back to Juichi’s mind to the point that he wanted to slap himself. But he has to calm down. 

There is still time, Juichi, he said to himself. Remember, you are strong!  

None of them noticed someone accidentally saw them talking together. He was so shocked that his jaw remained locked for almost an hour and almost couldn’t eat anymore. 

Chapter Text

JINPACHI, PART 2

 

Earlier.  

So what made you call at this hour? ” Hayato was just in his dessert when Jinpachi disturbed him. “If this is regarding the book, Yasutomo still has it-- ” 

“I’m done with the book report ahead of that guy,” Jinpachi replied, just about to have his dinner. “Anyway, there’s something I wanna ask, since you’re the only person I can ask about this.” 

Shoot it.” 

Three seconds before Jinpachi replied. “About Fuku.” 

It made Hayato curious. “What about him? ” 

“I know I have no right to ask this, especially about Fuku’s private life, but you’re the only one who can answer me. To cut you to the chase, I saw him with the President’s secretary--” 

His eyes widened, but only for five seconds before trying to give him a different story. “You’re just seeing things. Juichi went to the Council that afternoon to give them the proposed budget for the training camp. You even came up with the budget, yourself! ” 

“The atmosphere was waaay different than you thought, man. I saw it, they’re not looking at each other’s eyes like what they should normally do, like they’ve known each other for years! I know those kinds of tropes, Shinkai, my sister would tell me those tropes while watching her favorite TV show!” 

No one could escape Jinpachi’s radar. It was almost as accurate as Izumida’s but his can detect any signs of old flame tension between two people (and it helps to have a sister who loves reading and watching romantic stories of any kind). For Hayato, this is alarming considering how a loudmouth and a gossip guy Jinpachi Toudou is. 

But then, considering that he trusts Jinpachi by 70%, he decided to tell him everything he knows. 

Promise me that this is just between you and me,” Hayato’s voice went dead serious, “and we’ll never make Juichi know.” 

“I’m a man of my word,” Jinpachi swore. 

Okay,” he sighed as he prepared himself to tell him the most painful story yet. “Here goes...” 

***** 

A month later.  

Dumbass,” Yusuke grumbled when Jinpachi told him about Juichi’s tragic love story back in middle school. “Shinkai trusted you not to tell anyone and here you freakin’ are telling it to me. I thought you’re writing a story!? Are you planning to get me involved in this!? ” 

“Because I know you, Maki-chan,” Jinpachi explained, while he was already in his bedroom after dressing up in his bedtime clothes. “You’re the type who would rather die than spilling the beans.” 

I can’t believe you,” he sighed. “So lemme get this straight: Fukutomi has a girl best friend back in middle school and this girl has been in love with him ever since – but he was too oblivious, or that’s what the girl thought. But actually Fukutomi was in love with her, too, but he couldn’t tell her because he was bound to win every single tournament he joins in out of family tradition whatsoever, and once they find out he’s romantically involved with a girl, they’ll find a way to break them up.” 

“Uhuh!” 

Then came third year of middle school when Fukutomi competed in one race (Kinjou was there too) and before the race, the girl texted him and asked him to meet her in the school hall before the race – but he didn’t come because the race started early, and when the race was over, he texted her, but didn’t hear any reply right away, then he went to their rendezvous where he found the girl kissing another guy, only to find out that he’s way damn too late and received that stupid text later. What did I miss? ” 

“Nothing!” Jinpachi chimed in as he went straight to bed. “As expected from Maki-chan!” 

And Shinkai provided you the resources? ” 

“Yep! Somehow Fuku managed to tell them to him, but I’m sure that’s not all.” 

Yusuke’s head is about to explode with all the crappy love stories he heard from Jinpachi tonight. In conclusion, “I’m starting to believe my mother now,” he sighed, “that men are idiots.” 

“But here’s my take on this,” Jinpachi laid down, “we, men, are doing something so the women will be proud of us. We’re just trying to prove something so that we can be reliable and dependable. Sounds like we’re not allowed to fall in love with all the pink and frills like girls do, but I believe men also has the same fundamental rights as women when it comes to love.” 

What the hell are you talking about? ” Yusuke was losing sight of him. 

“Anyways,” he grinned. “I’m not telling you these to just gossip. I have a plan--” 

Don’t drag me into this-- ” 

“I’m not asking you to help me, stupid! I just need someone to share my plan with!” 

For some reason, Yusuke felt pity over Jinpachi, but he understood somehow. This guy will not tell him all these gossips and romantic crap if there is no reason behind it. 

“I wanted to make sure everything has its closure before graduation,” he said. “Fuku never had a chance to tell his feelings to Tsukigawa-chan even after four years out of guilt. And I know Arakita, he won’t agree to something he never liked in the first place, good thing Izumida clarified things out about him. And I also have to do something about the story of those poor first years, they need a break, too! The idiot guy must know the girl’s true feelings before it’s too late because he’s freaking indebted to her. I guess using what I’ve learned in reading and writing a story, I have to help them make a conclusion somehow. I can’t just sit here watching them suffer just because men are idiots and girls are just too pure for this world!” 

It was, surprisingly, a nice plan. But for Jinpachi to get involved in three kinds of love stories through writing, at the same time is already a good alternative method to commit suicide. Yusuke just sighed, not just because how a real idiot his rival is, but also how pure his intentions are. Because of its purity, he couldn’t say anything negative about it. 

I would say, good luck, then,” he smirked. “You’re maybe an idiot, but I get your spirit.” 

“Thanks, Maki-chan,” Jinpachi was grateful. “I’m glad there’s someone who’s willing to listen even to the silliest of my plans.” 

Jinpachi hung up afterwards. 

But as soon as he hung up, his sure smile changed into a frown for some reason, and only he knows the deeper reason for those stories that his hands are shaking afterwards. It appears that not all the plot and the gossip were shared to his own rival for reasons that already involved the sanctity of his work in progress. He stared at his notebook, trying to figure out what could have been wrong. 

***** 

Yusuke just sighed after hanging up. The good part is that he won’t be part of Jinpachi’s plan; he just called to get someone to testify about his plans so later on he could judge whether it will work or not. By the time their phone call ended, he easily got tired, but in a good way. It was the most bizarre phone call he had yet with his rival... 

“Fukutomi was what?” 

“And what about Arakita?” 

“What are you talking about with Toudou, Makishima?” 

Suddenly, his world stopped. So was his heart. 

The moment he heard familiar voices behind him, Yusuke Makishima’s pact with Jinpachi Toudou has been broken. The story has not been out yet, but tonight, for him, will be the longest night ever, that they even have to talk about their rival’s lovelife aside from the plan on how to oust Hakone from its throne. 

“So,” he looked at his teammates, “for how long you’ve been in my room without knocking?” 

“Your room’s open,” said Jin Tadakoro, who raided his fridge for food, as usual. “We’ve just found the tape about the course for this year’s preliminaries.” 

“F-for how long?” 

“An hour?” 

He could feel his soul slowly parting from his body. 

“You’re talking about something with one of Hakone’s members,” Shingo Kinjou, captain of the opposing Sohoku High School Bicycle Club, was far more concerned about possible leaks regarding each other’s teams than their lovelife. “Is there some information you know that are too important to share?” 

It was just spring, and Yusuke was already sweating bullets over his own situation. After this, he wanted to regret why he answered Jinpachi’s call in the first place.  

I knew that I’ll really get involved in this!  

Chapter Text

MAERA AND YASUTOMO

 

“You’re late again!” 

A fellow first year caught Sangaku who just arrived at the club room’s locker while practice has already been starting (even they have started ten minutes later due to the engagement hype). Obviously, he has no idea what happened while he was just about to arrive. 

“Something happened?” he asked, blinking. 

“Man, don’t tell me you don’t know or you’re probably enjoying climbing again!” 

“Oh yeah, I did! I passed by Mt. Hakone first!” 

The fellow first year just raised his eyebrow. It made him convinced how absent-minded this Sangaku is upon listening to the seniors’ analysis. 

“Anyway,” he decided to tell him anyway, “the President is getting married soon!” 

He blinked. Who is getting married? “Uh, the school’s President?” he even thought, he might be referring to the school’s chairman. 

The first year isn’t that dumb to think Sangaku is really referring to  that  President. “The White Wing Council’s President is--” 

“Wh-what!? You mean the Class Rep!?” 

The fellow first year just gave him an unbelievable stare. As far as Sangaku understood, his childhood friend is part of the White Wing Council, but he didn’t expect that part of the requirement to be part of the council is for her to be married off to whoever the (lucky) guy is. But just to let him process everything without dropping into conclusions, and rather than kill Sangaku for his dumbness, he gave him the latest edition of the school’s newspaper, showing this morning’s headlines: 

HAKONE’S WHITE PRINCESS ENGAGED TO BICYCLE CLUB’S NO. 2  

And it showed two pictures: one, of a convincingly beautiful girl with curly long hair tied in a high ponytail, and the other a face he recognized the most. 

Thanks to the newspaper, somehow Sangaku is beginning to understand what the hype was all about. But the word ‘engagement’, as far as he also understood, doesn’t suit someone he knew in the Bicycle Club. So when he saw that picture, he couldn’t help but to raise his eyebrow. 

***** 

Maera has been spacing out since yesterday, while she was about to go to the Bicycle Club’s locker room by herself. 

She wasn’t sure why, but last night was far more bizarre than what happened nearly two years ago. She was forced to buy extra papers for her report when she ran out of it and the nearest and favorite stationary shop was closed for tonight. With that, she has to go to somewhere else because she will be needing it for tomorrow. 

Unlucky for Maera, it was an unexpectedly chilly night that she forgot to bring her jacket with her because in the first place, she didn’t expect to go farther than her usual route just to buy a set of papers – until she passed by the parking lot of a fancy restaurant, something that she was avoiding of because of her experience with parking lots two years ago. What if new thugs will show up and harass her again? If that will happen, she won’t expect anyone to help her, especially that narrow-eyed senior... 

Who, surprisingly, was Sangaku’s senior at Bicycle Club. 

God,  she even prayed,  why was he even at that school? Or rather, why did I chose to come to that school!? I don’t get it. It’s like...  

It’s like we’re bound to bump each other every time. And I think it will be more frequent starting today.  

She wasn’t even sure if God has heard her prayers only to make her life miserable when she saw someone who just came out of that fancy restaurant: he was wearing a black jacket, a suit underneath, and his hair seemed fixed, but getting closer, or rather not, he wears the same annoying face. 

But the biggest question now is what he was doing in such a fancy restaurant all suited up? 

Her imagination ran wild upon imagining this guy as a member of a large Yakuza group in Hakone (but ironically she hasn’t heard anything about it if their place really has one) and her hunch was right about him. That image stuck on her head that her instincts told her to run for her life, but-- 

“Hey, you!” 

She is done for. Her legs froze, her back stiffened out of fear. She wanted to scream but she felt like something was stuck in her throat. To make matters worse, the said man in a jacket and suit started to approach her, and knowing that she is, once again, in danger, she closed her eyes... 

“Walking all by yourself again, at this time, and here, of all places? I’m not sure anymore if you’re stalking me or...” 

Yasutomo spotted her, again. But maybe to check her out considering that she passed by. For Maera, however, it’s another insult.  

“I’m not like your other obsessed fans who follows you even at bath!” she spat. 

“Hey, those are Toudou’s fans, couldn’t care less if I have one--” 

“So it’s okay for you if someone will stalk you?” 

“Unless it’s you--” 

“Like hell I’ll do that! I just want to buy papers at peace--!” 

“You won’t find any stationary stores here. Convenience stores sell stationary items, though. Why bothering yourself finding a specialty store in the middle of the night?” 

“I’m looking for a particular paper, okay!? The ones in the convenience store are not what I’ve been looking for!” 

“Psh, a paper is still a paper, miss. Your teacher won’t give you a high grade even with the most quality paper you could use if what’s in it would just be a mess.” 

There he goes again with another insult – but this time, Yasutomo has a point. Strangely, Maera stopped arguing with him and gave her time to think about what he said, until... 

“Aa-CHOO!” 

From the time she sneezed, Yasutomo realized she wasn’t wearing any jacket. He slapped himself at how clumsy she can really be, that resulted him to take off his jacket and gave it to her to wrap it around her shaking body. 

That gesture turned Maera into a blushing mess. She has the right to throw away the jacket, but to see how Yasutomo can be  that  nice, she has lost her will to get frustrated. 

“You know it’s six degrees at night,” he said, “and you still have the guts not to wear a jacket, huh?” 

Instead of protesting, Maera couldn’t look at him in the face. “I forgot about it,” she said, while taking his jacket to wear for now (without even saying thanks). “Do you think that’s a crime?” 

“Stupid. No cop would arrest someone without a jacket in this season unless they’re running butt naked and screaming crap.” 

For some strange reason, Yasutomo isn’t shouting at her or whatever. Has the Bicycle Club tamed him that much? Or was it something else? Maera couldn’t help but to get curious. She briefly peeked at his face, and widened by how peaceful he actually looks without wearing a perpetually grouchy expression. 

She could feel her face heating up. 

“So,” he decided to change topics – that is a first, “you and that wonder boy – I mean, Manami...” 

She was surprised a bit. She almost forgot that Sangaku is now part of the Bicycle Club, and Yasutomo is his senior, and only he (she guessed) knows about her relationship with the newcomer. 

“We’re,” she replied, “childhood friends. I was the one who got him into cycling because he was born sickly.” 

“Really?” there was a genuine surprise. “You’re really that close, huh?” 

That part only made her silent. They maybe are, in some sense, but in a different sense, they are starting to fall apart, or at least that is what she thought. And ironically, the bicycle she introduced to him has stole his heart. 

“Listen,” for some reason also, the night has tamed Yasutomo. Instead of throwing her another insult, he was just staring at the blank night sky for no reason at all. That, alone, caught the half-moon glasses girl. 

“I don’t know about you and that kid’s deal with each other, but,” he began to speak out of nowhere, “I would say, that wonder boy’s lucky to have someone like you around.” 

Maera just raised her eyebrow. Why was he saying those things like he knows everything about their relationship? And yet, for some reason, she couldn’t argue with him, even if, deep inside, she felt that she was only taken for granted by her own best friend. 

“You have to go home,” he said. “I have business to attend to.” 

And whatever that business is, it was already out of her business to know. As she was about to take off his jacket to return it to him... 

“Just leave it on,” he said. “Lest you really wanna get sick. If you wanna return that tomorrow, you’re free to do that. You know where you can find me, right?” 

She wasn’t hearing things at all. Those words came from the rudest, most annoying person she met, but how and why he seemed calm that night made her decide to follow. She then bid him farewell before going on a different direction, still to look for the paper she needed – and she totally forgot to say thanks for saving her from cold. 

And that only happened last night.  

***** 

Maera still has the jacket, and the reason why she went to the Bicycle Club to return the jacket to him: neatly washed and pressed, and probably tahnk him afterwards. It’s a simple way to return the favor, and after that, she hoped that she doesn’t have to deal with Yasutomo Arakita ever again. 

After all, he’s engaged. To no less than the White Princess, herself, Eriko Kagaho. 

“How can I help you, little miss? Are you lost?” 

Maera almost jumped when he heard a not-so-familiar voice from a few meters away. But her heart went at ease when she also heard… 

“Class Rep!” 

She turned around to see Sangaku strolling around in his bike, and he wasn’t alone. Along him is another member wearing a headband, who probably called her a while ago. 

“Uh, I,” she tried to compose herself, “I’m here to… To return this to…” 

It was silly that she forgot his name or she never learned about it at all. 

The two climbers looked at each other, but how Sangaku calls Maera has piqued Jinpachi’s curiosity. “You know her?” he asked the first year. 

“We’re neighbors and in the same class,” Sangaku said proudly. “She’s the reason I got into cycling in the first place!” 

That sparked his interest, to think that a girl was the reason for him to race is something he’s a bit jealous of. But why would Maera return something that was possibly owned by one of the members? 

“Oh yeah,” Jinpachi remembered, “about that,” he pointed at the paper bag, “who’re you planning to return that to?” 

“Th-that’s the thing,” Maera curbed her lips, “I… dunno his name, but his face is familiar, I know that he’s in the Bicycle Club—” 

“You again!?” 

Yasutomo’s voice boomed in the moment he saw two idiot teammates chatting over with a girl. And it’s more than just a girl. When he noticed Maera holding a paper back, he started to remember what happened last night... 

“So,” he decided to approach the three, “you really came all the way here to return my jacket?” 

Jinpachi’s brain just short-circuited, while Sangaku remained perpetually clueless about what was happening. Maera, meanwhile, fidgeted at first, and handed the bag over to him, while averting her eyes away, trying to hide her blushing face. 

“Y...yeah,” Maera tried to talk straight. “I... I owe you one, so I washed it.” 

“Meh, you don’t even have to,” and he took the bag. 

“Return it?” 

“No, wash it.” 

Her eyebrows just flung away. “Gross,” Jinpachi just groaned. 

“I’m kidding,” Yasutomo just whistled. 

“Seriously, man,” Jinpachi just looked at him, “how did you even got engaged in the first place?” 

“Oh yeah,” Sangaku suddenly clapped his hand, “forgot to say congrats, Senpai!” 

The number 2 just looked at him helplessly. “How many times did you already say that since you got here!? Toudou’s right after all, your brain’s been trapped in an oblivion. Anyway,” and he swung the bag on his bag, “thanks again. And bring a jacket the next time you get out at night!” 

They all watched him as he went back ahead to the lockers, probably to put his jacket there before going back to practice. 

“Oh yeah,” Sangaku clapped his hands again (much to Jinpachi’s amusement like he wasn’t affected at all), “Class Rep, can’t be with you later.” 

“The usual?” Maera guessed, maybe he is planning to climb again. 

“Nah,” that was a surprise, she thought. “I’m heading somewhere after practice. Today’ll be intense, so I might be back too late.” 

“Got it,” and she handed some papers to him. “You missed the first and second period again and the teacher is starting to get furious, but I told him to give you another chance. So here’s your extra homework. I can’t be with you tonight to help you out, you have to figure out the problems by yourself. Don’t worry, my notes are there, too, if ever you’ll get in trouble.” 

“Class Rep, you’re the best!” maybe out of excitement, Sangaku hugged her – right in front of a senior who remained at loss at what was happening. Maera, meanwhile, didn’t expect him to do such gesture after several years... 

It was refreshing that her cheeks were visibly blushing. 

It is so obvious that Jinpachi noticed her cute cheeks, without realizing that he is starting to understand, in his own words, what was happening. As she headed home alone while he and Sangaku headed back to practice, several scenarios began to play in his head... 

He could feel himself exploding with possibilities that he made a mental note to write about it and to call Yusuke sooner or later. 

***** 

After practice.  

Sangaku is dressed back to his uniform, and checked everything on his bike. But the most important part is his MP3 player attacked in the middle of the handle, with a track ready while he braced himself for the longest trek yet. 

He puts on his Bluetooth headset after putting on his helmet, and saddled up, as he turned on the player and pedaled towards the main street, whistling a strange tune first, probably from the track he was listening to. And then... 

He began to sing. 

Fly up! Just like an Angel
Fly up! I’ll fly through your sky right now
Ah, take me in, both arms open wide
A moment full of love, the color of somewhere sunny.

Chapter Text

ERIKO AND SANGAKU

 

Today marks the first selling day of Lovely Kakigami’s newest single “Your Mirror” after its launch last night in a nightly variety show. Everyone gets in line to buy the CD and have it signed by Lovely, herself, and since its launching last night, people went on an all-nighter to fall in line to a particular shop in Akihabara where Lovely will be hosting a meet-and-greet and autograph-signing this afternoon. 

And if there is one person who doesn’t want to miss today’s first selling day to have his CD signed, that will be, surprisingly, Sangaku Manami. 

***** 

That afternoon, southern winds were blowing
That afternoon, I met you
That was the season when all of a sudden,
A mysterious crush started to bud inside my heart.

And so just after practice, Sangaku zoomed in to Akihabara with his road racer to buy the CD and have it signed. As to why he was in a hurry, it’s not because he doesn’t want to be the last to get the CD, but this will be also the only day he will get to meet Lovely Kakigami, the angel who said to have saved him way back. 

Two years ago.  

Just as he was already getting acquainted with his bike and the mountains, little Sangaku’s world began to spin. It was the same sensation he felt when he was still a little boy whenever he gets sick. And he hates that feeling: he couldn’t breathe, his body gets numb, and in the middle of the woods, it was just him and his bike. 

He tried to climb by walking and pushing his bike manually, but it only made his condition worse. Without realizing it, Sangaku collapsed. 

It was nothing buy pain and silence. It wasn’t what he felt while riding a bike. This isn’t the pain he liked. It was unbearable that he thought he will die at that time, until... 

He heard someone singing. 

I fell in love with you every time we meet
Every single second shimmers
Let me see myself in your kind eyes
All the time

He can still hear, but his body would react late due to pain. Still, he decided to listen. It was the most beautiful voice he heard to the point that he thought an angel was sent to him to his death. This, however, was different. 

At that time, all he could remember was strong hands were carrying him away from that place, and he felt himself being put in some kind of a bed. He even heard his own jersey being unzipped and felt the cooling sensation in his body. Then, he remembered someone was holding his hand and whispered to him... 

It will be fine. They’ll be taking you to a hospital.” 

Hospital. 

He hated that word, but before he could make a noise of protest, the cooling sensation and the soothing voice of an angel slowly lulled Sangaku to sleep, to the point that he never thought he would wake up again. 

***** 

“I’m glad you’re awake!” 

It was the same voice that disrupted his sleep. By the time he woke up, Sangaku saw himself already in a hospital bed, but he wasn’t alone. A beautiful girl with curly light brown hair highlighted in pink and purple tied in a purple ribbon was with him for God knows how long. When he faced the said girl, she has the most beautiful pair of scarlet eyes he has ever seen. 

“You scared me there!” the girl said, who seems to be idol-like with her getup. “How are you feeling?” 

It took him a while to reply as his eyes scanned over the place. “A...live...” was the only thing he could say. 

The girl smiled. “Of course you are, silly!” she chuckled. “The doctors said something must have strained your lungs but you seemed fine now with plenty of rest. So what are you doing in the middle of the woods?” 

He slowly remembered what he was doing at that time before he got collapsed for no reason. All he wanted at that time was to explore the mountains, as he has never done that before. But seeing himself back in the hospital just haunted him that he tried to get up and started to panic. 

“I can’t be here,” he was shaking. “Please...! Take me home...!” 

Their eyes met for the first time. The girl was surprised with how big and blue Sangaku’s eyes were, but painful to see as they were in tears. Obviously, he doesn’t like the place he woke up with, but the girl came up with a plan to calm him down.  

“Your parents will be here soon,” she assured him, “and then, they will take you home. I’m not sure how you ended up in the middle of the woods, but judging from your bike, you like hiking a lot.” 

It somehow made him quiet, but his fear of hospitals remained. Tears started to stream in his cheeks, something that the girl understood that all this poor boy needs is something to lift his spirits up.  

She started to sing her latest single at that time. 

Fly up! Like an Angel, I flap my wings
Fly up! Into the bright sky with the wind
Ah, you’re the only one for me, I won’t hesitate anymore
A moment so full of love, it’s ready to burst wide open

It was a song about someone who longed to be taken by an angel whom she fell in love with, and with a longing to be with that angel. It was surprisingly uplifting and energizing that Sangaku finally smiled. His tears were also gone, it was like washed away by the melody and the lyrics of the said song. 

The girl seems satisfied with what she did, and also glad that the boy was able to calm down. By the time his parents arrived, his mother gasped in delight to see who the girl was with him. 

“I can’t believe Lovely Kakigami saved my son!” the mother cried.  

Lovely Kakigami. Her name sounds lovely, he thought. Sangaku decided not to forget the name and the face of that girl who saved him with her song, and with that, he held her hand.  

“L-Lovely-san,” he was blushing. “Th... thank you... for saving my life.” 

Lovely squished his cheeks in affection. “You don’t have to thank me,” she said. “Everyone has a potential to be someone else’s angel. Someone who will inspire others to fly with them or to them. Deep in my heart, I know that there is someone who wanted to see you spread your wings, take her hand, and fly with that someone. If you’ll be gone right now, that person will lose sight of what she is aiming for in the sky.” 

He might have not understood what Lovely meant with those words, but Sangaku decided to remember it as well while he still can. After what happened, Lovely gave him a free copy of her first single “Fly Up! Angel” along with an autograph and a short message: 

Dear Sangaku-kun:  

Become someone else’s Angel one day.  

Lovelots,
Lovely Kakigami

Short, yet sweet and meaningful – even if he still didn’t understand until two years later. He decided to treasure it, hoping that he will see her in person one day now that he is starting to see her on TV that often, to the point that he became one of her first fans.  

Now that he is in high school, and a new CD single was released, he decided not to slip this chance away to thank the angel who once saved his life. 

***** 

In order for her to get her temporary freedom, the chained princess dress up on such occasion as a secret idol, changing her appearance and all, so no suspecting media will recognize her. It’s one way to reach out to other people experiencing the same kind of restraint as her, through her songs. She has the voice of a thousand cherubim, as what her parents would boast about, so might as well use that talent to start her secret rebellion.   

On her second year as a secret idol, she went to the woods with her crew to shoot a music video of her first single, which became an instant hit even before they have seen the video. As they were on their way to the location, they found a dying cyclist in the middle of the woods. Her sense of urgency kicked in that she immediately ordered her assistants to bring him to the van and brought him to a nearby hospital, where he was treated right away.   

The moment his parents came to take turns watching over him, she felt accomplished for that time, even if that would mean getting fashionably late for her engagement. Nevertheless, that incident made her inspired and that music video became a viral sensation.   

As she thought that her connection to that poor boy has long been severed two years ago, she never thought that she will see him again – this time, as a student of a school where she is currently reigning as the Council President. And by checking their records, there is no doubt, he is definitely the boy he saved before. It was like Fate wanted her to meet him for a very important reason, and whatever that is, surely that will come soon.  

***** 

“I-is something the matter, Young Mistress?” 

Mukahi was just clipping the last pink extension to Eriko’s hair when she noticed her spacing out. It will only be just a few minutes before the autograph session and she was worried of her mental preparedness.  

“Nothing,” Eriko immediately responded. “I’m sorry. Did I made you worry again?” 

“To be honest,” she sighed, “yes. I still can’t believe you agreed to this. We can never tell if this will be the last time Lovely Kakigami will show up in public--” 

“Maybe so,” she answered again, with a seemingly forced smile. 

“Mistress, you still have time to change your mind. You can still denounce your engagement--!” 

“It’s too late for that,” she is certain. “I have already prepared everything, and I already told you,  our  minds have made up – but things will still be the same. That I can assure you. I’m just preparing for the worst, if ever Yasu’s plan will backfire.” 

Hearing the possibility that their plan might become a total failure only worries her more. 

“Besides,” the idol added, “that’s not what I’m thinking about today.” 

“Then, what is it?” 

She didn’t answer right away. Instead, she remembered scanning through the student database where she came across an interesting first year... Someone she found familiar for some reason. 

“Mukahi,” she suddenly asked, “do you believe that the world we’re into now is really small?” 

Her personal attendant couldn’t get what her question means. However, in some sense, she understood it, especially if she will apply that phrase to her own situation with the man she decided to leave for someone whom she knew who will definitely look at her and no one else. 

“Yes I do,” she just answered. “We’re really living in a very small world.” 

***** 

Sangaku made it in time in Akihabara. It will be thirty minutes before the autograph signing session starts, but the moment he saw the queue, it takes six blocks and ten stores before one could make it into the main shop – and there are more coming to get in the line.  

It was a disheartening queue, but out of respect for Lovely, Sangaku decided to get into the shop first to buy the newest CD. But things went to the worst when several people were lining up to buy a copy to the point that they are now pushing at each other... 

And they were about twenty copies left.  

Sangaku doesn’t want to lose hope. He also wanted to buy the CD, but he has to deal with several men bigger than him, even bigger than one of his teammates back in the Bicycle Club. Good thing he managed to get into the line, especially when the shop owner began to count people who will be lucky enough to get the remaining CDs. 

Sangaku was still considered lucky after he was counted to be the twentieth person to get the last CD. But as soon as he was able to secure his spot, he heard someone crying at the back. 

“I’m sorry, baby,” the mother tried to calm her daughter down, “we have to go back tomorrow--” 

“But Mama~!” the girl was bawling, “I wanna meet Lovely-chan and get her CD! Why can’t we get it now, Mamaaaa~!” 

“But they already sold out--” 

“NOOOOOOOO I wanna see Lovely-chan! Please, Mamaaaaaaaa~!!!” 

Some people who were inconsiderate were starting to get pissed at the little girl’s tears. All she wanted is to get the CD, have it signed in, and take a picture with Lovely. It was just a little girl’s simple wish that has been ignored by adults just to get their hands on the new track. Thinking about it and seeing the girl’s dreams for tonight shattered only made Sangaku feel guilty.  

With that, he decided to speak with the child’s parent. “Ma’am,” he called, “you can take my spot.” 

The mother was surprised. “Uh-are you sure!?” 

“Seems like she really wanted to see her.” 

“Y-yeah,” the mother blushed in embarrassment. “It’s her birthday today, so--” 

“Really!?” it only gave him another valid reason to give her the spot. “Please go ahead,” he offered. 

“Wh-what about you?” 

“The CDs won’t go anywhere. There’s still next time. Besides,” he winked, “I forgot I don’t have enough money for tomorrow, so...” 

In the end, the mother was grateful to Sangaku to make her daughter’s wish come true. She took the spot while leaving the shop... with a broken heart. 

***** 

It has been an hour since the queue subsided. And for sure, the autograph-signing session was also over. Sangaku’s effort to ride as early and as fast as he could to get a CD, have it signed, and meet Lovely for the last time in person has been put into waste.  

He has lost energy to ride his bike back. He instead walked through the streets while pulling his road racer. Although he is happy he was able to help, in the end it cost him a once in a lifetime chance to see the person who saved his life two years ago.  

“Guess it’s back to watching TV, huh,” he said to himself in total defeat while walking towards the street exit before deciding to ride all the way home, until some vehicle began to honk behind him. 

The noise was so loud he jumped in shock that his hands almost slipped from the handles of his bike. For some reason the silver van keeps on honking like he was some kind of a nuisance yet he wasn’t in the middle of the road at all. He couldn’t understand why, whether the driver was just annoyed to see him on the road or it’s just that it only wants to show off their loud horn. 

Then, the window to the front seat opened and someone’s head with shades popped out, probably to show at him to got out of their way, but-- 

“You!” it was a girl’s voice. Her purple-and-pink-highlighted brown hair was still visible in Akihabara’s neon lights, that Sangaku somehow recognized... much to his shock. 

“Y-you’re,” he was almost speechless. 

“You’re Sangaku-kun!” she recognized him for some reason, and she removed her shades. “I knew you’re here!” 

His heart fluttered. Maybe it wasn’t the time to go home yet, especially if the person he’s been trying to see for a day has tried to find him all over Akihabara to see him also. But how she found out that he was there is already something he still has to find out. 

***** 

Lovely invited Sangaku in her van to speak to him in person. Meanwhile the boy has been starstruck for almost ten minutes now considering that he what happened to him tonight was a miracle. 

“It’s been two years,” Lovely remained lovely as ever, even after two years, while looking at him from head to toe. “You’ve grown so fast!” 

“Y-you think so?” he was blushing. “I,” he bit his lip, “I can’t believe this... I thought I won’t be able to see you in person again! How did you--” 

“Some angel told me you’re here,” she winked. 

He tilted his head in confusion. “Angel...?” 

“There’s this little girl who told me that someone offered his spot for her mommy to get a CD for her birthday,” she explained. “When I asked her what he looked like, she said he was wearing an angel’s smile and blue hair. I wasn’t wrong...” 

It was really a miracle, that after the sacrifice he did, the little girl who was trying to see Lovely in person helped him in return to see her. Maybe she somehow understood his intentions that she decided to ‘help’ as well by telling her the story. With that, he thanked the girl in secret for making the impossible happen... 

From there, he remembered the message enclosed in the first CD he received from Lovely and that was only then that he understood what that message meant. 

“Become someone else’s angel,” Sangaku remembered. “This is probably what you meant.” 

Lovely smiled at his realization. “I told you before,” she said, “everyone can be someone else’s angel. That girl became your ‘angel’ by letting me know your whereabouts. Imagine,” she leaned to her seat, “if I only learned right away that you’ve been falling in line to get my CD and autograph, I could have called you in personally... 

To give you this.” 

She handed her latest CD with him, complete with her autograph and a short message. It was a surprising gift – even if it wasn’t his sixteenth birthday yet. 

“Th...thank you,” he was completely out of words, “b-but what you said earlier, if you did that, I think some people will find it unfair, that you’re treating someone like me this special--” 

“Because you are special, Sangaku-kun.” 

He was stunned by what Lovely said. How so, while all he knew is that he almost died in the woods two years ago, and all Lovely did was to save him the way she can. It was heartwarming that a celebrity like her will go all the way to find him, even though at that time she should be at her own home resting for next day’s commitments.  

“They say that I am,” for some reason, hearing those words from an idol made him become aware. “But all I wanted is to feel that I am alive. I’ve been bedridden half of my life, and as much as possible, I don’t wanna go to that phase again where I can’t do anything. Some people say that it was my love with what I do that makes me special... but that’s all I can do.” 

Lovely understood in secret, especially when she noticed Sangaku’s road racer and his familiar jersey underneath his uniform. She totally understood... and that understanding also makes her heart hurt.  

“You’re a cyclist, right?” she asked. 

He nodded. 

“What brought you to ride a bike?” 

He smiled. “You mean, who,” he couldn’t help but to remember the person he remained indebted with. “I have this neighbor who introduced me to cycling. Since then, I couldn’t stop pedaling. It makes me go to places I’ve never reached before, places I’ve never thought I’ll be able to go and see unlike before. It made me really feel that I’m alive. I feel pain, I feel the exhaustion, the numbness of my legs whenever I climb the mountain with my road racer. It was... incredible. And I can’t help but to thank her every single day.” 

Lovely smiled in secret. Cyclists have their reasons to ride a bike. Sangaku’s reason was so pure, it saved him from death. While some does it to cast away the past and move forward to the future... 

Just like someone she knew. 

“I’m happy to get to know you, Sangaku-kun,” Lovely said with sincerity that she held his calloused hand. “I’ve met and talked to different people with different impressions and intentions about me, that I have to treat them the way they treat me. You, however, are different. I feel like I’ve never been this relaxed before, it’s like I’m talking to a very close friend. You would say... 

You’ve become my angel.” 

His heart fluttered the moment Lovely confessed how she felt whenever she talks to him. Although this is only the second time they have talked in person, Lovely felt that she and Sangaku have been friends for a long time. Sangaku, meanwhile, was trying to process what was going on, that he could feel his heart swelling with unexplained emotion. 

“The neighbor you’ve mentioned,” she continued, “she has become your own angel because she gave you the freedom you’ve wanted for so long. And I’m sure, out there, she has this angel who is keeping her stronger every single minute...” 

But for some reason, her scarlet eyes cast down in such sadness. The young cyclist didn’t fail to notice her sudden change of face. 

“Something wrong?” he asked.  

“Strange,” she bit her lip. “Why is it just now that you came into my life?” 

His face reddened. “Wh-what do you mean?” 

“If way back then... If we had met again at that time, we would talk like this. This is easier than just talking to adults who expect so much of you that I couldn’t breathe. I have someone like a confidante but she’s also experienced something far more painful than what I’m experiencing. I can’t... I can’t give her the right advice on how to move forward if I, myself, am trying to step back from my own problems. Becoming an idol is something I can only do to become everyone’s angel and so far I’m happy with what I’ve accomplished... 

But I know... this will be going to end soon.” 

It bothered Sangaku to see an always-cheerful person such as Lovely would also face a personal issue, and whatever that is, he might not be allowed to know, but he wanted to do something at the same time in exchange for the help she gave to him two years ago. 

“Are you,” he guessed, “quitting...?” 

She looked at him with such meaning in her eyes, knowing that her words might have worried him much. “Let’s say it’s quite complicated,” she admitted. “My family has no idea that I’m an idol.” 

“So you’re worried that if they find out, they’ll force you to stop?” 

She nodded.  

“Why’s that? I mean, you’ve accomplished this big and this far, why would they stop you if all you can do is to make people happy?” 

This time, Lovely didn’t answer. Because if she will do, for her, things might get more complicated if an outsider will get involved in her problem. But strangely, Sangaku decided to be persistent to help someone in need... 

Even if it is something ridiculous. 

“Uh, h-how about this,” he made a quick thinking (if he was thinking at all), “you said I’ve become your angel since that day, right?” 

“Wh-what about it?” Lovely got confused. 

Suddenly, he held her hand, much to Lovely’s surprise. 

“What if,” he looked at her directly to her eyes, “I become your angel for good, like, you will need someone who can take you away and make you fly, then I let you do what you feel happy the most? If Lovely Kakigami will be gone, those people who sees you as their angel will end up sad. As long as you still can, they still need you, their angel. If there is no one by your side to be your own angel, then let me do that job for you!” 

She wanted to cry.  

She barely knew Sangaku, however, with his past, his record, and everything he does under her watchful eye as the White Princess, she didn’t expect him to be that bold. All he wanted was to pay his debt, and he is now looking at a great opportunity to pay for it, while there is still a chance. His intentions are pure... 

However, she knew in her heart that she isn’t that right person to be his own angel. 

Lovely carefully let herself go from Sangaku’s hand, much to the younger’s confusion. There is a meaning behind her gesture, and he understood that she has declined his offer. 

She was smiling at him, looking at his confused blue eyes, but this time, her tears are evidence enough that she cannot take his offer. 

“But why...?” he asked weakly. 

Instead of answering her directly, all she could say was “Thank you.” 

Her voice seems broken, maybe to control her tears and to show her strength. But she knew her limitations that she will burst anytime. But as long as he is still in her van, she has to stay strong.  

“From the bottom of my heart,” she said, “thank you... Sangaku Manami. However...” 

He got more confused the moment she mentioned his last name – and for the record, he never told her about it two years ago, or if the hospital did, she should have forgotten about it. But then, she touched her own heart for some reason. 

“This heart... has been chained for years. And I don’t think you have that key.”

Chapter Text

SANGAKU AND MAERA

 

It has already been past eight in the evening and Sangaku’s bedroom window is still closed, which worried Maera. 

Normally, even after practice, he’ll come home by rather 6 or 7 in the evening, and he is aware that climbing Mt. Hakone at those times is already considered dangerous. However, it was unlikely for him to stay up too late. Come to think of it, he didn’t mention where he will be going when she passed by the Bicycle Club to give the notes to him and give that jacket back to Yasutomo… 

Where did he go? 

A few minutes just after she had her bath, she heard a honk outside Sangaku’s home. Curious, she peeked at the third floor window and noticed a silver and gray van stopped at the front of her neighbor’s home. Then, his parents came out. A few minutes later… 

S-Sangaku!?  

Who brought him home? She couldn’t tell. Someone wearing a cap and shades was talking to his mother, while his father was scolding him. Well, that can’t be helped, especially if this is the first time he came home late only to be driven by a mysterious van. 

When Maera looked at her clock, it was already 8:30, the latest record he had for coming home that late. 

*****  

9 PM, and both are already in their respective rooms. 

“You didn’t tell me where you’ve been gone to,” Maera went frank at him. “No wonder they’re upset.” 

“Yeah, I know,” Sangaku was his usual self (or was he?) when he remembered how his father got so angry at him for the first time. “I actually went to Akihabara.” 

Maera blinked. “You went to  where !?” she gasped. “Do you have any idea how far Akihabara is!?” 

“Well, if we could calculate the distance between the National Road and the tip of Mt. Hakone, that’s twice the distance compared to—” 

“Come on, be serious!” she groaned. 

“Sorry, sorry,” despite coming home late and even got scolded, Sangaku was still able to pull off a smile, which is just typical for him to do. “Anyway, I went there to buy a CD.” 

“Don’t tell me you’re actually after Lovely Kakigami’s newest single!” 

He just laughed. 

“It’s not funny!” she fumed. “You went all the way to Akihabara just to buy  that  CD!? We have nearest record stores here… 

Or,” until she realized his other main reason he rushed to that particular place, “don’t tell me…” 

At first, Sangaku was just laughing at his own mistake, much to Maera’s disbelief. But she hasn’t heard the entire story yet. 

***** 

To save her the hassle, Sangaku told Maera about his ‘adventures’ in Akiba: how he almost ‘failed’ to get Lovely Kakigami’s latest CD, how he sacrificed his spot for a girl who almost went home disappointed on her own birthday, and how a miracle happened when Lovely, herself, found him and talked to him along with giving him a signed CD of her latest album in person as a ‘reward’ for helping the little birthday girl. 

Maera was aware how he became a Lovely Kakigami fan when she saved him in the woods when they were in middle school. But tonight, she didn’t expect Lovely, herself, and her crew, to bring Sangaku home personally. She even apologized personally to his family for causing trouble. 

But then, as night gets darker, so does their conversation, in which both of them didn’t expect something will come out of it in a few days to come. 

“Lovely-san told me,” he began, “that her days as an idol are numbered once her family finds out.” 

Maera was saddened to hear about it. But what concerns her is if the media finds out. And what intrigues her was that fact. 

“Did she told you anything about it?” she asked. 

“Not much,” Sangaku admitted. “But I’m sure she’s hiding something that has been hurting her for years, so…” 

In his pocket, he was holding something, but for some reason, he was having second thoughts whether he will also tell Maera or if he will just keep it to himself, because whatever was on his pocket is the reason for all Lovely’s decisions. 

***** 

Earlier.  

Lovely was swayed by Sangaku’s offer, however, she let go of his hand, and touched her own heart instead. 

“This heart has been chained for years,” she said, “and I don’t think you have the key.” 

His brows furrowed upon hearing her reason. “What do you mean?” he asked weakly. 

“I told you, it’s complicated. One day you will understand. But right now, here’s what I can only say…” 

She held his hand on his lap. 

“Sangaku-kun… Whoever that angel is who freed you, consider yourself lucky because only a handful of people are like that, who are willing to show you something new that will change your life forever. Your neighbor is the first person who saved you from death, not me. I’m glad to hear what you feel about me… But like I said, you don’t have the key to unchain my heart. It’s already reserved for someone else who has the key. It was chained by force to be given away to the ‘right’ person. 

Thank you, though. After talking to you tonight, I feel much better to face tomorrow.” 

What Lovely said that night seems pretty vague in the young climber’s understanding. Until he noticed something tucked in the carpet of her van. He secretly picked it up… 

And upon finding out what that thing is, everything that Lovely said was starting to make sense. 

***** 

“By the way,” Sangaku showed something to Maera: a school ID of a Hakone student, which confused her, “found something while on the way out of school—” 

“Th-that’s a student ID!” Maera was able to recognize it even with glasses. “You can give that to me tomorrow so I’ll report it to the President. So who’s in that?” 

“Let’s see,” he read the ID again – although he has already checked it several times while on his way home with Lovely. And he somehow recognized who was in the said picture. 

“She looks like the girl I saw on the school paper,” he said. “Looks like it’s Arakita-san’s girlfriend—” 

Maera froze. 

“Y-you have the President’s ID!?” she blabbered. 

“Oh,” Sangaku looked at the picture again. “ This  is the President?” 

“You definitely have to give it to me tomorrow morning,” Maera said. “She’s probably looking for it…” 

He agreed. To make sure he won’t forget, he placed the ID in his desk. As he was doing so, his conversation with Lovely remained fresh in his mind. After finding that ID, he now understood what she meant by a ‘chained heart’ and he not having the key to set it free… 

He knows where the key is. 

“Hey… Class Rep?” 

For some reason, Sangaku called her. Maera responded, as usual, maybe to ask her for another ridiculous favor even after what happened. 

“What?” she asked. 

He just smiled and said, “Thank you.” 

She just blinked. Why he would suddenly said thanks if she hasn’t done anything that much tonight? 

“Wh-why for!?” her cheeks were burning. 

“Well,” he began to think, “Lovely-san and I talked about you.” 

Her head was smoking in embarrassment. “Wh-what!? What did you say about me?” 

“How amazing you are.” 

After hearing it from her neighbor, Maera started to calm down. Still, she was not sure what exactly Sangaku and Lovely talked abouf her. 

“Come to think about it,” he said, “I’ve been imagining possibilities as to what will happen to me,” he looked at Maera, “if I never knew you.” 

Why is he bringing those up!? She could feel herself melting with his words, how actually thankful he was for introducing the world of cycling to him. He has been imagining himself in a poor situation if Maera didn’t do that… 

Or if he never knew her at all. 

“I’ve been imagining also,” he continued, “if I met Lovely-san instead of you…” 

All of the sudden, her world stopped spinning. 

“Just a what if,” he went on. “What if I met her as an ordinary person, then she’s trying her best to be an idol, and since then she has become everybody’s angel… instead of being a reserve for someone else because it has to? What if she chose to become an idol because she really wanted to and not because she needed to? Do you think…” 

He looked at Maera again. This time, she couldn’t read his face anymore. 

“Do you think she’ll say ‘yes’ if I’ll tell her I can be her own ‘angel’?” 

Why does it hurt? 

The moment Sangaku told her about those possibilities playing in his head, her chest started to hurt. It’s not as painful as what he has during his bedridden days, but for Maera, she is feeling the worst pain. After thanking her for whatever reason, here he is, stating a situation  without her  in his world… 

It’s just a ‘what if’, and yet, it hurts so much. 

Maera was grateful that she and her freedom-loving neighbor are able to talk again every night about their days, but this conversation they were having right now is the most painful yet. It was like Sangaku is letting her know that he has feelings for someone else that he only shared with her tonight… 

Setting aside the fact that Lovely Kakigami once saved him, Maera couldn’t think of any reason why Sangaku would fall for an idol with a mysterious background. 

In the end, she just sighed. “Can’t answer that,” she said. “I’m not Lovely Kakigami to answer your question, anyway.” 

He only realized it that he chuckled. “I guess you’re right,” he said. 

“Anyway,” and she turned off her study table light, “I’m off to bed. And don’t forget your homework.” 

“Oh yeah,” he scratched his head, “I almost forgot. Might pull out an all-nighter for that,” and he turned on his own study light. “See you tomorrow?” 

“Y-yeah,” she replied, without looking at him, as she was about to close the window. “Goodnight. And don’t be late.” 

“Let’s see,” he said. “Sweet dreams, Class Rep.” 

The moment she closed the windows, Maera’s eyes were already flooded with tears, making sure that the person whom she helped but later taking her for granted will not see them. 

That conversation made her convinced that no matter how hard she chases him, that person will not look behind, he will remain to look forward until he gets to the finish line. That conversation made Maera Miyahara decided… 

I decided… not to chase you anymore. I can still see you race, but that is what I can only do for you now… I’ve done my part…  

Don’t look back, Sangaku. That person will stop chasing you from now on.  

The girl with half-moon glasses didn’t also realize that the moment Sangaku closed his own windows, his eyes were also flooded as hers, as he stared at that school ID... and his own tears are already staining its surface, as his mind and heart tries to understand everything, even if it is starting to kill him.

Chapter Text

MAERA AND ERIKO

 

It all started with purple highlight extensions and Lovely Kakigami’s first CD on Eriko’s drawer. 

Maera was assigned to clean the Council Room on that period. A common practice for the White Wing Council is to assign the lunchtime cleaning to year level representatives. Unfortunately, only Maera was available to do the duty, so she has to do it alone – in which she didn’t mind, if cleaning alone can help her clear her head. 

It has been a week since the first time Sangaku came home later than usual. After their last conversation, now that she understood that he has been chasing someone else impossible, she made a decision to forget about her feelings for him for good, and instead, focus on being a good neighbor, classmate, and  best friend  to Sangaku like they were used to be. 

But because of that, they barely talked again, either he’s just busy with practice or she’s busy with Council duties. Or both of them are busy. But there is one point on that week where they were free… 

But neither of them would like to start a conversation. 

For Maera, this is better. She can focus on other things without being distracted. She was able to give back Eriko’s ID without letting her know who found it, just this morning, that’s just it. Everything should be clear on every schedule… 

And yet, she couldn’t get him out of her head. 

“Knock-knock, Arakita from Class 3-B coming thr— 

…Eh?” 

To start off Maera’s long day, it’s a surprise visit from Yasutomo. Just him. And the hair on her skin begin to rise again like a cat’s. 

“The hell are you doing here?” he looked at Maera. 

“Should I be asking that!?” she asked back, but then, remembering his current status, “Oh… yeah, you’re the President’s fiancé, you now have exclusive rights to come here whenever you want—” 

“Forgot also that you’re part of the Council thing,” he remembered, “but this isn’t about engagement or whatever! Fuku-chan sent me here.” 

She blinked. “Fuku…chan?” 

“That’s Captain Fukutomi of the Bicycle Club for ya. Anyway,” he looked around, “Kagaho said the revised proposal should be on her table.” 

“I don’t see one on her table.” 

“Help me find it, she said it’s ready.” 

“Hold on,” so she helped like a normal Council member should help. After all, it’s just Yasutomo. Now that he is engaged, somehow he’s way different than two years ago: he’s calmer, he’s more rational, more mature and definitely acts like a real senior. There might be instances still that he will show his fangs at anyone, but only when necessary… 

For some reason also, whenever she sees him in not his usual snarly self, the memory of the parking lot at night where he was at that fancy restaurant and the surprisingly musky and fruity fragrance of his jacket still lingers on her mind— 

Calm down, Maera,  she reminded herself, that guy’s already ENGAGED, focus on what you need to find--!  

Until she came across the President’s desk drawer. Surprisingly, it wasn’t locked, either Eriko instructed Yasutomo to check the drawer while she wasn’t around, or she might have forgotten to lock it. When she opened the drawer… 

Her reaction seems unreadable. 

“Found it!” to add up the confusion, Yasutomo was able to find the proposal – it was right under some else’s desk drawer. “She should be clear on her freakin’ instructions,” and he looked at Maera. “Hey, Miyahara (he managed to remember her name thanks to Sangaku), found it here! You don’t have to… 

…Hey?” 

He noticed Maera, staring at what was inside the drawer. He almost chuckled when he noticed her reaction. “Saw a dead mouse there?” he tried to guess. “Or a cockroach? Or worms? Ain’t look like it but she likes to collect dead caterpillars…” 

But when Yasutomo also joined in taking a peek, his brows also furrowed. They were not dead caterpillars. Instead, they found pieces of purple curly highlight extensions and an unsigned CD of Lovely Kakigami’s first ever single. Beneath the drawer are strange purple ribbons and another CD – a blank one with something written on its cover. 

No one could comprehend why they were on Eriko’s drawer. But the rowdy cyclist’s guess was… 

“Probably confiscated stuff,” he said. “But the Disciplinary Committee takes care of stuff like this…” 

But for Maera, it was a different story.  

Before she could even react, Eriko came back with another set of paperwork, only to find not just the first year representative, but also her fiancé. She was about to ask why Yasutomo was at the office when she noticed the drawer completely open, showing off those highlights and a CD. 

Seeing that open, her mind started to panic. 

“How did you,” she tried to finish the question, but Maera immediately made an explanation. 

“It wasn’t locked,” she claimed. “We’re looking for the proposal you mentioned with their Captain and I was just—” 

Eriko didn’t let her finish, and instead, stormed to the drawer, took her key from her pocket and was shaking while trying to close it. Without even realizing that there were two people watching her. 

“What the hell’s yer deal!?” Yasutomo just raised his eyebrow. But instead of answering him directly… 

“You didn’t see anything,” she said. “Those were just confiscated paraphernalia, nothing more.” 

“So why bein’ offensive about it?” 

“W-well,” she tried to be as direct as possible, “there could be something there which is considered highly classified. I-it’s really my fault for not locking my drawer before leaving. And,” she faced her fiancé, “should you text me first before going in?” 

“Fuku-chan texted you. Either you didn’t get it or you deleted it on purpose.” 

So Eriko checked her phone, allowing Maera to analyze what was happening. The highlights, the unsigned CD, the extra CD on the farther side of the drawer… 

And then she remembered how Sangaku got her school ID. 

When he mentioned he found it after school hours, he didn’t say exactly where. If she will connect how Lovely Kakigami got involved when he got home late, considering those purple highlights and CDs she saw… 

She is starting to see the connection that her body starts to wobble, especially now that she is convinced that Sangaku told a lie to protect Eriko’s secret. Because it’s obvious… 

“Kagaho-san,” she tried to calm herself, “please… tell me the truth… 

Are you… Lovely Kakigami?” 

Tension started to rise within the four corners of the Council room, while Yasutomo remained clueless that he hated the feeling of being left out. He was about to voice out his piece of mind when— 

“Yasu,” Eriko suddenly called him, “can you please… leave us alone for a few minutes?” 

“Hey, hey,” he wanted to protest. 

“This is only between me and Miyahara-san. She seems aware of my situation better.” 

Yasutomo somehow understood. There might be something happened between them while he has no clue. He hated to admit how clueless he is, but he decided to step out out of respect for Eriko. 

“Fine,” he grumbled, and slammed the door. 

After making sure it was only the two of them, she locked the door, and turned to Maera calmly. 

“So,” she started, “where did you get that idea?” 

“From Sangaku.” 

Silence rose again. That part made Eriko panic in silence especially when she remembered that her school ID went missing after she volunteered to bring him home – and when she also remembered about the neighbor Sangaku was talking about. Maera also mentioned the same thing when she had a one on one with her on the first day of school. Did he actually told Maera about her secret? But knowing Sangaku, he will not do such a thing unless he has a deeper reason. 

“I’ve figured it out,” Maera began to explain. “Your missing ID a day after he got home late is already enough evidence. Although he only said that he found it while he was about to go out of school. I know him, he never lied to me, not even once. We’re best of friends. But then… 

Why do you think he will lie to me?” 

Eriko couldn’t answer. If Maera is telling the truth about Sangaku’s integrity, she will also be confused and as curious as her. 

“Do you know,” she went on, “after he got home, we talked about what happened. We do that every night, just to check how our day went. That night… it was different. Do you know what he told me?” 

Her half-moon glasses were starting to get cloudy because of her tears. 

“He told me… If he never knew about road racing… If we never met… and met you instead… Whether you’re Eriko Kagaho or Lovely Kakigami… He wanted to…” 

She faced Eriko with anguish. 

“He wanted to be your angel…! Someone who’ll take you on a higher ground and free you from misery! Do you know what that means!? From the time you’ve saved him, he already has feelings for you…! 

Sangaku loves you! But what did you just do!?” 

Eriko remained passive and let Maera rant about their last conversation. She can’t blame her if she ended up getting frustrated, even if she has little idea what happened between her and Sangaku on a van while heading to his home. 

“Tell me then, Miyahara-san,” she later responded, “do you love him?” 

“Of course I DO!!!” 

The moment Maera raised her voice only to tell Eriko how she feels is already an enough testament that, ever since they first met, she already likes Sangaku – even more than that. No wonder she is frustrated. Someone hurt her best friend’s feelings for a possibly selfish reason. And she can’t let that pass. 

“And do you know what else hurts me?” she went on even in the middle of her tears. “The fact that he said ‘what if’. What if that really happened? On top of that… knowing that he acknowledges what I do more than what I feel… From that time he said those to me, it took my right to tell him how I feel. I wanted to tell him how much I love him, but  you  took that right away from me… He loves you, yet you’ve hurt him. Not I can’t tell him anymore…! From that time  he said those to me, I’ve already cast away my feelings! Do you know why…? 

Sangaku… He’s been lonely and secluded half of his life because of a sickness. I took him out of his cave. I gave him the freedom he longed for. At first I don’t even mind if he’ll not notice me in some way, but he always makes sure to thank me for what I’ve done to him. But then… you came to his life… saved him as that angel… I know how you did that as Lovely, I’m also glad you did that, but now… 

I felt like all that I’ve done is nothing compared to what you did to him. Just one. Thing. And yet he sees you as someone who can save him forever. It hurts me because… I’ve been doing all this ever since we’re kids… And I felt like he wanted to replace me with you… Do you think that’s unfair? Then you have all the nerve to reject him just because you’re engaged!? This has nothing to do with engagement anymore! You broke Sangaku! He’s supposed to be happy! But now I have to clean up the mess you made just for him to move on! It’s ALL YOUR FAULT!!!” 

Eriko still listened to Maera’s rant. She didn’t expect her to be this vocal out of her love for her own best friend whom she has feelings for way back. She threw her feelings away because Sangaku has been hurt, only once, by Eriko, no less. Maera felt that if she’ll also confess her feelings to him, it will only trigger the pain he felt when his own idol dumped him. 

“I can’t tell him anymore,” she cried, “because of you… That is why… I decided to live as his shadow. If he’ll miss something, I’ll make sure to remind him. I’ll make sure to be there whenever he’s hurt, even if I have to keep these feelings all by myself. Sangaku has all the right to be happy and free, and I don’t wanna ruin that anymore just because you’ve hurt him… You, whom he thought will be his saving grace…” 

She let her cry afterwards. All the frustrations, disappointments, even jealousy – Eriko saw those in Maera in one go. She never saw that side of the first year rep before, and she could really tell… 

She loves him.  

“Can I tell you my side?” it was Eriko’s turn. Despite all the anger the former just unleashed minutes ago, she remained calm in listening to her. “I understand if that was your interpretation of what happened last night. I know what I did was wrong, but if you’re in my shoes, you’ll understand why I said those things… 

An engagement was something I hated and I’ve tried to let my parents know that I’m against it. But if you’re an only child and their only hope, it’s hard to get what you really wanted to happen. So I hid my real identity on some occasions to become someone else, to taste freedom even for a short time, by giving people wings to become someone else’s angel. In my entire career as an idol, if there was something I’ve never regretted to let it happen in my life… 

It would be meeting someone like Sangaku-kun and to help me realize how time is short for someone like me.” 

She was smiling, but her eyes were saying otherwise. Despite her explanation, Maera still couldn’t understand her logic. 

“Once your parents and the public find out who you really are,” she tried to ask, “are you planning to quit?” 

Eriko bowed her head in resignation. “If that is bound to happen,” she replied, “then I will leave the stage and get married—” 

“I never thought you’re that weak. And a coward, too.” 

Tension was built once more between two girls bound by love, the moment Maera became too frank at her own senior after learning Eriko’s secret which, she thought, she had lost her respect towards the person whom she thought she was. 

Instead of being defensive about it, Eriko accepted everything Maera said to her. “I am weak. And a coward,” she admitted. “I’m not everyone they thought I am. I’m trying to put a brave face in front of people to show them that I can. If my family situation wasn’t an issue, I might be able to show more… and you’ll never hear anything about my engagement. I’m not saying this to make excuses, or if you will put it that way… 

This is the reality, Miyahara-san. No matter how much your effort is to make a change for yourself, you’ll end up being dragged to the same place as long as your heart remains chained. And there will be times as well that a person’s heart will remain chained even if she’s now with someone whom you believed has a key.” 

It only made Maera more disappointed to hear Eriko’s side, as she showed her resignation over her own situation. Is her family crisis really that bad? She was trying her best to understand her and hate her guts at the same time, but something tells her that she has to give the President a chance to explain. 

“I would like to propose a challenge, Miyahara-san.” 

Maera gave her a confused look, unsure if she was challenging her to a so-called love duel. 

“You said that it’s my fault that you can’t tell him how you feel anymore, am I right?” 

She didn’t reply, in which Eriko took it as a ‘yes’. 

“Then tell me: who’s the real weakling and a coward here?” 

The tables have turned. Maera’s fiery comment against the President has backfired possibly because of one fatal mistake she said. 

“If you know what I mean, you’ll realize that what you’re planning to do is an actual act of cowadice. I’ve just told Sangaku-kun how I felt after he made an attempt to confess. Now, it’s your turn. Consider this as your advantage since you and him were been together for years. You can’t tell me now that you can’t confess to him anymore because you’re scared he might get hurt again. If you really know him… 

Should you trust how he’s feeling?” 

The question remained hanging in the air after Maera excused herself for the next period, either she couldn’t answer right now, or the question, itself, gave her a shock. 

***** 

When Maera went out of the Council room exhausted, the first person she saw outside was someone she didn’t expect to see, not because she doesn’t want to. 

“You looked so messed up,” Yasutomo noticed her face: swollen and red with tears. And he hated seeing those kinds of faces which pulls out his heartstrings. 

He couldn’t even ask her what happened, because that wasn’t part of his plan. However, when Maera looked at him, he knew he couldn’t escape, especially… 

“H-hey…!” 

Her tears acted up again. She was sobbing in front of a guy who was so clueless with what was happening. 

“She’s right,” that was what she could say. “I’m weak… A coward… I’m scared of hurting someone who’s already hurt in the first place…” 

“What the hell is goin’ on here!?” his confusion grew more. “What did she do!?” 

“You’re right,” her sobs became more uncontrollable. “I’m… I’m so messed up--!” 

Probably out of instinct, or that he has no clue on how to handle these kinds of situations, Yasutomo pulled Maera close to him and hugged her, just for her to calm down. But instead of calming her down, that was the little first year’s cue to let it all out. 

What the hell are you doing, stupid me!  

He has lost will and strength to push her away. After all, he initiated it. His instincts told him that this girl only needs a hug, and he just followed his instincts. He even smelled something alarming on her… 

The smell of someone in love. 

Eriko decided to go out of the room for now to cool down, but the tension in the air changed again when she saw her own fiancé hugging a hysterical first year rep, right in front of her. The moment she saw that scene, for some reason, the chains that are binding her heart in place are starting to squeeze her heart until it hurts. 

Chapter Text

JINPACHI AND YASUTOMO

 

“Fine,” he resigned to Eriko’s request instead of getting caught in the middle of a pending catfight. Although he knows those two girls are not the types who are into physical assaults or anything similar, he could smell a pending war. 

So, Yasutomo went out of the Council Room and decided to go back to class. Yet, something is whispering him to stay and wait. Whoever that demon is, he prayed not to bug him and let him decide in peace. 

Speaking of demon, “Visiting your future wife?” 

He wanted to scream and jump, but if he’ll do that, those girls will hear him and they’ll think he’s prying over their conversation or whatever they were doing at that time. When he caught who called him, who was just across another hallway, he almost wanted to pull that guy in a corner and murder him in secret. 

“I hate you, Toudou.” 

***** 

“So you thought those two girls are fighting over something,” Jinpachi guessed, which is the possible reason why Yasutomo chose to stay out of their business. “Fighting over Manami?” 

“You’re making things up,” he glared at him when he mentioned Sangaku’s name out of nowhere, “moron.” 

“So what did you hear so far?” 

“Nothing.” 

The headband-wearing teammate could hear crows laughing at them. 

“You’re useless,” Jinpachi sighed. 

“You can’t expect me to hear anything through a soundproof room,” Yasutomo spat at him, “unless you want me to go back and have me murdered by my fiancée and a first year. Besides…” 

He looked at the Council room’s shut door. 

“It’s something that’s already out of my line. I’m not that kind of man.” 

His teammate whistled, thinking that being engaged is something that changed Yasutomo Arakita so much, aside from cycling. Or maybe that was just one of the reasons. It was something that Jinpachi decided not to contest anymore.  

“The only thing I know,” he continued, “was when Miyahara suddenly asked Kagaho about her connection to Lovely Kaki-whatever, some sort of a famous idol right now…” 

Jinpachi’s ears moved. “And why is Lovely Kakigami got involved with their fight over Manami--?” 

“Why do you keep on bringing that wonder boy into their problem!?” 

“Anyway,” he dismissed his own misunderstanding, “so that cute first year thought that your fiancée and Lovely Kakigami are one and the same person? They’re fighting because of that or because Manami—” 

“You’re really good at writing stories, aren’t you (because he also knew that Jinpachi was still bragging about getting a good grade in their novel-writing project last year)? Why’re ya trying to include that wonder boy in their problem, just because one of them’s his neighbor!?” 

Instead of dismissing it, Jinpachi just smirked as he handed Yasutomo a bottle of his favorite soda. “Why don’t we talk about it over Bepsi?” 

***** 

And so the two cyclists sat in a nearby porch just two walks from the Council room while having soda in the middle of spring (besides, it’s getting warmer) for a little debriefing about Jinpachi’s ‘upcoming romantic novel’ much to Yasutomo’s unamusement. 

“So in your head,” Yasutomo guessed about the story, “this princess has this oblivious boy smitten, but she rejected him, so the boy’s neighbor is pissed at her, and got more pissed after finding out that the princess has a secret identity which is whom the oblivious fell in love with,” and he started cringing. “Man, that’s a lethal example of a bad plot, bad characters and bad composition. That’s worse that what Shinkai reads!” 

“And it’s just the first draft,” strangely, Jinpachi was proud of it. “Second draft includes a character inspired by you, of course—” 

“No, thanks—” 

“Knowing you, you’re really not into arranged marriages, right?” 

The ridiculous storyboarding went on an unexpected turn the moment he mentioned the possibility of Yasutomo not agreeing into those kinds of arrangements, in which, for the first time, Jinpachi hits it right, or maybe he based it on what Izumida guessed the first time. 

“And what about it?” his tone turned serious. 

“Someone like you would rather protest than agree. That’s one possibility you ran away from home and no one knows you’re the runaway prince of Yokohama’s most powerfirm shipping conglomerate. No wonder we’re all shocked that you and the White Princess are engaged, even the White Princess, herself, didn’t mention anything about it… 

Because if I am right, she’s not into it, either. And judging by how you’ve reacted about her hiding an alter-ego and hiding the fact that someone tried to confess his feelings to her (possibly), you obviously don’t care about her actions nor her plans. You let her do whatever she wants. That’s something normal engaged couples don’t do.” 

For the first time, Yasutomo was out of words, either he was shocked at how keen Jinpachi’s observations are, or how good he actually is in creating a believable story. Setting aside two girls fighting for whatever reason, he didn’t remember mentioning his other background story to anyone except his tragic past back in his baseball days. In fact, he never mentioned it to anyone. 

He made a mental note to himself to stay away from Jinpachi after their senseless talk, but the next topic made him glued to his own spot. 

“Also,” he continued, “hate to pry or guess wrong (you’ve been guessing things wrong the whole time, moron) but I’ve been noticing you while you’re with Manami’s neighbor since first day of school… 

You like Miyahara, don’t you?” 

That guess made Yasutomo spat his soda on Jinpachi’s face that left the latter screaming. 

“MY HAIR!!!” 

“Serves ya right,” he screamed. “If that’s just a made-up story, I’ll take my torch and burn it down!” 

“I HATE YOU, ARAKITA!!!” 

“I HATE YOU TOO, DUMBASS! Where did you get that thought!? She’s nothing but an order freak!” 

“But seriously,” his face turned serious after wiping his face, “do you? Your face can’t fool me the time she returned your jacket. I’m not sure what happened between the two of you in the past, but that’s one of the most common kinds of stories which mostly end up either a happy ending or a mutual one.” 

And once again, Jinpachi gets the point – although Yasutomo doesn’t want to admit it because even he wasn’t sure. The only thing he knows is that his so-called high school life changed forever for three reasons. One, when he saw Eriko in the same school again. Two, when he met Juichi. And three… 

When he met Maera. 

Her tearful eyes, foggy half-moon glasses, and strawberry-red fumed cheeks, he couldn’t get them out of his mind anymore after that incident. 

Yasutomo isn’t a romantic type, nor he believes in destinies and arranged marriage tropes in stories his mother would love to watch, but it just so happened that he got engaged to a childhood friend and he happened to be born in a high freaking society where arranged marriages are mostly common. He never experienced having a crush nor first love back in grade school and middle school. And even he knew Eriko ever since, he couldn’t feel anything more to her than a family friend… 

But when he saw Maera, things went downhill. 

“Hell NO,” he was too stubborn to admit. 

“Then why are you so damn red?” 

“IT’S DAMN COLD, okay!?” 

“Why so offensive?” 

“Because you keep on asking stupid questions!” 

“And why are you answering?” 

“I’LL KILL YOU, TOUDOU!” 

“Why not now!?” 

“I WILL!” 

But then, Jinpachi sighed. If he is dealing with Le Tsundere King, he knew he’ll lose, so he gave up and stood up. 

“You’ll find out that I’m right after all in no time,” he said. “So I’ll let you be for now. And don’t run to me crying if that happens—” 

“Like hell that’ll happen,” Yasutomo said. 

“And by the way, pay me later for the Bepsi—” 

“I thought that was FREE!?” 

“You’re rich, stupid, you can even buy the entire factory if you want to!” 

My parents, not me!” 

Before he knew it, Jinpachi already disappeared, which only aggravated him. 

“I hope your headband will come alive and smash your head!!!” was a childish thing for Yasutomo to throw at him, before he managed to calm down after twenty seconds… 

Now that he mentioned it, is it really true? He can’t tell since he never fell in love before – even though he’s now engaged. And he is aware that once he falls in love with someone, another will surely suffer… 

And he doesn’t want to go to that point where he has to choose between someone he likes and someone he is destined to marry, which is just one of his reasons why he doesn’t want to fall in love as much as possible… 

Until he saw Maera, who just came out of the Council Room, walking towards him. When he saw her face, he knew something happened but he wasn’t sure what. 

“You looked so messed up,” he said. Those kinds of faces are the ones he hated to see the most, as if they tug his heatstrings as hard as they could. 

He couldn’t even ask her what happened, because that wasn’t part of his plan, nor his nature to pry on things that he’s already out of the picture. However, when Maera looked at him, he knew he couldn’t escape, especially… 

“H-hey…!” 

Her tears acted up again. She was sobbing in front of a guy who was so clueless about what was happening. 

“She’s right,” that was what she could say. “I’m weak… A coward… I’m scared of hurting someone who’s already hurt in the first place…” 

“What the hell is goin’ on here!?” his confusion grew more. “What did she do!?” 

“You’re right,” her sobs became more uncontrollable. “I’m… I’m so messed up--!” 

Probably out of instinct, or that he has no clue on how to handle these kinds of situations, Yasutomo pulled Maera close to him and hugged her, just for her to calm down. But instead of calming her down, that was the little first year’s cue to let it all out. 

What the hell are you doing, stupid me!  

His inner self is panicking. He has lost will and strength to push her away. After all, he initiated it. His instincts told him that this girl only needs a hug, and he just followed his instincts. He even smelled something alarming on her… 

The smell of someone in love. 

You like Miyahara, don’t you?  

Is this what Jinpachi was trying to show him? All those images on his mind, all the scenes with her, he thought they can be thrown away like it was just another day. He had managed to throw away and forget things that happened to him two years ago, including those ordinary days, but… 

When it comes to Maera, he couldn’t throw those memories away. And he couldn’t understand why. 

“Uhm,” he tried to talk to her, “I’m not sure what happened… but please, not here… And I only have a spare jersey…!” 

But she didn’t flinch. She was holding him tight like a koala. 

Yasutomo sighed in resignation. Whatever happened between Maera and Eriko was already beyond his knowledge and he was even too scared to ask, yet his instincts as a senior tell him to listen to her – no matter what, and to calm her down, of course. 

“H-hey,” he shrugged her shoulder while thinking of the impossible, the way how Jinpachi talked to him, “wh-why don’t we talk about it… over Bepsi?”

Chapter Text

JINPACHI AND ERIKO

 

She saw everything. 

Eriko thought of going out of the Council room for now after an unexpected confrontation with Maera (and made sure also her drawer is locked) to get a breath of fresh air. However, instead of getting a way to breathe freely, she felt her heart being squeezed when she saw her future husband hugging the devastated first-year representative in his own accord. 

They are engaged, but despite their status, they agreed that they will do whatever they want on their own time, as long as their parents are satisfied. Yet she wasn’t sure why her chest felt strangely heavy after seeing that scene. 

In his own accord as well, the senior invited the poor first year somewhere to talk and to take a breath. She saw them leaving first, before she decided to go back to the room, and locked herself in, making sure no one will disturb her while contemplating about what happened today. 

She didn’t realize that someone did notice her going back to the Council Room. It was none other than Jinpachi, who was just done talking to Yasutomo while the break is still on. He could somehow guess that she saw what was unexpected, especially when he saw her standing there numb and quiet while watching her own fiancé hugging her subordinate after that confrontation. He couldn’t guess, however, what was on her mind at that time when she saw them, but there is something telling him about the flame set between these betrothed pair. 

The day ended like nothing happened that morning, but evidently, Maera didn’t show up in the Council room for her duties, and the boys were probably busy preparing for this summer’s Inter-High – or so she thought. Even with her secretary on her side, Eriko has never felt so alone. 

***** 

Afternoon the next day. 

It is still spring, but Eriko is already conducting practice routines for the swimming team in the campus indoor pool. Nothing out of the ordinary, she thought. It’s a good thing that the indoor pool is heated, which is perfect for practicing even during colder periods. 

The practice went on but Eriko received a phone call that she has to go home earlier ahead, thus she left the supervising to her vice-captain. After changing, she hurriedly went to the hallway where she can take a shortcut to the parking area, but the moment she got there... 

“Hello, Miss President!” 

Eriko stopped to see a somewhat familiar face waiting for him in the hallway: a third-year student wearing a headband looking at her like he has been expecting her to pass by the parking area. 

“You’re Yasu’s friend from the Bicycle Club,” she guessed. “Do you need anything from me?” 

“Aw, my bad, I should have introduced myself properly,” and he bowed to her like he was bowing to a princess. “I’m the Bicycle Club’s most beautiful Vice-Captain and Ace Climber, Jinpachi Toudou. A pleasure to meet the future wife of our team’s Master Ace Assistant.” 

He kissed her hand. 

“Th-the pleasure is all mine,” the White Princess was still confused with all the greeting and gesture, “but may I know what do you need of me?” 

“Nothing that important,” Jinpachi went straight to the point. “After all the hype from last week, I just want to get to know you. After all, we at Bicycle Club would also want to know more about you as more than just the White Wing Council’s President.” 

Somehow she understood this unexpected visitor’s intentions, but she felt that he showed up in the wrong place at the wrong time. “I understand your intentions,” she said, “but I’m afraid I can’t accommodate your request here. Besides, don’t you have club duties? Your Captain must be looking for you at this moment.” 

“Fortunately,” Jinpachi replied, “our practice ended up earlier, so I thought of using my resources to find and talk to you.” 

She only grew more curious. “By resources,” she asked, “are you referring to Yasu?” 

“Nope. He doesn’t know about this, either.” 

Basing his response, Eriko’s mind agreed that this Jinpachi Toudou only showed up to ‘test’ her, which is, for her, a waste of time. “Then, I’m afraid I can’t accommodate your request,” she politely refused. “I have an appointment to attend an hour from now and I have to be there as soon as possible. Maybe some other time—” 

“Wait, wait, I’m sorry,” the cyclist tried to stop her, “I don’t mean to scare you or make you uncomfortable. As your fiancé’s teammate and friend, I believe I have a right to get to know you better. In case he’s not around, you can count on us! It’s just that I’m representing the whole Bicycle Club to—” 

“If you’re representing the Bicycle Club only to get to know me, should you have your Captain as well? Or are you only doing this for your fun? If your answer is the latter, please don’t bother. Or I’ll make sure to report this to your Captain as harassment.” 

It somehow made Jinpachi shut up since she is serious in planning to take legal action against him. But it didn’t last long. He even smirked. 

“Okay, you got me,” he finally admitted. “Sorry if I dragged the club into this, but I’m here on my own free will. And this isn’t all about Arakita nor the engagement... 

It’s about you.” 

After admitting his true intentions, it somehow got the White Princess’ attention. “So what do you really want from me?” she asked. 

“Your opinion.” 

“My opinion about what?” 

“I’m working on a novel, and I’m looking for a woman’s point of view. Don’t you think it’ll hit if it’s only about what a man thinks?” 

Eriko finds his reason amusing that she began to chuckle. “I don’t mind telling you my opinion after I hear your plot. But why me, not your female classmates?” 

“Meh,” he twirled, “their stories are all the same and none of those would fit into mine, so I thought of getting outside sources. And considering you’re Arakita’s fiancée, I thought of going to you first. I’m sure you’ll be interested.” 

Jinpachi won the round that Eriko agreed to listen as they looked for someplace to stay in the meantime. 

***** 

“So what’s the plot?” she tried to get interested to hear his story. 

Jinpachi started by fixing his headband, then leaned on the bench. “Once upon a time, there’s this princess who has a perfect life. She gets what she wants as long as she obeys everything her parents say. She has no complaints... 

Until one day, what her family worked hard for suddenly crumbled into dust, and they saw themselves owing a huge debt that cannot be paid by what they have left. They were afraid that they will lose everything they have: privileges, riches, power... All of those will be gone in a year... a month... even a day. With that, they thought of doing what they thought will save their fortune and name... 

That is... to sacrifice their daughter to the son of a more powerful family.” 

Eriko couldn’t speak nor breathe. She heard the story before. To be accurate, how in the world does this stranger know about her life story? 

“When the princess learned about what her parents did,” Jinpachi continued, “she was devastated, of course. Her so-called perfect life will be gone anytime soon, but unlike any other princesses, she’s not into riches and fame. Her freedom was her only consolation and she’s been holding it since childhood. If her parents will give her away for her to give them back their fortune, that will be it. But ironically, she has no choice but to follow their will. 

But at least for her to still enjoy the freedom she has left, she has to disguise into someone else, someone reachable enough so one day, someone will dare to reach her hand, no matter her situation is, and unchain her from impending fate. Without realizing that the key to set her free is hiding somewhere within the more powerful family’s walls—” 

“Who are you?” 

When Eriko suddenly interrupted his storytelling, Jinpachi noticed her face: absolute shock. Either she was deeply moved by the plot alone... 

Or something else that he is not aware that she is totally involved in the story. 

“Uh, I told you,” he replied, “I’m the fastest, most beautiful climber in Hakone, Jinpachi Toudou. Why you’re—” 

“How did you know about that?” she started to panic. 

“About what?” 

“Did Yasu tell you everything!?” 

“I told you, this has nothing to do with Arakita! He doesn’t even know I’m talking to you now! I’m just asking for your opinion as a girl to help me move that poor princess in the story! So, what do you think?” 

Eriko decided to calm her mind a bit and think. She wasn’t sure anymore if Jinpachi was telling the truth or if he really knows everything, and how that happened is something she wasn’t sure anymore.  

“Are you sure you’re only making that story up?” she tried to ask. 

“Miss President,” he replied in confidence, “when did I ever lie, especially to a girl? If I do have that curse to lie, I’ll never have a big fanbase as I have now.” 

“I see,” she sighed. “Because how you have delivered it seems so real like, it really happened, so I must admit, you got me.” 

“Really?” he grinned. 

“Say, Toudou-kun,” she bit her lip, “since when did you start wanting to write a romantic story?” 

Jinpachi won again, he finally managed to gain Eriko’s trust and attention – although, at the back of his mind, he is starting to wonder as well... 

Why did she look frightened when I shared my plot with her?  

“Well,” he made a deep thought, “let’s say I got inspired. It started when I learned a similar story from another teammate of mine. Originally, it’s part of a class project last year, but I got the hang of it that I decided to continue. Plus, my sister loves reading those kinds of stories so I thought of giving her a shock if I’ll write the best story she has read yet.” 

For Eriko, it is one valid and sweet reason, although it’s strange that Jinpachi has to rely on someone else’s opinion to get materials for his story. And with the way he carries himself even after she made a threat, he proved to her that he is actually the opposite of what she thought he is. 

“I’m liking it so far,” she said her verdict. “As much as I would like to hear more, however, I’ll be late for my appointment. How about you provide me your number and I’ll call you so we can discuss your story further? You might need some pointers on how to make it more... believable and, maybe, one day, marketable.” 

Jinpachi felt like he was on his bicycle climbing on top of Mt. Fuji for eternity out of happiness. Getting the White Princess’ attention was a success. He immediately keyed in his phone number and saved it to her smartphone. However... 

“Are you trying to steal my girlfriend, Toudou!?” 

Speaking of the devil... 

Both didn’t expect Yasutomo to show up in the parking area while he caught them exchanging numbers, in which he thought this ladykiller is attacking again with Eriko as his new victim. 

“I’m trying to get materials,” he explained. “Besides, it’s not on my moral standards to steal anyone’s girlfriends. And I already told you that I’ll only get one once I get to college!” 

“With that face,” Yasutomo said, “I won’t believe you a single bit.” 

“I thought kids will think the same thing with your face.” 

“Do you want me to charge you for harassment?” 

“No thanks, I already got that from her.” 

Then they both stopped when they heard Eriko laughing. It was refreshing, at least for Yasutomo, since he rarely saw her smile ever since the engagement mishap. 

“I decided to forgive you this time,” she said to Jinpachi. “I’m looking forward to hearing more,” and she turned to her fiancé. “What brings you here, by the way?” 

“Nothing,” he was frank as usual. “Have a lot of free time, so I thought of taking you home.” 

No one reacted right away, probably in disbelief, much to Yasutomo’s irritation. “Why the hell not, who’s engaged here, anyway!? It’s my job!” 

“We get it, we get it,” they chorused. 

As they have finally reached the limousine, where Mukahi was waiting inside, Eriko extended her hand to Jinpachi as a sign of their friendship. 

“You’ve entertained me today, Toudou-kun,” she said. “Thank you. I hope we can talk later about your novel.” 

“Anytime, Princess — I mean, President,” he almost slipped. “My line’s always open—” 

“And try to tell this to Fuku-chan,” Yasutomo threatened him, “you’ll be dead before getting to talk to her.” 

“You really hate me that much, do you, Arakita?” 

“You said you hate me, too, remember, Toudou?” 

They kept on bantering like a real-life couple until they have reached Eriko’s chauffeur. 

In the end, the couple managed to go ahead without any other interruption as Jinpachi waved goodbye with a new phone pal and a new story idea. Yet, something bothered him... 

Eriko’s reaction says it all while he tells her the plot. 

Speaking of phone pal, his hand made an automatic response to get his phone and about to speed dial someone – but somehow, his consciousness caught his own hand, thus it didn’t push any button. At the back of his mind, something is telling him not to let anyone know about it first, because he, himself, wants to be sure – if what happened was just a product of his ears’ imagination, or if really his own stories don’t lie at all. 

And as he also remembered his conversation with Yasutomo, part of him was shocked to see his teammate’s reaction when he shared with him an excerpt from his plot from his working novel. It is something about his stories that make them go quiet in horror, and that is something he has to find out why. 

Guess I have to stay away from Maki-chan for now until I confirm everything, Jinpachi thought. Besides, there’s still more to do than just getting intrigued by someone else’s tragic past. 

There is probably a first time for everything when the headband-wearing racer decided to keep everything to himself rather than share it right away to his friend from Sohoku. 

Chapter Text

ERIKO AND YASUTOMO

 

Mukahi was sitting behind the driver seat, without her mistress beside her, after finding out that her future master offered her to take her home for reasons that only he knows. For her, seeing Yasutomo around, especially when around Eriko, makes her feel uncomfortable. But is it because he has a distrusting, forever brooding face? Is it because he will one day end Eriko’s freedom? Or it it because he is from that athletic club? 

She couldn’t blame the fact that he is an Arakita, after all, their families have been partners way back. But things change. A great loss means great changes in one’s character. A change in one’s character affects the people, places and things around him. A once powerful man of integrity has slowly weakened into a desperate, suicidal chap who will do anything to save his company, not his family. So her master used his final trump card to keep himself in the game. 

Eriko must marry the heir to the most powerful family in Yokohama, or the Kagahos will be history. To the master, Eriko is his only salvation to keep him sane, to the point that he is not seeing her as a daughter anymore, but a commodity. 

Mukahi saw how a loss could change a man. And she had never felt disappointed. The only thing she can do is to serve her mistress until such time she will lose the Kagaho name and will live as an Arakita by then. For how long she will stay strong for her mistress is something Mukahi Tsukigawa still has to figure out. 

***** 

It was a ten-minute awkward silence at the back of the limousine. 

Normally, Eriko would start a conversation, but ever since her engagement with Yasutomo, things became more awkward between the two of them, in which the boy finds it annoying. Thus he decided to intiate. 

“So what did that guy do to you?” he asked, pertaining to Jinpachi. 

“Nothing much,” she managed to answer. “He was just looking for someone to share his plot for his novel. It happened that he found me.” 

The reason made him raise his eyebrow. “That project was so last year. So lame.” 

“He told me that, too. But since then he said he became so inspired.” 

“And you got interested?” 

“Yes. It was believable to the point that I thought you’re into it.” 

He started to remember his conversation with Jinpachi a while ago where he began to make up stories involving him, Eriko, even Maera and Sangaku – which bothered him. He also remembered another bothering conversation with Maera the moment she calmed down... 

And her side was told just after he and Jinpachi had a ‘talk’. 

“So,” he thought of taking guts to talk to Eriko about what Jinpachi said, “what did he say?” 

She got curious at her fiancé’s unexpected curiosity. “Seems like you’re intrigued.” 

“Yeah. He told me some trash, too. I’ll start.” 

“Go ahead.” 

So he told her how that headband-wearing teammate started their trashy conversation with his guess that Eriko and Maera had a catfight – involving Sangaku, and even guessed that Eriko has presumed another identity as a way to escape her life. When she heard about it, she was ghastly silent. Because as far as she could remember, it was only her and the first year rep inside the Council Room, everything was locked, and the entire room was soundproof that Yasutomo can prove it. 

“Why the shocked face?” he asked. 

She wasn’t sure anymore if she has to answer or not, since he has no idea that what Jinpachi just shared to him are true and frighteningly accurate.  

“Yasu,” she was shaking, “did you hear anything in the room yesterday?” 

“I told you I can’t hear anything,” he assured her. “Hey, don’t tell me you thought I said anything to that guy. He’s maybe observant but he’s no psychic or whatsoever—” 

“Listen,” she was holding the seat’s cushion so tight her knuckles whitened, “wh... what he told you... about me, Miyahara-san... involving Sangaku-kun (his ears perked up as to why she addressed that wonder boy as such) and me having another identity outside of the school... 

Those... were all true.” 

It was a terrifying revelation since this involves an outsider, someone who was never been part of their lives, and yet he talks like he sees everything. After Eriko confirmed the accuracy of Jinpachi’s supposed-to-be made-up story, Yasutomo couldn’t help but to revisit his last conversation with Maera. 

***** 

Yesterday.  

Thanks to Jinpachi’s intervention, Yasutomo managed to calm the poor first year down over soda. Meanwhile Maera remained silent – or so he thought. 

“I won’t force you to talk about it,” he said unexpectedly calmly. “Once you’re okay, it’s now your choice. I’m not into something like this, you know, but I can’t leave you in a mess like that—” 

“Arakita-san...” 

He froze when, for some odd reason, Maera became too formal to him, like nothing happened between the two of them two years ago. Or maybe she was tired of crying that she has to entrust her sanity to the person closest to her at that moment. 

“Are you,” she asked weakly, “are you... really into being engaged...?” 

The question made him raised his eyebrow. Did the two girls actually talked about him? 

“Do rich people,” she continued, “live the life they want... knowing that their freedom will be too short for them because of an arranged marriage?” 

He got her message. She was asking his opinion about the engagement, almost the same thing Jinpachi did but in a different approach. Out of respect for her question, Yasutomo decided to answer: 

“Ya think I’m really into it?” 

She looked at him. From the looks of his face, he seemed like he was telling the truth. 

“Never dreamed of being a rich kid,” he began. “My parents are rich, me and my sisters are just borrowing some money to live. To be honest with you, kid, being ‘rich’ is no fun at all. You have to live the way those folks wanted you to live. You have to show you’re elite. That’s one reason I hate Fuku-chan at first, and even the likes of Kuroda. They live the way how people dictate it... 

And getting involved in an arranged marriage is just part of their plan to get, you know, richer, more powerful. It’s their decision from the start, not their kids. Once they listed you to get married to someone they know, you can’t refuse anymore. Either do that, or forget they have a kid like you. It’s a matter of a bullcrap bourgeoisie tradition and expanding their little empire, not a matter of feelings.” 

Surprisingly, Maera listened to him carefully. Somehow she slowly understood why Eriko was submissive with her family’s decision to marry her off, whether she likes it or not. 

“So,” she asked again, “when you found out that you’ll be married off to someone, what did you do?” 

“Simple,” Yasutomo smirked. “I ran away.” 

She looked at him. 

“But my case is different. My old man’s damn creepy, he let me run away, even bought an apartment unit for me to live back in middle school, and that didn’t change his mind. He just can’t get rid of me because I’m a guy. He’s one type of ‘if I’m a girl, he’ll disown me’ guy who makes use of his pieces carefully. To him, I’m just one of his chess pieces who couldn’t move from one spot to another no matter how far I could go away from home.” 

“Did he gave you any reason why you have to follow?” 

It took him time to think why he couldn’t escape, but then he remembered why... 

“Kagaho.” 

Maera blinked in confusion. 

“Let’s say things got complicated on their side, that even I run away as far as I can, I feel like there’s this rubber band stuck to my butt that makes me bounce back to where I came from. And her story’s the rubber band stuck in my butt.” 

She had heard enough of Yasutomo’s side, she thought. At least she already knew about his opinion. As to why she asked about it, she voluntarily explained her side. 

“Kagaho-san hated the idea, too,” she started, “but somehow I understood why she chose to agree even if her heart says no. Maybe that’s why... 

That’s why she presumed another identity to taste freedom for even a short time.” 

The fact that she mentioned about Eriko presuming another identity caught Yasutomo’s attention like a USB Lightning cable. Did he heard something like this from Jinpachi before? 

So he let Maera talk. “I told her how weak and a coward she was. She managed to get her freedom for a while, but in the end, she hurt someone, with her engagement as her excuse. What hurts me the most is that... The person I’ve been trying to reach out to, the person I’ve saved several times, made a thought if things happened between the two of us differently... If  he  never met me... and met Kagaho-san instead as an idol... The fact that I’ve been with him for years while she only saved him two years ago is something I find unfair. He’s been in love with Kagaho-san for two years without me noticing...  

And I’ve been falling in love with him ever since we met as kids... without him noticing...” 

Maera’s side and Jinpachi’s self-proclaimed made-up story are starting to link to Yasutomo’s head. Each link was so perfect to the point that the bastard  really  knows everything. But how he did it was something he couldn’t figure out anymore. 

And to fill that missing link, he dared to ask Maera who that person was who told her those things... 

“Are you,” he guessed, “referring to Manami?” 

The moment she heard his name, her eyes swelled up again in tears. Judging by how she reacted to his name, it made him certain, as he was starting to get scared not just for himself but for the people involved... 

Toudou... you bastard!  

***** 

And now…  

“Kagaho,” he called. 

“Yasu?” 

“I’ll talk to Toudou. But stay away from him from now on.” 

It made her curious and confused at the same time. Did her fiancé realized something about Jinpachi that she should be aware about? 

“Are you jealous?” for some reason, she teased him, but for Yasutomo, what’s been happening is already beyond a joke that it’s not funny anymore. 

“You should notice,” he said. “You’re not that close to him before he got close to you because of his novel thing. No one tells him the story, he wasn’t there, I couldn’t hear anything, but how the hell did he know what you and Miyahara talked about?” 

She thought about that, too, when Jinpachi told her about the ‘plot’ he was writing, where everything is 100% faithful to her own true story – and Yasutomo has a point that she never met Jinpachi personally until a while ago. But how he told him to stay away from his own teammate is an indication that something is not right. 

“What do you mean?” she asked. 

“I talked to Miyahara. But before that, Toudou found me and talked to me about the same thing that Miyahara told me about you… 

And Manami.” 

Silence filled their seats. 

The question ‘Who The Hell Is Jinpachi Toudou’ strikes again in Eriko’s head. How he knew about it, and how he made Yasutomo fall into goosebumps is something she couldn’t comprehend anymore. It’s like he can run a story and make it happen in reality like some kind of a magical storyteller, but in this case, it’s like he existed to make them realize something… But what is it? 

“Anyway,” Yasutomo thought of shifting topics to lessen the tension, “your old man’s at home right now?” 

“Y-yes,” Eriko understood that he is pertaining to her father. “Are you planning to talk to him tonight?”  

“Yeah, man stuff.” 

“I see…” 

Silence filled their seats again. This time, it made Eriko remember what she saw yesterday, when her fiancé and her deputy were hugging each other. It was like Maera managed to find an unexpected comfort from Yasutomo. She knew that after their confrontation yesterday, the little first year will definitely need a hug. But what mystifies everything is why Yasutomo, of all people? 

“So you said,” he then remembered, “you’re also this idol,” and he pointed at the picture of Lovely Kakigami which happened to be at the compartment in front of him to play if he wishes to. “Is this how you met Manami a while back?” 

“Yes,” Eriko admitted. “I just remembered what you said way back, but ironically, I’ve been doing it long before we met and talked again three years ago. This,” she held to her own CD, “is how I want to enjoy my freedom...” 

“Giving them hope, huh?” he thought. “While you are starting to lose hope, yourself. I think that’s one lethal combination, girl.” 

“I thought so too,” she smirked. “But at least I’m prepared for the inevitable. They don’t know about my stint yet – and I’m not planning to tell them until things will go well. That is if things will go well.” 

“Is this one way to help your folks financially?” 

“You could say that.” 

Then, he picked one of the CDs and opened the CD compartment beside his seat, placed the disk in the plate and it began to play Lovely Kakigami’s latest single – much to Eriko’s surprise. 

“Wh-what are you,” her face turned red, while Yasutomo decided to play the CD and tried to enjoy the music. As far as she knew, he isn’t into bubblegum pop genre – it is different from the image she is portraying at school as the White Princess. 

“Not bad for my future wife,” he grinned, as he decided to enjoy her song. 

His gesture suddenly warmed her cheeks. She wasn’t sure what his deal was for him to play her own song, but maybe, it’s Yasutomo’s own way to make her feel better after the pressure she felt from yesterday. And to add that up... 

“Promise me, Eriko-chan...” 

Her eyes widened. It has been years since he called her in her first name, and that gesture added another shade of red in her face. 

“Don’t let Toudou come near you, or don’t get near him ever again,” he asked her. “That guy... I can smell something weird about him. Dangerously weird... Leaving him alone will be for our own good.” 

It wasn’t Yasutomo’s nature to get scared, but the way he warned her about Jinpachi, he was obviously terrified. They have both experienced the unexplained accuracy of his ‘plot’, and if it really just a story, why is he sharing it with people who are generally involved? 

“I’ll be frank with you now,” she turned to him. “I’m totally curious about that teammate of yours.” 

“Geez, I just told you--” 

“Aren’t you curious, too? How he did it and why?” 

“Obviously, to make our lives miserable--” 

“Maybe he has other deeper reasons other than making our lives miserable. By looking at him, I don’t think he’ll be the type who will just assume and make a gossip. And that is something I would really want to know. Admit it, too, Yasu. Remember, we decided to do this for our sake and not for our own families, and whoever we end up with will have nothing to do between us. Who knows if, one day... 

I’ll see you dating Miyahara-san. While I might end up responding to Sangaku-kun after all.” 

The narrow-eyed fiancé felt like he was punched directly to his heart and ended up in a critical condition. Why is she saying those kind of nonsense now? At one point, she is right, they don’t feel anything with each other, so one must not be jealous of another if one will choose to date another, and this has nothing to do with the engagement thing anymore because, after all, they  never  agreed to it in the first place... 

Yet, he could smell something bad about this White Princess, like she said those things out of spite. 

The good thing is, Lovely’s music filling their seats made him feel fluffy inside just once in his life; a good way to calm himself down, forget about the ‘bad smell’ for now and, for once, to get rid of the thought to kill Jinpachi Toudou.

Chapter Text

TOUICHIRO AND YUKINARI

 

A month has passed. And just a few days before the anticipated Bicycle Club’s Training Camp. 

After talking to Yusuke over the phone, Jinpachi stared at his notebook. It already has thoughts about the plots and subplots he was trying to formulate to come up with a novel worthy of being bought from the bookstores. But for some reason, he coudn’t continue it, either because he already ran out of ideas, or because of the plots, themselves... 

Which, for him, is starting not to make sense anymore. 

As far as his story goes, his only inspiration is the story of Juichi and Mukahi, so tragic that he decided to split their story into two scenes, but with the same concept: both girls in the story are chasing after those idiot boys, who were after something – or rather, someone else. As what he understood from Hayato’s point of view about Juichi, he chose to win every tournament he is into for his family’s sake, in hopes that it will gain him enough freedom and authority to let Mukahi know of his true feelings – if not for the fact that Mukahi decided to stop waiting to settle with someone else she knew who has been watching her ever since – at least there is someone seeing her as her.  Their story ended a bit bitter, with the girl who remained resentful over him despite having a new lovelife, while he has been carrying the pain and regret for four years – which was reflected in his last year’s performance at the Inter-High... 

Where he, unceremoniously, pulled Shingo Kinjou in his jersey while he was in the lead for a few seconds, causing Sohoku’s spot in the tournament, causing him to add another responsibility to his list. 

“Why the hell is this happening?” was Jinpachi’s first question in mind, when he decided to pick the notebook and skim the pages of what he wrote so far. Basing the plots to the reaction he got from Yasutomo and Eriko, he couldn’t be wrong... 

Those stories really happened in real life – in those two’s lives. 

However, he couldn’t confirm that something is really strange in the plots he is formulating as he haven’t talked to either Maera nor Sangaku yet – which he chose not to, for now, although now that he knew that there is really something going on between those two first-year neighbors that he wanted to help him in his own way, if possible, just like he vowed to Yusuke over the phone. So he decided to do a test by flipping the back page of his notebook and began to write something: 

There is this guy from a certain athletic club who doesn’t care much about how people think about him and his hobby of perfecting the muscles in this body. To him, there is nothing more fulfilling than sharpening oneself like a lance to pierce his enemies in a battle. He was so dedicated that his childhood friend thought it wasn’t healthy anymore. As a friend, he thought that this all-muscled friend of his has a right to have someone to love him as him...  

So he decided to arrange something by asking help from his friend’s girl classmate to write a believable love letter to slip into his shoe locker first thing in the morning. The plan is: someone will confess to this friend and he has to show up on the rooftop of the main building at lunchtime to meet that mysterious letter-sender. Here’s the catch: this girl classmate has an identical twin sister and she goes to the same class as her, and she is better at composing poems than her, so she asked help from her sister to write something to ‘help’ their classmate. Problem is, the guy friend didn’t tell her  to whom  she has to address the letter, but he just told her to come up with something. After all, he will never guess who.  

Now, another catch: the twin sister who has a talent to write poems definitely has a crush on someone else, which made things more interesting and complicated at the same time when lunchtime came.   

The first phase was a success: the all-muscled guy saw the letter and read it, and was surprised by what was in there. From there, he  made  a plan to meet that sender to reject her feelings as he is much focused on the tournament at that time. However, an unexpected circumstance happened as he was called by the teacher during lunchtime, thus he has no choice but to ask his friend to vouch for him by showing up on the rooftop. The guy friend almost slapped himself on that part where he knew it will be a failure – but he has no other choice. After all, he was the one who set it up, so he did showed up on the rooftop to meet his friend’s girl classmate and let him know that their plan backfired...  

But, to his surprise, the said girl who appeared on the rooftop wasn’t the same girl he worked with. It happened that the younger twin caught a cold that she didn’t come to school – so her older twin sister showed up in her stead. What made it more awkward is that...  

The older twin has been in love with the all-muscled guy’s childhood friend since last year. Thus, what was supposed to be a ruse of a confession turned real and for the first time, the childhood friend was totally speechless to the point that he wasn’t able to answer her properly because the bell already rang.  

The moment he finished writing the plot, Jinpachi sighed as he read through it again. That was perfect, he thought. As he wrote that plot, he thought of four more people who can surely fit into it as main characters. All he has to do next is to wait and see in a few days. 

***** 

The next day. Today is the day where they will determine Hakone’s sixth man to complete their elite team to compete in the Inter-High. It was just normal – or that was Jinpachi thought.  

Five members were already been determined to join the Inter-High after the past few days of intense training: their main ace, Juichi; the ace assistant, Yasutomo; the ace sprinter, Hayato; second and assistant sprinter, a second year named Touichiro Izumida; and of course, Jinpachi, their ace climber. In today’s race, all first and second years who specialize in climbing will be competing to fill out the position of second climber. This could only mean one thing... 

They are all eyeing on the mysterious first year climber, Sangaku. 

“But we are also aware,” Touichiro decided to argue, “that we do have a lot of great climbers in our batch. And when it comes to climbing even the steepest slopes, no one can beat Yuki – I mean, Kuroda-kun. He’s been already tested several times and he has beaten every climber we have...” 

 “There’s one left, though,” Jinpachi said, pertaining to the said first year whom they noticed practicing alone in rollers. “That guy’s extremely focused, like he’s been climbing Mt. Hakone all his life.” 

“I beg to differ, Toudou-san, but in the history of Hakone, no first year has ever joined in the Inter-High. If Manami happens to win, it will be too early for him. The Inter-High is a different thing, it’s three days of hell.” 

“Well, you, yourself, will be competing in the Inter-High for the first time. Are you not scared?” 

“There’s no reason for me to get scared. I’ve prepared my body to be in this tournament. And Shinkai-san will not pick me if I’m not that prepared.” 

It was an expected answer from Touichiro, who said to have perfected his body for the sake of Inter-High alone. He has seen him race several times and he has already attested how good this all-muscled second year sprinter is – it's just that he chose to sacrifice most tournaments they have been to prepare himself for this year. 

“I just hope that,” Touichiro added, with a little concern, “what happened a while ago will not affect his race today against Manami.” 

The headband-wearing climber blinked. “Why’s that?” 

“W-well,” he suddenly looked around, and since it was just the two of them in one spot while the rest were busy doing their thing, he decided to tell Jinpachi the strange thing hours ago, “this afternoon, he told me that someone confessed to him by mistake.” 

Confessed by mistake. He could feel his jaw loosening up and threatened to drop six feet under. But he has to listen first what happened. “S-so how did it ended up a mistake?” 

The second year sighed. “The thing is, I was the one who’s supposed to get a confession. Someone,” his cheeks suddenly burned, “sent me a love letter which I found in a shoe locker. But since we have to be prepared for this year’s Inter-High, I decided to reject it, but I can’t do that properly without meeting the sender in person.” 

Jinpachi’s brain – also wearing a headband – began to scream. But Touichiro wasn’t done explaining yet. 

“Anyway, that was the initial plan, and Yuki is aware of it. But the teacher called me during lunch about a group homework that I have no choice but to ask Yuki to vouch for me. So he went on my behalf. He told me what happened and up until now he is still in shock... 

It turned out that the confession wasn’t for me after all, but for Yuki. And the sender was my classmate, Yurime-kun. I learned from her sister, Yukime-kun, that she has a huge crush on Yuki since last year. He even thought it was Yukime-kun but she’s absent today due to cold. Strange thing is, he thought Yukime-kun has a crush on me but since she got a cold, she asked her sister to vouch for her instead. I know it’s confusing, but I’ve managed to figure out the misunderstanding, so... 

T-Toudou...san...?” 

There was the jackpot. 

But before his brain and mouth could even react about it, Hayato called them. “We’re going in the van,” he said. “We can’t miss those two hopeful climbers' battle, can we, Jinpachi?” 

They almost forgot. There is still a race for the position of the second climber. They decided to keep quiet about it in the meantime to watch the race. “Who knows if what happened to Kuroda will inspire him to win,” he said to Touichiro. “But my bet won’t change... 

Manami will win this race. You’ll find out later why.” 

It may sound like a bluff, but the third year climber seems confident that the little first year will win the second climber’s race. Is it because he was the one who personally trained him or is it because of something else? But for Touichiro, who has known Yukinari Kuroda ever since they were children, he has no doubt that his friend will win, as a first year can’t stay that long no matter how good he is, and also considering his medical history. 

“By the way,” Hayato thought of whispering something juicier when they went inside the van, “seems like Juichi is in a good mood today.” 

“How the hell can you say that to his perpetually-stoic face?” Jinpachi scoffed. 

“Has he found a good place for the training camp?” Touichiro guessed. 

“Looks like it,” the ace sprinter replied. “As I heard, the place isn’t what we have planned earlier. It is twice huge and is stationed 1500 kilometers from Mt. Hakone. The course is almost the same as we have here except for having thicker forests which is perfect to test one’s endurance.” 

Both the senior and the junior looked at each other. Judging by how Hayato described their captain’s mood, and comparing it to how they have acquired such a huge and probably expensive place for the camp, several possibilities started to pop up in Jinpachi’s mind: 

“Guess all thanks to a certain girl who might have made some arrangements,” he thought, “you know, his  biggest  fan who’s willing to help, or maybe a manager—” 

They all looked at him in disbelief. To some, knowing Juichi, he isn’t the kind who will get bribed by a girl just to get the best facility they can have to ensure their victory. He is known to be resourceful when it comes to the availability of every resources they have to help them, and he’s a type as well who doesn’t believe that true victory is measured by how advanced the facilities and equipment are. 

They don’t know that Juichi was just sitting beside the driver’s seat, hearing even the softest of their whispers, but he remained quiet about it... 

“Wait a minute,” Touichiro just noticed, “where’s Arakita-san?” 

“He won’t be with us for three to four days,” Hayato explained. “He said that this is something to do with preparations for his engagement with the President. And he has Juichi’s permission. Don’t worry, he’ll catch up in the Training Camp and we’ll be in full force.” 

That was something he was also worried about. Considering that the Inter-High will be three months from now, for the controversial senior to be absent in this crucial time is something he would considered unacceptable – but he has the captain’s permission, which is unlikely. He just hoped that he will catch up on time, but he also believed that he will, knowing how crazy fast and agile their Master Ace Assistant is. 

The race has started as they were talking about Juichi’s current behavior, Touichiro’s lunchtime and Yasutomo’s absence. To distract himself from crazy thoughts for now, Jinpachi decided to watch the race carefully, as this will determine if Yukinari’s inspiration will land him a spot in the Inter-High, or if they will have a first year to join the Inter-High for the first time in the history of Hakone Academy... 

And as predicted by Jinpachi, seeing the disturbing kind of focus this young man has, for whatever reason he was holding on to, Sangaku Manami broke the Bicycle Club’s tradition. 

***** 

“We have managed to get a good place for this year’s training camp,” Juichi announced right after the selection race. “This will be sponsored by Tsukigawa Facilities. I have their representative, Mukahi Tsukigawa from the White Wing Council, who will oversee our training and will report directly to the Council and to their company.” 

Jinpachi’s eyes widened when Mukahi was in front of them, introduced as their temporary manager for their training camp. It’s not because fate has let Juichi see her and to be with her for a week, but because of his own bluff earlier. Adding up to what happened to Touichiro and Yukinari during lunchtime, and the notes he wrote last night, as well as some excerpts he left in that cursed notebook, he began to sweat cold beads, to realize that what happened to them today was 99% his  own  plot.  

CRAP!  

Little did he know that Hayato has been observing him for a month now, from the time of the engagement hype, to the beautiful ace climber’s unusual occasional uneasiness for some reason. He was hiding something that involves Yasutomo and even Juichi, considerng that he was the first person he called regarding what he witnessed about him and Mukahi last month, that he felt that he has also the right to get involved. Because mysterious situations such as this are his cup of tea. 

And it’s not just him. It also piqued Touichiro’s curiosity as to why Jinpachi reacted strangely when he told what happened to him and his friend during lunchtime. 

Chapter Text

YUKINARI VS. SANGAKU

 

So how did he lose? 

If Yukinari will trace the last thing happened today before the race, he can hypothesize what – or rather, who caused his defeat. But he can’t just point at someone without any basis. It is just obvious: Sangaku Manami is a force to reckon with, that even the most hardworking climbers in the club are no match for him. If he has been climbing the mountains since childhood, should it be the same with the fellow climbers who might have started earlier? But then, he could say that there is something about this first year that he was able to win the sixth seat – a first in history… 

He couldn’t help but to remember what happened before and during the race. 

***** 

Lunchtime.  

Yukinari headed towards Touichiro’s classroom to speak with one of his classmates about ‘the plan’ when… 

“Yuki!!!” 

Touichiro seemed in a hurry, and it wasn’t surprising. “Heading to the rooftop?” he guessed, grinning. 

“Th-that’s the thing,” he bit his lip. “Miura-sensei wants to talk to me now about a project. Can you go on my behalf instead?” 

His scenario inside his head stopped. What will now happened to the plan? 

“Uh, well,” he tried to think, since the all-muscled friend has no idea that everything was a setup for him, “I’m free for the day, so—” 

“Thanks, man!” and he dashed towards the faculty room. “Tell her I’m sorry, that I can’t go out with her! The Inter-High’s important right now!” 

And he’s gone. 

Yukinari scratched his head vigorously. “As expected from him,” he grunted. “Guess I have no choice, just tell her it’s a failure…” 

So he headed to the rooftop where his partner-in-crime, Yukime, was waiting supposedly for Touichiro. She has light hair tied in a side ponytail – but then he noticed that she was wearing it to her left side instead of her right. Maybe for a little change. 

“H-hey,” he called her, who was facing her back side, which made the girl flinch, “l-listen, Uno… M-my friend can’t come right now, the teacher just called him, s-so he told me to vouch for him and tell you that he can’t go out with someone else now… You know, Inter-High, everyone’s busy for it, so…” 

“Oh,” she finally spoke. “S-so was it supposed to be… Tou-chan?” 

And then she faced him. 

Yukinari blinked. Judging by how Yukime looked at him, he could tell that there’s something different about her. And the way she replied, wait, he planned the confession with her, right? 

“Wh-what do you mean?” he asked. “W-we  planned  this for him, right?” 

“Ah, you mean it was  you  who  planned this with my twin sister?” 

He felt like being punched in the face. Sh -she has a  freakin ’ twin!? What the hell is—  

“She told me that someone’s about to confess here,” the twin explained, “so sh-she told me to write a poem to that someone. It’s a way to help that person get a lovelife by acting that she’s the one who wrote the poem to him… But she didn’t tell me exactly who that guy is… 

I,” she bit her lip, “I have no idea that it was  you  who planned this for Tou-chan, nor I have an idea that Tou-chan should be the guy you’re helping.” 

It wasn’t just backfired, it was also messed up. As far as he understood, Yukinari asked Yukime to write any letter to be put to Touichiro’s locker, without telling him who actually wrote the poem. No one from both sides have an idea that they are vouching for their friend or relative to meet them at the rooftop… 

And on top of that, the twin was blushing heavily the moment she saw him. 

“I-if you’re the twin sister,” he tried to figure it out, “who really are you?” 

“Ah, I’m sorry,” and she bowed. “I’m Yukime’s older twin, Yurime. We’re both from the White Wing Council. Only them and our class know we’re twin sisters, because most of the time, when one of us goes out, the other stays. So most people will think that we’re one and the same. I guess,” she looked away, “y-you got tricked, too, so I’m really sorry on her behalf.” 

“L-looks like it,” he cleared his throat. “S-so does Touichiro know who you are?” 

“Yep! And he knew that Yukime can’t come to school now because she’s sick. B-but he has no idea about this thing, coming from you.” 

“Th-that was the plan. I thought he haven’t enjoyed himself in high school so I thought of getting him a girlfriend to inspire him, so I asked help from one of his classmates, who happened to be your sister, and we planned everything. But now…” 

An awkward silence followed, with only the rustling of the wind filling the gap between them. 

“L-let me,” Yurime then spoke, “tell you the truth… Kuroda-kun…” 

His eyes widened. “You know me?” 

“Of course, everyone in Hakone knows you: a sports genius. You can do all kinds of sports and excels in each of them. I first saw you when you helped win our Karate Club where I’m the manager.” 

That is supposed to be an understatement. Of course, the whole Hakone knows a genius like him, that is why he is always in demand by every sports club he helped with. But just last year, he settled for the Bicycle Club upon Touichiro’s recommendation – and he got so hooked with it that he decided to buy his own bike after just trying it… 

And a few hours for now, he’ll be racing against fellow second year and even first year climbers to join the five pre-selected members to join the Inter-High, among them Touichiro, who will be assisting Hayato as the second sprinter. With that, he has to get the spot to show that high and mighty third year he knew that he is more than just labeled as ‘elite’. 

“Anyway,” Yurime continued, “a-about that letter… When Yukime told me about the plan and asked me to write a letter, I thought of one person I can address it to, since she didn’t tell me to whom… And… I was thinking about you while writing that poem… 

That letter… was intended for you, Kuroda-kun.” 

The wind blew harder, and passed between them. It was like the wind and the sky agreed with Yurime’s feelings, while Yukinari went dumb and speechless. Since last year, he refused to answer every letter he gets in his own locker, claiming that he has no time to deal with those girls. But now he’s trapped because of a confession plan that backfired, his brain went to the state of a pending shutdown. 

“Since the day you helped the Karate Club,” she explained, “I’ve been in love with you. But I decided to keep it after learning that you’re the type who rejects every letter you get before giving them a chance to read them. When Yukime asked me to write a letter to someone, I thought of you, so I poured everything in a poem, without thinking who I’m really writing that poem for. But believe me, not even Yukime has an idea about my feelings for you. I… I’d never told this to anybody… Not even to her… 

Kuroda-kun… I know this is ridiculous for me to ask this now, but… Will you please go out with me?” 

Yukinari’s insides began to short-circuit. He couldn’t speak nor even run away. He couldn’t choose either if he has to reject her in a nice way or in a rude way, or accept her feelings in a nice way or in a rude way. Either way, he is done for… 

Good thing, the bell rang, and he left without giving her his answer, leaving the poor girl confused. 

***** 

Thus…  

“Sorry, Manami,” Yukinari said while they were neck and neck, “but this race is for me to win!” 

He raised his speed making the gap wider by five meters, before he fully accelerated to leave the first year behind. 

Sangaku was deeply impressed. “The seniors really are amazing,” he grinned. “Guess I need to be serious, too… 

Here I GO!!!” 

The moment he also accelerated by shifting to a lighter gear and raised his cadence, he managed to get ahead of the second year. When the wind blew in front of them, the pressure he made against the wind created some kind of an illusion that stunned his opponent, helping him go ahead fully by fifteen meters, twenty, twenty-five… and counting. 

“Are those,” Yukinari blinked, “wings…?” 

***** 

A month ago.  

The pain of rejection was still fresh in Sangaku’s memory and heart. Meeting Lovely Kakigami once again after two years was a dream come true – but his immediate confession left a bad taste to his mouth. For the first time in years, he cried in his sleep. 

Maybe it was just too early for him to confess. But then, after finding out the reason why, and with that lost identification card he picked by accident inside her van, he slowly understood her answer. 

This heart… has been chained for years. And I don’t think you have the key.  

And he somehow has the idea who has the key to her chained heart, thus he decided to let the feeling go and instead, focus on what’s important, that his attendance in class and homework status almost went to the worst that worries Maera. So whenever he forgets a homework or he oversleeps, she has to bang his window with a stick to give him a constant reminder. 

And by what he meant the ‘important’ thing, it will be the Inter-High, where he decided to compete in that big race for the first time. 

And now…   

100 meters left to the finish line, and with a gap of 10 meters, Sangaku is in the lead. 

I can’t lose here, Yukirari  gritted his teeth. There’s something I have to prove, and I can’t think  of anything else right now…    

And to think  that  guy’s not here to watch me… Damn, I hate him!  

He also raised his speed like his opponent did, and managed to close the gap between them at a meter. It did impressed the little first year, especially that they have 50 meters left to the finish line. 

You really ke pt up, Kuroda-san, he said to himself, but…  

I will get to the Inter-High. That’s my promise!  

It was an exciting race, especially for those who were following them from the van. Jinpachi has been standing for him to get the best view of the race, excited to see who will win since he has placed his bet on Sangaku. So is Touichiro, who firmly believes Yukinari will win…  

As the two racers get closer to the finish line, the two bettors couldn’t sit anymore out of anticipation. Then, after a few seconds…  

“This is official,” the driver said, who happened to be one of their coaches, “we have a first year to join in the Inter-High. This is first time in history!” 

The moment the first year climber raised his hand and Yukinari saw that indication of a win, he was shaking in both exhaustion and anger. Meanwhile, the van stopped, allowing the members to go down, Jinpachi, of course, was ecstatic to see his mentee win. 

Touichiro just sighed. He knew that his friend did whatever he could to win, but as what everyone says, Sangaku Manami is, definitely, a force to reckon with, and he has this vision: that, in the next three years, he will surpass Jinpachi and will become the next Mountain God…  

But as he was the past to step down from the van, he saw a lavender-colored notebook lying on the vehicle’s floor. He checked his surroundings, later the front cover of the notebook: it has a big number 8 written on it. 

He started to wonder who owns the said notebook with only the number 8 as an indication of ownership. He doesn’t want to open it, either, as he might breech the owner’s privacy. When Hayato called him, he decided to keep the notebook in the meantime to be surrendered to the Lost and Found after practice. 

***** 

After  the race.  

Touichiro found Yukinari sulking in one corner of the locker room, trying to figure out how he lost the race. He understood the feeling, he has been there, but comparing his friend’s skill, it’s impossible for him to lose, and yet he was defeated by a mere first year. 

“You did whatever you can to win,” he tried to cheer him up. “But that Manami’s of a different caliber.” 

“Looks like he is,” he sighed. “He comes to school and practice late, so I’m worried about his attitude. It’s still too early for him.” 

“We both thought about the future of the Bicycle Club that seriously, huh,” and he sat beside him. “By the way,” he thought of changing the subject, “about earlier...” 

“Yeah I know,” Yukinari manages to guess. “I’m sorry. I tried to set you up. But in the end, I was the one being set up...” 

He sighed. “Dude, you know that the Inter-High is what’s important right now. I have no time for those things. I know you’re concerned about me but that’s already way too personal.” 

“Knowing you, you’ve being too serious about everything to the point that you’re not enjoying yourself anymore--” 

“I still do! Like enjoying how I work my body out, how I can take care of Andy and Frank--” 

The light-haired friend just slapped himself. “I should have known...” 

Until he found something tucked on Touichiro’s chest. “What’s that?” he pointed at something lavender. 

“This?” he decided to bring it out. “I’m planning to bring this to the Lost and Found. It’s a notebook I’ve found in the van.” 

It gave the notebook a quizzical look. “Has that being there for hours now, or who were with you in the van at that time?” 

“Let’s see,” he tried to think, “Coach was driving. Fukutomi-san's beside the coach. Shinkai-san's on the left corner. I was beside Toudou-san. But I wasn’t sure for how long this notebook has been sitting inside the van so I’m not sure who among them owns this--” 

“Have you thought of opening it--?” 

“NO WAY! That’s already a breech of one’s privacy and I’m not like that!” 

Both looked at the notebook’s surface. The only clue they have in it is the big number 8 written in front. “Seriously, dude,” Yukinari said, “we can’t tell unless we open the notebook. Maybe the owner’s name’s inside--” 

“No,” Touichiro remained cautious, “we will not open this notebook,” and he tucked it back to his chest. “I’ll bring it to the Lost and Found.” 

Uptight as always, his friend thought. He let the all-muscled friend go to where the Lost and Found section is to surrender the notebook, but if he would have picked it up, he’ll open it just to check who owns it. He’ll not check what’s in it... 

Maybe a little. No harm done, he thought. 

With Touichiro gone, Yukinari decided to go back to the training room to have an overtime of practice, at least to start making up with the loss. As he was about to have his rollers ready, he noticed two seniors, blabbering, looking for something. And he finds them familiar. 

“You sure you left it in the van?” Hayato asked. 

“Sure do,” Jinpachi said, obviously worried. “I have all my notes there, man, I can’t afford to lose it! I might have dropped it at that time, but--” 

“We can try to ask Juichi later. Or maybe Izumida--” 

It was already a giveaway. 

On top of that, when he noticed how the senior climber tried to find the said notebook, he was fully anxious. Until he realized what the number 8 means... 

And with that, he slapped himself again. “His name’s Jinpachi,” he said to himself. “THAT should have been freakin’ obvious.” 

***** 

“What the--!?” 

Contrary to what he stood up for against Yukinari’s wish, Touichiro secretly opened the notebook. Maybe he is right, what if the owner’s name is just inside... 

But instead of the owner’s name, he had read something he wasn’t supposed to read. On top of that, he read something that he knew it already happened before. It wasn’t déjà vu, nor he thought was purely coincidental. And to be sure, they were all dated... 

The information was dated a day or so before that. 

Touichiro is starting to have mixed emotions about it that he decided to confront Yukinari. Right now.

Chapter Text

JUICHI AND MUKAHI

 

One night...  

“You called me?” it has been a month since the Fukutomi household held a meeting, usually this happens if they need to talk about their sons’ futures. Juichi finds it sentimental and tense at the same time. 

“Dad and I were talking about you and the call we got from one of our clients,” his older brother, Juzo, said. 

“A call?” he was curious. 

“Have a seat,” his father invited him, as he sat to the right, just across his older brother. Knowing that they are complete (except for his mother who was still in a university teaching), the patriarch began to speak. 

“Three days ago, I received an invitation from one of our clients to a dinner. We’ve talked about the future of Hakone’s Bicycle Club, and at the same time, your future, Juichi.” 

He raised his eyebrow. 

“You’re already eighteen. It’s time to think about your future as early as now. When I learned that you’re aiming for Meiso University after high school, you don’t have any idea how happy I am. However, we’re also aware of this family’s future if we will ensure our ties to only the best people.” 

He wasn’t reacting much about it, but in his head, he’s not that dumb. He knows what his father is talking about. 

Later, at their father’s signal, Juzo handed a brown folder to Juichi, with a paper inserted inside. He opened the folder… 

His eyes almost went white in shock to find out what lies beneath the said brown folder, while his father’s words slowly dissolving in the air. 

“To ensure your and our family’s future,” his father said, “the client agreed to let you meet their granddaughter. I heard that she once studied in the same middle school as you are. I’m sure you’ll…” 

He couldn’t hear anything, not even the hum of electronics within their home. All he could do is to stare at a familiar girl’s future, as his head kept on telling him about fate while his heart is starting to cry. 

***** 

“Are you saying,” Mukahi’s nightmare came true when her grandmother, the matriarch of the Tsukigawa family, decided to talk to her about her own future. 

“Kagaho is getting weaker and weaker every minute,” the matriarch was prank, “and yet, you’re still sticking yourself to his daughter’s ass like gum. It’s time for you to make yourself useful for this family.” 

She couldn’t talk back. She is dealing with the matriarch, herself. Just one word against her will mean lifetime trouble that even her parents are afraid of her. 

“You know the status of the family you’re still trying to serve,” she continued. “A family that is about to crumble on the ground cannot be served by our family anymore. This is already the new era and we have already established ourselves for years without their help; we cannot distinguish ourselves as their vassals anymore.  

Put this in your head, Mukahi: you are the only daughter and heir to the Tsukigawa Facilities, and yet you have given our family nothing but headache. Now that you’ll be graduating high school, it’s time for you to think about your family’s future. I was only able to tolerate what you did four years ago because you’re still young at that time, but now, I have to interfere since you’re still showing how weak you are.” 

She slid a black folder to the table in front of her. Mukahi immediately understood what this means, that she was already trembling. A nightmare she didn’t thought will also fall on her, just like what happened to her mistress. 

“Do you think I’m that stupid not to know what you’re doing while I’m not watching?” she narrowed her eyes on her own granddaughter. “Don’t you dare test me, young lady. Not a single instance in a second. I know every move you do and every word you say. I’m not doing this to deprive you of your freedom, but if you will keep on defying me, I’ll make sure you’ll never have that freedom ever again. I’m only doing this to protect your future… 

I only want to make sure you’ll not lose your way, and not to follow the steps of your good-for-nothing aunt.” 

She knows that story. Her aunt from her father’s side only followed her heart and marry the person she believed will give her freedom. But it was also the same reason she lost her life. The sad part of it is that her grandmother doesn’t want to acknowledge that she has a daughter just because she longed for what she called ‘false freedom’, even at death. 

“I have coordinated with the family of your,” her grandmother cleared her throat, “alleged boyfriend—” 

“Grandma!?” Mukahi stood up in shock. Knowing what she did, she already crossed the line, however— 

“Sit down, Mukahi,” the matriarch didn’t falter. “I didn’t raise you to lose manners.” 

She has no choice but to sit down. 

“I’m not doing anything yet that you will not approve,” she clarified. “I’m not that kind of person. However, if you’re not doing anything, you will leave me with no choice. But I will give you until a week… 

Break up with Kyutaro Hatanaka, or he will suffer the consequences. I have already arranged a more suitable person who will surely bring you to the right path, and once both of you graduated, you will get married. Do that, and no one will suffer. Not even you. You have my word.” 

Her inner self wanted to scream and defy against the matriarch’s wishes, but the pressure she’s been feeling around her was so great it made her whole body numb. She couldn’t speak, but only her eyes could react. Yet, the matriarch disregarded her tears out of her wish to keep her family. 

“You should be happy that I am trying to save you,” she continued. “I failed to save your aunt, so this time, I have to be firm. It’s for your own good, Mukahi. I will not let you be like her.” 

Knowing that her fate is sealed, she picked the folder with her trembling hands. When she saw what was inside her folder, she felt like she wanted to die now. 

Why…?  Her soul was wailing. Why does it have to be you…  

Fukutomi-kun?  

*****  

A week later.  

“We have managed to get a good place for this year’s training camp,” Juichi announced right after the practice race. “This will be sponsored by Tsukigawa Facilities. I have their representative, Mukahi Tsukigawa from the White Wing Council, who will oversee our training and will report directly to the Council and to their company.” 

Everyone was happy that they will get a much better training center than last year, thanks to Juichi’s effort to pass the budget proposal. In fact, it was on a bigger project, but the Tsukigawa Facilities decided to provide the training center for free as a sign of their utmost support to the Bicycle Club’s captain alone – on a condition to let Mukahi supervise them as their temporary manager to prepare her for bigger roles in the future. 

Except for Hayato who knows the story between them, for Jinpachi who remained shocked that his latest bluff about having a girl sponsor/manager came true, for Sangaku who was, surprisingly, a bit busy after his win against Yukinari, for Touichiro who remained confused, and for Yasutomo who was on a short leave, everyone is happy on the surface news, without realizing the reason behind it. 

And if there are people who are  definitely  not so happy about the situation, it would be the captain and the sponsor, herself. 

***** 

“Please extend my thanks to the Chairman,” Juichi said to Mukahi, a little awkward despite the gratitude. “The training center you have provided has all we need to prepare for the Inter-High.” 

“I’m…glad to be of help,” she just replied, without looking at Juichi at all. 

They already both knew. Few days ago, both parties agreed to let their children meet while keeping themselves quiet over what happened four years ago. Prior to that, Juichi saw Mukahi calling her boyfriend, and was crying. The conversation seemed only ten minutes short, her tears won’t stop falling afterwards. Maybe she was trying to break up with her boyfriend, even if the task was killing her, just to save him from what her grandmother can do. 

The four years of guilt, adding up the pressure of being in Yasutomo’s shoes, only made the world heavier on his shoulders. But he already promised himself to talk to her and get everything straight before it’s too late. 

“Tsukigawa—” 

“I’m fine.” 

It has been four years, and their thoughts are still connected somehow, that Mukahi was still able to read his thoughts. But this is already different from before. 

“I didn’t expect this to happen, either,” Mukahi continued, “but I have to do it—” 

“Are you doing this to save Hatanaka and your relationship?” he asked. She didn’t answer right away. 

“Whatever my decisions are, they are not your concern anymore. Even if—” 

“I know. You really love him. I have no right to question that. And if you’re confused with what’s happening, so am I.” 

Instead of making her feel relieved, Mukahi felt more weight in her heart, thinking that Juichi has no place to say he is also as confused as her. 

“You don’t have to do this,” he went on. “I can let them know that—” 

“Don’t act like you really care.” 

She is already fed up by his words. It was the same as four years ago. And she is tired of hearing anything from him. 

“Are you still angry about—” 

“It has been four years, why are you still bringing up what’s already dead!?” 

“If you can let me explain—” 

“I don’t want you to explain now! Because it’s been FOUR DAMN YEARS, Fukutomi!” 

For Mukahi, there is no reason to dig up what was already been buried. The issue between them is already dead. And she is just furious thinking that he is just making an excuse four years in the making. 

“It’s you and that blasted honor of yours,” she started to sob. “I even thought you know my feelings… Why… Why didn’t you show up…? Why can’t you make your own decisions for once…? If only… If only Hatanaka-kun didn’t show up and confessed to me… He’ll be safer… He’ll never get involved in me and my problem… I’ve waited… But where were you when I needed you…?  

It’s all your fault… I can’t defy my family anymore to protect him… And this is all because of you…!” 

He may admit it or not, Mukahi is right. He chose to do something over her feelings, but then he tried his best to get to her. He knew he did. And yet he couldn’t tell her because he feared that she will not listen at all. 

And all he could say to her was “I’m sorry.” 

For the past four years, he has hurt three people: she, during their last year in middle school, Shingo Kinjou, during last year’s Inter-High. Most of all…  

Himself, in the entire four years. 

“Can we just,” Mukahi took a deep breath, “pretend that we didn’t know each other since middle school, that we’ve only met this year, and we’re trying to please our families? Do that, and we’re good. You won’t hear any complaints from me, and I will not hear anything from you.” 

Then she wiped her own tears before handing him a clipboard. 

“Here’s the entire map of the center. Make sure your teammates will be able to familiarize themselves with the place. At the back will be the course you’ll be using for your practice race. As the Captain, you should memorize every nook and cranny of this place. After all, the whole team is counting on you. 

Don’t make them down like what you did to me before.” 

She left him like they didn’t talk about anything else, leaving Juichi staring at the entire map on the clipboard. The moment her image couldn’t be traced anymore, his eyes then gave up and upon realization, the map was already stained with tears. Several realizations began to knock him in his head one by one, hurting himself by reminding what he has done for the past four years. 

I’m, his mind said, really weak… Whatever I do… I’m always weak…  

However, none of them know that someone saw everything and heard every sentence and word while hiding in one corner of the building, where he couldn’t help but to pity not Mukahi, but the man whom everyone thought was a fault, that the reason behind the extravagance of their training program have come to light. 

***** 

“What the hell are you saying!?” Yukinari raised his eyebrow when an angry Touichiro faced him. “I used someone to set you up!?” 

“Admit it!” he was a bit furious. “I thought you’re my friend!? You know that I have no time with having a girlfriend thing and you did something despicable behind my back!?” 

“Dude, listen – that was all my doing, I didn’t involve anyone else! You can even ask your twin classmates--!” 

But then he froze. The all-muscled sprinter has not mentioned much on who set up the confession thing, but the light-haired friend seemed alarmed especially when he remembered the notebook Touichiro was about to surrender to the Lost and Found office. 

“Did you read the notebook?” he asked him with narrowed eyes. 

“No!” Touichiro claimed it. “I was only looking for the owner’s name as you suggested--” 

“And you came across something there, is that right?” 

“How the heck did you know!?” and he showed the notebook. “Don’t tell me someone you know owns this--!” 

“That’s Toudou-san's notebook,” he finally admitted. “You should notice the big number 8 written upfront!” 

He paused for a while. When he tried to figure out what that number 8 means and how it became connected to Jinpachi, slowly he realized what Yukinari meant to the point that he wanted to slap himself for being that slow. 

“And I’m telling you right now,” his climber friend continued, “Toudou-san has nothing to do with my plan! He  never  approached me or something – unless he heard me planning all that – but I don’t think that will be likely to happen because the plan was made when Yukime Uno came to my classroom!” 

He still wanted to believe that Yukinari is telling the truth, so he opened the notebook, on the page where he found the part where the plan happened, which shocked him because-- 

“I thought you don’t wanna open that notebook!?” he gasped. “You’re breaking your own rule, man!” 

“Will you please shut up!?” Touichiro just hushed him as he read through the entire plot. He couldn’t say if it was surprisingly accurate except for some parts that he knew it happened today, so he has to show it to his friend whom he still finds guilty. “Here! Read it! Tell me if you didn’t use Toudou-san in this!” 

He followed and read the plot. As he went through that particular page, his eyes slowly widened and his mouth began to open with a big O out of disbelief. 

“I really swear, man,” he said. “Toudou-san has nothing to do with this. There’s even a date,” and he pointed at the date as to when it was written. “This was written yesterday. And I planned the proposal with Yukime Uno a week ago. It’s either he heard us or he just wrote this out of hand – but I’m telling you, it’s less likely for him to hear us because there are people in our classroom at that time. With the noise they’re creating, he can’t just hear us loud and clear – unless he has this sonic hearing thing--” 

“Honestly, Yukinari, I’m damn tired of your excuses,” and Touichiro snatched the notebook from him. “That’s it, I’m going to talk to Toudou-san--” 

“You don’t have to go that far,” Yukinari just sighed. “There he is,” he pointed at the owner of the notebook, talking to Hayato, “and hear it for yourself.” 

Touichiro was really determined to find out if Yukinari is telling the truth or there is more behind that notebook. Without having second thoughts, he decided to confront Jinpachi alone. 

***** 

“Izumida’s the only person we haven’t talked to,” Hayato said as he helped Jinpachi find the notebook by asking both the Coach and Juichi a few minutes ago. “Knowing him, he might have gone to the Lost and Found office – if he actually found the notebook.” 

“Let’s hope for the best,” he sighed. “I really appreciate your help, Shinkai. Can’t live without it.” 

“Anytime! I’m heading to the dorm now. Catch you tomorrow!” 

As the ace sprinter left, Jinpachi left with no choice but to check the Lost and Found Office – if Hayato is right about Touichiro. However, as he was about to go, Touichiro, himself, approached him, with a concerned face: 

“Toudou-san,” he seemed he has something urgent to say, “we need to talk.”

Chapter Text

JINPACHI AND TOUICHIRO

 

“Toudou-san, we need to talk.” 

Jinpachi finds it bold for Touichiro Izumida to just show up and demanded to talk to him. But whatever his reason is, he has to address it as a senior. 

“Sup?” he asked. 

Without further ado, he immediately returned the missing notebook to its rightful owner, to the owner’s surprise (but it shouldn’t be surprising because in the first place, he already guessed where his notebook might be) while receiving it. 

“So you have the notebook after all,” he sighed. “Thanks, man. But lemme guess, judging by how you wanna talk to me... you’ve read this, haven’t you?” 

“Well, first of all,” he cleared his throat, “I apologize for prying into your privacy. But there is something in that story that caught my attention. And that is what I would like to talk about.” 

“Lemme guess that also,” he tried to guess again, “you’ve read the proposal thing, the one you told me before--” 

“Did you really collaborated with Yuki – I mean, Kuroda-kun regarding that planned proposal!?” 

He glared with the curious second year at first, which made Touichiro step back out of fear. He is still talking to a senior, that he has to tone himself down. But his glare later softened. He felt like he was already cornered, there is no reason for him to hide from a second year, thus he decided... 

“Since you’ve read part of it,” he said, “I’ll tell you everything as my treat. But by doing that, you’ll now be entering a contract with me. Tell one thing to any of them and I’ll do whatever I can to  shut you up .” 

Whether it is a playful contract or something where his life will be at stake, Touichiro still agreed, and signed in to the invisible contract assuring that what they will talk about that day will stay between them, and nowhere else. 

***** 

As an initial treat, Jinpachi let Touichiro read the entire contents of his notebook to help him understand what happened especially during that lunchtime. As he read through every page of the notebook, his expression gradually changed to utmost shock. There are parts in his stories which he finds familiar, and only made him more confused.  

“I don’t... understand,” he kept on skimming each written page, “you’ve wrote these before they happened – or did you wrote this knowing they happened before!? It’s like you’re able to guess what happened to us a day or so ago!” 

“Well,” Jinpachi tried to explain, “to make it clear, I never knew they already happened long before I wrote them as plots for my novel. Fuku and that secretary’s story inspired me to write another novel, but since then, things went south, starting from Arakita’s engagement. Mind you, I didn’t add any names there yet! And to find out if my hunch is right about those stories coming true in some sense... 

I somehow did an experiment and used you and Kuroda and those two girls you knew as ‘characters’ to that story. And don’t worry, Kuroda didn’t hit any copyright infringement, nor I have involvement in his proposal plan to help you.” 

Touichiro felt his own muscles deflating out of disbelief. He once heard a story about a writer who has an ability to make his stories come to life, which put the world into chaos. But in the case of Jinpachi, the stories already happened long before he wrote them – and to top that, he wasn’t there, nor he wasn’t been into their lives when those things happened. 

The biggest question now is “H-how did that happened?” his voice weakened. “you  never  met them before,  but you wrote them like you have seen their past through a time machine--” 

“Unbelievable, huh?” he smirked, but deep inside, he is starting to get scared. “All I did is to observe people, while thinking about Fuku’s story. But I thought, what if I use that ‘ability’ I’ve discovered to help them realize how stupid they are when it comes to their feelings? I can’t finish them because I’m looking for their opinion about it. I thought that I’m just a tool to help them realize their actions. After all, it’s  their  story, except that I’m using my own characters to see themselves into.” 

It was still confusing, at least for Touichiro, but somehow he was able to get the senior climber’s drift. If these stories were all part of his daily observations to some characters, with the exception of Juichi and Mukahi’s story because Hayato told him part of it, he couldn’t help but to admire that kind of skill. It is like something detectives like Sherlock Holmes possess. 

“You’re doing this to help them realize their feelings,” he guessed, “including Kuroda-kun's?” 

“Even the last one only started as my experiment,” Jinpachi replied, “yep, including his. Now that you know, what will you do? Planning to stop me?” 

He tried to read the all-muscled sprinter’s thoughts. He might be up to something, he thought, considering that he has pecs that have minds of their own. 

“N-no,” Touichiro replied. “Honestly, I really thought that you’re involved with Yuki’s scheme, so I sincerely apologize for my behavior earlier,” he bowed. “But now I understand somehow what is happening, I decided... 

If you need help in helping out with our teammates’ relationships, you can count on me!” 

Is he actually offering his services regarding gathering materials for his novel? Jinpachi kept on blinking. He couldn’t get what was on Touichiro’s mind that he decided to help. If this concerns what was in the notebook, he will understand. But if not, then what is he after? 

“Why do you now want to help me?” he couldn’t help but to ask. 

“Before I tell you why,” Touichiro responded, “can I tell you what’s on my mind?” 

“Shoot it.” 

His face turned serious. “Considering that Fukutomi-san has that issue with Tsukigawa-san four years ago, I’ve been thinking... Putting her boyfriend in the picture, if ever you will suceed in bringing them back together, what will be of her boyfriend, then? And let’s say one day, he will call her to break up with her either because of Fukutomi-san or because he wants to save himself?” 

It was the longest silence he heard within their spot. And come to think of it, he never thought about that possibility. He totally forgot about Mukahi’s boyfriend, Hatanaka. What if he’ll break out with her out of a.) fear for his life,  b.) to protect her,or c.) Juichi? All he thought was a possibility of Mukahi breaking up with him by force, if he will think about his character’s perspective with the same story as her. 

“Another thing,” Touichiro isn’t done yet, “if the lone wolf guy is Arakita-san, the chained princess is Kagaho-san, and the oblivious guy is Manami, I’ve been thinking also: would there be a possibility that the lone wolf will end up being rejected by the oblivious guy’s cute neighbor not just because she’s been in love with the oblivious guy for years, but because she knew that the chained princess has been in love with him for years? Or if those girls will end up deciding like Tsukigawa-san, they would probably end up with the wrong guy and that will not solve anything, would it? 

And lastly, about Yuki’s decision whether he will accept Yurime-kun's feelings or reject it... If he will reject it, ever thought of what Yurime-kun might do aftewards?” 

Jinpachi has been amazed by Touichiro several times, during training, and now, during his quest to help people’s relationships in peril. If this is because of his muscles, or what happened during lunchtime, he would like to thank them as well. For that... 

He extended his hand. 

“You’ve exceeded my expectations after reading my stories,” he smirked. “The contract will remain in effect, but can I count on you on my quest from now on, Izumida?” 

This could only mean one thing: Jinpachi accepted Touichiro’s offer. Maybe he could put his muscles into good use to help those affected people, while he, himself, still has to figure out how he did those guesses and end up 99% accurate. With that, he didn’t take a second thought to reach out for his hand... 

“Yes, Sir!” 

But as they shook hands in agreement, Hayato suddenly showed up, a bit grim, for some reason. Their hearts almost jumped when he appeared in front of them. 

“I thought you went back to the dorm!?” Jinpachi even scolded him, but his expression remained grim. 

“Sorry,” he began, “I heard everything while I was about to head home,” and he faced Jinpachi. “Since that is the case... 

Jinpachi... I need your help. It’s about Juichi and Mukahi.” 

Chapter Text

JINPACHI AND MUKAHI

 

The handmaid, suffering from heartbreak from four years ago, has received a more devastating news, which made her decide she already had enough.  

She, who came from a prominent family of architects and homebuilders, were ordered to severe her ties to the person who loved her as her, one who waited for her and cherished her unconditionally, as that man isn’t fit to be in their family fortune, as the matriarch thought. As much as she wanted to protest, making sure she will not suffer the same fate as the chained princess, the matriarch threatened to make the man she loved suffer if she will refuse. Because of her love for the said man, she has no choice but to comply.  

The matriarch gave her a folder containing the picture of the man she is destined to marry. The moment she opened it, she felt her own world crumbling into dust. To think that the man she needed to marry is the same man who broke her heart four years ago made her want to end her life as soon as possible – but then, what will happen to the man she already learned to love for the past four years?  

To protect her love, she agreed, even if this will mean hurting each other in the process. She decided to let her lover know of her fate, but she wasn’t sure how she will bring the new up out of fear for his life – without realizing that she has slowly forgotten her duty to break up with him, unknowingly making him closer to danger.  

***** 

"If it isn’t Vice-Captain Toudou-kun,” Mukahi was a bit surprised when Jinpachi waved at her during a break, and later decided to join her under the shed. “Are you taking a break?” 

“Yep, everybody needs one,” Jinpachi said, gulping a whole bottle of water. “Looks like our Captain’s giving you a hard time.” 

The moment he mentioned Juichi, she fidgeted a bit, but only for good five seconds so no one would notice.  

“Not really,” she replied. “I’ve been within the White Wing Council’s room for the past two years. Being your manager is fresh for me and I’m enjoying it so far, even for just a short time...” 

“Really?” he couldn’t help but to whistle. “Say, Tsukigawa-chan, are you not part of any club aside from the White Wing?” 

“Well,” it was a nice day and this very sociable Vice-Captain would just like to have someone to talk to, so she thought of killing some time with him. After all, being even just a temporary manager is already a pain in the neck even on her first day of the Bicycle Club’s Training Camp, “I been part of Judo Club way back in middle school but an injury prevented me since then, thus I’ve been a part of the White Wings,” she admitted “I’m also running the disciplinary committee, but right now I have to give the job to my lowerclassmen for now to be here.” 

“You’re a badass!” he whistled. “But it’s sad that you have to give up your athletic career because of that injury and ended up stuck in the Council Room, I mean, ain’t that boring?” 

“For some, yes, but if you’re used to it, like me, you’ll think that you’re thankful that this is what you can only do while you’re still in high school.” 

For some reason, Jinpachi couldn’t help but to chuckle, much to Mukahi’s confusion. “You know,” he said, “you sounded like one of my MCs in a novel I’m working.” 

“M... C?” she blinked. “You’re... writing novels?” 

“Surprised?” he grinned. “It became a habit of mine after our class project. Too bad I can’t be part of the Literature Club because, you know, school glory first.” 

But Mukahi has no idea that Jinpachi is starting to ‘work’, as what Hayato asked him to do, to use his ability to help people using ‘his characters bearing the same situation as real people’. If she will fall into it, he will learn the truth, even if he doesn’t need to talk to Juichi anymore. 

***** 

Two days ago.  

“You need my help!?” Jinpachi pointed at himself when Hayato approached him just right after Touichiro made a pact with him to help as well. “And about Fuku and the White Princess’ secretary!? Why me!?” 

“Well, remember,” Hayato let him recall, “you called me last time about Juichi and Mukahi’s story when you saw them together in the hallway. So I thought of getting back my payment.” 

The poor all-muscled second year looked at his seniors is confusion. “S-so you know about Fukutomi-san's story, Shinkai-san!?” he asked. 

“I never thought you’ll get involved in this, too, but yeah... Although he didn’t say more details about it. But I’ve heard what you’re talking about,” and he looked at the notebook in which was already in Jinpachi’s possession. “That notebook has more than just mere information – it's the alleged novel you’re working on, right, Jinpachi?” 

“Well... yeah,” he nodded. “But--” 

“Can I read it?” 

“WHAT!?” he suddenly turned defensive as he hide his notebook away from him. “Dude, I can definitely share with you what I know, but reading my notes is already a breach of my privacy – I mean, Izumida already committed a crime if I didn’t--” 

“Well, you asked me details about Juichi’s story, so you have to pay me with yours.” 

He never though that this ace sprinter can also be persistent – well, he already knew how persistent he is when it comes to anything he likes. But this case is different, when someone is already curious about a novel which is still in the works. There is nothing wrong sharing it by word of mouth, but he admitted to himself that he has a terrible handwriting which it is already considered a miracle that Touichiro was able to read the entirety of the notebook without complaints. Besides, he let him read his notebook, so why can’t Hayato? 

Feeling defeated, he gave him the notebook, and he began to read each page. Gradually, just like Touichiro, his reaction became visible – he was obviously in shock with what he read. 

“Are you saying,” he tried to guess while reading the pages, “you’ve predicted Yasutomo’s past and engagement through a story... And you’ve even predicted Juichi’s engagement with Mukahi here!?” 

The two looked at each other in both confusion and shock. “A-are you saying that Fukutomi-san and Tsukigawa-san really has a past and they’re also engaged!?” Touichiro’s eyes widened. 

“How the heck are you sure about that!?” Jinpachi raised his eyebrow. 

“That’s why I need your help,” the ace climber admitted, “to confirm if what you’ve written about them are true--” 

“Look, dude, I don’t think you’re running to the right person – I'm no Nostradamus nor the Oracle at Delphi! And my characters are not them, okay, I’m just basing them – well, Fuku and that secretary’s an exception. And now Arakita thought I’m prying into their own business but I really don’t know their past at all! It’s all based on my observations! Trust me, Shinkai, I’m not that kind of person!” 

Hayato has never seen his regal-mannered teammate that defensive. Obviously, he also has no idea what really happened and what is actually happening whenever he lifts his pen and jots down his notes or whenever he puts something on the Memos app. It was like it was purely coincidental that his stories, where he based his own teammates from, includes a story that accurately happened in the past or just recently – which, for him, is already as creepy as writing a story and magically gets real right away. 

“I can testify for Toudou-san,” Touichiro finally stepped up. “He recently used me and Yuki – I mean, Kuroda-kun, and my twin classmates to conduct an experiment by writing a story about us based on his observations. And those stories were dated – I think they are evidence enough that he only wrote them, not predicting them that it already happened. And if he did predicted them, I don’t think he mean it at all. If you want to find out what happened to me and Kuroda-kun, you’re free to read his latest plot.” 

So he followed what his junior suggested. When he read the latest plot, it only made him raise his eyebrow. But to hear Touichiro’s testimony is more than enough for him to get more reasons to ask help from the storyteller, himself. 

“This is the main reason why I need your help,” Hayato said. “All you need to do is to confirm everything from her. If your hunch is right, then that’s the time that you have to use your resources. It’s your chance to find out if your story about her is accurate – or at least about the character you’re building... 

You said before, you wanted to do something to these people before graduation. Why not use this chance?” 

Jinpachi blinked, because he never told him the reason why he was doing all the bluffs and stuff in the first place. He was trying to make a purpose, but got distracted upon discovering his ability to guess people’s pasts and presents accurately just by observing their interaction. For that, he couldn’t help but to ask... 

“I didn’t tell you anything about my goal,” he noticed. “Don’t tell me you also have--” 

“Nope,” Hayato denied his guess. “You know how much I love mysteries, so I’ve been observing you for quite a while and I thought of helping you in this. Plus, I’m not alone... 

I texted Yusuke and gave me a clue. And we talked about it.” 

He couldn’t believe it, not because how Hayato got Yusuke’s number, but because how he has been trying to reach out to Jinpachi after observing his out-of-character behavior. He also forgot that he loves reading mystery novels, thus he learned about his secret dilemma from reading those, just as how much he got hooked from his sister’s romance novels. 

He smirked, as he didn’t expect Yusuke to be as sneaky as how he used his Sleeping Beauty technique during races, but he felt quite contented because at least, there are two more people now who share his passion for writing, but of those three people, maybe Yusuke has no idea about his ‘ability’ yet – unless Hayato already told him about it, or has the idea of it. 

***** 

And so...  

The Training Camp came and the entire 50-men team (minus Yasutomo) arrived to the training center 1,500 kilometers from Hakone, owned by Mukahi’s family as part of their agreement with Juichi’s family. Everyone went in awe to see the entire facility – and the course, itself, is the same as what he usually trek in Mt. Hakone, only that the woods are thicker and the road is steeper, good enough for the core members to push themselves to their limits.  

The training center is also bigger than the last one they visited, it can house a hundred guests, has fifteen big rooms that can accommodate up to twenty people per room, an insanely huge common bathhouse, gym, indoor course, ballroom-sized dining area and kitchen, an office, main stage, and recreation area. The entire center is enough to unleash each and everyone’s full potential, whether they will participate in the Inter-High or not. 

It is still the first day, but Juichi already went down to business as he instructed the entire team to change and warm up after unpacking their things. After warming up, the team has been divided into all-rounders, sprinters and climbers, regardless of their year level, to trek the course – and to compete each other, which took at least two and a half hours. Then he immediately called the core members to run the entire course three times before allowing them to take a break. 

The first day is already hell, or that was Jinpachi thought. Good thing he saw Mukahi, in one of the sheds, recording their progress as part of her job, and decided to interview her about his story – which Hayato told him to do so to confirm if what he has previously written is true about her and Juichi. 

“So this main character you’re developing,” Mukahi got curious. “Can you tell me more about him--?” 

Her, actually,” Jinpachi corrected her. “Here’s her story... 

Once upon a time, there’s this girl who has been best friends with a boy. They’ve been friends since grade school. They may have different tastes, but they understand each other to the point that they guess what one wants and what the other thinks. However, there is one thing that they can’t guess each other... 

Their hearts.” 

Mukahi’s smile faded. She heard this story before, but she decided to keep quiet about it and keep on listening. 

“That being said,” Jinpachi continued, “no one could guess how they feel with each other. As far as she knows, she’s been in love with him for God knows how long. Problem is, she couldn’t get the right timing to tell him, but she was confident that she will let him know sooner or later. She was determined that her feelings will reach him before they could even reach high school, that is why... 

When he told her that he wanted to say something to her before an important event, she couldn’t contain her excitement. But then... her hopes were crushed when that guy didn’t show up the first time. And that has been happening several times during those events, to the point that she is starting to get tired.” 

Mukahi was certain. It wasn’t just Jinpachi’s main character’s background story he was talking about. It was her story. But how he learned about it is something suspicious, since he is part of the Bicycle Club, and above all, their Vice-Captain. But she decided to control herself for a little bit. Maybe it’s just coincidence. 

“And on the last event, they were supposed to meet, but once again, the boy didn’t show up. From there, she knew, her feelings didn’t reach him, it never did in the first place. But then, from a distance, another guy has been watching her from afar, admiring everything she does. He was in love with the main character from the start, but just as how stupid she was not to step up a bit to tell her feelings to the guy she once loved, the witness was also shy. But he got his chance when he saw her all alone, crying. That was when she finally decided not to wait for him anymore. After all, she is tired. And it was already certain. So... 

She gave her feelings instead to the witness who has been in love with her from the start. And from a text, everything is already over between two ex-best friends – or so she thought--” 

“Please. Stop.” 

And he stopped. He noticed Mukahi’s grim expression and the shaking of her voice the moment she told him to stop. Jinpachi is aware of that kind of reaction because he has seen it in Eriko before. This could only mean one thing... 

“Y-you okay, Tsukigawa-chan?” he tried to check on her. “Y-you don’t have to get into it, that’s just one of my character’s background story--” 

“Where did you get that idea?” Mukahi asked, although she was only trying to be as calm as possible.  

“Uh, that ?” she was pertaining to the main character’s story. “J-just made up. Y-you see, my sister loves reading those kind of stuff. Heavy romantic stuff. Those kinds of stories exists in real life, too, that’s why they are also some kind of common tropes for love stories. Am I really that believable?” 

She stopped shaking, and hoping that it was just a believable story, yet the character gets into her by the story, itself. She can’t let him know that what he was telling her is the same story she has, or else it will be obvious that Juichi might have told him about it. It will be a mess on both parties. 

She took a deep breath. “Please continue,” she said. “You said... she thought it was already over between her and her... best friend, right?” 

“Oh, yeah,” since he was asking him to continue, Jinpachi thought he’ll go all out. “Here’s the catch: it was supposed to be over between her and that guy, after all, it was already been four years, but then her family told her it’s time for her to settle down once she graduates. They even gave her a picture of someone they’ve already spoke of for her to marry for whatever reason they have. And with that, they pressured her to break up with her current boyfriend for the sake of engagement, or else the poor guy will be in trouble. The guy that they wanted her to marry... 

Is the same guy who hurt her feelings four years ago--” 

She banged the table and stood up. She has heard enough. 

Judging by how shocked Mukahi’s face was, Jinpachi gulped his own saliva at one thought...  

Holy crap, so it’s really true!?  

“Tsu...Tsukigawa-chan,” he called her, “are you...okay...?” 

She can’t react violently now. She has to calm down. This Jinpachi Toudou knows everything, and how that happened is something she still has to confirm with Juichi later. She already has a suspicion that he told the entire story to only a handful of the teammates he trusted the most. 

She would understand if Yasutomo is present in the camp, but he is currently with Eriko for some business to attend to. She has to be certain that Juichi is behind all this casual talk that he used his own teammate to get her side.  

“Th-that was,” she cannot be obvious to him, “an incredible plot for a background story... It was... believable to the point that I thought you were pointing at me at the start of it... If... If there’s someone who has a story similar to what you’ve told me, they would probably hate you and ask you, how the hell did you know? Something like that...” 

Jinpachi chuckled, but deep inside, he is about to die. “People says that a lot,” he said, looking away. “Well, since we’re here, I would like to ask your opinion about her story.” 

She blinked. “M-my opinion?” which is odd, that this storyteller is asking an opinion about her own story. “Wh-why? What about it?” 

“Well... Since it’s still just a plot to the story, I thought it will be best to keep it moving, so I thought of asking your opinion since you’ve already heard of it,” and he thought quickly. “If you’re the girl in the story, what would you do and how would you feel about that twist?” 

She looked at Jinpachi with disbelief, now that he has the nerve to ask her how she felt about the story – her own story, to be exact? She doesn’t even know what his motives are anymore, but she is convinced that obviously, someone is behind this setup. 

“W-well,” she took a deep breath, “if I’m that girl, I’ll resent them. Especially that guy who left me for his own dream.” 

He didn’t react. It was an expected answer coming from her. 

“If I’m that girl,” she continued, “I will  not  forgive that guy. He should know how I feel, or at least he should have tried to know, that I’ve been trying to keep it to save it on a special day. But every time I get a chance, he will not show up. You could imagine that girl’s frustration since you’re writing the story. And even, let’s say, their families agreed for them to be married for convenience, she will have no choice but to leave her new love behind to protect him. What if her family will do something to her boyfriend without her knowing just for her to be forced to be with the guy she thought she can finally get over with? It’s like fate is still forcing them to be together even though it’s already impossible. That guy ruined the girl’s feelings from the start!” 

Jinpachi just observed how she explained her opinion, without a trace of surprise since that was already an expected answer from her. And as what Hayato mentioned to him, she has been resentful to Juichi for four years and counting – without hearing his side.  

“You have a point there,” he pretended to agree. “Now... what if you’re the guy she is resenting? What would you do?” 

It was a trick question. Why would he ask that to a girl? Mukahi just scoffed. “Should you ask that question to a guy?” she asked. “You’re a guy, yourself. If you’re him, what would you do?” 

“Hm, good point,” Mukahi is smart, he thought. So he decided to answer his own question. “If I’m the guy... I’ll definitely apologize, and if possible, convince her to listen to me... that I love her from the start.” 

She raised her eyebrow. 

“Maybe she’ll raise her eyebrow as well like you did with my answer, but I would say... Before she could judge his past actions, she should know first the reason behind it. I think, the more she will resent the guy, the more she’ll never listen, until her heart will stop listening for good. If I’m that guy, I’ll let her know not just how sorry I am, but to let her know how much I love her, if not for some circumstances that prevented me from letting her know. I wanted to let her know how weak I really am, and since I’m weak, I wanted to be with someone who will be strong enough to carry me anywhere. I believe... 

That someone... is that girl I’ve hurt several times without me realizing it until I was too late.” 

Her eyebrow slowly went down, and Mukahi just looked at her with a mix of pain and confusion. Part of her is saying that Juichi will not, and will never be, that kind of person who would say how weak he is. But part of her is saying to give the guy another chance to redeem himself, if he has been in love with her from the start.  

That unexpected explanation from Jinpachi made her bit her lip and thank deeply – even though they’re only talking about a plot in the novel he is making, or so she thought. 

“Well, breaktime is over,” he suddenly stood up and stretched herself. “It was nice talking to you, Tsukigawa-chan,” he grinned. “I never thought I’ll gain another future avid reader of mine! Geez, am I really  that  gifted?” 

Mukahi watched him carefully. Did he really only made up the story, or did he really knew something about her and Juichi? Judging by how he acted, Mukahi wasn’t sure anymore if this was part of his plan, or if he really has no idea. Because with the fifteen minutes they have spent together within the shed, she noticed that he never mentioned Juichi from the time he started the story. 

...And wait, did he mentioned another

“W-wait,” she stood up, “Toudou-kun!” 

“Yes?” 

“Y-you mentioned that there’s another person who has listened to your plot.” 

“Ah, right!” he clapped his own hand. “I totally forgot, you’re the White Princess’ attendant, right?” 

She went pale. When did Eriko got involved in Jinpachi’s story? The moment he mentioned the White Princess, several possibilities came into her mind. If he managed to get in touch with her, is it because of Yasutomo – since he’s also his teammate?  

But as far as she knew, Eriko has no idea about Mukahi’s engagement just yet. She was just about to tell her once she gets back. So she firmly believed, Juichi told him everything

“She liked it so much that she asked my number for me to tell her more,” Jinpachi said proudly. “She couldn’t wait for part three, though! What about you?” 

Although she has no idea how Eriko, herself, got involved with Jinpachi, she decided to step out of it. After all, she will learn everything from the Young Mistress, herself. “I think I’ll pass,” she declined. “I’m sorry. But I’ll be rooting for your progress, Toudou-kun. Maybe some other time?” 

“Suit yourself,” he said as he headed back to the camp. “You might even find my book somewhere in the bookstores someday!” 

As soon as he faded in the horizon, Mukahi’s steady feeling slowly grew into fear. Why would she listen to someone who is siding with the man who has hurt her several times? She stood up to finish her report somewhere more quiet... 

When she found Juichi, almost done with his laps. 

“Fukutomi,” she was furious, “we need to talk.” 

That was new, and to see Mukahi that furious, he wasn’t even surprised anymore. But whatever her reason is for being upset, he has to listen, even if he, himself, needs to rest from today’s training. 

“Is something wrong?” he asked-- 

“Don’t pretend that you don’t know,” Mukahi went straight to the point. “Why did you tell them everything about us!?” 

He narrowed his eyes.  

“I said don’t pretend,” she glared. “Why did you do that!? To gain sympathy!? To make them think I’m the bad one here!? You know who’s the real victim here, Juichi! You’re just doing the same thing all over so they’ll look at you like you need some serious help!” 

But the accusations didn’t falter him. In fact, it only made him confused. “What are you,” he asked, “talked about... Tsukigawa?” 

“Are you serious!?” she flung her hand in the air. “Someone from your team confronted me by telling me a silly story about my past and what happened to us! It’s like he’s trying to tell me who’s the real in the wrong here, like they look at me as the entire Bicycle Club’s enemy! And here you are with a nerve to tell me that I DON’T KNOW WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT!?” 

But she stopped to notice Juichi’s face: it’s the face of someone who really has no idea what she was talking about to the point that she stepped back. However... 

“Tell me,” he said. “Who told you that?” 

She couldn’t answer right away. She could tell in his face: he isn’t joking. But the story was so to the point that she thought that Juichi really complained about his past with them. Especially when he asked in a serious tone who that person is. 

“I know that our past isn’t that good,” he told her, “but I’m not the type who shares secrets, whether my own or others’. It’s something in the past that needs to cast away even if I, myself, didn’t want to. So, tell me... 

Who told you that?” 

From there, Mukahi was convinced: it was all coincidence. The story she heard from Jinpachi are nothing but made-up ones, yet terrifying to a point that they were accurate to her own. It was like he was able to guess her past in just a glance, but how he did it was already out of her comprehension. 

But then, she decided to tell her who talked to her a while ago. Maybe he could help her shut him up and move on, just to protect her own business and his. 

“It’s,” she sighed, “Toudou. Your Vice-Captain, Jinpachi Toudou.”

Chapter Text

JINPACHI AND JUICHI

 

The ace warrior, known for his formidable strength, feared even by his own rivals, has a painful secret that he only shared it to his fellow ace, his confidante for six years.  

Once upon a time, he met a girl, thanks to his confidante, who recommended her to be part of their team. She was beautiful, with dual-colored short hair, and a regal smile like Mona Lisa. But more than that, something strike him so hard about her that he wanted to know more with his confidante’s help.  

The said mysterious girl has physical and mental strength that he admired from afar. The world of judo feared her, and was not afraid to tell her own feelings and opinions. Those qualities are just a few of the reasons why the ace warrior took the courage to talk to her for the first time, and from there, as they say, the rest is history.  

He and this girl became the best of friends, to the point that they can almost read each other’s minds. Their club became stronger with her around, strategizing every possibility for his and everyone’s benefit. Their chemistry was so on point, they thought that they can be cute as a couple...  

And when the girl heard about those rumors, she thought, she even hoped, that it is true. Because, from the very start, the girl is starting to fall in love with the ace. Ironically, as much as she would want to tell him her feelings, her fear of rejection is kicking her in. When it comes to matters of the heart, it is something she could consider her own weakness...  

Unknowingly, the ace felt the same thing for her. However, tradition and family pressure are preventing him to be free of his own opinions and speech, leaving with no choice but to be his family’s greatest asset to ensure their future as the most feared warriors in history. His family expects nothing from him but to bring glory and honor, and better yet, if he can surpass what they have done in the past. It is something he has to do to gain their favor more, in hopes that it will be his key to gain enough power to exercise his right as a man in love...  

But as he did whatever his family dictates him to do, the girl interpreted it as something else. She thought, for him, nothing is better than to defend the school’s -- and own pride in every race he is into, and disregarding anything else, including her and their friendship. That is why when he suddenly said to her that he wants to say something after the race, she couldn’t contain her heart in excitement. The ace as well, he couldn’t help but to let her know how he felt before they even graduate middle school...  

But whenever they had a chance, the ace’s mother, a proud disciplinarian, decided to personally take her youngest son to every opportunity she can see, because she, herself, saw a bigger opportunity – as several high schools began to watch him to scout him in their team, among them the school where his father and older brother once graduated.  

These kinds of missed opportunities left the poor girl waiting for nothing – until that last race came. It was his last chance to tell her – but once again, his mother interfered, unknowingly, that he has lost track of time and was unable to know that he couldn’t make it once again. And he joined the race – and won, as his mother would expect from him.   

But then, after the race, he immediately left the ceremony without letting his mother where he will be going – to go back to the girl who has been waiting for him since forever – only to find her kissing another guy, the witness who has been in love with her from the start. Thus the start of their suffering. There was no closure, as how they parted ways after that incident, even after graduation, and after they, unexpectedly, went to the same school – like Fate wanted to find a way to bring them back together for a closure, before the girl closes her heart from him forever.  

***** 

The night after their first day of training camp, Jinpachi, Hayato and Touichiro talked about their discovery about the real score between Mukahi and their captain, in which they both couldn’t believe that the former’s guess turned right – once again. 

“It’s ironic,” Hayato said sadly, “to think that Mukahi tried to move on only to force her to marry Juichi out of convenience...” 

“I feel sorry for the both of them,” Touichiro agreed. 

“I’m starting to hate engagement parties,” Jinpachi sighed.  

“Well,” Hayato tried to oppose his throughts about that topic, “not all engagements are that bad, unless if you’re only looking at it on his and Yasutomo’s perspectives.” 

“Which is weird, because it’s starting to become a fad lately, at least in our school. Guess we’re lucky we’re not born that rich...” 

“Juichi’s family isn’t that rich, either, but they’re well-respected because, you know, his father started the Bicycle Club in our school. Just by that, he has the whole world’s respect.” 

“I guess her family knows them so well that they contacted their daughter without knowing their background story. Do rich people really think that marrying a popular person will also make them rise to more fame?” 

“I’m beginning to wonder...” 

The all-muscled sprinter stopped walking, causing both of his teammates to stop with him. 

“The rich can control everything with money. Even love. That’s also one of the most overrated tropes my sister love to read. If the rich can control love, then why are they having a hard time controlling their children on who they should love for the sake of practicality?” 

Touichiro’s unexpected realization only made Hayato burst into laughter. “You know how tropes like that work, man. It’s simple: the rich CAN’T control love, even with money. Even with all the power they have. People only fall for money because it’s practical, but if a person really loves someone, they’ll defy all odds, even if that would mean being cast away. The rich have been trying to fight love with money ever since the world began because if you want to get something, you need to pay the price – like everything they see, hear, or feel, has a price. Unless you have a weak will, you’ll definitely say money can defeat love... That’s because they are scared to lose something materialistic that proves their power.” 

It’s a simple trope of a love between the rich and the poor, how the rich can use ‘love’ through material things, how the poor must cast away their past by working hard and to be rich for someone they love. Material things against spiritual things, which has been the world’s way of life no matter where and how they live their lives.  

Those, and Touichiro’s realizations just made Jinpaichi sighed in resignation upon realizing what has been happening with his affected teammates while it has not been half the school year – and it all just started when he decided to write a story inspired by their captain’s tragic past... 

And speaking of their captain, Juichi walked past them, looking at one of them, particularly. “Hey,” Hayato called him, “hitting the bed early?” 

“No,” Juichi said bluntly. “Toudou, we need to talk.” 

The three looked at each other, and from the way he called Jinpachi, both sprinters guessed why, which only made the headband-wearing cyclist worried about his own cycling career and his life. 

***** 

Jinpachi knew Juichi for three years, but tonight, he felt like he never knew him on a deeper level just yet. Maybe he is about to, or maybe because Mukahi might have told him what happened hours ago. 

The tension was greater than whenever they are on a race, and far more awful than facing enemies on par with their skill. Jinpachi hated the feeling especially if he’s not on his bike. They are not dealing with the Inter-High tonight, but for personal reasons concerning past relationships and arranged marriage. 

“May I start?” Juichi even asked for his permission to start talking, in which he wouldn’t mind, like he was given a handicap, which was the worst feeling in his opinion. So he nodded slowly. 

Juichi sat in front of him, looking at him directly, but strangely, not as stern and as heavy as the headband-wearing teammate thought. But he has some ideas that he thought he would be obliged to hear out of respect. 

“To be frank, Toudou,” he began, “I never tell any of my personal history to anyone, except to Shinkai. But I don’t tell everything to him, either. I learned from Tsukigawa how you have approached her during breaktime and broke to her what you know about what happened between the two of us--” 

“I swear, Fuku,” Jinpachi finally talked, “I have zero idea about you and her relationship. Shinkai only told me the surface, but beyond that, everything’s just my guess! I was just looking for materials to start my novel, and--” 

“I know. She told me that, too.” 

The room became quiet once more. 

“I know that what you have told her are merely your guesses or the plot you’re trying to write, but ended up actually happening or about to happen, to the point that people involved in your stories will end up scared or thinking that you’re prying on their private lives, while you have no idea about it. That is why... 

I need your help.” 

The tension suddenly disappeared. Did he heard him right? He blinked as his reaction. 

“...Eh?” 

“Judging by what Tsukigawa told me, you have an ability to guess one’s past or current situation through observing one’s relationship to another, thus resulting for you to create or generate even the most outrageous ideas, only to end up true. You may have not noticed it, Toudou, but with that ability of yours, you can help these people involved how to face their problems, especially with their relationships, by engaging them in helping you write your novel. It’s a two-way trick to help others and yourself at the same time.” 

“So,” Jinpachi tried to analyze what Juichi meant, “you wanted my help regarding Tsukigawa-chan, knowing that I have that, quote-unquote, ability?” 

He nodded. “You’re the only one who can do this, Toudou.” 

He doesn’t know what to say. First, it was Touichiro who first acknowledged his ability after finding his notebook, then Hayato, who heard them by accident, and now, surprisingly, Juichi, who is asking for his help involving Mukahi. But what kind of help he was seeking is something he was just about to find out. 

“You said to Tsukigawa,” he continued, “about your opinion about the action done by the guy in your story who said to have left the girl for glory, am I right?” 

He nodded.  

“Those opinions you’ve shared with her,” he smiled bitterly, “you’ve guessed it right. If I’m the guy in the story, that will be the same thing I’ll do.” 

He looked at him in awe. 

“However,” he cast his eyes down, “unlike the guy you’ve envisioned in your story, I’m not that bold. I’ve been carrying this guilt for four years. I have set my mind to always win, but at that time, it wasn’t just for the family, but for her. I didn’t realize that she looked at it in a different way, so you could say there was a misunderstanding.” 

“So,” Jinpachi guessed, “after all these years... you still love her?” 

It took the blonde captain ten seconds before he replied in pain. “I do.” 

Hearing that from him, Jinpachi somewhat understood why he wanted to talk to him. “Is that why you’re asking for my help? You wanted some advice from me?” 

Juichi nodded. 

While Jinpachi felt he was been shot in his heart. For the first time in three years, a famed, respected, and feared captain such as Juichi Fukutomi is asking for his advice. He, the self-proclaimed Mountain God and blessed with unmatched beauty and skill, and now felt another ‘blessing’ with his ability to predict one’s past through relationships, felt compelled to help him with whatever he can. After all, that was his plan that he told to Yusuke on the phone a month ago. 

“Fuku, my friend,” he pat his shoulder, “you’ve come to the right person. My only advice to you? If you really say you’re strong, prove it to Tsukigawa-chan by being the guy in the story I’m writing. Take your engagement as an advantage, tell her how you really feel in the past four years. Once you do that, it will be up to her if she will still forgive you or not anymore – but I doubt that after I talked to her, there is no reason for her not to listen to you once she learns the truth. 

This is our last year in high school, dude, Before it’s too late, tell her. Regarding your engagement, I won’t get in the way, but consider how you feel and how she feels about it. What do you really think about getting married to her by force versus getting married to her at both your own will? Remember that she is about to sacrifice her current lovelife to follow what her family dictates, and let’s say she still loves that guy, it’s up to you now how you will acknowledge and address that if, let’s say, she’ll forgive you. I won’t advise you to get her back, because at the end of the day, it will still be her decision.” 

It was rare for someone like Juichi to listen to his teammate’s advice carefully in which Jinpachi was relieved about it, and later became confident to give him something that he has to do before their high school year life ends. He felt like he is back to his old, haughty self after giving him such advice, all thanks to Hayato’s and Touichiro’s support and help. 

“Thank you for the advice,” Juichi said, although he’s not smiling, his eyes could tell how grateful that he was able to talk to Jinpachi before it’s too late. He stood up. “To be honest, I don’t know when exactly to start, but I’ll keep on reminding myself to let her know before we graduate.” 

“Another advice for you, Fuku,” Jinpachi added, “don’t wait until Inter-High or graduation. If you really love her still, act now. Or else she’ll forever resent you. That’s all.” 

This time, Juichi smiled genuinely, although Jinpachi failed to see it, before heading back to his room.  

Jinpachi never felt alive after their conversation, since he rarely talked to Juichi personally. But maybe, thanks to his ability, he was able to give something to a man greater than him in some degree, something that he will not regret once they graduate. He even wanted to thank Hayato and Touichiro personally as well, for advising him to use that ability as an advantage to help, and to help him help others who are involves in his formulating story, rather than starting to think of his ability as a curse to hurt someone in the future... 

And he forgot to thank one more person. 

As soon as he was about to raise his smartphone, it suddenly rang. When he checked the caller ID, he couldn’t contain his excitement that he answered right away: 

“Maki-chan!” he guessed. 

Sup? ” Yusuke called him, which was rare, like he only calls Jinpachi once a year if he only felt like he wanted to. But this is a different case.  

“You’re one hell of a sneaky bettle, you know that,” he scoffed. “You texted Shinkai without me knowing!?” 

It’s the other way around, actually. He texted me about  you .” 

He blinked about learning the truth – and he almost forgot the part where Hayato actually told him that he texted Yusuke. “But why?” 

Dunno, but the way he told me through his text, he seemed worried about you that he thought I know everything. So we kinda talked about what’s going on with you lately – and that was strange because you didn’t call me afterwards, whether you’ve lost your phone, you’re busy, your phone was stolen, or you got kidnapped by aliens-- ” 

Hearing how actually worried Yusuke was only made him chuckle. But then, he sighed. “I’m really sorry for making you worry, Maki-chan,” he finally apologized. “Guess I owe you an explanation.” 

Yeah you do. A lot.” 

“Then, don’t worry,” and he sat in his futon. “I’ll definitely tell you everything .” 

Once again, it will be a long night between two rival climbers, and this time, Yusuke will later be listed as one of the few people who will share Jinpachi’s unbelievable secret. 

***** 

The same time, in Kagaho Manor.  

It has been years since Yasutomo set foot in the Kagaho mansion – it wasn’t as lively as before. In fact, he even thought he was entering a haunted house. 

His plan to see the head of the mansion ended up letting him stay for days, as some of their remaining business partners happened to be there the same day, thus they all expecting him to be with his fiancée during their meetings. While he already wanted the entire day to be over, he felt like he regretted staying at the Kagaho’s because of these people – nor he can’t just go berserk and forget about the engagement thing or that will hurt Eriko and her family. 

The couple stayed in one room that the remaining servants prepared for them, giving Yasutomo some time to rest, while Eriko remained anxious as ever as they talked again about what happened after that headband-wearing teammate talked to her. 

“So you said,” he started, “that wonder boy ‘fessed up to you. And you rejected it?” 

“Technically,” Eriko replied, “I am engaged. I can’t commit to anyone’s confessions anymore.” 

“But let’s say we’re not engaged. Will you answer him?” 

Eriko took ten seconds for her to answer. “My answer will remain the same.” 

“Why?” 

“Sangaku-kun is a good kid. But I do see that there is someone else who deserves his confession. And it’s not me.” 

“Who do you think that is?” 

“...His neighbor happens to be one of my juniors in the White Wing. I can see how she cares for him in her own way. It’s no surprise why she was so upset... 

She loves him more than just a neighbor.” 

He froze as he looked at Eriko who was looking somewhere. He knew who that neighbor is. For some reason, he suddenly remembered his conversation with Jinpachi days ago where he kept on telling that Sangaku is involved with those two girls. It all turned out that he was telling the truth after all. 

That, alone, made him decide to do something to knock the sense out of his brain. 

“Say,” he thought, “this place is near the training center owned by yer secretary, right?” 

“Yes,” Eriko replied. 

He got up. “I’ll head there tomorrow morning.” 

“Are you sure? But Father expected that you’ll be staying here for a week—” 

“Yeah, but I’ve changed my mind. Besides, don’tcha wanna go back to the Council? I heard the Pep Rally’ll still push through, surely yer underlings will miss you.” 

Yasutomo already has a plan in mind the moment Eriko provided more details about that incident. He let her go back to the Council earlier than usual for the Pep Rally, while he already has set up his goal to beat the hell out of Sangaku Manami and to kill Jinpachi Toudou. 

Chapter Text

JINPACHI AND YUSUKE

 

...Seriously?” 

Jinpachi, who has been snuggling in his own blanket feeling miserable with headband-less hair, told his situation to Yusuke, who was also trying to process everything he said. All he did was to tell them his ideas, but no one will thought they will come true, or already happened to them, either they are just common scenarios that happen most of the time, or they were just coincidence. But what made it scarier is the fact that he has been thinking about those scenarios with particular people, only to end up it really is happening on the very same people... 

And the more he talks about it, the more he becomes obviously scared. 

So you’re telling me,” the other line tried to gather what he understood so far, “you don’t know their stories at all, and yet, when you tell them what you think, it ended up like you knew everything about them from root to tip, like you’re guessing them accurately, am I understanding it right?” 

“Yeah,” Jinpachi answered weakly. 

It took Yusuke a deep breath and ten seconds before he replied. “So that’s why you haven’t called for days. Dude, why didn’t you tell me right away!?” 

“To be frank, Maki-chan... I’m getting scared now. I just observe people, write stories based on them, and I have  no  exact idea how they ended up real. Sometimes I even wonder... 

Why I decided to write again in the first place?” 

That was new, or at least, that was what Yusuke thought. Jinpachi rarely shows his weakness to anyone. He sounded genuinely scared at his ‘ability’ that he needs someone to listen to him. He was thankful that Yusuke decided to call him after he got a text from Hayato, being his so-called rival. 

Dude, listen...” 

Knowing that the proud and narcissistic member of Hakone Bicycle Club will be this scared, the beetle-haired climber thought of making his rival a little comfortable about his situation. 

If you really have that ability, I’ve been thinking, why won’t you take advantage of it? Shinkai once said to me, your Bicycle Club uses your own assets to become your strength during races. So I thought, why not applying that to your case? You can, well, give advice, warn them on what to do and what not to do. That can help turn tables, even if you can’t stop or alter what has already been done.” 

Jinpachi heard him. He was still scared, but it was a good advice In fact, he already applied that when Juichi asked for his help. The problem now is how he’ll apply it the next time his creative ability strikes again, or how he will apply it to others involved. 

Besides,” he scoffed, “you having that ability sounds like you have the makings of a detective...  

love detective.” 

He raised his eyebrow when Yusuke said his opinion. A love detective? He has never heard that kind of ridiculous title before. 

“You know that I’m having a serious ability crisis here,” he sighed.  

I’m serious too! Let’s see, that happens whenever you observe someone, right?” 

“Uhuh.” 

Hm, what were you thinking whenever you observe them?” 

He tried to think. “Well,” he tapped his cheek, “for example, when a guy talks to a girl, several possibilities go through my head. Depends on how they treat each other, I would assume what kind of relationship they have. And I also base my observations on what my sister mostly reads. Tropes like pining neighbors, unwanted arranged marriages, friends who parted ways because of a misunderstanding, secret crushes – I added a few ‘exciting’ elements to those tropes based on their relationships, like, for example, the girl thought her neighbor was just plain oblivious in his surroundings, only to find out that he has been in love with someone who saved his life way back which he didn’t tell his best friend at all. Then, later, to make it into a whole story, I link them altogether, for example, two people got caught in an arranged marriage even if they don’t want to but they have to agree to make their families shut up, but both have no idea that the guy is starting to fall in love with the girl who was this oblivious boy’s neighbor, while his fiancée once saved the oblivious boy so that boy fell in love with her – but the twist is that the girl has been in love with the man she was about to marry for some reason, so--” 

A love square, huh,” Yusuke felt his head spin upon hearing Jinpachi’s explanation. “So... based on what you told me earlier, the two engaged couple were Arakita and your council president. Arakita became in love with one girl who was the oblivious boy’s neighbor, and the oblivious boy fell in love with the council president who was then disguising as an idol – just like you’ve predicted – and you have this hunch that the president has been in love with Arakita for quite some time. Then you also wrote there that the council president and that oblivious guy’s neighbor had a confrontation because of the oblivious guy and they got connected because the girl has been working under your council president. And the oblivious boy is a member of your Bicycle Club...” 

Silence followed again, as Yusuke tried to process another piece of information he got. The more he tries to think about it, the more he is getting a serious headache. 

You haven’t told me who is the oblivious boy and his neighbor,” he added, “since you also said he’s part of the Bicycle Club--” 

“Sorry, Maki-chan,” Jinpachi said, “but that’s the clue I can give to you now. It’s not just because I’m protecting their privacy... I also wanna make sure of myself first if what I’ve written about them is the same as what happened between them before.” 

So you wanna make sure first.” 

“Yep.” 

Okay,” he sighed in defeat, “but promise me, man... Call me if you need someone to vent on about your ability – or whatever. I really thought you got abducted by aliens when you didn’t call me.” 

“This time, I will,” he promised. “Thanks for listening.” 

Sure thing!” 

“By the way,” he almost forgot one thing he has accomplished earlier, “about what you told me to use my ability to give advice to those people? I’ve already done that.” 

Really? ” he grinned. “To whom?” 

“To Fuku.” 

No way! ” he whistled. “So how did he found out about your secret powers?” 

“Well... when he found out about it from the girl he currently has issues with, he talked to me. Guess what: he asked for my advice! I just told him to tell her how he really feels before it’s too late for both of them. I’ve been thinking... If Shinkai didn’t text you about me, and if has not been that observant and heard me and Izumida talking about my secret, maybe up until now, I’ll still live in fear of my own ability.” 

And knowing you, you would rather keep it to yourself and work on it on your own than letting the whole world know how weak you actually are.” 

“You really know me, huh?” but as Jinpachi heard from him something, it made him want to challenge Yusuke with a question. “Say, Maki-chan... 

After all those things I’ve told you, tell me... Am I that weak?” 

For some, it could be a trick question, but knowing Jinpachi, Yusuke just scoffed from the other line. “We’ll find that out in the Inter-High,” he replied. 

He smirked at his reply, it was something he really expected from him to hear. “You’ll regret what you said earlier,” he said. “What we’re doing right now is to show our truce, but once Inter-High starts, I’ll look forward to race you again and beat you this time.” 

He could hear Yusuke’s smirk again from the other line, knowing that he has to change topic for a bit to focus on something more important than prying on someone else’s personal life.  “So are we, ” he said. “I know you’re a sucker for promises. We’re preparing the strongest team ever.” 

“Do you think that will shock us?” 

We’ll see that in the race, then.” 

It’s refreshing for both rivals to talk about racing other than analyzing love stories and it made them feel relieved without spilling each other’s battle strategy. Jinpachi never felt more energized than before after talking to the people whom he mattered the most and felt fulfilled in just one night, that he couldn’t wait for the next day to start hitting the mountains... 

As soon as hung up, his phone rang again. He even thought that Yusuke called again forgetting something important, until he noticed the number from his caller ID... 

It was a different number. 

Curious, he decided to answer it. “Hello, this is--” 

Toudou-kun?” 

He was stunned. A girl’s voice, and a familiar one. He then remembered that he gave his number to his new phone pal, but she might have called at the wrong time, that only scared him again. 

“M-Miss President!?” he blinked. “Hey-hey-hey, looks like you’re still up for part two!” 

Yes,” Eriko said. “as promised, I will listen to every plot you have in mind. And you will have my support.” 

“And what about—” 

Yasu isn’t aware of this. Don’t worry, we’ll make it professional. Just the two of us.” 

This is just one of Jinpachi’s own assessment if what is coming to his mouth are things that are just about to happen, that he dared to enter. After all, it was Yusuke who advised him to take this ‘ability’ as an opportunity to help others, if these situations are deemed true, so whatever the outcome will be can still be changed, like some kind of a seer who is just preventing disasters from happening. And Jinpachi hoped and prayed that he’s doing the right thing... 

However, what Eriko said next could be something he might not be able to prevent from happening, because... 

By the way,” she added, “Yasu will come there tomorrow morning to catch up with you. And seems like he wants to talk to Sangaku-kun. I just hope my hunch is wrong...” 

That is already considered an obstacle to his mission to help these people, now that one person whom he knew will refuse his help will show up earlier than usual to kill a certain someone. Or worse, him.

Chapter Text

YASUTOMO VS. SANGAKU

 

The next day. And for the first time in his life, Jinpachi was wearing something he would never dream of wearing: 

“Eyebags?” Hayato was about to laugh, but he just glared at him, daring him to laugh or he’ll die. 

“So the President actually called you last night about Arakita-san catching up for the camp?” Touichiro asked, pertaining to what he told them while preparing for today’s practice. 

“It should be normal,” Jinpachi glared at the all-muscled sprinter next, “and it has nothing to do with him coming to the camp earlier than usual. But I wonder why he decided to catch up earlier than what was planned.” 

“Yeah I’m wondering, too,” the ace sprinter agreed. “But why do you seemed scared? Is it because of--” 

“Me!? SCARED!?” he laughed. “When did Jinpachi Toudou become scared!? I just can’t sleep because we’re finally complete and I’m just excited for the training! And that idiot just missed the first day. One day definitely means a lot--” 

“ARAKITA-SAN IS HERE!!!” 

The entire training center was shocked upon the arrival of another elite member of Hakone Bicycle Club who, obviously, rode long distance from somewhere for some reason. And when the first years greeted him, they were never felt that terrified ever since the first time they met him... 

But whoever is far more terrified in a sense, it would be Jinpachi, but he doesn’t want to show them the truth. But he can’t hide from Hayato forever. 

*****  

The team flocked together in the gates to welcome him – exhausted from riding a few good kilometers on the way from God knows where, complete with a heavy backpack while riding. Depending on the distance he took for him to get to the training center, the team became curious on what happened to him during his first day of absence. 

“I thought you won’t be back until a week,” Hayato seems amazed. “Guess you’re excited for this year’s training camp, huh?” 

“More than that,” he replied in between heavy breaths. But his focus shifted to a first year standing out in the line of first years looking at him that he suddenly pointed his finger at that very first year, much to everyone’s surprise-- 

“Hey! First-year Manami!” 

They all looked at Sangaku like he did the most heinous crime in the history of Hakone, while the said first year remained clueless. He pointed at himself. 

“Yeah, you,” he repeated to be sure. “After my long nap, prepare yourself... 

We’re going to race!” 

The whole team was shocked when Yasutomo, himself, made a declaration of war against a climber such as Sangaku. They all whispered to each other, as they started to place bets on who will win: an all-rounder or a climber? A third year or a first year? No one knows what was on his mind at this moment for him to challenge Sangaku, of all people. 

But for the other teammates, it could be a different case. And in Jinpachi’s thoughts, it could be a declaration of war... for love? 

“Oh my God,” he whispered, “it happened again...!” 

“You didn’t mention this to me?” Hayato was also confused. 

“W-well,” he tried to remember, “I was too focused on Fuku’s story that I totally forgot about these two.” 

“What do you mean?” 

“A-are you saying that,” Touichiro guessed, “Manami’s included in your story, too!?” 

“Okay,” and he pulled both of them from the crowd to do a secret meeting. “Here’s the thing: I ran across Arakita last week when I found him standing in front of the Council room’s door. When he told me his girlfriend and Manami’s neighbor were having a serious talk, I thought they were fighting over Manami for some reason – well, that was when I was thinking on a perspective of another character of mine.” 

“Let me guess,” Hayato cut him off, “you also wrote Manami’s story with his neighbor!? And her neighbor is also connected to Kagaho!? And they’re fighting over him for some reason!?” 

He sighed. “Yeah,” he answered weakly. “The President confirmed it, herself--” 

You talked to the President before!?” Touichiro gasped. “So that’s why she knows your number--!” 

“TOUDOU!” 

The three just jumped in their spot when Yasutomo suddenly called him from a few meters away, much to Sangaku’s confusion as to why that headband-wearing senior is, too. 

“After I’m done with Manami,” he threatened, “you’re next!” 

And he headed to the building to find his room alone. 

Now the entire focus went to Jinpachi, whom everyone thought he also committed a serious crime against Yasutomo – whatever that is, to the point that he is starting to get confused and scared again like last night... 

But instead of being taken over by fear, he just laughed, as usual. “So he wants to challenge, me, huh?” he wore his signature smirk amidst his eyebags. “Count me in, Arakita! You don’t know whom you’re dealing with!” 

As he kept on laughing at the fact that Yasutomo dared to challenge him, the two sprinters looked at each other. But Hayato sees something else in him. Behind that boisterous laughter, Jinpachi is just concealing his true feelings – he is  really  damn scared. 

***** 

A month ago.  

If he never met me... and met Kagaho-san instead as an idol... The fact that I’ve been with him for years while she only saved him two years ago is something I find unfair. He’s been in love with Kagaho-san for two years without me noticing...  

And I’ve been falling in love with him ever since we met as kids... without him noticing...” 

When Yasutomo got compelled to talked to Maera about what happened between her and Eriko in the Council Room, he learned that what Jinpachi has been bluffing about all this time were actually true, especially when he dared to ask the devastated first year... 

“Are you,” he guessed, “referring to Manami?” 

The moment she nodded, Jinpachi’s bluff came true faithfully that he was starting to get wary of his own teammate. 

But at that moment, seeing a girl cry is something he personally hated. He mocked her before, but he later admired her fighting spirit that she remained standing and now studying in Hakone. He admitted at one point that it was his fault for putting her in an awkward situation two years ago because of his own personal problems, but he slowly realized one more thing why he couldn’t forget her face after that. 

You like Miyahara, don’t you?  

He wanted to put a curse on Jinpachi right now on all his collection of headbands to come alive whenever he puts them on to squeeze his head until his brain spills out, but right now he started to focus on Jinpachi’s question... Does he really like Maera? He tried to look for possible reasons, but all he could think about is that incident happened two years ago. 

He never believed in crushes and first love, but after Jinpachi said those words like he was put under a spell, he started to get convinced... what if he is right, after all? 

He looked at Maera, still trying to be strong despite the blow happened to her. Whatever Eriko did to make her cry, he can’t blame her. Maybe she said something that made Maera realize her own fault. At that point, his curiosity rose to find out more about what happened... 

“You like him – no,” he corrected himself. “You love him, huh?” 

Hearing that from Yasutomo, Maera’s already-puffy eyes threatened to produce tears again. Seeing those eyes made him feel more guilty that he has to come up with something to alter her emotions. 

“Okay, okay,” he tried to think, since he isn’t good at something mushy as talking about heartbreaks. “Th-that’s granted... If... If in the first place, he’s been in love with someone else, while you’ve been chasing after him for years because you love him... L-let's say... 

Say... There’s someone behind you who’s... who’s been in love with you all this time. Someone you don’t expect... What would you do?” 

The question, itself, made Maera stop crying, and began to ponder about that situation, in which she finds it impossible. Who would like someone like her? She’s already hurt in keeping her feelings to herself without bearing fruit, so why someone like Yasutomo would bring that up? 

“Say, Arakita-san,” she talked again, which is a good sign. “You know now that... Sangaku is in love with Kagaho-san as Lovely Kakigami... But Kagaho-san rejected him... Do you know why?” 

He sighed. “If that will include me, you know the reason why.” 

“What if... Kagaho-san is in love with Sangaku... but she can’t answer him because she’s engaged to you?” 

He sighed again. “We made a deal when we agreed to get engaged,” he remembered the blasted engagement party in that restaurant. “No one will pry on each other’s personal life. If she would be in love with someone else, who am I to stop her?” 

She understood that part. After all, he agreed to help Eriko get out of her situation, nothing more personal. Maybe, what Maera was talking about is if the society will learn about each other’s infidelity. But that hasn't been happening yet. Besides, it’s still too early to say what they will do once that will come true.  

“Or what if,” Maera added, “she rejected Sangaku... because she is in love with someone else?” 

It made him think again. “Well, that’s also possible--” 

“What if that happens to be you?” 

He looked at her in disbelief. Judging by how Yasutomo looked at her, she understood, it’s impossible. 

“That was just what if,” she clarified. “I didn’t say it’s true.” 

“Can’t tell,” he answered. “But if you’ll ask my opinion about it, I doubt she’ll fall in love with me. Look at me! I don’t look like Toudou or Shinkai, or even Fuku-chan, but did that bother me? Not a single bit, and I’m hecking thankful that I don’t share the same problem as those three. But then...” 

He suddenly looked at Maera, in which the latter just blushed out of the blue. 

“Honestly... I never fell in love with someone. Not once.” 

She blinked as to why he suddenly brought that up. “Why?” 

“No idea. Maybe because I’m too focused on what I really wanna do in my life that I have set aside my own emotional needs whatsoever. It just... didn’t come to me. But then...” 

He bit his lip. 

“This is just a what-if, okay? Would it bother you if... That person who’s been in love with you... happened to be someone like me?” 

Her eyes widened. Why would someone as brash as Yasutomo Arakita would suddenly ask that what-if? And if it is just a what-if... why does her heart won’t stop pounding like she’s biking around the school for hours? 

It was the same feeling as when Sangaku told her about his what-if, except that this what-if doesn’t hurt at all. In fact, it confused her, jumbling her feelings for some reason. And of all people who will ask that, it has to be this ex-yankee. 

Meanwhile, Yasutomo felt like he was about to burst into flames. Why the hell did he say those things!? He couldn’t take it back anymore because he couldn’t control his heart beating mad upon gazing at Maera’s dried-up, blushing face. He wanted to look away, but something compelled him to look at her, to test himself if Jinpachi is right after all... 

Or maybe, Jinpachi is right after all. 

***** 

Right now...  

Just to test himself, and to find out what Sangaku actually felt for Maera, he decided to challenge him to a race. After getting a good rest from riding from the Kagaho Household (which happened to be only a hundred kilometers from the training center, itself), he changed to his Hakone jersey, and went out to face him. 

But before that, “You really wanna beat Manami, huh?” Jinpachi went boldly with him, now that he understood the reason why he challenged him. “Is it because you wanna test him, or because if Miyahara--” 

“You have no right to ask me,” Yasutomo glared at him. “Remember, after him, you’re next.” 

“Easy, wolfie, so you’re challenging climbers like us!? Why don’t you just admit it, you’re pissed off that some girl got hurt because of a guy who can’t look at her as someone else than just being there? And because your fiancée got involved as well? And because I can guess scenarios based on how a person treats another? Man, you’re using the Bicycle Club just to unleash your--” 

“So WHAT IF I AM!?” 

The entire course went silent. 

“Calm down, Yasutomo,” Hayato tried to contain him, but he had enough. 

“So you can guess one’s past and present by seeing one’s relationship, HUH!?” he glared at Jinpachi. “What if someone will defy that superpower of yours, HUH!? I told you, I’ll put you next after I beat Manami in the race!” 

Without noticing it, Sangaku heard everything. When Jinpachi mentioned his neighbor’s name, and found out why Yasutomo was too eager to bring him down in a race, he slowly remembered everything that happened to him in the past month. He understood his senior’s anger because he fell in love (technically) with Eriko, and he felt that he has no right to do so because she is already engaged to Yasutomo. 

However, the reason why he hesitated to accept the challenge because he was clueless at first. But now that he is involved in their relationship, and even involving Maera, he decided to get in his bike, and find out the truth from him in the race.  

“So, Senpai,” Sangaku called him, trying to be in his usual self as possible, “what made you decide to race with me? Is this related to what Toudou-san said--” 

“Shut up and get on your bike.” 

He is obviously pissed. From there, it gave him no choice but to follow. After all, he will learn later why he challenged him, and even Jinpachi, if this is something quite personal. 

“If you wanna know why that badly,” he glared at him, “prove it to me in this race. Beat me, and I’ll tell you everything.” 

“And what if you beat me?” 

He asked thinking that he will be beaten, thus the older member steeled his resolve: 

“Then don’t come near Kagaho ever again. Nor even Miyahara. You don’t deserve both of them!” 

His expression changed when he now mentioned both Eriko, and even Maera. He started to get confused, but Yasutomo used that confusion and didn’t wait for him to prepare. He roared in the road five seconds ahead of him, which made him startle that he struggled the first two seconds to ride next. 

The race has started without a go signal. This only means that Yasutomo will do whatever it takes to crush that first year and to let him know about his mistake. And from there also to let him know... 

I’ll take Miyahara away from you, wonder boy!  

***** 

The unusual cheering noise from the track made Juichi and Mukahi curious about what was happening. “Is something happening to your team?” she wondered. “Maybe a fight, but I doubt that could be it.” 

Juichi didn’t answer her. Instead, he went straight to the racing area, where he noticed the team only standing in the starting line. 

“Why are you not practicing?” His voice was enough to give him way, and for the team to struggle in fear while finding a way to go back to the building. Jinpachi and the rest, however, remained standing on their spot. 

“Yasutomo is back,” Hayato said.  

“Where is he?”  

“He’s racing with Manami,” Touichiro answered. 

“Who gave him permission to do that?” 

“He just appeared out of nowhere and challenged the kid,” Jinpachi replied. “I’ll pull those idiots back here,” and he was about to hop on his bike, however, the moment he was about to move, Juichi managed to guess the reason behind it right away, that... 

“Stay here, Toudou.” 

He almost fell in his bike. “What!?” 

“I’ll handle it from here,” and he looked at the team. “All of you, back to practice! You and Shinkai will be in charge.” 

Everyone went back to their positions while the three main racers have no choice but to follow. Jinpachi, despite his willingness to stop the race, was stopped by Juichi out of understanding his position, that he decided to follow their trail and will find a way to stop them, himself. While watching him leave, Mukahi got confused with what was actually happening.  

“What’s his plan?” she raised her eyebrow. 

“He’s planning to stop the race,” Jinpachi guessed. “Now sure how he’ll do that--” 

“Stopping the race!? Is he out of his mind!?” 

"Well,” he smirked, “if this is related to one of my plots in the story where the guy has an issue with a girl way back, he’ll be that guy to stop the two idiots from hurting themselves because of the women they love... 

Because that guy sees those two as split images of himself.” 

It only confused Mukahi more. What do those three actually have in common? It made her think for some reason: If this is regarding engagement, why would a first year like Sangaku would get involved in it? 

But then, she started to remember when she and Lovely Kakigami brought Sangaku home personally. It made her think especially that she once saved the same boy two years ago. Could that be it? But then, it is still considered unclear for her as to why Juichi will involve himself in their race to death... 

Inter-High is still a few months away, yet they are already in the spirit of competing not for the glory of Hakone Academy, but for something personal they value for.

Chapter Text

MAERA AND MAO

 

Back at Hakone Academy.  

A month has passed since that fateful confrontation with Eriko, and up until now, Maera has no answer to her challenge... 

You can’t tell me now that you can’t confess to him anymore because you’re scared he might get hurt again. If you really know him…   

Should you trust how he’s feeling?  

Thinking about what she said to her, it made her think again and again. Between her and Eriko, the latter remained the winner because she managed to answer to Sangaku’s feelings and to also let him know her side. Unlike her who has utterly decided to live as his shadow wherever he goes, she therefore concluded that he will never notice her feelings no matter what she does. 

And to complicate things more, here is this ex-yankee who, after being rude to her two years ago, will suddenly say something unthinkable... 

Would it bother you if... That person who’s been in love with you... happened to be someone like me?  

The question now is why he would think and say such thing? For her, it’s impossible. Is there really likable about her? Or did he only say those things to make her feel at ease? It’s definitely impossible because, obviously, he’s rich, and she’s not. And on top of that... 

He is already engaged. 

Yet, she couldn’t stop her heart from beating fast when he said those things to her, adding up more confusion to everything. To prove that, she just noticed that instead of flowers, she put the proposal papers in the vase, resulting them to get soaked in the water. 

“Oh, no!!!” 

“Are you not feeling well, Miyahara-san?” 

It was the Council’s vice-president, Mao Hanasaki, who was the acting head while Eriko is still on a alleged week-long engagement activity. She has been observing Maera ever since her first-ever absence in the council for some reason. And now she just made her very first mistake ever since she set foot in the White Wing Council. 

“Y-yeah,” she adjusted her glasses and pulled the papers off the vase. “I’m so sorry for causing you trouble.” 

“Don’t worry about it,” she said while taking the soaked papers from her. “These can still be re-printed later, I have the Princess’ access. But anyway, we’re worried about you lately. Is Council work too much for you, or is this different from what you normally do back in middle school?” 

Maera shook her head. “It’s the same, except maybe there’s more paperwork?” 

“Oh, that?” she chuckled. “You’ll get the hang of it. Anyway, the Princess seems to like you a lot, and she’s been on and off lately in the Council ever since the engagement. I envy her, to be honest. To get married to a guy you’re destined to be with since birth is something I find so romantic!” 

“D-do you think so? B-but what if she never wanted that arrangement, s-say she’s… in love with someone else then she’ll get obliged to marry a guy who doesn’t like her back because her family says so?” 

It made Mao think deeply. “Good point. But you know what’s romantic about it? What if the guy she’s destined to marry will suddenly fall in love with her? Better yet, if the guy you thought will never get back to you will end up the guy you’re getting married with? That happened to Mukahi-chan!” 

She blinked. “Tsu… Tsukigawa-san!?” 

“Haven’t you heard? She’s engaged, too! By none other than the Captain of the Bicycle Club, himself! That was just three days ago and that was spread like wildfire! Rumors also say that she and Fuku were dating back in middle school but they broke up and she ended up with someone from a neighboring school. But looks like fate won’t let the two get separated again! I’m so jealous of her and the President now…!” 

Maera has no idea what happened three days ago. She was so engrossed with her own problems that she has lost awareness in her surroundings. She has no idea that the President’s secretary is also engaged – to no less than the Bicycle Club’s Fukutomi. It made her wonder: are arranged marriages becoming a fad in the Bicycle Club lately since the number 2’s involvement with the White Princess? 

The thought remained in her mind even after Mao left for another Council-related matter. But as soon as Maera was left alone to finish the work, some members of the Council, most of them were from the Disciplinary Committee, began to talk about about the President’s absence. 

“This is hard if she’s not around,” one of them started to complain. “This just only started when she got engaged…” 

“That can’t be helped especially if she’s the only daughter of a company owner,” the other thought. 

“But isn’t it too early? And of all men she’ll get engaged to, why it has to be the Bike Club’s #2? Doesn’t he look too dangerous for her?” 

“People say they’re childhood friends.” 

“I don’t believe so. Only because he’s the son of a famous shipping firm owner in Yokohama doesn’t mean he’s eligible.” 

“What do you mean?” 

“Have you heard rumors about him having a girlfriend? As far as my resources go, he never had one because he used to be a gang leader back in middle school! And the school can’t get rid of him because his family now owns a quarter of shares in this school. So he still ‘owns’ the school in some sense.” 

“Come to think of it… Once they get married, the school will be ruled by thugs! I’m getting scared!” 

“I don’t know what gets into her to agree to that kind of marriage. She deserves better. He’s dragging her down like right now that we need her the most.” 

“I heard that she won’t be coming back for a week to discuss engagement procedures with the guy’s family—” 

“A week!? Why that long!? Unless that includes—” 

“That’s already considered normal for engagement couples.” 

“The White Princess has been… stained,  is that it!?” 

Maera hated those kinds of conversations. They might be rumors, but they are interpreting the situation as their own, it’s something that cannot be ignored. They have no idea about the story behind it in the first place, but as early as now, they are picturing Eriko Kagaho as a ‘lost cause’ for being paired with whom they thought the most dangerous man in Hakone Academy. 

With that, she was about to stand up to defend Eriko in absentia against the gossiping members of Disciplinary Committee when— 

“Looks like you’re having more fun talking about people on their backs than doing your duty like you’ve never been disciplined in your entire life.” 

The two gossipers almost jumped in surprise when Mao heard them talking behind Eriko’s back.  

“H-hey, Hanasaki-san,” one of them pretended that they didn’t say anything, “w-we didn’t know you’re there--!” 

“Why,” Mao asked back, “are you expecting someone else like a ghost, or maybe, the Princess, herself?” 

“N-no! Not at all,” the other said. “W-we’re talking about her future, uh, I mean, we’re all worried for her. I know you, too. Why do you think the Princess has to agree to marry... well, th-the Bicycle Club’s number 2 – well, we know his history, so--” 

“So? Whatever her decision is, it’s already none of our business. And besides, this org wasn’t created to make a rumor out of someone who’s not here – especially when it comes to the President, herself. Before saying those things, examine yourselves first why you’re here. If you’re only here to make fun of every person inside this room, there’s the computer, you can type in your resignation letter and I’ll print them out and sign it right away.” 

Even Maera got terrified at the Vice President’s fiery words. Mao may look cool and down-to-earth, but when it comes to Council work and protecting the White Princess, she takes her job seriously, that no one will recognize her once she opens her mouth. Out of fear, the two members walked away. 

Mao sighed afterwards, leaving Maera in awe with what she did. But as soon as they were only the two of them in the room, she finally decided to tell her own opinion about what was happening: 

“This is just between you and me, okay?” she asked her. “In all honesty, I don’t like Arakita, either.” 

That surprised her, coming from the cool and collected Vice-President, herself. But to realize why she doesn’t like Yasutomo for Eriko, she somehow understood. 

“True,” she added, “he’s now part of the Bicycle Club, but that’s because Fuku tamed him. Back then, when he came here, he caused nothing but trouble in and out of school – but the Admin can’t get rid of him for being the son of one of the shareholders here. And to think that he knows Eriko way back as childhood friends, I can’t help but to scratch my head.” 

“I see,” she replied. “But a while back, Arakita-san once told me that he isn’t into arranged marriages either, just as Kagaho-san also resented that idea.” 

Mao blinked. “Y-you talked to him!? In person!? Glad that you made it back alive!” 

“Well,” she couldn’t help but to remember their last conversation together, “at first, I find him annoying and intimidating at the same time. He once... saved my life. Two years ago.” 

“What!?” 

“B-but at that time, he wasn’t that tamed yet. He was rude to me even after he saved my life and I even hoped not to see him ever again... But to think that things went complicated when I started high school... I never thought he’s studying here as well, and is now part of the team where my neighbor also joined. Time goes by and I slowly began to realize... 

Arakita-san isn’t as bad as everyone thought. He might have come from a difficult situation which could be the reason why he acts like that.” 

Mao couldn’t help but to whistle. At least there is someone who actually understands Yasutomo’s weird behavior when it comes to anything. But what intrigued her is why he still agreed to marry Eriko – even if he doesn’t want to marry at all? 

“Did he tell you why he still agreed if he really doesn’t want an arranged marriage?” she couldn’t help but to ask. 

“As far as I understood,” Maera replied, “he did that to spite his family... and to help Kagaho-san. But that is already something he didn’t mention to me anymore.” 

She just sighed at his reason, which she still finds it vague and strange at the same time. The next thing she finds intriguing is how someone like Yasutomo ended up talking to someone like Maera, if this is because of their connection with Eriko, or because of something else that might be related to the Bicycle Club where her neighbor joined recently. 

“So how did you end up talking to him?” 

“Well,” she sighed, “that was... a month ago. Kagaho-san and I... we had some kind of a fight.” 

That surprised Mao. Obviously, this is the first time she heard about it. “Sh-she didn’t mention that to me at all,” she said. “But why?” 

“She doesn’t want anyone else to get involved in her problem. But it happened that my own problem is connected to hers. We were fighting over one guy... 

My neighbor, Sangaku Manami.” 

That fact made Mao’s jaw drop. She finds the reason extremely juicy that she became obviously attentive to the rest of the details, especially when she heard the neighbors’s name, which she finds it familiar somewhere. 

“O...kay,” she reacted. “How did that happen? I mean... I can’t just assume what really happened, right?” 

“It happened that,” Maera continued, “he’s been falling in love with her for two years, but Kagaho-san rejected his feelings. I was angry because she hurt him and I thought she took my right to let him know my feelings... Because of that, I’ve already decided to keep it to myself and I’ll just do my best to become the bestest best friend he ever has... But then, that was partly my fault. For twelve years, I’ve never had the courage to tell him. With that, I thought, I really have no right to be angry at her because she has found courage to respond to his feelings even if this will mean hurting him.”  

It was surprising to find out that a girl such as Maera will have that kind of complicated lovelife – to no less than her own neighbor who was in love with someone else, Eriko, in particular. But she seemed engrossed to telling Mao the entire story that she almost forgot her question.  

“Ah, I’m sorry,” she bowed, “I’ve said too much already--” 

“N-no, no, it’s okay,” Mao calmed her down. ”Well, that’s a surprise. I’m glad that you told me those things. I bet you’re just looking for someone to talk to about your dilemma. Don’t worry, whatever happens in this room will stay in this room, I solemnly swear!” 

That somehow relieved her. “Thank you, Hanasaki-san.” 

“Anyway,” she reminded her, “you haven’t told me how you ended up talking to Arakita a month ago!” 

“Oh, about that,” she first bit her lip, probably to get some courage, before she decided to speak. “He happened to be there when that happened, and I didn’t know he’s been waiting outside of the Council Room. I didn’t realize that, since I was crying, he was the one whom I hugged and vented my frustrations with... So he offered me something to talk. From there... 

He suddenly said... If there was a chance that someone has been in love with me for quite sometime, he thought if that someone... was him.” 

She blinked after Maera answered her question – with an unexpected twist. But before she could even react about it-- 

“We’re baaaaack!!!” 

Two of the members of the White Wing Council just arrived – twin sisters Yurime and Yukime Uno, who just came back from their class. 

“W-welcome back,” Maera stood up, “Yurime-san! Yukime-san!” 

“Wow,” Yurime grinned, “you’re having a one-on-one talk with Mao-chan!? That’s rare!” 

“I bet it’s about finding the cutest boys in school,” Yukime added mischievously. 

“We can help you with that!” the twins later chorused.  

“You won’t be of any help, honestly,” Mao replied on Maera’s behalf – who started to turn red with their guesses. “She’s having some issues lately, so just trying to help her out.” 

“What about?” Yukime suddenly sat beside the first year representative. 

“Whatever your problem is,” Yurime offered, “we’re always here to help you!” 

“W-well...” she is cornered. When it comes to personal matters such as love, the Uno Sisters are far more eager to help, but Mao is worried that whatever they will advise her will not be of great help at all, especially with the kind of life story she just shared with her.  

“You seemed eager to help,” she scoffed, “while one of you can’t help herself when it comes to someone from the Bicycle Club--” 

That made Yurime turned red, while Yukime just glared at her. “You’re mean,” she said, “you even laughed at her when she told you about it--!” 

“Because the fact that the proposal was meant to be for Tou-chan turned out to be for his friend who was notorious for rejecting every girl who sends letters to him! It’s just that he couldn’t escape because that’s probably his very first confession from a girl, no less!” 

“He hasn’t replied yet! So Yurime still has a chance!” 

Their banter just made Maera blinked that she wasn’t sure anymore how she will respond because she couldn’t relate to them at all – until... 

“Looks like you’re having a little fun with Miyahara-san.” 

Their hearts almost jumped to hear a familiar voice from the door, and they stood up immediately. But instead of being terrified, they were all wearing smiles on their faces after seeing her again from absence for a few days... 

Except for Maera, who still seemed uncomfortable because of guilt. However, she still managed to greet her, as her job to do so: 

“W-welcome back,” she greeted, “Kagaho-san.” 

Chapter Text

YASUTOMO VS. SANGAKU, PART 2

 

The race is on between two different cyclists. 

Despite the confusion, Sangaku agreed to race this trash-talking third year. He thought he was just helping Yasutomo catch up with the day he lost in the camp – until he mentioned Eriko, and even Maera. The question now is... 

Why?  

Yasutomo, whose style of racing is like a wild animal chasing after his prey and charge like his life depends on it, is on the lead within a four-minute gap, shorter than twenty minutes ago, and they are already five kilometers away from the team. His eyes tell everything: he is determined to beat this oblivious little first year to make him realize the mistake he did for hurting the only person who looked up to him and for chasing the person whose heart is already belonged to someone else. Yet, despite his determination to beat him, there is one question lingering in his mind... 

Why?  

One has a reason, the other still yet to determine the reason, and they are giving all their got. After all, it’s a road race, the only goal is to get into the finish line. That’s it. But then, there is one more contender who is about to join their supposed-to-be duel, but not for race per se, but to get the answers from them with this question... 

Why?  

***** 

“Is that all you got,” he shouted at the following first year, “huh, wonder boy!?” 

Sangaku remained confused, but one thing is for sure: Yasutomo is angry at him, even at Jinpachi, and for him to know exactly why, he has to win. Still, with the skill that this third year has, he admitted that he will have a hard time catching up. 

“Well, Senpai,” he answered, “how can I give all I have if you can’t tell me why you wanna beat me now? Don’t you wanna give me a clue?” 

“Don’t make fun of our race, moron! Figure it out yourself! I’ve already given you enough clues to fit yer little brain!” 

Minutes has passed, and their gap remained disappointing four seconds which Yasutomo gladly took advantage of. With how he rode his bike, it’s definitely obvious: he has no plans of making Sangaku win. It’s a race for him to teach a lesson not to underestimate a woman’s feelings. 

But to show also that his brain isn’t just solely for climbing mountains, the little first year used what the senior told him about Maera and Eriko, especially that his neighbor got involved. 

“Tell me, Senpai,” he said, “why are you including Class Rep in our race?” 

To call Maera as just ‘Class Rep’ and not by her proper name is already an insult to Yasutomo. “If you’re really neighbors, best friends, whatever,” he said, “why are you not calling her by her name? She knows your name from the bottom of her heart, so why can’t you do the same!?” 

The question made him stop for a second, however, remembering he is racing against him, Sangaku has to accelerate and to close the gap as much as possible. 

“Why’re you’re asking me that?” he couldn’t help but to ask. 

“Geez, you’re a hopeless case!” the mad third year screamed in frustration. “Lemme tell you this then: don’t push yourself to someone who’ll never answer your feelings because she can’t! And she already made up her mind! Don’t you get it!? 

Kagaho has no feelings for you! But she knew that Miyahara’s been trying to reach you ever since!” 

Hearing those things from Yasutomo was something Sangaku didn’t expect to hear at all. Even only for two months, he thought that he’s the type of guy who will let someone rot to do what he wanted, even if this will mean defying who is higher than him. But he didn’t expect how much he respected his own fiancée and even the person he was indebted to the most without realizing it fully. 

“If you really care about Miyahara,” he went on, “say her name! If you won’t do that…” 

He shifted his gear upon reaching uphill. 

“I’ll snatch her away from you!” 

The uphill is supposed to be Sangaku’s specialty, but after hearing those words from Yasutomo, his pace got abrupted, causing him to lose speed, but only for a short time. When a gust of wind approached the uphill, he also began to switch gears for climbing, and accelerated using the wind’s pressure, turning it into an imaginary pair of wings to push him high enough to reach his senior who is already 100 meters away from him. 

Maybe, his quest to find out more of his reason why he wanted to steal Maera from him made him push more to catch up. “Tell me, Senpai,” he tried to ask, “why are you saying this to me? Why do you wanna steal her away from me? I thought you… and Kagaho-san…” 

Yasutomo didn’t answer. He just kept on making their gap wider. But the farther he runs, the shorter their gap is, because Sangaku keeps on catching up. 

“We’re engaged,” he admitted, “but it’s just for formality. We already agreed on a condition that we’ll help each other out. We even anticipated that one of these days… we’ll be able to find someone we thought who’ll fill up the gap… So I don’t think that will be a problem…!” 

“What do you mean!?” 

His curiosity peaked up that their gap became twice closer, allowing himself to hear Yasutomo’s answer. 

“I really hate giving out answers,” he grunted. “Listen to me, kid...” 

Their gap was only 10 meters apart. 

“I never fell in love in my entire life. Even when I got engaged. To me, they’re nothing but a pain in the butt. I enjoyed my freedom so much that I always go out to prove my strength… 

Until now…!” 

He knew that Sangaku will catch up, so he looked at him, not with the eyes of a wolf hungry for victory, but with the eyes of a man in love for the first time in his life… 

“I like Miyahara – no. I LOVE HER, DAMMIT!”  

The moment he finally found the reason why, knowing that Yasutomo has admitted his feelings for Maera in front of Sangaku, the latter, instead of slowing his pace, his legs became excited on their own as he shifted to another gear and suddenly passed him, making the first year in the lead. 

Yasutomo didn’t expect him to accelerate, so he pedaled harder to reverse the lead like a while ago. 

“Arakita-san,” he then replied. “Do you know why Kagaho-san rejected me?” 

He didn’t answer. Instead, he only gave him a glare. 

“This has nothing to do with engagement anymore. I remember… last month, while we’re talking… while she was taking me home… she told me, I don’t have the right key to set her chained heart free. Do you know what that means?” 

Their gap became closer again. 

“She still believes that there is one person she knew who has the right key after all. I believe… She believes that… 

You have the right key to her chained heart!” 

The moment Sangaku revealed to him what he and Eriko (as Lovely) talked about at that time, his own time stopped for a second, that he just stopped pedaling, which caused him to slip in his own bike and skirted towards the gutter. He lost his balance. When the first year noticed his fall, he tried to reach out his hand to him – but the speed was so great that his bike, too, slipped from the road concrete, also causing him to go off balance... 

And the two fell from their respective bikes, with Sangaku suffered the worst fall after his attempt to save his senior. 

Everything was slow between two young men involved with two girls in love, which they both thought the accident will cost them a spot in the Inter-High, when one steady hand suddenly caught Yasutomo who was about to fall behind the gutter, while the other hand pulling Sangaku’s arm from rolling over. 

Two pairs of stunned eyes gazed upon the man who saved them with two both hands, while on his bike. 

“…Captain?” Sangaku muttered. 

“…Fuku-chan?” Yasutomo said. 

Juichi didn’t say any word, as he pulled the two young cyclists up. The moment he showed up, for some reason, both were compelled to follow him, whatever he will tell them to do. 

And he finally spoke. “Manami. Arakita.” 

The two looked at him. 

“You’re banned from training… until tomorrow.” 

***** 

“So you’re saying,” Mukahi remained confused as she tries to figure out the similarities between those three cyclists, “Fukutomi-kun sees himself in those two? I don’t understand. If this is regarding their skill as cyclists, I would understand why I don’t get it at all. Besides, if Arakita-san's plan was to challenge only Manami-kun to a race, should it be settled only by the two of them?” 

“You won’t ask why Arakita would challenge Manami to a race?” Jinpachi threw the question back, still looking at the course with a serious face. 

She tried to recall things involving those two, setting aside their skills in road racing, but with Sangaku being involved with Eriko as an idol, and with Yasutomo being her fiancé. But he mentioned Maera as well, in which it ruined her thought of the two possibly fighting over Eriko – which she wasn’t sure anymore why. 

And to complicate things, Juichi joined their race, with Jinpachi mentioning about what they possibly have in common. 

“It just occurred to me about one part of my novel that has the same scene,” he thought of sharing his plot again at a time like this. “Two boys fighting over two girls they got involved with. One boy who later realized his true feelings towards the other boy’s neighbor decided to challenge the other to test his feelings to that neighbor who’s been chasing his back since they were kids. Because the other boy fell in love with one boy’s fiancée because she once saved his life, but the fiancée rejected him because she’s already engaged to one boy… whom she slowly starting to feel something about him which is supposed to be a mutual thing. Quite complicated,” and he looked at Mukahi, “isn’t it?” 

Granted that Jinpachi can predict one’s situation through relationships, there are still some things that she thought were all bluff – or maybe, the entirety of it. She still wasn’t sure how he was able to predict those scenarios such as her case with Juichi, but at this point, she has no choice but to listen to him, being an expert in these types of cases. 

“If that is happening in real life,” Mukahi thought, “I don’t know what to believe anymore. But for Fukutomi-kun to involve himself in their duel just because you said he and those two have something in common--” 

But a realization hit her head. Could it be the common factor that he has with his affected teammates is because of his own story with her four years ago? Her head began to spin with that possibility. But before she could even react positively or negatively about it, Hayato showed up, still worried about the race. 

“I’ve put Izumida and Fujiwara in charge,” he said. “How’s the race?” 

“They haven’t come back,” Jinpachi said, still staring at the course. 

“What was Yasutomo thinking!?” 

The three remained staring at the course, hoping that one of them will emerge, and no one cares anymore who will win the race. Meanwhile, Jinpachi is ready to race him, if that is bound to happen, maybe because of his predictions that came true that triggered him. He can’t blame him. After all, no one would be happy if he has that kind of, what Yusuke would say, superpower. 

“Maybe,” Jinpachi guessed, “he finally realized it…” 

“Realized what?” Mukahi was curious. “And who did?” 

“I’m not sure what he was doing while he’s on a short vacation, but maybe he used that time to help him realize what we’ve talked about last time, which is why he challenged Manami to a race. My predictions nor my plot don’t matter anymore… 

He’d finally come to a conclusion.” 

She blinked. “What conclusion?” 

Before he could answer her, they heard faint sounds of spinning gears and wheels coming closer. As a familiar shadow gets bigger, they slowly recognize who was coming. They have noticed three figures coming back to the camp. 

No one spoke upon their return. While the three cyclists were as silent as they were. Yasutomo, who started the unofficial race, couldn’t be entertained with their questions, seeing how pissed he still is. While Sangaku was also quiet, but his face still shows confusion like a lost child, and was also in most pain after he fell from his own bike that hit his back hard.  

And for the first time in four years, Mukahi was impressed with how Juichi handled his teammates without any issue. “You really stopped them,” she muttered in shock. 

“You scared us all, you know,” Hayato sighed in relief. 

Meanwhile Yasutomo remained staring at Jinpachi; his threat against him remained, but his stare isn’t as intense as a few minutes ago. Speaking of which… 

“Toudou,” Juichi called him, “keep an eye of these two. They won’t be joining us for practice tomorrow.” 

He raised his eyebrow, and even their ace sprinter and the manager were confused. Why would Juichi entrust those two to the Vice-Captain, himself? But, as Hayato slowly tried to figure out the reason why, somehow he understood, and smiled. 

***** 

The second day ended with the rest of the members swearing to themselves that they didn’t see anything out of fear from Yasutomo. Speaking of whom, he went ahead, without looking at Sangaku nor Jinpachi, who might have already forgotten about his threat to him due to exhaustion. Hayato, who seemed worried about what he might do afterwards, followed him, hopefully to talk to him about what happened, while Juichi and Mukahi checked the team like nothing happened. 

As for Sangaku, he was complaining with body pain, in which he never thought he would get injured. “You really had a bad fall, kid,” Jinpachi shook his head. 

“Guess there’s first time for everything,” he was limping. “But I’m still confused... Arakita-san said he loves Class Rep... But he’s engaged to Kagaho-san... And he’s so pissed at me for getting involved with them,” and he looked at his senior. “He’s pissed at you too because you have superpowers. Is that true?” 

It took him a while to think. “Technically,” he replied, “it’s not a superpower. It’s an ability which I just discovered recently... And that, unfortunately involves you, Arakita, and Fuku.” 

He blinked.  

“Anyway,” he looked at his junior’s back: obviously scratched, with even a little blood staining the proud jersey, “we need to do something about your back. Let’s head to the bath to treat that.” 

“Okay.” 

“And just like Fuku said, I’ll keep an eye on you, two, since you’re banned from training.” 

“Can I still head to the mountains, though?” 

“No.” 

“Eeeeeeh,  Toudou-san--!?” 

“When Fuku says you’re banned, you’re damn BANNED – meaning you will NOT get out of yer room to think about what you did! You’s started an unofficial race without his permission and he even pulled me to babysit you! And if you’ll even do something funny tomorrow, we’ll all get killed by Fuku! Get it!? Geez...” 

He stepped backward. For Sangaku, that was probably the first time to see Jinpachi that pissed, someone whom he thought who was more of a prankster and a social alien compared to Yasutomo. Still confused about everything, he decided to follow him – for now. 

“By the way, Manami,” to his surprise, Jinpachi called him. 

“Hm?” 

“Do you really wanna know what my ‘power’ is?” 

He blinked again. Judging by how he flaunted it, and how Yasutomo ‘testify’ his claim by challenging him a while ago, maybe him having psychic powers are true – in some sense.

Chapter Text

JINPACHI AND SANGAKU

 

Training Center's bathhouse.

“AW! AW! AW! Please, stop! AWW! Toudou-san, careful, please--!” 

“Sorry! But don’t move, have to apply this here...” 

Sangaku didn’t expect the first and second day to be that tough. He was trying to stay focused now that they will be entering Inter-High in a few months by not thinking about what happened in the past week or two. The second day seems weirder when Yasutomo suddenly challenged him and told him something he couldn’t understand not a single bit… 

Well, he understood part of it. He is angry after learning what happened between him and Eriko, who has been disguising as the idol Lovely Kakigami for four years, and after what happened to Maera— 

Now that he mentioned it, did something really happened between him and Maera? He wasn’t sure. After all, they’re childhood friends and neighbors, there is nothing strange about it… until when Yasutomo declared something which made him more confused… 

I like Miyahara – no. I LOVE HER, DAMMIT!  

…Did he really meant what he said? As far as he knew, he and Maera had a past around two years ago. He even knew about it, but come to think of it, he didn’t know that the guy who saved and insulted her and his current broody senior are one and the same person. 

But, is Yasutomo already engaged to Eriko? Regardless if they only agreed with conditions, was it already called cheating? Then, why would he say that he loves Maera? To provoke him? To make him realize that falling in love with Eriko (as Lovely) is the most stupid thing he did? 

If anyone will ask Sangaku, he would probably say he isn’t sure. After all, all he wanted is to be free, and if there is someone who isn’t as lucky as him, he will do whatever he can to help – unless if his methods are not considered standard to others. 

What he would like to deal about at this time is his straining shoulders and back. It was the unexpected race and Yasutomo’s almost-accident that has caused him to have a pair of purplish bruises on the back of his shoulder blades that were honestly painful he was already on the verge of tears. Luckily, it was Jinpachi who advised him to take a bath and he went with him to have those wing-like bruises be treated. 

Good thing, the older climber has his first-aid kit for injuries such as Sangaku’s. The medicated patches seem waterproof when placed on both bruises after applying some ointment before patting them on his back. 

“There you go,” and he gently pat the affected shoulder. “Boo-boo will go away in a day! How are you feeling now?” 

“Better!” he finally smiled. “I don’t know you have these stuff with you!” 

“It’s a standard if your family runs a hot spring inn.” 

“Wow, that’s neat! Thanks, Toudou-san!” 

Finally, the senior and the junior climber had a quiet chance to enjoy the hot bath, but for Jinpachi, it’s probably his chance to get to know this controversial first year better. 

“Can’t believe he did that to you,” he shook his head, pertaining to Yasutomo. “I swear I’ll give him a piece of my mind--!” 

“I don’t think it’s his fault,” despite what happened, Sangaku still managed to defend the broody senior (which convinced Jinpachi how pure his soul is). “He almost lost balance a while ago, so I was trying to save him.” 

It only made the older sighed. “This is really my fault.” 

He blinked. “What do you mean?” 

It just made him smile bitterly. “Remember when I asked you if you wanna know more about my ‘powers’?” 

It piqued his interest. “Oh yeah!” he looked at Jinpachi. “You asked me that!” 

“Well, my little junior… that’s one reason why I said it’s my fault.” 

It frowned the first year. “Why’s that?” 

Jinpachi leaned on the tub’s tiles and took a deep breath before starting the story. “I can predict someone’s relationship status or personal situation, or that’s what they say – even if I don’t mean to because I’m merely telling them what I have in mind in my story – only to end up actually true. By observing a person first and how they treated another person, several scenarios will begin to run in my mind before writing it down as my basis for my novel. Once I’m done, whenever that happens, everything gets messed up.” 

His explanation made Sangaku more confused. “I don’t understand—” 

“Would you like me to give you an example?” 

He nodded at his offer. 

“I’ll give you one of my characters’ background stories, then.” 

“Oh yeah,” he remembered, “you said you write stories too!” 

“I am!” he winked. “Here it goes… 

There is this boy who was born sickly to the point that his parents thought his case is already hopeless. But if not for a kind neighbor of his age to try something that will require him physical strength, he’ll never gain enough strength to go to class and play like regular kids do. He was damn indebted to his neighbor slash best friend, until when he turned a bit older, he almost died in the woods until an angel saved him – well, not literally an angel, but someone who passed by. She saved her life by bringing him to a hospital even though he hated going there, and since then he never stopped looking for that person to thank her personally… and, hopefully, to take her hand forever—” 

“W-wait, Toudou-san,” Sangaku stopped him. “Th-that’s my story! I didn’t remember telling that—” 

“See?” 

He then paused, as he started to understand what Jinpachi meant. He never told his story to  anyone  else, yet he knew, but it was meant for his original character in progress. 

He was amazed, but scared at the same time. “How did you do that?” he asked. 

Jinpachi only replied with a sigh. “As far as I know, I’m just observing people. Beyond that, I absolutely have no idea.” 

“But you’ve guessed it right--!” 

“I did. Even if I didn’t mean to. And that’s something that’s been bugging me ever since the start of the new school year. I even suspected that it started when the engagement news spread like wildfire, but who knows if this started sooner. I’ve been trying to hide this from anyone because I have to see for myself if what was happening to my story and in real life actually matches by 99 percent. But looks like there’s no use for me to hide anymore...”  

And he faced Sangaku, right hand raised.  

“I swear in front of all the gods of the mountains of Japan, I, Jinpachi Toudou, never lied, and never will. You are my witness, Manami. I want to fully understand why I have this ‘power’, but to do that, I hope that you could allow me to help you and everyone whatever and whenever I can before I graduate and before everything gets too late for those people involved.” 

It was the most awkward yet the sincerest oath of honor in the middle of a bath, where Jinpachi swore to a sole witness that he only invented those stories based on his observations, and has no intention of harming anyone. He would understand Yasutomo’s anger, or Mukahi’s confusion, but at the same time relieved that some people like Eriko, Hayato, Touichiro, and (surprisingly) Juichi believed in him. 

And luckily, Sangaku is one guy who gets easily amazed by things he had never experienced, himself, thus gaining another believer. 

“You have your witness, Toudou-san,” and he also raised his right hand. “There is one thing, though.” 

“Spill it,” Jinpachi said. 

His curiosity heightened. “Can you tell me more?” 

Fascinated by his curiosity, Jinpachi gave a genuine smile as he splashed his own face with warm water to freshen up before starting another story. 

“The next one’s a background of one of the main ladies,” he began. “This girl has been in love with this boy since they were kids, but the guy’s freakin’ oblivious. She’s been there like since they were three or four… She’s been… hiding her feelings for years so once the time has come, she will tell him how she feels. But… 

Things have changed when an angel saved the guy from sure death, and since then, the guy has been searching for her for two years, trying to follow her with her angelic voice, without realizing that he is starting to hurt and abandon his best friend who was his original savior. He was… mesmerized by that angel’s beauty, that going to that mountainous forest became his habit in hopes of seeing her again.  

Until one day, fate permitted him to meet the angel again, and decided to let her know of his feelings… only to be rejected later. The angel explained that she’s been cursed for years, her heart being chained to be reserved for someone else. Only the person who has the ‘key’ can set her free and love her… 

And the angel just said he’s not the guy she’s been looking for.” 

From a face of anticipation, Sangaku’s expression gradually dimmed. The more Jinpachi tells something, the more familiar the story is. A story that, if possible, he doesn’t want to hear anymore. Yet, at the back of his mind, he wanted to hear more. 

“What happened,” he asked weakly, “to his best friend?” 

“I’m getting there,” the third year assured him. “When the boy got home, he wasn’t that excited when he told his best friend about his latest adventure, especially after the angel rejected him, and finding out that she’s no angel at all. He wanted to help. He wanted to have that key… to the point that he told his bestfriend… 

What if… we never met?” 

He couldn’t say anything about it at all. 

Jinpachi paused for a while to check on his junior – awfully quiet, his whole body submerged in steaming water except his head, slumping upon hearing the continuation. Probably, in his heart, he is starting to regret asking his senior to tell him more, while the senior was dumb enough to give in to his request. His eyes softened after seeing the poor little first year’s face… 

Damn, I freakin’ knew it!  

But Jinpachi has to go on. Remembering Yusuke’s words, he was given that ability to do something noble before graduation. Thus he has to ask for each affected person’s opinion before he could continue. 

“So, Manami,” he took a heavy sigh, “whatcha think?” 

It somehow woke Sangaku up. “Me?” 

“Yeah. You. Let’s say you’re the guy in the story. What’s your opinion?” 

His confusion grew. Just out of the blue, Jinpachi asked him about his opinion, especially if he will put himself in that guy character’s shoes – well, putting it on a realist’s perspective, he is asking about his opinion in his own story. 

“If you’re that guy,” Jinpachi said, “and you said those words… without thinking how your best friend feels… what would you do?” 

And since it happened in real life, it is like giving him a second chance to step back and correct something – although he wasn’t sure about the pining best friend part, because Maera didn’t mention anything about her own feelings – but if that is really true, considering Jinpachi’s ability, she won’t still talk, and she will have her own reasons why. 

Yet, Sangaku thought, if that is really true, he wouldn’t be sure anymore how to answer. 

“If,” he replied, “she really thought about that… Or, let’s say, she does… I won’t be sure what to answer. I’ll be forever grateful to her, that’s for sure. And if, in any way, I’ve offended her, I wanna say sorry. If what I’ve said will prevent her from telling me her feelings, I’ll keep on asking her about it.” 

Such a good answer, the senior thought, which led him to ask him another question in form of another story: 

“Now, there is this another guy who is angry at the world to the point that he will punch anyone in his way, until he met a certain girl whom he saved from bad guys. He only did that because he has issues with the guys who were ganging against the poor girl, so their meeting wasn’t as smooth as you might think. But two years later, they meet again, as if they were fated to meet to make each of their lives complicated. Do you know why? 

The guy who saved that girl is already engaged to the angel who once saved the oblivious boy... who happened to be the girl’s neighbor.” 

Sangaku’s blue eyes widened again. 

“That guy happened to know the oblivious boy because they are on the same team, while the little girl was working for the angel. As for earlier, when the little girl found out that the angel she respected so much has hurt her neighbor, she confronted her, telling her it’s all her fault for making her keep his own feelings to that oblivious boy for good. And when the lone wolf found out what the oblivious boy did... 

He challenged him to a duel, warning him to stay away from those two girls if he will continue to remain oblivious around him for the rest of his life to the point that he hasn’t noticed he is already hurting someone. Because the lone wolf still has respect for his bride. But with the little girl... 

He is beginning to fall in love with her the first time he saved her life.” 

Jinpachi has never seen Sangaku’s face so grim that he stopped talking, maybe to let him think for a while. But seeing his grim face is already enough for him to also get hurt. Obviously, he couldn’t hide the fact that he is beginning to regret why he wrote in the first place because he kept on scaring and hurting people, even if he don’t mean to at all... 

Yet, Jinpachi has to move on, posing a million-dollar-yen question to Sangaku. “If you’re the oblivious guy in the story,” he said, “and now you know each side of their stories, how will you respond to that little girl’s feelings? And how will you answer that lone wolf’s challenge?” 

As much as he doesn’t want to answer, the outcome will still lie on his decision, especially now that he fully understand what has been happening. Had his senior never told him his plot, he might remain oblivious for the rest of his life and that is already considered dangerous. He sighed. 

“I’ll still say sorry,” he said, “to all the people I’ve hurt. I’ll even say sorry to that angel for me jumping into my own feelings without thinking. And regarding my relationship with that girl... 

I don’t wanna… compromise our friendship.” 

Silence followed his answer. Jinpachi didn’t react at all. He observed the little first year’s face after coming up with an answer: he is obviously in pain. He somehow understood why he has that answer. If that happened to him, he thought, instead of making things complicated for both of them, might as well stay as best friends… 

Even if this will mean hurting the girl who has been in love with her for years (if that is proven to be true), and then, himself. 

“So,” the senior climber broke the silence, “that’s your final answer?” 

The younger slowly nodded. 

Jinpachi sighed again, he wasn’t sure how many times he already sighed in a day. So many things happened and were revealed in a matter of day that he wasn’t sure anymore for how long he’ll keep up. He stood up from the tub. 

“Oh well,” he said, “thanks for the materials, Manami. I appreciate your cooperation in this.” 

“Nah,” Sangaku shook his head. “I’m glad I was able to talk to you, Toudou-san. Both my back and my heart feel good after that.” 

“I thought you deserve it – and longer sleep,” he turned to him. “Guess your back injury showed up so you could rest a bit – and think about what you did. And I’ll still talk to that grumpy guy. Fuku entrusted both of you to me, you know…” 

He got off the tub and picked his towel as he headed back to dress up. 

“Don’t stay too long there,” he advised before he left. 

“I’ll follow you in a bit,” Sangaku said. 

The moment Jinpachi left, he was all alone in the tub, and it gave him a chance to think about the things they have talked about. He couldn’t help but to be amazed by Jinpachi’s ‘power’, but at the same time, he never felt scared and unsure since the incident two years ago. He thought, if Maera really thought about those things to him, and he said those words without knowing her feelings, he began to think that he doesn’t deserve to be someone for her.  

And remembering Yasutomo’s declaration of love for Maera, he concluded, maybe, he is way better for her – if not only for the fact that he and the girl he tried to confessed to are already engaged. 

Sangaku decided to stay in the tub for one more minute while thinking of a plan to probably execute Jinpachi’s working plot. And speaking of Jinpachi, while dressing up to cap off the night, he was already trying his best not to cry... 

He is starting to worry that his plan to fix their lives before graduation is starting to crumble, fearing that he won’t be able to live up to Yusuke’s expectations. This is different from being in a race, because this already involves someone else’s feelings to another, but he felt like he’s controlling them. And he hates it. 

Chapter Text

HAYATO AND YASUTOMO

 

One way to cool oneself after a nerve-wrecking, open-ended race is, of course, a shower. And obviously, Yasutomo needed one, that, after his unofficial race with that wonder boy heartbreaker, he treated his own wounds before heading to the shower area. 

Fifteen minutes has passed, and when he went to his room supposedly to sleep his anger right away, someone was waiting for him, reading the book he kept on recommending him to read, which already has a second book. 

“What’re you doin’ here?” he glared at Hayato. 

“I thought you need someone to talk to at this moment,” he guessed-- 

“No.” 

“And you can’t kick me out of here, either. We’re sharing the same room with Jinpachi, remember?” 

Just as he mentioned the name of that cursed climber, his anger rose again, but before he could vent, Hayato immediately hushed him. 

“Look,” he started, “I know how angry you are at Jinpachi right now, or even at Manami, but that will be useless if you don’t explain yourself.” 

“There’s no reason for me to explain myself,” he said, grabbing a shirt-- 

“Jinpachi said you’re in love with someone. And that’s not Eriko-san.” 

He then paused and glared at his teammate again.  

“Before you could tell me that I’ve no right to pry over someone else’s business, you need to examine yourself first. Take Jinpachi, for example. Did he do something that made you piss off? Does guessing one’s past through observation count as an offense against you? And what about Manami? Does he even have an idea about your connection with Eriko-san? Does he also have an idea who Eriko-san really is? Lastly... 

Do you really love his neighbor?” 

The grumpy third year raised his eyebrow on those bombarding questions. With those questions the ace sprinter posted on him, he might have already knew about that head-band-wearing story creep’s ability thus he proposed to talk to him on his behalf, which only aggravated him, as he felt like he has no one to support him and his frustrations over his feelings. 

“Did he tell you to talk to me?” he tried to guess. 

“No,” Hayato replied. “Like I said, I wanna talk to you--” 

“For what? Spat on me for challenging that wonder freak just because he made a crime on not one, but two girls?” 

“That’s why I wanna hear your side. What the hell happened while you’re on your vacation?” 

Feeling trapped in his teammate’s interrogation, Yasutomo has no choice but to sit down and talk while Hayato offered him some tea to calm himself down first. 

***** 

So Yasutomo told his side of story, and Hayato listened. Hayato also explained to him how he knew about the situation, in which the former surprisingly listened. And the atmosphere became somehow calmer than a few minutes ago. 

“So you’re saying,” Yasutomo tried to understand his teammate’s explanation, “Toudou’s ability started when he called you about Fuku-chan? And he started to write stuff after observing some people – including me and Eriko-chan? And Manami... And Maera-chan?” 

Because he once said to Sangaku to call Maera by her name and not just ‘Class Rep’ as a proof of their twelve-year friendship, thus he thought of saying her name to be a good example. 

“Yeah,” Hayato replied. “Even Izumida knows about it, too. In fact, he became one of Jinpachi’s subjects to test if his bluff in his story are really accurate. You heard it, he tested his own ability... 

Jinpachi is scared of his own ability, dude. But he doesn’t want to let anyone know about it.” 

It took him seconds to think if Hayato is telling the truth. Strangely, he couldn’t smell fear out of the ace climber. If he was able to ‘mask’ his own scent of fear from him, that is what he can already call a superpower. And knowing Jinpachi, he’s too vain and proud to admit of his own fear. 

“If he’s really that scared,” he even asked, “then why does he keep on writing stuff?” 

“He has a purpose,” his teammate replied. “It’s to help those people from getting stray from their own feelings, like you.” 

He just raised his eyebrow. “I don’t get it like hell.” 

“Originally, he wanted to write a novel out of inspiration from Juichi, and then he learned about your story, and Manami’s story, through Juichi’s story. That’s also one reason Juichi went to your race alone to stop you. He felt like he reminded you and Manami of himself a few years ago.” 

“W-wait,” he became too curious about Juichi’s own story. “What about Fuku-chan's story!?” 

But Hayato shook his head. “Sorry. Can’t tell.” 

“What the hell!?” he flung his own hand in frustration. “You’re telling me about Toudou’s issue, but you can’t tell me about Fuku-chan's story!? Like, seriously--!?” 

“I’m sure Juichi will tell them to you in no time. For now, I would suggest to trust Jinpachi on what he is doing.” 

“And why’s that!?” 

“Admit it, Yasutomo. This is the first time you fell in love with someone, but this is also the first time you’re getting hurt because of it. You said you never fell in love – ever. So why are you so freakin’ affected with Manami’s problem?” 

He felt like electrocuted in his heart when Hayato made him realize his own personal issue on Jinpachi’s behalf that he couldn’t talk right away. But then... 

“Fine, I’ll tell you,” he bit his lip. “I... don’t know, either.” 

Hayato blinked. 

“All is know is that... the curse started when Toudou kept on bluffing about Maera-chan and Eriko-chan's fight over Manami, but the room’s soundproof, I can prove that, I didn’t hear anything. And then he suddenly ask me if I like Maera-chan... That was the first time my heart pounded like it will explode anytime it will kill me. As far as I know, I saved her life, but our first meeting isn’t as good as you thought. But after talking to Maera-chan, myself... 

That was the first time I felt like... I felt like I wanna protect her with my life. And I got damn angry with Manami because she’s in love with that guy, but guess what Manami did? Nothing! He’s damn clueless about the girl’s feelings, man! And you know what made me more pissed off? She said that he even tried to confess to Eriko-chan – as Lovely Kakigami the idol! And when she dumped him, he said to Maera-chan, what if they never met at all, and met Eriko-chan instead!? Get it, Shinkai!? He’s not just oblivious, he’s freakin’ insensitive! And he even has a nerve to thank Maera-chan for bringing road racing to his life like he’s damn indebted to the girl while she decided to keep her feelings for good and let herself get hurt so it won’t hurt him in the process! Like, AAAAGH!” 

With Yasutomo’s explanation, Hayato couldn’t help but to whistle. No wonder he is pissed off. And on top of that, all of what Maera told him are all in Jinpachi’s lavender notebook. 

“O...kay,” his shoulders dropped in resignation. “But then, like I’ve said, does Manami really have an idea on what this Maera thinks? Like, did she ever tell him about how she felt?” 

That thought caught the grumpy teammate. “Now that you’ve mentioned it...” 

“Manami’s still a kid. Obviously, he will not have any idea at all what she thinks and feels unless she tells him. And if you’ve noticed him before the race, he has no clue at all. Dude, you can’t just expect a kid to know exactly why he’s angry at you because no one tells him why. If it’s related to road racing, he might still be able to get it without anyone telling him, but love is something that might be new to him, just like you do. So I hate to say this, Yasutomo… 

You got angry at Manami for no reason at all.” 

He could feel himself melting in shame. All this time, his anger at Sangaku was extremely useless if the person he is pissed at is totally clueless about it because no one tells him why. And to think that he is just growing up learning things like love, no wonder he doesn’t feel anything strange whenever they talk about relationships… 

However, Yasutomo was still bothered about that kid’s confession to his own fiancée. 

“And what about his confession to Eriko-chan?” he asked. 

Hayato just chuckled. “Do you think Manami really loves her just because she saved his life once?  Have you come across the word infatuation?” 

He blinked again. Obviously, he isn’t the type who reads what Hayato mostly reads. 

“It means,” he explained, “a strong admiration or love over something, but it tends to be just a temporary feeling. There are several factors for a person to get infatuated over something or someone. Let’s take Manami’s case. From what I’ve learned from Jinpachi’s notes, he fell in love with an idol and became her fan after saving his life. That’s just it. If he is really in love with Eriko-san, he should be able to find more reasons why. Although he got hurt from being rejected, he didn’t pursue anymore. Everything was just an infatuation on his part. Now…” 

He looked at Yasutomo. 

“Going back to my question earlier, do you really love this Maera?” 

There was an emphasis on the word really, because Hayato might be thinking that what his friend is currently feeling could be another case of infatuation, while the grumpy ace assistant is starting to get confused. 

“Granted that you don’t know why you’re in love with her,” he went on, “try to go back to the first time you met her. What caused you to feel that now? Is it because she’s cute? Is it because you saw something else in her that it grabbed your attention? Try to assess yourself on those factors. I’m not saying this so you could stay away from her, you definitely have the right to fall in love. It’s just that you need to think twice before saying you’re really in love with her because in the end, if that feeling is gone, and if Maera will still choose Manami over you, you’ll suffer a lot.” 

Thanks to that assessment, Yasutomo gave himself time to think: does he really love her, whether there is a reason or not, or was it just an infatuation? Come to think of it, when Jinpachi asked if he liked Maera, it was a question, not a statement assuring that he actually likes her. It was just a matter of assessing a person involved through observations to later execute it as part of his novel plot. 

And to think of a possibility if Maera will still choose Sangaku over him because of obvious reasons, he will definitely feel defeated in the end – but he hasn’t been in a situation where he will be rejected. But what if he will be in Sangaku’s shoes at that time? 

Before he could give his thoughts about Hayato’s take on both sides of the story through Jinpachi’s novel, Hayato suddenly looked at the clock. 

“I’ll head to the bath now,” he stood up. “You have all the time in the world to think about it. Better yet, talk to Jinpachi.” 

“Wait,” he stopped him. “I still don’t get it… Why’re you doing this for Toudou? Is it because you’re doing this as a friend, or just because you just like complicated stories like this?” 

The ace sprinter just chuckled at his question. “Both,” he replied. “And there is one more thing… 

This is a warning by him, not just for you, but also for the people involved in his novel.” 

He left the room, leaving the number 2 more confused than ever.  

Hayato left a vague message to Yasutomo: a warning from Jinpachi. But a warning for what? If this is related to his complicated relationship with Eriko, Maera, and even with Sangaku, he wasn’t sure anymore if he will take it seriously, or disregard it like the usual. 

***** 

As Hayato was on his way to the bathroom, he and Jinpachi met, who was just fresh from the bath and already dressed up. 

“Hey,” the headband guy greeted. 

“Done with the bath?” Hayato asked. 

“Manami’s still inside, though.” 

“I see,” but before he went on, he noticed his teammate’s face: despite already taken a bath, he still looked pale that he raised his eyebrow. 

“You don’t look,” he guessed, “refreshed. Still having issues with Manami?” 

Jinpachi shook his head, and decided to cut the chase why he seemed pale. 

“You know, Shinkai…” 

His voice was shaking. Not in fear, but something else, in which it made Hayato feel uneasy. 

“I kinda,” he continued, “understand now how I got this stupid ‘power’… Although still… I don’t understand… 

Why me, of all people?” 

His teammate blinked. 

“I talked to Manami,” he continued. “I told him my story. And it was just confirmed... All I wrote, it all happened to him and to his neighbor. Why is this happening to me? It’s like I have this super intuition where I can sense someone’s relationship with another... And it keeps on happening... I tried to follow Maki-chan's advice to use it to help other people, but I ended up hurting them instead. That’s not my intention, Shinkai! And I admit it, I can’t hide it from you anymore... 

Shinkai, I’m scared...!” 

The moment Jinpachi raised his head, Hayato’s eyes widened. For the first time in three years, he saw his tears, and they are not related to the Bicycle Club nor the Inter-High, but with his personal issue over his recently-discovered ability. It was a painful truth he wasn’t ashamed to cry in front of a guy. 

“All I did was to observe them,” he went on. “But just after having a senior-junior talk with Manami, it made me realize what causes this to happen and how. From the time I talked to Arakita, then to the President, then to Tsukigawa-chan, then to Fuku, then later to Manami… I’ve figured out what they all have in common which made me have this power... 

It’s  love. ” 

Love became the common factor of the people Jinpachi recently talked to. Love that shows different forms and purposes. Love that currently makes them miserable, which made him feel responsible for their pain from realizing their mistakes through telling them their own stories in form of a novel in progress. Before even Hayato could figure that out to help the confused teammate, Jinpachi managed to understand and figure out the mystery, himself. 

“I just wanted to write my story in peace,” he sobbed. “I just wanted their opinion and to help them realize something... But the more I create a scenario in my head, the more it gets more accurate regardless who among them are involved! I’m hurting those people instead of making them better! I feel like I’m controlling their own story, I find it scary! I don’t want that! I don’t know what to do anymore! I don’t wanna write anymore! Maybe that will make everything better--!” 

“Who says love makes things  always  better?” 

His tear-soaked eyes blinked. 

“Love is never that blissful,” Hayato explained. “You should know that. It always comes with trials, misunderstandings, obsession… It’s not always a bed of roses. But it doesn’t mean that you have to hurt them for good just for them to learn a lesson. You’re already on the right track on doing the right thing, Jinpachi. What will happen after that will now be theirs to decide.  

You wanna make them have a happy ending they deserve? Then let them realize everything. Your only job is to make them aware, not to scare them. Beyond that will now be up to their hearts’ decisions.” 

Hayato’s words made him think deeply, like it doesn’t matter anymore how he got that ability, and why, but maybe, to have just one person in the world who possess this 'ability’ will mean not to interfere with their actions and decisions and instead to let his stories be their guide in doing the right thing… 

Maybe, at this point, there are people who will get confused, and people who will be amused by him, and how they will take his ‘stories’ will then be decided through days to come. Besides, Yusuke once told him... 

You having that ability sounds like you have the makings of a detective...   love detective.  

“Maki-chan said,” he sniffed, “I’m a love detective. Someone who investigates and solves things related to love... I thought it was lame. I even think he’s bluffing things, which is unusual for him.” 

Hayato smiled. “I would agree with Yusuke, dude. You’re a different type of detective. Good observation and deduction skills are needed for you to become a detective, but in your case, your novel in progress and keen observations made you guess their background story. In real life, that should be normal for a highly-skilled detective. And you have those qualities.” 

Despite the encouragement his teammate said, the headband-wearing racer wasn’t sure about it, considering that he couldn’t hide how scared he really is when it comes to his own ability. 

“To be honest with you,” he added, “I’m quite envious that you have that ability.” 

“…Why?” Jinpachi could only ask. He was too weak to throw another question that might lead to another confusion. 

“I’ve been helping you in this because I love solving mysteries, and being part of your situation made me want to discover what else you can do next. I almost didn’t believe at first, until Izumida testified and I read your notes, myself. You’re freaking amazing, dude! If you’re getting scared and confused about what is happening, that’s just normal. But the Jinpachi I know is someone who takes the worst cases into strengths. You managed to do that whenever you’re in a race, what more when you’re solving people’s love problems?” 

He didn’t reply to his teammate’s encouragement, but he was listening. An ability to be envious of, people feel the same thing whenever he is in a race. The thing is, he is not in his comfort zone, it is something new to him. He might be listening, but for the first time, he wasn’t sure if he will still keep up after what has been happening. 

Both didn’t notice Yasutomo, who was about to go to a vending machine to buy his favorite soda, when he heard their conversation and, for the first time, saw Jinpachi cry in fear and confusion. From there, he remembered how he threatened him to crush him in a race just because he can predict anything, but to find out that he, also, has no idea how he did it, he decided to consider throwing a truce for now, and maybe, observe, and go with the flow.

Chapter Text

ERIKO AND MAERA

 

“W... welcome back... Kagaho-san.” 

It has been a month since their confrontation, but Maera felt uncomfortable after seeing Eriko again after a few days of absence for personal reasons. Is it because of her pending disappointment at her, or is it because of guilt from being angry at her for nothing? 

Despite that, Eriko still greeted her as cheerful as she always do. “Looks like you’re into something,” she noticed that the members of the White Wing Council are flocking in one corner for some reason. 

“Sorry about that,” Mao grinned, “I was actually trying to get to know Miyahara-san when these two showed up--” 

“You sound like you don’t wanna see us,” Yurime glared at her. 

“Do you hate us, Mao-chan?” Yukime turned puppy-eyed. 

“Anyway,” she changed the topic, “you’re earlier than expected! What happened?” 

“Let’s say there was a change of plans,” Eriko explained. “Besides, we still have to prepare for the annual Pep Rally. We only have a week to do so.” 

Maera blinked at the term she heard for the first time. “Pep... Rally...?” 

“That’s our yearly send-off to all academic and athletic sports clubs who will compete for their respective competitions,” Mao explained. 

“The White Wing Council traditionally leads the send-off,” Yurime added. “We usually do some performances to boost everyone’s morale!” 

“That is just one of Hakone’s best-kept secrets why it’s the best school for athletes!” Yukime boasted. 

“We can even show you a video of last year’s Pep Rally!” Mao volunteered. “You’ll be amazed by how beautiful Eriko-san's voice is, like Lovely Kakigami possessed her--!” 

“She isn’t dead!” the twins glared at her.  

“You don’t know how figures of speech work, do you?” 

Maera just sighed. Obviously, they have no idea that their own White Princess is none other than Lovely Kakigami, herself – but she decided to keep quiet about it, as she noticed Eriko chuckling with them.  

She finds the Pep Rally new to her, maybe because she’s still a first year and still have lots to learn about the ins and outs of Hakone Academy. But since Mao will let her watch previous videos of the last Pep Rally later on, maybe she can get an idea on how they are doing it, since very few schools, if not only Hakone, are having this kind of send-off to their campus elites. 

“Anyway,” Eriko changed the subject again, and this time, looked at the first year, which almost made her jump away in anxiety, but the next scene made her surprised and confused in a good way. 

“I thought of having a little breather,” she explained, “but Mukahi is with the Bicycle Club at this moment to oversee their training so… 

Will you sub her for me, Miyahara-san?” 

She didn’t get it at first, but seeing her face back in good spirits, she obliged to take her invitation. 

***** 

Private café.  

Maera couldn’t look at Eriko. Still feeling guilty about what happened last month, she couldn’t enjoy the tea she ordered. Eriko, meanwhile, has been observing her since they entered the café, and from there she understood why she was acting that way. 

“Are you still,” she guessed, “mad at me, Miyahara-san?” 

She looked at her in surprise, but then that was only five seconds before looking at her tea again.  

“N-no, Ma’am,” she finally replied. “Not anymore… In fact, I should be the one to ask that to you… after what I did.” 

Eriko was also surprised a bit. All this time, the two spectacled girls thought they are angry at each other. Having this kind of conversation could help them understand better, they thought. 

“You’re right,” Maera began. “Compared to you, I’m weaker and more coward than you. Sangaku and I have been neighbors and friends since we were little, but in all those years, I never told him how I feel. So when you came into his life, I thought I was so selfish to tell you that my right to tell my feelings has been revoked when you rejected him. But I’ve realized that the problem is me. It’s like something is preventing me from telling my feelings to him, and I swear it’s not you.” 

“Then,” Eriko asked, “what do you think is preventing you?” 

She bit her lip while touching the handle of the teaspoon, thinking of the right worda to explain her side. “Since we’ve been friends for years… If I tell him my feelings, I might get scared and anxious as to what he’ll think of me afterwards. I wanna tell him how I feel, but at the same time, I don’t wanna compromise our friendship.” 

Eriko understood that kind of pain. It’s hard to fall in love with your bestfriend. She heard so many stories of it that ended up badly, and she couldn’t help but to remember Mukahi’s experience with Juichi when she told her about it way back. 

“Yasu and I,” she decided to share hers, “we’re not best friends, but we had a mutual relationship. We’re not totally close, but we understand each other. He understood my situation with my family that is why he agreed with the engagement…” 

“Even if he’s not into it, too?” 

Eriko looked at her. For some reason, she remembered that very day that she saw Yasutomo comforting Maera after the confrontation. She guessed they had a good talk after that. 

“Yes,” she nodded. “Well, tell me, how do you find talking to him?” 

Maera blinked at her question. Eriko was asking about her experience while talking to Yasutomo, since 95% of Hakone’s population are afraid of him. “Well,” she began to think, “he’s definitely intimidating at first glance. I have to be honest that I got irked by his attitude when he saved me two years ago… But after talking to him, I thought I was talking to a different person. He knows how and when to listen. He even gives unconventional advice as well.” 

The White Princess finds the first year’s description of Yasutomo very satisfying that she smiled. “Maybe I was just used to his nature when we were children, so I don’t know that some people have that impression of him. Anyway, what did he say to you?” 

That question triggered her memory of her conversation with Yasutomo at that time, which only reddened her cheeks whenever she remembers every last word he said. Eriko noticed her cheeks as well, which made her convinced that something definitely happened between the two of them at that time. 

“I just told him what happened,” she tried to recall, “but I’m not sure anymore why he asked that question. He asked if… what if… What if there is someone out there who is actually chasing after my feelings and that person would be someone like him…” 

Eriko’s expression changed slightly upon hearing those things. To her, it is clear that it’s more than just a what-if. Maera has no idea that it was already Yasutomo’s way of confessing his feelings towards her. But she decided to keep it for now to be certain by asking her another question: 

“What did you answer, then?” 

Maera only bit her lip in response. She wasn’t able to answer him at that time because she’ll be missing the next period. But the truth is, she wasn’t sure what to answer. Considering also that she is talking to none other than the fiancée, she wasn’t sure if she has to answer or not. But, as President of the White Wing Council, Maera is obliged to respond. 

“I,” she sighed, “I haven’t had a chance to answer him because I’ve lost track of time back then. And to be honest… Until now, I don’t know what to answer, either. Because I find it impossible. I mean… Who will be sane enough to chase someone like me?” 

Eriko understood. She also knows who thinks the same thing, if they are totally concerned about how they look and how people perceive them as. But she has been thinking, whatever her answer will be, although this will hurt anyone in the process, her sincerity and truthfulness will still count. But then, if she will decide to pass that opportunity, what will happen to her – if Sangaku will decide that he and Maera will just remain best friends? 

Thinking about her future, the president decided to give her something to think about. “There is someone I would like to recommend to you,” she said. 

She blinked. What kind of recommendation? “Wh-who is it?” 

“This person will help you make more certain decisions. You’ll never notice it at first, but once you hear him talk, you’ll understand.” 

Him? Maera wasn’t sure why Eriko will recommend a guy to talk to, unless she is referring her to a guy who can take care of her until the end. But knowing her, why he would recommend someone to be her boyfriend? 

Somehow, her recommendation made her curious. “Who is he?” 

Then, Eriko gave her the number to call by showing her contacts on her phone. A huge question mark popped on her head upon pointing who to call… 

“Jinpachi… Toudou!? Isn’t he Sangaku’s teammate!?” 

Eriko expected her reaction. “I was surprised at how he handled my issue. Trust me, once you talked to him, you’ll be surprised as well. This guy can help you with your situation. How and when you’ll call him, and how you’ll take his advice will now be up to you.” 

Maera only knew Jinpachi by face and name because of Sangaku. But if the White Princess, herself, is recommending him for her troubles, there must be something special about him that can help. Whatever that is, she has to discover it – by herself. 

Since they have just talked about Yasutomo, Maera thought of throwing the same question at Eriko. But this time... 

“M-Ma’am,” she asked, “since you’ve brought up Arakita-san, I would like to ask you... about Sangaku. How do you find talking to him when you brought him home that time?” 

It was a good question that she became happily obliged to answer, since they have started their ‘date’ that way. “Well,” she started, “I thought he’s a shy type. He's one type who thinks back after saying something... except when he confessed to me out of the blue. I can tell from his eyes: he has the spirit, but there is lack of sincerity. I understand that he wanted to help me in my crisis, but I don’t think he hasn’t grasped the situation yet.” 

She clearly remembered their window conversation that night, where he said a painful what-if about not meeting her and meeting Eriko instead if Sangaku remained a sickly guy. He was obviously in pain at that time, but she later got surprised at his speedy recovery during those practices in the Bicycle Club. 

“Do you know the word ‘infatuation’?” 

Maera blinked at her question, but she nodded.  

“Because I believe,” she went frank, “that’s what he felt at me. Although I’m happy that he said he wanted to become my personal angel, but to do so will mean responsibility. For someone who has not experienced the nature of love yet due to age, I was also worried about his future. Just like you’ve said, you don’t want to see him hurt because I rejected him. Sangaku is experiencing love for the first time, starting with infatuation, so if you’re worried that he might not acknowledge your feelings because of it, I suggest not to be afraid. You’re into the right path. 

That is why I recommended Toudou-kun to you because he is an expert when it comes to these situations. It will help you decide not just about how you will answer Yasu. But also how you will let Sangaku-kun know how you feel.” 

Maera was still in confusion as to why Eriko will recommend Jinpachi, of all people, but she decided to take her advice. If he has the answer to the questions she has in mind, maybe talking to him will help her decide. But how she will start?  

“Miyahara-san...” 

She was surprised when Eriko called her while in the middle of a deep thought. 

“Whatever your decision will be, I will always there for you. I appreciate your frankness at that time, so you don’t have to worry about how I feel for you. You have that right. That’s why I would like to thank you for accepting my invitations so I can talk to you like this.” 

But in her heart, she is still unsure, because this time, she is worried about the White Princess. “What about you?” she asked. “You and Arakita-san are engaged. The public knows that. If he will be seen with someone, what will happen to you? It will affect your family, too.” 

She instead gave her a smile of assurance. “Whatever my problem is right now, I can handle it my way. Besides, Yasu and I already came with an agreement. Whoever he will decide to date in the future is already none of my concern. As long as our marriage will save my family in the future, that is what I can focus for now--” 

“Then... when you said that someone has your key to your chained heart... Do you think he really has it – not because he is engaged to you?” 

This time, Eriko went speechless.  

“W-well,” she scratched her cheek, “that’s just a what-if!” she laughed at herself. “H-he said, himself, he never fell in love before. But we can’t tell – st-still, it’s a what-if, we can’t tell if that will happen or not!” 

But for Eriko, some what-ifs can come true, especially if she will now put Jinpachi in the picture. But right now, she wanted to believe first that it’s just a what-if. It can be possible. It can be impossible... 

But deep inside, she almost had a heart attack, especially with her last conversation with Jinpachi, himself, days ago. 

***** 

Two days ago.  

Eriko called Jinpachi, intrigued by how he formulated those ‘stories’ and to find out more how much he knows her in a sense, starting with what they have left off before they parted ways a while back. 

So the princess, of course, was totally shocked to find out she’ll be married off, to her childhood friend, no less. Now, this childhood friend of his, they’re not totally close, but they have mutual feelings towards each other. When they reached middle school, she was sent to an all-girls' school while her friend was sent to where his parents once graduated. None of them heard any news about what happened to another, but during that time, they have learned about their future engagement, and from there she learned that her childhood friend ran away.  

She didn’t expect that they will meet again, in the same high school, no less, but their first meeting after three years left a bad taste in her mouth after he said something offensive to her family, thus she decided not to speak with him in the meantime and both lived their high school lives their way. However, it was like Fate won’t allow them not to cross ways every second, and to make it more complicated, their families already made a move to make their engagement public. Knowing that they both couldn’t escape their fate, they made an agreement as long as they can still do whatever they want...  

But, as time goes by, the closer they have become, the more certain her heart is. The princess knew she is cursed, and ever since she was born, she has been waiting for someone with that key to unchain her heart. As time goes by, she is getting more certain as to who owns the key – which is one of the reasons why he rejected one boy who tried to confess his feelings to her. She has actually been waiting for years, and she hoped that one right move will make her totally certain.” 

Eriko was awfully quiet on the other line. Just as expected, his ‘plot’ was painfully accurate to her own story that her tears began to well in the corner of her scarlet eyes.  

Now, Miss President,” Jinpachi then asked, “if you’re the princess in the story, who do you think has the key to unchain your heart?” 

It was such an important, yet triggering question. She was in awe with his observations, yet at the same time she was scared. But she has to think as the character in the story and not to treat it as her own. So she tried to remember the first parts before answering. 

“If I’m that character in the story,” she said, “I would place my bet on my childhood friend. They weren’t as close as everyone thought, but she has been admiring him ever since. She saw how he fought his own fate, which she couldn’t do out of the obligation that was put on her shoulders. He has no care if the responsibility will be given to him for his future, nor his own status, or even his family. He values his freedom and his right as a person. Those qualities her childhood friend has... She longed to have those kinds of qualities as well to fight her own fate... That’s why... 

That’s why... from that distance, she is starting to fall in love with him...” 

It was Jinpachi’s turn to be quiet, while Eriko tried not to sob or he will find out that she was already crying. She wiped her tears away and took a deep breath while pulling herself away from the phone, before getting his attention again... 

“What do you think, Toudou-kun?” 

W-well,” he took a deep breath, “you have a point. That possibility is 99% true to that princess. But how she will let him know and how that childhood friend will figure that out will now depend on the days to come. We’ll see what will happen to them in the future.” 

“I agree...” 

And when the batchmate hung up, she locked herself in her bathroom where she wailed, hoping that no one will hear her cry... 

Or maybe, she was hoping that  he  will hear her. 

***** 

“...Eriko-san?” 

She didn’t realize that Eriko was already spacing out, as she was only staring as her strawberry cake, when Maera suddenly called her when she noticed the White Princess spacing out. But what surprised her is how she called her, which was already in her first name. 

“Ah-I, I’m sorry!” she covered her own mouth. “I-it-it just slipped--!” 

“N-no, that’s alright,” Eriko calmed her down. “Actually, it will be better... if we can address each other in our first names from now on, since we’re both sharing the same problem with two same guys.” 

Their connections with those two idiots from the Bicycle Club made them closer, as what the first year felt. The past has somehow been set aside, as both of them decided to face whatever issue they will face when it comes to those two boys. 

“Would that be alright... Maera-san?” 

Maera smiled. She didn’t just reconciled with Eriko, they also became friends. What more if she will talk to Jinpachi anytime soon, as what Eriko suggested? Her curiosity grew about him, and as they were about to leave the café, she also hoped that he will definitely help her decide further about her stand for one person who was starting to fall in love with her, and another person whom she’s been chasing for years. 

Chapter Text

JINPACHI AND MAERA

 

That night. 

Maera was staring at her smartphone on her desk. It now has the number of the person Eriko recommended her to call. But what she doesn’t understand is that, of all people, why Jinpachi Toudou? And who exactly is he? 

You’ll never notice it at first, but once you hear him talk, you’ll understand.  

Still, she finds it strange and she is skeptical to call a person she barely knew. Besides, they are currently in the training camp, why would she bother someone in a training only to ask about her love problems?  

Part of her is doubting, and part of her is curious. She couldn’t handle opposite feelings at the same time, so she has to decide now whether to call or not... 

Until she accidentally pressed “Call” beside Jinpachi’s number. 

Oh nooooo~!  

The call immediately connected, and she is already too scared and anxious to drop the call or even throw away her phone, especially... 

Hello?” 

A boy’s voice. It’s him!  

“Uh, h-he-he-hel—” she couldnt express nor utter a proper word out of nervousness for calling a senior. 

Uh, you okay?” the other line asked. “Who’s this--?” 

“H-he-hello, Toudou-san,” she has to calm down. “Th-this is M-Miya-Miyahara—” 

Miya... hara...” he tried to remember, until “AH! You’re Manami’s neighbor!” 

“Y-yes!” she tried to control her trembling. “Th-that’s me!” 

That’s rare!” and it’s a good thing that the other line still remembers her. “Why did you call? You’re probably trying to call Manami – wait, how did you know my—” 

“E-Eri – I mean, K-Kagaho-san gave it to me,” she tried to explain. “Uh, a-actually, I need your help on something—” 

Jinpachi blinked. Then he remembered a minor detail that Maera works for the White Princess, herself, so no wonder she knew her number. But why she would ask help from none other than him is something he would consider rare. 

I’m all ears, little miss,” he said. “I guess the Princess recommended me for you to call, am I right?” 

“Y-yes,” she replied. “She told me... if I’ll need help to come up with a concrete answer, she said only you can make me decide.” 

That statement intrigued him. “So what specifically do you need help with?” 

“It’s about Arakita-san telling me something... if I could answer the feelings of someone like him.” 

Then, all Maera could hear on the other line is silence – which she even thought Jinpachi hung up on her. Meanwhile, on the other line, going back to what he said to Yasutomo last month, he was trying to confirm if he is starting to have feelings with Maera, which rooted the reason why he challenged Sangaku to a race. But with what the girl confirmed, Jinpachi was fully convinced: Yasutomo is, definitely, starting to fall in love with her to the point that he already made an attempt to confess at that time. 

“T... Toudou-san--?” 

Then, she heard a whistle.  

“Wh-what’s wrong?” she got confused. 

Lady, we definitely need to talk,” his voice changed into uncertainty if he is happy to hear it or not, so, “can you switch to video call? I thought that we need to talk face to face.” 

Just because she mentioned Yasutomo, Jinpachi’s will to learn more about her dilemma heightened that he requested Maera to do a video call instead. The girl obeyed with his request. 

***** 

As soon as Maera fixed her room and herself as quick as she could, she grabbed her Bluetooth headset and immediately switched to video call mode while Jinpachi was waiting on the other line. As soon as she switched to video call and changed the orientation of her smartphone, Jinpachi was already on the other line, fresh from bath, headband-less and waiting for her. When Maera saw him for the first time after a while... 

“Toudou-san!” she greeted. “It’s been a—” 

She noticed his eyes: red and puffy. The tip of his nose were a bit red as well. 

“Were you,” she guessed, “crying?” 

Yo, little miss!” Jinpachi greeted her in his usual cheerful aura. “Yikes, well, you could say that – but that was so one hour ago! So you said you need help regarding what Arakita said to you?” 

He may have admitted that he cried, but he didn’t tell any specifics, he immediately jumped to Maera’s reason for calling, in which she gladly explained in a way she could remember clearly, before she decided to ask him later what was wrong. 

“Well,” she bit her lip and fidgeted, “j-just like what I said, Arakita-san asked me on what to answer if... if there’s someone like him who... who can be loved... by someone like me... Or something like that. B-but I haven’t answer him yet... So...” 

Let me guess, you’re asking for my advice on what to answer?” 

She nodded slowly. 

Jinpachi just scoffed. “If you’ll only want my opinion about it, I’ll just end up throwing the same question to you.” 

She blinked at his reply. She even thought it would mean he couldn’t help her with her problem. “A-are you saying—” 

I’m not saying I can’t help you. It’s just that questions like that can only be answered by the affected party – that would be YOU, and you, alone.” 

It only made Maera more confused to the point that she has already ran out of questions that Jinpachi can answer. Why did Eriko recommended him to her in the first place? 

How about this,” he thought of a plan to make her participate, “how about helping me with a novel I’m currently working on?” 

It made her raise her eyebrow. “...Novel? A-are you writing a novel?” 

Yep! And it just so happened that one of my main characters have that same problem as yours. Your participation will help me gain more life for those characters in progress.” 

Maera was reluctant at first to help a third year with a novel which has nothing to do with her problem. But since it is a request from a senior, she has to help. Maybe from there she will understand the connection between his novel in progress and her issue -- if there will be one. 

“S-so,” she tried to ask, “what makes you say that m-my story’s the same as your character’s? D-do you think my issue’s really kind of common?” 

Kind of,” Jinpachi replied. “How about I’ll tell you my character’s background story and maybe you could get your answer there?” 

She was worried that her consultation will end up helping an unknown senior with his project, but seeing how serious Jinpachi’s face was when he offered to share with her the plot he was trying to formulate, she decided to trust him a bit, in hopes that this will have something to do with her issue with Yasutomo. 

So, she nodded. 

Okay,” the other line began, “this is her story:  

One upon a time, there was this girl who  befriended a boy her age who was living just across her window and always staring at his window because he was born sickly  it makes her worry every day. She offered him friendship and help to bring his health back to normal. As years go by, her feelings for him grew, but she never told him her feelings because she was worried that it will affect their friendship, but she thought that as long as nothing and no one will come between them, she’ll keep her feelings for him a secret—” 

Maera’s face turned pale when she heard the character’s background story, which she finds it extremely familiar. Yet she thought, it could probably be coincidental, so she decided to continue listening... 

But she never thought continuing to listen to his ‘story plot’ will make things worse. 

That was... until an angel came to the boy's life and save him from sure death. The boy was so grateful that he ended up falling for her unknowingly. Although the neighbor has an idea what happened, she has no idea that the angel’s arrival  has  smitten the boy’s heart, that is why for years, the boy continued to  long and  search for that angel without his neighbor noticing. Meanwhile, the girl also encountered her own issue when she was saved by a yankee from a group of thugs the same year the boy was saved by an angel, only to be insulted afterwards. That hit her hard and she prayed not to see that yankee again...  

But she has no idea that fate has other plans for her by letting the yankee come back to her life, now a reformed man. And to think that the ex-yankee has a connection with the angel who saved her neighbor made things worse for her... or so she thought. The angel holds a secret as well – she was the school’s council president whom she was working for who was actually engaged to the ex-yankee who saved her, although both of them didn’t like their family’s idea of them being engaged so they continued living their lives the way they wanted. Anyway, the girl has no idea that the reason the ex-yankee act that way in front of her...  

Is because he has fallen for her, the first time they met, for some reason—” 

“S-STOP, TOUDOU-SAN!” 

Maera was getting scared. The longer she listened to his plot, the more familiar his story was. How that happened isn’t  that  coincidental anymore, in which Jinpachi understood her reaction. 

Why, Miyahara-chan,” he then asked. “Do you find it familiar?” 

“I haven’t told you anything yet,” she reason out. “Y-you’re Sangaku’s senior, did he tell you—” 

Nope. Not a single thing. It’s just my plot. If it happens to be close or too accurate from a real person’s story is something I’m not totally aware of.” 

From there, Maera now understood why Eriko recommended him and why she told her that she’ll understand why him, of all people, to let her know about her problem. This guy knows everything.  Yet, his face is telling her how scared he also was. 

“So how,” she was stunned, “how did you...?” 

Jinpachi sighed. “Guess she hasn’t tell you everything about me and she wanted you to see and hear it for yourself. That was almost the same reaction she has when I talked to her the first time. And it wasn’t just her...  

Manami said the same thing to my stories. And Arakita almost killed me because he thought I know too much.” 

Everything is starting to make sense for Maera. She almost forgot that the ex-yankee was also Jinpachi’s teammate. And he happened to get close to Eriko because she’s engaged to his teammate. And obviously, he’s Sangaku’s senior. These people have not shared everything to him, but how he delivered his plot will make one think he sees everything. 

Maera finally figured out why Eriko recommended this person to her and why he said he’ll just throw her question back to her, which she finds it odd, strange, yet amazing. 

“Toudou-san,” she dared to ask, “since when did you know that you have that... ability?” 

He smiled bitterly. “To be honest, little miss, I’ve been searching for that answer since the beginning of the school year. And it started when I became inspired by our captain’s love story. All I wanted is to bring back my plan to write a story. I don’t mean to hurt nor offend anyone, they just... happened, without me realizing it.” 

“Is that why you were... crying?” 

Hearing that question, Jinpachi felt like crying again, but he thought he has to act tough especially this girl called him to seek advice. 

I’ll give you a bonus for listening to me,” he said. “What you said a while ago... Do you have any idea why Arakita said those things to make you think of the right answer? Simple...  

The engagement here doesn’t matter anymore. Arakita... has been in love with you the first time he met you.” 

Her heart skipped a beat. She wasn’t sure anymore how many times her heart has already skipped beats the moment she heard that fact from an ordinary observer. To her, it’s impossible. She couldn’t think of any more reasons for Yasutomo to fall in love with her. 

But then,” he continued, “you love Manami, don’t you?” 

It was an easy, obvious question. Even with a shy face, she didn’t hesitate to nod. 

And then,” he continued again, “Manami unknowingly fell in love with the Princess’ other identity because she saved him once.” 

Maera nodded on that part, and Eriko admitted that as well. “But Kagaho-san rejected him—” 

Do you know why? I’ll give you a clue: as I said, this doesn’t involve engagement anymore. Now, did Manami mentioned anything why he got rejected by the Princess?” 

“As far as I remember,” she bit her lip, “he mentioned something about not having a key to her heart that was chained by force...” 

And do you know who she thought has the key all along?” 

At that point, thanks to the hints, everything starts to connect and make sense. Just as Maera slowly figured out the final piece of the puzzle, her face went dumb and she felt her soul leaving her body. 

You’ve guessed it right,” Jinpachi managed to guess her thoughts in her face. “The Princess has been in love with Arakita ever since.” 

The last piece of the puzzle has been established. Everything is connected. A straight, dumb square showed up in Maera’s mind that it boggled her. And it was all Jinpachi’s plots’ doing. But how this happened is something only he could explain – if he really could. 

And, strangely enough, she mentioned to Eriko this afternoon about the possibility that her fiancé might have the key she has been looking for. Could that be the reason why the White Princess suddenly turned silent when she asked that? 

The Princess didn’t actually ask you to call me just to give you an advice,” he tried to explain. “It’s to help you realize to decide what to answer Arakita because she knew you’re not  yet  certain. Somehow my plots made them think of their decisions before doing something reckless. I’ll be honest, Miyahara-chan: I’m scared that I’m starting to hurt people because of my stories, but then therare people who  made me realize to use this 'power’ to make people involved think twice before they move, like a warning. I can do that, but beyond that, it’s already your decision.  

Whatever your answer will be, I won’t take it against you, because it’s your life. I’m the God of the Mountains, but I’m not the kind of god who makes miracles. This is only what I can advise you, little miss: decide on what you think weights heavier.” 

It was an advice Maera has been waiting for, but unlike any other advice she’s expecting to hear, it gave her freedom to decide on what she has to do. After hearing each character’s side and weighing their situations to one another, she finally made her decision. 

“Thank you, Toudou-san,” she was genuinely grateful. “Somehow I know what to answer... But I can’t tell it to just Arakita-san alone.” 

You’re planning to tell it to Manami as well?” 

“Kind of,” she smiled. “And with that, I need your help.” 

Jinpachi blinked. 

“Until next week, the annual Hakone Pep Rally will kick off, and the White Wing Council has a task to lift the school spirit through performances. I originally don’t have a plan to perform per se, but... 

Will you help me... become Lovely Kakigami for once? Once you come back from your training camp?” 

He easily got Maera’s plan that he grinned from ear to ear. If they are thinking about the same thing, he will not hesitate to help someone whose plan is to spread her message through the upcoming Pep Rally. 

It took both of them five more minutes to hatch a plan for next week’s activity. 

***** 

A few minutes after her talk with Jinpachi, Maera was now able to smile wholeheartedly. At first she thought she’ll regret hitting “Call” on his number, but now she thought she was glad that she followed Eriko’s recommendation. She has no idea that there is an ability where a person can predict a person’s background story through relationships, and in Jinpachi’s case, as what he mentioned a while back, it was love that made them link together through his stories. 

As soon as she was about to hit the bed after double checking if she still have some homework to finish, her phone rang again – but this time, a familiar name and number showed up in her caller ID. 

Maera immediately grabbed her phone and hit the green button to answer it with a definite name of the caller... 

“Sangaku!?” 

Chapter Text

YASUTOMO AND JINPACHI

 

If there is something that Jinpachi Toudou hates the most, it would be crying in front of a guy. He couldn’t care less if it’s a friend of his. Because of that, he looked pathetic in front of Maera when she called him that night to ask for an advice, upon Eriko’s recommendation. 

But, maybe, thanks to the fact that Maera called him, it relieved him somehow. He helped her hatch a plan in the final leg of Hakone’s Pep Rally, but that is just it. He can’t help her nor anyone achieve a happy ending, but what he can do is to help them do something that they have already decided for themselves. 

For Jinpachi, it kind of sucks. It’s like his ‘ability’ to predict one’s background story through their personal relationships with other people prevented him to become biased. In his case, he wanted his friends and those girls to get the ‘happy ending’ they deserve, but this will mean hurting the other, and that wasn’t his intention. 

Getting scared over ‘such a cool deducting ability’ (according to Yusuke) isn’t like him at all as well. Well, no one can blame him, if, in the first place, he didn’t expect it to happen to him, of all people. And he still questions about it. He tried to hide it for about a month when he started to notice the frightening accuracy after talking to Yasutomo during that confrontation between Maera and Eriko about Sangaku, until his secret has been slowly revealed after an experiment gone accurately wrong using Touichiro,  Yukinari, those Uno Twins, and his misplaced notebook... 

He couldn’t hide his anxiety anymore that he was at the point of quitting when he received a call from Maera a few minutes ago. And just after they have planned everything for the upcoming Pep Rally, she said something that he couldn’t forget anymore. 

Toudou-san, she was on the other line during the video call, “thank you so much for your help tonight.” 

He scoffed. “Why are you thanking me over something that almost hurt you?” he was frank. 

Well,” she was smiling, “first, you agreed to help me with my plan. Second, you agreed to listen to me. And third, you’ve gained a good material that you can add later to your novel. It made me think that I would love to read your book one day and tell myself, I’ve been in that situation before. Anyone can relate with my own story, so I don’t think your ability to guess our story is a curse.”  

It was kind of refreshing for him that one of his ‘subjects’ were genuinely grateful enough that they would like to read and think of what they have done if going forward. He has received words of thanks as well from the rest, but that was during those times that he was still in a state of confusion over his own ability. In Maera’s case, her face, words, and tone say everything. 

“Miyahara-chan,” he then said, “I’ll give you another treat, you’ll be the only person who will hear this from me. I’m only a human being. Well, a human first, a Mountain God second. Being a writer who can guess one’s story in real life is something that has just occurred to me recently – and I’ve never wished to have that ability in the first place. Some people are starting to get envious with what else I can do, but most of the time, I’m scaring people because of it. You know, if not for what you’ve told me tonight... 

I might have quit writing altogether a long time ago.” 

Hearing that from a person she knew who was brimming with confidence is so surprising it saddened her. “I don’t know too much about you yet,” she said, “but if you will quit writing now, even if this isn’t a race, people who are expecting to read something from your own thoughts and hands will be sad and disappointed. If there will be anyone who will be more disappointed, that will be us, the people you’re trying to help get the happiness we wanted. You’ll be graduating soon, and it would be a waste if you will think about stopping now.  

So... Toudou-san, please, don’t stop writing. One day, your stories and your ability will save millions of hearts, not just ours.” 

He has never been encouraged by someone younger than him, thus it was refreshing. Somehow, it gave him a little strength to think twice about his plan, just as what he is making the involved parties do. It is a matter of giving and taking – and giving back, whether they are involved or not. 

Despite that refreshing talk with the first year rep, Jinpachi is unusually tired tonight, but he finds it good enough for him to sleep earlier. As he headed to bed, he noticed a bottle of soda flying towards him. Gladly, even with a tired body, his mind was not, that he was able to catch it before it could land in his face. 

He wanted to scold whoever threw a cold bottle at him, but when he found out who that is: some known guy with a perpetually grumpy face holding a bottle of his favorite soda, he just blinked. 

“...Arakita?” 

***** 

“Sorry.” 

It was probably one of the most awkward conversation Jinpachi has with a guy, particularly someone who has threatened to race and beat him hours ago. But knowing Yasutomo, unless he was told to do so, he will not say sorry. This time, it was surprisingly different. 

“Is this regarding this afternoon?” the regal-mannered teammate guessed. 

“Part of it,” he replied. “But to be frank, Toudou, I’ve no idea why I got angry at you only because you’ve guessed my – no, our story right.” 

He blinked again. 

“Saw you crying,” he then admitted. “Shinkai was there, he was trying to calm you down. I’ve found out why from there. Somehow you’ve figure it out how everything got connected and all... 

But the fact that you’ve been carrying that weight of predicting almost everything for a month and a half hit me like damn, in all honesty.” 

If there is something that Jinpachi liked about Yasutomo, that would be his sincerity and his will to say ‘sorry’ if he really knew that he was in the wrong this time. It might have took him time to realize it, but at least he did, and he can’t blame him if he’s as shocked as him when it comes to his ‘ability’. 

“It’s also my fault,” Jinpachi said. “Been thinking, if I didn’t talk to you anything about your fiancée and Miyahara-chan, and if I didn’t reach out to her, I think things won’t be as complicated as now. But then, something tells me that I did the right thing -- and someone. Thinking about it only confuses me, it’s not making sure if I’m doing things right or not.” 

“So you want my opinion about it?” 

He whistled. Someone finally dared to share his honest opinion about his ability and he’s been craving that kind of criticism like a masochist – or, at least, that was what he thought. 

“Spill it?” he got curious. 

“Frankly, Toudou,” he sighed, “I got scared of you.” 

Jinpachi stared at Yasutomo with a big question mark on his face. He, the most feared in Hakone, will be scared at the self-proclaimed Mountain God? But he seemed honest about it, and somehow, the former understood how the latter became extremely defensive when it comes to his personal life that was unintentionally been invaded by the former’s ability. 

“I love manga,” Yasutomo continued, “but I don’t believe in superpowers. Ironic, huh? So when I found out what you can actually do, I honestly thought you have some spies and sources to pry on others’ personal lives, until Kagaho proved your ‘powers’. And Miyahara. And Manami. And even Fuku-chan and Kagaho’s secretary, like, what the hell!? I don’t how how you did it, but you now have my respect.” 

Jinpachi felt that half of him was relieved, half of him is still complaining. Granted that Yasutomo now believes in him, how will he answer when it comes to knowing how he got that ability, and most of all, why? 

“Just recently,” Jinpachi replied, “I’ve found out what might have caused this ‘power’ to activate. The six of you – Manami, Miyahara-chan, Fuku, Tsukigawa-chan, the Princess, and you, Arakita – you have one thing in common... 

It’s love.” 

It was a strangely quiet night in that very room. The two usually loud ones became quiet especially when they were talking about powers and their greatest common factor. 

“Heck, that was supposed to be obvious,” Jinpachi laughed at himself. “But I was so engrossed with finding out how the hell I got this power. The only time I’ve realized it was my last talk with Miyahara-chan a few minutes ago. She called me because the Princess recommended me to her.” 

That surprised Yasutomo, because Eriko didn’t tell him about her plan to still get in touch with Jinpachi despite the warning. It was like she made a big risk to bring Maera to him since she firmly believed that his ability will help them make decisions that will not lead them to bad endings. 

“Even though I told her to stay away from you,” he sighed heavily. “Man, she’s far more stubborn than me. Maybe if we’ve switched places, she’ll be the worst!” 

“I’ll be honest, too,” Jinpachi said. “After talking to all of you, I’ve learned more of what you have in common, aside from love. You know what’s far more fascinating? There is one story that combined yours,” he pointed at Yasutomo, “and Manami’s.” 

He thought of it quickly. Since Jinpachi mentioned Juichi (and he was even surprised why he was included), he guessed right away... 

“Don’t tell me it’s Fuku-chan!” 

“BINGO!” he made a BANG pose at him, imitating Hayato. “Shocked? When I learned about his story from Shinkai, I’m also as surprised as you are. Until I’ve realized that his story has become a combination of two background stories I’ve made... and yours.” 

It made Yasutomo scratch his head. He honestly don’t know much about Juichi yet despite that they have been together for almost three years, but to hear that from Jinpachi is something he would love to hear more, especially if the stone-faced Captain, himself, is involved. Also, he remembered that he asked about it from Hayato, but the latter decided to keep quiet about it and told him to get more info from Juichi, himself.  

But since he’s there, and Jinpachi offered to tell a more fascinating story, he decided to grab the rare opportunity. 

“Okay, I’m all ears.” 

***** 

Yasutomo wasn’t sure anymore how much time has already passed, but every minute has passed while listening to Jinpachi, his already-pale skin has just gotten paler. 

“That was,” he bit his lip, “so messed up.” 

Even the storyteller, himself, finds the story really mixed up, imagining Juichi’s and even Mukahi’s hardship after being friends for years, where it all started with a text telling him that she had already said yes to this Hatanaka guy, then four years later they will end up getting engaged upon the girl’s family’s orders. Something that was supposed to be buried six feet under was forced to be revived for the sake of ‘practicality’. 

“Why the hell did he accepted it just like that!?” obviously, the number 2 was pissed. “I can’t blame Fuku-chan if he has to win a race at that time so he can gain more freedom, but I can’t believe the girl left her only because she couldn’t wait anymore!? Sorry but that girl’s damn desperate to have a boyfriend!” 

“But think about this, man,” Jinpachi said, “if I’m the girl, I won’t give a damn anymore. He made me wait for what, a month? A year? I think more than that, and I gave him an ultimatum. If he won’t be able to commit with his promise to talk to me just once about that thing, that’s it, I’ll hit him up through text, I’ll say we’re finished!” 

“But that’s the thing: Fuku-chan still loves the damn girl! He tried to keep up, but the problem now’s the girl because she can’t freaking wait for him! If she was just open enough to understand his side, that can turn the other way around – but she was only after her own happiness here! Who’s selfish now? It’s like she’s giving him no choice! He’ll win the race, he’ll lose the girl! He’ll ditch the race, he’ll lose himself! He’s using a freakin’ double-edged sword here! Dude, he deserves better than that, imagine, four damn years, like he’s on a curse!” 

Jinpachi whistled at how Yasutomo defended Juichi’s issue like a lawyer. He didn’t expect him to be this vocal when it comes to relationship issues, especially that he never fell in love with anyone else – until now. His conviction made him convince that he can be someone else’s keeper – whoever that lucky girl is. 

From there, the grouchy all-rounder noticed his teammate’s silence. “So your loss?” he was still engrossed with the debate on who deserved better between Juichi and Mukahi. 

“I give up,” Jinpachi raised a white flag. “You really are concerned about Fuku, huh?” 

“Who the hell wouldn’t!? You know his story, what the hell did you do!?” 

“I gave him an advice.” 

“About what!?” 

“Dude, I’m no matchmaker! I can’t tell who can end up with who! I’m merely writing stories that happen to come true with some people! I give them advice based on their situation. Their decision’s not mine to make. I’m not a love god – I’m a Mountain God! That’s it!” 

Somehow he knew about his limitations, which only made the grumpy teammate shake his head. “So you’re giving them warnings,” he guessed, “not love advice per se.” 

“I’m just letting them know what they – no, what you’re into, through my novel, making you realize if you’re doing the right thing or not anymore. I’m not stopping you for doing something ridiculous unless that concerns the Inter-High or the club, itself. After all, whatever you’ll decide will later give you the outcome.” 

He just narrowed his eyes. Even with the ability to predict one’s background story, Jinpachi remained neutral as he told him his limitations, believing that controlling their stories isn’t his nature. From there he remembered their last conversation regarding Maera’s involvement. 

“So you don’t care if I say,” Yasutomo bit his lip, “I love Miyahara?” 

Jinpachi suddenly stared at him when he finally admitted his feelings, complete with his face flushing fiery red and looking away. He whistled again. He knew Yasutomo as one guy who easily gets embarrassed over little things. Letting an outsider know his feelings towards a certain person was probably the most embarrassing thing he did. 

“Well, congrats!” he grinned. 

“What do you mean ‘congrats’ – I just admitted how I feel, idiot! Shouldn’t you be surprised – your plot came true, dammit!” 

“Because I know  you do, stupid! I’m just waiting for you to admit! Now that you did, what will you do?” 

He groaned at his reaction. “I already did something – I challenged Manami to a race yesterday, remember!? But guess what his freakin’ reaction was!? NOTHING! Like he doesn’t care if anyone will go around her! He couldn’t even say her name properly! It’s like he used her to be free! THAT made me pissed as hell! And then Miyahara still goes on sticking with him like that like she’s waiting for a miracle!? If I were her, I won’t be wasting one second and I’ll leave him to be with someone who’ll look at me and appreciate my efforts at least— 

Uh… wait a sec.” 

Yasutomo suddenly paused for a bit. He first remembered his conversation with Hayato a few minutes before the latter hit the bathhouse. From Sangaku’s standpoint, obviously, he didn’t do anything because he has no idea about Maera’s feelings, while Maera hasn’t said anything about her own. And about why he would suddenly burst and confess to Eriko when she took him home after that fated autograph-signing session, the word infatuation remained stuck in his head. It’s not like Sangaku has no care about his surroundings at all unless it’s about bikes and racing – because no one tells him if his words and actions are already below the belt to most people, as if they are expecting him to figure it out by himself, considering how old he already is. 

Second, he revisited Juichi’s story. He then realized that his story has a slight similarity to Sangaku’s and Maera’s that almost made him lose control over someone else’s situation. He realized that he isn’t thinking as the girl in the story who has been chasing the boy for years, but as a third party – which made him feel worse.  

“Figured something, Arakita?” 

Somehow he understood why Jinpachi was siding to the girl at one point. From the girl’s standpoint, she will easily get tired of the same waiting game so in the end, she will cling to the person whom she thought will appreciate her more than the person she’s been helping and admiring at the same time. But if this concerns Maera, he will not believe it. Maera is too much of a martyr to give up on Sangaku. 

In connection to Hayato’s opinion about his feelings towards Maera, there is a part of him where he doesn’t want to believe him that what he is currently feeling is nothing but infatuation – the same thing that weird little climber felt for Eriko when he suddenly confessed to her after two years of trying to find a way to meet her in person for the second time. There is also a part of him where he is starting to have second thoughts about his own feelings... 

Is that why she didn’t answer him right away the first time he asked her, because she might have figured out that what he might have felt is just infatuation? 

“Listen,” Yasutomo bit his lip, “Shinkai and I talked... about you and what the hell’s been happening.” 

The fellow racer blinked. All he knew is that Hayato tried to follow Yasutomo to talk to him, but not to the extent of talking about what has been happening to him and the rest of the people involved, including the storyteller, himself, like it’s one way of helping Jinpachi to lessen the burden of doing these kinds of things alone. 

“What about it?” Jinpachi got intrigued.  

“We’ve talked about the same crap we’re talking about now,” Yasutomo replied. “He mentioned something about infatuation.” 

“I guess it’s about your feelings with Miyahara-chan if it’s the real deal or just the surface, am I right?” 

He sighed, as expected from the story creep, himself, that he managed to guess it with just that word. “Yeah. Shinkai also added that how Manami confessed to Kagaho was just also a product of infatuation. I could understand, he’s still a damn kid, but I...” 

“Let’s put my plot in this,” Jinpachi suggested, that made Yasutomo look at him. “We’ll start with the girl who has been in love with her neighbor for years. Based on what’s been happening now, if, let’s say, there will be a time that she has to choose between her neighbor and that lone wolf who fell in love with her at first sight, out of her love for the guy she lifted up several times, she would rather stay with him – as nothing but a best friend… 

Than betray her own feelings and go with someone else.” 

Considering Jinpachi’s ability to predict one’s story through relationships, Yasutomo felt offended with what he last said, even if he didn’t have to drop names or it’s just part of the story he is writing. “Are you telling me that Miyahara would still choose that guy!?” he dared to ask. 

His realization perked the storytelling cyclist’s ears. Wow he gets my drift! He was surprised in secret. “I haven’t dropped any names, idiot,” he said, “I’m just talking about the character, not Miyahara-chan!” 

“But that sounds like it’s going to happen to me!” 

“That’s your perception. But like I said, I can only predict what already happened, not what will happen. I’m not a fortune-teller, Arakita.” 

He kept on saying his limitations, but the perpetually narrow-eyed racer has a gut feeling that it might happen. But if he will follow Jinpachi’s vow of ‘silence’, he only wanted him to decide what he wanted to happen in the future based on the scenarios in his story and what already happened to five other involved people. 

“Okay,” he took a deep breath, “say the girl decided to become a martyr, how would he react about it?” 

“Are you pertaining to the guy Manami is inspired from?” 

“Yeah. That guy. Let’s say he’s already aware of her feelings, what would he say to the girl?” 

He paused, while his inner self is screaming. Yasutomo isn’t that dumb. Even before he plans to give away his conversation with Sangaku an hour or so ago, the narrow-eyed racer was able to think what the boy in the story will do and say to his neighbor. Maybe because if he will put those poor first years in the picture, he’ll be able to see the fruit of it in the next days to come. 

The thought alone only saddened the climber. “If he already knew… he’ll also choose to be friends with her, and nothing else. The girl will surely not mind, because both will be thinking it will stain the friendship they have built for years.” 

“That’s… lame,” his body weakened by that possibility. “You’re saying the girl would still choose not to take the other guy’s feelings just to be with her neighbor who doesn’t want to do anything with her feelings!?” 

“Because remember, the other guy – that lone wolf who was trying to win the little girl’s heart, is already engaged in the story.” 

His face soured up, Jinpachi is now including him – or rather, his own story in the picture, well that makes sense if the girl in his story will reject him because of that fact. But what about the neighbor--? 

He later remembered his conversation with Maera. Little by little, he grew more confused. 

“So,” he dared to guess, “this is also… related to when the other guy’s fiancée rejected the neighbor’s feelings…” 

“See how complicated my novel is?” Jinpachi boasted, but he is already crying inside. “I’ll give you a spoiler. You should see what they have in common… 

The girl and her neighbor agreed to one thing: that lone wolf has the true key to unlock the angel’s heart that was said to have been reserved for years. That angel – who happened to be his fiancée – has been waiting for him ever since. Just for him. In layman’s terms… 

The angel has been in love with her own fiancé from the beginning.” 

Before Yasutomo could react to Jinpachi’s story, they heard Sangaku’s screams from the other room like he was being attacked by a monster or someone. Instinctively, they rushed to the other room to find out what was going on, only for the scream to die out after thirty seconds. 

But the story has already been etched in Yasutomo’s mind and heart. He wasn’t sure if that already happened or just about to happen, but knowing that Jinpachi already talked to Sangaku, to Maera, and then to Eriko, he has a gut feeling that Jinpachi Toudou already knew the ending to this roller coaster love story – unless the characters, themselves, will defy and change its course.

Chapter Text

MAERA AND SANGAKU, AGAIN

 

Sangaku!?” 

“Hey, Class Rep!” 

That night, Sangaku decided to call Maera just a few minutes after his talk with Jinpachi, after making a few realizations by himself while in a bath. He was all alone in a bedroom good for six people, just fresh from a bath thus he was only with his pants on while sitting beside the window where the light of the full moon is greeting him. He thought calling Maera on that set will be perfect to check her out while she’s busying herself at school and in the White Wing Council. 

Th-this is rare!” her voice was trembling, probably because she didn’t expect him to call at that hour. “Wh-what do you want?” 

“Nothing,” he replied, still gazing at the moon. “I thought of checking you out.” 

Maera’s head was smoking, but not of aggravation, but of embarrassment. It was definitely a rare occasion that Sangaku will call only to check how she was doing, because most of the time she is the one who often calls him to remind him all the time about homework, not to be late for school, and other school stuff. 

Uh... I... I see,” her voice was fidgeting. “I’m doing good... Things in the Council are getting busier because of the Pep Rally.” 

“Aw, that,” Sangaku finds it familiar. “The Captain told us about it. It’s a tradition done by the White Wings to boost the morale of sports teams. Sounds like fun... 

Are you planning to join?” 

When he mentioned that she might be joining the Pep Rally, Maera’s head smoked again in embarrassment – although he has no idea that by joining, that will mean performing in front of the entire school because it is a requirement. 

Y... yeah,” she replied. 

“Did they tell you how a Pep Rally usually works?” 

Y-yeah,” she wasn’t sure if she has to answer or not, but since their last talk with Eriko and Jinpachi, she thought this will be a good time to shove away her shyness and let him know of her plan. “Th-the White Wings are required to perform anything onstage – so I’m no exemption--” 

“No way!” his voice was filled with excitement. “Captain says we can watch the rally once we get back. I can see you on stage, then!” 

It was refreshing to hear those words from him, and she’s genuinely happy. Because most of the time, it would be her to anticipate him joining a road race. This time, it will be her turn to do something worth for him to watch. 

Y-yeah,” she replied.  I won’t tell you what I’ll do, though, so just look forward to it.” 

“I will!” he chimed in. 

Enough of me, though,” she decided to change the subject. “What about you?” 

“Hmm,” he twitched his face while thinking, since he is all alone in the room although it is supposed to be bedtime for all members, “things are a bit tough here in just two days, that I ended up getting suspended for a day or two.” 

What!? ” Maera gasped at the news. “ What did you do!? ” 

“Hm, nothing much, except that I accepted Arakita-san’s challenge to a race without the Captain’s permission.” 

She paused upon hearing Sangaku’s reason, and made her think. Knowing Yasutomo, he is the type who will challenge anyone regardless who they are and accepts anyone’s challenge. If she will put Sangaku in the picture, seeing him challenging his own senior will be impossible. If Yasutomo specifically challenged him, there could be a deeper reason why. 

And, she hated to think about it, the reason might be something to do with either her or Eriko, or, worse case scenario, both. 

S-so,” she tried of asking something related to what happened to him, “d-do you remember if Arakita-san said something why he challenged you?” 

“Yeah, he did,” he replied without pausing. “He said to accept his challenge, but he didn’t specify any reason at first. But he mentioned something that might have triggered him to challenge me... 

He said... if I don’t say your name, he’ll take you away from me. Because he said he loves you.” 

How many times does her heart have to skip beats in a day? It’s like Sangaku’s old sickness has been passed to her instead, but the cause was easily been determined. Maera couldn’t imagine what his face is currently looked like now he knew that Yasutomo has feelings for her, setting aside his engagement with Eriko. But then, she already came up with an answer after talking to Jinpachi, and that is something she cannot reveal to him just yet until the final day of the Pep Rally. 

But if, at that time, she could see his face, she might get surprised. For the first time in his life, Sangaku was confused whether to cheer for her, or never let her go.  

“...Maera.” 

Everything around her paused for good ten seconds. For the first time since the last time he said her name, Sangaku finally had the courage to mention her name – again. And if she was only there, she would see his cheeks blooming shades of pink and red. 

Maera was also blushing madly and couldn’t speak properly out of shock that her tears are starting to come out. Why just now? 

Y... yes...?” her voice broke, but still tried her best to talk. 

“I wanna say,” he rubbed his own arm, “I’m sorry.” 

Hearing him say sorry for whatever reason only made her heart go in a puddle that she was already controlling her own tears. 

“If I’ve offended you in any way,” he said, remembering his opinion about the character based on him in Jinpachi’s novel, “if I said something that made you feel uneasy or obligated, I’m sorry. I could be thoughtless sometimes.” 

But why now...?” she asked weakly. “Is it because of Arakita-san?” 

“Maybe... but even if he’s not involved in this, I’ll still say sorry. To make up for it, I brought some school work with me, so in case I miss a lesson, I know where to catch up. So you don’t have to worry much about me.” 

Simple things such as taking school work with him made Maera feel proud of him. It’s just one good step to fix his student life, knowing that doing so will make her happy. 

Y... y-you don’t have to say sorry,” she explained. “I-in the first place, why do you have to? I know that there are times that you’re thoughtless or even absent-minded, b-but I know you didn’t mean to and you’re doing your best to correct it! So don’t worry about it...  

I’m just doing what I have to do.” 

Maera’s words made Sangaku smile like he always does. “Being a class rep really suits you,” he said. 

So what will you do tomorrow? Since you’re banned from practice?” 

“Of course, riding over the mountains!” 

But you’re banned from practice--!” 

“That doesn’t mean they’ll ban me from riding all over the place. That’s a different thing. And I can start anytime tomorrow!” 

No one can definitely take his love from riding away from him. After all, it was Maera who gave him his wings to fly up the mountains in the first place. She decided not to argue anymore, and she just chuckled. 

The cloud that was blocking the moon minutes ago has finally moved, and the night became much brighter that it showered his body with good luck for tomorrow. It was so beautiful that he couldn’t help but to admire it vocally while on the line. 

“The moon is smiling at us tonight,” he said. 

Maera finds his words too romantic to bear that she blushed again, but then, she looked at the moon as well: the same full moon Sangaku was gazing upon from the window. It testified how beautiful it really is. 

You’re right,” and she also smiled at the moon. 

Two young hearts gazing at the same, beautiful moon, while on two different sides at that time, with one reason in mind concerning someone’s great involvement with their actions and decisions. Both might be busy with their own affairs, but they are doing whatever they can to keep up with feelings of loneliness. 

However, Maera finds it not enough. 

Sangaku?” 

“Yeah?” 

Uhm,” she clutched her heart, trying to gain enough courage to ask him a strange favor, “can you... switch to video call? I just wanna see you.” 

His eyes widened at her request. He looked at his surroundings: he was all alone, for now, good enough to answer to her request. One open light and the light from the moon are enough, he guessed, for Maera to see his face on the other line. But he looked at himself, that he has to grab a shirt as quick as he can. 

Since it was only the two of them and there is no harm done in trying, “Sure.” 

The moment he agreed, Maera’s heart kept on beating on a faster rate, maybe as fast as his when he is riding in the mountains. She first fixed her glasses and hair, put the volume in full power and chose the Video Call mode for Sangaku to accept it on his end. Meanwhile, he took him a minute to find a shirt to put on before accepting her invitation to a video call. As soon as he accepted it and the window popped up from his phone screen... 

“Hey, Cla – no... 

Maera.” 

After days of not seeing him for being extra busy, and since he often gets home late to the point that they never talk at night anymore on their respective windows, Maera was able to see Sangaku again, from the other line, in that very room. She smiled, with a little tint of peach in her cheeks. 

“You seemed pale,” he suddenly said, worried that she was working too hard. Just like her cheeks, his also have a tint of pink the moment he saw her again. Maera, meanwhile, pouted. 

I’m lacking an hour or two of sleep because of the Pep Rally,” she reasoned out. “Other than that, I’m fine...” 

She averted her eyes away, still pouting with his comment that she’s getting paler due to alleged lack of sleep. But he finds talking to her face to face better, whether she is pale, has eyebags, or she’s perfectly fine, as long as he can see her face clearly. 

Maera later noticed that he, too, seemed a bit paler than the last time she saw him. “Did you even sleep last night?” she guessed. “I bet you woke up later than usual--” 

He chuckled. “I almost overslept,” he admitted, “but I made a record for being early five minutes before the practice!” 

She raised her eyebrow, but he has a point, because if she knows Sangaku as a guy who is perpetually late in anything, to be early in an important matter, even for a few minutes, is already considered a miracle. “Congratulations,” she smiled. “I just hope you keep on doing that – especially once you get back. I’m giving you a heads up now: Once you’re back, you have to attend make-up classes with the rest of your team.” 

Sangaku’s shoulders dropped when he heard ‘make-up classes’, like it offered to him like his own kryptonite. But if that is deemed to happen after the training camp, who is he to object. 

Don’t worry, though,” she promised, “you’ll still be allowed to see the Pep Rally after your first make-up class.” 

At least there is a consolation, and he is contented. However, the thoughts about her having feelings for him in secret kept on clouding him, as Jinpachi’s story plot remained stuck in his head. To think that she has feelings for him is something he has never encountered in his life, but as far as he could think of, his first experience in love – as he called it – ended up bitter after Eriko rejected him for her obligation as Yasutomo’s fiancée. 

But before things could get more complicated and to fully confirm if his seniors’s stories are that accurate, the young climber dared to ask something... 

“Uhm, Maera... I wanna ask something...” 

She blinked. “What is it--?” 

“Abu?” 

The following scene was so sudden that Maera didn’t notice the video call got cut off following Sangaku’s short scream from the other line. Before that, she swore she saw two unknown guys peeking from his back. 

That was where everything went black and her screen went back to normal. 

The class rep just sighed at what could have been their usual conversation last night – but comparing the nights they have spent for the past few years, it was probably the most awkward – in a good way. It was still a mystery for her as to why Sangaku decided to call her, but maybe, along the way, something, or probably, someone pushed him to do something for her for once. 

But right now, she has to sleep, and before that, she made a mental note not to request a video call from him ever again. 

***** 

“Y-YOU KILLED MANAMI!!!” 

“I DIDN’T! You startled him in the first place!” 

“I’ve never committed a crime in my life! What shall we—” 

“What’s going on here?” 

A supposed-to-be nice, long talk with his neighbor ended up with a murder when Touichiro and Yukinari caught him doing a video call. Curious at who he was talking to, the two decided to take a peek but one of them ruined their stealthy invasion. 

“Touichiro said he killed Manami,” Yukinari said— 

“It’s not my FAULT!” Touichiro was panicking. “You pulled me here in the first place—” 

“But you startled the kid! Look what you did—” 

“Shinkai-san, I swear!” he begged Hayato for mercy. “I didn’t mean to—” 

“Calm down, guys,” Hayato was just trying to contain his laughter. “I’m not sure what happened, but he’s just asleep. See? He’s breathing.” 

The all-muscled member finally calmed down after realizing that Sangaku just fell asleep. But if he was... 

“Why did he screamed in the first place?” Yukinari just raised his eyebrow. 

“He’s probably exhausted for today,” Hayato guessed while trying to approach the first year to tuck him to bed nicely. “Plus he also has to deal with minor back injury, so don’t worry about him.” 

Touichiro sighed in relief. “That’s a talent,” Yukinari commented, while their senior was taking Sangaku’s phone away to be kept aside before tucking him to bed – and wasn’t startled at all. “Touichiro was screaming but that kid sleeps like a corpse!” 

“I’m so sorry about my behavior,” the other second year bowed his head to Hayato in shame. 

A few moments later, Jinpachi and Yasutomo went in rushing. “What the hell happened to—” but the headband-wearing senior was cut off by his fellow third year by hushing him. 

The moment Hayato finished tucking their youngest member to bed, Yasutomo raised his eyebrow on the two second years... 

“Who killed Manami?” 

“No one got killed,” Hayato assured them, “which reminds me that we need to get to bed early for tomorrow’s round unless you want Juichi to come here and make us start tonight.” 

The short commotion ended without Juichi coming to them or there would definitely be a disaster. Seeing Sangaku sleeping without a care in the world is something they envied at him for, because even with Touichiro’s screams and all, he remained unfazed. 

But then, when Yasutomo noticed the younger’s phone still open, he noticed who he was calling at that time before he got murdered – er, knocked down to sleep due to shock. He glared at the phone, before it turned black to lock. 

You’re making a move now, huh?  His mind guessed, while his heart is starting to scream in frustration. 

Chapter Text

ADVICE FROM JUICHI

 

“This year’s mountain winner, for the third day of 41st Boys’ Summer Inter-High and overall champion, Sangaku Manami! 

His win has just proven that Hakone Academy is, still, the undisputed champions of the road!” 

His win is the proof of Hakone’s strength. Sangaku won in his territory against whoever dared to challenge him. He can’t wait to show his red tag to Maera. 

He saw himself getting off the bike to find her in the crowd, holding the coveted tag climbers wanted. He looked around, beaming, until... 

“Class Rep!” 

He forgot to shout her name, maybe because he’s already used to call her Class Rep. Maera responded somehow, but instead of welcoming him with a smile and cheers... 

Her smile seemed forced. And along her, his own senior from Bicycle Club, Yasutomo. He was holding her like his prize, while looking at him with such contempt. 

He stopped running the moment he saw her in the surprising arms of his broody senior, while glaring at him. Is it because he forgot to say her name again? But then, if they are together, where is Eriko? 

Sangaku looked back. From there, he saw Eriko, also looking at him – but with tears in her eyes. Surprisingly also, she is wearing the most beautiful wedding dress designers have made for her, yet it didn’t suit her pained face. Seconds later, she looked at Yasutomo, only at him, while the latter didn’t even dared looking at her, even in her dress. 

The crowd was still cheering for their win, but Sangaku felt that the cheers were meant for someone else, as he looked at his front and saw another senior, Jinpachi, also in tears, and was saying something that he couldn’t hear because of the crowd. When he tried to reach him just to get what he said, a hand held his shoulder, stopping him from going. 

When he looked behind him, his faced changed to confusion as he saw the Captain, himself, Juichi, still wearing that same stone face, but his eyes were filled with tears, giving him the most difficult question he thought... 

What will you do, Manami?” 

***** 

He opened his eyes. 

The rays of the morning sun has been touching his face, disrupting his sleep. He realized that he was in a different room, not his, and he felt his bed different. He knew it’s morning, or maybe not, and for how long he has been asleep was already out of his comprehension. 

“Mornin’, Manami.” 

To add up his confusion, he saw Yasutomo sitting beside his futon, staring at him like he has been watching him sleeping for God knows how long. He raised his eyebrow. 

“Ara...kita... san...” he tried to recall everything before he found himself lying in his futon.  

“Get up, zombiehead,” he said. “It’s already eleven freakin’ o’clock in the morning. For how long are you planning to stay dead just because we’re suspended today!?” 

The moment he mentioned ‘suspension’, everything came back to him, causing Sangaku to get up right away. The last thing he remembered, he was talking to Maera via video call... 

Then there was something – or maybe someone – who started him for some reason. 

“It’s good that you’re awake, Manami.” 

Another confusion came to him was when the Captain, himself, was sitting opposite of Yasutomo, also waiting for him to wake up. “F-Fukutomi-san,” he scratched his head, “y-you too? Were you worried that I might not wake up again? I thought I’m banned from practice today?” 

“You still are,” Juichi assured. “So is Arakita. I just want to take this chance to talk to you both – personally.” 

Sangaku looked at Yasutomo first, while the latter was looking at Juichi. He thought he already knew what they will be talking about, that he even thought... 

“Is this,” he guessed, “regarding to the race yesterday?” 

“Part of it,” Juichi replied. “But more than that, I thought of talking to specifically the two of you because, I’m sure you’ve realized... 

When it comes to our personal lives, we have something in common. And that was something Toudou has been warning us about.” 

Yasutomo remained quiet, while Sangaku became as confused as ever, thinking why Juichi, of all people, will get involved in Jinpachi’s messed-up romance novel – unless he, too, has a secret too juicy not to share which has already caught Jinpachi’s attention before this all happened. 

***** 

Mukahi decided to help in some chores like laundry as part of being the team’s training manager, starting by making rounds in their rooms to pick up their laundry. As she was strolling around carrying a basket of dirty jerseys, she stopped by the room where Sangaku was staying with other fellow first years... 

When he heard Juichi’s voice from that very room. 

She decided to keep herself discreet. When she heard part of what he said related to Jinpachi and his stories, she decided to listen to their conversation although she knew what she is about to do is wrong. But then, if she will decide to eavesdrop, she might learn something that can help her shape her own decisions regarding her personal mishap with Juichi and her own family. 

***** 

For Sangaku to be clear about what was happening, Juichi decided to share his personal story. 

“Around four months before entering middle school, I met Tsukigawa. She replaced our old manager who has to graduate early to go to school overseas, and that was also upon Shinkai’s recommendation, being his classmate. Even in that short time, I had a chance to talk to her. She was... very cheerful. Diligent. Hardworking and the most earnest girl I’ve met. At that time, I didn’t realize that my heart wanted to hear and see more of her, and I was even hoping that we’ll go to the same middle school. I was so young back then that I didn’t know the difference between admiration... and having a crush. 

When I entered middle school, I was the happiest guy on Earth – but I kept it from Shinkai. Tsukigawa went to the same middle school as me, and to add up my happiness, we became classmates. Although Shinkai and I decided to join that school’s road racing club, she joined the judo club instead. For a long time, people noticed how close we became, and of course, Shinkai noticed. In fact, he had perfectly guessed that I was in love with her... 

But ironically... I never told her my feelings for the next three years. 

We were polar opposites, that was what I have noticed. Tsukigawa was a vocal one who doesn’t afraid to share her thoughts, while I’m a reserved type. That was because... even back then, the tradition of bringing glory not just to the Fukutomi name, but also to every school I enter, was passed on to me. It was pressure on my part. My father founded the Hakone Academy Bicycle Club, while my older brother pioneered the consecutive glory and prestige he brought both in Hakone and Meiso. Even my mother became the academy’s coach for ten years before she decided to retire early to look at my progress, although she occasionally coaches at Meiso, herself. Everyone expected me to do the same, if I can’t surpass their own achievements. Because of that... 

Even my personal preferences were monitored, especially by my mother, preventing me to tell Tsukigawa how I feel about her, to the point that I have conditioned myself not to tell her anything before we even graduate middle school.” 

The atmosphere slowly turned heavier as Juichi continued his tragic love story. Meanwhile Mukahi was already shaking behind the door, trying to control all of her emotions while listening to what she thought was pure bullcrap. 

“It was like that. Our friendship didn’t change, but as days gone by, I was starting to distance myself from her, fearing that I might slip and tell her the truth. It’s one way to protect her and our relationship, and to somehow help me focus on what my family wanted me to do. I didn’t realize that, in my three years of middle school, Tsukigawa has been trying to reach me, as if she was trying to do her best to keep our relationship as best friends and more. But then I thought of trying to do something without my family suspecting, because the more I keep it to myself, the more I’m having a hard time breathing on my own. 

When we entered third year, I had a chance to talk to Shinkai about our status and my plan to let her know about my feelings. But in order for me to gain my independence, I have to win the next race. I texted Tsukigawa to meet me at the school hallway before the race starts, supposedly to tell her my feelings. However... 

My mother fetched me from school to personally bring me to the race venue. She said there are some scouts from Hakone who are planning to get some information from me and she didn’t want to let it pass. It was unexpected for her to show up, that I failed to inform Tsukigawa that I’ll be late at that time. 

I even asked Shinkai’s help to text Tsukigawa, but his phone was dead at that time, leaving me with no choice but to attend the race and to talk to her later. I have managed to win the race, and got excited that I have texted Tsukigawa right away, and I don’t even care anymore if my mother will see me. I rushed to school with just my bike and when I arrived... 

I was too late. 

I saw her kissing a guy, a schoolmate of ours named Hatanaka from the swimming team. At that time, I didn’t notice that she texted me ten minutes before I got back, and that was when I realized how weak and a coward I am. Tsukigawa... no, Mukahi has been waiting for me for three years, and all I did is to avoid her chances out of fear of my family and their hopes on me. She’s been chasing me all this time, and I wanted her to catch up, but all I did is to pedal harder, run faster, making the gap bigger between us. No wonder she resents me after four years. I don’t blame her if she chose not to wait anymore. I thought I deserve her anger... 

But after finding out that Mukahi was compelled to marry me as per her family’s orders, the only question I could throw away at them is why. Why me? Why Mukahi? On top of that, why does it have to end that way? She’s right, what happened to us four years ago is already irrelevant. We have to accept the fact that we will still be together no matter what. But this is already different. This isn’t what I wanted. I love her, but if an arranged marriage will only make her life miserable and will involve the person she already gave her heart into, losing a race can’t be compared to this kind of pain. 

I don’t want to... hurt her anymore.” 

None of the two boys dared to open their mouth to speak. Instead, they only watch Juichi cry in front of them after telling his story. Yasutomo was right after all: his and Mukahi’s story was a mess, a torture from start to finish. Both parties suffered because of each other’s own family issues that forced them to set aside their own happiness to please the majority. 

Mukahi, meanwhile, couldn’t take any single word she heard from her ex-bestfriend that she has to leave right away, hiding unstoppable tears. But by the time she left the hallway as soon as she could, a known image was waiting for her at the hallway’s entrance. 

She didn’t expect him to wait for her. 

“...Shinkai... kun...?” 

***** 

This was maybe the first time that they saw Juichi’s tears because of love for a certain girl which was never materialized due to his own fault, as what he admitted, but surprisingly, Yasutomo understood his pain right away. In terms of handling responsibilities, he never faltered, even if this means sacrificing the happiness he has and wanted. From there, he acknowledged his weakness, even if, until now, he couldn’t believe that the person who defeated him by just a bike will have this kind of secret. 

Sangaku, being a first year, may find this scene a treat, however, with the pain he shared with them when it comes to his failed lovelife, he remained confused, at the same time, felt pity on Juichi for carrying such weight for more than four years. With this, he couldn’t help but to ask: 

“...Why are you telling this to us?” 

The stone-faced captain wiped his tears before answering. “You should know,” he said. “I decided to share my story because it’s the same as what is happening to you, two. This is to give you a warning to decide now on your actions and feelings before it becomes too late. In my case, I’m planning to set aside my obligations to my family and to this team completely, even for a short time, to finally tell Mukahi how I felt in the past six years, and... 

To ask for her forgiveness.” 

***** 

Mukahi was speechless. For some reason, Hayato bowed his head at her, as low as his head could reach. 

“Wh-what are you doing!?” she stepped back. 

“In behalf of Juichi,” he just said, head remained hanging low, “I’m asking for your forgiveness.” 

She almost forgot, Hayato was Juichi’s other bestfriend and they have been together in the Bicycle Club for six years and maybe counting, and she personally knew him being her classmate in the sixth grade. Yet his actions bothered her, considering she has just heard Juichi’s confession with whoever he was talking to at that time. 

“B-but why are you doing this for him!?” Mukahi vented in confusion. “Isn’t he supposed to—” 

“Up until now,” Hayato continued, “he’s been carrying this burden. He wanted to tell you everything, but after that, he felt that his right to be forgiven was taken away from him. Mukahi, I know that I’m in no position to say this, but...” 

He raised his head and faced her.  

“After all this years, Juichi still loves you. Ever since he saw you, he’s been in love with you. For almost seven years.” 

Those garbage words that Juichi said in that very room was the same garbage Hayato told her. If they were saying the same thing, one thing is for sure... 

Juichi was, probably, telling the truth after all. 

“I’m doing this on his behalf because he has suffered long enough, only to be given another burden he must shoulder. Ever since that happened, he became more focused on making himself strong – physically and mentally – so he could face you one day and ask for forgiveness. But in those years, he admitted several times how weak he was. Even his previous race proved that.  

His last race was a disaster. He may have won, but it caused him to inflict pain on others who also wanted to win. That was... another burden on his end. So he conditioned himself to steel his resolve to be strong. But now I thought, I’m doing this to lessen his load. I’m only here to let you know. The decision is still yours, but I’m still hoping that you could forgive him, even before Inter-High starts, so he’ll move forward with no regrets.” 

Mukahi’s confusion grew into uncertainty. Somehow she already knew how Juichi felt for the past four years, and wanted to spite him saying he deserved the pain. But steeling his resolve just to forget and to brood with it at the right time is already hard especially if he has been doing it for the past four years. 

“I won’t be asking for your answer now,” Hayato concluded. “I’m telling you this to help you decide whether to forgive him or not, by maybe, it will help you decide better... if Juichi will personally ask for your forgiveness.” 

To give Mukahi time to think of her answer, Hayato left her. It gave her a chance to think over what he and her ex-bestfriend said. On top of those... 

She remembered Jinpachi’s words. 

If I’m the guy... I’ll definitely apologize, and if possible, convince her to listen to me... that I love her from the start. Before she could judge his past actions, she should know first the reason behind it. I think, the more she will resent the guy, the more she’ll never listen, until her heart will stop listening for good. If I’m that guy, I’ll let her know not just how sorry I am, but to let her know how much I love her, if not for some circumstances that prevented me from letting her know. I wanted to let her know how weak I really am, and since I’m weak, I wanted to be with someone who will be strong enough to carry me anywhere. I believe...   

That someone... is that girl I’ve hurt several times without me realizing it until I was too late.  

His stories were frightenly accurate that it made her think back of the things she said and done against Juichi. Slowly, as she made her realizations, and after hearing each side of the story, seeing they are all connecting and telling the same thing, whether it’s reality or fiction, one thing is for sure... 

Her tears won’t stop anymore. 

To add it up, she felt her phone vibrating from her pocket. The moment she picked it up, she was surprised who called her from her caller ID, and immediately answered... 

“H-Hatanaka-kun!?” 

Mukahi,” it was a surprise that her boyfriend called. But judging by his breaths and whimpers, her fear has started to build up. 

“A-are you alright!?” she asked. But instead of answering her straight... 

 Mukahi,” his raspy reply, “I want to let you know... that I love you so much.” 

She knows that fact, and with their relationship that has remained strong for four years, she never complained, and in fact, she was satisfied. But how Hatanaka said those words made her worried with the way he delivered it. 

“I love you, too,” she replied without hesitation. “But what’s going on—" 

But with what was happening between the two of us,” he suddenly admitted, “I wanted to keep up with you... Protect you... But I feel like a failure...” 

“Wh-what are you saying--!?” 

I’m sorry... Mukahi... Let’s...  

Let’s end this.” 

***** 

Juichi’s story has triggered Sangaku’s memory of the strangest, yet most painful dream he had. Could it be the dream he had is just a premonition of what might happen – if none of them will follow Jinpachi’s ‘warning’? 

“Following Toudou’s warning, huh?” even Yasutomo was able to guess. “Is that why you only decided to tell this to us now because we have the same story as yours?” 

“In some sense,” Juichi said. “Unlike me, you still have time to correct things to those people who matter to you. With Toudou’s help, I thought of using my story to help you decide when and how you will act. 

Manami,” he started with Sangaku, “I learned from Toudou about your relationship with your neighbor, Miyahara. I learned that he also talked to you about it. Do you already have your answer?” 

The first year in question began to remember everything he and Jinpachi talked about while in the bath. If he will summarize everything that night, the main topic will be his answer if he is the neighbor in the story who has been chased by the girl for years out of love. He already provided the answer just because it’s just a plot to the story, anyway.  

“I thought,” he bit his lip, “he was only asking for my opinion about his characters’ situation, you know, just a what-if—” 

“I see,” Juichi said. “You’re probably aware, or maybe he told you also that he managed to talk to everyone who got involved in his story by accident. Do you know what that means?” 

The more he remembered about the conversation, the more he got confused. Regarding the plot Jinpachi shared with him about the girl’s decision to decline the other guy’s love but also chosen to become a shadow instead for the neighbor for the sake of friendship, he slowly realized something especially after finding out that his senior also talked to Maera... 

So it’s true, his soul was shaking, as he remembered when he tried to confirm something from her last night about it. All this time...?  

While waiting for his answer, the Captain turned next to “Arakita,” he called, “what about you?” 

“M-me?” Yasutomo pointed at himself. “W-well—” 

All his spunk dissolved into nothingness when Juichi asked him next about his answer. Granted that Jinpachi managed to talk to Eriko and then to Maera, and when he remembered their conversation last night (which it was disrupted if not for Sangaku’s unexpected screaming), slowly, his strength was drained upon realization... 

“Where’s Toudou?” he decided to look for him. “He’s the only one who can confirm the truth! So what about his ‘powers’ or whatever? In the first place, why did he approached the very same people who has the same story as what he has in mind!? Everthing’s starting to make sense, but this is nuts at the same time! He’s using the story to wake us up!” 

He stood up.  

“Sorry, Fuku-chan, but until he’s here, I won’t give you any answer yet!” 

“I’m not asking for your answers now,” the Captain clarified. “I just want to know if you already have your answers. If you want Toudou to be present to give you your answers, fine by me. But what’s important is how and when you will move. I’m telling you this because... 

I don’t want all of you... to suffer the same consequences as me and Mukahi.” 

It was surprising, at least for Yasutomo, for Juichi being this concerned, as he saw himself in those two teammates. None of them expected these things to happen, and it isn’t supposed to be that complicated if neither of them would like to talk. The broody third year even thought at first that everything that was happening to them was all Jinpachi’s fault, only to find out that what he said was purely coincidental. 

Juichi finally stood up. “Remember what I told you,” he said. “What will happen next will now depend on what, when, and how you will answer. Not even Toudou can give you a hint anymore. For now, use this time to train on your own or think about it.” 

He finally left the room, giving the two boys time to think. As for the boys involved, none of them talked right away... 

Until, “Manami.” 

“Yeah?” the first year looked at the older. 

“...Wanna ride about it?” 

It’s not a challenge anymore, but an invitation from Yasutomo to relieve stress by biking, and surely, he would need it. In fact, he already has a plan to do so, so Sangaku replied with a smile. They would definitely need a way to clear their heads before they could finally make a decision. 

***** 

As Juichi went out of the room, he noticed Hayato, standing just beside the hallway, waiting for him to show up. 

“Shinkai?” he began to wonder why he was there instead of starting to train, but when he noticed his teammate’s blue eyes brimming with tears for the first time since the rabbit incident, somehow he was able to read his thoughts... 

Especially when he suddenly pat his shoulder, as he tried to smile like the usual. 

“The whole world is proud of you, Juichi.” 

For the first time, Juichi wasn’t totally sure what Hayato meant by the whole world being proud of him. 

Chapter Text

THE PEOPLE OF HAKONE AND JINPACHI

 

That night.  

“So what happened two days ago was actually from Toudou-san's story!?” Yukinari raised his eyebrow when Touichiro told him everything after saying sorry for being irrational.  

“To put it this way,” Touichiro explained, “he will observe some people then write something about them – only to find out that what he wrote about it actually happened way back. He didn’t predict that the failed confession will happen, he guessed that it already happened. And what happened two days ago was just an experiment of what’s really happening to our other teammates. Do you get my drift?” 

The cat-eyed second year tried to connect everything what his all-muscled friend just said, because he couldn’t understand any of it in one go. But to know that Jinpachi was the main reason for those four lives – make it six to include their Captain and manager pro-tempore – to get interconnected and later live in pain and confusion. 

“So,” he tried to understand, “he only guessed what happened before, and he thought it was purely original in his head – and he has no idea that it’s been happening?” 

“Yeah,” his friend said painfully. 

“And because of that, you offered to help him with his story, and at the same time, help those people?” 

He nodded again. 

Yukinari wasn’t sure anymore if he will be amazed by the senior climber’s nearly-accurate observation skills to the point he is making a deduction, or be mad that he used him and Touichiro and those twins to conduct an experiment to see if his thoughts will match, or be sorry for him because people are startIng to get angry or scared at him for ‘knowing too much’ -- only to find out that he is purely innocent of everything. 

“Any idea for how long this has been happening?” he asked his friend. 

“What I heard from Shinkai-san,” Touichiro tried to recall, “it started when he told Toudou-san about Fukutomi-san's story with Tsukigawa-san and got inspired by it. Then it triggered with the announcement of Arakita-san's engagement with Kagaho-san. Then Manami joined the team. Since then, things went downhill.” 

To sum it up, according to what Yukinari understood, it all started with an inspiration to write because of one tragic love story, until everything ended up totally complicated.  

As they were about to head to the bath, they noticed Hayato, in the corner of the hallway, comforting Jinpachi who was already crying out of fear of his own ability. The moment they saw him cry for the first time, they were silent, unsure of what to say to each other. But there is one thing that the light-haired second year is sure:  

Of what is happening to those six lives right now, it is Jinpachi who is suffering the most. 

***** 

Hayato just arrived in the bathhouse when he noticed Sangaku who was just about to leave. “You seemed to have enjoyed the bath too much tonight,” he tried to greet him. “How’s your back?” 

“All good now,” Sangaku replied in his usual tone, “all thanks to Toudou-san.” 

But when he noticed his face and skin, he was strangely pale, either because he soaked in the waters for too long or, if he will put Jinpachi in the picture, he might have already told him of his ‘story’ which gave him a gloomy aura despite trying to be just fine. 

“You need to rest properly,” he just told the junior. “You have plenty of time tomorrow to freshen up.” 

“I’ll hit the mountains tomorrow,” he said. 

“Were you given permission? You’re banned from practice, right?” 

He grinned. “Yup! It will be a good way to cool down. Good night, Shinkai-san.” 

“Good night,” and Sangaku went ahead.  

However, the ace sprinter couldn’t help but to worry about the controversial teammate who has just become one of the club’s topics, aside from Yasutomo. Especially after learning from Jinpachi about that first year’s involvement with the story, he was hoping that whatever happened at that time will not affect their performance at the Inter-High. 

As he took off his clothes and about to enter the bath, someone called him. “Shinkai-san,” it was the two second years who also became the subjects of Jinpachi’s recent experiment.  

“Hey there, Izumida, Kuroda,” he greeted. “Planning to join me?” 

“Y-yeah,” Touichiro answered. “And we also want to talk to you... about Toudou-san.” 

Just as he thought. It seems like Jinpachi is tonight’s main topic aside from those two idiots who did an unofficial race this afternoon. 

***** 

In the bathhouse.  

“It’s true,” Hayato finally confessed what he knows to Yukinari, who remained confused at what was going on. “Jinpachi has this ability that most detectives have. He has excellent observation skills. In your case, Kuroda, he might have been observing you as well for quite some time that he decided to write a story about you and Izumida just a few days ago to see if his thoughts are right...” 

“And he nailed it, like damn,” Yukinari admitted. “It’s amazing, yet scary at the same time.” 

“That’s true. But if you’re in his shoes, what will you do with that kind of ability, and how do you feel about those people who are affected by your story?” 

Both were quiet with his question, but remembering a while ago when they saw the ace climber crying in front of Hayato, Touichiro couldn’t help but to bring it up. 

“Toudou-san has been,” he said, “been carrying this weight for days now and he never lets us know how scared he actually is with his own ability.” 

“Well,” Hayato replied, “if you know him that well, Jinpachi will never let anyone know how scared or upset he is. It’s like a giveaway to anyone who wants to see a god’s weakness.” 

Although there are already some points where they already saw him angry, seeing him scared is a new kind of view for them. And they couldn’t help but to pity him. 

“I already offered my help so he doesn’t have to feel like everything is his fault,” Touichiro seemed disappointed. “But I still feel like I couldn’t do anything just because I don’t have the same ability as he has.” 

“Don’t worry,” Hayato assured him. “you’re not alone. I’m trying to help, too, as much as I can.” 

Knowing that they wanted to help the unknowingly controversial storyteller, but somehow they were unsure on how they can help, Yukinari then decided to change the subject – well, not quite. 

“Well,” he said, “if you’re trying to think about how to help Toudou-san with his ‘powers’, uh, can you help me with mine?” 

“What is it?” Hayato asked. 

“I, uh,” he suddenly turned red, “I dunno… how I’ll deal with what happened two days ago, I mean… How would I answer Uno?” 

Touichiro raised his eyebrow. “Uno who?” 

“The older one.” 

“Ah, Yurime-kun,” he thought – but then, he recalled also about that fake confession which was an open-ended one, up until now, for some reason. “Wait a minute — You haven’t answer her yet!? Seriously, Yuki!?”  

“That’s why I need your help! That’s not part of the plan, man! What can I tell her without hurting a girl’s feelings!?” 

“That’s not my problem anymore. In the first place, it was you who set me up. I can’t save you from being fried in your own lard.” 

“Don’t betray me! Just as I’m about to need your help the most!” 

The next few minutes became amusing for Hayato as he couldn’t contain his laughter anymore because of a confession gone wrong. 

***** 

“Traitor,” Yukinari kept on grumbling, even after a bath. 

“Don’t blame me,” Touichiro said. “Like I’ve said,  you ’ve  set it up. Besides, if your original plan is to reject her, you can just say no and explain yourself. A good explanation can make a girl understand you better.” 

“But what if she cries!?” 

“I told you, that’s not my problem anymore!” 

“Look, I’m really sorry if I set you up! So please… help me?” 

“Be a man, Yuki. That wasn’t even enough--!” 

But both stopped when they noticed an open room – where they noticed Sangaku facing his phone. Probably a video call. And he seemed happy to speak with whoever that is. 

“His parents must’ve called him,” Touichiro even guessed. “That’s nice…” 

But Yukinari’s (cat) senses see something else that his curiosity is kicking him towards that very room and smirked. The all-muscled friend found his face quite untrusting. 

“No,” he warned him right away. 

“With the face he’s wearing,” he grinned, “that’s not the face of someone being called by his parents.” 

And he attempted to sneak in. 

“I said no--!” Touichiro even tried to pull him away but Yukinari’s curiosity gave him unusual strength that he managed to get in. Luckily, Sangaku didn’t notice them, as he seemed to be too engrossed with the person he was calling…  

Because of that, both found out from his back who the other line is. Yukinari’s mischievous mind won the guess. Meanwhile it also grabbed Touichiro’s attention that he couldn’t help but to mutter…  

“Abu?” 

That, alone, started the poor little first year that he screamed for a short time, stood up supposedly to step backward, but me made a wrong step on the floor that he slipped and hit his back…  

And died. 

“Oh my God,” the light-haired climber stared at the fellow climber who just didn’t move anymore after losing balance, while his friend began to panic that he thought— 

“YOU KILLED MANAMI!!!” 

The end. 

***** 

The next day.  

So both involved racers decided to take a ride together before lunch while they both tried to think about what to do now that they have learned about Juichi’s story, which could be the reason why he personally stopped their unofficial race and suspended them until today. 

“His life’s more messed up than I thought,” surprisingly, Yasutomo’s pedaling wasn’t his usual, maybe to give him more space to think. 

“He really loves Tsukigawa-san, huh?” Sangaku thought, also not pedaling as much as he usually does. 

“That’s one reason why I think falling in love sucks.” 

“Why’s that?” 

“I told you, I’ve never been in love, until I met Miya – no, Maera-chan.  What’s happening to us right now’s almost the same as what happened to Fuku-chan four years ago! And he even sought advice from Toudou about it, now he’d probably said the same advice to us on what to do…  

Falling in love sucks because once you got hurt, you can’t just heal it, because you can’t get rid of the person who changed your life forever. And if you’ll try to heal your heart, it will take weeks… months… years… Or sometimes, it won’t heal anymore. The damage’s been done – unless the same person will put that plaster on your heart so you could move on.” 

Sangaku just blinked at what he said.  

“To simply put,” he explained, “if there’s no closure between you and that person, the wound will only deepen and it will get hurt more until it grows like cancer. But if there’s a closure, the wound will heal – but there’s already a scar. But at least you both prevented the wound from getting bigger and deeper to the point that it can’t be just remedied by plasters alone.” 

The young climber was somehow amazed at how the grumpy senior explained Juichi’s situation, considering that he never fell in love before until he met Maera. But since Yasutomo mentioned his reason why it sucks to fall in love, he then posed a question: 

“Arakita-san,” he asked, “were you scared of falling in love?” 

The question almost lose his balance in his bike that he scolded him. “I didn’t say anything like that!” was his defense. “Should you ask that, yourself!?” 

“Well,” he scratched his head, “I already fell in love – with Lovely-san—” 

“Lemme ask this, then: are you in love with Lovely Kakigami or are you in love with Eriko Kagaho?” 

He paused. He almost forgot – Eriko and Lovely are one and the same. Sangaku fell in love with Lovely per se, but things have changed after finding out who she really is. 

“Lemme rephrase that to be easier for you,” Yasutomo decided to change the question. “Do you still love my fiancée?” 

Because remembering Hayato’s explanation about infatuation, he will be able to get Sangaku’s point of view if he will ask that kind of question. Both questions, the original and the rephrased one, only made him surprisingly quiet that his pace slowed down. 

“I dunno,” he admitted. 

“Make up your mind, idiot. Toudou’s been warning us the whole time. If we keep on letting this happen, we’ll definitely end up as miserable as Fuku-chan! If you can’t make a concrete decision as soon as you can, might as well stay away from my fiancée and Maera-chan. Do you think I’ll say sorry to you just because you’re damn naïve? Maybe your question earlier’s supposed to be for you to answer.” 

Those words fully made the little climber stop pedaling, much to the older’s confusion, but only for a few seconds, considering his youth. Compared to him who never fell in love before, Sangaku, at some point, is still an impulsive little kid who still has a lot to learn about life.  

“I’ve never been there, either,” he finally admitted. “But that doesn’t mean I don’t know how to be in love with someone. Like I’ve said, I’ve already fell in love with Lovely-san. As long as I was able to do that, to me, I could say I’m capable.  

But if you’re asking me which side of Lovely-san I fell in love with… I guess, it’s the side that I saw two years ago. She, who’s always free and loves to make everyone happy. She who believes that every person has an angel to look up to and can become an angel to someone else. She made me believe in angels because of her… Until that time—” 

“Kid,” Yasutomo sighed, “that ain’t love. That’s infatuation. You know the difference between falling in love and feeling infatuated over someone?” 

He looked at him again. 

“For example, you’re in love with Lovely, but as Lovely, not as who exactly she is and why she did those things. You just can’t say you’re in love with my fiancée with being Lovely as your only basis. You need to think something deeper… like a connection or something…” 

“So,” Sangaku suddenly thought, “saying that, you mean you’re not totally in love with my neighbor at all?” 

He was fully caught off-guard that he couldn’t give a comeback response to him. To think that Yasutomo has the guts to explain to him how infatuation works and how it applies to his situation is somehow a wrong move for him, if he will still think of Hayato’s words. 

“Th-that’s different, okay!?” he pulled up another defensive answer. 

“But you said that falling in love should have some kind of a deep connection. So when you fell in love with her, have you tried to ask yourself why? And what did you see at her that made you fall in love?” 

He has a point. When he had realized that he fell in love with Maera and he just let Sangaku know during their unofficial race, he didn’t think of a reason why. In fact, he  never  thought about it. If he will connect that to what Hayato explained to him, asking him if he really is in love with her, it made him think of what he was supposed to answer at that time because he has to take a bath. 

But now, it wasn’t Hayato, but that little climber who reminded him on what he has to answer. There, he remembered how he explained his feelings to his fellow senior… 

“I have my answer,” he said, glaring at the first year. “It’s you.” 

Blue eyes against wolf gray. Both were staring at each other as if they were trying to find each other’s soul to roast, but in Yasutomo’s case, he already is certain as to why it was more than just love at first sight. 

“She and Ka – no, Eriko-chan... they had a fight a month ago. She once told me about what you said to her, if you ever met Lovely instead of Maera-chan, if your situation will change or it will remain the same if that is the case. Have you thought about what you said to her a million times that it hurts!? Maera-chan's been in love with you for years, idiot! But here you are enjoying what she gave you like she’s nothing to you but some kind of a benefactor! She’s the one who saved you ever since, not Eriko-chan!” 

It was almost the same thing as he heard from Jinpachi, except that he told him about it in his own plot. That is also one reason why he called her, but he never had a chance to ask her what she was actually feeling if not for those second years who scared him. If possible, Sangaku wants to confirm everything to Maera, herself, and not just hearing those to other people – but he then realized that these people are far more aware than him. 

...And then he remembered about his answer to his senior’s question, if he is the oblivious guy in the story. He originally said that he doesn’t want to compromise their friendship, thinking that the neighbor will also do the same. But now they are referring to him, not the character, itself, that made him have second thoughts again on how certain his answer is... 

Holding the handle of his bike tightly, Sangaku thought of one way for them to be fully certain. He faced his senior: 

“How about we race right now?” he suddenly challenged him.  

“NUTS!” Yasutomo scolded him. “We’re banned from practice because of it--!” 

“Well,” he looked around, “no one’s looking. It will be short. You see... I can’t tell exactly how certain I am since now the two of you are telling me that she’s in love with me ever since. I wanna confirm with her, myself. But while waiting for that... 

I wanna challenge you to a race to find out how certain you are, too. If you really love her, beat me, and I’ll let you be happy with her. But one thing’s for sure... 

I’m a bit selfish when it comes to people I value a lot. So I’ll make sure Maera will not go to the likes of you.” 

His eyes are sinister, like an angel being possessed by a selfish demon. Yasutomo suddenly felt and smelled the unshaken pressure on the young climber. He’s serious in beating him to a short race, even with the ban remained in effect. He smirked, because that was the smell of someone he would love to beat and bite on the road... 

And also, Sangaku finally has some guts to say her name in front of his senior who is also vying for her heart. 

“Game on, Manami,” he said. “So how’ll we start?” 

Before he could even tell him the course and where the finish line would be, he suddenly stopped talking. From there, the grumpy senior blinked and looked at the same direction as him – and both of them found out why.  

“Oh boy,” he sighed. “Guess we’ll just do it next time.” 

They saw Juichi, who was about to return from trying the entire course alone. Judging by his struggle, sweat and how damp his jersey is, he might have ran around the course three times or even more. 

Seeing their Captain going back, Sangaku just whined. 

“But don’t worry,” he grinned at him. “We’ll just get his permission tomorrow, and we’ll take it from there. I wanna beat you, too, to death!” 

The excitement in Yasutomo’s eyes confirmed that he wanted to continue what they have started. A race to determine who will have the right for Maera’s heart. It was a good reason and surely, it will be a good one if everyone will watch it – this time, with their Captain’s permission. 

But right now, when Juichi saw them on the road, he just told them, “Remember that you’re currently banned from training. Try to do something without my knowledge and I’ll arrange a way for you to be removed from the lineup.” 

It was funny on Yasutomo’s part that he will make a threat like that, but both of them decided not to push through, or he might really do it, if they will consider how serious he is at everything. 

***** 

“Wh-what do you mean,” Mukahi was shaking while talking to her boyfriend on the phone, “end this!? D-don't tell me--” 

Someone visited me at school and told me... You’ll be getting married, but to no less than Fukutomi-kun. I’ve found out why and they told me to stay away from you or they’ll do something with my family. Mukahi, why didn’t you tell me this!?” 

She was already crying, but she has to explain things to him. “I swear that I don’t know, either,” she said. “I don’t want to compromise our relationship just because my grandmother forced me to get engaged to Fukutomi-kun. She even told me to break up with you as soon as possible -- but I can’t! Do you think I wanted this to happen!?” 

...But you agreed.” 

She gulped. “Because I want to protect you. She told me that she will not do anything reckless to involve you or hurt your family as long as I agree...” 

Their tears are what they can only hear from each other’s lines. No one expected nor wanted it to happen. Both wanted to keep their relationship the same, but with what has been happening now, and to find out that her own grandmother already made a move to ensure her future, she already had enough.  

“I’ll talk to her,” she said. “I’ll do whatever I can so they won’t hurt you nor anyone in your family--” 

Mukahi, listen to me.” 

She then paused. 

Remember... no matter what happens, I still love you. But I have to protect what’s also mine. I also want to do the same to you... But if you’re in my situation now, would you also do the same?  

If your duty is to marry him, then you need to do it. If this is what your family wants, who am I to object? I want to end this without any regrets. We both have our duties to do, so it’s okay... Do what you need to do.” 

Their phone call ended with a bittersweet goodbye from the person whom she learned to love for four years. But for Mukahi, it was ten times bitter, now that her own grandmother broke her promise not to hurt him nor anyone around him. It was already too much, she thought. 

But remembering all of Jinpachi’s opinion on the story, Hayato’s intervention, and what she heard from Juichi in that room, several thoughts came to her mind. Judging by how she viewed what happened four years ago and what others viewed it, she began to realize where could have been wrong. All she wanted is to let Juichi know her feelings and for her to know his, but several circumstances have prevented them to find them out. Juichi has his excuse that he couldn’t tell her... 

But what about her? Does she remember making an excuse to remain quiet before their last year of their middle school became messed up? 

Those thoughts remained in her mind as she tried to finish her laundry, hoping that it was all just a bad dream. But her tears won’t stop falling that she’s starting to soil newly-washed and dried jerseys with her own tears, no matter how often she wipes her eyes... 

Until “Tsukigawa?” 

To make it worse, of all people who will notice her tears, it has to be... 

“F... Fuku...tomi-kun...?” 

Two lost causes stood again, facing each other, waiting on whoever will talk first. The young man saw her unstoppable tears, while the girl saw his concerned face. It is like, speaking of the devil, Fate decided to bring him to her to put an end to their misery. And how they will do that will now be up to them.

Chapter Text

ADVICE FROM MUKAHI

 

The training camp lasted eight days. Luckily, Mukahi was able to survive the camp in terms with her relationship with Juichi during those days. However... 

She almost didn’t survive that phone call, where her boyfriend of four years, Kyutaro Hatanaka, decided to finally break up with her, understanding that she has a duty to fulfill as the sole heir of the Tsukigawa Facilities after finding out from someone about her upcoming engagement. The reason? She suspected that her own grandmother already made the move. 

That thought made her made her own answer as well, after contemplating what Jinpachi said, and most of all, from what she heard from Hayato and Juichi, himself. 

***** 

The whole Bicycle Club finally came back after a successful training camp, and they were just in time for the final leg of the Pep Rally that will start tomorrow. With the help of Eriko and Jinpachi’s spirit, Maera came up with a way to deliver her answer to the two boys who got involved in her life. 

“Looks like you’re totally prepared for tomorrow,” Eriko was amazed at Maera’s performance progress. She was on a piano of one of the school’s music rooms while the first year was on a mini-stage. Maera, meanwhile, remained blushing upon thinking that she is actually doing this for the sake of her decision. 

“I really appreciate your help, Eriko-san,” she said. “Thank you for arranging it, too.” 

“You have potential,” she commented with honesty. “I’m glad we’ve listened to Toudou-kun. But then...” 

For some reason, she couldn’t help but to be worried on what will happen. But somehow, for the past few days, Maera has already been showing courage which is required to be a candidate to hold the highest office in the White Wings one day. 

“I can’t help but to think,” she added. “Are you really ready to do this? We will never know what will happen after this, or what Yasu’s reaction or Sangaku-kun’s answer will be.” 

“I’m prepared,” Maera assured her. “Toudou-san’s story plots made me feel ready. Whatever happens, at least we have already came up with a decision. So there will be no regrets. Besides, it’s a good kind of simulation. In that way I know how to feel or reply about it.” 

She couldn’t help but to feel proud of what Maera has achieved in the past few days. Because of that, it made her think of her own ordeal with the two boys as well. She even thought she’s the only person left without an answer. Should she wait for their answers before she could come up on her own? 

“Am I really talking to Maera-san?” Eriko decided to joke to help her set aside her own issues in the meantime.  

“W-well,” Maera fidgeted, cheeks still red and couldn’t look straight, “I-I’m still the same old me! I-I mean...” 

She couldn’t help but to remember her conversation with Jinpachi a few days ago. Somehow reaching out to him made her understand her own situation thanks to the stories he shared with her. 

“It’s just that someone pushed me to do something before it’s too late. S-somehow... I’m confident to tell my feelings to people who matter, not just one person.” 

Eriko understood that reference. Maera’s goal is to reach out to not just one, but two people, and everyone involved. By the time she joined her in the rehearsal, she then understood what she wanted to do and why she chose to do so. 

“I’m back, Young Mistress.” 

For Eriko, things are about to get better now that Mukahi has returned to resume her duty in the White Wing Council. 

“T-Tsukigawa-san!” Maera greeted. “Welcome back!” 

“How did the training go?” Eriko asked. 

“It ended successfully and without any issues left behind,” Mukahi said proudly. “I’ll send you the report soon. In the meantime,” she paused a bit, “there is something else I would like to discuss with you further.” 

For Maera, it’s a signal that she has to go since whatever they will need to talk about is already beyond his capacity to know. She was about to excuse herself, but— 

“Please, Miyahara-san,” she called her. “Stay where you are. I would also wish to talk to you as well.” 

She blinked. “M-me?” 

“However,” she looked around, “it will be best if we could talk about this matter back in the Council room.” 

Eriko and Maera just looked at each other. Having that said, both have a feeling that Mukahi has something in mind that she wanted to share to both of them, whatever happens. 

***** 

The Bicycle Club are also twice as lively upon their return. “Home sweet home!” Jinpachi stretched and took a deep breath to feel and smell the sweet scent of the home mountains and certain victory. 

“Planning to call Yusuke later?” Hayato guessed after seeing his teammate in high spirits again after becoming gloomy from fearing his own ability. 

“Thanks for the reminder,” he grinned. “I’ll give him a call once we get back to the lockers. For now...” 

He looked at the three men whom he managed to talk to regarding their own issues. Somehow the whole club became livelier after seeing them smiling and laughing. 

“Let’s enjoy moments like this for once,” he said. “At least now someone’s quite certain.” 

The ace sprinter looked at them as well from the distance. “I guess the training camp isn’t just to train us physically,” he thought, “but also mentally. In the case of those three, you’ve managed to... well, train them on how to deal with their own problems.” 

“I didn’t do much,” he yawned. “In the first place, I just wanna write my own story. My stories made them think straight, not me.” 

And he looked specifically at Sangaku and Yasutomo – two young men vying for the heart of one little girl. And the one piece of puzzle that was left was of the princess who still remained uncertain... and afraid.  

“Team, listen up!” 

Juichi suddenly called them, while in the middle of walking towards the club room. 

“The training camp has proved our strength as a team,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean we will stop our progress there. You will all have two hours to rest yourselves, then after that, we will resume our practice. Is that clear?” 

No one complained (well, Yasutomo’s inner self is). “Yes, Sir!” 

Hayato smiled. Juichi is in good spirits, too, after the training camp, and even after entering hell, he still wanted his team to endure more to achieve certain victory... 

Just like what happened six days ago, and the rest of the days went by after that. 

Meanwhile, “Looks like it’s still hell after coming from hell,” Yukinari sighed after finding out that their practice isn’t over yet. 

“Well,” Touichiro smirked, “good thing you didn’t make it to the Inter-High--” 

“What was that supposed to mean?” 

“If you’re complaining right now about another round of practice after coming from the training camp, you can’t be serious in joining the Inter-High, either. Even for other members, they’re aware how hard it gets to the team, let alone being selected to compete in the Inter-High.” 

“It’s not that I’m complaining--” 

“Besides, everyone’s totally hyped to hit the rollers and the course right now... after seeing Manami and Arakita-san's race.” 

He remembered that race. As soon as they were pulled back to the training program, Juichi finally permitted the two to race – on two conditions. One, they will race a day before they will head back to school. Two, they have to restrain themselves from seeing the involved girls until the final leg of the Pep Rally. Thus, even in the case of Sangaku where he sees Maera almost every day, he has to make sure his windows are closed once he gets home a bit later than her... 

And he also asked Mukahi to do the same with the girls. The second condition was actually Jinpachi’s idea, as a way for them to be more certain of their own feelings. 

“That was wild,” the light-haired climber couldn’t help but to recall what happened during that race. As he was about to say something more... 

He noticed something moving behind the bushes. 

“Uh, Touichiro,” he called him, “you go ahead. I need to call someone.” 

“Your mom?” he even guessed. 

“Uh, yeah,” he said, and he handed his bike to him. “Take care of this for me, will ya?” and he ran off. 

Touichiro just raised his eyebrow. As far as he knew, Yukinari isn’t the type who will call his mother, unless his mother will call him, that can be understandable. So he has no choice but to pull his bike along with his own, sighing. He definitely need to give him a piece of his mind later. 

***** 

After making sure it was only the three of them in the room, Mukahi immediately locked the door. 

“It seems this is something quite personal,” Eriko guessed. “But why including Maera-san?” 

“D-did I do something wrong?” Maera got anxious. 

“Oh, no, please trust me,” Mukahi assured, “this also concerns you as well, Miyahara-san. Because I believe that we, three, have one thing in common.” 

The two half-moon glasses girls looked at each other again, but Eriko was starting to have a hunch that this is already something to do with what has been happening in the past month and a half. 

With this, Mukahi decided to start right away. “I believe,” she said, “Toudou-kun already reached out to you concerning your personal issues, am I correct?” 

Maera turned silent in shock, while Eriko’s mind snapped as she was able to make the right guess. “So he talked to you as well,” she guessed. 

“Wh-what did he tell you!?” the first year was curious. 

Knowing that it is going to be a long discussion, the secretary sat down, while the two followed her. “At first, I was scared of him and his ability to predict one’s situation through how one interacts to the person who has a longer history with. It may seem harmless, but I believe his ‘excuse’ to create a novel is a way to reach out to us to get help with each of our situations. If you will notice, our situation is more than having some elements in common. In my case, I have experienced the same situations as you two do, but in your case, they are totally connected to one another. Are you starting to notice anything similar?” 

Eriko was the first one who managed to notice at first. She knew Mukahi’s story, but since the start of their third year, things between her and Juichi is close to its conclusion – unless there is something more underneath it, something that Maera immediately broke her silence for. 

“Is this,” she guessed, “r-related to your engagement, just like everyone is talking about?” 

Eriko was genuinely surprised at the revelation that she looked at her own secretary, confused. While Mukahi remained unfazed, as if she was already expected that everyone will know about it, except for the White Princess. 

“Please forgive me, Young Mistress,” she bowed her head at her. “I was planning to tell you a day before the training camp, but I got occupied with my own uncertainty. But yes... 

Just recently, my family decided to marry me off to none other than Captain Fukutomi of the Bicycle Club.” 

Maera just looked at the President who seemed surprised at first since it was an unexpected turn of events. As far as she knew, the secretary decided to move on four years ago by choosing a different guy to spend her life with and ruined their friendship, only to be married off to the same person she left for her own happiness. 

“But then,” she continued, “thanks to Toudou-kun’s intervention, I have finally came up with a decision.” 

Maera looked at Mukahi. Somehow, because of how Jinpachi delivered his plot to them, considering that they contain the same story as they have, it help them make careful decisions. Mukahi might have applied the same way to conclude the story, which will now depend what the outcome will be after her decision. 

“Three days after we arrived at the camp,” she continued, “Hatanaka-kun called me. He was crying... In the middle of that, he decided to break up with me, and I suspect that it was out of fear of what my grandmother could do,” and she turned to Eriko. “I’m not sure if the President or the Mistress already told you this, but my family is planning to break ties with yours anytime soon. As such, my grandmother, the Chairwoman, made a decision that she thought will shape my future. Once I’m officially engaged to the Fukutomi Family’s youngest son, I will have to officially leave my post as your secretary and personal valet. However...” 

Her gray eyes turned steel. 

“Toudou-kun’s stories, Shinkai-kun’s intervention, and the words coming from Fukutomi-kun, himself, made me decided to steel my resolve: I will not marry Juichi Fukutomi, nor anyone else my grandmother might suggest me, and I will continue to serve Lady Eriko until I die. This has nothing to do with the Kagaho name anymore, nor my own family. I already have found love in Hatanaka-kun, and I will continue to fight for it no matter how many times he will be threatened, I will protect him. And as for Fuku— 

I mean, Juichi... “ 

Her eyes softened afterwards. She still remembered that day when she accidentally heard Juichi from the other room talking to someone she felt she knew, at the same time, her ex-classmate, Hayato, bowed to her and asked for forgiveness on Juichi’s behalf. Just a few minutes after that, her boyfriend called to break up with her. So many things happened in a day that help her decide carefully, adding up everything Jinpachi told her. 

“I decided... to forgive him. With all my heart. Because...” 

***** 

Six days ago.  

“Tsukigawa?” 

“F... Fuku...tomi-kun...?” 

Juichi just finished his own training routine, an hour earlier than the rest of his teammates, and was just discarded his damp shirt to the laundry when he saw Mukahi, just standing in one corner with a basket of laundry that she was supposed to take care of if not for that unexpected emotional turmoil. 

Her puffy red eyes didn’t escape his own. Meanwhile, as if fate has allowed her to see him right away for a sole reason, decided to set aside her personal dilemma and confronted him. But the next scene was unexpected for both – 

We need to talk.” 

Mukahi didn’t expect Juichi to request to have to talk to him, whereas the latter didn’t expect it as well, without any trace of resentment. It could be anything related to her tears, with that... 

“I’m listening,” he decided to let her talk first. 

Knowing that Mukahi will rant, as usual, Juichi decided to step back, and let her talk, while Mukahi used that opportunity to finally speak her mind related to what happened that morning. 

“This morning,” she started, “Hatanaka-kun called me.” 

The fact didn’t change his expression. To him, that was already given. Yet, upon seeing Mukahi’s face, at the back of his mind, something bad might have happened. 

“He called and,” she gulped, trying to control her emotions, “broke up with me...” 

His brows furrowed. He knew it. Especially when he remembered their last devastating talk, he knew that her grandmother will move anytime if the granddaughter will not do anything to break up with Hatanaka. 

“Did he tell you why?” Juichi tried to ask. 

Mukahi just shook her head. “He only said that someone confronted him and threatened to break up with me or he and his family will face the consequences. I know that Grandma did this. She wanted to make sure all her plans for me will not fail. What she did... is already too much. But then...” 

He noticed her fists clinging to the laundry basket: they were turning white in anguish. She was obviously furious, yet something was preventing her from blaming her grandmother for making things worse.  

“After I’ve heard your conversation with your teammates... after hearing from Shinkai-kun... and after talking to Toudou-kun... I’ve come to realize...” 

She finally faced him, with uncontrollable emotions. 

“I’ve realized... I’m the selfish one here... It’s not you who should say sorry for everything...! It should be me! I’m so sorry, Juichi! I’m so selfish! I’ve only thought of my own happiness! I’m the worst! I’m—” 

Juichi’s expression gradually changed to unexplained shock. He didn’t expect Mukahi to say sorry and to admit she was also in the wrong. For four years, he has been carrying the burden of not telling her how he felt to the point that it cost their friendship, but he didn’t expect this kind of twist. 

With that, his instinct to comfort the person who once stole his heart kicked in, pulling Mukahi closer to him, something that he never did to her even four years has been passed. 

Mukahi’s tears stopped and her pain subsided a bit when, after four years, Juichi took the courage to hug her and to ease her tears, while he, himself, couldn’t also contain his own emotions. 

“I should be the one to say sorry,” he whispered to her. “I’ve kept everything hidden from you because I got scared...! For four years, I’ve tried to look for a closure but I’ve never had the chance because I was really scared,” and he hugged her tighter. “Mukahi... between you and me, you’re stronger. You’ve endured a lot without me... It was me who left you... Don’t... don’t blame yourself because I understand...” 

It was that kind of feeling that Mukahi has been longing for for four years, and her heart was leaping with unexplained joy. She hugged Juichi in return, hopefully she wouldn’t let go. Ever since their last months in grade school, she never had a chance to feel his warmth, only today... 

And all the pain has been melted away. 

“But I’m so selfish,” she cried. “I’ve lost Hatanaka because of me...!” 

Hearing that name again, the Captain carefully pulled himself from her. “If you really love him,” he said, “that means you haven’t lost him yet.” 

“Wh-what do you mean?” she blinked, until she remembered right away the possibility as to why Hatanaka broke up with her, judging by his voice at that time. 

“Oh... yeah,” she wiped her tears right away. “Juichi, there’s another thing I would like to tell you.” 

“Me too,” he also wiped his tears. Once both have calmed down, they said their own thoughts at the same time, which, once again, surprised them— 

I decided NOT to marry you.” 

Both paused. Either it just happened that they were thinking the same thing at the same time, or their relationship was slowly turning normal that they were reading each other’s minds again, to the point that Mukahi began to chuckle. 

“It looks like we’re thinking the same thing,” she said. 

“Yeah,” Juichi agreed. “But the problem now will be our families—” 

“Who cares about them?” her tone changed, that surprised him. “We are the ones writing our own destinies, not them. I have to admit, I’m now happy with Hatanaka-kun, and I won’t tolerate what my grandmother did.” 

“Are you planning to tell this to the engagement party?” 

“Yes. I’ve already decided,” and she was able to smile again. “I will not end up like my aunt, nor like the Young Mistress. I will live as I please. Do what you need to do as well, Juichi. If you are planning to keep the crown in Hakone, do it with your own strength and conviction, not because of tradition. It’s your win, not anyone else’s.” 

Juichi was able to smile as well, in front of her, after four years, and now both decided that what happened at that time was nothing but a dreaded nightmare. He even noticed that Mukahi is turning back to her original self: smart, brave, and has a strong sense of conviction. He had never felt relieved in his life that he wanted to move the Inter-High schedule to race now. 

“Let’s both do our best,” he offered his hand. “It might not be the same, but I don’t mind starting over again.” 

“I don’t mind, too,” and she shook hands as well. “Although,” her cheeks turned red, “I still have to admit...” 

The tightness of her grip made him understand her thoughts right away. “I know,” he responded. “I feel the same. In fact...” 

He held her hand tighter, this time, he used both his hands to hold hers. 

“I should have told you way back that I like you... No, I love you. I still do. But still...” 

“I know now,” she remembered the words he said when she accidentally eavesdropped. “And I think... if I remained as stubborn as ever, I’ll never listen to you and will never know. But now...” 

In a sense, it’s too late. Mukahi has learned to love Hatanaka while Juichi finally said the things he failed to tell her for four years and to him, that is all that matters at that time... 

In a sense, it’s still not too late to ask for forgiveness and say the things he had kept for long. 

“Thank you,” he was satisfied. “Thank you for forgiving me. I could finally say that I have no regrets being your best friend.” 

“And I thank you, too,” Mukahi said, “for not giving up on me... even if I can’t return your feelings anymore. I’m also glad to meet you.” 

If Jinpachi was just there, he would probably freak out in happiness, but Hayato being there, hiding, seeing everything, is already enough, that he couldn’t wait to tell him later. 

***** 

Maera and Eriko were somehow happy that, despite the breakup, in the end Mukahi and Juichi finally reconciled. “B-but what about your boyfriend?” Maera was still worried about it. 

“I have already made up my mind,” Mukahi replied. “I will not give up on Hatanaka-kun, no matter what. That is why I’ll not accept any marriage proposals to Juichi, and he agreed to it as well. We have pre-planned this. That is why...” 

She looked at both girls. 

“If I was able to make a decision the hard way, what more if nothing is happening to you yet? Young Mistress, I know that you have already made up your mind regarding your upcoming marriage, but while we are still in high school, you need to be certain on what you really want to do. You need to somehow make a backup plan if ever your and Master Yasutomo’s plans will backfire. Your decision to agree on the engagement is risky enough.” 

“I know,” Eriko said. “And I’m glad you and Maera are already certain of your decisions. As for me, I know this will be difficult, but I will need more time to be certain.” 

“Then, tell us,” Maera made a dare. “What are you feeling right now?” 

It was a question worth more than a million to answer. They all agree at this moment that Eriko is the only one uncertain of her feelings, maybe because what she is feeling right now might be a fluke... or maybe, times have changed that it is now asking her to be fully certain. The problem now is how the person involved will feel about it. 

“As expected,” she said, “Toudou-kun is already aware of it. I would like to ask for his opinion right now... but I don’t want to rely much on him. I have to move if I have to be certain.” 

“So what’s your plan?” Mukahi asked. 

Eriko stared at her desk, trying to think of her plan to prove her certainty. But to start, she has to be with the person who will make her change her mind while it’s still not too late... 

But before she could tell them her plan, Mukahi remembered something that she has to tell them. 

“Juichi told me this, by the way,” she said. “Please don’t bother looking at the Young Master nor Manami-kun at this moment.” 

The looked at each other. “But I have to talk to Yasu,” Eriko seemed restless. 

“You can do so tomorrow. However, it was one of the conditions they have to fulfill if they wanted to race against each other. They managed to do that and agreed with the deal.” 

The reason is something worth raising eyebrows for. Although they cannot blame them if they wanted to race against each other. Men would love to challenge one another to prove their worth, and in their case, both young women understood why... 

These young men, too, wanted to be certain with their own feelings, and the only way they know to do that is to race. 

Chapter Text

SANGAKU VS. YASUTOMO

 

The day the suspension has been lifted.  

“A duel race?” Juichi tried to be clear about the two fellow members’ request, with Yasutomo speaking on their behalf.  

“Yeah,” he said. “Manami and I agreed to have one. You know why, Fuku-chan. It’s something only men can do to be certain with our decision,” and he also looked at someone who has been listening to them all this time, “right, Toudou?” 

A duel to determine one’s certainty. Jinpachi likes the sound of it, seeing the two’s determined faces and hearts. After all, this is the only thing they can think of. 

“Whatcha think, Fuku?” he then gave the question back to their Captain. “Looks like they’ve been itching to find out who’s who.” 

It took Juichi a few seconds of looking at them from head to toe before he could finally make up with a decision. 

“I’ll let you do that,” he finally gave his consent, much to their relief, “but on one condition. And Toudou will give you that.” 

Both became silent. Meanwhile the headband-wearing climber, who also happened to be the team’s Vice-Captain, just whistled, knowing that their race has a connection to what they have been struggling for in the past two days. 

“There are two conditions, actually,” he said. “One, we’ll do that on the final day of the camp. Two, until the final leg of the Pep Rally… 

None of you will see nor reach out to the Princess or Miyahara-chan.” 

They looked at each other especially regarding the second condition – but then Sangaku was able to guess why. “Is this for us not to be biased and think of our own decisions?” he guessed. 

“Manami, you’re getting smart!” the senior climber clapped. “So no phone calls whatsoever while you prepare yourself. And another thing: you have the course for you to use. You can set your own rules, provided that Fuku will approve them.” 

“Do you have your own conditions?” Juichi asked them. 

“We do,” the little climber replied.  

“If one of us will win,” the grumpy racer said, “he’ll have an exclusive right to confess to Maera-chan—” 

“And what about Kagaho?” the Captain suddenly asked. 

“She’s part of the condition, too,” Sangaku explained. “Obviously, I don’t have any plans to lose against Arakita-san. I’ll make sure Maera won’t go with him, because… 

If I win, I want him to listen to Kagaho-san’s feelings for him.” 

It made the seniors speechless, while Jinpachi’s inner mind is already screaming. The key to the White Princess’ chained heart is so precious that even in the end, he still cares for her well-being, and he firmly believes that Yasutomo has the key all this time – if he would be aware enough of it. 

Speaking of Yasutomo, his doubts about those conditions began to kick in, and to add Jinpachi’s last thoughts about the princess in the story who has been in love with the lone wolf for quite some time, he wasn’t sure anymore if that’s just an exciting addition to the plot or he is really telling him something about Eriko… 

And only their proposed race will prove their own certainties. 

***** 

Another condition has been added: that no one will know about the upcoming race, thus their practice routines were just the usual. And Jinpachi has been monitoring them for the next four days. 

The oblivious little boy, who has never felt determined in his life,  proposed a challenge to the lone wolf to a duel. Unlike the last duel they had in which it wasn’t determine who have won or lost, this duel has been approved by the ace warrior, himself, after understanding that they wanted to be fully certain of their feelings for the little glasses girl. But the boy doesn’t want to compromise the chained princess’ feelings as well, thus he challenged the lone wolf to be fully certain and when he wins, he would want him to listen to the princess’ own feelings to him.  

To the free boy, it’s one way to settle their feelings toward those two women – but without realizing  another specific reason why he has to win, aside from being worried about the chained princess. It was a feeling he couldn’t explain; a feeling different from what he felt at the princess when she was an angel. It is something only he can discover.  

As for the lone wolf, he was actually pretending to be sure, yet it is compelling him to do something for the little girl so he won’t see her cry again. Up until this moment, he remained clueless regarding the chained princess who said to be in love with her since the beginning. He might already have a right reaction to it, but he doesn’t have a concrete answer yet. If he will win, he won’t have to worry about his answer to the princess anymore…  

And yet, there is part of him which brings up his curiosity about her, thus her uncertainty whether he has to win or just give the round to the free boy. But a duel is a duel, and he has to step right up to prove himself as someone older.  

“Writing again, huh?” Hayato caught him in the shed during their breaktime with his notebook. 

“Yep,” Jinpachi grinned, more inspired than ever. “Fuku’s story is already closed, and something else is also happening anytime soon that will change the course of the story.” 

“I guess it’s about Manami and Yasutomo’s decision through a race.” 

He moved a bit backwards when he mentioned their names. “How did you—” 

And he did his signature BANG! Pose. 

“It’s obvious,” he then explained. “One doesn’t want to lose to another, but they now both have each other’s respect because they have one thing in common. You should know how rivals work!” 

“You got me there,” he scratched his head. “This will be exciting! I now have enough materials to continue. We’ll just wait for the outcome—” 

“And whatever the outcome will be,” his smile gradually faded, “you won’t be part of it anymore, right?” 

“Yeah,” and he stopped twirling his pen. “I guess this is the limitation of someone with this kind of ability. You can’t be biased nor predict the outcome of their decision, even if you want to. If you will do that, you’ll be like controlling their own destinies… 

And like I’ve said before, I’m not like that. I just wanna write my story in peace.” 

It is something that Hayato understood. In the first place, Jinpachi never wished for that ‘power’, yet Fate gave it to him for a reason. What he recently did to Juichi and Mukahi is a proof that his ability exists to help lost causes be found again, even if it isn’t the same as before, as long as two parties will agree to Fate’s terms. And now, it will be up to those two idiots to decide who will win and which decision will be more certain... 

Yet, something is telling him, depending on the outcome of the race, there will be more surprises to come, especially when there is one member who has accidentally heard the news about the race. 

***** 

“Dude, have you heard?” 

“Whut?” 

“Manami will race with Arakita again!” 

“WHAT!???” 

“Hey, hey, hey! Is it true!? Their last race will continue!?” 

“Are we allowed to watch it?” 

“I heard that they finally got Captain’s permission. We can definitely watch it!” 

“Oooh boy, this is going to be deadly!” 

“Arakita-san will surely win! If you’ve last seen him race and how he pulled the Captain, you’ll be reeaaally scared!” 

“Manami has a high chance, he’s a climber and rumors said he’s been climbing Mt. Hakone all his life!” 

“Place yer bets, people! Who do you think will win?” 

“I’m for Arakita!” 

“I’ll bet for Manami!” 

“Shut up and take my money!!!” 

“Why are you involving money on something?” 

They didn’t notice Touichiro who has been listening to their gossip to the point that he also heard about money being involved in a race.  

“Have you heard?” one of them explained. “The last race between Arakita and Manami will continue during our last day of the camp! This will be exciting!” 

“Their race got cut off because it wasn’t official,” another added. “This time, they have Fukutomi-san's permission!” 

“And we’re talking on who will win, of course!” 

“But why are you including money on a race?” he raised his eyebrow.  

The question left most of them speechless. “But I bet you also wanna know who will win,” one said, “that you wanna place your bet on who you’ll think will survive in this--” 

“Road racing isn’t gambling. If you want to place your bets on either Manami or Arakita-san, don’t involve money in it or I’ll let Fukutomi-san know about this.” 

The members just looked at each other with concerned faces especially when Touichiro already mentioned the Captain, leaving them with no choice but to leave him alone. 

But to know that Sangaku and Yasutomo’s disturbed race will finally push through with Juichi’s blessing is, indeed, something worth betting for. But being an uptight sportsman, he’ll rather watch and enjoy the upcoming race. 

“Did I hear that right?” he didn’t notice Yukinari who was just a few meters from him, just done talking to someone over the phone. “They’ll continue the race?” 

“Looks like it’s lit,” he replied. “I just hate to hear that some people are trying to make money out of a simple race.” 

“Yikes, who said that?” 

“Nah, nobody. I just hope they don’t do that in front of Fukutomi-san.” 

Thus the rest of the members already knew about the upcoming race, as those members who first learned about it are starting to spread the news to their fellow members. And even before the race has started, the team became divided into two factions: the seniors who are rooting for Yasutomo to win, naturally, and the first years betting for fellow first year, Sangaku, being the first ever first year in history of the Bicycle Club to become a member of the six-man team to compete for the Inter-High... 

Of course, both competitors are now aware that everyone already knows they’ll be racing against each other, this time, officially, and they don’t mind at all if the whole world will watch them. For them, it will be better for the whole team to witness who will prevail and who will end up falling. 

***** 

And so, the day came. 

“This will be a two-way race,” Mukahi gave them instructions. “The first checkpoint will be 2000 kilometers above the sea level, and whoever will get to the checkpoint first and pull the ribbon will have a point. The second checkpoint will be this starting line. Regardless if both racers will make it at the same time at the same checkpoint, the first point will always be counted to determine the winner. This will be a relay, however. Once you’ve reached the first checkpoint, the race will still continue.” 

The two racers looked at each other, their pressure hasn’t changed since Juichi permitted the race, which only added the excitement this morning. 

“There’s one more thing,” Juichi added. “Although I have given you permission to do this, this isn’t still an official race granted by the Coach. So... 

Take off your jerseys. You’re not battling for the school here.” 

The whole team made some weird noises when their Captain ordered the two racers to take off their jerseys in front of everyone that even the other core members were also shocked – except for Jinpachi who immediately understood why. Besides, he has a point. 

“S-seriously, Fuku-chan!?” Yasutomo was obviously red. “I-if we’ll do that, do we have--” 

“I’m sorry, Young Master,” Mukahi bowed, “it’s my fault that I wasn’t able to finish the laundry yesterday so I’m afraid you won’t have any spare to wear.” 

“Oh my God...” 

“I don’t mind,” Sangaku, surprisingly, agreed. “Besides, he has a point. This isn’t for the school... 

It’s for Maera and Eriko-san.” 

Then he pulled down the zipper of his jersey and took it off, and put his shirt to the basket which the manager was holding. 

Yasutomo clicked his tongue when he saw his rival following the Captain’s condition that he has to do the same and tossed his jersey to the awaiting basket. 

Then, Jinpachi pulled his own handkerchief and raised it while standing between the two racers. 

“You know the rules,” he said. “This isn’t related to school pride, but this is a battle for your heart’s certainty. Whoever wins the race will have a right for someone’s heart, but regardless who will win, both of you should now be certain at this point.” 

He then looked at each racer, who were just done fastening their helmets and hand protectors – well, Sangaku decided to discard his hand protectors as well, and tossed them into Mukahi’s basket. Both were ready to roar, muscles gleaming in the morning sun due to sweat forming in their bodies even before the race starts. 

“Gentlemen,” the ace climber then announced, “start your engines…  

And may the best racer…WIN!” 

As soon as he dropped his handkerchief, the two shirtless racers immediately pedaled their bikes and dashed ahead of the starting point. The race was on, and the whole crowd began to cheer for their bet:  

“GO, MANAMI!!!” 

GET ‘IM, ARAKITA!!!” 

It has not yet been five seconds, but both racers were already forty meters away from the starting line. This has somehow made Mukahi curious since they can’t just follow them to find out who is leading the race. 

“So what now?” she asked. 

“I have ordered someone to wait for them in the first checkpoint,” Juichi said, who seemed to have prepared everything for their little race. “We’ll be able to get a record there on who will be—” 

“Do you think it will be better to see those guys in action?” 

When they turned around, they saw Hayato – in a van driven by one of their assistant coaches who happened to be close to him. And with his hand… 

“A video camera!?” Jinpachi’s jaw dropped after seeing him with the most important things in the race. 

“But this isn’t even an official race!” Mukahi tried to disapprove, but— 

“I think it will be great if we will let those two see their race to help them decide,” he winked.  

The manager finally understood. To let Maera and Eriko see the race dedicated to them is something one can think of as romantic. They all looked at Juichi, waiting for his approval…  

“Go ahead,” he agreed, which pleased the rest, as he headed to the van. “But I’ll let Mukahi give the footage to the White Wing Council once we go back,” and he looked at the manager. “Just make sure only the President and Miyahara can see this.” 

“Will do,” she agreed as she followed him to the van. 

For the first time since the discovery of his ability, Jinpachi has never been so excited about what the outcome of the race will be that he suddenly blurted out, “I love you, Shinkai!!!” 

***** 

The next day.  

“Wh-what’s this?” Eriko was given a CD by Mukahi with a caption on its cover: 

For the two  heroines who needed to steel their resolve. – J.T .  

The initials, itself, are obvious. “Is this from Toudou-kun?” she asked. 

“It’s not just him,” Mukahi explained. “Originally, it was Shinkai-kun’s idea but he gave the credit to Toudou-kun because he knew it was him who started everything.” 

“B-but what’s in that CD?” Maera was curious. 

“You’ll find out once you played it. But it will be best if only you, two, will watch it.” 

Highly curious on what was recorded in the said CD, the two half-moon glasses girls decided to play it, but upon Mukahi’s request, they locked the door after the secretary excused herself to be their lookout in case their fellow Council members will go back. 

Using Eriko’s personal laptop, they played the CD. After a minute… 

Yo, ladies!” 

It was actually a video. And as expected, Jinpachi will be the first person they will see. 

We’re at the training camp right now,” he explained in the video, “ but we decided to make this last day special just for you. Apparently it was Shinkai’s idea to capture this so you can thank him also later,” and he winked. “Anyway, let me first tell you one excerpt from my  upcoming novel. It goes like this…   

The oblivious boy gradually found out about the neighbor’s feelings towards him. But out of respect for their friendship, originally, he was planning to tell her if they can just stay as friends because he, being young and still learning, he doesn’t want to compromise what he already felt for his own neighbor. The girl was fine by it, because after all, if you will ask her,  she will also say and do the same…   

Until the lone wolf admitted his feelings towards the neighbor, and out of his rage to the oblivious boy for being insensitive with his neighbor’s feelings when he once said a situation where he met the angel who saved him before instead of his neighbor. Because of that, he challenged him to a race, but it got disturbed after the ace warrior, himself, stopped them, and they got suspended from their training until the next day.  

That day gave the ace a chance to talk them about their issue, and he revealed to them his secret about his past with the chained princess’ handmaid, in which he admitted the mistakes he made to her for the past four years. Unknowingly, the handmaid heard their conversation, giving her second thoughts whether she will listen to him or not, to forgive him or not. A fateful phone call gave her a hint on what to do, in which she decided to forgive him with all her heart after realizing her own mistakes as well. They reconciled and became friends again.This is something both the ace warrior and the handmaid wanted to share to  those  four young hearts which are still clouded with uncertainty: two men caught in infatuation, while two women were battling for their own courage to speak.” 

The plot made the two girls speechless. There is something that Mukahi mentioned about her influence for her decision which became accurate as it was already been expected. But they didn’t expect Juichi to do the same to the two boys. 

The two men decided to have a private talk where their certainty were tested, as both of them are suffering from infatuation to wrong women. To prove their certainty, to the lone wolf’s surprise, it was the oblivious boy who challenged him this time. As he wanted to find out from himself if the lone wolf’s love for the little glasses girl is true, he challenged him with a few conditions:  

If the lone wolf wins, he will be given exclusive rights to take the glasses girl’s hand and heart, and the oblivious boy will let them be happy.  

If the oblivious boy wins, he will make sure to protect his precious neighbor from those who wanted to take her, and he will order the lone wolf to listen to the chained princess’ heart who has been waiting for him for years…  

But listening to her cry will not be enough if the princess remains uncertain of her own feelings, thus she has to be prepared for whatever outcome it will be for their duel.  

As for the little glasses girl, she already made up her mind – but she can’t just let everyone know about it if the princess will remain the only one uncertain.  

So the two warriors decided to  get permission from the ace warrior to race to determine their answers. The ace granted their wish, as long as their certainty is on the line. And with that…” 

The scenario changed a few seconds later, where it switched to two boys racing against each other, and the gap was so close they were neck and neck. They were screaming their hearts out as they climb towards the first checkpoint, where two blue and red ribbons are waiting for them to pull, whoever who will go first... 

And those two racers were not wearing any shirt, but they wear familiar faces – much to the two girls’ shock. 

Yasu!?  

Sangaku!?  

The noise and the yells of the spectators were so loud they can barely hear the commentary from behind, especially when the two racers managed to pull the ribbons at the same time, maybe a few seconds apart, but they couldn’t tell because of all the cusses and yells they could hear in the background. 

But somehow they could hear some voices faintly. 

It’s a tie, guys!” they can hear Jinpachi’s high-pitched voice. “Holy crap--!” 

That’s impossible!” they can hear Hayato’s voice clearly being the video taker. 

Then from a corner they can hear Juichi’s voice, but it was a bit faint but luckily he was heard clearly. “...got an official record, both got their respective ribbons at the same time, tied even by 10 seconds!” 

No way!” Hayato was almost out of breath. “No one’s planning to lose at all! Does that mean--” 

We can’t tell that yet,” Jinpachi cut him off. “They’re heading back!” 

Sir?” Juichi called their assistant coach to drive them back to where the racers are heading.  

Meanwhile, the two girls were just dumbstruck, silently watching the video of the actual race between two boys who are connected to their lives – and possibly, their hearts. It’s a race against self-doubt and uncertainty. No one could tell anymore who is racing for whom, as long as one of them will win, as well as their conviction. 

Eriko was shaking while watching them race on video. She wasn’t sure anymore who she will rooting for – but then, it made her realize, maybe Jinpachi sent this video to for them to help them decide, especially her, who remained unsure of her own feelings. Just like right now, her heart was having an inner debate on who she will root for... 

But then, she saw Maera while watching the video. 

She might be speechless, but she was strangely focused on the outcome of the race. Unmindful if they are racing each other shirtless, what would actually count is their own resolve, especially remembering the last piece of the plot Jinpachi shared with them... 

Especially that her big brown eyes are focusing on one guy.  

He already knew...? Her heart thought, that she didn’t notice her tears falling. Is that why... Sangaku...  

He challenged Arakita-san... for me...?  

The look in her deputy’s eyes gave her an answer: Maera is finally certain on who she will cheer for. This leaves Eriko’s heart to make a decision, while watching the race carefully. From there, she noticed... 

The determination to win is there, but there is something lacking in Yasutomo’s display of strength.  

Are you also... in doubt, Yasu? Does this mean that... You’ve also known...?  

Just like Maera, the White Princess’ tears also began to fall. 

As they were watching the race video together, in tears, Mukahi slowly opened the door so they cannot be disturbed. This time, she has Mao and the Uno Sisters with her, probably demanding her to let them in or she will get sued. The newcomers noticed their President and her deputy – quietly watching the video for some reason. They looked at each other. 

“So what are they watching?” Mao got curious. 

“I’ll explain to you later once the video’s over,” she promised. “But for now, don’t make any noise. Let’s make them think of anything to make their hearts certain.” 

Confused, the three decided to follow, while watching their fellow Council members drown in their own tears while watching the most important race they have seen. What more if this is already the Inter-High? 

Chapter Text

36: "WITH ALL MY HEART," PART 1

 

“Maki-chan! MAKI-CHAAAN! I did it! I can’t believe I did it!!!” Jinpachi was screaming on the phone while talking to Yusuke in the locker room, excited with the outcome of what happened to Juichi and Mukahi after Hayato told him what he saw earlier. 

Whoa, congrats!” Yusuke was genuinely happy with his achievement. “Looks like you solved your first love case!” 

He paused for a bit. He then remember the last thing he told him about his ability. Maybe being a love detective isn’t as bad as he thought. 

“Looks like I did,” he grinned. “Another skill unlocked and to be written in my resume! Now I can talk and ride at the same time, and blessed with unmatched beauty – and on top of that, I have an ability to predict their past and relationships at a glance! What else would God give me? This is already too much!” 

He did his signature laugh. 

From the other line, Yusuke just sighed, but in a good way. He is certain: Jinpachi Toudou is back, but maybe, better than ever – in Jinpachi’s point of view. And he is hoping he’ll keep it that way even once Inter-High comes. 

So what’s next after solving your first love case?” he seemed interested with his rival’s next move. 

“Hm, good question,” he paused again. “The two other cases are now in motion, and I’ve already done my part in giving them a warning and I even let Fuku and Tsukigawa-chan give those four idiots advice. It’s up to them now. At least two of them are now certain... 

I’m just waiting for the other two to wake up.” 

Jinpachi decided not to tell more details to Yusuke to add more excitement, although he really wanted to tell him, but as someone who was given a power should also be responsible for it... 

Most especially, the most heart-wrecking race he had watched in his life, which just happened... 

***** 

Yesterday.  

“Arakita’s five seconds ahead of Manami now,” one of the spectators noticed. 

“No, idiot,” the other said. “Manami is ahead of him for five seconds!” 

“Look carefully, idiot! It’s Arakita! And it’s now just three seconds!” 

But when the other looked again. “Stupid! You’re probably talking about Manami!” 

“MORON! I said look carefully! It’s--” 

But since one is busier arguing with his teammate than watching, he then noticed a ‘change’ in the pace. 

“Wow, you’re right,” he blinked. “Manami’s already ahead of--” 

“No, man,” the other argued again, “you’re right, it’s Arakita who’s ahead--” 

“Wait, you said it’s Manami!?” 

“You said it’s Arakita!?” 

“Why don’t you watch with your eyes than with your mouth, idiots.” 

They didn’t notice Yukinari who was just behind them watching the race from their spot that they almost jumped in surprise. 

“It’s a goddamn close race,” he concluded. “No one wants to lose.” 

“Come to think of it,” the teammate began to wonder, “why did they wanted to do this race in the first place?” 

The cat-eyed second year smirked. “Let’s say,” he replied, “their worth as a man in love is on the line.” 

Both fellow members looked at each other when thy heard his opinion about the race... 

But even Yukinari can’t enjoy the entire race because of annoying phone calls, yet he has to answer them all for reasons. So he excused himself to answer his phone. 

***** 

It was the most gruesome race they have ever seen since last year’s Inter-High, that even the competitors agree.  

It has been five days since that accident at their first (unofficial) race, but Sangaku’s back is still screaming in pain, yet he didn’t falter. But Yasutomo used that handicap as his advantage to get ahead of him by three to five seconds – but those numbers are not yet enough. Is it because climbing isn’t his specialty? Or is it because his heart is still in doubt? 

The girl and her neighbor agreed to one thing: that lone wolf has the true key to unlock the angel’s heart that was said to have been reserved for years. That angel – who happened to be his fiancée – has been waiting for him ever since. Just for him. In layman’s terms…   

The angel has been in love with her own fiancé from the beginning.  

It is just part of Jinpachi’s story. He didn’t drop any names at all. Yet it bothers him. Putting on a realist’s perspective, how true is it that Eriko has been in love with him ever since they were kids – just as Maera’s case with Sangaku? Speaking of Maera, he knows he is already certain, he wants to do something for her not to cry again – but is that  all

Don’t doubt, Yasutomo, he said to himself. Never ever freakin’ doubt! You’re here, you wanna prove something to this wonder boy! Why the hell are you still hesitating!?  

...What am I trying to prove?  

A sidetrack of his own hesitation widened their gap by ten seconds, making Sangaku in the lead, with the wind still on his side to lead him to victory. 

Crap!!!  

He has to pedal harder to shorten the gap, if he cannot get even with him in a short time they have. Both have managed to reach the first checkpoint at the same time and he doesn’t want to let that happen again. He has to win... 

Why do I wanna win?  

His hesitation kicked in again. Out of frustration, he decided to catch up with the first year who was already on a five-second lead again – without thinking about any reasons why... 

He has to win. Then, he can just think about other things later. 

“Tired already, Arakita-san?” 

Surprisingly, Sangaku still has some strength to check on him, even if he, too, could collapse anytime. 

“Shut up!” he growled. “We’re having a race here! Do yer own business and I’ll do mine!” 

“Remember our deal,” he tried to remind him. “How you wanna win will now depend on how sure you are!” 

“And what about you!?” 

“I told you, I’m already sure! You won’t take Maera away from me, so I have to do whatever I can... 

Even if this means racing with you like this forever until one of us can’t move anymore!” 

Despite his injury, Sangaku remained at his element, much to Yasutomo’s annoyance that he always have to keep up. He is already tired, his skin is burning, but he thought he can’t give up. There is part of him who wants to win. If this is just an ordinary race, he’ll definitely beat him by ten or twenty seconds... 

But this race has Juichi’s and his teammates’ blessing. And Jinpachi watches it, too. It’s a race to a certain girl’s heart – yet another girl won’t get out of his head... 

Eriko-chan... Is it really true...? Is Toudou trying to tell me about you through his crappy story? To be frank, I never felt anything towards you ever since... But right now...  

My heart is starting to feel obligated, even if I can’t confirm yet.  

Once this camp’s over, I’ll talk to you. I wanna confirm it myself before I lose it! That’s why... That’s why I have to win this race! This isn’t just for Maera-chan! I wanna know the truth! I hate getting confused like this! I wanna protect Maera-chan... But I also wanna do something for you, too...! God, I hate this feeling...  

If you’re telling the truth, who should I choose!?  

He caught himself overthinking again that their gap has, once again, widened. But Yasutomo already has enough. 

“Help me win,” he prayed for the first time in his life. “I have to reach you... for me to do that, I have to win... So help me... Please... 

ERIKO-CHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHN!!!” 

He has found another kind of strength within after screaming her name in front of the spectators. Even Sangaku heard him, and he couldn’t help but to smirk. 

Do you now have your answer, Arakita-san?  

As a proof, he raised his speed and activated his animal instincts to do more than just catching up. In just a matter of seconds, Yasutomo is back on the lead – with a seven-second gap, with an improvement of three seconds.  

Seeing him respond to his dashes, the first year racer also raised his speed to get closer to him. With a newfound strength and conviction he has, once again, they became neck and neck. 

“Do you wanna know the truth, Manami!?” 

The grumpy racer suddenly asked him in the middle of the race as he tried to tell him something, even if he’s about to lose his breath. 

“I’m still not sure,” he finally admitted. “I already said that I love Maera-chan... but I also can’t leave Eriko-chan alone. I’m sure you know why. Toudou has talked to us all... 

If Eriko-chan really has feelings for me, then I wanna confirm it, myself. And winning this race is one way I could only think of. There’s something I also want to make you realize... 

You also wanna know if Maera-chan really loves you and why, right!?” 

There was a sudden shift in the situation, where Sangaku, this time, has lost focus because of that question. At the back of his mind, of course he also wants to know by asking her, and it has already been a plan of his since a few days ago. That is also why he challenged Yasutomo – this is to find out which of them is more certain... 

But in truth, both are still having questions in mind about those girls Fate paired with them for reason. 

“So,” Yasutomo concluded, “if you decided to challenge me to prove a point, then, I’m also doing the same in accepting your challenge! If you decided to protect Maera at all cost, fine by me... 

But I’ll also protect Eriko-chan from being taken advantaged by the likes of you!” 

He sped up, raising the gap to ten seconds, pushing the first year to his limits by shifting to another gear and to also raise his cadence. Until they became neck and neck again, and in the last 100 meters back to the starting point, none of them wanted to be left behind.  

“You still believe I’m still in love with Kagaho-san?” he tried to distract him with another relevant question. 

“Well,” Yasutomo finally smirked, “you thought the same thing to me about Maera-chan, right?” 

Sangaku also smirked. “So this means,” he looked ahead, “it’s a race for us to determine who weights the most in our hearts!” 

“This time,” his energy came back, “I agree! And by the way,” he looked at him, “whether I lose here or not, I’ll still talk to Eriko-chan about her feelings. This time, I won’t hesitate!” 

“So what will you do if you find out the truth?” 

“Should I also ask the same to you?” 

“Funny,” he giggled. “Guess we’re both totally idiots about love, Arakita-san.” 

He also laughed. “Guess we’ll be changing rules in the last minute, then! Whoever loses will answer that question first!” 

“Then, it’s set!” 

A new rule has been implemented by two idiots who have a different view of first love, which gave them enough energy to finish the race victorious. And none of them have a plan to lose. As soon as they can finally see the second checkpoint, where another set of blue and red ribbons are waiting for them to be pulled, they sped up, doubling their strength and and speed to reach the finish line first.  

And as everything became slow for Sangaku and Yasutomo, with one thing in mind, both stretched their arms to grab the ribbons at the same time. It’s already a matter of who will touch the ribbon first to determine the victor, to the point that they’ve even tried to fight time to be on their side. 

Everyone almost lost their minds at the aftermath of the race, and those who were on the van couldn’t hold on to their seats anymore. After almost an hour and a half of trekking the entire course... 

***** 

The next day.  

The two involved White Wing girls remained staring in front of the laptop’s monitor until the video is over, with tears remained streaming in their eyes. They have seen how the race ended, which was an unexpected turn, that both of them are shaking. 

“I,” Eriko finally has something in mind, but that couldn’t be complete without talking to someone important. “I have to talk to him, no matter what--!” 

“M-me, too,” Maera stood up. “I have to tell him--!” 

But the moment they stood up after the video ended, they saw Mukahi standing at the Council Room door, and she wasn’t alone anymore. 

“I’m sorry, Young Mistress,” she said, “but as part of the conditions, none of you will see either Manami-kun or the Young Master until tomorrow.” 

“But--!?” 

“If you will do that, I have no choice but to let Juichi know, and both of them will be removed from the lineup in the upcoming Inter-High.” 

Both girls didn’t realize the heavy wager those boys made just for them to race each other. Although it will only be for a short time, for Eriko, she has been deprived of time to let Yasutomo know finally about her feelings before it will be too late for them, setting aside their engagement. Meanwhile, Maera has also been awaken. She can’t wait for tomorrow’s Pep Rally’s final day that she has to find Sangaku and tell him how she feels. 

“I strongly suggest,” Mukahi continued, “to focus more on the Pep Rally, especially you, Miyahara-san. Your choice to perform in front of everyone will help you reach out to Manami-kun. Please use this time to rehearse. And, Young Mistress... 

The Council needs you more than ever. Please focus on your work at least until Pep Rally ends.” 

The girls have no choice but to follow. At some point, Mukahi is right. If they would want to let them know of their feelings, they have to seclude themselves to be prepared for the big day. And now, it’s not just the secretary who is aware of their situation, as it’s not just some members of the Bicycle Club would also want to get involved, but as well as other members of the White Wing Council. 

“Mukahi-chan told us everything,” Mao said. “And we understand now what’s going on and why Miyahara-san chose to perform. I just remembered our last conversation about Arakita and your neighbor... 

We’ll be here, no matter what.” 

They looked at each other as they didn’t expect more people to get involved in a supposed-to-be affair between the writer and his muses. As if their small world slowly expanded until there are enough people who wanted to reach out to them for their help. 

“Your story’s so inspiring!” Yukime was gagging, “I wanna read Toudou-san's novel so soon!” 

“Your story gave me courage now,” Yurime said. “We would love to hear more!” 

“And we also wanna see that video!” Mao suddenly get excited-- 

“You can’t for now,” Mukahi stopped her. “Until the Pep Rally ends, that video is exclusive only to the Young Mistress and Miyahara-san.” 

The three just sighed. 

But somehow, seeing them showing support is enough for Eriko to calm down for now, because after all, there is still tomorrow, and she hopes to look for the best time possible to speak with Yasutomo alone. As for Maera, she has never felt fired up after watching the race. She will make sure to have her feelings reach out to Sangaku in tomorrow’s performance. 

“Maera-san,” Eriko suddenly called her, “let’s head back to the music room.” 

“Yes, Ma’am!” she followed right away. It’s time for practice, obviously. As they are about to reach the door, Mukahi also followed. 

“Is something the matter?” she suddenly asked her. 

“This is to ensure,” she explained, “that you will not do anything that will compromise the Young Master and Manami-kun's eligibility to join the Inter-High. If I have to follow you everywhere you go, I will.” 

“But you won’t be here tomorrow morning, since you need to attend an engagement luncheon with your and Fukutomi-kun's family.” 

“I’m aware, that is why I have commissioned Hanasaki-san to keep an eye on you while I’m gone.” 

Eriko smirked. If this is something she likes and even hates about Mukahi at the same time, is that she is doing her job too seriously – just like Juichi. No wonder they were compatible, as she thought so. With that, the two glasses girls have no choice but to let the secretary follow them, while the rest of the White Wings kept their oath  not  to touch the White Princess’ laptop until the Pep Rally ends. 

***** 

Bicycle Club’s locker room.  

“Ugh...!” 

His skin was still tingling after racing shirtless in the middle of the sun even it was still spring morning when that happened, that Yasutomo has no other choice but to apply some lotion on the burn, although it wasn’t that serious. Sometimes he couldn’t help but to think why he raced with Sangaku in the first place? 

He was quite focused with the slight burns in his skin that he forgot he was on a phone call with someone through a Bluetooth speaker. 

“Yeah, sorry about that,” and surprisingly, he apologized to whoever he was talking to on the other line which isn’t his nature unless it was an important person. “Anyway... yeah, send it to my email, I’ll check it later. Just keep quiet about this and we’re good.” 

The phone call just ended when Sangaku came in, also feeling uncomfortable in his shirt that he was looking for a way to get the sting off, until he saw his senior treating his own skin because of the same issue. 

The grumpy senior understood, so he waved the bottle at him, inviting him to come over and treat his own skin. 

***** 

“I didn’t expect Fukutomi-san to give us a hard time,” the little climber sighed while applying lotion on his almost-red arm.  

“You don’t know him that much yet,” Yasutomo attested. “He’s a monster.” 

He chuckled. 

“Anyway,” he took the bottle again, “have you already thought of your answer?” 

Sangaku paused. If this is regarding his decision in case Maera’s feelings about him is true, based on Jinpachi’s stories, it’s something that he also wanted to throw at Yasutomo as well. 

“What about you?” 

“I was the first to ask, idiot.” 

“Well... no one won the race yesterday, so might as well say yours.” 

The race remained a draw. After an hour and a half of trying to get even at each other, they still both reached and touched the ribbon at the same time, as what the official record said. Technically, no one won nor lost – but that deprived both of them to do what they want and instead they have to admit to themselves on what they will do if ever those girls’ feelings about them were true. 

“Fine, I’ll go ahead,” Surprisingly, Yasutomo volunteered. “I honestly... don’t know what to do.” 

He blinked. 

“I desperately want to win yesterday so you won’t be able to ask me that question. Maybe that’s just a cowardly side of me because I’m really not sure at all unless I talk to Eriko-chan, and from there, we’ll see how it goes. This is another reason why falling in love sucks – if someone’s in love with you and you have no idea about it, it’s taken away your ability to think straight.” 

“That’s lame,” the little climber bit his lip. “That’s also my answer--” 

“Don’t copy answers with me, idiot! Think of something original!” 

“Seriously, Arakita-san... I also don’t know what to answer her. Originally... I told Toudou-san that if I‘m that guy in the story, I would choose to just be friends with my neighbor. But after finding out that he’s already talking about Maera’s feelings, I decided to take it back and ask her first about it... So I’m back to square one. But...” 

He suddenly looked at the locker window, where he could see the main school building where it houses the White Wing Council. 

“If there is one thing I’m already certain, that would be protecting her and her dreams, the same thing she did to me for the past twelve years. And I’ll start by watching her perform tomorrow.” 

The older scoffed. “Lame. We ended up thinking about the same thing. But in my case, I’ve also decided to protect Eriko-chan. She went through a lot, and I haven’t done anything right for her, so I’m now making my move.” 

“Really?” then the younger looked at his senior. “So saying that... Are you still in love with my neighbor?” 

Yasutomo smirked at Sangaku’s question. “Yeah, in some sense,” and he also looked at him. “What about you, wonder boy? Still in love with my fiancée?” 

He then smiled. “I still am. But in some sense.” 

The race helped the two cyclists gain a mutual understanding that they still love the women who became involved in their past, but at the same time, both wanted to get an ultimatum on what they have to answer once proved that their feelings are true. It will be best for them to hear those from the girls, themselves, rather than relying on Jinpachi’s mostly vague plots in his story, at least there will be authenticity. Although they are both aware that the condition is now in effect where they can’t see either Maera or Eriko until tomorrow’s last leg of the Pep Rally, both still decided to hold on until the Pep Rally is over. 

And Yasutomo started with tossing his bottle of lotion to Sangaku, then he stood up and grabbed his shirt. “That’s yours,” he said. 

“You sure?” he blinked. “Still has a lot...” 

“I can buy my own one later,” he said while putting on his shirt. "For now, let’s say that my two in one gift to you. One, as a truce.” 

“And the other one?” 

He smirked at him. “You definitely are a hopeless case that you don’t even know it’s your birthday tomorrow... 

Happy Birthday, Manami.” 

His blue eyes widened. He totally forgot his own birthday, and there is one person who surprisingly knows about it. Is that also why Maera decided to perform tomorrow – as a birthday gift? 

He started to giggle at a possible thought while he continued to treat his skin, as if the sting went away knowing it’s his birthday.

Chapter Text

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, SANGAKU!

 

Morning at Manami Household.  

“Happy birthday, boy!” his father was just done preparing breakfast when Sangaku, by sheer miracle, woke up early. “Guess what’s for breakfast!” 

He noticed the spread: it’s his favorite dried fish meal. He immediately sat down. “Thanks, Pops!” he prayed before digging in. He also noticed that he added more fish in his platter which he really longed for. “Wanna join me?” 

“I’ll be there!” he just grabbed something from the living room table, before sitting opposite his son. “As promised, here’s what you’ve been asking for.” 

He handed him a box wrapped in sky blue paper. “Can I open it?” he asked. 

“Of course, silly, it’s your birthday, you have the right to open that!” 

So Sangaku immediately opened the box. It was actually a water bottle for racers that he really wanted since last year. He beamed upon receiving his gift. 

“This is exactly what I’ve been looking for!” he turned to his father. “How did you find this!?” 

“Online,” he admitted, scratching his head. “I even thought it’s sold out but the moment the shop decided to sell that kind again, I didn’t hesitate...” 

“This is so on point, thanks so so so much!” and he puts it on the table. “Can’t wait to use this later. By the way,” he looked around, “where’s Mom?” 

“She went ahead for work,” his dad said, “and she’s planning to make a cake later so make sure you come home lately.” 

“Blueberry?” 

“She knows your taste, so you’ll be surprised! And if you wanna invite anyone you know, go ahead, she’ll definitely be so happy to see your friends. Or how about Maera-chan?” 

He didn’t answer right away. 

Sangaku remained confused and unsure, despite the race he did with Yasutomo two days ago. Although he already claimed his certainty to protect Maera at all cost, the question remains on what his reaction will be once he finds out the truth about her feelings. Inviting her to dinner later will be nice for sure, as what he usually does every year... But he isn’t sure about it this year. 

“You okay?” his father noticed his sudden silence. 

“Y-yeah,” he smiled back. “Been thinking if she won’t be busy later, but I know her, she won’t miss Mom’s cakes!” 

“Maera-chan loves your mother’s cakes to death!” he laughed. 

Later, he took the remote control to turn on the TV for some morning news, like he usually does. But it seems like morning will not be good, especially on his son’s birthday: 

Reports of missing high school boys have now been escalated to Metropolitan Police after another boy was reported missing by his mother. Its latest victim, a second-year student of Kureminami Technical High School, was last seen in the school entrance three days ago after his afterschool activity.  

Local authorities are still investigating this case, and according to its initial investigation, the missing school boys, mostly came from the country’s eastern and central regions and ranged between ages 12 and 18, have surprisingly good looks, which another angle was considered that they kidnapped to be auctioned in the black market. The Metropolitan Police is now taking action on finding these boys by tracing their last known location. Meanwhile, the public has been warned to take care of their love ones, especially their teenage sons, whenever they go to school or about to go home, and suggested to have them chaperoned by their friends or legal guardian--” 

He immediately turned off the TV. 

“Why did you do that?” his son blinked. 

“It’s your birthday,” he explained, “and news like that shouldn’t ruin your day.” 

“Why?” he scoffed. “Don’t tell me you’ve dreamed something weird lately?” 

“Ah, my boy,” he sighed, “dreams can sometimes give you warnings on what will happen in the future. Just like last night... I dreamed about you being pulled away by black hands.” 

Sangaku blinked again. Sometimes he finds his father a bit weird, but surprisingly, nearly 90% of his dreams come true, like when he said last year that he drew a golden ball on a random grocery raffle while buying radishes – and that brought them to an exclusive hot spring resort vacation. 

But dreams are just dreams, a product of one’s wild imagination, the little climber thought, and not all of his dad’s dreams come true – especially if they are nightmares. 

“You think I’ll end up like what happened to the guy on the news?” he asked. 

“Who knows, son,” he said, “so better be careful. You’re sixteen now, but sometimes, being listless and unconscious of your surroundings will put you to danger. I even think you should have continued your training with your mother, but knowing you...” 

He just chuckled while finishing his breakfast. “I won’t go anywhere,” he said while standing up. “I promise, Pops. Thanks for the meal! And for the gift!” and he grabbed his tumbler and bag to head to school as early as he could. 

“By the way,” his father just remembered something, “can you give this to Maera-chan?” he handed him a lunch box. “She requested earlier for me to cook some fish for lunch, since her parents won’t be around for days.” 

“I almost forgot,” he took the lunchbox. “I’ll give this to her, then.” 

He rode towards school as his father watched him go, a little worried, especially with the news recently.  

Sangaku is now sixteen, and reaching that age, normal kids like him should already be certain of their future lovelife. But the Pep Rally and the Inter-High is all in his mind at this moment. He doesn’t want to hurry as possible, but as Jinpachi’s warnings continue to linger in his mind, he has no choice, or they will definitely end up like Juichi – or maybe worse. 

But for some reason, he stopped pedaling, and stared at the lunchbox his father prepared supposedly for Maera. From there, he just remembered... 

Yikes, I totally forgot, he bit his lip. I’m still not allowed to see her until the Pep Rally!  

***** 

“And that’s a wrap!” 

The last practice was perfect that Maera finally delivered it on a performance level. Eriko is far more pleased, of course. 

“You’re definitely ready for later,” she said. “We need to try out the dress I commissioned from Hanasaki before we can resume.” 

“H-Hanasaki-san made that dress!?” Maera was surprised at Mao’s other talent. 

“Yes! Her mother’s a costume designer, no wonder she got the skill. Too bad we don’t have the Crafts Club anymore or she’ll definitely be the star of it.” 

“That’s so cool!” 

“You’re really inspired today, Maera-san,” she looked at her softly. “The video must have pushed you, I guess.” 

“It’s more than that. But I’m worried about you, Eriko-san.” 

She shook her head. “Please don’t worry about me. Whatever my plan is, I’ll make sure to let Yasu know before it’s too late. As a tradition, I can’t perform in the Pep Rally anymore, but I’ll monitor everything from here.” 

As they head to the door for the dress rehearsal, Maera suddenly thought of something that she thought she has to tell her. “Eriko-san?” 

“Yes?” 

“If,” she bit her lip, “just a what-if. But what if Sangaku rejected my feelings, and he would still choose you, setting aside being infatuated... And if Arakita-san rejected your feelings and he chose me instead, what will you do?” 

It was an interesting question, a difficult one, but for Eriko, she finds it easy. “A woman’s heart can never be replaced if it already has beaten for that one man she values the most. You should know the answer from there. Whoever we will be paired with, always remember who the first person made your heart beat for the first time.” 

It was an inspiring message that the little glasses girl decided to keep it in her heart until such time that she will confess to Sangaku in a song she wrote, herself, with Eriko arranging the music. She thought she has everything she needed, and there is no reason for her to turn back. 

“I’ll remember that,” she promised. “Right now, I’ll do my best in my performance later. I wanted this song to be special... 

It’s his birthday today, so I’ll give this song as my gift to him.” 

***** 

“HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MANAMI!!!” 

The entire Bicycle Club gave Sangaku a surprise party, the moment he entered the club room. Thanks to one first year member who happened to be his classmate, he was led there and he saw everyone popping streamers while Jinpachi was holding his choco-strawberry birthday cake with dedication. 

“Whoa!” he gasped. “How did you guys--” 

“Juichi has a habit to surprise his teammates whenever it’s their birthday,” Hayato explained, “so he arranged this since yesterday – without letting you know, of course!” 

“B-but where is he?” he looked around. 

“That’s the thing,” Yasutomo answered, “he won’t be here until later, he has some business to attend to...” 

“Sorry if we have to drag you here,” Touichiro apologized, “but we also have to watch the Pep Rally later so we thought of doing this now.” 

“Blow the candle up before it melts!” Jinpachi showed the cake to him. It’s already been lit, and it is just wanting for him to blow it. “But don’t forget to make a wish first!” 

“Okay!” as he closed his eyes to make a wish before he could blow the candle. 

I don’t mind making three wishes, right? He thought. For my first wish, it’s for Hakone to become champions again. Second, to meet someone who I can consider my rival one day just like Toudou-san. Third...  

Third will be... for me to become more honest to Maera... and to become more certain... once I find out the truth.  

As he was about to blow the candle, it suddenly died out for some reason.  

No wind, no force for the fire to be blown away, which confused everyone, especially Sangaku, like there is someone inside whom they couldn’t see – much to the fear of some members thinking there is a ghost who happened to share his birthday with him. 

But Jinpachi just sighed. “Is there something wrong if the candle just died out?” he pulled up the lighter from his pocket to light up the candle again. “Start over, Manami.” 

The good thing is, he managed to blow the candle without a force nor a ghost to steal his moment, and they all cheered and clapped their hands.  

“Sorry, I’m late!” Yukinari just arrived with some balloons in his hands, but he blinked when they were all clapping. “Don’t tell me he already--” 

“You’re late, Kuroda,” Touichiro just rolled his eyes. “The novelty shop’s a walk away--” 

“That’s why I said I’m sorry! Someone called me--” 

“Your mom again?” 

“Yeah!” 

“Don’t worry, we still have time,” and Hayato helped him with the balloons. “Juichi instructed us to just have fun, so today, we’ll only celebrate!” 

It was more than just Sangaku’s birthday that they celebrated for having a rest day. 

“And don’t forget the Pep Rally later,” Jinpachi placed the cake on the table. “We just need to keep an eye on these two,” he was pertaining to the birthday boy and Yasutomo, who is required to be present for Maera’s performance later. It just pissed the grumpy fellow senior, as usual. 

“What do you think of me,” he grumbled, “a kid who gets lost easily!?” 

They all laughed.  

“Oh yeah,” Sangaku recalled, “uhm, Mom said I can invite anyone for a dinner tonight, so--” 

“OF COURSE!!!” The entire team chorused. 

“I’ll text Juichi!” Hayato seems excited. 

“Don’t be late this time,” Touichiro told Yukinari, while the latter just sighed. 

“There’s another cake in the dorm that we can bring later,” Jinpachi suggested. “And I asked my sister to deliver a basket of sushi too!” 

Everyone seems excited, meanwhile Sangaku has never felt this kind of happiness before in the past birthdays he had. Maybe because he managed to survive his sickness for twelve years, and he doesn’t even have that much friends except Maera back in middle school... 

But as everyone is excited to come to his house for the first time, only one of them isn’t that excited.  

“Sorry,” Yasutomo raised his hand, “can’t come.” 

“Why the hell not!?” Jinpachi raised his eyebrow. 

“I have lots to do, okay!? I wanna come but I can’t! Besides, I already gave him something yesterday,” and he looked away, hiding his blushing face. 

“Ah, yeah,” the birthday boy remembered, “thanks for the lotion, Arakita-san!” 

They all looked at the number 2 with unexplained disgust. “Why a lotion, of all things?” the ace climber couldn’t help but to ask-- 

“You don’t have to announce it, moron!” he yelled at the birthday boy. 

As they were all laughing and they all decided to share the cake to everyone present, for some reason, Touichiro is a bit nervous. He has been holding his left pectoral for a few minutes now as it keeps on twitching... 

What do you want to tell me, Frank? He called his left pectoral. It was a weird habit of his to name his own muscles. 

***** 

“Maera-chan, you’re so cute!” 

“You could definitely pass for an idol!” 

“Mao-chan’s good in designing dresses like this. It suits you, honestly!” 

With the help of her fellow White Wing members, Maera transformed from a plain glasses-wearing class rep to a lovely pop idol with a mission: to deliver her decision to the people who got involved with her recently, following Jinpachi’s advice. It was Mao who designed her Lovely Kakigami-inspired cashmere cocktail dress and loosened her hair, thus wearing only a headband matching her dress. Her glasses were removed, allowing her to wear contacts instead. 

When she looked herself in the mirror, she was surprised to the point that she almost didn’t recognize herself. She is the type that wears only casual clothing anywhere, but wearing something like what Eriko mostly wears on TV is something new to her. But after all, this is what she planned in the first place. 

When Eriko came back from checking the stage, she was also pleasantly surprised to see her own deputy dressed up as her – but to her, she looks like a true idol in her own right. “I never thought you’re this beautiful,” she said under her breath. “I told you, Hanasaki’s a genius when it comes to designing clothes!” 

“I already know that,” Mao said haughtily. 

“Th-thank you,” Maera tried to hide her blush, “I think... I need to get used to this for a few hours.” 

“Right, because we still have to do a dress rehearsal,” she reminded her. “We still have an hour to do all the performances today. You are our star for this last leg, so give it all you got!” 

“Y-yes, Ma’am!” 

“Can’t wait to see Manami-chan's face once he sees you,” Yurime couldn’t help but to feel giddy at that possibility.  

“And after that,” Yukime began to imagine, “he’ll rush backstage, find you, tell you his feelings, and--” 

The twins began to scream. 

“Seriously,” Mao sighed, “don’t hope on things that hasn’t happened yet--” 

Maera just chuckled. But then, she noticed someone who’s absent for today for an important matter.  

“I wonder how Tsukigawa-san's doing in the engagement right now,” she thought. 

“She’ll be fine,” Eriko assured. “I trust her decisions above all. When it comes to her personal feelings, she will not let anyone to interfere... 

even if this will mean fighting her own family.” 

***** 

Exclusive hotel, somewhere.  

Dressed in her best furisode, Mukahi faced the anticipating high public with a solemn look, while Juichi, dressed in a traditional formal wear, was looking at her without any trace of emotion. As both families were pleased to see their children in their best for this occasion, the two young faux couple are starting to read each other’s minds. 

“Dear friends,” the matriarch lead the announcement, “as you all know, my granddaughter, Mukahi, will soon take over the Tsukigawa Facilities, and to prepare her for such role, we have looked for one suitable candidate to help her achieve what our family has already achieved for decades, without any help from anyone. We thought that it will be best to pair her with someone strong and feared by his peers to make sure she will be led to the right path.” 

Before she could even let the public know of her granddaughter’s engagement, Juichi suddenly stepped up. 

“Madame,” he called, “if I may.” 

She smiled at him. “Go ahead.” 

He stepped to the front, and she handed over the microphone to him. Just as the matriarch stepped back to let him speak, he suddenly looked at Mukahi, signalling her to come to the front, which made everyone curious... 

The matriarch, however, started to feel a bit pressured with what he exactly did. 

Juichi, then, handed the microphone to Mukahi, allowing her to speak.  

“In behalf of my betrothed and our families,” she began, “I would like to thank you for coming to this occasion. Before my beloved grandmother makes the announcement, I would like to say a few words first. 

I believe none of you has an idea that Juichi and I... have been long friends before this engagement, however, our differences forced us to be apart for four years.” 

People began to whisper. Meanwhile their families looked at each other. Obviously, they don’t have an idea that she and the person she is engaged to marry already has a long history. Even her grandmother seemed unaware. 

“It was only recently that we’ve found out our engagement, and we have both talked about it carefully. Without further ado... 

I, Mukahi Tsukigawa, decided not to be engaged to Juichi Fukutomi, nor marry him in the future.” 

***** 

As soon as the short birthday party for Sangaku is over, Yukinari is back on his phone, texting someone aggressively. Without realizing, Touichiro has been noticing him in the past few days, if not talking to his mom over the phone, he is seen texting someone. While watching him... 

He couldn’t help but to remember this morning’s disturbing news he got from the internet.  

With this, and although it wasn’t his nature to pry on one’s privacy, since he couldn’t contain his left pectoral from twitching, he decided to confront him to find out the truth. As soon as Yukinari was done texting someone... 

“Yuki!” 

He almost threw his phone in surprise. “S-seriously, Touichiro--!?” 

“Tell me the truth, Yukinari,” he glared at him. “Are you texting your mom again? Or are you texting someone other than your mom?” 

“Wh,” he immediately hid his phone in his pocket, “what are you talking about--!?” 

“You can’t hide from me,” and he stepped further. “I know your background. Everyone in the team knows your background, except for first years... 

Are you making your men move about something?” 

When Touichiro mentioned something about Yukinari’s men, his expression changed into something more grim and frightening, but it seems that his all-muscled friend is already used to that kind of expression.  

Since he somehow has an idea, Yukinari was left with no choice but to admit. “Yes.” 

***** 

The hour has arrived, and students began to flock over the entrance to the gym to watch the final leg of Hakone’s Annual Pep Rally. Several teams from different athletic and academic clubs featured for today began to arrive, among them the Bicycle Club. And Jinpachi, of course, is enjoying the spotlight and screams from female fans. 

As soon as the time started, performances from the White Wing Council began to make the crowd roar. Speeches were also made by several faculty members and coaches giving moral encouragement for the remaining clubs. It is just one of the events in Hakone that everyone is excited about, no wonder that the entire gym is jam-packed... 

Five more performances left before Maera’s turn, the main reason the Bicycle Club is there. While waiting, Yasutomo’s phone began to vibrate, and he checked that someone texted him. Seemed urgent, he got up discreetly to call whoever texted him... 

Three performances have passed, and strangely, he hasn’t come back. Just as the fourth performer is about to be called, Sangaku became restless that... 

“Shinkai-san?” he called. “I, uh... I need to go to the toilet.” 

“Just be quick,” he permitted him. “And try to find Yasutomo, too, if you can. He hasn’t been back for a few minutes now.” 

“Okay,” and he headed off. 

Two minutes later, Touichiro called him as well. “Permission to follow Manami,” he said. 

“Worried about him?” Hayato guessed. 

“So much, Sir,” he admitted. “Andy and Frank are telling me something.” 

He just blinked. Why is his muscles involved in this? 

Meanwhile, it wasn’t just Touichiro who is greatly worried about Sangaku, and even Yasutomo. Just in a corner, Jinpachi sees everything, even if the lights are dim. 

***** 

After two minutes, Sangaku just went out of the toilet, wiping his hands, while trying to be quick in going back to the gym as soon as he can. The other performance is still ongoing, and he thought he is just in time to watch Maera on stage... 

Until one hand suddenly pulled him away from the gym door. 

“Wha--!?” 

***** 

Ladies and gentlemen, the announcer called everyone’s attention, for our last number, you will be hearing a voice you have never heard in your entire life: a voice coming from the highest of heavens. For our final leg of the annual Hakone Pep Rally, the White Wing Council’s Maera Miyahara-san will grace us with her voice that can bring hope and strength to everyone. This is dedicated to all boys and girls who will give their best in their respective athletic teams. Please give her a round of applause.  

Everyone clapped at the start of the program, and Maera, lovely as a pink angel descended from heavens, came out upstage, making everyone in awe with her hidden beauty. 

As she appeared, the intro from an unfamiliar song began to play in the background that made everyone started to give her attention. Meanwhile, as everyone was looking at her, Hayato and Jinpachi are starting to panic from the audience. She noticed that particular group in which she was able to recognized because of some of them... 

But as soon as the music started, she later noticed something odd and worrysome at the same time. One important member is missing for some reason. 

Wh... Where is Sangaku!?

Chapter Text

"WITH ALL MY HEART," PART 2

 

SLAP!  

The party was over, but the tension between Mukahi and her grandmother is just about to heighten the day. Her unexpected announcement earned her a hard slap on her face by the matriarch, who was obviously enraged as what she did. 

The rest couldn’t help but to watch them. Even the parents couldn’t do anything while their daughter is getting hurt out of fear from the matriarch, herself. Meanwhile, even if it is unnecessary, Juichi’s family also has to watch the tension building between the members of the Tsukigawa Family. 

“You’ve made a promise,” Mukahi said, her decision and expression remained adamant, “but what you did to Hatanaka-kun is already too much. So Juichi and I decided not to push the marriage through—” 

“And since when did I make such a promise?” the matriarch raised her eyebrow. “I have said before, if you will do something about the marriage that will benefit the family, nothing will happen to that boy. But since then I haven’t heard anything, nor you did anything, as your grandmother, I just did what I have to—” 

“As my grandmother, should you have to let your granddaughter decide on her own rather than still treat her like a baby who still can’t walk--?” 

Another slap was heard again. 

Despite the pain she felt on both cheeks, Mukahi remained unfazed. She still glared at her with a conviction that her decision will remain unchanged. 

“As long as I still walk and breathe,” the matriarch said, “will be the one to decide on my family’s future.” 

“As long as I am still young and still not too late for me,” Mukahi replied back, “will be the one who will write my own fate. Not you, not anyone else. And I can even sue you for harassing Hatanaka-kun and his family.” 

The matriarch just stared at her in disbelief. She wanted to say something, however, something is preventing her to say it, which might could be related to what Mukahi said. Instead, she got compelled in hitting her again... 

Meanwhile, the patriarch of the Fukutomi family, Juichi’s father, was smiling in one corner upon seeing and hearing everything, which confused the eldest son. “Mukahi-san,” he called her, which took her attention and made him stop the matriarch for hurting her again, “I admire your courage. Someone like you is definitely fit to be the wife of any of my sons. However… 

You have a point. We cannot force someone to get married if this isn’t one’s calling. I understand now why Juichi chose to follow the same path as you. The decision isn’t ours to make anymore, but yours.” 

The patriarch’s response to Mukahi’s decision only made the grandmother gape in disbelief. “Wh-what about our contract!?” she suddenly asked, that surprised the rest of her family– 

“Mom, that’s enough.” 

She paused when her own son, Mukahi’s father, held her wrist, signalling her to fully stop and to let his daughter do what she wanted. But the matriarch remained adamant. 

“Let me go,” she threatened, “or I’ll disown all of you!” 

“Then you should have done that a long time ago,” the son said. 

“How dare you--!?” 

“We’ve been living in your shadow for years. My sister did the right thing to gain her freedom. She didn’t die because she was weak. She died because you kept on choking her on her leash whenever she goes. I never had a chance to get the freedom I deserved, but I’ll never forgive you if you’ll do the same thing to my daughter.” 

The matriarch felt that no one will support her ideals anymore, not even her own family, and none of her threats will work against them, even if she has the power to do so. The restraint they have felt under her wing was already too much that they are now starting to follow Mukahi’s footsteps.  

Knowing that she has been lost, her body loosened up, allowing her son to let go of her, without saying a word. 

“Anyway,” the patriarch from the other family looked at his youngest son, “Juichi, I thought you need to go back to school for the Pep Rally?” 

“It’s probably starting,” Juzo checked his watch. “I’ll take you there. Mukahi-san, you can come with us.” 

“Uh-are you sure?” she blinked. 

“You’re part of the White Wing Council. Surely they’ll be looking for you at this moment.” 

Understanding her position, the secretary was grateful for the offer. “Thank you very much!” she bowed. 

“Please take care of her,” her mother requested. 

“She’ll be in good hands,” Juzo assured before looking at Juichi who seemed confused why he suddenly looked at him. 

As they left the restaurant with Mukahi, the parents also prepared themselves to leave, but the matriarch remained standing as she tried to absorb the shame she experienced today. None of them could guess if she has already given up or has a new plan to come up with to ensure that the family will remain in the game of business. 

***** 

Wh... Where’s Sangaku!?  

Maera didn’t notice the music which is already starting. Meanwhile Jinpachi made a signal to her to continue. The show must go on, while the rest will try to find where their regular first year went. 

She became anxious that she didn’t notice that she missed the intro to the first line. But she managed to catch up. 

All alone on an anxious night,
I am humming a song.
The darkness that seems to tremble
I can feel the power within it.

Every word and every note are
A piece of a miracle
If you hum
Spread your arms wide, shalala
That is the melody that rings to the future.

From my heart, I will sing
I want to send my voice to a faraway place
As of that day hope turns
The phrase is flapping its wings

Carrying this wish, I will sing tomorrow too
As long as my precious person is here
It will be more dazzling than yesterday
I want to meet that smile again.

Her start didn’t sound good, however, only a few would have noticed the lapse. The moment she sang, Jinpachi immediately went out to try calling Sangaku, but for some reason, his line is open, but he isn’t answering. 

Wait a minute, he then thought, did he even have his phone with him!?  

Then he noticed Touichiro, running towards the gym door. “Have you seen Manami?” he asked him. 

“I’m sorry,” Touichiro shook his head, “I tried to find him in the toilet, but he’s not there anymore. He just disappeared!” 

He slapped himself. Where the hell did he go!? And where in the world’s Arakita!?  

***** 

“Did you find anything…? Nothin’ in particular? Bullcrap. There might be something more… You’ve already texted me the details, moron. All you have to do’s to prove what you’ve seen! Try to do something without you getting’ caught or we’ll screw up.” 

Yasutomo was been called by someone on the phone for some reason that he has to get out of the gym to answer it, only to get a bit annoyed by the lack of details he got. After the said phone call, he was about to get back inside for Maera’s performance, especially when he finally heard her sing from the gym...  

When he saw someone familiar being pulled by an unknown female student. 

M-Manami!? He blinked. Why the hell’s he--  

He tried to follow the two to wherever they are heading to, but another vibrating phone call prevented him from following them, which caused him to lose sight of them, much to his annoyance. He checked the caller ID – it was a different caller. He has no choice but to answer. 

“You called at the wrong place and time, you know that!?” he scolded at the other line. “You better give me something worth being disturbed-- 

What?” 

Somehow, whatever information the other line gave him is quite crucial that the thought of following where Sangaku is being pulled to has gone. 

***** 

On the family van.  

Juichi couldn’t help but to admire how his father handled the situation, at the same time he was still worried that what he might have shown back there is just a façade to mask his annoyance. However… 

“You’ve made the right decision,” he commented. “Marriage is something that cannot be rushed nor forced. And I don’t think our family is into this kind of thing.” 

“Then,” Juichi asked, “why did you agree to this?” 

“It’s not me, actually,” he then admitted. “It was your mother.” 

Both he and Mukahi were speechless. All in all, it was his mother who is controlling every move and decision he makes for the family’s glory, that even marrying him into their own clients is already considered an ideal move. 

“When I learned from her about the so-called contract she made with the Tsukigawa Facilities, I thought of using this chance to test your will. And you’ve managed to pass. I was worried that if you will depend your decisions and thoughts to what was dictated by society and tradition, you won’t become strong on your own. It looks like you have overcome that weakness you have, and that’s what’s important.” 

It was something that Juichi didn’t thought at all, that he felt guilty about it. If he had only learned about it earlier, he would probably have an answer to Mukahi four years ago. But then, there is one more person he has to worry about, and that will be his mother, once she finds out that the engagement is cancelled. 

“Dad,” he tried to smile, “thank you. I thought—” 

“You have grown up to the man I expected you to be. You don’t have to be so hard on yourself. Simply do what you have to do. And don’t worry about your mother, I’ll take care of that.” 

He felt relieved at that point. All this time, he has been punishing himself for no apparent reason, but at least it has been clear that his family supports him in everything he do, allowing him to establish his own brand of leadership to the current Bicycle Club and to whatever he will be planning to do in the future. He just hoped that his mother will think of the same thing, knowing her as someone who will do anything to see the future she wanted for her children... 

Until Mukahi received a text from Jinpachi, and her eyes widened. “Juichi,” she whispered, “we have to hurry. Check your phone.” 

He pulled his phone to check: fifteen phone calls and at least forty text messages – all coming from Hayato. No time to read the messages, he speed-dialed the ace sprinter. 

“Sorry if I just got your call,” he said-- 

Juichi, we have a problem,” Hayato’s voice was shaking. “Yasutomo hasn’t come back, he didn’t say anything. And Manami disappeared from the boys’ toilet, according to Izumida. Miyahara’s performance is already starting, and--” 

He then looked at Mukahi with a concerned face. Why are the two main men missing in the audience? 

***** 

“Uhm… Miss, where are we going, exactly? My neighbor might lose it if she’ll notice that I’m not there.” 

Before Maera’s performance, a fellow student showed up to Sangaku and just pulled him for no apparent reason. The said girl, wearing thick glasses to the point that he couldn’t see her eyes well, and messy, light brown hair close to blonde, isn’t looking at him directly. 

“M-Miss,” he began to feel alarmed. “S-stop, please, j-just tell me where we’re going!?” 

“Uh-ah, I, I’m s-so-sorry,” the said girl seemed to have problems speaking straight, but still pulling him away, “I-uh-ah, I… I don’t kn-know exactly wh-who’s looking f-for you, s-so-someone just a-asked me to—” 

“S-someone?” he blinked. “D-do you remember what he or she looks like? I mean--” 

“S-sorry, n-n-no idea, b-because you see, uh, I-I can’t see that clearly, so--” 

“Sangaku-kun?” 

The moment he heard a familiar voice, both finally stopped, much to his relief, but the mysterious student just disappeared without him noticing, maybe because Eriko noticed them. 

“K-Kagaho-san,” his heart stopped beating for seconds. It has been a month since they last talked, but as an idol and a fan. 

“Who’s that?” she suddenly asked when she noticed the said girl running away. “And what are you doing here?” 

“Th-that’s the thing,” he scratched his head, “She just pulled me when I was about get in the gym to watch Maera perform... D-do you know her?” 

She just stared at the distance. Surprisingly, the girl really disappeared without a trace, unsure which direction she went. 

“K-Kagaho-san,” he asked again, “uh, w-were you looking for me, by any chance?” 

“No, I didn’t,” she replied. “I’m not the type who will summon random people to call anyone on my behalf. And I don’t think that girl’s in my team nor I’ve seen her before.” 

The fact made him raise his eyebrow. “She talks a bit strange. But who is looking for me, anyway…?” 

They could hear Maera’s voice from the gym, but it wasn’t what Eriko expected to hear: she was trembling. If this is because of stage fright, she might understand, but she suspected that there is another valid reason for Maera to suddenly lose confidence onstage. 

“It’s best for you to go back,” she suggested. “Maera-san might notice that you’re not in your seat. Plus, to be honest, I wasn’t suppose to talk to you, nor to Yasu. You know... part of the deal.” 

“Ah, yeah, I will, s-sorry,” and he was about to go back inside the gym when he remembered something, since Eriko also played a major part in what was happening, and regarding what happened at that time, Sangaku felt that everything was not answered yet during the time she brought him back home. 

He knows the ordeal that he must not talk to any of these girls, but since she is there and no one is looking, might as well grab this opportunity to get everything clear.  

“Is there something wrong?” she noticed. 

“Um… K-Kagaho-san,” he fidgeted, which only happens when he is in front of her, “I just wanna say…” 

He suddenly bowed. 

“Thank you… And I’m sorry for everything.” 

She stepped back a bit. The issue should have been died down a month ago, but for Sangaku, this is still something related to him and Yasutomo who remained unsure if every they find out the truth. 

“What are you saying sorry for?” it made Eriko curious, especially that she didn’t remember any offense Sangaku did to her. 

“It’s for confessing to you without thinking about your feelings.” 

She was surprised by his sincerity. Although technically, Sangaku didn’t say anything offensive, he was aware that he should not have bothered confessing to Eriko especially if she is already engaged, to Yasutomo no less. 

“I understand your feelings, don’t worry,” she assured him. “I’m sorry also if I wasn’t able to explain it further – well, at that time I thought my secret is safe forever. But I don’t think I have to hide anything from anyone anymore.” 

“So,” his eyes cast down, “you’re really… planning to quit once you let your parents know?” 

She smiled. “After talking to you, Maera-san, and meeting Toudou-kun, I now don’t have any regrets in leaving the stage.” 

“Does that mean you also decided on pushing for marriage?” 

What Sangaku was worried about was Eriko’s reluctance since she has been longing for freedom. But he has a wild guess that Jinpachi and his stories made her ‘change her mind,’ or maybe, awakened something in her that made her changed her mind. 

“If that is deemed to happen” she replied, “yes. But after all that has happened in the past month and a half, it made me realize that I want to push for it after all, especially those parts of what Toudou-kun shared with me made me decide fully on my answer.” 

“And is that… related to whoever owns the key to set your heart free?” 

She smiled again. “Yes.” 

The little first year is certain, and with the stories he heard from Jinpachi, both knew who owned that key. And he didn’t make any comment about it anymore because it’s already obvious. Besides, it seems that Eriko is already certain and ready to confess to that person anytime... 

Speaking of that person, unknowingly, he saw them – which isn’t supposed to happen yet until the Pep Rally is over. The moment he saw them talking together, he could feel his own heart about to scream in rage. It’s not just because two of them broke the ordeal... 

It was more than just breaking the contract. 

Especially, when he couldn’t hear Maera’s voice anymore from the gym that only the music is playing in the air, his heart pounded in fear. He left them in the meantime to get to the gym as soon as he could. 

***** 

Everyone turned silent and curious as to why Maera stopped singing. She was just holding her microphone, her face was pale even with makeup, and was standing still. She couldn’t open her mouth again to finish the song, while the music is still playing. 

Then, all of a sudden, she ran backstage, much to the audience’s surprise. 

L-ladies and gentlemen, even the announcer was also shocked, “i-it appears that our star’s a bit nervous. We apologize for this--” 

The audience began to worry about her, if she wasn’t feeling well, or she was just scared at facing a crowd. And if there is anyone who is far more worried for her, it will be Sangaku’s own teammates.  

“This is bad,” Hayato gritted his teeth. “Jinpachi--!” 

“I can’t call either of those idiots,” he was shaking while trying to dial again on his phone. “Why the hell must this happen!?” 

“I’ll try to find him again,” Touichiro volunteered, but as soon as he faced the exit, he saw Yasutomo – running towards the main stage, as if he’s already aware of what was happening. 

“I-is that Arakita-san?” the all-muscled sprinter blinked. 

“What the hell’s going on!?” even the senior sprinter couldn’t comprehend, until... 

“Guys!?” 

When they looked behind them, it was Sangaku, and he isn’t alone. But it was too late that he made everyone upset, especially Jinpachi. “Where the hell did you went to!?” he scolded him. 

“I can explain,” he said-- 

“I’m with him,” Eriko defended him, “we’ll explain later. What’s--” 

When they noticed the stage, it was already empty.  

Before both of them could ask where Maera is, Hayato decided to explain weakly. “She might have noticed that Manami’s missing,” he guessed, “so that might have lost her confidence to continue and just ran backstage. But Yasutomo already tried to follow her there...” 

Sangaku has figured it out. Feeling responsible for what happened to Maera, he immediately ran towards the gym’s backstage, while Eriko followed him especially after finding out that her fiancé tried to follow the poor performer there. 

Jinpachi was also compelled to follow them, being the accidental author of their story, as he, too, felt responsible for everything that has happened. 

They left Hayato, Touichiro and Yukinari and the rest of the members who are still confused with what happened. Then... 

“Shinkai?” 

Juichi and Mukahi just arrived, still in their kimonos as they don’t have time to change their clothes. When they arrived, the stage was empty and the audience went on a murmur. 

“What happened?” Mukahi tried to look something from the stage. “Where’s--” 

“Guess what, guys,” the ace sprinter’s voice seemed weak from trying to absorb what happened... 

“The mission failed.” 

***** 

Yasutomo tried to follow Maera backstage, but she was nowhere to be seen. He saw one door, though, which he guessed she might be there. 

“Maera-chan!?” he knocked. “Maera-chan, you there!?” 

“Um, ‘scuse me,” one member of the White Wings saw him knocking, “that’s the door to the utility room.” 

He stopped. For a minute he was knocking on the wrong door, which only aggravated him. 

“Sh-she went that way,” thankfully, she pointed him to the opposite door, and without saying thanks and hearing the staff’s warning, he immediately stormed to where the devastated star confined herself. 

He knocked again. “Maera-chan!” he called. “It’s me!” 

But he didn’t hear anything. 

Furious, he pushed the door, and luckily it wasn’t locked. He looked around when he noticed she wasn’t there right away, but he can hear her sobs. 

He used his unmatched sense of smell to find her, until she noticed her crouching beside the wardrobe hanger. The moment he saw her in her devastated state, he felt his heart being torn apart. 

“H-hey!” he called. “What are you doing there!? Stand up! You’re ruining your dress!” 

But all Maera could do is to follow his voice by looking at him. Her makeup was ruined because of tears.  

“Ara…kita…san…” she mumbled. “I dunno… why I ended up here…” 

“Shocked that Manami wasn’t there?” he tactlessly asked. “Get over it! You’ve delivered your message, you got your answer! I thought you’ll be fine whatever the outcome is!?” 

She couldn’t answer. That was what she was trying to figure out: Why did she stopped in the middle of the song and ran away? Why is Sangaku not with the audience? She wasn’t sure of the feelings she was having at that moment to the point that she was about to burst in front of Yasutomo. 

"I can’t,” Maera said weakly, “I can’t do it after all... It’s like my strength’s been pulled away. The show must go on, they said, so... 

Why didn’t I finish it?” 

He understood her point, considering that Sangaku was absent when she started singing. At one point also, when he saw his own fiancée chatting happily with that first year, his chest was also squeezed tight. It wasn’t because of his anger towards Sangaku... but it was something else. 

“I don’t mind singing in front of people,” she added, “but seeing him not in his seat... Why does it hurt?” 

“Funny,” he sighed, “I’m asking the same thing, myself. But it’s not yet the end of the world…” 

He suddenly pulled Maera once more from the corner, and hugged her. 

“You did your best,” he whispered. “That’s what matters, right?” 

For the second time, Maera accepted his hand, ran towards his arms, and gave her the cue to bawl out her emotions. Yasutomo, this time, let her cry, patting her head while letting her stain his uniform with makeup and tears, while he also tried to control his own emotions. 

They were busy in their own little world not knowing that Sangaku and Eriko followed them backstage, supposedly to find out what happened to Maera and for Sangaku to say sorry. But what they saw instead is a scene they didn’t expect. 

Both newcomers decided to stay on their spot while watching the other pair together – wearing pained faces. Eriko may have figured out that Maera noticed Sangaku’s absence from the audience, which is only caused by some kind of misunderstanding, and this also caused her to see her fiancé with someone else. It should not hurt, after all, they agreed with the engagement to make their families shut up, however… 

Seeing Yasutomo in that situation only made her chest hurt so much, especially that she already has a plan to tell him her feelings after the Pep Rally. 

Sangaku shouldn’t mind also since he and Yasutomo – and even Maera talked about it. But seeing it in actuality is a different experience for him. He shouldn’t mind, yet slowly, he started to feel the tightness of his chest again – the same pain he felt when he was little. And this kind of pain was more than he felt years ago… 

That he didn’t notice his own eyes already streaming with tears. 

When Jinpachi caught the four of them in the most hurtful situation ever that wasn’t even in his story, he paused as he watched two pairs of hearts starting to break one by one. He can hear the cracking of each heart because of the pain each possessed. A simple miss in the part of the performance ended up in a tragedy. He began to think that he should have tried to interfere if he only could… 

But it’s too late, that he could feel his own eyes wet with non-stop tears. 

***** 

“You don’t have to nag me, you know? I’m already here, I almost have my target – if not for that bitch. Yeah. That bitch… 

She’s here, too.” 

Giggles were heard from a Hakone student wearing thick glasses, messy blondish hair and crumpled uniform while talking to someone in a surprisingly normal speech.

Chapter Text

Yo, yo, yo! It's me, le MadBanana.

I decided to dedicate this page for five things. First, I sincerely apologize for not updating in the past few days to type in other chapters and to do this page. Second, to all who had time and leave kudos on this work, THANK YOU VERY MUCH! I know that most of you might find the story a wee bit complicated and some parts seemed obvious, but I still thank you for your time to stop by and get yourself confused -- lol. Still, more kudos and even comments will be highly appreciated.

Third, so some of you are curious as to why it was just now that I decided to write a YowaPeda fic. I recently got into the series after watching the stage play version of it out of boredom. Curious, I checked the anime, later the manga. From there I have concluded: another great series I took for granted a long time ago.

Its last season aired last year because the manga, itself, isn't finished yet, but I hope they will make another season covering the last part of the most recent Inter-High.

For the fourth thing, I just 'stole' Toudou's notes and went back to the chapters to provide you the synopsis of the first thirty-eight chapters. Here it goes:

The Story So Far

After learning the secret tragic story between Bicycle Club's Captain, Juichi Fukutomi, and the White Wing Council's Secretary, Mukahi Tsukigawa, Jinpachi Toudou made a mission on himself: to write the greatest novel the world has ever read and to help these people realize their feelings, especially after finding out at the same time that the Bicycle Club's number 2, Yasutomo Arakita, is actually the heir to the biggest shipping firm in the country who was about to get engaged to Eriko Kagaho, the school's White Princess. And things went more interesting upon the arrival of a climbing addict in the person of a first year, Sangaku Manami, whose classmate slash neighbor, Maera Miyahara, happened to have a bad past with Yasutomo two years ago -- and at the same time, Eriko has another identity, the idol Lovely Kakigami, who once saved Sangaku from sure death.

Jinpachi all thought that his stories are 100 percent original, only to find out that those plots happened before to the very same people -- and to top all that, he has no idea about their past, thus they were suspecting him of knowing everything in their lives. To prove his innocence, he made an experiment by writing a different story about a messed up proposal plan in which a guy sets up his own friend with a fake love letter wrote by his friend's classmate -- only for the friend not to show up and asked him to vouch for him instead and his friend has a twin who was in love with the perpetrator ever since. Just as Jinpachi feared, it already happened to his younger teammates: Touichiro Izumida and Yukinari Kuroda, and second year reps Yurime and Yukime Uno, thus concluded that he do has an ability to guess people's past and relationships through observations -- or, what Yusuke Makishima called, a deduction. It took Jinpachi a month for him to realize his ability that he became scared for the first time and he didn't let his teammates know, but his missing notebook has let Touichiro and later, mystery addict Hayato Shinkai, to help him with his quest and to make him realize how helpful his insights can be with the affected people.

From the time Yasutomo offered his jacket to Maera, from Sangaku's quest to see Lovely Kakigami again and to confess his feelings -- only to be rejected, from Sangaku's hurtful thought if he had met Lovely instead of Maera, from Maera and Eriko's confrontation about the president's identity and Sangaku, from when Yasutomo comforted Maera after the confrontation, from Yasutomo's challenge to Sangaku in a race, and from Mukahi's surprise engagement to Juichi no less that her boyfriend Kyutaro Hatanaka, broke up with her -- everything was written in Jinpachi's lavender notebook, where each character's story became interconnected, as what happened to the six of them in real life. Thanks to Yusuke's encouragement, he was able to gain Mukahi's insights and give the captain some advice which can later help the other four, even if, deep inside, he is starting to get weaker to think how complicated and bittersweet their love is.

After learning about Juichi and Mukahi's tragic love story, the four hearts then realized the similarities of their own story that they wanted to do something before it's too late: Sangaku was starting to have second thoughts on his previous answer that he only wanted for him and Maera to become friends after realizing that Maera has been in love with him from the start; Maera realized her mistake of staying quiet for twelve years after her confrontation with Eriko claiming that she took away her right to express her feelings which is reserved for her neighbor; Yasutomo being unsure if his feelings for Maera was nothing but pity and infatuation and is starting to get more confused after finding out that Eriko might be in love with him ever since; and Eriko realizing that she is, really, in love with her own fiancé after years of series of tests to her own emotions that she couldn't figure out why.

To help them became certain of their answers, Sangaku challenged Yasutomo to a race with Juichi's permission -- on several conditions that they are not allowed to see nor talk to Maera nor Eriko and the race will not bear the school's name. Meanwhile Maera sought help from Jinpachi to become an idol in a day for Hakone's Annual Pep Rally where White Wing Council members are required to perform at least once onstage and Eriko helped her as well, while thinking of a way on how she can admit to Yasutomo. A video of the two cyclists' race gave them more certainty, but Mukahi didn't allow them to see the boys for now as part of the conditions until the Pep Rally is over -- while Mukahi and Juichi are already sure not to get engaged by making an announcement during their own engagement party.

However, during Maera's performance, Sangaku was about to get in the gym to watch her when someone pulled him away, but was saved by Eriko. The two managed to have a talk, while Yasutomo saw everything from the start and was about to confront them if not for that unexpected phone call about something he has been working on for days. For this, Maera thought Sangaku didn't show up at all, causing her to lose confidence and wasn't able to finish the song. The grumpy senior came to her rescue but it was too late when he saw the poor idol for a day hiding in the wardrobe, crying, and tried to comfort her. When Sangaku came back with Eriko, they were too late and they followed Yasutomo backstage, where they saw him hugging a devastated Maera, causing some misunderstanding and a conclusion for themselves.

Jinpachi couldn't do anything but to watch them breaking their own hearts to the point that he also broke his own after weeks of trying to bring them together, only to end up a new kind of tragedy.

ORIGINAL CHARACTERS

For the fifth and final reason for this breaktime, as promise, I'll be introducing the White Wing Council. I'll explain every detail of their profile as this progresses.

The White Wing Council

Hakone Academy is run by its own student body, called the White Wing Council. Embodying the values of purity and freedom, the council was so called because it is all run by girls, which has been a tradition for fifteen years. Although originally, both genders are welcome to be part of it, the admin has noticed that in the statistics, there are more females who get higher marks in the entrance exams than males. 

Recently, the White Wing Council's auxillary team, the Discipline Committee, became open for males who got high marks in entrance exams, among them Touichiro Izumida. It was also revealed that Juichi Fukutomi was once been tried to get recruited to the Discipline Committee, but he refused because of Mukahi Tsukigawa.

The White Princess

The White Wing Council is headed by its President, whom everyone in school calls 'The White Princess' -- a nickname earned because only the President has a set of all-white girls' winter uniform that she must wear at all times while reigning in the council. 

Once a President is officially elected, she will need to face and address the student body in her white uniform. Symbolically, the incoming President must swear in front of the outgoing President who wears the regular girls' uniform as a sign of passing the responsibility to the new President, along with the White Mace, a symbol of student authority.

There is also a time that a White Princess is 'dethroned' once she was found violating the policies and ideals of the council. If that happens, the next in power, the Vice-President, will assume the President's duties, but will still not wear the coveted white uniform as per rule that it can only be worn by a duly-elected candidate.

As the White Princess, she is expected to embody Hakone's ideals of purity and freedom. However, for its current President, Eriko Kagaho, she doesn't have the 'freedom' the admin is expecting her to have.

 

MEET THE MEMBERS

Eriko Kagaho

President: Eriko Kagaho

Born: March 2

Birthplace: North Yokohama

Hair: light powder brown tied in high ponytail

Eyes: scarlet

Height: 169 cm

Class: 3-A, with Juichi Fukutomi

Team: Swimming Club

Hobbies: tea, collecting dead caterpillars, morning jog and swim, reading

Talents: singing, composing music, freestyle martial arts

Favorite subject: Music

Favorite Food: smoked tuna

Favorite color: yellow, brown

 

Background

Eriko Kagaho is the current President of Hakone's White Wing Council, and surprisingly engaged to Yasutomo Arakita. Smart, elegant, has high sense of wit and regency, she has all the characteristics of a true princess. But behind the regal composure is a burden that her family forced her to shoulder where her father filed for bankruptcy when she was twelve years old, and the only way to save her family is to get married to the son and heir to Arakita Conglomerate once they reach the right age.

She is mostly recognizable by her all-white uniform, curly hair tied in high ponytail and half-moon glasses. She mostly keep her hair up so no one will recognize her as Lovely. The white ribbon she uses to tie up her hair was given by Yasutomo, himself, back in grade school.

For Eriko, she was deprived of her freedom to do whatever she wanted the moment she found out she will be engaged, including her freedom to speak her mind and even to escape. Thus she created Lovely Kakigami, a beautiful idol capable of bringing hope and freedom to anyone who will listen to her songs. Ironically, the messages she spread to her fans were intended for herself, as she believed that bringing them freedom will fulfill her. Her stint remained a secret that she only shares with Mukahi until her second encounter with Sangaku when he accidentally discovered her other identity.

Despite her struggles with family and personal issues, Eriko remained calm and composed in every situation just as what the school expects of her as the White Princess. Another characteristic of her is by having this kind of icy cold demeanor on anyone she dislikes, and is known to slay even the hardest delinquents through words alone. Aside from her frightening speed in the waters, she also has amazing fighting skills that she learned from their former bodyguards while in grade school after becoming fascinated with how they work, but she rarely uses that ability, avoiding herself to raise her fist, if possible. She also likes to interview newly-recruited members personally by either inviting them to tea or just by simply talking to them, which is why the entire Council is so attached to her.

Relationships

Yasutomo Arakita -- He and Eriko are childhood friends, although they are not as close as Maera and Sangaku. They first met back in kindergarten, and eventually they learned that their families have close ties with each other. During those days, she fondly calls him 'Yasu' and she also taught him how to fight with the help of their former bodyguards.

For Eriko, it remained a mystery to her as to how she fell in love with Yasutomo, and why. As far as she knew, she was envious on how he perceives things and how he responds to every situation. She finds him tactless and bold, unafraid to say what he has in his head and heart, thus she found his comment about their bankruptcy offensive at first that they didn't talk for two years even if they are in the same school -- yet he finds his qualities something to be envious about that she hoped to have that kind of attribute to fight her fate.

One possible thing that sparked her feelings towards him was when Yasutomo offered a deal with her to agree with their families' wishes as long as they can still do whatever they want, as he believed that Eriko has guts to be also bold if not because she is bound to be an obedient little doll to her father. But knowing that Yasutomo isn't a romantic type, nor he has fallen in love ever with anyone, she thought of testing herself first if her feelings are just a product of infatuation or if it is the real thing -- until she discovered that he might have started to fall in love, with no less than her own deputy, Maera Miyahara. Thus her feelings for him were tested, and it turned more complicated after Jinpachi Toudou showed up in her life.

Maera Miyahara -- Eriko welcomed Maera formally in the White Wings after interviewing her, and the first thing they have talked about was why she was late for meeting for two minutes, only to find out that she and Yasutomo shared a past two years ago.

Their confrontation became the start of their slow friendship after Maera admitted that she had lost her respect to her after finding out from Sangaku that she and Lovely Kakigami are one and the same person; that she was responsible for Sangaku to say senseless things to Maera when he was taken home which broke her heart. Maera accused Eriko of depriving her right to tell her feelings to her neighbor after Eriko rejected his feelings because of the engagement, thinking that no one can hurt him ever again or it will break him for good. Eriko then proposed a challenge to her that if she really loves Sangaku, she should have told him her feelings a while back rather than keeping it for herself for years. That realization made her see her own deputy hugged by her own fiancé and for the first time, it hurt her deeply.

Her short vacation with Yasutomo made her realize things about Maera's anger what when she came back, she decided to talk to her personally and to recommend Jinpachi to help her, knowing that Yasutomo confessed to her indirectly when Maera admitted what happened. Since that recommendation, their bond became closer, as both of them were highly involved in two men who came to their lives, and especially after Jinpachi sent them a video of Yasutomo and Sangaku racing for their own certainty.

Before the last leg of the Pep Rally, Eriko trained Maera to be ready onstage, but some say that she has been preparing her to be the next White Princess.

Sangaku Manami -- As Lovely Kakigami, Eriko once saved then-middle schooler Sangaku at the foot of Mt. Hakone two years ago when the latter suffered another asthma attack during his stroll. When he learned from his mother who saved him, he slowly became his number one fan by buying her CDs and watch her whenever she appears on TV. Since that incident, he slowly started to have feelings towards her alter-ego.

When Lovely's latest single was released, the first thing Sangaku did is to rush to Akihabara where the fanmeet and signing session was taking place, where his biggest intention was to meet her again and to confess. But in order to meet her, he has to buy the latest CD to have it signed later, but he then has to give up his spot to a little girl who was crying when she got cut off during the limited sale, giving up his chance to see her again after two years.

But he didn't expect Lovely, herself, to stop by when she saw him walking alone in the street. Apparently she was looking for him to personally give her the CD after the little girl told her what happened. Sangaku was also surprised that she still remembers him, and they talked while bringing him home. But the next conversation turned bittersweet when the young climber confessed his feelings for her, especially when he found out she will be quitting showbiz soon. Lovely rejected his feelings, telling her that he doesn't have the right key to unchain her heart. During the trip, Sangaku accidentally found a Hakone ID jacket lying hidden in the van. He picked it up, and from there he found out who Lovely really is, and slowly understood why she has to reject her feelings.

Eriko already knew way back that Sangaku will attend Hakone after seeing his file, but she was surprised to find out that he was the guy Maera was mentioning about as her neighbor and childhood friend, and he and Yasutomo are in the same Bicycle Club, which added the complication. She didn't anticipate that saving him will start everything between them and the world around them. They still became friends after the Pep Rally, and she decided to root for Maera knowing that she has been in love with him for twelve years.

Mukahi Tsukigawa -- She served Eriko for years as her personal assistant and later as the Council Secretary. As more than just her assistant, they share each other's secrets, thus she knew her history with the Bicycle Club's current captain, Juichi Fukutomi, who happened to be her classmate as well.

Knowing that she and Mukahi has some 'issues' particularly with the Bicycle Club, what Eriko can only do is not to attend any function that will involve the team for her sake, especially if she isn't ready to face Juichi yet. In secret, she hoped to do more for Mukahi considering that she has been serving her for years, even if the Tsukigawa Family already severed their ties to the Kagahos a long time ago due to their dwindling fortune. Mukahi chose to stay with Eriko until such time she will marry Yasutomo or for as long as she lives, knowing that she needs someone to stay by her side more than ever.

Mukahi later helped Eriko, then Maera, to be certain of their feelings after she, too, was confronted by Jinpachi, and worked with him and Juichi by not letting them talk nor see the imvolved boys for them to be focused until the last leg of the Pep Rally. Although she wasn't there physically when the tragedy happened, she instructed Mao to keep an eye on them.

Jinpachi Toudou -- He became Eriko's greatest fear when he confronted her the first time, but after finding out the truth about his ability to guess one's past and relationships, he later became her strongest influence for her decision whether she will decide to confess to Yasutomo or just keep the feelings to herself like Maera did.

He and Eriko never became close, nor became classmates, but she later get to know him because of Yasutomo and Sangaku. In fact, he was the first one who reached out to her out of curiosity, and later sought her opinion about the plot for his novel in progress. That was when she became intrigued by his ability that they exchanged numbers later and would talk about his story, where she found out that he has also figured out that she has feelings for Yasutomo ever since. Because of this ability, she recommended him to Maera when she became uncertain on what to answer to the grumpy third year when he made an indirect confession to her.

Jinpachi did every mean for them to realize their feelings towards the person they matter the most by helping Yasutomo and Sangaku in reorganizing their disrupted race, to help Maera become an idol for a day in the Pep Rally, and by becoming Eriko's phonepal, only to end everything in a tragedy when an unexpected hurdle came to Sangaku and pulled him away for no reason.

Other Facts

  • Back in middle school, Eriko was known as the Lady Shark of Saint Helena because of her amazing speed in both freestyle and breaststroke category
  • Eriko happened to be a point higher than Mao in the entrance exams which said to be controversial as it was said to be rigged because of her family's influence.
  • Eriko loves to collect dead caterpillars, a habit that she has back in grade school. Later her hobby has a deeper meaning, as she compares herself to those caterpillars who died before they could even spin their cocoons to become butterflies.
  • Eriko wears prescription glasses, but only when she is inside the Council. She wears contacts on her personal affairs. As Lovely Kakigami, she wears brown contacts so her scarlet ones can't be recognized. She also wears colored extensions whenever she has her gig as an idol.
  • As much as Yasutomo loves fried chicken, Eriko isn't a fan of it for being 'too greasy'.

 

Vice-President: Mao Hanasaki

Born: September 26

Birthplace: Yamagata

Hair: cinnammon twin coiled buns

Eyes: ash lavender

Height: 171 cm

Class: 3-D, with Jinpachi Toudou

Team: Gymnastics Club

Hobbies: designing clothes, keeping an eye on her cousins, watching detective shows with 70% romance, yoga, cooking

Talents: Chinese martial arts, designing clothes

Favorite subject: General History

Favorite Food: Jinpachi's pasta (she keeps on recommending it to everyone)

Favorite color: red, maroon

 

Background

Mao is a daughter of a detective but raised by a single mother who is a costume designer by profession, thus she can also design her own. Currently the Vice President of the White Wing Council, she serves as the voice of reason for the President, as well as for everyone. She mostly displays a cool, down-to-earth nature to others, but can also kill anyone with her sharp tongue. She once has an aggressive demeanor just like Yasutomo, but was later toned down during her stay in the White Wings.

Physically, she is recognizable with her coiled buns with a tail, and rolled up sleeves in her winter uniform, as she prefers to wear jeans and shorts rather than skirts. She is often seen with her cousins, twins Yurime and Yukime Uno, and constantly scolds them for being too pesky. When in comes to romantic stuff, she easily gets swayed, but she never shared any personal thing about herself, especially when it comes to love life. She is the type who would rather support her friends who are in love for the first time rather than become the subject of love stories, herself.

Relationships

Eriko Kagaho -- It was surprising revelation from Jinpachi and the other seniors that Mao and Eriko had a year-long rivalry and it started when Eriko was called to lead the entire first year assembly.

Mao thought that the exams were rigged in favor of Eriko because she came from an influential family, thus her father called for an investigation regarding the exam results. From there, it was proven that Eriko really has beaten Mao by a point, gaining her right to lead the first years. She managed to get into the White Wings, but she used that opportunity to get even at Eriko with everything, including joining the Swimming Club once -- even if she doesn't know how to swim at all.

Their rivalry only started to subside after she accidentally heard from Mukahi about Eriko's family's financial situation and upcoming engagement, but at that time it was not mentioned who. Until in their third year when everyone learned about Yasutomo's secret and his engagement to Eriko, she started to have doubts about him, especially that, of all the fellow seniors she knew personally, she doesn't like Yasutomo the most.

Yasutomo Arakita -- Unknown to some, he and Mao became classmates during first year, and he was her major headache back then when she was their class representative.

At that time, Mao would try to search for Yasutomo anywhere in school as he has the habit of ditching classes and even scolding him for riding a scooter to school thinking that he doesn't have a license yet. She scolded him for everything she sees on him: from his hair, to his attitude, to his scooter, and there was even a point that they almost fought physically -- but what surprised her about him is that despite his rowdy nature, he makes sure he won't fight a girl, and left her afterwards. Things began to change when she saw him with a new haircut and was now in a bicycle whenever he goes to school -- that was because of Juichi's influence. Aside from that, his involvement with street fights lessened gradually until he stopped fighting altogether and started to go to school normally. Still, with that kind of change, Mao remained skeptical of him.

Came in third year whem Mao found out that Yasutomo was actually a runaway heir to the Arakita Conglomerate and is destined to marry Eriko soon, much to her dismay, but she decided to keep it to herself as their engagement became sensationalized. Yet, she started to give her respect to him after watching the video of his race with Sangaku, which was a race to determine the certainty of their feelings, and after Eriko admitted that she is slowly certain that she is love with him ever since.

Jinpachi Toudou -- He and Mao just recently became classmates, but they have already known each other since middle school. That is why when she found out that he was the reason for the complications Eriko and Maera faced regarding their relationships, she became normally pissed, but only for a short time, until she found out about his ability.

Her relationship with Jinpachi was just as casual, but they have each other's respect. They somehow have the same taste in cooking; he being a resort owner's son, and she, living in dorms for three years where she cooks for her dormmates. Both also share a sense of practicality. She also knows his hidden talent in writing stories, but she didn't expect him to have an ability to guess one's past and relationships by simply observing them. It took her a month before Eriko explained to her about his ability and to understand the complexity of those four's situation.

Hayato Shinkai -- Surprisingly, they know each other because their fathers work together in the same precint. They first met in the station when they were in kindergarten. Although they parted ways for a short time, they met again in Hakone.

She and Hayato are in good terms as well more than because both their fathers are detectives. They both share the same interest in mysteries, and when they became classmates last year, they worked together on a novel project involving this kind of genre, but neither of them are good in writing, which led them with no choice but to ask Jinpachi for tips.

Mao was aware of Hayato's past involving an incident where he accidentally killed a mother rabbit out of his will to win, leaving her baby alone, and as atonement for his sin, he adopted the bunny and named her Usakicchi (it was actually Mao who suggested the name). He then developed a fear of going to the right side in every race because of it.

Mao also knows Hayato's hidden talent, which is target shooting because his father trained him and later got his license at sixteen. As of this moment, she shared his secret with Juichi, and later asked him to teach her how to hold a gun. 

Because of this kind of relationship they have, people thought of them as a possible couple, but both of them denied the speculation. Knowing Hayato, he would prioritize the Bicycle Club first than his own happiness.

Yurime and Yukime Uno -- Mao's twin cousins on her mother's side, and she was assigned to look after them by her aunt who was currently working overseas. They can be sometimes a big pain in her ass, but when it comes to romance, surprisingly, she is with them. Good thing both of them are already part of the White Wings since last year, and also broke the record for being co-first year reps, which is a first in Hakone.

She showed great support especially when she found out that the older twin, Yurime, has been in love with Yukinari Kuroda since last year, and that was when she became the manager of the school's Karate Club when Yukinari was recruited. Mao and Yukime have been trying to help her since that unexpected confession from the rooftop, despite that up until now, she hasn't received any response from the guy as he was still in the state of shock from that confession -- which originally was supposed to be for Touichiro Izumida as a setup to help him get a normal social life.

If there is one thing Mao couldn't relate from those sisters, it will be their obsession with manga and anime, especially the Love Hime series, as she isn't fond of it at all.

Other Facts:

  • Mao is allergic to spicy food.
  • Her talent for kungfu started when her father invited a sifu for a self-defense seminar in their station, and she was there for a tour when she was in kindergarten. That sifu became her master up until today.
  • Mao started gymnastics as early as 2. She incorporated her regular training to her kungfu training when she entered the fifth grade.
  • She has been a constant rhythmic gymnastics champion until last year. This year, she decided not to compete in the Regionals to give way to her student council duties, especially now that Eriko is already engaged.
  • Mao dreams of becoming a police detective like her father, but this may cause a rift between her and her mother. She and her father got divorced when she was in middle school just because he is a detective.

 

Secretary: Mukahi Tsukigawa

Born: October 22

Birthplace: Tochigi

Hair: Dark brown (almost black) with golden highlights

Eyes: brown black

Height: 174 cm

Class: 3-B

Team: Head of Discipline Committee

Hobbies: tea ceremonies, ikebana, reading, strolling around school to patrol

Talents: judo, karuta, interior designing

Favorite subject: Social Studies

Favorite Food: wagashi

Favorite color: navy blue

Background

Mukahi is the only child of the President of Tsukigawa Facilities, who is responsible for 80% of sports equipment distribution in the country and owns 85% of every facility. Her family once served the Kagahos for decades until their recent decision to severe their ties to them after filing for bankruptcy ten years ago. However, she chose to be with Eriko's side especially after she agreed to the arranged marriage after making a deal with Yasutomo.

Comparing to Eriko, Mukahi is more reserved and composed, but this is contrary to who she was four years ago. Her tragic relationship with Juichi Fukutomi changed her greatly, that she even has no choice but to agree with the arranged marriage made by her grandmother, who is the Chairperson Emeritus. Despite the change in her, her anger towards Juichi remained to the point that she doesn't wish to talk to him again if possible.

Mukahi and Juichi's story became Jinpachi's basis and inspiration for his novel, where her situation were, surprisingly, almost identical to Maera's and Eriko's story when split into two.

Relationships

Juichi Fukutomi -- He and Mukahi were the best of friends, thanks to Hayato who introduced him to her back in grade school. Until four years ago, they parted ways bitterly and there wasn't any closure to it -- because of a broken promise and because she chose to move on by responding to Kyutaro Hatanaka's feelings.

Prior to the tragedy, Juichi became a member of a judo dojo where Mukahi signed up since kindergarten, as a recommendation from his brother. When they parted ways, he quit judo as well to focus more on road racing, but on a deeper side, there is no reason for him to stay in the dojo without her.

According to Juichi, Mukahi is more vocal and opinionated than him, who was a reserved and quiet type, but that was four years ago. They were even think of the same thing at the same time like they read each other's thoughts. When they met again on their first year at Hakone during the entrance ceremony, he easily noticed the great change in her emotionally and even made her hair longer that he almost didn't recognize her. She was obviously shocked and devastated to see him again like Fate is still trying to keep them together, and with that, she tried her best for years to stay away from him and the Bicycle Club -- until Eriko's engagement to Yasutomo gave her no choice but to get involved in the said club again, without realizing that she has been observed by Jinpachi for quite sometime, which later led her to talk to him and to find out the truth from Juichi, himself.

Kyutaro Hatanaka -- He became Mukahi's boyfriend after Juichi didn't show up on time supposedly to admit his feelings to her, but failing at his own promise several times made her respond to Kyutaro instead.

Kyutaro has a crush on her since first year of middle school, and has been watching her from afar. Although he wasn't that vocal unlike any other boys, and Mukahi rarely knew him except that he's the star of their swimming team, he remained as her silent admirer, until that rainy day of their third year of middle school, where he saw her all alone in the hallway, waiting for someone who will never come, and in tears. Kyutaro has no idea who was that person she's been waiting for, but he used that chance to tell her the truth about his feelings. Swayed by his words, Mukahi then responded with a kiss, in which Juichi saw everything, signifying that he was already too late.

Their relationship remained strong for the past four years, until her grandmother made a move to have her married off, surprisingly, to Juichi, and even hired someone to pay Kyutaro's family enough sum just for him to break up with Mukahi. He didn't accept the sum, but he chose to break up with her knowing that it's her duty and because he also has his own duty to protect his family. He had also known Juichi through peers and knowing that they were best friends once, he thought it will be best for her to settle with someone like him.

Maera Miyahara -- As someone who shares the same kind of story as she has, Mukahi gave advice to Maera along with Eriko to be certain of their feelings. They weren't that close, but thanks to their stories linked together, she learned to get to know her more.

Mukahi, herself, was surprised to learn that Maera has a big connection to Sangaku, the boy whom Eriko saved two years ago, and he is teammates with Yasutomo, her fiancé. To make it more complicated, they are under Juichi's team in the Bicycle Club. It was that kind of connection which bought her and five other lives altogether, which also helped her shape her own decision to forgive Juichi later.

Eriko Kagaho -- Mukahi owed everything to her, as such, even after her own family decided to abandon the family who once help them rise to the game, she chose to remain by her side for the rest of her life.

Knowing that Eriko hates the idea of an arranged marriage, she helped her assume a different identity, the idol Lovely Kakigami, and assumed the role of her manager. However, her doubts about her move to become a different person outside of the mansion remained for four years, as her time as an idol is getting short. Because in her time as an idol, Mukahi has never saw Eriko smiling that genuinely before, as if she was enjoying every minute she was either on stage or on camera, like this is what she really wanted to do in her life. For that, she wanted to do something for her to do more with the people waiting for her to see her live when performing.

In times of Eriko's absence, although Mao is automatically in charge, it is Mukahi who relays all the orders from the President to its members, or even assumes the role of temporary president if the vice president is also not around.

Jinpachi Toudou -- Mukahi was the second person whom he approached, if not for Hayato's request to confirm about their current relationship status. She finds him as a force to reckon with because of his ability, in which she even thought he was spying for Juichi.

His surprising ability almost made her blame the captain again for trying to gain sympathy to his own teammates, but when she tried to confront Juichi about it, that was when she realized that Jinpachi, literally, has no idea about the deeper reason behind their separation, where he only knew the surface thanks to Hayato. After hearing him talking to Sangaku and Yasutomo about his own story, and after Hayato asked for forgiveness on his friend's behalf, that was when she realized the power Jinpachi possesses: an ability to warn others not to be in the same predicament as them through his stories, and to let them know that there are people who are experiencing the same issue as theirs. 

Mukahi has never known Jinpachi personally, which added the mystery surrounding him, that made her fully believe he is the only one who can help her young mistress and Maera regarding their own dilemma.

Other Facts

  • The reason Mukahi quit judo before entering high school is because of a shoulder injury. It was fully healed, however, her doctor advised her not to go back to that sport again or any sport that will strain her shoulder.
  • Originally, Mukahi likes apple-based wagashi because of Juichi who loves apples so much.
  • Mukahi may have a good singing voice, but contrary to Eriko, she has a bad case of stage fright.
  • Touichiro somehow knows Mukahi, being the head of the Discipline Committee where he is part of it.
  • Mukahi knows Sangaku as well, two years ago, during the time Eriko saved him at the foot of Mt. Hakone.
  • She dresses in full modesty, but according to Mao, she has a beautiful body and a bust which Eriko envies much.
  • Unlike others who live in dorms, Mukahi stays with the Kagahos, and she has her own room adjacent to hers.

 

Treasurers: Yurime and Yukime Uno

Born: June 6

Birthplace: Miyagi

Hair: Blondish hair with apple green tint, tied in side ponytail. Yurime wears it to the left while Yukime has it on the right

Eyes: Dark turquoise

Height: 166 cm

Class: 2-A, with Touichiro Izumida

Team: Karate Club (Yurime, but as former Manager), now both of them are part of the Anime Club

Hobbies: watching anime and reading manga (preferably shoujo), prank people into believing they are just one and the same person, housekeeping

Yurime: collecting poetry books (she reads them though), planners, journal writing

Yukime: collecting rare Love Hime cards, drawing, karaoke

Talents: Yurime: poetry writing, Yukime: painting 

Favorite subject: Yurime: Japanese Literature, Yukime: Art Appreciation

Favorite Food: Mao's specialty chicken pie

Favorite color: Yurime: lavender, Yukime: apple green

Background

Twins Yurime and Yukime made history when they both passed and topped the entrance exams, making them co-representatives of their assembly. Because of each other's striking resemblance, most people thought that they are just one and the same person, because whenever one goes away, the other stays, whether they are at the dorms or school. As such, some would stay away from them out of fear that they might get fooled by their looks.

Although they are highly responsible and capable when it comes to Council duties, they still share the same love for anime and manga, especially when dealing with romance, which is why they are highly supportive of Maera and Eriko upon learning their story from Mukahi, and both hoped to read Jinpachi's book one day -- if ever it will debut in the bookstores.

Despite they are exactly look-a-like, both still possess different characteristics and abilities which can help distinguish one from the other if not because of their looks: Yurime is more reserved, while Yukime has an outgoing personality. That has been proven after another victim fell on their trap, in the person of Yukinari Kuroda.

Relationships

Touichiro Izumida -- of all people they have encountered, only he didn't fall for their swapping trap, as he was able to guess who's who because of how one acts comparing to the other, long before he 'gave birth' to his pecs, Andy and Frank.

They have been classmates since last year, and this year he is part of the Discipline Committee where boys can be included. They are working together both in class and in the Council, but since they are both busy in the White Wings, the class agreed to make Touichiro their class representative to replace them.

His greatest involvement with the twins was when he didn't expect to receive a love letter from someone and it included a poetry which is quite an original for a letter. Along with it were instructions to meet who wrote the said letter. But since Inter-High is almost near, he decided to meet the letter sender with a plan to reject her feelings and to explain to her his situation -- but the teacher told him to meet him at the faculty room at lunchtime regarding a class activity, thus he asked Yukinari to vouch for him by meeting the said girl in the rooftop -- only to be later confessed by Yurime.

From there he learned that everything was supposed to be a setup for him, except that Yukinari fell for his own trick, which he finds it not amusing. Nevertheless, he was somehow relieved that Yurime was actually in love with his childhood friend since last year.

Yukinari Kuroda -- He is Touichiro's childhood friend who recently got involved with Yurime after the latter admitted that the letter she wrote as part of the confession setup for his friend was actually for him after all, since she has no idea to whom she will address the letter because Yukime only asked her to write one.

Yukinari planned the confession setup to help Touichiro 'get a normal life', since most of the time, he gets two to three love letters in his locker but ended up not answering them, either he has no time or he doesn't want to, while he thought Touichiro gets none. He then reached out to one of his classmates, who happened to be Yukime, to help him help his friend. Yukime wholeheartedly agreed and then they planned everything, involving her sister to write a confession letter to someone since Yurime has a talent in writing poetry.

The first part worked when Touichiro got the letter, and since he has one, he has to answer it by meeting the sender in the rooftop. But the entire plan was ruined when a teacher called Touichiro in an emergency meeting and asked Yukinari to meet the girl in his stead, telling him that he has to reject her confession. Leaving with no choice, he has to tell Yukime who was waiting at the rooftop at that time -- only to find out that he was talking to a different person. From there he learned that the real Yukime was currently sick and her twin sister vouched for her instead, who originally wrote the letter -- and Yurime then confessed her feelings to him, which, up until this moment, he still doesn't have any answer.

Mao Hanasaki -- Ever since their mother moved overseas to work, it was Mao and her mother who looked after them until they entered high school where both decided to live in the dorms to be with their cousin.

Most of the time, Mao will cook more than enough for her roommate because her cousins don't know how to cook, and also make lunches for them. On weekends, they are mostly seen in her room because her roommate is mostly out on weekends, giving them a chance to be with her, in which she understood. They haven't been home for four years since their father's death in a freak road accident, and Mao thought keeping them company whenever they are alone is the only thing she can do for them.

If there is one things she admires about them, it's their courage to face the loneliness they have without their mother around, and they were able to show it to the people around them.

Other Facts:

  • Yurime is older than Yukime by about a minute and 45 seconds.
  • To distinguish one from the other, Yurime and Yukime uses their favorite colors on their outfits -- lavender and apple green, respectively. But whenever they feel like tricking people, they interchange colors -- even clothes.
  • They are highly fond of Maera, especially when they wanted to dress her up as their favorite character. Their dream is to dress up Sangaku -- whom they affectionately calls him 'Manami-chan.'
  • They help Hayato by feeding Usakicchi whenever he's busy.
  • Contrary to what people perceive about them, it is Yukime who is really scared of ghosts than Yurime, while Yurime is afraid of heights. But if there is something they share fear from, it will be drunk drivers -- the reason why their father died.
  • Although Yukime is highly supportive of her twin sister's lovelife, she never thought of having a boyfriend for now, but rumors say that Touichiro has a lowkey crush on her.

 

That's about it! You've now know the members of the White Wing Council, and you'll get to know them more once the story goes on. And you might get to come across other familiar and unfamiliar characters in the future, as the most complicated love story in the history of Hakone continues. And I'll also post more character profiles once I'm finished.

For now, enjoy reading, feel free to leave a kudos and a comment, while I might think about adding more fanart soon. Thanks once again for stopping by!

Chapter Text

HAKONE ACADEMY AND THE AFTERMATH OF AN UNHAPPY BIRTHDAY

 

"Thank you for coming,” Sangaku’s mom was delighted to see his teammates plus four members of the White Wing Council in their home, but as expected, not all of them came. “To be honest, he hasn’t brought any friends in our home except Maera-chan...” 

But then she noticed who else is missing, in which none of them wanted to answer, most especially her own son.  

“Speaking of Maera-chan,” she then noticed, “I thought she’s with you?” she asked her son. 

“Oh, yeah,” Sangaku has no choice but to answer, “she said... she can’t come today. She has a lot of stuff to do, so...” 

“That’s too bad. Come to think of it, this is the first time she didn’t attend to your birthday...” 

She is right, after all. This year, she decided not to show up... after what happened to the Pep Rally this morning. 

Despite what happened, the regular members of Hakone Bicycle Club (minus Yasutomo), Mukahi, Mao and the Uno Sisters managed to come to Sangaku’s planned birthday party in his home in Odawara, but even the visitors are not as lively as his parents expected, even with all the food and cake on the table. Of course, the mother can’t just let that pass. 

“...Is something wrong happened in school?” she couldn’t help but to ask. 

“Ah, we’re sorry about that, Ma’am,” Hayato spoke in behalf of the visitors. “Something just happened, but it’s something that we can’t bring it here, r-right, guys?” 

“Please don’t worry about us,” Mukahi added, “things are getting hectic lately, especially that their Inter-High is just around the corner.” 

“Let’s say,” Jinpachi also added, “things are heating up in the course and in the Council that ruined his birthday. We sincerely apologize.” 

“Ah. I see,” somehow she understood. “I thought it’s about the news lately...” 

“News?” 

“Well, to be honest,” she sat down, “I’m quite worried about Sangaku and with you, kids. There’s this news about boys your age getting kidnapped and was never seen again. This is already the sixth time since last March!” 

No one reacted about the news. Obviously, they already have an idea about it, especially this morning, where the news, itself, may be connected to what happened on the last part of the program. No one expected it to happen, and it was therefore concluded that no one was at fault... 

Someone tried to kidnap their prized second climber on his sixteenth birthday. 

***** 

An hour after the Pep Rally program...  

The White Wing Council held an emergency meeting regarding what happened after the Pep Rally. The meeting was supposed to be just a report of the summary of the entire week-long program, but what happened this morning was more than just an delayed tragedy.  

With the help of the school’s security office, they checked every security footage on every corner of the school, until they found one, in the side gardens, where the mysterious student pulled Sangaku like she was only pulling a stroller bag. If not for Eriko who interrupted them, they won’t be able to tell what will happen to him afterwards. When they tried to trace where the girl went is something they already find odd... 

It only covered when she left, but was not able to trace which direction she went. 

“You sure that’s the girl,” Eriko asked their surprise witness, “Yasu?” 

“Yeah,” he could remember her clearly somehow. But strangely, he couldn’t figure out her smell, probably because everything happened so fast. “I don’t remember her somewhere--” 

“Why didn’t you stop them right away!?” 

They were all surprised. Probably for the first time in this year, Eriko raised her voice – against her own fiancé, while Yasutomo raised his eyebrow. 

“Someone called me and it was important,” he admitted, “so sorry if I didn’t save his ass right away--” 

“Have I not been there, who knows what will happen to him next?” 

“You’re there, at least he’s not in danger or whatever, so just calm down--!” 

“I hope you don’t mind me asking,” Juichi decided to interfere, “but why do you seem upset about what Arakita saw?” 

“Apparently,” Mukahi answered in her young mistress’ behalf, “we received reports about missing boys which has been in the headlines since March. So far, six cases have been reported, and none of these boys has been found yet. Whatever the reason is, the local authorities are already investigating it, but the complexity of the case has still not giving them any clue.” 

“That is why,” Eriko took a deep breath, “we need to protect every student here, since there is already one from those group who infiltrated the school. Who knows if they’re targeting not just Sangaku-kun!?” 

“Has the admin already know about this?” Hayato asked again. 

“We’re about to tell them,” Mao said, “but--” 

“We can’t let the admin know about this first.” 

They all looked at Eriko regarding her decision, all surprised, because ideally, giving the admin a heads up about this case will help them more in protecting the students, but her decision was something a White Princess cannot think of doing at all. 

“You’re nuts,” Yasutomo said, “you’re delaying the investigation! You’re saying that you don’t wanna disturb those people so the entire school won’t get scared like nothing is happening without realizing more and more students are getting kidnapped because you chose to be silent--!?” 

“Think about it! If the admin finds out about this matter, would they do the same – asking us to keep quiet about it while doing their own investigation without letting us know!? What I’m saying is, we can do our own investigation without making the students worry that much, at least if we will do our own investigation, we can monitor the progress, we can even be sure it's what is happening, and slowly, we can let the students know that we’re doing whatever we can to--” 

“Do something that only adults can do!? Lady, since when did you learn about stealing one’s job!?” 

“When you did nothing to stop that from happening, Yasutomo.” 

“WHAT!?” he stood up. “Excuse ME!? I was there, I was about to stop them, I wanna stop them, if not for that stupid phone call--!” 

“Is that stupid phone call you’re talking about that important, more important than a student’s life!?” 

“That call’s to save your and your family’s asses--!” 

“Aw, come ON!!!” Mao couldn’t take their quarrel anymore in front of them that she stood up and threatened to slap their mouths, if not for Hayato who held her shoulders to calm her down. But somehow, her meddling helped the two calm down a bit, especially... 

“What do you mean,” Eriko heard what he last said, “saving our--” 

But Yasutomo huffed and glared at her. “You really love that wonder boy, huh?” 

It was that question that made Eriko a bit speechless, but only for a few seconds, as she also knew his issue. Instead of answering him... 

“How about you,” she was shaking, “you do care for Maera-san, don’t you?” 

Before he could even answer, if he will even answer, Mukahi cleared her throat, and stood up.  

“I’m sorry,” she said, “but with the attitude you’re showing right now regarding this case, I’m afraid we cannot work with someone like you, two.” 

“M-Mukahi!?” she blinked. 

“I’ve never been this disappointed, Young Mistress. And to you too, Young Master. We might as well investigate this without your assistance,” and she headed to the door. “Let’s go, Juichi, Shinkai-kun, Hanasaki.” 

Surprisingly, the three other seniors followed Mukahi, believing that they can’t work with either Eriko or Yasutomo who seemed unstable after what happened to Sangaku. But as Juichi was the last to leave, before he could even step out of the Council Room... 

“Don’t let yourself be consumed with what happened,” he said. “What happened to Manami is already his own responsibility.” 

He left last, leaving the two confused with what he said. 

A few minutes after the rest of the seniors left, the two engaged remained standing, not looking at each other. Probably this is the first time they had a quarrel as an engaged couple, and comparing to what happened when they were first years, this is far worse. 

But Yasutomo was still determined to leave the Council Room, as he couldn’t stand every second of being with someone who has lost her cool because of one particular first year who got almost kidnapped and blaming him like everything was his fault. “Just say you’re scared, idiot,” he said. “None of us expected this to happen, so don’t point yer finger at anyone like you’ve never been at fault. If there’s someone who’s far more disappointed in you now... 

That would be me.” 

He left Eriko, without saying another word. 

She saw her own hands, shaking. She never had that kind of attitude before. She was taught to be calm at all times, but someone she mutually knew has been attempted to get kidnapped by someone who pretended to be a student of Hakone, which is related to the news they heard. For some reason, she started to ask herself, why did she say those things? Did she say those things without thinking at all? As far as she knew, she wanted to protect anyone under her jurisdiction, but she didn’t expect Sangaku to be in their list, which only made things more difficult for her to process. 

Thinking about the slips she did today only made her burst into tears. Since there is no one in the Council Room, and the room is soundproof, she didn’t mind crying as loud as she could. 

She didn’t know that Yasutomo was just behind the Council Room’s door. It should be a soundproof room, but her cries were loud enough for him to hear, even on a faint note. He didn’t dare come back to the room, because he wanted her to realize the slips she did today... 

Even if he, himself, wanted to say sorry to her and explain to her everything he has been into for the sake of her family. 

***** 

“So long, notebook. I don’t think I’ll be needing you again... 

I decided... not to write anymore.” 

His decision is final. Jinpachi threw the lavender notebook in the trash can along with his own pen, as his vow never to write again. He took one final glimpse of his notebook inside the waste basket before walking out of the locker room. 

To him, the entire thing is his fault. Although that mysterious girl who suddenly pulled Sangaku to possible danger is something they didn’t expect, in Jinpachi’s standpoint, to involve himself in those four people’s problems and to play detective slash cupid is the stupidest thing he ever did in seventeen years of his life. He tried to follow Yusuke’s advice, but in the end, all he did is to make them hurt themselves, to the point that he, also, hurt himself. 

Sorry, Maki-chan, his heart said. Being a love detective doesn’t suit me at all.  

“Hey, Jinpachi,” Hayato then called him, “we’ve been waiting for you.” 

“Yeah, sorry,” he replied back. “I’ll be there!” 

He went out after fixing his hair one more time, without looking at the trash can where his notebook full of his ideas is sitting there. They are all going to Sangaku’s home, but not all will come. As Yasutomo said earlier, he can’t come for some ‘business’ to take care of, while Eriko chose not to come due to shock and shame. As for Maera... 

“Welcome home, dear,” her mother welcomed her. “You seemed early today.” 

“The activities were done earlier than usual,” she replied. 

“That’s just perfect, then! I heard that Sangaku-kun's friends will be there for his birthday party. I thought you’ll be--” 

“I can’t come tonight.” 

Her mother blinked. It will be her first time if that is the case. “That’s new.” 

“He’s already aware of it. There are... lots of things that I need to finish and I don’t think I’ll be able to catch up with them.” 

“Is that so?” she thought. “Ah, by the way, Sangaku-kun stopped by here earlier. He said he was sorry that he didn’t bring your supposed lunch earlier. Do you want me to--” 

“I’m sorry, I already have... eaten. You can ask Mayura to have it.” 

“Are you sure?” 

“Yep. And uhm... If ever you’ll stop by there, please tell him... Happy Birthday.” 

Yet, the greeting sounded half-hearted. 

Maera immediately went to her room, and didn’t even bother opening her window to peek at his window if he is there or if it is open. She doesn’t want to talk to anyone today, nor eat or do anything. She has never felt tired in her life after that Pep Rally mishap... 

She is totally tired that she doesn’t want to feel anything anymore. Yet, her heart remained painful since this morning. 

It was supposed to be a perfect performance. Everything is set for her to sing for him, to convey her message to him, now that she is certain and brave enough to tell her feelings. Yet, something – or rather – someone, ruined everything... 

And she has no idea about what exactly happened, as to why Sangaku isn’t there. 

For some reason, she looked at her phone. Those were text messages from the twins, and even phone calls. But since she put her phone on silent mode, she wasn’t able to hear any ring nor feel its vibration. They were asking her to stop by Sangaku’s home for a party. But she already made up her mind. She texted Mao: 

Can’t come. A little dizzy. Please wish him Happy Birthday for me.  

Happy Birthday.  

She couldn’t even text those two words to Sangaku. It was like part of her is about to give up, but part of her is telling her to hang on. Without noticing it, the glass screen of her phone is starting to get stained with tears. It still hurts for her, but to know that he wasn’t there to show support and to listen to her is already disheartening, it already conveyed what he wanted to say to her... 

It is better for them to stay as friends, to make everything stay the way it is. 

But then, she noticed Jinpachi’s number displayed in the contacts. The last call happened a few days ago, when they both planned the routine for the final leg. Although it was a failure, Maera still wanted to thank him, maybe by text or a call, for everything he has done so far, but at the same time, to let him know that she already made a decision to be with her best friend, and nothing more. 

But she was so tired, she couldn’t call nor text him either. All she wanted that night is to cry until she sleeps – and hopefully, forget that today exists. 

***** 

“Thanks for stopping by, guys,” Sangaku was still thankful despite the pain he was trying to hide from what happened earlier. 

“We can’t just leave you alone on your birthday,” Yurime said. 

“If someone has a birthday,” Yukime added, “they still have the right to celebrate, regardless of the all the hurt and pain that will come to them!” 

The younger twin has a point, that they smiled. The poor birthday boy also tried to smile. “I’ll remember that,” he said. “Thanks, Yukime-san.” 

“You better be early tomorrow,” Juichi said, pertaining his duty in the Bicycle Club. “Morning practice will start at seven. You’re no exemption.” 

“Yes, Captain...” 

“Hey, Manami...” 

For some reason, Jinpachi went close to him by hooking him by the neck, and later whispered something: 

“Whatever happens, don’t blame yourself. If there is someone who has to be blamed... 

That will be me. ” 

The last sentence widened his eyes. 

“Anyway,” he finally lets him go, “see you tomorrow! Don’t be late or I swear I’ll make you clean the entire locker room!” 

“Happy birthday again, Manami!” Hayato greeted him. 

“If you want more of my chicken pie,” Mao winked, “just tell me!” 

“We’ll be off now,” Touichiro bowed to the birthday boy’s mother, before they left that night.  

Sangaku was waving at them, smiling as usual, but as soon as they are already far away, his smile gradually faded, while thinking of the words Jinpachi told him. It confused him as to why he has to be blamed for everything that has happened... 

Everything just happened, that was what he thought.  

“They really are nice,” her mother concluded. “Maybe you can invite them again some time for dinner or something. Hanasaki-chan's chicken pie is something I would love to learn to bake!” 

“I love what she brought tonight,” he commented. “And Toudou-san's sister’s husband makes the best sushi. Even his pasta.” 

“I agree!” and she looked at the clock. “Good thing there’s still more so your dad can have a chance to taste your friends’ cooking!” 

So he did his usual routine before capping off his day with a warm bath and a little studying – which he has to do so or Maera will surely scold him. But the moment he suddenly thought of Maera, the pain of what happened this morning just came back. 

He looked at his closed window. He wanted to open it and greet her. He is sure that she is already in her room tonight – but he has no will nor strength to even take a peek. Like, seeing her sad face scares him.  

Despite what Jinpachi whispered to him a while ago, he still couldn’t help but to feel responsible. He shouldn’t have let that mysterious girl pull him away to see her perform, but he was fully sure that she has misunderstood everything. No wonder she didn’t come on his birthday. As much as he wanted to tell her the truth, what he could only feel now is nothing but shame. 

He couldn’t face her at all. 

He placed his book on the table and hopped on his bed, as he decided to sleep early. But as someone who easily gets sleep and a heavy sleeper as well, it was the first time that he couldn’t sleep that night. 

***** 

As they walked towards their awaiting chauffeur, they couldn’t help but to revisit what happened to Mukahi and Juichi’s supposed engagement, in which both of them decided to call it off in public. 

“You did the right move there,” Hayato commented, “but what about your families?” 

“My father’s aware of our decision and he’s okay with it,” Juichi replied. “I’m not sure about my mother.” 

“You said that it was your mom who’s arranging everything for you,” Mao joined in, “including your engagement with Mukahi-chan?” 

“We decided to talk to her together when we have a chance,” Mukahi replied on his behalf. 

“What about your family?” Touichiro got curious. 

“My grandmother couldn’t do anything about it now. I’m still determined to file a complaint for harassing Hatanaka-kun and his family. And...” 

She tried to smile. 

“I’ll do whatever I can to bring him back to me.” 

She already made her decision to keep her new love. After all, she already learned to love Hatanaka with all her heart and she already forgave Juichi for everything. Jinpachi was somehow contented with what he heard from her, and at least, their story is already considered a closed case. 

Until they stopped by Maera’s house, which was opposite of Sangaku’s. From there, they are convinced, they really are neighbors. For some reason, the headband-wearing cyclist couldn’t help but to stare at the window to the room where the poor first year rep is staying: it was shut. 

He also wanted to tell the same thing he whispered to his junior, but considering that time, and to think that a guy will knock on the door to talk to their daughter is already awkward. Good thing, Mukahi was able to guess his plan. 

“Toudou-kun,” she called, “are you planning to talk to Miyahara-san?” 

He looked at her in a bit, convinces that she easily guessed his plan. “Was planning to,” he admitted, “but considering what time it is...” 

“Then,” she faced the door to their house, “please wait for me in the van. I’ll go ahead and talk to Miyahara-san... 

She has no idea about the truth yet.” 

They all looked at her, but no one disagreed. After all, she is right. The emotions Maera felt when she didn’t finish her number made her blind and deaf with what really happened that they failed to explain it to her, thus the secretary has to step up to tell her the truth – in hopes that everything is not yet over for the four aching hearts. 

Chapter Text

TOUICHIRO IZUMIDA AND THE INTER-LOW: PRELUDE TO DISAPPOINTMENT

 

Five days have passed. 

“Our rival, Sohoku, is holding a training camp a few miles from here. Wanna check out how they’re doing? From there… 

You’ll meet another climber, just like you.” 

“A climber… like me?” 

It was like nothing happened. The main characters from the novel that Jinpachi once tried to finish went on with their normal lives – including the author, himself. Such as the case of Sangaku whose love for climbing became more evident after Jinpachi gave him a mission to spy on their biggest rival – Sohoku High School in Chiba, where Yusuke studies… 

And also happened to be a member of their Road Racing Club. 

Jinpachi was also back to his normal, haughty self – except for one thing: he hasn’t mentioned anything about his novel. It is a proof that he has no plans on going back to it nor write it anymore, out of his vow not to hurt anyone again because of his fantasies and stupid ability, in his opinion. And to make sure his rival won’t suspect, he didn’t mention anything about it, either, whenever he calls him on his phone. 

Even Yasutomo. Setting aside those mysterious phone calls and texts he makes and receives, he still remains a grumpy kid who complains at anything. He only just makes sure that no one will see him doing such thing. And they’re back to the days where he and Eriko didn’t greet each other nor talk within the school... 

Except that this time, it’s because of the matters of the heart.  

Eriko went back to her usual Council duties, but everyone in the Council remained worried about her. Until five days ago, she never displayed any kind of irritation and aggravation in front of her subjects because of the safety of one student – and it was Sangaku, of all the students of Hakone. And in Mukahi and Mao’s opinion, she is getting worse day by day. For example, she signed the wrong paper, or sometimes she will keep on defending the figures she saw but it turned out it was for something else.  

In short, she wasn’t in her usual self since that incident. 

And another Council member whom they were worried much about is Maera. After the Pep Rally incident five days ago, she stopped coming to the Council. Although Mukahi already talked to her about what really happened at that time, she understood why she chose not to show up in the meantime, this time, it wasn’t Eriko nor anyone in Jinpachi’s story. 

That night...  

“My apologies for stopping by here,” Mukahi said to Maera when she decided to stop by her home while the group was about to go back to school. 

“I-it’s nothing, Tsukigawa-san,” she waved her hands. “Uhm... so how was the party?” 

“To be honest,” she said, “it’s not as lively. From the looks of Manami-kun, he... He really wanted to see you there, being his neighbor.” 

That was when she became quiet. As much as possible, she doesn’t want to talk about it anymore. But as soon as the secretary noticed her puffy eyes, she decided to get straight with her. 

“Miyahara-san,” she began, “I’m here to let you know the truth about what happened after the program.” 

She paused. 

“I know that you don’t want to talk about it for now, but please listen to me. I would like to assure you that neither Manami-kun nor the Young Mistress is at fault in this.” 

She blinked. “Wh-why would you include Eriko-san here?” 

Mukahi sighed. “Are you aware of the news about high school boys who are getting kidnapped recently?” 

Maera blinked again. Obviously, she has no idea about the news at all. 

“This has been happening in the past four months. Six boys have been reported missing, and just two months ago, it was confirmed that these boys are being kidnapped for no apparent reason when a witness saw what actually happened. The latest victim was someone from Kureminami. According to recent investigations, there is this group who are attacking boys anywhere in East and Central Japan alone, and they are not stopping there. 

And... this is still a speculation, but we suspected that they have tried to target Manami-kun a few minutes ago.” 

Her eyes widened. She didn’t expect that such a group will take advantage of the Pep Rally to infiltrate the school. She decided to hear more. 

“Wh-what do you mean,” she asked, “they tried to... kidnap Sangaku...?” 

“Yes,” Mukahi confirmed. “We have two witnesses. One saw him about to go back to the gym when a certain girl who might be pretending to be a student of our school pulled him away to be taken somewhere. He was trying to go back just to watch you sing if not for that unfortunate incident.” 

Maera was shaking. “And the other witness?” 

“It’s the Young Master.” 

She turned silent again. 

“He saw Manami-kun being pulled away, however, he failed to stop them due to an emergency call. It was the Young Mistress who managed to stop them when she was doing a parameter check outside of the gym, which is a good thing.” 

“Wh-where is the girl now!?” 

It was Mukahi’s turn to be silent. “Unfortunately... we failed to catch her. The Young Mistress said that she disappeared just like that when she showed up. Even the school’s security cameras failed to capture where she came from and when she went afterwards. From there we’re convinced that this girl might be a member of the syndicate responsible for those missing boys.” 

Part of Maera’s heart was relieved that what happened was just a misunderstanding – but that was the problem. It was a misunderstanding. And she misunderstood everything.  

He really wanted to watch me sing...!  

“Miyahara-san...” 

Maera faced Mukahi, but this time, her eyes were filled again with tears.  

“It appears that Manami-kun already made his decision to listen to you, no matter what, that is why he felt like he was responsible for what happened. Please talk to him while you still can, and listen to him. The last leg of the Pep Rally might be a failure, but that doesn’t mean it’s already too late. Lady Eriko has never been devastated with what happened to the point that she blamed Master Yasutomo for not letting her know right away, so you’re our hope for this one. 

You’re the only one right now who can protect Manami-kun.” 

I... messed up again...  

Maera was convinced: she felt like her aggressiveness made everything worse after finding out the truth. A pure misunderstanding caused her relationship with the people whom she mattered the most, which is why she decided not to show up in the Council out of shame. And just as she though her day will be better... 

“Yo, Manami!” 

Surprisingly, Sangaku showed up in the classroom early, just five minutes before the next period after their morning practice. The moment they faced each other, there was a moment of awkwardness. 

She tried to act normal. “Uh... H-hi...” 

He just smiled, and went back to his seat. 

She knew it. He wouldn’t greet her nor talk to her like the usual, like he was avoiding her for some reason. Maera thought it was because he was upset of two things: she didn’t show up in his birthday party, and because she didn’t believe him. But all of those were just her presumptions... 

Sangaku felt twice the shame to face her nor talk to her, thinking that everything that happened was his own fault. 

Unknown to them, there was this guy who has been observing them for the last five days, and not just them, but the other pair, and most especially, the one who said to have started it all. 

***** 

“Tou-chaaan!” 

The Uno Twins disrupted his peaceful review for today’s quiz that he has no choice but to sigh.  

“You know that there’s a quiz later,” Touichiro looked at them. “Are you done with your review?” 

“We’ve already done that at home!” Yurime assured him. “And we will have perfect scores as usual!” 

“We just wanna ask about the progress,” Yukime grinned, which made the older twin convert to a shy type because of reddening cheeks. 

Touichiro was able to guess. “About Yuki – I mean, Kuroda-kun?” 

The younger twin nodded. “He hasn’t responded to her yet, you know—” 

“Why are you asking me?” he sighed. “In the first place, he started it, he set me up – and to be honest, Yukime-kun, I was also disappointed at you.” 

Yukime puffed her cheeks in irritation. “It’s not my fault that I got sick! Plus, as a member of the White Wing Council, it’s my duty to help students in need—” 

“Including helping a student trick his friend into a fake confession at the rooftop.” 

“Yukime,” Yurime later tapped her back, “he’s right, we can’t just ask Tou-chan about Kuroda-kun’s feelings right away. At least I… 

I gave it a shot, right?” 

They both looked at her. She has a point. Although it was an impromptu confession, at least Yurime was able to let Yukinari know her feelings, and for her, that is already enough. 

Touichiro smiled at her. “I would say you’re a very brave person, Yurime-kun.” 

She blinked. 

“And with what you did, I still hope that one day, Kagaho-san and Miyahara-san will learn something from you.” 

The twins looked at each other this time, and understood what he meant. As a teammate, it is just normal for Touichiro to be concerned over Sangaku and Yasutomo who are still in the middle of a struggle with the two affected women because of the Pep Rally incident. And now it is confirmed that no one is at fault except for that mysterious student who randomly pulled Sangaku, should they start talking about it to themselves and, well, start over? 

The all-muscled classmate couldn’t help but to look at his bag. Inside it is an important item that contains a possibility that things will be fixed in a matter of time – except that its original owner decided not to get involved in it anymore for the sake of their hearts’ sanity. 

***** 

That night, five days ago.  

“Is this…?” Touichiro’s eyes widened when Yukinari handed him an important item: a lavender notebook with the number 8 written in front. Attached to its edge is a purple and white gold pen with a symbol of the Zodiac sign Virgo on top of it. 

“Found that in the trash,” his cat-eyed friend said. “I have this suspicion that Toudou-san threw it intentionally this time. Even his pen’s included. You know what that means.” 

Touichiro does. In fact, he felt bad for the senior who only wanted to write a novel, but knowing that his plots are starting to hurt people just because he was able to guess their past, no wonder he will throw his own works and dreams away. But for him, it’s not right. 

“Why are you giving this to me?” he couldn’t help but to ask Yukinari. 

“You can’t expect me to return that to Toudou-san, can you?” he just replied. “Plus, he once asked you to cooperate with him, so I thought you should keep it in the meantime until he needs it again. It would be a waste of talent and time if he’ll just throw that away.” 

Yukinari has a point, especially that he understood that Jinpachi really tried to help them through his novel – only to end up getting too overwhelmed of his own ability that he may have hurt them instead. And it is, indeed, a waste of talent, so Touichiro took the notebook and decided to keep it for now. 

“Touichiro…” 

“Yeah?” 

“I’m sorry for… for lying to you.” 

He also understood that part. Just this morning, his friend admitted that the reason for those phone calls is related to what has been happening in the past four months, according to Mukahi, and he received a tip about those people who managed to infiltrate the school. However, he didn’t report it right away to the White Wing Council. That is because…  

“You should have told that to Kagaho-san,” he said, “rather than putting yourself in—” 

“You know that I can’t,” Yukinari refused. 

“But you can tell her without—” 

“This is better than endangering other people. I already told them to stay away from school so no one would suspect. I know how worried you are…  

But this is how we at Kuroda Nekoma deal with those kind of crap.” 

A dangerous mission.  

Only the team knows who Yukinari Kuroda really is – except for their first years, and to him, to get more people involved in his secret is already too dangerous and too suspicious for the school, which is the reason why he still kept his findings secret from the White Wing Council. Somehow, Touichiro understood why he has to keep it discreet, but at the same time he is worried. For him, it will be best to somehow let the Council know about his own investigation…  

But if he will do that, who knows what might happen if the Council will also get into danger, especially the girl who just recently confessed to him. No wonder why the cat-eyed climber decided to reject every proposal he gets in his locker. 

“You okay, Tou-chan?” the twins then noticed his sudden silence. 

“Ah, sorry,” he cleared his throat. “I’m just thinking about the quiz, okay!? I’ll be studying, if I were you.” 

The just giggled. “Stingy o-Tou-chan!” 

“What!?” 

He is already used to their constant teasing. Luckily, he doesn’t get fooled right away whenever Yurime and Yukime decided to play tricks on their classmates by letting them guess who’s who, but thanks to Andy and Frank’s help, he can still point out who is Yurime and who is Yukime, no matter how much the effort they will put into in imitating one another. For Touichiro, even identical twins have their own personality – and each personality is unique to each person. 

But if there is something he would commend the twins for is that both of them cannot be fooled. He knew they were only pretending that they’re not aware that he is worrying over something, which he tried to hide from them as it might cause more complications. For now, he has to focus on the upcoming Inter-High. He has his own goals to set, and decided to think about others’ problems later... 

***** 

Or so he thought. 

Afternoon practice. When Touichiro was about to go back to the locker room to change his jersey, he heard someone talking behind the building. 

“...Yeah. It matched. Guess we’ve finally made into a conclusion, huh...? Listen: I’m planning to go to that old king’s castle to report. Don’t say a word to her or I swear I’ll kill you-- 

He has no idea he’s about to be fried in his own hell.” 

Then, he suddenly stopped talking and turned off his phone, like he felt that someone’s watching over them. 

Touichiro’s abs felt danger. He totally forgot Yasutomo’s incredible sense of smell that he has to run away and hide as soon as possible. He couldn’t understand what they were talking about, but he knew that just like Yukinari, he is hiding something – especially from his own fiancée. 

He decided to step away as far as he could, hopefully he wouldn’t suspect, but the wolf-like racer’s senses are still intact, that-- 

“I know you’re there, Izumida! I can smell yer abs from here.” 

He has no choice but to stop and to let the senior see him. He glared at him like he will eat him anytime, but before that happened, he immediately apologized. 

“I’m sorry for prying in,” he said. “I swear I didn’t hear anything--” 

“What did you only hear, then?” a trick question coming from Yasutomo. 

He gulped his own saliva. “if I heard anything,” he replied, “I still won’t understand any of it... But are you hiding something from Kagaho-san?” 

He didn’t reply right away, instead he only gave him a death glare. But it softened a little bit. “Whatever you heard today,” he said, “whether you understand anything or not, don’t let her know.” 

“Before I agree, please answer me... What are you hiding from her?” 

He didn’t answer again right away, like he was trying to think of an alternative answer so he won’t get involved to his or Eriko’s problem. But knowing Touichiro, he knew he can’t hide forever. 

“It’s something that someone like you won’t understand,” he just replied, “unless you know how to do something involving money.” 

He blinked. 

“Anyway,” he turned away, “just pretend that you didn’t hear anything nor see me here or things will only get more complicated between me and Eriko-chan.” 

He went ahead for practice. 

All Touichiro could do is to watch him leave, without understanding any secret he has been hiding from Eriko. For some reason, the people he knew are hiding secrets for reasons that might compromise their own safety, and he hates living in those kinds of secrets... 

Yet, he has a secret to keep, because he has Jinpachi’s notebook, and until such time that his will to write will return to him, he will keep the notebook, and will focus on the Inter-High before talking to him. 

Chapter Text

TOUICHIRO IZUMIDA AND THE INTER-LOW: THE AFTERMATH OF DEFEAT

 

Third day of Inter-High.  

The scorching heat is starting to claim each racer to their withdrawal as time passes, but despite it, the racers from Hakone and their rival, Sohoku, still prevailed in taking the lead. The first and second days were more on making sure they will get all the points they need to gain advantage in the third day. 

It’s the final day of the race. This means, regardless of their role, anyone can vie for the finish line for their respective teams. This is the true spirit of road racing. 

In the middle of the race, Eriko’s chauffeur arrived at the foot of Mt. Fuji’s highway, where the initial stopover was located, to watch the race alone. As soon as she got off the car, an announcement was heard: 

We’ve just received a report. With just 1.5 kilometers left, Hakone Academy’s member wearing bib #2 has just withdrew from the race. We repeat: Hakone Academy’s member wearing bib #2 has just withdrew from the race—” 

Her eyes widened. Yasu!?  

Then a member of the race committee passed by, where she immediately approached him over something. 

“Excuse me,” she said, “I’m the President of Hakone’s Student Council. Do you know where you’re taking withdrawing racers?” 

***** 

The next to withdrew from the race in Hakone’s lineup was Touichiro, after taking Yasutomo’s supposed job in pulling Team Hakone to the lead away from Sohoku. The cause was due to muscle spasms and loss of oxygen that he was taken to the central infirmary in a wheelchair. 

The moment they have reached an available ward, he asked a support staff member to let him go in the ward alone, after all, he can still move. Before he was given permission, he was given a heads up that one of his teammates will be his wardmate. He immediately guessed it was Yasutomo, since he was the first in the team to be pulled out from the race. 

As he was about to get in, he then noticed that the unconscious grumpy senior wasn’t alone. To his surprise, he saw Eriko beside him. He suspected that she managed to arrived twenty to thirty minutes before he was rushed to the infirmary, himself. The moment he saw them together... 

He caught her about to reach his lips. 

“K-Kagaho...san...?” 

He didn’t realize that he managed to startle her. “Uh-I’m sorry,” she immediately stood up. “W-were you been here already?” 

“N-no,” he said. “I’m sorry, Kagaho-san,” and he bowed. “I shouldn’t have disturbed you—” 

“N-no, don’t leave, you also need to rest,” and she went to the door. “I just passed by to watch you race when I heard what happened to Yasu. He’s...” 

Then she looked at him again with such sad eyes. Judging by how he looks in bed, he was so pale. Touichiro thought there is no doubt that she truly cares about him, despite the mishap two months ago, even when they both know the inconvenience an arranged marriage brought them... 

And remembering the plot Jinpachi wrote about the characters inspired by them, and the unofficial race he had with Sangaku during the training camp, he was convinced that the resident senior climber slash ex-writer is absolutely right that he has to confirm it, himself. 

“Kagaho-san,” he called, “do you love Arakita-san?” 

She paused and looked at the all-muscled regular member like she half-expected the question that he thought he either asked the wrong question or threw it at the wrong time. 

“I’m sorry,” he then explained, “I know this is none of my business, but ever since we found out about his engagement, as if everyone of us got involved, especially that you have a connection with Manami and his neighbor in some way, the same way Arakita-san is also connected to them. I don’t believe in coincidences, myself, but after all that has happened... and with Toudou-san's notes...  

it made me fully convinced... because of love.” 

The White Princess only gave him a smile with such sweetness that she might have understood what he wanted to say. What Touichiro said was right on point: everyone in the Bicycle Club and even in the White Wing Council became heavily involved with her dilemma with Yasutomo, as well as those two first years. If this is because of the spirit of camaraderie, or because of how Jinpachi brought them together, that is already something where he wasn’t sure anymore. 

“Izumida-kun,” she managed to guess his name, “am I right?” 

“Y-yes.” 

“Tell me... Have you ever been in love?” 

It was already a personal question which he wasn’t sure if he is still required to answer it or not because of privacy reasons. However, he understood why Eriko would ask that question. Someone who would try to talk to her about her current situation must answer her question, or preferably, have some experience as she has – if that would anyone call an ‘experience’. 

“It’s okay if you will answer or not,” she just said. “I know that it was quite personal, so I apologize for my rudeness—” 

“N-no, no, it’s okay, I should be the one to say sorry,” and he cleared his throat. “W-well,” and he tried to think, “to answer your question... I haven’t been in that stage yet, s-so I’m sorry if I can answer you directly... but...” 

And he looked at her directly. 

“I... I know that you just wanted to make me realize what your situation is. Not just yours. To be honest... no one ever thought that Arakita-san will get involved in your case, and even Manami got involved. It was love that connected you through unexpected situations that slowly, more and more people are getting involved. I know this isn’t my problem anymore, but I can’t help getting involved as well because I’m also worried about my teammates. If... If that ever happened to me, I don’t know how I’ll be able to deal with it, so I must admit... I admire your and Miyahara’s courage to face whatever Manami or Arakita-san’s situation is because of how much you care for them. Basically, we’re doing the same for our teammates, and yours.” 

Eriko smiled at Touichiro’s answer, who seemed contented after hearing his side. However, her smile seemed to be forced, whether it was the depth of his answer that made her feel somewhat bad inside, or the fact that people who are not supposed to be part of their problem are also getting involved, whether they wanted to be part of it or not. 

“You shouldn’t have gotten yourself involved anymore,” she admitted. “Two more people getting involved in our problem is already too much to bear. I felt more guilty and obliged to find out that more and more people are getting involved for some reason to the point that I’m losing my own self. Yet, I’m glad.” 

“Why is that?” 

“Because it just shows how many people care so much about Yasu, even about Sangaku-kun, and even about Maera-san. Knowing that there are people who care so much about them is enough for me to get relieved. So thank you... for all the help and support you have provided so far. And... 

Please send my regards to Toudou-kun as well.” 

To mention Jinpachi in the list of people she wanted to thank the most is, probably, the hardest thing Touichiro would hear last, that he tried to fight his own emotions in front of the White Princess. 

Eriko left two minutes later, thanking Touichiro for the time to let her stay in the competitors’ infirmary even if, technically, it’s not allowed. She left without waiting for Yasutomo to wake up. She thought there is no need, because she has no intention to stay that long if ever he wakes up. She has just tried to reach him even for a short time, in hopes that her feelings are still there, and in hopes that she could still forgive herself from what happened two months ago. 

Luckily, it is still there. And the all-muscled sprinter thought it will not disappear in her for as long as she lives. 

When Yasutomo woke up, Touichiro remained silent, as he decided to keep his conversation with her to himself. 

***** 

GOAL!!! We now have a new champion this year! The winner of the third day’s mountain checkpoint and the overall champion – Sakamichi Onoda! Chiba’s Sohoku wins the Inter-High crown!!!” 

It was the most shocking turn of event for the entire Hakone Acandemy as, for the first time since its inception, the Bicycle Club has lost its crown to their toughest rival ever – Sohoku High School. And to make it more disappointing, an experienced racer such as Sangaku Manami will lose in his terrain against a neophyte whom he befriended two months ago. The biggest question now is... 

Why did he lost? 

Touichiro kept on asking those questions to himself while crying over their defeat. Hakone is supposed to be the strongest team ever, and to get defeated by last year’s dark horse such as Sohoku is something unacceptable. Just as he predicted months ago: Sangaku isn’t Inter-High material yet – but he lost to a fellow first year who is said to be a newbie in the world of road racing.  

Why did he lost?  

“Results are everything,” Yasutomo once told him. “Those who’re not able to make it will show what they are lacking. That li’l four-eyed guy has something that even our li’l wonder boy can’t grasp, but more than that... 

Manami’s still blaming himself for what happened between him and Maera-chan.” 

For the proud second-year sprinter, it has already been two freaking months, and he should have been more focused on winning the Inter-High than thinking about the aftermath of the Pep Rally because no one wanted that to happen, nor anyone blamed him for not being there in the gym. For him, as a member of the highly-feared Bicycle Club, he should know his priorities, and that cannot be considered a valid excuse. 

The entire team was there for the awarding ceremony, in which Hakone still got second place after the podium call for this year’s champion. But during the ceremony, Sangaku was nowhere to be found. They continued to receive the award without him. 

Furious with the behavior he exhibited after the tournament, Touichiro went ahead to their tent to find Sangaku, when he heard someone wailing from one of the tents. 

His ears found the voice familiar, thus he tried to check every tent they have under their name – until he stopped by the second one and finally found Sangaku – crying, and with Maera trying to calm him down. He froze upon seeing the first year screaming and slumping on the floor while his neighbor hugging him, telling him that everything will be okay. It was a gesture he didn’t expect, considering what happened between them two months ago. 

Thanks to Mukahi, Maera has somehow understood what happened, but it took her two months to reach him like today. 

“It’s not your fault,” she assured him while stroking his head. “I saw you ride, and you gave everything to win... It’s just that... there are people who will be... stronger than you. But please... don’t think this is over. You still have next year... You can still race and face them... Please... Sangaku... don’t cry...” 

She was trying to console him, while she, herself, was also crying buckets. And with that particular scene, he decided not to interfere, because if he’ll do so, someone would definitely pull him away and scold him to calm down, leaving Touichiro with no choice. 

He watched them carefully. He may now know too much about their relationship whatsoever, but thanks to Jinpachi and his notebook, he began to understand that they share such a strong bond that only childhood friends can possess, that he even couldn’t compete with them when it comes to his relationship with Yukinari as the same level of friendship they have. He may not even know as well why it was only now, after two months, that she gained courage to rush to him and give him a hug like he desperately needed it, but somehow, at that point, he is beginning to know and understand... 

If he will understand the notebook, Maera might have already come up with a conclusion that will not affect their friendship – until... 

“I’m sorry... Maera...!” 

He apologized. Not to the whole team, but to her, specifically. 

Touichiro has then concluded: the defeat was more than Sangaku’s inexperience and the fact that he was the last man standing for Team Hakone to get the crown back to them. He has not yet fully recovered from the ‘mistake’ he did two months ago that he pulled the whole team down. Now, he isn’t just responsible for the incident at the Pep Rally, but also for the entire team’s loss, like everything was been put to his shoulders all of a sudden. No wonder he poured all his tears to the only person he thought who can listen to him, even for just today. 

Then, suddenly, “Sangaku...? Sangaku!? Hey! HELP! He’s not breathing properly! Somebody give him oxygen!!!” 

The medics nearby responded to her cry of help, and then they lifted the highly-exhausted first year to give him a good supply of oxygen to breathe. His tears and screaming won’t stop that it might have contributed his shortness of breath.  

It was an awful day for Hakone, and none of Sangaku’s own teammates could do anything but to accept the fact, while all Touichiro could do is to watch him helplessly. To add up the pain, just a few meters from him, he noticed Jinpachi, silently watching those two first years in tears. He couldn’t read what exactly he was thinking at that time, whether if it is regarding the outcome of the race or the regarding their personal lives, and with that, as someone who already swore to help him in his quest to help them realize their feelings, he wanted to let him know his own piece of mind right now. 

***** 

As Jinpachi was done packing his things and was about to head to the bus, Touichiro approached him. 

“Toudou-san,” he then called. “Can we... Can we talk?” 

He looked at him. 

And without further ado, he took out the lavender notebook and its partner pen attached to it, to the senior climber’s shock. 

“Yuki -- I mean, Kuroda-kun found this in the trash bin,” he explained. “This is your notebook, Senpai. This has all your ideas and hopes. I understand that you will just throw this after what happened two months ago but we all know now that no one expected that to happen – not even those four, or Manami, most of all.” 

He was only staring at the notebook that he tried to get rid of, hoping that will help him focus. It really did help him focus – at the cost of Hakone’s win. He began to think that they might have lost because he threw away all his ideas which, in the first place, are all happened in real life to those involved characters. 

“Please don’t blame your notebook or your stories to what happened,” he begged. “They might have happened in real life, but those were all coincidences. I personally don’t believe in those kinds of circumstances, but with you and your stories... You’ve managed to help Fukutomi-san and Tsukigawa-san get back together, even as just friends, and you’re so close to help Arakita-san, Kagaho-san, Miyahara and Manami realize their feelings. No one’s at fault in what happened, Toudou-san. They... 

They just happened.” 

He then remember the ‘pact’ they did after Touichiro found out the secret within his notebook and his ability. And he just smirked, knowing that he is doing his job well as his unofficial assistant.  

“You’re right,” Jinpachi finally replied. “It just happened. Some random girl spoiled everything we’ve worked hard for to help those idiots. But try to think as a writer, Izumida. It’s more than those plots that have already happened in the past. Regardless if that already happened before or just about to happen, if you’re the writer in the story, you’ll see yourself getting too engrossed to it to the point that you will stop writing not because you’ve already ran out of ideas... But because you just can’t get yourself hurt anymore.” 

It was more than the emotional strain he got from following their lovelife through his stories and by giving them the best advice he could deliver. Their story was so too real it already became overwhelming, and it weakened him. Touichiro thought that he might be waiting for something to happen to give him an excuse to throw away his notebook and not to write for good, but knowing Jinpachi, why would he wish for a disaster in his own plot? 

“Say, Toudou-san,” then he tried to ask him, “did you decide to write merely because you were inspired by Fukutomi-san's story?” 

“Well, yeah,” he scoffed. “But I thought that was my only reason... And things just popped up unexpectedly the moment I started to write. Say, Izumida, do you think I really have this kind of magical power?” 

“Magic doesn’t exist in real life, but if someone said that you have an ability to guess one’s past through a deduction, for a kid, he can consider it as a superpower. But you’re not a mage, Toudou-san... 

You’re a Love Detective.” 

That term again.  

It was Yusuke who first addressed him as such, with just an assumption that he can actually make those accurate deductions. But more and more people are beginning to believe he is really a detective, like Hayato, and him. He can even add Yukinari from those who believe in his ability. And he understood why Jinpachi would feel like he doesn’t want to get involved with his own stories anymore. 

“I heard what you told Manami a while back,” he recalled. “It’s normal to make mistakes. It’s normal to get uneasy, sad and scared. You don’t have to alienate yourself with your own ability. As far as I know, only you can do that, while I can’t.” 

The notebook and the pen remained in Touichiro’s hand, still waiting for the senior to pick it again, but he would understood if Jinpachi will still decide not to touch it ever again. But by showing the notebook to him, he wanted him to realize something that maybe can help instill hope to those four poor hearts. Whether he will decide to take his notebook again or not anymore, the all-muscled sprinter still believes in one thing:  

With those four hearts that remained lost and hurt, the only person who can pull them away from the darkness is him, by helping them realize their mistakes by doing what he usually does back when he was still excited to share his plot to whoever will care to listen to him. 

“Izumida.” 

“Sir?” 

He remained staring at his own notebook. “Keep that for me for now, will you?” 

He blinked. “W-won’t you just... take it instead--?” 

“Can you give me time to think about it? Besides, we’re also in a little dangerous situation because, you know, that kidnapping case whatsoever. For now, keep that. Feel free to read anything from that, while I’ll keep on watching what will happen next.” 

There was hope, at least, that he will take his notebook again and write. It may take some time, but Touichiro strongly believes in him, that he will bounce back one day to either slap their faces to wake up from their own mistakes, or just watch them figure out everything for themselves. To become a spectator in a more-than-a-whirlwind romantic flick, for Jinpachi, can be better than writing the script, himself, or he will get lost in his own plot that he wrote... 

Still, the body-building second year has this feeling that this vain climber has been blaming himself for the stories he wrote for the sake of his own enjoyment, despite those sparks of hope he saw from those four main characters. 

Chapter Text

HAYATO SHINKAI AND THE CASE OF THE MISSING SCHOOL BOYS

 

Four PM in an all-boys school. 

A handsome school boy, around second or third year, waved goodbye at his friends who are about to go to the same direction, while his home was on the opposite. As soon as they went to the right corner, the said guy went on his own. 

The street was surprisingly empty at that time, thus he thought the guy can try doing a shortcut by not following traffic rules. As he was about to cross the street even with the red light on... 

“Excuse me, dear.” 

An old, bent woman called him, probably to ask him to help her cross the street – even if the street was empty. Maybe because she is already too old and weak to cross by herself, and who knows what will happen if a car would suddenly pass by and hurt her. 

“I’m so sorry for the trouble,” she even apologized to him, “but do you happen to know what street is this? My grandson wrote these directions and I can’t read anything because it’s too small.” 

“N-no worries, Ma’am,” he assured the old woman. “Can I take a look?” 

“Sure thing,” and she handed the paper to him. “I’m really sorry about this...” 

“It’s okay,” he smiled. “My grandma has trouble reading small letters, too, so I’m used to this.” 

“That’s very kind of you.” 

When he has fully read the directions, he was about to face the old lady. “Oh, this place,” he said, “this is just near... 

Uh... Ma’am?” 

The old woman disappeared. At the same time, he didn’t notice a pair of hands grabbing him and forcing him to inhale some kind of chemical to put him to sleep. After that, he has no idea anymore where he will end up with. 

***** 

This just in: parents of a seventeen-year-old high school boy from Suzuran Academy For Boys have just reported that their only child has been missing since yesterday. Upon interviewing his classmates, he was last seen with his friends from their Chess Club as he was about to head home around 4 PM yesterday. They never thought it will be the last time they will see him at that time. Local authorities have begun investigating the said boy’s disappearance which could be still connected to the ongoing case of disappearing high school boy for the past eight months...” 

Three days after the Inter-High. Touichiro was eating dinner with Yukinari in their dorm unit. It seems to be a typical night for the two of them, when breaking news on Yukinari’s mini-TV disturbed their dinner. The news, itself, made Touichiro lose his appetite. 

“Another one, huh?” Yukinari sighed. 

“It’s like the people behind it are getting bolder and bolder every minute,” the all-muscled friend commented. “but they have been quiet after what happened to the Pep Rally...” 

“That’s because their last modus failed. Hakone has a lot of security cameras installed here, and the Princess knows every face enrolled in this school.” 

He remembered that one, even if it’s already much of a headache to think about it. To think that Sangaku will get kidnapped (almost) on his sixteenth birthday (or that’s what they suspect) that caused a great misunderstanding between him and Maera, no wonder the White Wing Council became too careful to the point that dorm heads already proposed a curfew to all their dorm residents. 

“I really don’t understand what their motive is,” all Touichiro could do is to sigh.  

“You should have read the news carefully, Touichiro, those missing boys have one thing in common: they’re all handsome and young, and marketable in black market’s terms. You know, selling them as eye candies, prostitutes—” 

“Yuki!?” 

“Stating only possible facts, man. They said it’s a possible angle, but we already have clues—” 

“Still, it’s wrong to assume that those missing boys will end up in the black market! Even if you’re making the investigation yourself, you can’t wish them something wrong! And don’t get me started there--!” 

“Too late, they’re already on it – but just like those cops, we also don’t have any lead--” 

“We’ve talked about this, Yuki,” he groaned. “Even if you’re part of it, don’t get involved as much as possible! If the school finds out--” 

“I’m not totally part of it, I’m just helping them relay some intel--” 

“That still counts! Just leave that job to the cops, don’t you?” 

“—Having a heated debate over there?” 

They didn’t notice Hayato who just dropped by their dorm room when they heard them – who also happened to be their dorm leader. 

“Sh-Shinkai-san!” Touichiro suddenly blurted out and both second years stood up. 

“Y-you don’t have to stand up, just finish your dinner,” he stopped them before entering their room. “I’m just a little curious about what you’re arguing about.” 

“Not really,” Yukinari admitted. “We’re talking about those missing school boys over the past eight months.” 

“They might have something in common,” Touichiro added, “but I don’t believe they’ll be sent to prostitution because of it!” 

“That’s one deep case,” Hayato moved to think. Cases like these are his cup of tea. “Since Hakone got involved in it as well because of Manami, no wonder you’ll talk about it. But let’s see... over that past eight months, did the media showed pictures of any of those missing boys to help the public find them?” 

The two second years looked at each other before looking at him. “No,” Touichiro answered, “because they’re minors.” 

“That’s right. For their protection, either their families or the police decided not to show those boys’ faces in public, which makes the case more difficult to solve. It’s like only the police has access on who these boys are.” 

“If let’s say I’m right,” Yukinari joined in, “and it happened that we’ll come across one of those boys’ pictures in the black market—” 

“Yuki!?” his friend hushed him. 

“That’s possible,” Hayato said grimly. “So what do you heard so far in the news about them?” 

“Two common factors were revealed so far: they are mostly from middle school to high school, and they all have good looks. That’s one reason I’ve guessed they are getting kidnapped to be sold to the black market.” 

“But we just can’t conclude that unless we see the evidence,” Touichiro remained unfazed by the possibility, “right, Shinkai-san?” 

He didn’t answer right away. He remained in deep thought while putting everything together like a puzzle, but of course, there are still several missing pieces left to find. He remembered also when the news first broke eight months ago, where six boys were reported missing, without a trace, and no sufficient reason was revealed at that time. The issue became a hot topic after the Pep Rally, and he became totally intrigued when he decided to talk to Mao about those footage they got from those CCTVs, she being into mysteries as well. 

The day after the Pep Rally Incident.  

“So this is the girl,” Hayato tried to take a good look at the girl who pulled Sangaku away, who was suspected to be part of the group behind those missing school boys. 

“Yep,” Mao confirmed. “And we’re having a hard time getting footage of when she came in and how and when she got out. Eriko-chan and I tried to find that girl in our database, and nothing matched. Here’s what we got...” 

She handed him a digital cartographic sketch of the said girl, who seemed too odd and too quiet-looking to be part of a gang. Has almost-blonde hair tied in messy pigtails, has big glasses that makes her eyes unseen, has freckles, fair skin, and unruly uniform. 

“She confirmed that she’s not a student here at all,” Mao confirmed again. “I even tried to ask the Discipline Committee if they know this girl. Negative. She might have assumed a different identity before getting into the school, and considering that she might be part of an organized group, she has the papers and all.” 

“Yeah, negative,” Hayato shook his head, “I don’t know her, either. But it’s too early for us to assume. Maybe she’s a student of a different school and she was just trying to recruit him over something.” 

“That’s what I’m trying to investigate at this moment because that can be a possibility. But right now, what is totally confirmed is 1.) she’s not a student of Hakone, 2.) Manami-chan doesn’t know her. If by any chance no school will claim her identity, then we can assume...” 

Hayato is right about assuming too early that the said girl is part of the group responsible for the disappearance, but coincidentally she sneaked in during the ongoing investigation of the said case. Considering the safety of the students, the administration began to hire a security agency to check every individual who will enter and go out of school. 

“What we can only do for now is to protect the students,” he said. “We’ll have a meeting later regarding implementing an earlier curfew for dorm residents. It’s not just the boys that we need to keep an eye on.” 

“Right, but what about those who live nearby, like Manami-chan?” 

“You’ve mentioned about the admin hiring a security agency to keep an eye on those students. I hope that will be enough.” 

“I hope so, too. Our dads are now looking into it through their own precincts.” 

It happened that both Hayato and Mao’s fathers are detectives by profession, and they work in the same district station. Since they handle cases within East Japan, most probably they are now moving to find out more about why this is happening to these poor boys. 

But then, there is something else that bothered him, since she was with him at that time. “Say, Mao,” he then called her, “you and Jinpachi were classmates, right?” 

“Yeah,” she said. 

“I just wanna ask... Did you notice anything strange about him, or if you notice him writing something after what happened yesterday?” 

She blinked. “I was about to ask the same thing to you!” 

“Really? Well, he seemed pretty normal and focused since Inter-High is just around the corner. It shouldn’t be a problem, but ever since that happened... 

He stopped talking about his story. Nor he’s staring at his phone and type something.” 

Mao already has an idea that Jinpachi was the main reason for those four hearts to get into a more complicated situation, and his stories became the bridge to their realization. Since Hayato just asked her about what her classmate has been up to whenever he’s in the classroom, she has to share her own observations. 

“Nothing in particular,” she replied. “Except for jotting down something even without a homework and typing on his phone, he’s... pretty normal, talking with some guys in class and entertaining girls. Just the usual stuff he does before he went crazy into writing stuff.” 

So it has been confirmed that Jinpachi has stopped writing altogether, much to his disappointment because of the potential he has, especially with his ability. He understood that he became totally fed up by the outcome of his thoughts, but he thought it’s not right to blame his own stories for the mishap. So he fished out his phone... 

And dialed a number to call someone. 

“Who are you trying to call?” Mao was curious. 

“Well,” Hayato replied while waiting for the other line to answer, “someone who can surely help Jinpachi knock his mind after that incident.” 

Mao remained confused, because she has no idea who that is, but if this is related to Jinpachi, she thought of trusting him in this case. 

***** 

Two months later.  

“We might have another meeting with the landlords again,” Hayato revealed to the two second years. “Since it’s happening again, there is a possibility that they will make the curfew earlier than usual. In the meantime, you need to be more vigilant and look at each other.” 

“Yes, Sir,” they replied. As he was about to stand up to go back to his own room... 

“Shinkai-san,” Touichiro called him and stood up, “there’s a favor I would like to ask of you.” 

“What is it?”  

He immediately went to his things and tool something from his bag. He later gave it to the senior – much to his shock when he found out what he was trying to give him... 

“Th-this is,” he blinked at the lavender notebook. “Why do you have this?” 

“Toudou-san threw it away,” Touichiro admitted in pain. “I tried to return it to him but he asked me to keep this notebook until such time that he’ll need it – but I got disturbed with what he said to me... He said that he became too overwhelmed with what he wrote that he couldn’t continue anymore.” 

Just as he thought. Jinpachi didn’t just abandoned his novel – he threw it away out of frustration. And knowing him, he will not let anything be put to waste even if he couldn’t finish it in time. 

“Please give it to him,” he begged. “You have a connection to his rival as well, so I thought...” 

He took the notebook, and stared at the cover. It really isn’t likely for Jinpachi to write such a precious item, so he decided to grant Touichiro’s request.  

“I can’t promise that I’ll be able to convince him,” he gave him a heads up, “but there should be someone who should let him know that this is different between writing and doing a deduction, between reality and fiction. The problem with Jinpachi is... 

He’s mixing reality and fiction. No wonder he became overwhelmed. But I’m surprised that it didn’t affect him during the Inter-High, so why can’t he do the same with this?” 

He finally stood up. “I’ll keep an eye on this one, so don’t worry. And Kuroda--” 

“Whut?” Yukinari responded. 

Don’t do anything that will disrupt their investigation,” he warned him, as he knew his background. “Leave it to the legit ones.” 

He stood up and left to talk to the rest of the dorm leaders concerning the case. 

Yukinari just pouted at his warning. “Told you so,” Touichiro added while picking up the dishes to be washed. 

He sighed, still holding to his hunch on what happened to those missing boys, because they couldn’t disappear without any possible reason other than bringing them to the black market… 

But a black cat will always be a black cat, as he always quote in his mind, that he is starting to cook up something behind Touichiro’s back to crack up the case all by himself, and at least to help the White Wings avoid any complications that they might encounter during the investigation. 

Chapter Text

YASUTOMO ARAKITA AND THE CASE OF THE MISSING FIGURES

 

Kagaho Manor.  

It has been his every 2-week routine. Yasutomo would stop by the gloomy mansion just to meet the sick President for a private matter. As soon as he arrives, the house matron immediately understood why and she will lead him to the Master’s room. 

“I heard that your team lost,” the President started with a small chitchat. “I’m sorry about what happened.” 

“It’s nothing,” Yasutomo replied, “we’re not just totally prepared this year, and besides, it’s normal if a king will have to step down to give way to a new reign, right?” 

He glared at the President like he is trying to tell him something. 

“Anyway,” he later changed the subject, “no time for that, I’m here for this!” 

And he threw some papers at the President’s table. 

“Took me two months and some people to get that info. Toldcha I can prove it,” and he smirked. “The one who took everything away from you... 

Is not that crazy old chap. In fact, my family’s slowly becoming victims, too.” 

The ailing President can only stare at him in disbelief. It was like he has this suspicion that the Arakita Family – the people he only trusts at this time of crisis – has been stabbing him in the back for ten years. And he has been summoning no less than its eldest child to do something in his favor. 

***** 

Two months ago, same room.  

“You look well, Yasutomo-kun,” the President greeted him in his bed. “I hope my daughter is not giving you too much trouble.” 

“The engagement, itself, is already too much of a trouble,” Yasutomo was frank, as usual, something that the President only scoffed about. “So we’re still talking about that, I mean, we already agreed--” 

“Actually, I called you not because of Eriko nor the engagement. There is something I would like to show you.” 

And he reached for the folder beside his bed and gave it to the young heir to read. Meanwhile he flipped the folder and just raised his eyebrow: 

“I can’t read this crap,” he groaned. It’s full of graphs and figures, no wonder he couldn’t read those. 

“Just as I heard from your father,” he laughed, “you’re not into this kind of business – that will make this task too easy for you.” 

He glared at him when he heard that term. “What the hell do you mean by that?” 

“To help you understand your task, I’ll tell you everything... 

How the Kagaho Firm ended up in a quicksand.” 

He later paused. He already heard from Eriko that her family has been in a ten-year financial crisis to the point that her father already filed for bankruptcy to remain in the game, while he used her to remain clinging to one of the most powerful families in the country. All he knew is that a business partner of theirs tricked them into buying shares for the infamous Hokkaido Project that they have abandoned after reporting that they were short of funds because of them buying some shares which the company ended up in a huge debt... 

But that was only the surface. Yasutomo admitted that he has no idea about the deep reason behind their bankruptcy. 

“Eriko might have already told this to you,” the President guessed, “but let me give you the details. Ten years ago, we acquired a good piece of property in Hokkaido and I thought it will be a good spot to start a modern hot spring resort there. Your father and I were excited, so were our business partners. And then, there’s this closest friend of mine... 

He’s the one who found that good spot and recommended it to me.” 

It was a boring start, but the grumpy heir thought there will be more to the story that he decided to be more patient and listen. 

“I funded the project for 500 billion yen to have it started right away. It was a good start. About ten companies, including mine and the Arakita Conglomerate, signed up for the project, and with that number of signatories, we believe that the Hokkaido Project will be completed in just a year... 

Until six months after the start of the project, this business partner of mine asked me to sell additional shares to fund the project, as he has good plans for the resort to be commercially successful. Of course, as a fellow visionary, I opted to follow his advice, but I have never thought at first that buying more shares will also delay the construction. The plan that the resort should launch in a year extended for another six months. 

For me to oversee the progress, your father and I visited the construction site. We both got confused at what we saw: the construction wasn’t even halfway done that I thought they were slacking off. But this business partner of mine explained that there were major changes in the plan that caused the construction to slow down to follow it instead. When I saw the new plan, I was delighted, of course. It was way better than the original, so I thought I’ll let it pass. I even added a trillion to have it done before the deadline. 

...Until your father told me to stop the project.” 

It took Yasutomo a few seconds before he threw a question. “Lemme guess,” he said, “that old chap’s been warning you about funding the project with all yer money through buying and even selling your shares because you agree with that business partner who keeps on revising the plan?” 

“Exactly. However, that was where I fully lost control because this, for me, is a dream project. I’ll be frank, Yasutomo-kun: when it comes to projects with full potential, I’m some kind of a gambler, but with the projects I have held in the past years, I never lost. That was how the Kagaho Firm remained one of the strongest in this country. But then... 

It has been two years since the project started. It nearly reached fifty percent – but I felt like we have wasted time and money for the project alone. I thought I have to listen to your father after looking at our assets that already a quarter of what we own were gone because I kept on funding a project that has a slow start. My business partners were also worried, in fact, one of them started to back out before he could lose everything, which I understand. But then, this particular business partner of mine told me that it’s just the start. Since it is a big project, no wonder it takes time for it to finish, and he also wanted to see its grandeur once it’s completed. He suggested to wait for at least two more years for it to be done, but I insists to have it done by another year. So we settled for a year and a half... 

But within that span of time, I have lost four more partners. And the budget became more limited to have it done by a year and a half, to the point that I’m starting to sell my own shares – even my wife’s -- to accommodate the budget – despite the warning your father gave to me. 

Before the fourth year came, one of my business partners warned me also about the project. The reason why they decided to back out is because they couldn’t afford to lose more money at such an impossible project, considering that it started so slow. He then asked me to check the figures, myself. Two months after the fourth year started, it was only me, your father, and my most trusted business partner left. Even with our combined assets, the project couldn’t be completed in time, that I have to rely on my own resources just to finish it. Your father didn’t leave me, but in the last four years, he only contributed little to no funds. He might have predicted this to happen, that was why he has been warning me all this time. However, it was this business partner of mine who told me not to give up that he also sold his own shares to help me... 

Until the fifth year came.  

In the span of five years, I have lost 80% of our entire assets, and they all went to that project. When I went back to the site, it wasn’t even sixty percent done, but to make it worse, none of the workers came to finish it. No one told me that they have abandoned the project for good – due to lack of funds. Then I asked, where did the money go? I have never panicked in my life that I went to my remaining business partner for an advice instead of going to your father, and he told only me that he will stay by my side no matter what. For the meantime, I closed down several businesses to compensate for the lack of funds for the project and I even tried to hire workers to help us. They only lasted for six months, without even reaching sixty-five percent to finish the project... 

The Hokkaido Project... was shut down after a five-year construction.” 

It was a bizarre thing to figure out where that large sum of money went if that project is that big but only ended up almost 65% completed in five years. Yasutomo suspected that it was the business partner who kept on telling the President to continue the project who should be blamed for everything, and that was what Eriko told him before. But what does it have to do with him and his father? 

 “Then,” the President continued, “everything became clear when an employee of your father came to me... to tell me the truth.” 

Then the young heir glared at the President. No wondered he was summoned there, and he has this feeling that he already know where the story will end up with. 

“That employee gave me a CD file of all the assets that have been liquidated for the project. Sixty-five percent of those assets came from me, twenty-five were from my business partner, the remaining were contributed by our business partners – but then I have noticed that in the past five years, none came from your father. He didn’t contribute at all. It didn’t stop there. I have found out that all the assets I have sold to and contributed went nowhere. If it is, only three to five percent went to the project. So it was like I didn’t contribute much at all in some sense, yet I’ve lost everything to it. We’ve followed the trail where the money went and found out from the report that all of at least 78% percent of my entire assets went to an anonymous bank account. Someone has been freezing my money in an unknown vault for years for their personal gain. 

When we cracked who owned that anonymous account... you could never guess who.” 

Yasutomo knew it. From the start, he already hated the smell of how it will end. Still, he managed to guess who was behind the loss of their fortune. 

“That old creeper owns the account,” he said. 

“Do you know what that means?” the President gave him a sarcastic quizzical look, but instead of falling for it... 

“He may be a loser,” he tried to defend his father, “but he won’t resort into this kind of business treachery whatsoever. You said he’s been warning you all along – unless what he did was just a distraction. Still, both of us can’t conclude that he’s the one behind everything happened to you. That business partner--” 

“Is a spy of your father’s company to steal everything from me!” 

The President finally snapped. He glared at the grumpy heir like he’s glaring at his own friend and business partner. 

“But I don’t want to believe it,” he then settled down. “Our families have been allies for centuries. We’ve been classmates as well. I know him so well, he won’t be the type who will stab me behind unless he has a deeper reason. That’s why--” 

“That’s why,” Yasutomo interrupted him by guessing why he was there, “you called me to investigate how that happened, and that is also your main reason you’re using Eriko to marry me--?” 

“As for the second reason, the word ‘using’ is, I admit, quite insulting. Before you were even born, you and Eriko are already destined to be together. Let’s just say I wanted my daughter’s future to be certain. I don’t want her to end up begging in the streets, that is why... 

I am entrusting her to you. Only to you, Yasutomo-kun.” 

And two months of investigation have passed.  

The ailing President read the findings Yasutomo made, while the latter began to explain. “Remember the crap you told me two months ago? We never found out what happened to that employee and that business partner of yours. You said before, when you found out the truth, that business partner of your just disappeared and he didn’t bother contacting you again. And you can’t touch those assets you’ve paid for because it was put under a different account. Obviously, if you will go after that account, no one will believe in you because my old man owns it, they’ll think he ‘stole’ your money, that’ll definitely cause a scandal, you think so? And since those money were put somewhere else, you ended up in a high debt because of that project, that only two to three percent of your assets were used to pay for it and the rest was done thinking you will pay for it later. Had those money be paid off directly for the materials and the construction labor, it will be done in less than a year, you’ll end up without any debt, you’ll even get a higher commission – but that wasn’t what you envisioned. You ended up filing for bankruptcy a year later just to pay the debt and you ended up losing ninety percent of what you own. 

As for that business partner of yours who ran away after you’ve lost everything... I’m not sure if you have heard about this before, but, that guy committed suicide a year later.” 

The President’s eyes widened at what exactly happened to the business partner who tricked him. 

Then Yasutomo showed a picture of a man between his forties and fifties, in glasses and corporate attire. “That’s your guy, right?” he guessed. “Ryuichi Futaba. Celebrated architect and businessman. He joined your firm two decades ago and he shared something from you that led you to the failed Hokkaido Project. Why do you think he committed suicide after my old chap’s employee exposed what happened to your assets? 

Simple: that guy’s not working under that old man at all. Although the account he used to transfer your money was my old man’s, he and I had a talk and he told me that the account’s been long closed even before you’re starting to lose assets. How this Futaba got access to the old account and how he opened it is something only he can answer – if he and that employee are still alive.” 

When he mentioned about the employee who gave the exposé who was supposed to be alive, that intrigued the old President. “What do you mean by that?” he asked. 

“You’re wondering what happened to the employee? Well, a month after Futaba committed suicide, that employee also, quote-unquote, followed. Why did I put a quote-unquote there? Because I don’t think it’s suicide. It’s foul play.” 

His face crumpled. He didn’t expect his future son-in-law to do an intense research about their lost assets and everything behind it. And to think that he has no idea that both Ryuichi Futaba and that employee committed suicide a month apart – with the employee’s case remained in question, the President thought something must have gone wrong, like there was something more hidden that doesn’t want to reveal itself until certain conditions are met or a puzzle is solved. 

“If the employee said to have,” the President asked, “committed suicide, as you have reported, then why did that happened after Futaba committed the same thing?” 

“I toldcha,” Yasutomo replied, “it’s foul play. Found that out from the old man, himself. He’s been investigating this crap, too – way ahead of me, actually. Though it took him years to figure everything out except for the suicide thing. He said that when that employee’s body was examined for autopsy, they’ve noticed several bruises and burns in his body. Would you count that as suicide if you’ll hurt yourself?” 

“Are you saying,” he kept on reviewing the reports, “that employee was tortured and killed and whoever was behind it made it look like he killed himself?” 

“Why do you think he’ll commit suicide after helping you out? And do you think the old chap knows about this? He’s been investigating your asset issues just before that employee was killed, and as far as I have heard, he was given protection by the conglomerate. But based on what happened to him, it might be an inside job – meaning some lowlife under the old man’s wing has been working with the enemy for quite sometime. As for that business partner of yours... 

He killed himself not just because he also lost everything like you did, but because of fear that his act has been discovered by our employee, no less. Why would he do that? It’s something that he decided to bring along in his grave. But as far as what he did, he did it for personal gain... 

In fact, I’ve learned that my old man’s been investigating this when he told me that we, too, are losing money because of the current project he’s funding to.” 

Yasutomo just revealed that the conglomerate is also a victim to this scheme – even though this Ryuichi Futaba is already dead, but he firmly believe that someone is continuing his work for his sake, something that he decided to keep it to himself for now. 

“Two years ago,” he continued, “they’ve acquired a property somewhere in Nagasaki and they’re trying to develop it into an additional fishing port so the fish will remain cheap without losing their quality for restaurant owners living there. But the old man noticed that the funds he gave for that development only used merely three percent and the rest went POOF! Gone. They almost lost 100 billion yen on the first year, so the old man decided to pause the project for now until they find out where the money went. I thought of stealing the report with some help so I could investigate on my own because it’s the same trick Futaba used to make you fall into debt. It’s like his ghost plotted a revenge against that chap but it turned out that there are really some people who are still working for the dead. Their mission? Rob the rich, keep the money to themselves, using other companies to look like they’re biting off each other’s asses without realizing that they’ve been played by someone.” 

The President was just quietly listening to the grumpy heir’s amazing investigations. As expected from the son and heir of the conglomerate CEO, even though businesses such as this are not his interests. Still, there are some parts of his reports that made him want to ask how that happened and where he managed to get resources from to appear convincing. But judging at how he delivered the reports, he seems telling the truth after all... 

And Yasutomo isn’t halfway done. 

“Thought of stepping into the office for a one-day-only gig a few days from now,” he suddenly stated his plan. “Already got permission from the old chap. Wanna see it?” 

“What’s your plan?” the President seemed skeptical but curious at the same time. 

“The plan?” he smirked. “I just wanna introduce to you the monster behind the most recent money heist. And he’s related to someone who ruined everything you’ve worked hard for.” 

He seemed pretty confident with what he was doing and even planning to do, that the President got convinced to get better to join that emergency meeting. He knows that his future son-in-love has something under his sleeve, something worth of defending his family and company – which could finally answer the ten-year mystery of their drained assets, or so he hoped. 

***** 

Yasutomo felt fulfilled at least to let the ailing President know about his investigations and his plan to expose whoever was responsible for the postponed fishing port project to the business public. But is he ready for someone he knew who has just arrived? 

“Sup?” he greeted Eriko, who got home a little earlier.  

“You’ve visited Father again, I presume,” she guessed. 

“Yeah,” and he headed to where his bicycle is. “I’m done here for now--” 

“Wait, Yasu.” 

He paused. It has been at least two months since they stopped seeing and talking each other in the meantime while at school because at what happened in the Pep Rally. He even has no idea that she visited him during the final day of the Inter-High when he was taken unconscious in the infirmary. He has no idea that she has been trying to reach him, even for a short time, maybe to test the waters if she is already stable enough to resume her ‘duty’ with him as his fiancée. 

But it was more than that, for Eriko has been observant in the past two months, especially what happened at that time when he failed to catch whoever pulled Sangaku from the gym door for reasons that can be related to the recent news. 

“I still remember the last thing you’ve said to me as to why you didn’t stop that girl,” she said. “The phone calls and texts you’re making and receiving – you've mentioned that they’re related to my family issue. Tell me then, what are you doing? And why can’t you tell me? I may not have the right to ask you these questions, but as your fiancée, even if we’re only doing this as some kind of formality, I believe I still have the right to know your plans. I’m starting to ask questions to Father lately but he refuses to answer and he just told me to trust you – so I am asking you now.” 

It has been two months since that happened, and it was only now that the White Princess has some time and guts to ask him about his plans, which he considered a good thing so there won’t be any delays to his own investigation.  

“So,” instead of answering her questions, “are you okay right now?” 

She raised her eyebrow. 

“Tsukigawa kept on telling me that you’re not been in yer usual self since that happened,” he admitted. “No wonder you don’t wanna talk to me or anything – then right now you have guts to ask me what I’m doin’ here. Before I answer you, ask yourself first... 

Are you okay to be talked to right now?” 

It was kind of considerate for Yasutomo to think about her mental and emotional stability first before letting her know what he was up to. Originally, he was planning to let her know, but the addition of the kidnapping mystery made him skeptical of including her in his plan to reveal and oust whoever was behind the most recent money heist. 

“If this is regarding my family and our future,” Eriko replied, “yes. As the sole heir, I have the right to know. I’m more than your fiancée, Yasutomo, I have to get involved with my father’s business as well.” 

Seeing that Eriko is back to her usual self by eighty percent, he decided to consider it. “Fine,” he huffed. “First off, the first visit was yer old man’s idea.” 

She blinked. “He... personally invited you?” 

“Yep. Business reasons – although it’s a topic that I really hate, to be honest. But he gave me a challenge that I can’t refuse: to investigate what happened to your assets and how you ended up bankrupt. Guess what... 

I now have a full report on how you’ve lost your fortune… and who that bastard is who’s responsible.” 

She stood up when he finally revealed his secret mission out of disbelief. So this is what he and her father talked about the last time and what those mysterious phone calls, texts and visits are for: they have been trying to trace where their fortune went and where the culprit was currently hiding. She didn’t expect her fiancé to go to that extent of helping her bring her life back, in fact, she never did. And to think that was the main reason why he was called by her own father to investigate it is something quite personal already between two men. 

“But,” he grinned, “can’t tell you that yet without your help.” 

“Wh-what do you mean?” 

“Old man said they’ll be having an emergency meeting two days from now. Got permission to join. And I need your help in designing and running a slideshow presentation because I suck at it.” 

She blinked. It was like an indirect invitation to the emergency meeting. Although her father has strictly forbade her to be part of the business circle until she graduates from a university, Yasutomo wants her to join him expose someone and to let her taste the toxic corporate world, in which he, too, decided to take a bite for the sake of his fiancée and her family.