She’d always been running.
Never slowing, never stopping, as if the world was falling apart behind her and she had to escape before it was too late. She pushed on forward as she ignored everyone around her, blocking out her surroundings with the thick leather padding of her headphones. Every moment seemed like a race, fighting against time, against harsh reality, perhaps even god.
It was as if a voice kept calling out to her, urging her to keep looking ahead. It counted down every second of her life that mockingly ticked away, and even as she grew tired, grew weary, it never gave her any opportunity to let loose.
“You still want to live, right?”
The words echoed throughout her mind as she picked up her speed again, running, running, running… Over time, she ran from this side of the playground to that, from one end of the school campus to the other. She joined track in high school, and she soon became a varsity athlete. Facing the frequent praise she got from her teammates, how could she tell them the truth? That she took “running away from your problems” very literally?
It wasn’t a good habit; she knew it, and so did the voice in her head. “I’m sorry,” it always said to her when things got rough. But she had become so accustomed to running, running away, that there wasn’t a thing she could do about it. Her world became a blur, and eventually, she lost track of what she was chasing after.
But she kept running.
“Don’t fucking let her run away!”
A chorus of angry yells and the clashing of weapons filled the air as Actor’s blood ran cold. Without any second thoughts, she turned around immediately and bolted out of the parking lot. The group of six guys followed her, tossing insults and curses left and right. She didn’t dare to look behind her at how quickly they caught up to her, because those guys carried wooden swords and baseball bats with sharp nails sticking out of them, for fuck’s sake, and she did not want to get hit in the face with that.
Fuck, fuck, FUCK, she thought to herself as she willed her legs to carry her forward further, quicker. She had to get out of here before she got seriously hurt; for god’s sake, when she took up this job, she definitely underestimated how dangerous it would be.
Actor was always pretty good at running, but the guys knew the area a little better than she did, and soon enough she was backed into a corner, her red eyes wide with terror as they stared her down menacingly.
“You think you can run away?” said one of them, sneering. “Today’s the day you pay for everything you’ve done, Headphone Actor.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” said Actor, covering up her trembling with a tone laced with faux confidence. “You must have the wrong person.”
The group laughed. “You’re funny. Can’t even remember the faces of your clients? What a failed underground information broker you are.”
“I prefer the title ‘informant.’”
“I don’t give a shit about your title! You sold us false information two weeks ago on the Blindfold Gang! They weren’t at the plaza yesterday afternoon. We waited for hours for our surprise attack, but they weren’t even there!”
Actor raised an eyebrow. “How am I supposed to know if they suddenly changed their plans? They were accurate at the time of our deal. That’s not false information.”
“Shut up! You better brace yourself, ‘cause these nails are gonna hurt when your pretty face takes a hit.”
Actor squeezed her eyes shut as she mentally prepared herself for the pain. She’d been hit in the face with something of the sort once before, and it wasn’t a fun time. In the five months she had started her business, she’d been chased down twenty times, caught ten times, and injured six times. This would be the seventh time she’d go knocking on the gang’s door, asking for some first aid; she was surprised that her face hasn’t scarred yet.
The sharp sensation of pain that she anticipated, however, didn’t come; instead, she heard a loud shriek and the sound of bones cracking before her. She opened her eyes and saw that the guy who held the dangerous-looking bat was now sprawled on the floor, his nose bashed in quite uglily. Before she could process what had happened, the other guys suffered the same fate, and the sight of blood and flesh from their terrible wounds made her feel nauseous.
Her attackers fled the scene immediately, shrieking as they ran as fast as their injured bodies allowed them to. Actor glanced up nervously, knowing that there was only one person in the entire city who could have defeated a group of delinquents this quickly.
“You got yourself into another mess? Save me the trouble of saving you every time and stay away from these people, would you?”
“I didn’t ask,” mumbled Actor, averting her gaze.
“Wow, great attitude. Is this what you have to say to someone who saved you from bruising your face? Again?”
“Thanks,” said Actor grudgingly. “Kuroha.”
The black-haired teen smirked at her response. To this day, Actor didn’t know how she started talking to the most feared delinquent in the city. She had to admit, Kuroha Kokonose was pretty terrifying at first glance; with his piercing gold eyes and sinister aura, he was more like a member of the mafia than an average high schooler. He was strong, stronger than anyone she had ever met before; his strength was unparalleled, and he could seriously injure someone with a single punch.
The two of them met a few months ago, at the beginning of her career. At first, she didn’t see anything wrong with her client’s request; she happily provided the information that she was asked to get and moved on to her next clients. But what she didn’t expect was getting threatened by Kuroha himself, who showed up at her apartment and told her to shut up about him towards her clients or else . She expected to never see him ever again and for sure planned to stay as far away from him as possible. But as fate toyed with them, they continued to get tangled up in each other’s matters, and soon, both of them gave in and managed to tolerate each other’s presences.
Actor wasn’t quite sure about what she thought of him. On one hand, she knew very well how terrible his reputation was and how much her friends hated him, and he clearly wasn’t exactly a very good influence, either. But in some twisted way, she felt at ease when interacting with him, as if she could finally stop and catch her breath.
“That’s more like it,” he said. “Guess you can keep that gas mask on your pretty face, now that they’re gone. So, what’d you do this time?”
“Nothing,” said Actor, sighing. “They wanted information on the Blindfold Gang. Just like everyone else. I gave them the info, but the gang changed their plans last minute, so my clients decided to take it out on me instead.”
“So the usual,” said Kuroha lazily. “I love humans. They really are the most interesting creatures you can find.”
“That’s cringey as hell,” said Actor, rolling her eyes. “How did you know I was here? Why did you come?”
“If I said it was a coincidence, would you believe me?”
“I was just trying to do something nice for my friend,” said Kuroha, his usual smirk plastered across his face.
“We’re not friends, ” said Actor. The word left a bitter taste on her tongue, and she didn’t want to think too much into what exactly she and Kuroha were.
“Wow, that hurt more than expected,” said Kuroha. He stepped closer toward her, causing Actor to step back until she was pressed against the wall. She felt her face heat up as he rested his palm against the wall next to her ear, their faces centimeters apart. “Actor Enomoto, you really have no mercy towards me. With that much attitude, how come you only sit on the sidelines as an informant?”
Ever since the Blindfold Gang formed a few months ago, Actor also started her own business as an underground information broker, although she preferred the title “informant.” Under the alias Headphone Actor, she gathered information on anything her clients asked for, but she worked mainly for students, especially the middle and high school delinquents that roamed the city. To conceal her identity, she kept a fake gas mask that covered half of her face at all times.
It was simple business for her, and she earned some good money from it, so she was more than content with her job. It also gave her an opportunity to join her friends without having to participate in the gang’s activities. Fighting and aggressiveness was not for her; when it came down to a tough situation, she always preferred running.
“Why are you hurt? You’re only trying to get close to me because you like my sister,” Actor retorted. Seeing the dumbfounded expression on Kuroha’s face, an expression so extremely rare for him to show, Actor couldn’t help but giggle inwardly. Although her twin sister Ene hated Kuroha with a passion, Actor could tell that the latter was clearly attracted to the former. She felt a little sorry for Kuroha, but teasing the mighty Kuroha Kokonose of AZAMI was way too much fun.
“I’ve been telling you over and over again,” said Kuroha, sighing. “You’re misunderstanding. I don’t like your sister. She’s simply an interesting individual to observe.”
“Yeah, I know,” said Actor, biting back a laugh. “You’re interested in her. Very much so.”
“Just like how you’re interested in my brother?”
His words caught her completely off guard, and she choked on her own spit. She stared at him, speechless, as her mind tried to process his words. He did not just say that. There was absolutely no way he figured it out. She herself already kept running away from the fact; how could he have known?
Seeing her expression, Kuroha smirked. “That’s right. I know that I’m not the only one who’s in love with the same person as their twin. You’re right; both Konoha and I like Ene. But who are you to say anything about that? You like Konoha. Just like Ene does.”
“Oh, Haruka Kokonose, how dreamy . Just the perfect man to exist. He’s nice, he gets good grades, he’s friendly to everyone. He’s—”
“You can stop now!” Actor was aware that her cheeks were probably redder than ever by now. She could feel the heat rise within her, and oh, how she wanted to run away from the current situation. It was already bad enough being in love with the same person as her sister and knowing that the two of them were meant to be, but having his brother find out about this secret of hers, too? It was more than she could handle.
“He’s liked by everyone, and the person he loves the most also loves him back. And he’s good-looking.”
Actor raised an eyebrow. “Did you really just compliment yourself in the process of complimenting Konoha?”
Kuroha gave her a look. “Shut up, I can do whatever I want. Let’s just never speak of this again; it’s better for the both of us this way, anyways. Otherwise, it’ll end in mutually assured destruction.”
“Wow, using big words, huh, Kokonose-kun?”
“You’re annoying, Enomoto,” said Kuroha, rolling his eyes. “It’s late. I’ll take you home.”
Actor didn’t protest; she had planned to jog home, but it was later than usual and the city wasn’t the safest place for someone like her. She followed Kuroha to his Harley and as she wrapped her arms around his waist on the way back, she closed her eyes as she felt the refreshing breeze on her skin.
She was thankful that the motorcycle helmet hid her face from him; it was moments like these that she didn’t know how she should think of Kuroha. Were they friends? Or were they enemies? She didn’t know. Closing her eyes, she shook away her worries and focused on the noise of the city nightlife around her. Again, she would be running away from her problems.
Because that’s what she’s best at, isn’t it?
Takane Enomoto. Haruka Kokonose. The two that now went by the names of Ene and Konoha were the two most important people in Actor’s life. One of them was her twin sister, while the other was her first love. Admittedly, it was a pretty gross situation to be in, and Actor never thought that something out of a soap opera would happen to her.
Takane met him first. The two of them were in the same classes since freshman year, and Actor was surprised at how much the stubborn, headstrong Takane opened up to him, perhaps because of his constant pestering. But it was clear that Takane enjoyed his company and vice versa. Actor transferred to their high school in their junior year, finally reuniting with her sister. Despite being extremely similar to her sister, she would have never expected to fall in love with the same person as her.
Anyone could tell that the two had feelings for each other, but because of Takane’s stubbornness and Haruka’s denseness, the two were caught under the impression that they were dealing with unrequited love. It frustrated Actor immensely, but she decided that the couple needed to handle things their own way and that she was nobody to butt in. After they became Ene and Konoha respectively, Actor had given up on her feelings already.
Almost, that is. She still couldn’t help but feel her heartbeat quicken whenever she was around Konoha, so she avoided him as much as possible. But sometimes, it wasn’t so easy. Konoha, that kind soul, almost thought she hated him because of it, so she had to find a nice balance between hurting herself and hurting everyone else.
“Oh, Actor! Long time no see!”
She looked up at the sound of that energetic voice. It was always amusing to her how visibly different Kuroha and Konoha were, despite being twins. Upon becoming Konoha, Haruka had dyed his hair a snowy white. His expression was warm and kind, while Kuroha… He was very much the opposite, to say the least. She didn’t see the gang around school too often, as she usually stayed in her classes and hung around her other friends and occasionally Kuroha during lunch and break. But she would make sure to catch up with Ene or the others once in a while, not just for her job.
“Hey,” said Actor. “Yeah, how’s it going?”
“It’s great!” said Konoha happily. “I would tell you about what we’ve been doing, but you probably already know that. How’s your job going?”
“It’s going,” said Actor, sighing. “Had a bit of a tough time because of your change in plans, though. Got surrounded by some clients and would’ve needed some first aid again if it weren’t for Kuroha.”
“I’m glad you’re getting along with Kuroha well.”
Actor looked at him in surprise. That wasn’t the usual reaction anyone gave her when she talked about Kuroha, but then again, he was his brother, so it made a little more sense. “Well, we’re not really friends. I don’t know how we started talking to each other.”
“Still. I hope you guys are doing well, though. Kuroha may seem a little… scary, but he’s a really good person and I’m sure he appreciates you a lot, so—”
“Don’t talk about me behind my back, you idiots.”
Actor didn’t know when Kuroha had walked up behind her and started listening in on their conversation. He lazily leaned against the windows in the hallway and stared down at her from his incredible height.
“Kuro. Long time no see,” said Konoha, ignoring his comment and smiling at him instead.
Kuroha raised an eyebrow at his childhood nickname. “That’s how it should be. You do realize that we’re part of rival gangs, right?”
“Still. I haven’t seen you in a while and I missed you!”
Kuroha rolled his eyes and sighed. “You never learn, do you? Always so naive and carefree. How did someone like you become a delinquent?”
Konoha laughed. “It’s fun,” he said simply. “I gotta go. The gang’s ordering take out for lunch today. See you both around!”
As soon as Konoha left, Actor turned to Kuroha and gave him a look. “Why can’t you just be nicer to him? He’s your brother. How come you guys are on such bad terms?”
“Why do you care? Oh, right. Anything for dearest Haruka.”
“That’s not what I’m saying,” said Actor, well aware that her cheeks were growing redder by the second.
“And what about you? Do you plan to run away from him forever?”
His words pierced through her heart as sharply as a knife would, and as she stared into his golden eyes, she felt as if he saw through her entirety. For a second, she thought she stopped breathing; no words came to her lips, and her throat lost all abilities to make any sound.
“Don’t pretend like you don’t know what I’m talking about. You think I haven’t noticed that little habit of yours?”
“I’m not running away,” said Actor finally, biting her lip as she did.
“See? You’re doing it again,” said Kuroha. “You run away from everything you encounter, all your problems and worries. It’s disgusting to watch.”
Actor’s eyes narrowed into a glare as she listened to his words. “What do you know?” she spat at him. “Fuck off.”
Kuroha stared at her for a few seconds before scoffing. Without another word, he walked away, leaving Actor alone to regret her actions, just as usual.
She was just about to finish up her time in her office and call it a day when a group of scruffy-looking grown-ups marched up to her and slapped a handful of hundred-dollar bills onto her desk.
“A thousand dollars for any useful information on AZAMI’s Kuroha Kokonose,” said the man.
Actor blinked slowly as she tried to understand what had just happened. She furrowed her brows and stared at the money in front of her, then at the group of angry men. “I’m sorry,” she finally said. “I can’t give you information on him.”
“Two thousand, then.”
She raised an eyebrow at how money seemed to not be an issue to these men. Although the number was tempting, she made a promise to Kuroha before, and she wasn’t going to be that bitch that goes back on her word just because she was mad at him. “I’m sorry, but he himself has made the request that I do not share any of his information. I’m afraid I can’t help you.”
The man scoffed. “Who cares about what he thinks? He’s harmful to society. The world would be much better without him, and he’s out here thinking that his opinion matters in the slightest? He’s just a parasite.”
Actor felt her blood boil at the man’s words. Kuroha wasn’t necessarily the nicest person, but he didn’t deserve hate like this . She knew the real him, and she knew that all the times he helped her and was nice to her wasn’t just an act. Deep down, he was a good person; he and her simply never wanted to admit it.
“That’s not very nice,” said Actor through gritted teeth. She wanted to lash out at the men in front of her, but considering that it was technically business hours and the fact that they would pound her silly, she restrained any of her mean words.
“What, you care about that monster?” The man laughed. “Have you lost your mind? Or have you been manipulated or threatened?”
“I’m simply speaking my mind.”
“Oh, trust me, you’ll think differently when you see the real him.”
“And pardon me, do you know the real him?”
The man seemed to be at a loss of words as he stared at her. “Five thousand,” he said finally. “Final offer.”
Actor bit her lip. “I’m sorry.”
The man shrugged. “Your loss,” he said. As the group turned around and walked away, the man paused for a second. “Are you really sure you’re right about who you should trust? Think about it.”
As the door slammed behind them, Actor sank back into her chair and stared at the ceiling. Her office was where she first met Kuroha Kokonose. She remembered their first encounter clearer than ever; she opened the door, expecting to see the delivery man with her takeout, only to be towered over by a scary-looking teenager, who backed her into a corner and against a wall immediately.
She hated to admit it, but one of the first things she noticed was that he was rather good-looking. But those thoughts were immediately brushed away by complete fear, as his expression was murderous. “Quit being nosy, Headphone Actor,” he had said in a menacing tone. “Unless you want your pretty face to scar.”
But his threat only fed the fire of curiosity that was ignited within her, and although she did as she was told and never gave out his information to anyone else, she did her share of digging into the rumors surrounding AZAMI and Kuroha Kokonose. The gang was headed by a woman in her twenties, a high school graduate who never attended college. There were twelve members, their most notable member being Kuroha. He was the strongest of them all, so he got into fights frequently. She could’ve gone deeper into his past, but she rested the task aside, assuming she’ll have nothing to do with him in the future.
Oh, how wrong she was. As they got closer, she considered researching him, but something within her told her that researching a ‘friend’ was probably wrong on multiple levels. She could have also asked Konoha about him, but the idea of asking her crush-that-shouldn’t-be-her-crush about his brother just seemed weird. Therefore despite knowing him for a while now, she really didn’t know much about him, about his life, about his past.
She knew how much her sister hated him. She knew the rumors and the discrimination that circled around him, but she couldn’t bring herself to hate him. She wanted to trust him, but with everyone else around her telling her she shouldn’t, how could she ignore it all and simply follow her heart?
She shook her head. Now was not the time to think about this. She let her hair out of her trademark Headphone Actor pigtails and tied it back into a ponytail. Grabbing her jacket, she left the office and jogged home.
Actor was only a few blocks away from her apartment before being surrounded by yet another group of dangerous-looking people. She immediately regretted her decision to go for a jog after dinner for the first time in a while that night. After a refreshing 5k, she was just about to head back when she got cornered.
This time, she didn’t recognize these delinquents. They seemed a little older than high school students, perhaps college sophomores or juniors. They weren’t her clients, and they seemed much more dangerous. There were only four of them, but each of them stared her down so intensely that she felt a cold shiver run down her spine.
“Let’s chat, shall we?” Their leader smiled at her and gestured to their car that was parked a few feet away. Actor’s heart thumped in her chest as she thought about the possibilities of what she could do. Running was an option, the option she knew best and usually took, but she knew they would be able to catch her. Maybe Kuroha was right; running wasn’t always the best choice.
So she did as they said. Nobody said a thing during the car ride, and Actor nervously looked at the surroundings that flashed by outside to get an idea of where she was. They took her to an abandoned factory shed and stood around her, making sure she wouldn’t be able to escape. Actor complied, as she saw the glint of a knife in the leader’s pocket.
“What do you guys want?” she asked finally.
“Don’t look so scared,” said the leader, laughing. “We’re just a little… curious about your relationship with AZAMI’s Kuroha. You two seem very… friendly.”
“We’re… associates.” Actor took a few seconds to look for the right word to describe her relationship with Kuroha. They just had a small argument the last time they saw each other, after all, so she wasn’t really feeling like calling him her friend.
“Well.” He circled around Actor, observing her from head to toe. “A word of advice. Don’t get involved with his matters. People like him shouldn’t exist.”
Actor glared at the man in front of her. Who was he to talk about Kuroha like that? To say that he shouldn’t even exist? Words like those plagued her for her entire life, and she knew too well about how it felt to be hated and discriminated against. She did her best to live up to society’s expectations, but no luck. It simply wasn’t enough. She was sure that Kuroha felt the same, and she knew that he deserved to live, happily.
“Oh, don’t look at me like that,” he said, smiling at her. “Do you really trust him over me? Don’t pretend like you don’t know what I’m talking about. You’ve gotten into a few messes because of your relationship with him, haven’t you? Doesn’t it disrupt the ordinary life you wish to live? Isn’t he creating problems for you? If even that doesn’t convince you, once you hear about his past, you, too, will leave him. Like you should.”
“What are you trying to say?”
“I’m here to offer you something. A proposal,” said the leader. He paced around her excitedly, a look of insanity clearly showing on his face. “Join us, and you’ll never have to live in fear of Kuroha ever again. We’ll take him down, make sure he’ll never show himself to the public ever again. Deep down, it’s what you want, too, isn’t it?”
Did she want it? Did she want Kuroha to disappear from her life, from the public, from the entire world? Was Kuroha a threat to the ordinary life she wished to live? Did he bring about issues for her, getting her caught in dangerous matters that she didn’t want to handle? Did she hate him, just like everyone else did?
She always knew the answer deep down, but she kept running away from it.
“What do you know?” she whispered.
“What was that?”
Biting her lip in anger, she glared at him. “What do you know about him? What do you know about me ? Don’t pretend like you know everything about everyone,” she said. Letting out a cold laugh, she looked away. “You disgust me.”
“What, you’re planning to stay with someone like him ?”
Actor turned back to the leader, staring at him with an unwavering gaze. It was time to give up that habit of hers, and she was ready to open her eyes to the truth. “He told me not to run away. That’s why I’m going to stand and fight. I won’t leave him, because I believe in him.”
“Now that’s what I’m talking about.”
The familiar voice was cool, laidback, with a tinge of pride. Kuroha lazily walked into the room, hands in pockets with a grin on his face. The other three members looked at each other, dumbfounded, but the leader let out a laugh as Kuroha approached them.
“So you came,” said the leader, the smile on his face poisoned by pure hatred.
“Well, clearly, judging by the fact that I’m standing here talking to you,” said Kuroha. He seemed unfazed by the situation and the group before him. “What kind of dirty tricks are you going to play this time?”
As soon as Kuroha finished his sentence, the leader whipped out the blade that had been sitting in his pocket. With one hand, he grabbed Actor hostage, and with the other, he held the knife centimeters away from her neck. “Try taking another step forward, and I’ll slit your little friend’s neck.”
Kuroha, however, didn’t seem surprised in the slightest. “I guess we’ll talk from there, then.” He instead turned to look at Actor, who was doing her best to stop herself from trembling or sinking to the floor, at this point. “Am I your friend?”
“Don’t make me say it out loud,” said Actor, biting her lip as she tore her eyes away from the knife. “You already know the answer.”
“Do you trust me?”
Kuroha stared into Actor’s eyes, and as she stared back, she could see something else within his gaze, a hidden message of apology that only she would understand. For the first time, it was as if she saw him without his guard up, as if he was revealing his true emotions, all things Kuroha Kokonose was known for not doing.
A few seconds later, he closed his eyes and let out a breath he had been holding in. His expression immediately distorted into one of madness as his laughter resounded throughout the room. “Ridiculous!” he yelled. “You should’ve known better, idiot. Why would you trust someone like me? Are you asking for trouble, or are you just dumb?”
So that was his plan. Suddenly, his previous questions all made sense. He wanted her to believe him, to trust him, so that his hurtful words wouldn’t be taken seriously. If that’s what he was getting at, then she was more than happy to play along. Feigning surprise and hurt, she bit her lip and brought her voice down to a whisper: “You… How could you say something like that?”
“That’s right,” said the leader, sneering. “See, he’s showing his true colors to you now. Do you understand now? You’ve been deceived by him. Now, just join us and—”
“How interesting. Tell me more, would you?”
A cool, unfamiliar feminine voice followed the cocking of a gun, and Actor could feel the arm around her neck falter. She looked at Kuroha, who was now smiling confidently and staring mockingly at the leader who held her hostage.
“You’re… from AZAMI…”
“I was getting tired of waiting,” said Kuroha as he walked towards them. He smirked at his companion. “Might want to fix your procrastination habits, Yaki.”
“You’re so funny, Saeru.” The sarcasm was evident in her voice. Without waiting for a response from Kuroha, she turned to address the delinquents instead. “Try taking another step forward, and I’ll blow out your little friend’s brains. Sound familiar?”
“When did you—”
“Irrelevant. Now, step away from the girl and let her go.”
Grudgingly, the leader let go of Actor, whose legs immediately gave way as she sank to the ground. She didn’t know how much she was shaking until she tried to stand up but continuously failed. Kuroha immediately ran over to her and lent her a hand.
“Are you okay?” He asked softly as he helped her up.
Actor nodded in response, allowing him to put his arm around her to keep her steady.
“Boss, you told us that we would only have to deal with one ordinary girl and maybe another delinquent!” said one of the delinquents, panicking as the others nodded in agreement. “You didn’t say two AZAMI members ! And one of them’s Kuroha !”
“Shut up!” yelled the leader. He glared at his subordinates. “It’s your fault that she sneaked up on us! Say another word, and I’ll pull out your tongues.”
“I don’t think you have the time or opportunity for that,” said Yaki, laughing. “If you guys leave, you won’t suffer the same fate as he will.”
The three delinquents nodded eagerly as they fled the scene, leaving their leader cursing after them. Yaki dropped the gun that she held to the leader’s head, and the leader dropped to his knees, trembling just as Actor was.
“Now,” said Yaki, smiling. “How should we punish him?”
Kuroha turned to Actor. “What do you think?”
The leader looked up immediately. “Please. Have mercy. I’ll do anything!” He turned to look at Actor, and the desperateness in his eyes made her sick. “You’re a nice girl, aren’t you? Beautiful. Kind. Caring. Please…”
Actor ignored his words and instead turned to Kuroha. “Make sure that he can never bother us ever again.”
Kuroha smirked. “Roger that.”
Cracking his knuckles, he approached the leader with Yaki, who flipped her brown hair over her shoulder, the same devilish smile on her face. Normally, Actor would look away from their actions that followed, but this time, she didn’t run away. She stared straight into the eyes of the leader as he faced the wrath of AZAMI, and she only looked away when the job was finished.
Once they were finished, Kuroha walked back towards her immediately. He stared at her for a moment, his gaze filled with a mixture of complex emotions she couldn’t identify. He put a hand on her head and smoothed out her black hair that had become tangled and messy during the kidnapping.
“What’s wrong?” she asked, a little nervous and embarrassed.
He only shook his head. “Nothing,” he said. “I’m glad you picked up the hint.”
“Of course I did,” said Actor, looking away as her cheeks reddened. “It was obvious.”
He smirked. “To you, and to you only.”
A few feet away, Yaki let out a hum of amusement, prompting the two to look at her. “Interesting,” she said, raising her eyebrow and smiling.
Kuroha sighed. “Thanks, Yaki. I owe you one.”
“I know you do,” said Yaki calmly. “My, my, the great Kuroha Kokonose, owing someone a favor? This is unheard of! I better use this to my advantage.”
“Of course you would,” said Kuroha, rolling his eyes. “Come on, Actor. Let’s go.”
Sensing Actor’s concerned gaze directed towards her, Yaki laughed. “Have fun! I’ll head back soon, too. Don’t worry.”
Actor waved goodbye hastily as Kuroha pulled her away towards the exit. His Harley was parked right outside, and he tossed her a spare helmet.
“Let’s take a detour before I take you home,” he said. “There’s something I want to show you.”
Actor nodded, and as the city lights flashed by on their way back, she took a deep breath. Something about life was different; it was refreshing, a little easier for her to breathe. She wasn’t sure if it was just an illusion, but she felt more at ease than she ever had. Leaning her face against his back, she admired the city nightlife that flashed by in her surroundings. They approached a building she didn’t recognize, but she didn’t protest as Kuroha led the way inside. They took the elevator to the top floor and walked up another flight of stairs that led to the rooftop.
The scenery that met her eyes was breathtaking. In the distance, she saw all the multicolored lights of the city, each one shining with a vibrance that was unparalleled. The stars that were usually hidden by the smog also revealed themselves, illuminating the night sky with their shine. At this height, she could see the city she grew to love beneath her, stretching on for miles, and in that moment, nothing was more magical than this.
“It’s pretty, isn’t it?” Kuroha’s voice brought her back to reality. He appeared next to her with two bottles of Ramune and handed one to her as he sat down near the edge. “I found this place in middle school. It’s my secret base of some sort; you’re the first person to know about this place.”
“It’s great,” said Actor, taking a sip of the refreshing beverage as she admired the landscape in front of her. “Never knew that the city was so beautiful until now.”
Kuroha stared at her for a second before putting down his Ramune. “How come you trust me? I know there’s been many people fanning the fires around you recently.”
“I don’t know,” Actor admitted. “I definitely didn’t want anything to do with you at first, since I’ve heard many of the rumors about you. But somehow we started getting closer, and I was really torn about what I wanted to do, so I ran away from it, like always. But I knew deep down that being with you made me feel like… well, myself. Even though it feels like I don’t know anything about you at times, I wanted to trust the real Kuroha I knew, the one nobody else knew.”
“Then ask away,” said Kuroha. “What do you want to know?”
Actor felt her face heat up at his intent gaze. “Well… What do you like about Ene?”
Kuroha shrugged. “She’s pretty.”
“I like her straightforwardness. She doesn’t hold back her harsh words and speaks her mind loud and proud. For the most part.” He took a sip of his drink before continuing. “I first knew her as my brother’s best friend. Didn’t think much about her. But when I saw how she treated me with harshness and was a different person in front of my brother… It made me want to win her over.”
“I can see that,” said Actor, thinking about all the times she had seen her sister with Konoha.
“I actually confessed to her before.”
“You what ?”
“It was last year, I think,” said Kuroha with a wistful smile on his face. “She thought it was a joke. Or some sort of prank. Almost punched me in the face for it.”
“Don’t be,” said Kuroha. “It’s not a problem anymore. But that was probably why I hated seeing you run away from all your problems. I’m more of a ‘attack your problems head on’ type of person, you know, so it was frustrating to watch. If you don’t try, you’ll never know if you’ll succeed or not. For anything.”
“You’re right,” said Actor, sighing. “I did well in abandoning that habit today though, didn’t I?”
“Definitely made me proud there,” said Kuroha, laughing. “But I was half serious about what I said. Why would you trust someone like me? You know the rumors and the trouble that follow me. I don’t want to get you involved. So you don’t get hurt.”
“I create enough trouble for you anyways. You’ve helped me a lot with my job. Besides, we’re supposed to get involved in each other’s matters. Because we’re friends.”
Kuroha looked surprised. “Friends, huh?” he murmured. “Never got that before.”
“What do you mean? You do have friends.”
“The closest people were probably the other AZAMI members. We’re not really friends. Not every group functions like the Blindfold Gang.”
“What about the girl that came with you? Yaki?”
“Oh, her?” Kuroha shook his half-empty bottle of Ramune before continuing. “She’s the closest I have to a friend from the gang, I guess. We talk occasionally, but not too much. And her real name’s Ayane. We go by codenames of some sort created by our leader.”
“So yours is… Saeru?” Actor asked, remembering what Yaki had called Kuroha.
He nodded. “I don’t like it very much, so I don’t really use it. Sounds like a girl’s name.”
“How did you join them?”
“Been a fighter since I was young. Unlike Haruka back then, I wasn’t a good kid. Leader and I go way back, so it was almost automatic that I joined when she started the gang.”
“I considered joining the Blindfold Gang back when it was just created,” said Actor. “But in the end, I decided not to. I’m not the best at fighting, since I’ve always been running away instead. I’m pretty happy with my job right now, anyways.”
“Don’t worry. If anyone else tries to hurt you because of your job, I’ll be there to help you.”
Kuroha smiled as he held up his drink. “Isn’t that what friends are for?”
Actor laughed. For the first time, she felt as if she saw a little deeper into Kuroha’s heart, and as the sound of the bottles clinking echoed throughout the air, she smiled at the thought of this unconventional friendship.
“Cheers. To our friendship.”