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The Change in Direction: Dark Shadows on City Streets

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Two weeks later, Makimura sat at his usual table in a café and looked up from his coffee with a smile when Saeko walked over to join him. She smiled in return and opened up her purse to pull out an envelope.

“I was able to arrange payment for the two of you as informants,” she said, sliding the envelope toward him. “You should get far more than this for what you did, but I….”

“It’s fine,” Makimura said, putting the envelope into his coat pocket. “This job was never just about the money. For either of us.” Saeko nodded and leaned toward him.

“How is your shoulder?” she asked. Makimura let out a sigh and smiled nervously.

“It’s fine too,” he said. “The bullet went clean through, so it wasn’t that serious. Other than being a little sore once in a while, it’s pretty much healed.”

“And I suppose Ryo got away without a scratch,” she sighed. Makimura frowned and took off his glasses.

“No,” he said quietly. “He went through far worse than me. Thankfully, he is doing much better now as well.” Makimura cleaned his glasses and put them back on before she spoke again.

“I’m sorry,” Saeko said, her tone contrite. “For what I just said and for asking you two to do this job, even though I knew how dangerous it would be.”

“Saeko, it was nothing that we wouldn’t have faced together as cops,” Makimura replied. Saeko held out a hand toward him.

“I’m also sorry for how I have been acting,” she said. “Ever since you decided to form City Hunter with Ryo, I kept asking myself why you did it, why you would go from being a detective to a vigilante. But…seeing what you did on this case made me realize why you do this kind of work. We would have never been able to do so much damage to Oracle on our own. Fukamachi’s arrest, the arrests of his men, and all the clients we were able to implicate…none of that would have been possible without your help. I understand now what you meant when you said that City Hunter would support the work that I do.”

Makimura watched Saeko put a hand to her forehead and sigh.

“I also kept asking myself why you would choose Ryo to be your partner,” she continued. “I kept thinking about back when we were partners, and it just did not make sense to me that you would work with someone like him. That is, until today.”

Makimura raised an eyebrow and she let out a laugh.

“A young woman stopped by my office today, looking for you,” she said. “She didn’t know your name, but apparently she remembered you. Up until a couple of weeks ago, she used to be one of Fukamachi’s prostitutes. She said that you offered to help her.”

Makimura’s eyebrow went up as he realized that Saeko was talking about the teenage girl who threatened to report him as a spy to Fukamachi. Saeko noted his expression, her smile growing.

“Apparently, she is back home with her parents, getting treatment for her drug addiction,” she said. “She said that what you did, the way that you offered to help her, that was the first time in a long time that anyone had been so kind to her. And the reason she is back with her parents is because another man, a man who had actually threatened her that same night, had tracked her down, and persuaded her to get help. It wasn’t until later that she figured out that that man was your partner.”

Makimura sat back in his chair and looked down, a smile lighting up his face.  He now knew what Ryo had been talking about when he mentioned needing a couple of days to himself so he could run an errand not long after the two of them left the professor’s care.

Saeko blinked in surprise. She recognized the knowing smile on Makimura’s face and had not expected it in the least.

“You aren’t surprised by what I told you, are you?” she asked incredulous.

“No,” Makimura said, looking back up. “Like I said before, I know Ryo well enough. The story you just told me, that is exactly his style.”

“And that is why he is your partner,” Saeko replied. Makimura nodded and Saeko let out another sigh.

“I guess I should have trusted you after all,” Saeko said. She put her elbows on the table and leaned toward Makimura, resting her chin on one of her hands.

“Hideyuki, I….”

“Hey Saeko! Are you finally going to pay off your mokkori debt?”

Both Makimura and Saeko looked up to see Ryo walking toward their table, a giant grin on his face.

“You know, you still haven’t paid us for the Fukamachi job,” Ryo continued, waving a finger at her. “A good client pays off her debts promptly.” Ryo grabbed her hands, but Saeko immediately pulled them away.

“I just gave Makimura your payment for the job,” she replied.

“Oh really?” Ryo asked, his grin growing even wider. “I didn’t think that there were any love hotels in this area.” Saeko’s face turned red while Makimura coughed violently.

“It wasn’t that kind of payment, Ryo,” Makimura insisted, pulling out the envelope and showing it to him. Ryo tried to snatch it, but Makimura shoved it back into his pocket.

“I will give you your half later,” Makimura said firmly.

“But Maki-chan, I need the money tonight,” Ryo pouted.

“Why? So you can go out for a night of drinking?” Makimura said, exasperation in his tone.

“No,” Ryo said. “So I can take you out for a night of drinking.”

Makimura’s mouth dropped open as he stared at Ryo, who continued to grin. It was not that common for Ryo to start calling him “Maki-chan” and even rarer yet for him to invite him to spend time together outside of work, and Makimura wondered what had prompted this surge of friendliness.

“Ryo, I….”

“Come on, Maki-chan,” Ryo cajoled. “You never let yourself have any fun. That’s why you have that gloomy look on your face all the time. I can show you some of the best places in Shinjuku.”

Makimura let out a nervous laugh. Kaori had already given him plenty of grief for what happened to his shoulder, and that was with his conscious decision to make sure that she did not know the whole truth behind it. He imagined that coming home drunk would set off her ire even more.

“Um, Saeko….” Makimura stammered.

“Oh no, I think we are done here,” she smiled, waving a hand at him. “Go ahead and have your fun. I will catch up with you later.”

“Great, then let’s go,” Ryo laughed. “That is, unless you would like to join us, Saeko-chan?”

“I wouldn’t dream of intruding on your evening,” she smirked at him. “Besides, I have so much more work to do these days.”

“Ah, you’re about as much fun as this guy usually is,” Ryo frowned while pointing at Makimura. “Fine, let’s go, Maki-chan. If we head out now, we can get the drink specials at Nekomama’s.”

Ryo grabbed Makimura by the arm and guided him to rise from his chair and follow him out of the café. As he was dragged along, Makimura let out a sigh of resignation. He understood that this invitation held a lot of meaning for Ryo, and he decided that the potential consequences for the upcoming activities would be far outweighed by the chance to strengthen their partnership.

At the very least I can make sure he doesn’t drink away all of his earnings for this job,’ Makimura told himself as Ryo steered him toward his Mini-Cooper.


 

Saeko laughed to herself as she watched Ryo pull Makimura along. She thought again about what Ryo had done for that girl and how Makimura was not surprised by his actions.

Makimura is able to see a side to Ryo that most people don’t, including me,’ she thought to herself.  Seeing the way Ryo laughed and grinned while almost shoving Makimura into his car made her reach another epiphany.

Ryo…he realizes it too. He realizes that Makimura sees past the perverted habits, the coarse demeanor, and the dark aura that surrounds him to the heart of who he is. That is why he….’

Saeko smiled and laughed again. She knew that, while Makimura was polite and congenial to most people, he was very selective when it came to choosing his friends. The fact that he had clearly chosen Ryo to become both his partner and his friend spoke volumes about Ryo as a person.

Ryo Saeba, it appears as if I underestimated you. There really is a lot more to you than what is on the surface….and I think I would like to get to know more about what is lurking underneath.’

Saeko suddenly put hand to her face and felt her cheeks growing hot from the blush that had appeared.

No way. It’s not possible. It…it can’t be.’

'Don’t tell me…don’t tell me that I am falling for Ryo too?’


 

About three hours later, Makimura leaned against a brick wall, his hand to his face as he tried to clear his head.

I should have known better than to try to keep up with Ryo’s drinking,’ he told himself. ‘I don’t know how he is able to stand at this point.’

After they had left Saeko at the café, Makimura made sure to deposit most of the payment from Saeko into his and Ryo’s bank accounts while still leaving plenty of money available for an entire night of partying. The throbbing between Makimura’s temples, however, made him question the decision to have so much money available for Ryo to spend.

Makimura ran a hand over his face and watched Ryo flirt with a pair of hostesses while on his way out the door of the nightclub. He smiled to himself as he thought about Ryo’s boisterous and uninhibited antics at every place they visited.

You can call Ryo many things, but boring isn’t one of them,’ he mused. Makimura then pondered how often it wasn’t just Ryo that seemed to be having a good time at the places they visited. It was also everyone around them; everyone who joined in with Ryo’s celebrating seemed to have fun. It was then that Makimura realized that this could be a deliberate result on Ryo’s part since he was often more than willing to be as loud, entertaining or exciting as he needed to be to generate plenty of reactions from the staff and patrons who were involved with the show.

Makimura rubbed his temples and let out another sigh as he leaned even more against the wall.  He figured that he could easily spend a lifetime trying to understand Ryo Saeba and never have all of the answers. As it was, Makimura had to admit that he was having fun tonight and that he enjoyed the chance to see more of this carefree side to Ryo.

“Let’s go,” Ryo said to him as he waved one last time at the hostesses. “Time for the next stop on our itinerary.”

“Ryo, don’t you think we should be heading home?” Makimura replied.

“No way, it’s not even midnight yet,” Ryo grinned. “The absolute best places don’t come alive until at least one am. In the meantime, I know a great place where we can grab a snack before the real partying begins.”

“That wasn’t the real partying?” Makimura gulped, a bead of sweat appearing on his forehead.

“Oh no,” Ryo said, his grin getting even wider. “Not at all. You’ll see soon enough.”

Ryo smacked him playfully on the back, almost knocking Makimura’s glasses off his face before walking off down the street. Makimura repositioned his glasses and started to walk alongside him.

“Ryo, when you see the professor again, please send him my thanks,” Makimura said. “I thought for sure that my coat would be ruined, but whoever he sent it to did a great job with it. Especially with the repairs to the shoulder. I will try to find some way to repay him.”

“I’ll let him know, but don’t worry too much about repaying him,” Ryo said. “The professor has a lot of people who owe him favors, and he wanted me to tell you to consider that his way of thanking you for making sure to take me to his place that night. Although, I don’t know why you don’t get yourself a new coat.”

“This one works best for me,” Makimura shrugged. The two of them walked along silently before Makimura spoke up again.

“Ryo…I also wanted to thank you for what you did for that girl,” he said.

“Huh? What girl?” Ryo said. “I’m telling you that that hostess at Nekomama really is twenty years old no matter what she might….”

“That’s not what I mean,” Makimura smirked at him. “Saeko says that she is doing much better now because of what you did. So thank you, Ryo.”

“No big deal,” Ryo said, shrugging his shoulders. “Besides, you said it yourself, she’s just a kid.”

“Yes, but I am also certain that that was not the only reason you made sure to find her,” Makimura said. “You also knew how important it was to me that she didn’t end up as another Natsumi or Yuki Iwasaki. Again, thank you, Ryo.”

“Hmph, well at least that brat was willing to listen to reason,” Ryo harrumphed. “Too many of them aren’t.”

Makimura smiled as he looked up and noticed the faint blush on Ryo’s cheeks. He knew that Ryo had appreciated his compliment even though he would never admit it. Makimura had often suspected that most people paid little attention to Ryo’s random and frequent acts of kindness, and thus he tried to acknowledge his awareness of them to Ryo every once in a while.

  “Ah, here’s the place,” Ryo said, pointing to a ramen noodle stand. “This guy changes locations all the time, but I know his route. Trust me; the food is cheap, but tasty.” Makimura pulled out a cigarette and lit it.

“I’m going to have a smoke before I join you,” Makimura said. “I need a chance to sober up a little before we start on the next string of bars.”

“Amateur,” Ryo sniggered before walking over to the ramen stand and sitting down on a stool in front of it. Makimura leaned against another wall and let out a few puffs.

He was so intent on trying to clear his head; he did not notice the two men sneaking up behind him until it was too late.


 

Ryo slurped down the rest of his bowl of ramen soup and immediately ordered another one. A part of him had been hesitant to invite Makimura for a night on the town with him, but as the night progressed, Ryo became confident that Makimura was enjoying himself.

Maki-chan always takes everything way too seriously,’ he thought to himself. ‘He needs to take some time off once in a while and see a different side to this town. Maybe I should take him to that one strip club next. That will sober him up, I’m sure.’

Ryo laughed to himself as he imagined what was sure to be an indignant reaction from Makimura toward some of the places Ryo had in mind to visit. Ryo glanced back to see if Makimura was ready to join him and was shocked to see that he had disappeared.

Did he decide to go home after all? Maybe it wasn’t a good idea to take him along for a night like this.’

The idea that Makimura ducked away without a word left Ryo with a bitter taste in his mouth, and he was about to leave for some solitary drinking when he spotted a lit cigarette lying on the ground, most of it still intact. He narrowed his eyes and excused himself for a moment from the noodle stand. He then circled around the nearby buildings so as to approach the alley Makimura was standing next to from behind. As he crept down the alley, he saw two men with guns raised at Makimura, who was slumped against the wall.

“We’ve got a message for City Hunter from Oracle,” one of the men said. “We would have liked your partner to be here for this message, but I think your corpse will convey our point well enough.”

Both men moved their fingers toward the triggers of their guns, but were stopped by a pair of shots that knocked the hats off their heads and then by another pair that dislodged the guns from their hands. They both turned toward Ryo, who still had his gun drawn.

“I have a message for you and for everyone left in Oracle,” Ryo said as he walked toward him. “If any of you try to go near me or my partner ever again, I will erase all of you from existence.”

The men gritted their teeth and opened their mouths to respond, but they immediately froze when they saw the look in Ryo’s eyes. Soon the both of them dropped to their knees and held up their hands.

“Please, spare us,” they both cried out. Ryo moved even closer and pointed his gun near their heads.

“I will spare your lives this one time,” Ryo continued in the same cold voice. “There will not be a second time. Do you understand?”

“We understand,” they whimpered as they got back up. “You’ll never see any of us again.” The men then ran off down the alley, and Ryo waited until they were gone to put his gun back in its holster. He then turned toward Makimura, who still hadn’t moved.

“Makimura?”

“Sorry,” Makimura mumbled, his head down. “That shouldn’t have happened.”

Ryo moved closer and could see the beginnings of a bruise near Makimura’s jaw. The way that Makimura was massaging his side also told Ryo that he had taken a few additional blows. Seeing nothing serious, Ryo relaxed and softened his expression.

“It’s all right,” Ryo said. “It was nothing that I couldn’t handle. And I am sure that’s the last we will ever hear from Oracle. So, are you still up for getting something to eat before we continue?”

“Continue?” Makimura said, raising his head.

“Of course,” Ryo grinned at him. “I told you that we haven’t gotten to the really great spots yet. The night is still young, Maki-chan.”

Makimura looked at him with a stunned expression on his face for a full minute before shrugging his shoulders and shaking his head.

“Sure,” he said. “I suppose I could use a chance to sit down.”

“Great,” Ryo said. “We better hurry though. I don’t want to miss it when Akemi-chan goes onstage, and believe me, you won’t want to miss it either.”

“Ryo,” Makimura sighed, putting a hand to his head.  Ryo noticed the frown on Makimura’s face and turned toward the entrance of the alley.

“Everyone makes a mistake eventually,” Ryo said. “That’s why it’s good to have a partner.” Ryo turned his head back to smile at Makimura.

“Partners watch out for each other,” he added. “And that is what I’m going to do. I’m going to protect you, Maki-chan, so don’t worry about anything bad happening while I’m around.”

Makimura stared at him silently for a full minute before finally smiling back and letting out a soft laugh.

“Thank you, Ryo,” he said. Ryo smirked and began to giggle again.

“Right, so let’s get going,” he chortled. “I don’t want to keep Akemi-chan waiting.”

“I think I might have to take you up on your offer to spend the night at your place,” Makimura said, his voice grim. “I don’t want to think about what Kaori’s mood will be like by the time I get home.”

“I don’t know,” Ryo said. “Might she get even more upset if you don’t show up until the next day?”  Makimura groaned and shook his head again which prompted even more laughter from Ryo.

“Come on,” Ryo said. “We might as well have as much fun as we can now. We can worry about the other stuff later.”

Makimura let out another laugh and resumed walking alongside Ryo, the both of them ready to make the most out of the rest of the night.