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Blindfold Gang

Chapter Text

The concrete seemed to flicker under the summer heat, hazing up, smoldering the surroundings. The city landscape seemed like a mirage at times, but it constantly bustled with life and activity. Office workers rushed to their jobs early in the morning, and students ran with youthful energy to catch the subway to their morning classes. Children kissed their parents goodbye as they caught up to their friends in nursery school, living their lives free of worry.

The most activity was not, however, caused by the salarymen working nine-to-five jobs or the ordinary students in school. No, Mekaku City was not so simple. Rumors circled the town like crows around a rotting corpse, all centered around the various delinquents and gangs that plagued the streets. Oh, how the adults hated these teenagers. According to them, these teenagers were the cause of the country’s destruction and the plunging of the economy; anything that went wrong in the world was blamed upon the delinquents, the scapegoats of modern society. 

As expected, the teenagers themselves despised the adults. The constant whispers and disgusted glances usually fell upon one of two groups. AZAMI was a gang of twelve clad in black, the fiercer one of the two. The adults feared them, conjuring rumors of their crimes and prayed day and night for their arrest or their punishment by the law. Although AZAMI was widely despised, the other of the two famous scapegoats didn’t have it much easier either. 

The Blindfold Gang was a group of nine teenagers who grew up enduring the disgusted gazes of the adults. Their trademark red eyes caused a fervor of discrimination amongst not only adults but also their peers. But they learned to bear with the burning hate, just as they learned to bear the scorching summer heat.

“Shintaro Kisaragi!”

The black-haired teenager glanced up from his phone lazily at the teacher’s sudden, frustrated outburst. He surveyed the entire classroom slowly, aware that all eyes were on him, before turning his attention back to his phone screen. 

“Yes? What do you want, Mr. Satou?” he asked, yawning. 

“I don’t care how good you are at your studies, but your attitude in class is simply unacceptable! You can’t just disrupt class by breaking class rules and norms like that! Put away your phone, or I’ll have to confiscate it.”

Shintaro rolled his eyes as he let out a sarcastic laugh. “What else am I going to do when you can’t teach?”

“What did you say?”

“Isn’t it the truth?” Shintaro stood up, swinging his backpack over one shoulder and putting his phone into his pocket. His teacher visibly tensed up as Shintaro studied the math problem on the whiteboard and smiled confidently. “You’re teaching implicit differentiation. Wondering why this problem didn’t work out and you wasted an extra ten minutes of the class’ time on it? You forgot to use the Chain Rule to differentiate the y to get an extra factor dy/dx.”

“What did you—”

“I don’t blame you,” said Shintaro, sighing. “Calculus is hard, and it’s one of the most common mistakes to make. What did I expect from public school education, anyways? Listening in class is meaningless when I can do everything by myself. Thank you, however, for your great service. Keep up the amazing work.”

“Kisaragi, you—”

“This is why I hate adults. They think they’re right in everything and they can never get off their high horse. That’s all the bullshit I’ll take for today.” Lazily, Shintaro stood up and walked towards the door, doing his best to ignore the pleading, puppy-dog eyes of his stupid deskmate and her pleas of “no, Shintaro, please don’t leave.” Slamming the door behind him, he put in his earphones and headed towards the rooftop. 

A gust of wind greeted him as he opened the door to the rooftop area he usually liked to spend his time at. It wasn’t that he skipped class often; in fact, he was one of the few who rarely skipped class out of them . He only did it when the teachers were being a little too… unreasonable .

“Why are you here?”

Ah. That snotty voice belonged to none other than Takane Enomoto. There she was, the ferocious she-devil stuck a petite 5’2’’ body. As always, her electric blue hair burned his eyes with its vibrancy, and her irritated tone made him want to strangle her, despite knowing very well that he was physically weak and she would beat him in seconds. As number 6 of their gang, she was known to be a tech expert and near-professional hacker. 

“I should be asking you that. Unlike me, you actually need your classes,” said Shintaro as he took a seat across from her. Eyeing the shooting game that she focused all her attention on, he sighed as he pulled out his phone once again.

“Shut the fuck up, Kisaragi, I am busy as hell right now.” 

“Yeah, I’m sure PUBG is top priority. What happened to DEAD BULLET? Too good for it now? Didn’t think you’d be one to follow trends blindly.”

Ene looked up once her match was finished (won by her, without a doubt) and kicked him in the shin. “I’m just testing the waters. DEAD BULLET is still the best. Also, we’re literally delinquents. You’re the only ‘good student’ in our gang, and you literally never let us forget about it.”

“It’s funny how society labels us. We’re just doing our own thing here. No need for the adults to get all fussy about it. It’s idiotic,” said Shintaro laughing. It seemed ridiculous that, after growing up as the model student and receiving marks of nothing less than 100 on his exams, he would be a part of a gang of delinquents, holding the code number of 7, which was coincidentally his lucky number. But here he was, united with his friends by a common hatred of adults, the obvious of the world, and harsh, cold reality. 

“Wow, you sound so emo,” said Ene, rolling her eyes, but Shintaro knew she agreed. The two may bicker constantly, but deep down, they had a certain degree of respect for each other. 

“Yeah, well, can’t help it. I’m skipping just because it’s a waste of time. I know all the content already.”

“Agreed. Class is boring as hell.”

“What, even though your precious Haruka is there with you?”

Ene’s face immediately flushed red as the name left Shintaro’s mouth, and Shintaro grinned. Score , he thought. Ene may prevail against him when it came to many arguments, but he knew she had a soft spot for Haruka Kokonose. There was not a single time the girl could conceal her dying love for her best friend, and it was always hilarious to see the headstrong, brash, sharp-tongued Takane Enomoto head over heels in love with his friend. 

“Kisaragi, you are so dead to me,” said Ene, pulling her navy hood up and turning away to cover her face.

“Oh? What’s this party going on here? Please, let us join, too.”

Once again, Shintaro recognized this voice. It was Shuuya Kano, followed by Kousuke Seto. The brothers took a seat next to him as they opened up bags of chips and cookies, offering it to him and Ene.

“You guys are skipping, too?” asked Ene, taking an Oreo from Kano. 

“Totally,” said Kano. He was their gang’s number 3, but he acted like a leader just as much as their number 1 did. With his unfocused, joking personality, he was known to be carefree and mischievous, taking joy in pulling pranks against teachers and other students. Shintaro didn’t necessarily hate the guy (hate was too strong of a word—perhaps ‘strongly dislike’ would be a better choice), but Kano seemed to have some sort of personal grudge against him, so Shintaro was only returning such emotions. 

“Kano got into an argument with another student last class over a group project, so we’re on a strike,” said Seto, laughing. As number 2, Seto served as the gang’s main source of income, working at several part-time jobs in his free time. He was quieter than his brother and a kind-hearted person, often praised by his co-workers. Shintaro personally did not have the closest relationship with him, but he appreciated Seto’s kindness and normality, compared to the others. 

“Ridiculous,” Ene said, rolling her eyes. “Who would willingly pick a fight with us? They know our reputation.”

“That’s what I thought!” said Kano. “But some people have nothing better to do, I guess. Oh well, not a problem. More free time for us. Kido refused to participate in our strike, calling it petty, which I personally would disagree with. Aya-nee’s still in class, too.” He glanced at Shintaro as he mentioned his eldest sister’s name, and Shintaro sighed to himself. Kano was clearly an overprotective brother, but sometimes, Shintaro wondered if he was more than that, bearing possible romantic feelings for his adoptive sister. 

“Haruka’s in class, too,” said Ene, sighing. “Honestly, he’s too good of a student. Don’t know why he joined this gang in the first place.”

“Isn’t the answer obvious?” Shintaro couldn’t help but stare at her. He knew the reason, and so did the rest of the gang. Seeing Ene’s blank, confused gaze at him, Shintaro sighed and shook his head. Both Ene and Konoha were dense as hell, and he was close to giving up his role as Cupid Ayano’s little helper. 

“Hey, let’s forget about those good students and just ditch school altogether,” said Kano, a devilish grin spreading across his face. “Seto, take us home.”

“I can’t,” said Seto. Due to his various jobs, Seto was the only one out of the Tateyama siblings who got his driver’s license as soon as possible; Kido didn’t want to trouble her adoptive parents with the burden of financing a car for her, Kano decided to leech off of Seto, and Ayano was terrified by the idea of standing remotely near a vehicle, ruling her out of the equation.

“Why? You have your car with you,” said Kano. “Come on. The base is much more comfortable than the rooftop.”

“I’m not going to leave Marry here alone,” said Seto. Ever since he and the gang’s number 4 met, the two have been inseparable, partially due to Marry’s timidness and reliance on Seto. The girl barely spoke louder than a mosquito, but when it came to Seto, her shyness melted into the softest smile Shintaro had ever seen. The two have been in a relationship since the beginning of the year, and the lovey-dovey atmosphere that surrounded them made Shintaro sick. 

“Then what are we going to do for another 15 minutes, bored out of our minds?” asked Kano, collapsing onto his back.

“Could you guys quiet down a bit? I’m trying to sleep here.”

A voice from around the corner interrupted their dilemma. The four friends turned towards the direction of the voice, squinting into the shadows to see exactly who it was that dared to speak to them rudely.

“Kuroha,” said Ene, her voice full of spite.

The black-haired teenager emerged from the shadows, towering over them at a height of 6 foot. Kuroha Kokonose was definitely not a friend; he was part of their direct rival gang, and he never seemed to leave the Blindfold Gang alone. His twisted personality was terrible, even terrifying at times, as he was known to be a sadistic bastard. With his reputation and his actions, he could get the title of ‘delinquent’ trademarked, and he sent ordinary teenagers into a frenzy of crying and begging for mercy with a simple mention of his name.

“You say my name as if it’s a slur, Ene. No mercy to your best friend’s twin brother, huh?” he said, smirking. 

“Shut the fuck up. You’re nothing like Haruka. You’re a disgrace.”

“Wow, I’m hurt. Your words are getting sharper by the day. What am I going to do when you constantly break my heart like this?”

“I don’t know, maybe stop bothering us and just leave us alone?”

“I just think it’s interesting to observe you guys,” said Kuroha, circling around the four. “You guys are so… ordinary. And yet it’s interesting. You just go and live on with your petty little lives like insects without accomplishing anything… grand. Humans are always interesting to observe, don’t you think?”

“I’m sorry,” said Kano, cringing as he scooted back. “But that is the most emo thing I’ve ever heard. How old are you? Ten?”

“Exactly. You’re cringy as hell. How are you blood related to Konoha?” asked Shintaro, raising an eyebrow.

“Just leave,” said Kuroha, yawning. “Technically, I came here first. Find something better to do with your time rather than disturbing my nap.” With that, he retreated back into the shadows, leaving the quartet dumbfounded.

“Well, I guess that’s our cue to leave,” said Seto, packing up the snacks they had opened.

“Are you serious?” asked Ene, raising an eyebrow. “We’re just going to do as he said?”

“No use in picking a fight without a purpose,” said Kano as he stood up. “Class is almost over. Let’s go get the others.” Just as they left the rooftop, they spotted a familiar ball of fluff hiding by the stairs. 

“Ah, Seto!” said Marry, her eyes lighting up with joy. She ran over to them and immediately threw herself into Seto’s embrace, smiling to herself. 

Shintaro resisted the urge to show any sign of discomfort. They did nothing wrong, technically, but the sight of couples just made his single-from-birth self involuntarily cringe. Nobody showed any romantic interest towards him, and he certainly wasn’t about to make the first move. He’d rather eat his keyboard while livestreaming it than get rejected and suffer embarrassment for the rest of his life. 

“There you guys are! I knew you skipped class again!” 

Oh, for the love of God, it was her. Shintaro’s cool facade melted immediately as he saw that soft, brown hair, those red hair clips, and that ridiculous red scarf. His heartbeat quickened involuntarily as she stepped closer towards him, a terribly cute ( no, Shintaro, he told himself. Not now. Shut the hell up. ) pout on her face.

Recently, whenever he was with Ayano Tateyama, he wouldn’t be able to remain his cool, composed self. She had been his deskmate since freshman year, and he dealt with her stupid self for years. Really, it was almost unbelievable how incredibly dumb she was, until Shintaro remembered that he had a sister who, whenever report cards were sent home, he wanted his parents to disown. She was the adoptive eldest sister of Kano, Seto, and Kido, their gang’s leader, so she always hung around them despite not being a part of their gang. To the public, she was a well-liked, friendly girl who never had to suffer any sort of discrimination from society. 

Despite her differences with Shintaro in personality and reputation, she had a strange attachment to him that even he himself could not understand. She claimed that she wanted to ‘break down his walls,’ to which he reluctantly tolerated because at this point, there was no use in trying to run away from her. And although he would never admit it, he secretly enjoyed her company. This had to be some sort of mistake , he told himself. He definitely was not going to put himself on the same level as Ene, who would be a completely different person in front of Konoha: flustered, constantly stuttering, and a tomato-red face.

Shintaro Kisaragi definitely was not in love.

“Come on, Seto and I were just protesting against unfair treatment! If this were France, our strike would be completely normal!” said Kano, laughing.

“Okay, I guess,” said Ayano, sighing. “Tsubomi just texted me. She and Konoha are by the snack bar.”

“Momo’s probably looking for the brat,” said Shintaro as the group walked downstairs towards the snack bar. He was hesitant about letting his younger sister join the gang in the beginning; their fight lasted for a week, and in the end, Shintaro gave in. He wanted to be a good brother and protect her from whatever dangers it would present, but in reality, she was the one who introduced everyone to him and joined the gang earlier, earning the code number of 5, so he had no say in such a situation. 

“Come on, don’t be so harsh,” said Ene, sneering. “Hibiya’s a good kid. You sure you don’t have a sister complex?”

“Shut up, Ene,” said Shintaro, rolling his eyes. He admitted he was a little bit overprotective, but he couldn’t brush Hibiya Amamiya off as just another one of Momo’s friends. The kid was a freshman, for god’s sake. Practically a little brat. But he and Momo were extremely close, and Shintaro didn’t know the kid well enough to see the intentions behind his actions. Perhaps I did understand Kano’s dislike of me a little bit , Shintaro thought to himself, laughing dryly. 

As the snack bar came into view, Shintaro immediately saw the tall figure of Haruka Kokonose, member number 9 of their gang. Every time he saw his fellow seniors of the gang, he couldn’t help but marvel at just how much they changed their appearances from their past selves. After joining the gang, the two went by the names of Ene and Konoha respectively and dyed their hair bright blue and snow white as a form of rebellion. Therefore, the two stood out immensely in crowds, and Shintaro admired their courage to complete such an act and pull it off nicely. 

“Eating again, Haruka?” asked Ene, raising an eyebrow at the snacks Konoha cradled in his hands. She and Konoha were the only ones who still referred to each other with their given names; they tried to change towards the beginning, but it was too much of a habit for them, so they simply stuck to it. 

“Leader said she would treat me!” said Konoha, munching on a chip happily. 

Beside him, Kido sighed. “There’s not enough food at home today for the big guy here and I don’t have time for grocery shopping until tomorrow. Gotta keep our fighters fed.” Besides holding the code number of 1 and the role of leader of the gang, Tsubomi Kido was also the main cook, assisted by her apprentice Hibiya. Despite not looking the part with her masculine style and cool aura, Kido was a greatly hospitable person who took care of many of the matters at their base. 

“Ah, there they are! Why are you slow, Hibiya-kun? Hurry up!” Everyone turned their heads towards the direction the energetic voice was coming from. Momo Kisaragi, number 5 of the gang, approached them with a bright smile, followed by Hibiya Amamiya, number 8 of the gang. Although she was Shintaro’s sister, the two looked nothing alike, and she would always be heavily offended when someone remarked that the two acted similarly. 

“Shut up, there’s literally no point in running,” said Hibiya lazily. As the only freshman and youngest member of the gang, he had a maturity that contrasted with his age. Momo often joked about how much of an old man Hibiya was, to which he always retorted, “shut up, old lady.” 

“Well, now that everyone’s here,” said Kano, stepping to the front of the group. “Let’s leave this place. What’s the plan for the after school tea time?”

“Definitely not having a tea party and forming a band,” muttered Shintaro under his breath. He regretted making that reference as soon as the words left his mouth, but no luck; beside him, Ene heard and gave him a look of disgust, mouthing, “you nerdy shut-in.”

“Oh, I know! Let’s get boba!” said Momo excitedly. “I miss The Alley’s Black Sugar Boba so much.”

“You’re so obsessed with boba,” said Hibiya, rolling his eyes. “Stop being a basic ABG.”

“Wait, come to think of it, doesn’t Kisaragi-chan’s outward image seem like the classic ABG?” asked Kano, bursting into laughter. “You’ve got the love for boba, the dyed hair, and the big Instagram platform with, like, hundreds of thousands of followers.”

“Acrylics check, clubbing check, breaking the dress code check… Sounds about right,” said Ene, laughing. 

“Oh, but if everyone else saw what she’s really like at home…” said Shintaro, shaking his head. “You have the weirdest sense of fashion, Momo. Seriously, what’s with that pink ‘Ooedo’ hoodie?”

“Hey! That’s my favorite one!” said Momo, pouting. “I just choose my public image carefully, that’s all. It’s for the better!”

It was true that Momo upheld such an image to the public, and Shintaro knew that in a way, she desperately worked to maintain it, and that he was partly the one to blame for it. He had known about her inferiority complex ever since they were little, and it had manifested simply because his parents never paid attention to her as a child, focusing all their attention on Shintaro’s perfect marks and achievements. He worried about her confidence often and tried to cheer her up in his way, but the damage his parents had done to her was irreversible, and she grew up wishing desperately for others to pay more attention to her. 

Perhaps that was why he started to dislike adults. Their intentions, no matter whether they be of kindness or malice, weren't important; they hurt others with every word, every gaze, every action, and they never take responsibility for the damage they’ve done.

“Okay, what about we get boba first, then we hit the arcade?” suggested Ene. “We haven’t been in a while, and I really want to try that new game they installed.”

“Sounds good,” said Kido. “Let’s go.” 

“Yes, leader.”

The group walked towards the parking lot, laughing amongst themselves and ignoring the bell that signaled for the last class of the day. Around them, other students darted out of their way in fear, staring at their trademark hoodies and red eyes. The gang ignored these stares, having gotten used to them by now.

The three people with cars and driving licenses in the gang sat down in the driver’s seat of their cars, and the rest of the gang split up according to their usual carpool groups. Marry sat in the passenger seat of Seto’s Hyundai, and Kido and Kano sat in the back. Ene’s BMW, which she bought herself with the money she saved up from video game competitions, was one of her most prized possessions, and Shintaro and Ayano sat in the back. Konoha drove Momo and Hibiya in his Lexus that his father was against purchasing but his mother insisted on buying before she passed away.

Please do not throw up in my car,” said Ene, glaring at Shintaro. Such a statement was emphasized every time he was in her car, but it really wasn’t his fault. Besides, that was one time. Just once.

“Well, if you would drive a little safer, then mayb—” Shintaro’s complaints were cut off by his own wails of anguish as Ene pressed the gas pedal and they sped off into the distance. Although they left their parking spot later than both of the other cars, they quickly passed them on the roads.

“Fasten your seatbelts, guys, it’s gonna be a hell of a ride,” said Ene, grinning madly. 

“You’re damn right!” Shintaro yelled. “It’s gonna be hell! Christ, woman, you’re gonna kill us all!”

“Isn’t that the fun of driving?” asked Ene, cackling. 

“Hell to the fuck no, lady!”

As they approached a red light, Ene rolled down her window to look at Konoha’s car next to hers. “Haruka, let’s race!” 

“I think you should drive safely, Takane,” said Haruka, laughing. 

From the back, Momo rolled down her window. “I’ve never seen Konoha-san drive fast before! We should try it!”

“Shut the fuck up, no we shouldn’t!” Hibiya said, frantically pulling Momo back. 

On the other side of their car, Kano rolled down his window. “You wanna race, Ene-chan? Seto, show them what we’ve got.”

From the driver’s seat, Seto laughed. “Driving safe is probably a better choice,” he said.

Ene shrugged as the lights turned green. “Shame,” she said. “Then we’ll be off first!” Following Shintaro’s shrieks of “no, please, please forgive me, don’t do this, please,” she brought her foot down sharply on the gas and took off. 

“See y’all later, suckers!” Ene called into the distance.

“Keep your goddamn eyes on the road, woman!”

After what seemed like an eternity of headaches and heart attacks to Shintaro, they arrived first at the boba shop. Shintaro massaged his temples as Ayano patted his back reassuringly, trying to catch his breath.

Ene turned to look at them. “That was fun!” she said happily. 

“No, it wasn’t!” Shintaro yelled back. “You could’ve killed us! How the hell did you get your license in the first place?”

“Don’t worry!” Ene said, laughing. “I know how to control myself. I won’t actually drive like this on the highway or when it’s dangerous!” 

“You better not,” said Shintaro, taking off his seatbelt and stepping out of the car, praying his legs won’t give up on him. Although he hated Ene’s driving habits, he had to admit that she was the best at driving out of the three, no matter how hypocritical and counterintuitive that sounded. It was true; she drove extremely safely when she needed to, and she had never even scratched her car. After all, she had been driving for the longest amount of time, having gotten her license on her 16th birthday. 

“Oh, look, everyone’s here,” said Ayano. The rest of the group pulled up in the parking spots next to theirs, and they entered the shop as they laughed about Ene’s driving. As soon as they left the shop with their drinks, Shintaro started begging for mercy once again, and Ene laughed as she sat in the driver’s seat, continuously singing “no promises.”

The arcade wasn’t very far, and they reached their destination in no time, so Shintaro was thankful for only five minutes of suffering. They visited this particular arcade often, as it wasn’t far from their base and Ene was a game addict. Shintaro knew that this visit would end up as another of Ene’s challenges to him, who she viewed as her rival in shooting games ever since he beat her in her favorite game years ago. 

As soon as they entered the arcade, Ene dragged Shintaro towards the shooting games, and Shintaro knew better than to protest. In the corner of his eye, he saw the other girls head towards the photo booths, led by Momo, and the other guys walked towards the basketball machines as they teased Hibiya about his height. 

“Kisaragi, I’m going to beat you today,” Ene claimed as she sat down. 

“Sure, sure,” said Shintaro, sighing. Ene wasn’t terrible at games; in fact, she was very good at them, having won many competitions multiple years in a row. She dedicated much of her time and energy to these games, to the point that Shintaro even felt a bit apologetic for beating her. He didn’t play these games as much, but it was simply predictable. Just like life. So he excelled at it. 

As they finished their third game, won by Shintaro just like the previous two, he looked up to see that sweet, angelic face, and immediately, his heart involuntarily skipped a beat.

“Hey, I’m going home right now, so I thought I’d let you guys know,” she said, smiling. 

“Do you need a ride?” asked Ene. The two were extremely close friends, despite the differences in their personalities, and Shintaro could never wrap his head around such a fact.

“No, it’s fine, Seto’s taking me home,” said Ayano, smiling. “He wanted to say hi to Mom and Dad anyways.”

“Alright. See you tomorrow, then.”

“Yep!” She turned to Shintaro and smiled gently. “See you tomorrow, Shintaro,” she said in the sweetest voice.

He looked away immediately and nodded ever so slightly. 

After Ayano was out of earshot, Ene sighed loudly and kicked him in the shin. “You’re a fucking wimp,” she said, rolling her eyes.

“What the hell?”

“Oh, don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about, Master ,” said Ene, putting an excessive amount of sarcasm on the title that came as a result of a bet. “You went from basically bullying her with your cold-ass attitude from freshman year to literally not being able to look at her properly now.”

“Shut the hell up, Enomoto, I can do whatever the hell I want.”

“Why don’t you man up and just talk to her? Like a normal person?”

“Wow, that’s rich, coming from you,” said Shintaro, rolling his eyes. “Why don’t you woman up and just confess to Haruka already?”

At this, Ene’s face flushed red. Giving him a glare, she walked off to join the girls at the Dance Dance Revolution machines, where Momo and Kido were having a dance battle. 

Shintaro sighed as he stood up and went to find the guys. Although he and Ene bickered, disagreed, and acted like they hated each other often, they really were similar deep down. 

They were just cowards.

“Wait, guys, what’s all of this?” asked Kano, pointing at the garage beside the back door of the arcade. It was almost dinnertime, and the gang was ready to go back to the base and have some of Kido’s best dishes. The sun was close to setting already, but a collection of spray bottles of paint that lined the garage door caught their attention, and the empty, grey door was too tempting to be left alone. 

“Someone’s trying to paint their garage door, I guess,” said Kido, picking up a purple spray can and examining it. 

“Well, well, well,” said Kano, a devilish grin spreading across his face. “Why don’t we do them a little favor?”

“What are you plotting this time, dumbass?” asked Kido, shooting Kano a look of disapproval. 

“Come on, Leader, don’t be such a goody-two-shoes! These materials are right here in front of us, as if asking us to finish the job! Let’s paint this garage and have some fun; this sort of opportunity isn’t common!” said Kano, picking up a grey can of paint and shaking it. Before anyone could say anything, he set the paint free onto the garage door.

“Looks fun,” said Ene, laughing as she picked up the dark blue can. “Let’s do this, guys!”

Everyone else turned to look at each other, and in silent agreement, grabbed their favorite colors and started their artwork. Within seconds, vibrant colors splashed across the dull garage as well as the teeangers’ faces, as bright as the smiles that spread across their faces. 

“Hey! What do you think you guys are doing?”

A sharp voice interrupted their frenzy as they neared the end of their creative process, and the teenagers looked up from the artwork. A group of adults advanced angrily towards them, hands on hips and all. After exchanging mischievous glances at each other, the gang immediately dropped their painting materials and dashed to their cars, ignoring the yelling and cursing adults. Laughing, Ene turned around stuck out her tongue and flipped them off while Kano took pictures of their artwork. 

“I’m assuming that I can drive as fast as I want this time?” asked Ene, smirking as Shintaro practically dove into the passenger seat. 

“Go ahead,” said Shintaro, sighing. 

Ene didn’t have to be told twice. With a violent kick to the gas, she sped off towards their base, with Konoha’s and Seto’s cars following hers. In the distance, they could hear the adults’ protests and insults, but everyone brushed it off casually, laughing as they drove home. 

As Shintaro leaned back against the cool leather of his seat, he thought about what had just happened and couldn’t help but chuckle. 

Ah, these ordinary days filled with idiocy and laughter. Just how much could he fall in love with this? Stuck in a daze, he looked out the window at the passing scenery, a faint smile tugging at the edge of his lips.

If it’s with them, he could change “loneliness.”

Chapter Text

The smell of ashes and smoke still linger in the air around her. 

It wouldn’t go away. No matter how many times she took a shower, no matter how many times she changed her clothes and sprayed Momo’s expensive perfume all over her, it never left her. The fire was always there, buried in the depths of her mind. She felt it in her hair, tasted it on the tip of her tongue, and saw it in the depths of the red in her eyes. 

To this day, she could still feel the lack of air in her lungs as the world burned down around her, asphyxiation ripping away her strength and forcing her to collapse onto her knees. Her elder sister, that confident, iron-willed woman, dragged her back onto her feet. Cursing under her breath, her sister hurled herself at the locked basement door. No luck. The door stayed shut, and as the seconds ticked by, she started to lose hope as quickly as she lost her supply of oxygen. 

She locked those acrid memories away ever since her new life began, but it haunted her, tormented her endlessly, and there wasn’t a thing she could do to stop the nightmares.

“You illegitimate little bitch. You should’ve died in that fire.”

The black ink was printed loud and clear onto the white parchment, and as all her friends crowded around to read the note posted on their front door, Kido felt her blood run cold. Within seconds, all the repressed memories of her past flooded back clearer than ever. With quivering eyes, she stole a glance at her friends, terrified of what they would say. They were silent for a few minutes, staring at the note in confusion. 

“What the fuck?” Ene finally broke the silence. “Alright, whose prank is this? Kano, it’s you again, isn’t it?”

“Whoa, hold on there, Miss Ene,” said Kano, taking a step back as everyone turned to look at him. “You’re accusing me a little too quickly, aren’t you? And without any evidence, too. Am I that type of person in your eyes?”

“I don’t know, but you’re kind of known as the prankster around here,” said Momo, narrowing her eyes as she examined Kano. “You look a little fishy.”

“Agreed,” said Hibiya. “Who’s this directed towards?”

“Hey, hey, hey!” Kano protested. “Quit drawing conclusions! I didn’t do it! Guys, what happened to trust?”

“That’s karma for you,” said Shintaro, taking a sip from his can of coke as he looked at the note.

Kido didn’t know what to say. Her mind spun as she ran through all the possibilities in her head. She knew it couldn’t be anyone in the gang; the only people who knew about her past life were Kano and Seto, and she knew that they wouldn’t play some sort of sick joke like this. She didn’t even consider Ayano; that girl was such a good person that she didn’t even curse. It couldn’t be her adoptive parents, and all of her past family members died in the fire. 

So who could it be?

“Leader, who could it be?”

Momo’s question yanked Kido back to reality. Her friends all looked towards her, and in that split second, she thought she saw mockery in their eyes. Shaking away the hallucination, she forced herself to turn back towards the note. With a shaking hand, she ripped it from the door.

“It’s just a stupid prank. Not a big deal,” she said in her best calm “leader” voice. She opened the door and walked straight towards the kitchen to make dinner, trying to conceal her trembling. Everyone else filed in after her, quickly forgetting about the hostile note and going on to relax.

But she couldn’t do the same. Oh, how the thought lingered in her mind and refused to go away as she chopped the carrots and washed the onions. She thought she had put all those years in the Kido mansion behind her when she met the Tateyamas and the gang, but her memories of those days were clearer than ever.

She had felt out of place for as long as she could remember. She didn’t belong anywhere, and “home” wasn’t a warm, happy place to be at. Whether it be at the various lessons her father made her attend or the parties she sat in the corners at, she knew that she wasn’t meant to be there. If she hadn’t been born, she would have saved her father and her sister the trouble of attempting to integrate her into a society that didn’t want her. 

She remembered the quiet whispers of the servants as she walked down the hallway. She remembered the strange looks she got wherever she went, whatever she did. She remembered how everyone seemed to have something to say about her, how rumors circled her like hawks around a rotting corpse. 

She remembered how much she wanted to disappear. 

As she stared at the steak simmering in the pan, she let out a long sigh. She reached for the salt in the cupboard in front of her, and immediately, she gasped. The flames that stretched upward reached for her right hand, singeing it immediately, and she pulled back as quickly as possible. As she stared at the dry, reddened skin, the familiar sensation of asphyxiation creeped back into her throat. Images of the house fire flashed before her eyes, and as she let out a wild shriek, she sank to the floor, clutching her wrist desperately. 

She heard a rush of footsteps as everyone ran to the kitchen. Marry let out a gasp of horror, and everyone else yelled out her name as they crowded around her. Hibiya turned off the stove, and Konoha ran to grab the first aid kit. 

“Oh, shit,” said Shintaro, eyeing Kido’s hand. “Are you okay?”

“What kind of stupid fucking question is that?” Ene yelled at him. “The fuck you think? Clearly not!”

“Kido, can you stand?” asked Seto. He helped her up and led her to the living room. Kano followed them, holding a bowl of cool water.

Kido winced as she immersed her hand in the water. Her mind refused to process anything that was happening, and although she knew her friends were worried, she couldn’t say anything. Caught in a daze, she could only stare at the burned area of skin on her hand. 

“It shouldn’t be any worse than a first degree burn,” said Shintaro, examining the wound.

“Yeah, hopefully,” said Seto. “We’ve got it from here, guys. Don’t worry.”

The rest of the gang looked at each other, conflicted, but nodded and left the siblings to themselves. 

Seto sighed and looked at Kido. “Are you okay? Is it because of the note?”

“Seto, just… Don’t say anything. I’m sorry.”

“Well, I’m calling takeout for dinner,” said Kano, already opening his phone. “Is Wingstop okay?”

“No, dumbass, I can finish cooking,” said Kido. “I’m fine.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” said Kano, completely disregarding Kido’s protests. “You literally just burned your hand. Just take a break.”

“He’s right,” said Seto. “After 15 minutes, we can cover this in gauze.”

The next fifteen minutes passed in complete silence. Kido couldn’t bring herself to say anything, and her brothers stayed silent to respect her decision. Once the fifteen minutes were up, Seto helped her wrap gauze around the wound.

“I’m going back to my room.” Without waiting for a response, Kido walked quickly towards her room. She didn’t know what her friends thought about her loss of composure, and she was too scared to hear it. 

Momo wasn’t in their room; Kido assumed she went to Ene’s room next door to give her some alone time. She was thankful for how understanding Momo was, and sighing, she fell back onto her bed. Staring at the gauze around her right hand, she bit her lip. Who knew that this still could have such a big impact on her? A single tear rolled down her cheek as she closed her eyes and returned to her nightmares.

When she opened her eyes again, it was dark. Reaching over to check the time on her phone, she realized that it was already way past dinnertime. Sighing, she rolled over to get up and froze as she saw a familiar figure sitting in a chair facing her. 

“What are you doing?” she hissed.

“Come on,” said Kano, laughing. “I’m just checking up on you.”

“You don’t need to,” said Kido, rolling her eyes in an attempt to conceal her embarrassment. “I’m perfectly fine.”


Kido burst into laughter. “Wow, coming from you? Ironic.”

“At least I’m being honest to you right now. Come on, I’m worried.”

“What do you want from me, Kano?” said Kido, frustrated. 

“Talk to me. Don’t you trust me?”

Kido stared at the boy in front of her. Behind all the punches and kicks she threw at him was her unwavering trust and love for him, and she knew that he would be there for her no matter what.

So what was she scared of?

“You know the context of the note,” said Kido, averting her gaze. “You know it was directed towards me.”

Kano didn’t say anything. He got out of the chair and sat down on the bed, facing her.

“I don’t know who did something like this,” said Kido, her voice starting to shake. “Everyone from my past family died in that fire. Who else could know about something like this and threaten me? What’s their motive? I know that I’m not supposed to exist. I know that I should have died in that fire years ago. I know that I should disappear altogether. What do they want from me?”

Without a word, Kano pulled her towards him. Surprised by his embrace, Kido was at a loss of words. Kano had always been a mystery to her; how could he be such an annoying jokester at times but also such a reliable person whenever she needed someone? How did he know just what she needed at any moment without her having to say a word about it? 

“You know, you’ve always been acting so strong as our leader,” said Kano, running his fingers through her hair. “Maybe that’s partly my fault for forcing this title onto you. But at the end of the day, you’re still you. You shouldn’t disappear. This is where you belong. You don’t have to always be Leader Kido. You can be Tsubomi. Just Tsubomi.”

Kido buried her face into Kano’s chest, closing her eyes as she held onto him. Listening to their synchronized breathing and heartbeats, she silently wished this moment would last forever.

Kano insisted on walking her everywhere at all times, and after protesting for an entire day, she gave in to his stubbornness. It really wasn’t that big of a deal, she told him. Even though she constantly felt a pair of eyes following her wherever she went after the whole note fiasco, she was completely fine. Even if she really had a stalker, so what? She would pound that bastard silly within seconds. She was Leader Kido of the Blindfold Gang, after all.

But Kano didn’t believe any of that. The possibility of a stalker following Kido was alarming to him, and in some way, he must have felt some responsibility to protect her after listening to her worries. Kido didn’t want to burden him, but his stubbornness gave her no choice. They already usually took Seto’s car to and from school and spent lunch and after school together, so really, there wasn’t a big difference. But now, Kano waited for her in front of her classroom after every period and stuck close to her at all times. 

“Leader, I have a question,” said Momo, a sneaky smile on her face on the fourth day Kano named himself her “guardian angel.”

“Go ahead,” said Kido, already sensing what sort of question was coming.

“Does Kano-san like you?”

Kido sighed and looked away to conceal her embarrassment. Of course. What else did she expect? Such a question was bound to come. 

“I was also wondering that!” said Marry, her eyes lighting up. The girls loved to gossip, and Kido had to thank god that Ene was a senior and not in their class, or else this topic would absolutely destroy Kido. 

“Right?” said Momo excitedly. “He’s been escorting Leader ever since she was injured! What a gentleman! He must’ve felt terrible and wanted to protect you!”

“That’s so sweet!” said Marry, squealing. “And he calls Kido by her first name sometimes, too! Even though the three of them go by their last names!”

“Guys,” said Kido, massaging her temples. “I don’t know if you remember this, but he’s literally my brother.”

“Okay, adoptive brother,” said Momo, putting strong emphasis on her second word. 

“Momo, would you date your brother?”

“Ew.” Momo’s face wrinkled up in disgust at Kido’s question. “Gross, no.”

“Exactly,” said Kido, leaning back in her seat. “He’s my brother. He doesn’t like me like that.”

“Okay, but he’s not your actual brother,” said Momo, clicking her acrylics against the desk. “You guys are more like… childhood friends, right? Also, he’s pretty good-looking, too. I heard from Hibiya-kun that Kano-san has a few freshman fangirls.”

Kido raised an eyebrow. Fangirls? Of that idiot? “Why don’t you date him then? You guys get along pretty well.”

Momo burst into laughter. “LMAO, I’m good. He’s not really my type. But you guys look cute together!”

Kido sighed as the bell rang. The three girls gathered up their bags and walked towards the door, eager to leave class. “Thanks, I guess, but I know for a fact that he doesn’t like me in that way.” 

Just as she finished her sentence, she saw Kano waiting in the hallway outside their classroom. The girls gave her a knowing look, and before Kido could protest, they walked off happily.

“What’s with them?” asked Kano, taking Kido’s backpack from her casually.

“Don’t worry about it,” said Kido. Glancing at the boy in front of her, she couldn’t help but think about what her friends had just talked about. She had known Shuuya Kano for almost ten years now, and the boy had changed a great amount since the day they met. She didn’t know when his features started to seem more mature; the last time she checked, he was still shorter than her even with his ridiculous platform boots, but now, he was almost a whole head taller than her. 

His yellow cat-like eyes always had a glint of mischief about them, but they didn’t lose any of their charm when he became serious. When he looked at her, she felt a mixture of emotions she couldn’t describe, so she covered up those confusing feelings with violence. She knew why she felt strange around him; she was not stupid, after all. But she concealed those thoughts and pushed them to the back of her mind. She knew that Kano didn’t feel the same way.

“Is that stalker still there?” asked Kano as they walked to the parking lot to wait for Seto and Marry. 

“Relax,” said Kido. “I’m probably just overthinking it. There probably isn’t a stalker or anything. Stop worrying.”

“Your intuition can’t be wrong. Besides, until we find out who posted that damn note, we’ve got to stay cautious.”

“How do you expect to find that out?”

“I have my ways,” said Kano, flashing her a smile. “Don’t worry about it. Anything for you.”

“You’re an idiot. You don’t need to do all of this for me,” said Kido, rolling her eyes.

“Come on, Tsubomi, you know I love you.”

Damn it, Shuuya Kano, why did you have to be in love with Ayano?

Following the note that started it all came more threats. Kido didn’t know how her stalker got her number, but texts flooded her phone endlessly days after the note was posted on their front door. The words got more and more toxic by the second, and although Kido tried to stop herself from reading them, she wasn’t the best with self control. She tried blocking the number, but soon enough, a different number would start sending her messages, and she soon realized that resistance was futile. 

She considered telling Ene to trace these numbers, but she didn’t want to burden anyone with her problems. Besides, it wasn’t too bad; she already decided to be strong, and she certainly wasn’t about to let herself down. 

She didn’t tell Kano, either; who knew what sort of reckless thing he would do if he knew? She still didn’t know exactly how he was “handling” the situation, as he put it, and part of her didn’t want to find out. She didn’t know why he had to act so confusing; why would he act so sweet towards her sometimes when he was in love with Ayano? For the most part, Kido accepted it as part of his personality, but sometimes, just sometimes, she wondered why he was willing to do all of this for her.

But she knew to not have any expectations. Blood-related or not, Ayano was her older sister, and she wasn’t about to feel any jealousy towards her. Her feelings toward Kano have been successfully repressed, for the most part, and Kido was fine with remaining friends with him for the rest of her life. 

But recently, these thoughts have occupied her brain, and on top of that, the text threats didn’t stop. Kido’s mind was a mess, and she was far from being in the mood to listen to any boring lectures. The janitor’s room on the third floor was her favorite spot to be at whenever she skipped class. It was quiet and barely anyone knew about the spot; even the janitors barely used it. She could put in her earphones and blast her music loud while relaxing.

For the past few days, she skipped class quite often. Kano was visibly frustrated when she wasn’t in class when he waited for her, but he was partially the reason why Kido’s head was a mess, so she didn’t feel too bad for him.

She turned her favorite song up to max volume and lay down on the floor, closing her eyes. There were still 15 minutes until the end of school; she could afford a nap. As she rested her body, her mind drifted back to that house fire. 

Her past seemed crafted for a cliche drama character instead of a real person. Illegitimate child of a famous, rich businessman. Mother died from giving birth and immediately got sent to the Kido mansion. Grew up being raised as a rich heir, despite never having any possibility of inheriting anything. Surrounded by hushed whispers and rumors and disgusted gazes for years and years and years. 

Her elder sister was the only one who cared about her. She was the only real family Kido had before she met the Tateyamas. Rin Kido was confident, smart, and caring. She was who Kido wanted to be like, who Kido never was. Despite the difference in their statuses, her sister never treated Kido as any less of a person. As long as she had her sister, Kido endured everything else that accompanied her name. 

But that fire took away everything.

She lost her sister forever. The red-haired woman would no longer tell her horror stories and tease her about her fear of ghosts. When she woke up and found out that she was the only one who survived the fire her own father started, she felt more pain than she did when she was stuck amidst the flames that threatened to engulf her. The smell of burning was so real to her, as if she were stuck in that fire again.

No. It was too real.

Kido opened her eyes in shock and sat up. Immediately, she coughed and realized her vision was cloudy. Her heart pounded in her chest as she realized a feeling way too familiar to her:


No. It couldn’t be. Kido looked around frantically, praying that it wasn’t true. Her gaze fell upon the remains of a lit candle and the flames that sprung up around the room. Fear paralyzed her limbs, and no matter how loudly she yelled and willed for her body to move, she was stuck staring straight at her nightmares. 

In those moments, every single second she spent in that house fire seemed to flash before her eyes. She could see her sister cursing at the flames that danced around them, mocking them for their futile resistance. She could see herself curled up on the floor, too scared to say or do anything. She could see the pain, the desperateness, and the despair. 

With shaking hands, she whipped out her phone to call any one of her friends. Her blood ran cold as she saw the words “No Service” in the corner of the screen. In one swift movement, she forced herself to do as her sister did: she hurled herself at the door, praying to leave this hellfire. It was in that moment that true despair gripped her. 

The door was locked.

Someone must have blocked the door from outside. As such a realization dawned upon her, she sank to the ground and curled up on the floor, just as she did years ago. What deja vu, she thought to herself. What a joke. 

Was she going to die here? If so, fate really has a way of toying with people. Was this to prove to her that she was supposed to die in that fire years ago? The fire around her was getting stronger by the second. She let out a faint laugh as tears rolled down her cheeks. If she cried enough tears, would it put out the fire around her?

Suddenly, she heard a faint knock come from the door. With wide eyes, she ran to the door once again. She knocked back from her side of the door, praying for someone to stay for long enough to help. 


The sound of that familiar voice brought tears to Kido’s eyes. Her voice choked in her throat as she pressed her palms against the door, so relieved that it was him who showed up. 


There was a short, shocked silence from both sides of the door. She hadn’t said his first name in years, ever since they created the gang and started going by their last names as “codenames.” She didn’t know how the name fell from her lips, but he must have realized that something was wrong, because she heard a few curses from the other end before a sharp noise and the door being opened.

There he was. She hated to admit it, but the moment she saw him, it felt as if she saw hope. It wasn’t necessarily an exaggeration, since if he hadn’t arrived, she would have been burnt to a crisp quite literally. Without any second thoughts, she threw herself at him, sinking into the soft fabric of his hoodie.

“Oh, what the f—” Kano’s outburst at the scene in front of him was cut short as he realized what was going on. He quickly led Kido out of the room and, after making sure she was safe, he ran to grab the fire extinguisher down the hall. In a few minutes, the fires died down. As soon as it was safe once again, Kano sat down facing her. 

“What happened?” he asked, the shock showing obviously on his face. “I just decided to skip class and look for you and I knew you liked this spot, so I just decided, ‘hey, why not try and see if she’s there.’ How did that happen?”

Kido shook her head. “I was just taking a nap. Then I saw the fire. And the door was blocked from the outside, so I was locked in. I think it was a melted candle, and everything caught on fire because of that.”

Kano furrowed his brows in confusion. “Are there usually candles in the janitor’s room?”

“No,” said Kido, as the realization slowly dawned upon her. If it wasn’t an accident, then someone just tried to kill her. 

Without another word, Kano stood up and walked back into the janitor’s room. After taking a few pictures and sending a few texts, he came back and sat down next to her. 

“Stupid question, but how are you doing?” asked Kano softly. 

“Stupid answer, but I’m fine,” replied Kido, rolling her eyes.


“Learned from the best.” Kido forced out a light chuckle. “I don’t know. I’m still in disbelief.”

Kano leaned back against the wall. “Me too.”

“Thank god you showed up.” 

“This isn’t like the Kido I know,” said Kano, raising an eyebrow. “Where are the kicks and punches?”

“You’re still an idiot. I’ll be back to normal soon. You better be ready.”

Kano laughed. “I have some guys working on catching the culprit. It’s been hard, since there’s not many pieces of concrete evidence, but I think we’re getting there.”

“I probably should have shown you the texts then.”

Just as Kano was about to respond, his phone buzzed. Taking one look at the text, his mouth tugged upward into a confident smile. “Let’s go,” he said, standing up.

Hesitantly, Kido took the hand Kano offered to her and stood up. “Where are we going?”

“Seto’s taking us to meet someone.” Kano smiled at her. “Don’t worry. This will all be over soon.”

“We’re here.”

The three siblings parked a few blocks away from their base in front of another set of apartments. Kido was still confused as to where they were, but seeing the confident smile on Seto’s and Kano’s faces, she decided to simply wait and see. 

They stopped in front of one of the doors, and Kano rang the doorbell. Another high schooler opened the door, and Kido recognized him to be one of Kano’s friends. 

“We found who sent the note and started the fire,” said Seto, seeing Kido’s confused gaze. “This is probably the person who’s been following you lately, too.”

As they stepped into the room, Kido took a deep breath as she put on her best “Leader Kido” face and braced herself for the worst. She found herself face to face with a woman in her 50s who had a disgusted expression plastered all over her face as she glared at the two other friends of Kano’s who stared her down. 

“Too scared to respond to my texts so you got your men to do the dirty work for you?” The woman spat at her. “You’re just like her, you little bitch.”

“I’m sorry, but who the fuck’s this?” asked Kano. 

“I thought you were dead,” said Kido. Her voice was calmer than she expected, even though nothing could have prepared her for the sight in front of her. “Mother.”

There was a silence following her words. She could feel her brothers’ shocked gazes drill into her from behind, and even Kano’s friends exchanged a few surprised glances at each other.

The woman threw her head back and cackled. “Surprise, bitch, I’m alive,” she said. “And I’m here to make you pay for everything you’ve done to me.”

“What did I ever do to you?” asked Kido, more confused than upset. “I was good to you. I was practically a servant to you. Why do you want me dead?”

“Yeah, that part’s a little confusing,” said Seto. “If you’re her mother, then why do you want her dead?”

“See, boys, my name is Reika Kido. Tsubomi here is not my daughter. She is the product of my husband and some nasty whore from the streets. She was given a good, comfortable life at the Kido household just because the bitch that birthed her died and my husband felt some sort of remorse, or something ,” she said, rolling her eyes. “She was given a name and a title and because of that, she caused the downfall of my life.”

“I fail to see how she ruined your life,” said Kano, raising an eyebrow.

“Are you dumb?” Reika yelled. “Because of her, everyone around me knew that my husband cheated on me! Everywhere I went, the rumors followed! Everyone started talking shit about me behind my back or even in front of me! She ruined my marriage and my perfect life! If she wasn’t born, I could’ve maintained my reputation. If she was sent away from the public eye, I wouldn’t have to suffer like this. If she didn’t exist, none of this would have ever happened!”

“I—” Kano broke off laughing. “Is this woman okay?”

“I don’t know, but I don’t think so,” said Seto, an amused expression on his face. 

“So you’re saying that it’s my fault that my father cheated on you? Do you sanely believe that?” asked Kido, incredulously. In her memory, her sister’s mother was not like this. She was always cool and composed, showing polite manners to everyone. Although the two were never close, Kido always showed the utmost respect for Reika, as she was taught to do so. Despite it being obvious that she didn’t care much for Kido, Reika never showed any sign of hatred towards her either. 

“I wasn’t supposed to end up like this. If I can’t live happily ever after, then you have no right to either.” 

“Do you think I had a choice in this? Do you really think I ruined your life, even though I literally couldn’t do anything to fix it?”

Reika sneered at her. “You could’ve killed yourself.”

“This woman needs a therapist,” said Kano.

“Look at you,” continued Reika. “High school delinquent and all, you think you’re so cool now? Childish. Grow up, wouldn’t you?”

“If the real world is full of adults like you, then I’d rather stay as a child forever.” Kido turned her back on the crazy woman and let out a breath she didn’t know she was holding in. “Let’s go.”

“Make sure to take care of all of this,” said Kano to his friends, who nodded in response. 

“Running away like a coward, huh?” Reika yelled after them. “Just like you’ve always been.”

Kido stopped in her tracks. Turning back to look at her past one last time, she smiled. “I’m not running away. I’m moving forward.” With that, the three left the apartment and headed back home.

“My friends called the police,” said Kano. “They’ll make sure that woman will never hurt you again.”

“Thanks,” said Kido, sighing. “I owe you one.”

“Come on,” said Kano, flashing her his trademark smile. “Between you and me, there’s no need to say thanks.”

“Everyone’s back at the base already. I think they ordered cake,” said Seto. “You deserve some rest.”

“Definitely,” said Kido, leaning back in her seat. “Thank god that’s over.”

Beside her, Kano snickered. “Speaking of which, your speech at the end was so cool.” He turned his head back dramatically, mimicking Kido’s smile. “‘I’m not running away. I’m moving forward.’”

Instinctively, Kido kicked him in the shin. “Shut up, you idiot!” she said, embarrassed. “I didn’t say it like that!”

“I’m glad the old Kido is back,” said Seto, laughing as they pulled up to their apartment.

Kido couldn’t help but smile too. As a gust of wind tousled their hair, she tilted her head up and closed her eyes to take a deep breath. The smell of ashes had disappeared; the wind carried about a sweet smell, subtle, fragrant, and refreshing: 

The scent of a blooming flower.

Chapter Text

The first time he fell in love with her, she was sitting at her desk in class, laughing with her friends about something he didn’t understand. They were only ten years old back then, not even old enough to know what “love” really meant. All he recognized was his quickened heartbeat as he watched her smile and flip back one of her pigtails, the “thump-thump” noise in his chest drowning out the world around him. His gaze never left her throughout the class, and the more he looked at her, the warmer his cheeks felt. 

He knew who she was; then again, who didn’t know each other in this small countryside village? She, however, was a different existence altogether. As the second daughter of the wealthiest family in town, she was practically a celebrity. From a young age, she had opportunities her fellow classmates could never even dream of having, able to sharpen her skills in piano, ballet, ikebana, and more. Her popularity was well-known; the saying “throw a rock randomly and you’ll hit a fan of Hiyori Asahina” had circled the town for a while now, and even as a fifth grader, she had rejected countless proposals of love already. 

He never believed in “love at first sight,” but when it happened to him, he dropped all of his past beliefs. She was brighter than any star he had ever seen before shining in the night sky, and he wanted to get closer to her. He wanted to protect that smile of hers, such innocence and purity. He wanted to make her happy more than anything else.

But she never looked at him, not even once. As they approached the end of middle school, he prided himself in being one of her friends, although she herself never admitted it. They didn’t talk much, but they were on okay terms, and to him, that was enough for now. They were the only two students of their class to leave their town and venture into the nearby cities for high school; sadly enough, they were going to separate cities, and he thought his feelings would fade slowly over time. No luck.

He fell in love with her again and again at different times, at different places, in different situations, but his love for her never changed.

“What’s she like?”

Hibiya looked up at the sudden question. He and Konoha have been sitting at the train station for almost thirty minutes now, and Konoha was running out of snacks, so Hibiya guessed that he was getting a little bored. It was understandable; she was fifteen minutes late, after all, and nobody could reach her. 

He, however, had never been so excited before. He was about to see the Hiyori Asahina for the first time in almost a year. She was visiting Mekaku City for a week during break, since she apparently had family here. Her sister and brother-in-law were both at work during the day, so she reached out to Hibiya to help her get to where she was staying. He agreed excitedly, brushing away the fact that she probably just needed someone to carry her luggages, and asked Konoha to accompany him, since he clearly could not drive yet. 

“She’s… someone who would never hold back on what she wants to say. She’s straightforward and energetic, and she’s a really good person,” said Hibiya. 

“That’s great!” said Konoha, munching on his last Oreo. “I’m so excited to meet her! She’s your childhood friend, right?”

“Yeah…” said Hibiya. In reality, could he allow himself to call her his friend? They had drifted apart quite a lot during the year they spent in separate cities, and Hibiya was beyond surprised when Hiyori contacted him. But nonetheless, he was so nervous and excited to see her that he barely got any sleep last night.

“Oh, there you are.”

Hibiya looked up and he could swear that his heart skipped a beat. There she was. Her features had matured quite a bit, and she was just as beautiful as he remembered her to be. Her black hair was let loose from her usual pigtails, reaching the slightest bit past her shoulders. She wore a white t-shirt underneath a black strapped dress, and she tapped her black sandals against the floor impatiently. 

“Hiyori!” He stood up immediately. “Long time no see!”

“Yeah, yeah.” Her gaze turned to Konoha, who stood up with an excited smile. 

“Hi! I’m Konoha,” he said. “Nice to meet you!”

Hiyori studied the unfamiliar figure in front of her before smiling brightly. “Nice to meet you! My name is Hiyori Asahina! I hope to get along with you!”

Hibiya furrowed his eyebrows at Hiyori’s excitement. “Konoha’s one of my friends and he’s a senior at my high school. He’ll be driving us back today,” he explained.

Hiyori ignored his words and handed him her luggage. “Let’s go!” she said to Konoha instead. “I’m so tired and I need some rest. I hope Hibiya told you the address?”

“Yeah! If I’m not mistaken, I think it’s actually one of my friends’ houses! Do you know Ayano Tateyama?”

“Oh my gosh, yeah! She’s my niece! I know it’s weird, since I’m younger than her. But her mom is my older sister! I haven’t seen them in years! This is such a coincidence! It must be fate!”

Hibiya stared after the two of them and let out a long sigh. In a way, he wasn’t surprised that Hiyori would ignore him like this. To her, he was probably just a convenient associate who listened to what she said. 

On the way back, Hiyori excitedly claimed the passenger seat and rambled on and on to Konoha, who politely listened to her stories. Hibiya sat in the back and listened grudgingly, as these stories were not told for him. He had a bad feeling about Hiyori’s sudden interest in Konoha, but who was he to say anything about it? Hiyori barely even looked him in the eye upon arriving. 

He was right. As they got to the Tateyama household, Hiyori pulled him aside as Konoha was carrying Hiyori’s luggage up. 

“Does Konoha-san have a girlfriend?” she asked excitedly. “How did you guys meet, anyways? How is someone as cool as him hanging around you?”

“He… doesn’t,” said Hibiya hesitantly. Sorry, Ene, he thought to himself. I’m just being honest here. “We live in an apartment together with our other friends.”

“Then you best bet I’ll be visiting sometime soon!” said Hiyori excitedly. “He’s so good-looking. Anyways, I’ll be resting here now. You can leave now.”

“I’ll see you around then.” No “thank you.” No “it’s nice to see you.” No “see you later.” As Hibiya left the apartment, he could hear a crack forming in his heart as he let out a loud sigh. Hiyori wasn’t like him; she was always straightforward and fearless, and she always spoke her mind. 

If she didn’t say something, then that thought probably never even crossed her mind in the first place.

Over the next few days, Hibiya was tasked with running various errands for Hiyori. Whether it be going outside to buy any accessories or groceries or snacks she wanted or cooking lunch for her whenever the Tateyamas weren’t home, Hibiya did as he was told immediately. With a single text message from her, Hibiya would jump up from his spot on the couch at the base and sprint to the Tateyama household, eager to do whatever Hiyori wanted. 

In return, he got an occasional “thanks” or, if he were really lucky that day, a smile. Oftentimes, she wouldn’t even say anything. He tried to start conversations with her, but no luck. She would respond, but she was obviously disinterested, and he had to bring up Konoha to get her attention. 

The gang never questioned his unusual behaviors; they brushed it off as him wanting to help his childhood friend. At least that’s what Hibiya hoped they thought. His friends were enjoying their breaks, too, so they shouldn’t be focusing all their attention on him. Kido was attending indie concerts at livehouses, Seto was busy with his multiple jobs, and Kano was out doing god knows what. Marry and Konoha stayed at the base most of the time, and Momo was often out clubbing. Ene was at some sort of video game competition, and Shintaro shut himself in his room at all times. 

On the third day of Hiyori’s stay, Hibiya was repeatedly tasked with different errands. He would finish one of his jobs and sit down on the couch to rest when his phone buzzed once again with another request. He wasn’t exactly too unhappy about it; if it meant more opportunities to see her, he was fine with it.

When he stood up to run his fourth errand of the day, a hand pulled him back. It was Momo, who had a fiercer expression on her face than usual. 

“Where are you going?” she asked sternly. 

“Supermarket. Hiyori wants chips.”

Momo frowned. “And why can’t she go buy it herself?”

“I dunno. I gotta leave; she’s waiting.”

Momo stepped in front of him, blocking his path. “Why are you doing this?”

“What do you mean?”

“Don’t tell me you truly feel happy doing all of this. She’s just treating you as a convenient servant. She’s just using you!”

Hibiya glared at her. It wasn’t like Momo to use such sharp words, and he certainly was more than ticked off to hear them from her. “What do you know? You’ve never even met her before!”

“Regardless, whatever she’s doing isn’t right. She has no right to make you do all of this shit. Have you even gotten proper rest these past few days? She’s been asking you to do this, do that every single day. Don’t you see what I’m saying?”

“Shut the hell up. I’m leaving.”

“Wow, that’s what I get for trying to care about you?” A cold laugh escaped from Momo’s lips. “You’re pathetic.”

“What did you say?”

“I said you’re pathetic.” Momo glared back at him. “You think doing all of this is going to captivate her attention? You think she’ll thank you or think highly of you?”

“Again, what do you know?”

“Fine. Do whatever the fuck you want. Keep acting like a dog. See if I care.” Her words dripped with such venom that Hibiya involuntarily took a step back in surprise. She stormed off without another word, leaving Hibiya in stunned silence. It wasn’t that Momo never got mad, and they’ve certainly had their share of disagreements and fights before.

But this time, it felt different. It was as if they each struck a nerve with a topic that deeply concerned each other. He was frustrated. She hadn’t even met Hiyori before; how could she draw such conclusions? He desperately wanted to prove her wrong. There was no way Hiyori only thought of him as a tool. They’re friends. Right?

And why was Momo so bothered by his actions? It’s not like they affected her, anyways. Sighing, he stood up, packed up his things, and headed for the supermarket. Momo’s words circled around in his mind until he reached the Tateyama residence, making it difficult for him to meet Hiyori’s eyes. 

“Oh, you’re here,” said Hiyori once she opened the door. “What took you so long?”

“Sorry,” said Hibiya, handing over the chips she asked for. “Had a fight with a friend.”

“Oh? Tell me about it.” Hiyori stood to the side of the doorway to let him in. “I’m bored and I could use a story.”

“It’s not really a big deal,” said Hibiya, following her to the living room. It was weird to be familiar with the layout of Ayano’s house; he and Ayano barely spoke to each other, even though she got along well with everyone else. Although everyone in the gang was friends with each other, there were obvious cliques that formed. Out of everyone, he was closest with Momo and Konoha, and that was about it. Shintaro seemed to dislike him, and he hadn’t had the opportunity to get closer with any of the others. 

“Make it interesting,” said Hiyori, rolling her eyes. “Who’s the friend?”

“Her name is Momo Kisaragi. She’s a sophomore.”

Hiyori immediately bolted upright. “Momo Kisaragi?! Like, the internet famous Momo Kisaragi?”

Hibiya blinked. “Oh. Yeah. I forgot about that.”

Hiyori shook him by the shoulders. “How could you forget about that? She’s sooooo pretty! I follow her on Instagram! You never told me you knew her!” 

“You didn’t give me a chance to,” said Hibiya, sighing. Gathering up his courage, he looked at Hiyori. “All I’ve been doing these days is run errands for you. Not saying that you’re annoying or anything! But we haven’t really talked much, you know? I haven’t seen you in a while and all.”

Hiyori stared at him with wide eyes. She stayed silent for a few minutes, and in those few minutes, Hibiya thought his heart was going to burst from the nervousness. She was visibly conflicted, and finally, she shook her head and mumbled something to herself. “Oh,” she said slowly. She lay her back against the sofa and sighed. “It’s not very good for me to do that, huh?”

“I didn’t mean to blame you! I was just—”

“Yeah, yeah. I know.” She ran a hand through her hair and paused before continuing. “I’ve been like this for a big portion of my life; it’s hard to change. Of course, I know that’s not an excuse. But before I knew it, I was used to being bossy and asking people to do things.” Hiyori let out a sad chuckle. 

Hibiya bit his lip as he stared at her. He didn’t expect her to tell him any of this, and he had never seen this calmer, quieter side of her before. “It’s okay. I don’t mind.”

“But you should!” she said. “I’m...sorry for how I treated you.”

“It’s okay,” said Hibiya, his heartbeat speeding up in his chest. “I’ve been meaning to ask this, but… Are we friends?”

Hiyori pouted slightly. “Don’t make me say it out loud,” she said, embarrassed. “Yes. We’re friends.”

Hibiya burst into laughter. He couldn’t stop laughing even when Hiyori punched him in the arm bashfully, and he couldn’t stop smiling until he left the house. Standing at the closed door, he closed his eyes and let out a huge sigh of relief. 

“I’m so glad I met you, Hiyori.”

After that, Hibiya was no longer tasked with running errands. He would still visit the Tateyama household when Hiyori asked him to, but now, they ate snacks together and talked about the various things that happened to them in the year they spent apart from each other. Hiyori told him about the city she lived in and various stories of her friends, and Hibiya did the same. 

He was a little hesitant when telling her about the Blindfold Gang; what if she no longer wanted to associate herself with him once learning that he was labeled as a delinquent? But there was no need for such worries; Hiyori was cool about it and seemed decently interested in his stories, although she did ask about Konoha and Momo fairly often. 

He didn’t have the courage to ask her about her thoughts on Konoha. It was fairly obvious that she found him attractive, and Hibiya was scared to hear more. Although she had only talked to him once coming back from the train station, Hiyori seemed head over heels for Konoha, and Hibiya would be lying if he said that it didn’t bother him. 

The sudden sound of the doorbell interrupted his thoughts. Momo stood up and opened the door, and immediately, everyone at the base heard a deafening shriek.

“Oh my god, it’s Momo Kisaragi!”

Hibiya could recognize that voice anywhere. It belonged to none other than Hiyori Asahina, and he immediately got out of his seat and approached the doorway.

“You must be Hiyori-chan, then,” said Momo, laughing. Hibiya had explained what had happened between him and Hiyori to her, and the two had apologized to each other for the fight earlier. 

Hiyori nodded furiously. “Yes! I’m Hiyori Asahina; nice to meet you! Oh my god, you’re even prettier in person! I’ve followed you on Instagram for a while now and your pictures are so cute!”

“Aw, thanks!” said Momo, smiling brightly. “You’re super cute too! I’ll follow you back right away. So, why are you here today?”

“I’m looking for Konoha-san!” Hiyori tilted her head to the side to look into the apartment. “Is he at home?”

“Oh,” said Momo, surprised. “Yeah. Konoha-san!” 

Lazily, Konoha walked from the kitchen to the door. On the living room couch, Ene looked up ever so slightly before turning back to her game console. 

“Hi, Konoha-san!” said Hiyori excitedly. “I was wondering if you’d want to get ice cream together! I saw a commercial for this new ice cream shop that’s not too far from here!”

“Sure!” Konoha’s eyes lit up at the mention of food. “Right now?”

“Yeah! If you’re not busy, that is.”

“Let’s go then!”

After saying goodbye to everyone else, the two of them left the apartment. Hibiya sighed and walked back to his spot on the couch. 

“What’s with her and Konoha-san? I didn’t know they were friends,” said Momo, sitting down next to him. 

Hibiya shrugged. “She likes him, I guess.”

Immediately, Momo pinched him on the arm, causing him to let out a yelp of pain. Her eyes darted toward Ene, who just clearly messed up on her game on the couch next to theirs. Hibiya scrunched up his face awkwardly; usually, Ene would be wearing headphones and too absorbed in her game to listen in, but today, her headphones were nowhere in sight. He completely forgot about her being there, and he realized that he clearly shouldn’t have said that. 

“Fuck,” Ene cursed at the game console. Looking up, she realized that the two of them were both staring at her. “What? Why are you guys looking at me like that?”

“Ene-chan, Konoha-san just went out to get ice cream with Hiyori-chan,” said Momo cautiously.

Ene raised an eyebrow. “I am aware.”

“You’re not gonna stop them?”

“Why would I?” Ene put down her game console and took out her phone instead. “He can do whatever he wants to do.”

“Are you sure about that?”

“Haruka is a grown ass man. He can take care of himself, and I’m not his mother,” said Ene, rolling her eyes. “I’m out. Got a few games to play.” With that, she walked back to her room and shut the door. 

“She’s so bad at being honest,” said Hibiya, raising an eyebrow. 

“That’s been established for a while now,” said Momo, laughing. “Speaking of which, you like Hiyori-chan, right? Don’t try to deny it.”

Hibiya sighed and ignored the heat that rose to his cheeks. “Yeah,” he grumbled. “Go ahead. Make fun of me all you want.”

Momo flipped back her hair and laughed. “Come on, I do it because I care about you! Now, tell me the story. How did you guys meet?”

Hibiya closed his eyes as he went down memory lane. It’s been a long time since he thought about their encounter, and it seemed like something from lifetimes ago. “We grew up in the same village. She’s always been the celebrity; everyone knew her and adored her. I was no exception. I kept trying to get her attention, doing anything and everything that would make her happy. We started talking more in middle school, but by the end of it, we went to different cities for high school.” 

Momo stayed silent for a bit, fidgeting with her fingers. “Do you know why I was mad at you a few days ago for doing all of that for her?”

Hibiya shook his head.

“I’ve wanted attention for as long as I can remember. For my entire life, everyone around me only saw my brother. He was obviously the star student, the perfect child, and I was far from his level. I tried everything I could do to captivate others, anything and everything you can think of. Seeing you do the same for Hiyori-chan’s attention really frustrated me; it was like looking at myself in a mirror, and I hated how pathetic it seemed.”

Hibiya didn’t know what to say. He had no idea that Momo struggled with such thoughts; he didn’t have any siblings, so he never really understood how that would feel like. To him, Momo was always energetic and bright; although he was good friends with her, he never knew the more subdued version of her. 

“I know it’s really hypocritical of me to say this, but you are your own person,” said Momo. “Don’t chase blindly after someone else so much that you lose yourself in the process. They won’t appreciate you more just because you’ve done a good amount for them.”

Hibiya nodded slowly. “Yeah. Sorry about that.”

Momo smiled and tousled his hair. “Don’t say sorry to me. I’m gonna go out and get some boba. I’ll see you later.”

“Yeah. Thanks.”

Hibiya rarely saw Hiyori upset; sure, she would be mad or frustrated, usually at him, but she wouldn’t be sad . He awkwardly sat on the couch next to hers and stared at her, wondering why she made him come over immediately. Her eyes had lost some of that energy and edge she was known for, and she was lying lazily across the sofa, heavily unfocused on everything. She would give a little sigh from time to time and roll around to shift positions. 

“I confessed to Konoha-san,” she said finally. 

Hibiya tensed up at her words. “What did he say?” he asked cautiously. 

Hiyori let out a long sigh and smiled sadly. “He rejected me.”

“Oh…” Hibiya didn’t know what to say. He was never the best at comforting people, especially when it was about something that he shouldn’t be happy about. 

“You don’t need to comfort me,” said Hiyori, reading through his inner conflict immediately. “Just listen to what I have to say.”

“Yeah. I’m listening.”

“I never believed in love at first sight. ‘What bullshit,’ I always thought to myself. It was so unrealistic. How could you fall in love with someone you barely even knew? It seemed superficial to me. But when I saw him at the train station that day, I fell in love; at least, that’s what I thought. I thought he was so good-looking and so perfect , and I immediately concluded that it was love. I’m not a very laid back person, so I went for it.”

She paused, glancing at Hibiya ever so slightly to see if he was still listening. Hibiya was, of course, and he nodded to reassure her. 

“I told him the day we went to get ice cream,” said Hiyori. “He smiled at me. He said that I was a good girl and he really appreciated it, but he was in love with someone else. He reassured me that there was nothing wrong with me and asked if I was okay with being friends. I said yes, of course, and afterwards, I thought a lot about what happened. 

She looked straight into his eyes, and Hibiya nervously looked back at her, anticipating her next words. 

“I wasn’t in love with him,” she said with a sigh. “I was in love with the idea of him. I didn’t know him well enough to claim that I was in love, and I kept creating these illusions of what I wanted him to be like so that I could stay in love. There’s no way someone can confidently say that they’re in love with a person they barely even know; I understand that now. It wasn’t anyone’s fault, but these feelings weren’t supposed to lead to any fruitful results.”

Hibiya was silent. It wasn’t that he didn’t understand what she was saying; no, he understood more than anyone else. These were thoughts he had always pushed away whenever they surfaced, and they were the discoveries he kept denying every single time they appeared.

It was true; he hated to admit it, but he didn’t know Hiyori well enough. He barely knew her likes and dislikes, and admittedly, he hadn’t talked to her much over the last five-or-so years he had known her. He barely knew the real her; how could he proudly proclaim that he was in love? 

Hiyori sighed as she looked away. “I’m sorry.”

“For what?”

“For ranting about this. I know it’s not a very fun topic to listen to.”

“It’s okay,” said Hibiya, forcing a smile. “Don’t worry about it. I’ll be here for you no matter what.”

“Are you sure?”

“Isn’t that what friends are for?”

It was time to give up. 

He’d known it for a while, but it never really sank in. He didn’t want to accept such an ending to his first love; there was more, there must be more he could do to get closer to her, but alas, time washed away the intensity of his emotions, and he knew that it was time to move on. 

He still loved her; he loved talking to her, being with her, and watching her smile at anything and everything. But after thinking for a long while, he concluded that it was better for the both of them to simply remain as friends. Hiyori could do better than him, and he would be happy for her no matter who she ends up with. 

He stopped visiting her as frequently in the last few days she was in town. He and her both knew that they needed some time alone to think about some things and sort out their emotions on their own. 

He took a few walks outside. The gang often made fun of him and his “old-man-like” tastes, but he desperately needed some fresh air. Walking along the sidewalk and admiring his surroundings, he couldn’t help but think back to when Hiyori excitedly talked about her admiration towards the city when they were back in their countryside town. It was because of her that he decided to work towards attending high school in the city, but they ended up going to separate places. Perhaps it was fate’s work, telling him that it simply wasn’t meant to be. 

He planned on walking around aimlessly, but before he knew it, his feet had carried him to the Tateyama household, where Hiyori was staying. Awkwardly, he stared at the building for a while before shaking his head and turning the opposite direction. 

It was funny; when he was running after her, he never really looked back on the times he spent with her. But now that he was standing at the end of his journey, he couldn’t stop reminiscing about the memories and little moments he fell in love.

He remembered how he timidly introduced himself to her years ago, only to get a cold “Oh. Cool,” in return. He remembered how he sulked when rumors regarding “Hiyori Asahina’s first boyfriend” started to circle around town and how he brightened when Hiyori herself disproved it to everyone. He remembered how much he panicked when Hiyori smirked at the sight of him with a girl who was rumored to be his girlfriend. He remembered how he memorized her school schedule and tried to create “fateful encounters.” He remembered…

“I kinda hate summer,” she had said to him a year ago. The two of them had sat in the playground in their home town before they were forced to part ways. The sun’s rays beat down on them, and Hiyori bore a frustrated expression as she swung back and forth on the swing set. It was a bold thing to say at the time, as their town was known to be a tourist attraction during the summertime. But then again, when wasn’t she a bold and daring girl?

He chuckled at those memories, bittersweet but an important part of his teenage years. There were so many that he didn’t even know existed, and he smiled to himself as he bit his lip and tried not to cry. He spent his entire life trying to be more mature than his age; Hiyori seemed to dislike immaturity, and he was always teased as the youngest member of the gang. Was it okay for him to let loose, just a little bit?

He looked toward the next sidewalk in front of him and saw a familiar figure. It was her. She tied her hair in low pigtails, the same hairstyle of hers in his memory. Involuntarily, his heart skipped a beat as he watched her play with a stray black cat. She smiled softly at it as she petted its head and stroked its fur. 

He was hesitant on approaching her; that would defeat the purpose of giving up, he thought to himself quietly. So he only stood and smiled faintly from afar. The cat wriggled out of her embrace just as she picked it up and darted towards the streets. She pouted and protested, chasing after it. 

Lights flashed. Horns sounded. He yelled. She looked up. Everything happened too quickly, and before he knew it, he was running towards her as fast as he could. He wished he had Konoha’s strength and speed; but he was Hibiya, just Hibiya, and if there was one thing he had never given up trying to do, it was to see her smile. 

She didn’t see the traffic light flash a bright, glaring red, but he did. She didn’t see the truck that sped down the road in her direction, but he did. He was always chasing after her, but this was the last time. 


He caught a glance of her astonished eyes before he jumped into the street and pushed her aside. Before everything went black, he scoffed at the blazing heat, muttering a quiet “serves you right” under his breath. 

If he had run faster, stretched his arm further, would he have been able to reach her?

The first thing he heard was her quiet sobbing. 

He struggled a bit to sit up. He didn’t feel too much pain, and for as much as he could see, he only had a few scrapes and cuts along his arms. His head spun as he glanced at his surroundings, and as he recalled what had happened, he let out a huge sigh of a relief. 

He was alive, and so was she. That was all that mattered to him, and as he looked at her, he couldn’t help but smile. She was sitting in a chair next to the hospital bed he was lying in, and her messy hair was let out of her pigtails. She looked up at the sound of him waking up, and she immediately started crying again.

“What,” she said between sniffles. “The fuck is wrong with you?”

Hibiya burst into laughter. “What’s wrong?”

“‘What’s wrong?’ You fucking tell me what’s wrong! You fucking idiot! You could have died! Why did you do that?”

“Come on, don’t cry.” With a smile, he quietly wiped away tears from her face. “I hate it when you cry.”

“You idiot,” she said, hiccuping. “Thank god you’re safe. The doctor said that it’s practically a miracle. You can be discharged as soon as this afternoon.”

“Well, that’s a relief,” said Hibiya, laughing. “I wouldn’t want to lose a limb or anything.”

“You didn’t have to do that for me. You didn’t have to do anything for me.”

“I did it because I wanted to.” Hibiya stared at the girl he was in love with for years; she was in front of him, crying for him. “If you reverse time and go back to that moment, I’d do it for you again, without a doubt.”

“I’d do it for you, too.”

Hibiya stared at her with wide eyes. Never did he ever expect her to say something like this to him. He felt his heart skip a beat, and as his cheeks reddened, he smiled at her. “That’s… Wow. I didn’t expect that.”

Hiyori bit her lip as she averted her gaze. “I know I was never very nice to you. I know I never acted like it, but you’re the realest friend I have, and I’ve always thought of you as a friend. So please, don’t do something like that again. I don’t want to lose you.”

He couldn’t hold back his laughter, so he laughed, and as Hiyori’s face grew red with embarrassment and protested against him, he smiled as he stared at the girl in front of him.

The hundredth time he fell in love with her was also his last, and he thanked her for painting his teenage years a beautiful color.

Chapter Text

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?”

“Absolutely not.”

“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.”

“That’s it?”

“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.”

“I’m sorry.”

“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.”

“For real?”

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.”