On the very edge of the Hazard Zone, Amou stood - a small, exposed figure - in the middle of a large crater. Running his eyes across the battlefield, Amou verified that all the enemies had been neutralised – though when it came to Amou’s Black Trigger, neutralising was more about grinding them into dust – and released the tension inside him with a sigh. His shoes crunched quietly against the debris-strewn ground as he walked through the crater he'd made towards HQ. It wasn't until he had almost finished crossing the empty expanse that he noticed that the crater was a little too big. He looked back.
“Ah.” The outer edges of the crater were noticeably edging outside of the Hazard Zone. “This is going to be troublesome.”
As Amou predicted, it did indeed become very troublesome. Shinoda got involved. Kido got involved. Netsuki got involved.
In other parts of the city, five cellphones received a text later that same evening, just as Kitora was getting ready for bed. Someone with less discipline might have been tempted to ignore it until tomorrow. Kitora didn’t; dutifully picking up her Border-issued comm device, she scrolled through the message.
“Apologies for the lateness and the lack of notice. A-rank No.5 Arashiyama Unit are needed for an emergency PR appearance tomorrow evening. Please come early for a briefing at 5pm.
Kitora thought of the press conference they had just attended last week, as well as the four different magazine interviews they took yesterday. She took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. “Duty,” she said grimly.
The next day passed uneventfully, Kitora’s classmates knowing well enough to leave her alone with their notes to play catch up during break. It was a common occurrence whenever she had to miss class, and she had missed a lot of class last week.
But she was Kitora Ai, all-rounder of A-rank No.5 Arashiyama Unit. It was nothing she couldn’t handle.
As proof, she was the first to reach HQ, earlier than even Arashiyama himself. Kitora gave herself a moment to enjoy it, then headed towards the meeting room Netsuke always set aside for their briefings.
The atmosphere in Border’s corridors was the same as it always was, nothing to even hint at why an emergency PR appearance needed to be arranged. Kitora scanned the faces of everyone she met, making her usual greetings distractedly as she tried not to seem too obvious. She didn’t get anywhere. In fact, most of the people she came across looked positively cheerful for an evening shift on a Tuesday.
It was as she reached the floor that contained the meeting rooms that she saw Amou’s familiar slouched figure walking her way. There was a slight air of sullenness surrounding his usual blank appearance. Kitora could feel her heart sink all the way to her shoes. Of the number of people capable of causing incidents that required Arashiyama Unit’s immediate PR intervention, Amou ranked at the top for the messiest and worst to deal with.
“Amou-sempai,” Kitora said, half-entreating, half-desperate, “what have you done?”
Amou’s shoulders rose up as he ducked his head down. “You’re so rude, Kitora.”
Kitora shut her eyes as she breathed. “Sempai, our unit was called in just now for an emergency PR appearance. How can you expect me to not make assumptions?”
Amou’s gaze rested somewhere over her shoulder as he reached behind him and fished a plastic bag out of his dangling hood. “Want a rice cracker? I got them from Jin-san earlier.”
Kitora blinked at the bag shoved in front of her face for a moment, then snatched it up. “I will, actually.” She opened the bag with a snap of her wrist and reached inside. “Thank you,” she added grudgingly.
“You’re welcome.” Amou looked on mournfully as Kitora kept the bag close to her chest while she ate.
“No really, what did you do?” Kitora chomped down on yet another cracker. The snack was as dangerously addictive as always.
“Apparently creating craters the size of Koushien, or so I heard from the grapevine.” Arashiyama said suddenly from behind Kitora.
“Arashiyama-san!” Both Amou and Kitora said at the same time. Amou sounded sulky, Kitora sounded surprised.
“Hi, you two,” Arashiyama replied with one of his trademark refreshing smiles. He took a cracker from the bag Kitora held out to him. “Thank you, Kitora.”
“A crater the size of a baseball stadium!” Kitora turned accusingly to Amou. “What were you fighting that needed such extreme measures?”
Amou shrugged petulantly. “They all had boring colours. Anyone could have dealt with them. There was no point sending me in the first place.”
Arashiyama sighed. “Boring or not, you need to do your job, Amou. You can’t let the damage extend beyond the Hazard Zone, that’s too dangerous.”
Amou looked down. “It’s too much bother.”
By this point, Kitora was vibrating slightly from her pent up emotions. But she had enough discipline to be considerate to her elders. Unlike Amou. Kitora bit down vengefully on another cracker.
“Come on, Amou,” Arashiyama said, smiling kindly, “you know you can control yourself if you try.”
Amou had yet to raise his eyes. “Their colours were too boring.”
Kitora sniffed. Arashiyama obviously wasn’t getting anywhere. Not that anyone could when it came to Amou. You couldn’t control someone like him; you pointed him in the right direction and hoped that he didn’t make a mess too unmanageable. “Come on, Arashiyama-san, we’re going to be late for the debriefing,” she said as she started walking, turning back once to say grudgingly, “thanks for the crackers.”
Arashiyama headed after her, looking down at Amou as he walked past. “Were the crackers from you? Thank you for them, Amou, they were very good!” He put a gentle hand on Amou’s shoulder, pushing down on it lightly. “Don’t worry; we’ll take care of everything. Everything will be okay.”
Amou watched as Arashiyama followed Kitora down the corridor, shoulders down. He stared at their dwindling backs for a while longer, then said, “Thanks.”
Kitora had already turned the corner, too far to hear Amou’s quiet words, but Arashiyama turned back, still smiling. “You’re welcome, Amou.”