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To Find a Path: The Uncertainty of Decisions

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Ryo groaned as pale streaks of sunlight drifted in through the blinds in his room. He wished that he could put off facing the new day in front of him. He tried to tell himself that he was simply too tired to wake up because he had gotten to bed so late last night, but he was all too aware of the real reason why he didn’t want to get up: so he wouldn’t have to face the reasons why he couldn’t sleep last night.

Ryo groaned again and rolled over onto his back so he could face the ceiling. When he had gotten that note from Kaori setting up their date, he had been shocked. He had remembered vividly the last time she had adopted her Cinderella persona and the date they had shared. It had been easily one of the best nights of his life…up until that last moment when she walked away from him.

Initially he was confused when he discovered that she had taken on this disguise again and wondered what she was trying to do. Still, there was no question in his mind that he would go. Even though he fully expected the same sad ending to their date, Ryo hungered for the chance to spend some intimate time with his partner and was more than willing to go through this elaborate charade to do it.

The moment he saw her in that bar last evening, he knew that he had made the right decision. She was beautiful, of course, but the way she smiled at him was even more wonderful to him. That smile almost made him forget about the sadness that was sure to come.

Ryo ran a hand over his face and sighed. What he hadn’t expected was the way Kaori treated him during this date. Ryo could tell by the look in her eyes that she was speaking from the heart when she compared him to a knight and when she scolded him for speaking badly of himself. It was that look, that look of boundless, devoted love coupled with her willingness to sacrifice her own heart for his wellbeing that finally gave him the courage to confess his own feelings.

Still, he knew that what he did last night was not just a result of what happened on that date. It was also a result of conflicts he had been dealing with for a while now.

Six months previous, when Sonia Field showed up in Japan, Ryo had been forced to think about how he had lived his life thus far and what happened to the people who became part of his world. Even though, logically, he could reason that he wasn’t truly responsible for Kenny’s death, the fact remained that he had been the one to pull the trigger. Even though, logically, it had been an unfortunate series of circumstances that led to Umibozu’s injury to his eyes, the fact remain that he been the one to injure Umibozu. And even though, logically, Makimura had been killed by members of Union Theope while doing his normal job as part of City Hunter, the fact remained that Ryo had originally offered to take his partner’s place and had allowed Makimura to talk him out of it thereby setting up the chain of events that led to Makimura’s death.

Ryo took a deep breath. Again and again, whenever he allowed himself to become close to someone, he ended up causing that person pain and eventually played a hand in their deaths. Granted, Umibozu was still alive and had not been close to Ryo at the time of his injury, but the fact remained that the rest of Umibozu’s life would be heavily impacted by Ryo’s actions.

For most of his life, Ryo had carried this burden of grief and guilt inside him while striving to live each day as best he could. Makimura’s death, however, had affected even more than usual and a part of him was ready to finally give up. He did manage to continue onward, but he knew that that was mainly because he had Kaori with him. Her presence had made his suffering bearable and even enabled him to find some much needed solace for his sorrow. Still, those feelings continued to fester inside him and the weight of this burden slowly increased year after year.

Sonia’s reappearance and the events that happened shortly afterwards had been the breaking point in his ability to endure this burden. Ryo had no choice now but to confront the consistently negative impact he had had on those who had tried to be a part of his life. After looking at it from Sonia’s point of view and seeing how his continued presence caused her pain, after noting how both Umibozu and Miki would be affected by any attempt on his part to survive this duel Sonia had arranged, and after contemplating how, eventually, Kaori might suffer the same fate as her brother, Ryo had begun to think that his own death was the best outcome for everyone around him. Going into that duel, he knew his instincts would push him to survive, but Ryo was not as certain that his heart had the same desire.

Ryo’s feelings changed, however, the moment Kaori ran toward him to stop the duel and he ended up drawing Umibozu’s fire to protect her. As the bullet grazed his temple, he could hear Kaori’s screams of distress and the sound pierced his heart. In that moment, he had come to a new realization: he did not want to die. Not if it meant being separated from Kaori and making her cry, not if it meant losing his friends and the place he had finally found for himself in this world.

Not if it meant that his existence would end before he truly had a chance to live.

To his relief, he ended up surviving the duel, but Ryo could not shake off all of the feelings that these events had stirred up inside him. He felt lost, unsure of himself and uncertain of how he should proceed with the rest of his life. Weeks turned into months and Ryo continued to grapple with these feelings while moving no closer to any answers.

His eyes were finally opened when Kaori had taken matters into her own hands and donned her Cinderella disguise as a way to help him. It was then that he realized not only how much she loved him, but also that she held the key to the answers he was desperately seeking.

It was also the moment when he realized just how much he loved her in return. He then knew that he could no longer hide his feelings for her, not if he wanted to finally find a way to truly live instead of just survive. It had been one of the hardest decisions Ryo had made in his entire life, but the way things turned out and the happiness he now felt were proof that he had made the right decision.    

As happy as he was though, Ryo couldn’t help but feel uneasy, not only about this morning, but also about how the rest of the night had went.


 

After the two of them had confessed their feelings to each other near the docks, Ryo had taken Kaori home. They barely spoke a word on the drive there and when they arrived, they both silently went to their rooms to change clothes. Eventually the two of them had ended up on the couch that was on the same floor as Ryo’s room. Kaori had shed her Cinderella outfit and was now wearing a long sleeved shirt and some sweat pants. Ryo’s face broke into a lopsided grin at the sight. He had thought that Kaori was beautiful in the outfit Eriko had given her, but somehow, seeing her like this, was even more appealing to him.

“What are you smiling about?” Kaori asked, her eyebrows furrowed. “Are you disappointed now that I’m back to being me?” Ryo grinned even more and with a growl he grabbed her and pulled her onto the couch with him.

“Nah,” he chortled. “Fairy tale princesses are great, but then you have to be formal and cool all the time, and that gets tedious after a while. I’d rather have a maid than a princess…that way I get to be myself instead.”

Kaori frowned at his analogy, but the frown quickly faded into a smile as he drew her close to him, his arms wrapped tight around her.  She embraced him back and rested her head against his chest.

“Idiot,” she whispered as she caressed him. Ryo smiled again and proceeded to kiss her forehead and temples before moving back to her lips. As he kissed her, he inhaled deeply, taking in her scent, while his hands started to wander. He had fantasized about doing this with Kaori for years and now that he had the chance, Ryo discovered that he was intoxicated by her. Soon his kisses became more urgent while his hands became more adventurous in their exploration.

“Ryo…ah, Ryo….”

 The hesitation in her voice snapped him back to reality. He looked down at Kaori and saw that she was blushing violently and that her eyes had more than a flicker of apprehension in them. Frustrated at himself, he loosened his hold on her.

‘What am I doing?’ he asked himself. ‘I’m going too fast. She’s not ready. And now I scared her. She probably thinks that I’m going to try to force her or pressure her into doing mokkori with me.’

“Sorry,” he muttered. He turned his face away. He then felt Kaori snuggle up to him again, but even that soothing touch was not enough to quiet the turmoil he felt building inside him.

“It’s all right, Ryo,” she murmured. “It’s just…well I never…I just don’t know….”

“Don’t worry,” he said. “We can just stay like this, if you want.”

 Kaori thanked him and sank back against him. A few minutes later, she was fast asleep. Ryo resumed his hold on her and watched her sleep. He had to admit that he enjoyed cradling her like this, feeling her warmth spread all over his body. Ryo wanted to stay with her like that all night, but he did worry that he might start to lose control again.

‘Besides, it wouldn’t be good for her to sleep on the couch all night,’ he mused.

He stayed with her for a while longer before carefully picking her up and carrying her to her room. He gingerly placed her onto her bed, covered her with some blankets and watched her sleep for a few moments more before reluctantly going off to his room alone.


 

Ryo sighed again and turned back onto his side.  Now that he was fully awake and focusing his thoughts on Kaori, he felt his body start to respond. He looked down and, sure enough, he was in the midst of a ‘mokkori reaction.’ He tried in vain to chalk it up to his usual morning routine, but he knew that that wasn’t strictly true. After years of maintaining a tight control over his libido in regards to Kaori, Ryo found that it took very little to get him excited about her. He then started to worry about how she might react to what was sure to be frequent incidents of mokkori from now on.  

Good thing I didn’t stay with her all night,’ he told himself. ‘She wouldn’t have been happy to wake up and find this waiting to greet her.’

Ryo frowned. Things were much easier when he stuck with casual dates and one-night stands. He didn’t have to worry too much about what women thought of him and often, they went in with the same short-term desires he did. Despite his vast experience with women, he now felt like an awkward teenager, struggling to figure out how to handle his first girlfriend and it was not a feeling he liked at all.

Because that’s what Kaori is,’ he admitted to himself. ‘My first. The first time I have ever truly committed myself to a woman.’ 

It was at that moment that Ryo wondered if he had made a mistake. He was certain of his feelings for Kaori, even if he didn’t completely understand them, but he wasn’t sure if he could successfully develop a deep, lasting relationship with her or any woman for that matter. For years, he had become accustomed to having complete confidence in his own abilities in just about every situation, and it bothered him that he did not feel so self-assured now.

The sound of footsteps approaching his door broke Ryo’s reverie. Kaori was coming to his room to wake him up like always, and he was grateful that he had finally managed to calm his body down…although it also occurred to him that he had gone to sleep naked again out of habit.

“Ryo, time to get up,” Kaori said as she opened the door. Ryo scowled and pressed his face into his pillow. She was entirely too energetic in the morning for his taste.

“Breakfast is waiting for you,” she said. She reached down and started shaking his shoulder. That proved to be a mistake, however, as the motion started to shift the blanket covering him downward, revealing his lack of clothing. Ryo turned toward her and was greeted by the sight of Kaori’s scarlet face.

“Come on Kaori, I want to sleep in for a change,” he whined. He noted the way she was staring at him and a lecherous smile appeared on his face.

“Or maybe you’d like to join me,” he smirked. Kaori’s face turned an even brighter shade of red as she gritted her teeth.

“Pervert,” she spat at him. “Put some clothes on for a change and get up already. Your breakfast will get cold.” She then stormed out of the room.

Ryo chuckled to himself and got out of bed so he could find something to wear. He knew that it could get him into trouble, but he couldn’t get that look on Kaori’s face while she stared at him out of his mind. Normally, the second she realized that he was naked; she would immediately look away, if not run away. This time though, she was clearly interested in what she saw, even though she was still painfully shy about it. He wasn’t sure why, but for some reason, Ryo found her reaction both innocently endearing and surprisingly erotic at the same time.

I better stop thinking about this now…or I’m not going to be able to put my pants on,’ he grumbled to himself.


 

Almost two minutes later, Ryo walked toward the table and was shocked at what he found. In front of him was a full spread of toast, ham and fruit surrounding a plate that held a heaping portion of scrambled eggs.

“Here you go,” she beamed at him, motioning at him to sit down. Ryo moved closer to her, a hint of concern in his smile.

“Kaori, you don’t have to keep doing all this,” he said. A bead of sweat appeared on her forehead and her gaze shifted toward a variety of places in the room.

“I just want to be a little nicer to you these days,” she stammered. “Is that so odd? Besides, a job could appear at any time and you’ll need plenty of energy when it does. So nutrition is important, and….”

Ryo halted her speech by putting his arms around her.  He enjoyed this increase in the attentive, nurturing side to her personality, but he still suspected that she felt the need to “prove” her love for him or to “win” his affection. He knew that some of this was his own doing, and he was determined to find some way to make up for that from now on.

“If I had known that I could get more meals like this just by kissing you, I would have done it years ago,” he said with a smirk.

“Is that why you are holding me now?” she asked. “So that you’ll keep getting them?” Ryo had flinched when she said that, but then noticed the playful look in her eyes.

“Well don’t get used to them,” she continued. “I have no intention of spoiling you. Besides, our food budget can’t accommodate me having to make you lavish meals all the time.”

“Oh? Not even if I do this?” he giggled as he started to kiss her face and neck while holding her closer to him.

“Ryo…stop that,” she said with both a laugh and a sigh. “Eat your food. I made all this for you, so don’t let it go to waste.” Kaori laughed again and tried to wiggle out of his arms, but she remained trapped.

“Stay home,” he murmured in-between kisses.  “Forget about going to check on the board. It can wait for a day….or for a week.” Kaori touched his cheek causing him to stop and look into her eyes.

“Ryo,” she said, joy radiating from her features.

“Kaori.”

“Don‘t be a moron,” she replied.

“Huh?!” 

“Don’t think that you can start slacking off from now on,” she continued. “We can’t afford to go without a job for too much longer. So hurry up and get eating so I can get ready to check the board.”

“Kaori, you are a cold woman,” Ryo pouted. Kaori stroked his cheek and then embraced him again, burying her face against his chest.

“Tell me,” she whispered. “Tell me that this isn’t a dream. Tell me that I’m not going to suddenly wake up and have everything the way it was before.” Ryo put his arms back around her in an attempt to reassure her.

“It’s not a dream,” he said. “I promise.” Kaori squeezed him one last time before letting him go. The two of them then sat down to eat.


 

“Ryo,” Kaori said as she gathered up the empty dishes. “About last night….”

Ryo looked up from his plate which had just been cleaned of the last bit of food. He could tell by her tone that she was unsure of whatever she was going to say next. He could feel the tension in the room and wanted desperately to diffuse it.

“Oh that,” he laughed. “Don’t worry about it. I got carried away and…”

“Let me finish,” Kaori interrupted with a glare.

“Will do,” Ryo said, making a show out of shutting his mouth.  Kaori sat down next to him, her eyes downcast.

“The truth is…I,” she muttered. “Well, last night….I’m scared, Ryo.”

Ryo goggled at her. Kaori was usually not the type of person to admit to being afraid. He found himself worried over what she could be afraid of.

“I know that, for someone like you, who has been with countless women, this is going to seem ridiculous,” she continued. “But the truth is that…I’ve never been in a situation like this before. I’ve never been with a man. I’ve never even had a boyfriend before.”

“Not even a boyfriend?” Ryo echoed, his question a genuine one. “Really? I always imagined a mini-Kaori pounding some hapless boy on the playground with her hammer and then a teenage Kaori keeping the guys in line with a mace.”

 He half expected her to give him a tap with her hammer after saying that and was worried when she just mutely shook her head.

“No,” she said. “When I was growing up, I used to wonder what was wrong with me. All my friends would fall in love and I just couldn’t feel that way about anyone. It wasn’t until….”

“Until?” Ryo asked, leaning toward her.

“Do you remember the first time we met?” Kaori asked. “I don’t mean that time right before I turned twenty, I mean before…back then.”

Ryo blinked in surprise and then nodded. Early on in his association with Makimura, he had met Kaori when she was in her teens. Kaori had been suspicious of her older brother’s activities and while satisfying her curiosity, she had met Ryo. It had been an extremely tense meeting at first, with Kaori pretty much blaming him for the fact that her brother was now living in a much more dangerous world, but eventually the two of them reached an understanding.

Ryo let out a sigh as he reminisced about that time. Even back then, he had been surprised and impressed by how strong and generous Kaori’s heart was. When he met her again years later, he had been pleased to discover that she had lost none of that strength and generosity …and he had also been excited by the fact that she was growing into a beautiful woman.

“Before that time, I didn’t think I could fall in love,” she said. “But then I finally did…I fell in love for the first time…the only time….”

“Only time?” Ryo asked. “You mean….?”

“Yes,” Kaori nodded, still looking downward, her cheeks red. “There has only been one person in my heart. Just one person I could love.”  Suddenly, Ryo felt like he had just been hit with one of Kaori’s hammers.

She’s been in love with me this entire time? Ever since we first met?’ Even though she had admitted it, Ryo couldn’t believe it. He couldn’t imagine someone loving him that much for such a long time.

“So now, I’m scared,” she said. “My dream has finally come true and I…I don’t want to mess it up or disappoint you or….”

“Kaori,” he interrupted. “Don’t worry so much about it.”

“But Ryo….” Ryo put a finger to her lips, silencing her.

“Listen Kaori,” he said. “Don’t be afraid just because you’ve never done this before. The truth is, you’re just like me. This is new to me too.”

“What?” Kaori said, disbelief evident in her voice. “What do you mean new? You said yourself that you’ve been with numerous women….”

“Oh sure, I’ve been on lots of dates…a lot of which ended up being mokkori,” he said. “And I’ve even had a few brief affairs. But I’ve never had a girlfriend before. Not really. So you see we’re the same.”

“The same,” she repeated thoughtfully.

“Exactly,” Ryo smiled at her. “So the both of us are going to make lots of mistakes and act like idiots while we figure out what we should be doing. But it’s ok because we’ll be acting like idiots together.”

Ryo laughed as he said this, his laughter becoming more and more boisterous until he noticed the irate look in Kaori’s eyes.

“Who is going to be acting like an idiot?” Kaori asked. A large bead of sweat dropped off Ryo’s brow, his smile starting to fade.

“Well I um,…that is…” he mumbled.

Suddenly Kaori’s expression softened and she let out a sigh.

“You are hopeless,” she said. “You know that?” Ryo’s head bobbed back and forth.

“That’s me,” he said, trying again to smile. “Hopeless Ryo-chan.” Kaori laughed and embraced him.

“Ryo…thank you,” she murmured as she snuggled against him. Ryo put his arms around her, his smile growing. He knew that his attempts to reassure Kaori were clumsy, but she didn’t seem to care. She had understood him and it had been more than enough for her. It was then that he realized that this was another facet of why he loved her: because she loved him for who he was, not who he could be.

Looking down at Kaori resting against him, Ryo knew that, despite his apprehension and worries, he had no choice but to put forth his best efforts to hold onto Kaori and build a relationship with her.

Simply because his heart would not allow any other option.

Chapter Text

About an hour later, Ryo was lounging on the couch, flipping through the newspaper. Kaori had left a while ago to check the chalkboard at Shinjuku station, leaving him alone to his own devices.

Make sure to be here when I get back,” she had told him. “If there aren’t any prospects on the board today, we might have to hand out flyers again.”

Ryo sighed and turned to another page. He sincerely hoped that there would be a job offer, not so much because he was worried about money or because he was bored, but because he really did not want to spend another afternoon handing out flyers.

She would rather do that than spend time alone together here?’ he mused. ‘And they say that women are more romantic then men. Ridiculous.’

Ryo finished the paper and was about to head up to the roof to smoke when Kaori walked into the room.

“Hey,” he said. “So, are there any jobs?”

Kaori didn’t respond as she walked toward the couch and sat down next to him, her expression serious. She remained silent for almost a full minute before she pulled out her notebook.

“There is one,” she mumbled.

“Hooray!” Ryo cheered. “Now, we won’t have to hand out those stupid, useless flyers.”

Kaori stopped long enough to hit him with her ten ton hammer before picking her notebook back up and continuing.

“I don’t know for sure yet is this is going to be a viable job,” she said. “I need to meet with the client at noon tomorrow.” Ryo rubbed his head as he sat back up.

I guess the hammers aren’t going away any time soon,’ he thought to himself. ‘I suppose I should have known better than to expect something like that.’

“Ok, well how about I go with you this time?” he offered. Kaori clenched her hands and looked down at the floor. He wondered why she was reacting this way, but he soon arrived at a possible answer.

“The client,” Ryo said. “It’s a woman, isn’t it?” A drop of sweat rolled off Kaori’s brow and her face started to turn red.

“We’re not in debt yet,” she said. “So we could hold out a little bit longer and see if….”

“Kaori.”

Kaori finally looked up at him.

“This was bound to come up some time,” Ryo said. “We might as well go ahead face it now.”

“I know,” she said. “I know that. But Ryo….”

Ryo stopped her with a brief kiss. He then pulled back slightly, lingering to stroke her cheeks and lips with his fingertips before continuing.

“Kaori, you know my nature,” he said. “It’s part of who I am and that won’t change. But you should also know by now that I do not break my promises. I promised to be your imperfect shadow knight, and I intend to keep that promise. Remember that, Kaori: I am your knight…yours and yours alone.”  

Ryo leaned back and watched as Kaori contemplated his words. He wasn’t entirely sure if she would believe him since his words he said were not part of his usual style. Truthfully, he didn’t feel entirely comfortable with voicing such sentiments aloud, but he knew that it was important right now to make sure that Kaori understood her place in his heart.

“All right,” she said. “I trust you.”

“I’m glad,” he replied. He then stood up and pumped his fists.

“Tomorrow we will meet our client,” he said. “Hopefully, she will be mokkori material so that we can…”

Ryo was cut off by another hammer pounding him into the floor. As he crawled out from underneath it, Ryo watched as Kaori leaned down toward him with a grin on her face.

“Sorry Ryo,” she beamed. “But by now, you know my nature too…and that won’t change either.”

“Aha, ha, ha, Ryo-chan is in trouble,” he laughed weakly before collapsing against the floor.


 

The rest of the evening was spent with Ryo playing some video games in the front room while Kaori went about preparing dinner. After they were finished, Kaori cleared the table and finished her chores for the day while Ryo went down to the shooting range to practice.

As he aimed toward each target, he felt his mind clear a little bit more. In the past, Kaori used to ask him why he needed to practice so much considering his level of skill, but eventually she simply acknowledged his desire to have some time alone.

Ryo fired and watched as the bullet pierced the center of the target. Ever since he could remember, he had held a gun in his hand. It had been a part of his childhood and had followed him all the way into his adult years. As a result, it became an integral part of who he was. He knew that those who met him couldn’t decide if his true nature was the light-hearted, mokkori-seeking, goofball or the deadly, resourceful soldier. Standing here, holding his gun, Ryo contemplated on how very few people knew the actual truth: that he was both of those people and neither of them at the same time.

Ryo fired again, satisfied when his next bullet hit the exact same spot. At this point, shooting was not a way to refine his skill but a way to calm his mind. While spending the evening with Kaori, his mind kept drifting toward his lingering concerns about being in a relationship with her. The more he thought about it, the more anxious he became. By the time dinner was over, he knew that he would need this time to practice in order to have any chance of relaxing.

He fired one more round through the same hole before discarding the empty shells from his gun. Thoughts about a possible job tomorrow made him consider a topic he had been avoiding: how his changing relationship with Kaori would affect their partnership as City Hunter.

There are many, many people, who would like to see me dead,’ he mused. ‘If they were to find out about the kind of relationship I now have with her, how many of them would try to use her to get to me? How many of them might even decide to kill her instead as a way to avoid facing me directly?’

Ryo listened to the tinkling of the empty shells hitting the floor and reached over for more bullets to load into his gun. His mind went back to the incident with the Silver Fox, who had decided that the best way to challenge him was to try to kill Kaori. To this day, he never forgot the moment when Silver Fox fired at the heel of Kaori’s shoe and Ryo thought that the bullet had hit her. Catching Kaori as she fell to the ground, he felt his heart stop.  Ryo would never tell Kaori this, but right after it happened, his nights were spent immersed in nightmares as his mind replayed that moment over and over again, often with different, more terrifying results. It had taken weeks for the nightmares to begin to subside.

As soon as he realized that Kaori was being targeted, his first instinct had been to do whatever was necessary to protect her…even if it meant never being able to have her in his life again. Now that he had made this commitment to her, Ryo knew that that was not an option. He would have to find new ways to ensure Kaori’s safety. New ways of working with her.

Ryo stared at the targets in front of him for a few minutes more before taking care of the room and heading back upstairs to his floor of the apartment building. His mind was calm, but his heart was still uneasy and he wasn’t sure how to address that problem.   

“Ryo, what’s wrong?”

Ryo blinked at Kaori’s voice as she approached him in the front room, a concerned look on her face. Ryo sank down onto the couch and Kaori moved to sit next to him.

“Kaori…I think we should keep our relationship a secret,” he said. “At the very least we should keep it from our clients.”

“Of course,” Kaori nodded. “For now, it’s probably better that no one know about us. In fact, I had already planned for that.” Ryo looked over at her, surprised.

“You had?”

“Certainly,” she replied. “It wouldn’t be professional to mix our personal lives into our work. It could affect our clients’ confidence in us. Better for us to appear to be work partners and nothing more. Eventually, we will let our friends know, but for the most part, it’s probably best to keep it a secret from the world.” Ryo smiled, grateful that Kaori was taking a practical approach to this.

His smile disappeared, however, when he saw a hammer appearing in Kaori’s grip.

“That does not mean you’ll get a free pass to hit on our clients or on random women,” she warned him. “Keep that in mind.” Ryo flinched and laughed nervously.

“I won’t forget,” he said, putting his hands up over his head. “I won’t.”

“Good,” Kaori said, her tone stern. She then let her hammer disappear. Ryo put a hand to his face fell back against the couch.  Soon, he felt Kaori put an arm around his shoulders.

“Ryo, don’t worry,” she murmured at him. “I’m going to work even harder to be a good partner. I’m not going to force you to carry all of this responsibility alone. You’ll see. I’ll make sure that you don’t have to take care of me all the time.”

Ryo shook his head. It was always uncanny when Kaori read his mind this way, something that she was able to do more and more as they continued to live and work together.

“You look so tired,” she continued. “Let me help you relax.”

He was about to ask what she had in mind, but hesitated as Kaori pulled on his shoulders, guiding him to lie down onto his back. His head ended up in her lap, and she looked down at him, a serene expression on her face. She then began to gently stroke his face and run her fingers through his hair.

Ryo closed his eyes and sighed. He had loved this the first time when Kaori did it on their date together and was enjoying it even more now. He couldn’t really put his finger why such a simple touch meant so much to him. All he knew was that it soothed his soul, evoking some wistful memory or dream from long ago of being cared for by someone who loved him. Soon, Ryo felt his entire body relax while his mind and heart let go of their usual tension. For a rare moment in his life, he was completely at peace.

“Remember this, Ryo,” she whispered. “I also made a promise that I intend to keep. I promised to be your partner, now and forever. No matter what, I will always be with you. Always.”

 He couldn’t bring himself to say it aloud, but Ryo was thankful that she continued to reassure him that way. From the beginning of their partnership, he had worried about the moment when Kaori would decide that this life wasn’t for her and would move on to find a normal life out of the underground. As he discovered the feelings she had for him and his heart grew increasingly attached to her, he then acquired the additional worry that she would eventually realize that she deserved a much better man than him and would fall in love with someone else.

Kaori resumed playing with locks of his hair, and Ryo tilted his head slightly so he could lean into her touch. He knew that it was selfish of him to want to hold onto her, but he found that he couldn’t stop himself. Even though Ryo knew that it would be safer and easier for Kaori to leave him, every time it appeared as if he might lose her, fear gripped his insides and his heart grew cold. During those times, Ryo knew that he would never dare to try to stop her, but he would always secretly hope that he could continue to have her in his life anyway, even if it was just for a little while longer.  

There had been a few times when he had attempted to release her from her partnership with him, like when Silver Fox threatened to kill her or when she had lost her memory from falling off a pedestrian overpass. Other times, opportunities for Kaori to willingly walk away from him came along, like when her sister Sayuri showed up, when Bloody Mary decided to tell Kaori about his past or when there was a possibility that Mayuko Uragami’s father would propose to her.

 In the end, though Kaori always chose to stay with him. He couldn’t fathom why she made this choice over and over again, but Ryo always felt immense relief whenever she did.

Ryo opened his eyes and saw Kaori looking down at him again, the same calm expression on her face. She smiled at him and warmth flooded his heart.

“Kaori.”

“How do you feel now, Ryo?” she asked him.

Ryo immediately sat up and pulled her close so he could kiss her, preferring to show her how he felt rather than tell her. His kisses became prolonged and more passionate and he felt her press up against him in response.

It was at that moment though that Ryo felt his body start to respond to her again.

He immediately pushed away and moved to the other end of the couch, turning his back toward her. Sure enough, there was a pronounced bulge in his pants, and Ryo felt a tiny drop of blood start to fall from his nose. Kaori got up onto her knees on the couch and leaned over his shoulder.

“Ryo, what happened there?” Kaori asked. “Why did you…?”  Ryo immediately wiped the blood from his nose away and covered his crotch with both hands.

“Aha, ha ha, it’s nothing, nothing,” he laughed. “Just a little….”

“Wait…wait a minute,” Kaori gasped, her face turning red while she pointed at his hands. “Is that…is that….?”

Ryo gulped, sweat forming on his brow. Ever since he had known her, Ryo had noted Kaori’s high level of shyness and modesty in relation to sexual matters.  He also knew that Kaori disapproved not only of his near constant mokkori hunts, but of all the trappings of mokkori as well including his collection of porn, his tendency to get aroused around beautiful women and even consensual invitations for mokkori from women. Despite the fact that now, she was the target of his desire, Ryo worried that Kaori would misread his reactions to her and interpret his deep attraction as simple, wanton lust.

 ‘I can’t tell her the truth. This isn’t what she wants and it will put too much pressure on her and on this relationship…not to mention the fact that she’d probably kill me.’

“Oh this?” he laughed as he scooted away from her. “I was…I was just thinking about how we are supposed to be meeting our client tomorrow. It’s supposed to be another hot day, and more than likely she’ll be sweating, her clothes clinging to every curve of her body…maybe she’ll want to change them and….”

Ryo screeched as he narrowly avoided another hammer pounding him into the floor.

“You jerk!” Kaori yelled at him. “Thinking about something like that at a time like this. Hold still.”

Ryo continued to scream as Kaori chased him with the hammer. He wished that things were different, but he resigned himself to the notion that he would have to wait until Kaori was ready to consummate their love that way.

Besides, deep down, Ryo didn’t mind. No matter how long it took, Kaori’s love for him was more than enough to sustain him.

Chapter Text

The next morning, Ryo woke up and blinked his eyes several times before yawning. He then stretched in bed, his muscles a little sore from the blow that he finally received from Kaori’s hammer last night. He was about to get up when he noticed that, once again, a part of him was already fully awake. Ryo groaned and pulled the sheets up over his face.

‘My body is entirely too honest,’ he thought to himself ruefully. ‘Even if I make the decision to not touch Kaori that way, I’m not going to be able to stop myself from feeling mokkori around her.’

Ryo wished that he could go back to hiding it from her like he did before, but he knew that it would be impossible. Before, he had made it a point to deny his feelings for her, and now they were out in the open. Plus, previously, there had been little physical contact between them other than mostly platonic touches and a couple of kisses. Now, there were plenty of kisses and affectionate caresses between them, which only served to ignite his passion.

He closed his eyes and listened carefully. He could hear Kaori moving around outside his door and the sounds he heard, along with knowledge of her routines told him what she was doing and how much time he probably had before she would come to wake him up.

She’s heading to the bathroom to take a shower, and then she’ll probably make breakfast before waking me up. That’s plenty of time to calm my body down before she gets here. I’ll even have some time to focus my mind so that….’

‘Wait…she’s going to take a shower now…’

Ryo knew that thinking about that was a mistake, but once the idea popped into his head, he couldn’t get rid of it. His mind was swiftly filled with all sorts of fantasies and soon he felt a trickle of blood falling from his nose.

He became so preoccupied with these thoughts that he didn’t notice the passage of time and suddenly he heard Kaori’s footsteps approaching the door. Ryo flinched and turned over onto his side, pretending to be asleep.

“Ryo, get up,” Kaori said as she walked in. “I want to check the board again before we go meet with our client.” Kaori pulled at his shoulder and turned him toward her, gasping the sight of blood running out of his nose and the prominent bulge his blanket.

“Yes Saeko…Reika…take them both off,” he slurred out, his eyes still closed. Seconds later, Ryo was pinned to the wall with one of Kaori’s maces.

“Clean up your face and get dressed,” she ordered as she stomped out of the room. Ryo slid down the wall, groaning.

Maybe Kaori’s arsenal isn’t such a bad thing,’ he told himself. ‘After all, it is pretty effective at putting a stop to my mokkori….Maybe I should just envision her hammers all the time….’


 

After getting ready and sharing a quick breakfast with Kaori, Ryo went out with her to check the Shinjuku station board. Finding no messages waiting for them, the two of them left to go to the designated meeting place.

“There wasn’t a name,” Kaori said, reading out of her notebook as they walked. “Just a time and place: noon at a table near one of the front windows at Café Snack Castle.”

“No name?” Ryo replied. “Then how do you know that it’s a woman?” Kaori frowned at him.

“Oh, I know all right,” she said. “The handwriting always gives it away.”

“That’s some gift you have,” Ryo laughed. “Too bad it’s not all that useful.”

“Actually, I find it very useful,” Kaori said with a grin that held more than a touch of malice. Ryo laughed again and thought about saying more, but decided that the best course of action for now was silence.

After arriving at the café, Kaori sat down at one table while Ryo sat down at another with a drink and magazine so that he could watch the meeting in secret.

To kill time, he started to watch the women passing by the window, his mind giving each one he saw a ‘mokkori rating.’ Despite his current situation, Ryo continued to be fascinated by women. Spending time with them had been the most effective way to stave off his loneliness with each casual date and each rendezvous at a hotel acting as a respite for his soul. Ryo always felt affection toward the women who provided this gift to him and toward the women who potentially could give him this gift in the future.

Ryo watched a pair of women walk by the window and he giggled to himself. While it was true that he was still enraptured by women, he knew that his fascination and affection for them existed only at the surface of his being. The fact remained that there was only woman he had been able to allow into his heart, and she was sitting at the table next to him.

Ryo glanced over at Kaori to see her absentmindedly sipping at her drink while looking around the room, and he marveled at how different he felt inside when he looked at her. Fascination gave way to admiration, affection grew into love and Ryo relished these differences. He gave her a brief smile before hiding behind his magazine.

A couple minutes later, a young woman wearing a flowing skirt and a silk blouse approached the table where Kaori was sitting. The woman stared at Kaori for a moment, swishing her long hair to the side, before leaning close.

“Excuse me,” she said. “I heard that you could get an interesting drink at this café. XYZ? I think that’s what it’s called.”

“Indeed,” Kaori nodded, her expression serious. “Please sit down and state your business.” The woman sat down in a chair across from her and took a deep breath.

“My name is Emi Kushida,” she said. “Until recently, I worked as a secretary at one of the largest law firms in Tokyo.”

“Until recently?” Kaori replied.

“You may a news story a couple months ago about a law firm that was indicted due to ties with a large drug syndicate,” Emi continued. “I used to be an executive secretary with that firm.”

“I had heard about that,” Kaori said. “But, if this is about that, why aren’t the police protecting you?”

“Because I don’t know anything about any of the drug related dealings within the firm,” Emi said. “I was assigned to one of the senior partners, yes, but he was old and had become senile of late. My job mainly consisted of making sure he could keep his appointments and clients straight. As a result, I have no evidence to offer for a trial. The police interviewed me, but since I knew virtually nothing about the crimes being committed, they didn’t think that I would need protection, but….”

“But?”

“Recently, I’ve been followed,” Emi continued. “I keep seeing a green car wherever I go. It follows me slowly when I walk down the streets. Plus, I’ve been getting phone calls where I would pick up and there would be no answer. At first I thought it was some stupid pranks, but two days ago, that green car tried to run me down while I was crossing an intersection. I managed to jump out of the way, but….And then when I got home, I got this note.”

Emi pulled a piece of paper out of her purse and handed it to Kaori.

“We know that you know,” Kaori read from the paper. “Old Man Iwadate can’t protect you now.”

“I was Iwadate-san’s secretary,” Emi added. “He died a month ago. I just know that this has to do with indictment. I don’t know anything, but someone thinks I do. All of the other secretaries who worked there are under police protection, but the police won’t believe that I am being targeted too. I…I don’t know what to do.”

Ryo watched Emi through a hole in his magazine while he listened to her story. On the surface, her story sounded credible, but Ryo couldn’t shake the sense the feeling that something was wrong.

What is she hiding?’ he asked himself. ‘She is clearly agitated about something, but is it really just because she’s being targeted? Or is it something else too?’

“Please,” Emi said, leaning even closer to Kaori. “I don’t know who else to ask. If you are worried about money, don’t be. I have a plenty of savings from when I worked for that firm and my parents left me a trust fund that gives me more than enough to live on. Please, I am begging you.”

“Emi-san….” Kaori started. Suddenly, Ryo jumped up from his table and ran over toward Emi.

“Leave it to me,” Ryo said as he grabbed her hands. “I, Ryo Saeba, will be your personal bodyguard.”

“Ah, ah, Ryo,” Kaori said as she stood up. “I haven’t decided if we are going to take on this client.”

“Um, who is this?” Emi asked. “Is he…?”

“Don’t worry,” Kaori said. “He’s the sweeper. I’m his assistant.” Emi turned her gaze toward her, her eyes pleading.

“Please, Miss….?”

“Kaori Makimura,” Kaori replied. Ryo noted a brief flash of emotion he couldn’t identify in Emi’s eyes before she spoke again.

“Please, Makimura-san,” Emi said. “If you don’t help, I don’t know what will happen to me. Please.” Kaori sighed and put her face into one of her hands for a moment before looking back up with a smile.

“Of course we’ll help,” she said. “Don’t worry, Emi-san. You can count on us.”

“Then it’s settled,” Ryo said. “Now first things first: we need to find a safe place for you to stay while we figure out who exactly is after you right now. Naturally, the safest place is at my place, so….”

“That’s the safest place, huh?” Kaori scowled at him. “I’m not so certain of that.” Ryo gulped, but continued to smile.

“Sure it is, Kaori-chan,” he said. “If she’s at my place, I can keep a close eye on her at all times. Plus, you know about all the safeguards we have there.” Ryo then turned toward Emi and rubbed her hands with his thumbs.

“Emi-chan, you have my personal assurance that nothing will happen now that I am protecting you,” he said.

“Really?” Emi said, her eyes lighting up. “Thank you Saeba-san. You have no idea how relieved I am.” Emi then grabbed Ryo and embraced him tightly.

“Wow!” Ryo replied, shocked at her reaction. He patted her back lightly in an attempt to be reassuring, and she responded by moving even closer to him.

“I already feel safer knowing that you’re here,” Emi said, snuggling up to him. Ryo’s eyes grew big and he laughed nervously while he watched Kaori silently fume from behind Emi.

I’ll probably have an appointment with a hammer before too long,’ he told himself. Ryo cleared his throat and backed away from Emi.

“Right, so let’s run by your place so we can get some things,” he said. “You might want to pack a good-sized suitcase. There is no telling how long you might have to stay with me.”

“Whatever you say, Saeba-san,” Emi smiled at him. She let him go and swished her hair off her shoulder. She then reached for one of Ryo’s arms and wrapped her own around it.

“And thank you again, Makimura-san, for taking on my case,” Emi said with a smile. Kaori swallowed hard and did her best to smile back.

“Ah, no problem,” she said. “Really. And please, feel free to call me Kaori if you would like.”

Ryo watched the way Emi continued to smile at Kaori and it bothered him.

Even though she says she’s fearful for her life and is grateful for our help, it’s as if Emi is getting some kind of pleasure out of Kaori’s reaction to her hugging me. Is Emi the type who likes to stir up trouble?’

‘Or is it something more personal than that?’

As the three of them walked toward his car, Ryo made sure to maintain his cheerful expression. As much as he wanted to shield Kaori from anything unpleasant, he knew that it was best to let her take care of herself when it came to personal disagreements with people. Kaori had her pride, and Ryo did not want to demean it by stepping in every time she faced any sort of conflict or difficulty.

Still, that did not stop him from wanting to make sure that any conflicts Kaori faced did not escalate into something more problematic or dangerous. Ryo figured that, in this case, the best way to make sure that that did not happen was by staying as close to the situation as possible. Even if that meant taking on a client whom he had nagging doubts about.

Besides, if anything does happen, I will be right there to make sure that it’s nothing that Kaori can’t handle herself.’

“Saeba-san,” Emi said as she tightened her grip on his arm. “About your payment, would you like me to make a deposit now?” She pushed herself even closer to Ryo, giving him a clear view of her cleavage. Ryo goggled at her, unable to stop himself from drooling.

“No need to do that right this second,” Ryo replied. “We can wait to get back to my place and then we can….”

He was interrupted by another blow from Kaori’s hammer, dislodging him from Emi’s grasp and slamming him into the pavement.

“And what?!” Kaori yelled at him. “Make some kind of mokkori deposit?” Ryo slowly sat up and brushed bits of concrete out of his hair.

“I was going to say that we can then discuss the terms of payment, including the deposit, over dinner” he said weakly.

“Oh, ha ha, sorry about that,” Kaori said, as she put a hand over her mouth and hid her hammer behind her back. “I was sure that you were going to say something else.”

“Hmph, what kind of a person do you take me for, Kaori-kun?” he asked, mock irritation etched into his features. A slight breeze drifted by which lifted up the hem of Emi’s skirt. Ryo was then able to get a glimpse of her legs, causing him to grin again. He stopped looking though when Kaori grabbed him by the collar and dragged him away from Emi.

“I think you know what kind of person I take you for,” she said, glaring at him. Ryo pouted and dramatically turned his head from her. He got to his feet and was about to continue escorting Kaori and Emi to his car when a familiar sound caught his ear, causing his nerves to fire up.

“Get down!” he yelled. He then grabbed Emi and pushed her to the ground, covering her with his body while Kaori dashed over to crouch behind a nearby car. As they did this, a series of gunshots filled the air. Ryo scooted himself and Emi over behind another car and he pulled out his gun.

“Saeba-san,” Emi cried out, trembling against him.

“Stay still,” he ordered. “Kaori, are you all right?”

“I’m fine, Ryo,” Kaori called out.

Another round of gunfire started, shattering the windows of the cars they were hiding behind and causing one of the tires of the car Kaori was hiding behind to deflate. Ryo aimed and shot toward the origin of the bullets. He was certain that he had hit his target when he heard the distinct sound of his bullets hitting metal. The gunfire then ceased and almost a minute later, a green car sped away from a side alley. Ryo waited until it was out of sight before putting his gun back into its holster.   

“Looks like whoever is after you is getting nervous,” Ryo said as he stood up and guided Emi to do the same. “They must have thought that you were asking for help and decided to try even harder to silence you.”

“Oh my God,” Emi gasped, putting her hands over her mouth. Ryo patted her shoulder.

“Don’t worry,” he said. “Everything will work out just fine. We’ll take care of this.” Kaori walked over to join them.

“Emi-san, are you all right?” she asked. Emi smiled and turned to stare at Ryo.

“I’m fine, thanks to Saeba-san,” she replied. Ryo laughed again, putting his hand behind his head.

“Ah, it was nothing,” he said. “So let’s get going.”

Emi and Kaori nodded and started to walk away. Ryo glanced over at the ruined cars and paused to examine them more carefully. He then crouched down beside the car that Kaori was hiding behind and picked up a spent bullet that was lying near one of the tires.

High powered rifle, and from the look of it, these bullets are not your garden-variety type of ammo. So more than likely we are dealing with a pro. Or at the very least, someone with some experience at this kind of thing.’

Ryo stood back up and looked back and forth at the two cars. He couldn’t figure out what was bothering him about their condition at first until an idea struck him.

The bullet patterns on these cars…The one Emi and I were hiding behind has a bullet pattern that is scattershot and too elevated to have a real chance of hitting us…But the car Kaori was hiding behind has a more clustered bullet pattern, including shots that were aimed lower, closer to where Kaori was hiding.’

‘It’s as if they tried, but were not too concerned with whether or not they hit me or Emi…but then they tried much harder to hit Kaori.’

‘Is the same person who is after Emi also after Kaori? And if so, why? What connection could they have?’

“Ryo, are you coming?” Kaori said.

“Yeah, coming,” he said, rushing over to catch up with them. Emi went back to holding his arm while he walked and Ryo grinned in response. His mind, however, continued to mull over what just happened, worry for Kaori making his heart constrict.

For now the best thing to do is not say anything and investigate this like any other case,’ he told himself. ‘If someone is after Kaori, I do not want them to have any idea that I am onto them. That way I can keep the advantage.’

Ryo shoved one hand into his pocket and clenched it into a fist even as he continued to smile and laugh. He always felt a surge of anger whenever Kaori was threatened and this time it burned with more intensity than it had in the past. He was determined, however, to maintain his cool and remain focused on solving this case while continuing to protect her.

If someone is after Kaori…they will learn firsthand what happens when you make me angry.’

Chapter Text

“Wow, Emi-san, you live in a really nice place,” Kaori said as the three of them stepped into the apartment. As Ryo and Kaori walked around, they noted the spacious rooms and expensive looking furnishings.

“Oh, thank you,” Emi said casually. “Like I said, the income from my trust fund is plenty for my expenses, so the money I made at that law firm made it so that I could afford to splurge on a great place to live.”

Ryo and Kaori followed Emi out into the front room, and once they were there, Emi waved at the couch.

“Feel free to wait here while I pack a few things,” she said. “I’ll try to not take too long.”

“Thank you,” Kaori said.

“Emi-chan, let me know if you need help packing,” Ryo said. “I’d be more than happy to help you choose the bras and panties you’ll need for….”

“I’m sure she can figure that out on her own,” Kaori snapped as she smacked him with her ten ton hammer.

“Ouch, just trying to be helpful,” Ryo said, rubbing his head where he had been hit.

“You don’t need to be that helpful,” Kaori retorted.

“Ah well, I’ll go pack then,” Emi said with a nervous laugh. As soon as she walked out of the room, Kaori turned toward Ryo, her eyes narrowed.

“I guess some things never will change,” she hissed at him. Ryo turned away from her and moved to stare out a window.

“I warned you of that, didn’t I?” Ryo mumbled.

“You….,” she said, gritting her teeth.

He then heard Kaori let out a strangled sound from her throat before lapsing into silence. He knew that she was upset, but could not find the words to say to her to make things better. He tried to rationalize it by reminding himself that it wouldn’t be a good idea to discuss their relationship with their client so close by, but Ryo knew that that was only a flimsy excuse.

‘I wonder if she regrets getting into a relationship with me now,’ he mused. ‘I’m sure she was hoping for more romance from me…But that’s not who I am, not all the time…’

‘Maybe she wishes she had held out for a real knight instead of me.’

“Ryo…I don’t know if we should have taken this case.”

Ryo turned his head to see Kaori sitting on the couch, her eyes downcast.

“Something’s just…I don’t know,” she continued. “Something seems suspicious about her story.”

Ryo smiled to himself. Over the years, he had been pleased to discover that Kaori’s instincts, reflexes and skills had steadily improved, making her an increasingly invaluable asset within City Hunter. Moments like this, when these enhanced instincts came into play, always managed to make him feel a sense of pride in his partner.

“You think she’s lying?” he asked as he turned back toward her. Kaori lifted her gaze.

“I think she is in danger,” she answered. “But I don’t know if I believe her reasons for why she’s in trouble.”

“I agree,” Ryo nodded.

“What should we do?” Kaori asked. “Do you think we should tell her that we have changed our minds?”

“You’re the one who decides who our clients are, Kaori,” Ryo said. “Do you want to turn down her case?”

“No,” Kaori said, turning her face away. “I…I still think she’s in some kind of danger, and if we don’t do something, I don’t know if anyone else will.” Ryo smiled again at her.

Same as always,’ he mused. ‘Choosing with your heart instead of your head. You are too generous with your heart, Kaori.’

“All right,” Ryo said. “If we are going to do this, we’ll need to catch up to our opponents. I’ll need you to do some research tomorrow.” Kaori stretched and turned her head back toward him.

“What on?” she asked.

“See what you can find out about this indictment,” Ryo replied. “Also, try to find as much as information as you can about the firm itself and the employees.”

“You think that someone from the firm might be after Emi-san?” Kaori asked him. “Or maybe they hired someone to kill her?”

“Possibly,” Ryo said. “In any case, I think some of the answers we need are there.”

“Ok, and what about you?” Kaori asked. At that moment, Emi walked into the room with a large suitcase. Ryo grinned and ran over to her.

“I’ll be staying as close as possible to Emi-chan,” he replied. He then pulled her close to him.

“Saeba-san?” Emi gasped. Ryo’s eyes grew wide as he held her closer, but then he let out a yelp as Kaori swung another even larger hammer at him.

“You don’t need to stay that close,” she yelled as she hit her mark. Ryo fell to the floor in a heap.

“Understood,” he mumbled.


 

The three of them drove back to Ryo and Kaori’s place and once they arrived, they guided Emi to the guestroom.

“I hope you will be comfortable here,” Kaori said as she opened the door for Emi.

“I’m sure I’ll be fine,” Emi replied. “Thank you, Makimura-san.” Kaori let out a laugh and backed out of the room.

“Ok, well, I’ll go ahead and make dinner,” she said. “Ryo, behave yourself.”

“Will do,” he sighed. He watched Kaori leave the room, his eyes following her every step.

“Saeba-san.”

Ryo turned toward Emi. She had sat her suitcase on the floor beside her bed and was walking toward him.

“Saeba-san, thank you again for doing this,” she said. “I would probably be dead by now if you hadn’t been with me today.” Ryo smiled at her and put a hand on her shoulder.

“Don’t dwell on it,” he said. “The important thing to do now is focused on figuring out who might be doing all of this. Tell me, did any of your co-workers seem to take an inappropriate interest in you? Or maybe one of them was a little colder toward you?”

“No, nothing like that,” Emi said. “I was so busy with my work for Iwadate-san, I didn’t really have time to get to know my co-workers all that well. Iwadate-san had his own set of offices, and I spent my days there away from most members of the firm. I would only see the other partners occasionally.”

“Were there any incidents at work?” Ryo asked. “Maybe you happened to hear a conversation that struck you as suspicious or you walked in on a meeting and the people involved responded awkwardly.” Emi shook her head.

“Like I said, I really did not interact much with the other members of the firm,” she said. “Saeba-san, do you think someone from the firm is trying to kill me?”

“Is that what you think?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” Emi replied. “I suppose it’s possible. I guess up to this point, I thought that maybe someone from the drug syndicate was after me. I mean, it wouldn’t be unusual for them to kill someone who could be a witness, right?”

“That’s true,” Ryo nodded. “But if it was them, I doubt that they would waste time with the phone calls and following you around. They would just wait until an opportunity came along where they would be no witnesses and kill you then and there.”

“I…I guess, I just couldn’t believe that it could be someone from the firm,” Emi said, shaking her head. “It’s true that I didn’t know any of them all that well, but I worked in the same building with these people every day. I can’t believe that one of them would actually….”

Emi moved even closer to Ryo and leaned against his chest. She then looked up at him, a smile on her face.

“Saeba-san,” she murmured. “Did I hear right that Makimura-san lives here with you?”

“She does,” Ryo said. “But it’s not what you think. Her room is on the floor below us.”

“Oh, the floor below us?” Emi said as she placed her hands on Ryo’s chest. “So, what kind of relationship do the two of you have?”

Ryo felt himself growing tense due to her words and the way she was touching him. He knew that this moment would come soon enough, but that knowledge was not enough to stop the uneasiness he felt inside. Still, Ryo was determined to do what he needed to in order to continue to take care of Kaori.

“Kaori is my partner,” he said, his tone neutral.

“Oh, so just partners then?” Emi said, her smile growing. “That makes sense. I mean, anything else would be ridiculous, wouldn’t it?”

Ryo worked to suppress a frown. He didn’t like the direction Emi’s comments were going and longed to change the mood in the room. He glanced over at her suitcase and an idea popped into his head.

“Hey Emi-chan, why don’t I help you unpack?” he grinned. He then bounced over to her suitcase, sat it on the bed and opened it up.

“I really like this short skirt,” he said as he rummaged through her clothes. “Maybe you could wear that one tomorrow.” His grin grew even wider as he uncovered a collection of bras and panties in her suitcase.

“Saeba-san,” Emi said, blushing and shaking her head.  Ryo then started to pull out each piece, his eyes glazed over and his mouth slightly open. He had just put one bra on his head when he was interrupted by a log, which was attached to a rope, slamming him into the wall.

“Are you trying to be an even bigger national shame than you already are?” Kaori yelled at him from the door way. “I swear, I can’t keep my eye off you for one minute.” Upon seeing Emi’s startled expression, Kaori began to laugh.

“Sorry about that Emi-san,” she said. “Dinner is pretty much ready. Oh and don’t worry about Ryo. I’ll make sure that you get to keep all your underwear.”

“My underwear?” Emi said. Kaori sighed and walked over to Ryo, who had just managed to get back onto his feet.

“I’m afraid he has a bad habit,” she said as she pulled out a string of bras and panties out of his pocket. “Some might even call it a compulsion.”

“Ah ha ha, when did those get there?” Ryo asked. “They must have fallen into my pocket by accident.”

“You mean when you accidently picked them up and accidently looked for a place to hide them?” Kaori asked, a hammer in her hands.

Ryo continued to laugh and carefully backed out of the room.

“Well we should probably go eat Kaori’s food now while it’s still somewhat edible,” he said. He then ran out of the room to avoid being hit with another hammer.


 

“Thank you for dinner, Makimura-san,” Emi said as she pushed her plate away.

“Oh, Emi-chan, you didn’t finish your meal,” Ryo said as he sat the plate he just finished onto a stack which held three other ones.

“I guess I’m just not that hungry,” Emi said stiffly. “I suppose everything that has happened today has ruined my appetite.”

“Understandable,” Ryo nodded sagely. “And it probably didn’t help that you weren’t able to get real food for dinner.” Kaori tapped him on the head with her one ton hammer.

“And yet, that didn’t stop you from eating all of it,” she said as got up to clear the table.

“If I am still here tomorrow, maybe you should let me make dinner,” Emi said with a smile. “I’m an excellent cook. I’m sure I can make something to your liking Saeba-san.”

“Ah, don’t feel you have to do that, Emi-san,” Kaori said with a nervous smile of her own. “You’re our guest. I’ll just try to….”

“It’s no bother,” Emi interrupted. “After all, I am sure that you, along with Saeba-san, will be too busy with my case to concentrate on things like meals. I’ll be happy to help out in any way I can.”

Kaori nodded and picked up some dishes before heading back to the kitchen. Emi then slid over to sit closer to Ryo.

“I’m not sure if I will be able to sleep very well tonight,” she said. “I’m afraid that the idea of people trying to kill me will keep me up.” Ryo grinned and giggled as his hands started to move toward her under the table.

“Emi-san, make sure to lock your door tonight.”

Ryo gulped and turned to see Kaori glaring at the two of them.

“Why?” Emi asked. “I thought you and Saeba-san acted like this would be a safe place.”

“Oh it’s safe as far as the killers go,” Kaori said as she approached them.

“Exactly,” Ryo grinned. “My room will be close to yours, so I can….”

Ryo was cut off as Kaori wrapped an arm around his neck and twisted him into an awkward position.

“And that is what you have to worry about,” Kaori said nodding toward Ryo. “It would probably be best if I slept in the same room as you tonight.” Emi stood up and turned her head away.

“I’m sure that won’t be necessary, Makimura-san,” she said. “I have complete confidence in Saeba-san. Now, if you will excuse me, I am tired and would like to go to bed.”

Emi walked briskly out of the room without saying another word. Kaori watched her leave before turning her gaze toward the rest of the plates that were still left on the table.

“Kaori, what is it?” Ryo said, noting her pensive expression.

“Nothing,” she spat at him. She picked up the rest of the plates and turned toward the kitchen.

“You better not try to sneak into her room tonight,” she added before walking away from him. Ryo sighed and ran a hand through his hair.

‘Something is definitely going on between Emi and Kaori. But what is it? Is Emi attracted to me and jealous of Kaori? Seems odd since we just met, but I do get the feeling that she is interested at the very least. Or maybe there something else at play…?’

Ryo then decided that he would have to take a risk in order to test his theories. He just hoped that Kaori would not get too angry at him.


 

Later that night, after everyone had gone to bed hours earlier. Ryo was awake, sneaking around in the hallways. He crept slowly toward Emi’s room in an effort to pay her a little “night visit”.

Ryo giggled to himself, enjoying the familiar thrill of trying to sneak in, but also struggled to retain some composure.

Depending on how Emi reacts, this will tell me all I need to know about whether or not this is just infatuation and jealously…or something deeper than that.’

‘Not to mention the fact that it will be a good outlet for my pent-up mokkori energy.’

Ryo grinned again and started to place a hand on the doorknob when he hesitated. He tried several times to turn the knob, but every time he touched it, he thought of Kaori: the warmth of her kisses, the gentle smile she gave him, and the peace he felt when she took care of him on the couch the night before.

As he thought of all this, he felt his mokkori come to life again, and he groaned, hanging his head.

‘How am I supposed to pay Emi a night visit when I all I can think about is Kaori?’ he asked himself. Compounding the problem was the memory of the anger and hurt in Kaori’s eyes earlier that day when he interacted with Emi.

Ryo’s hand shook as he kept trying to reach for the knob, the rest of his body frozen in place.

My mind and my mokkori are telling me to go ahead, but my heart isn’t letting me…It’s like my entire body has short circuited.’

Ryo swallowed hard. Despite his internal conflict, he was determined to go ahead with his plan. He straightened his posture and closed one hand into a fist.

“All right, here I go,” he shouted. He then yanked open the door and burst into the room. As he ran in, Emi woke up and bolted upright in bed.

“Saeba-san,” she gasped. Ryo jumped up in the air, aiming for the bed.

“Emi-chan!” he called out. Before he could make it to the bed however, Kaori swatted him to the floor with another hammer.

“You...I can’t believe you,” she said, her voice trembling with anger. “I warned you not to do this.”

“Kaori, wait,” Ryo pleaded, holding up a hand toward her. “It’s a misunderstanding. I….”

Ryo immediately stopped himself from talking. He wanted to tell her the truth, but knew that it would be impossible given the circumstances.

“It looks like you need more time to reflect on your behavior,” Kaori said, grabbing him by the collar of his shirt and dragging him out of the room.


 

A few minutes later, Ryo found himself in a familiar spot: rolled up in a blanket, swinging from a rope attached to the rooftop. He thought about begging Kaori for forgiveness and asking her to let him down, but he knew that it would be no use.

As he dangled back and forth, he contemplated the situation he was now in.

‘I can’t get any mokkori from Emi, who is practically offering herself to me; because she’s not the woman I want….and even though I want to be with Kaori, I know she wants nothing to do with my mokkori nature.’

‘It’s official: Ryo-chan is in hell.’

Chapter Text

Ryo woke up early the next morning, still rolled up in a blanket. He figured that by now he had been punished enough and decided to free himself from his predicament. With a fluid series of motions, he squeezed out from the blanket and grabbed the end of the rope, using it to swing himself onto the roof. He then gathered up the rope and blanket and carried them inside, dropping them off onto the floor near Kaori’s room.

 Ryo thought about going back to bed and trying to get some more substantive sleep, but instead went to see where everyone else was. He quietly snuck around the hallways and soon heard sounds from the kitchen.

Kaori must be making breakfast right now,’ he told himself. He walked down the hallway and was about to check the guestroom when another sound reached his ears.

The sound of water running…that must mean that someone is taking a shower. More specifically, Emi must be taking a shower.’

Ryo grinned and tiptoed toward the bathroom.

Kaori’s distracted by making breakfast and she probably thinks that I’m still caught on the roof anyway. This is my best chance to go through with my plan.’

He carefully opened the door and crept into the room outside the shower. He then stripped off the shirt he was wearing, leaving him only in his boxers. The sound of the water stopped, and Ryo knew that Emi would walk into the room at any moment. He heard her approach the door, and as the knob turned, he stretched his arms out his arms, closed his eyes and puckered up his lips to kiss her.

“Emi-chan!” he shouted as he rushed toward her.

“Ryo!”

Ryo opened his eyes and froze when he realized that it was Kaori walking out of the shower with only a towel on. He yelped and jumped backward.

“Kaori?” he said. “What are you…what are you….?” 

The towel Kaori was wearing clung to every curve of her body while drops of water made her skin glisten. Ryo’s eyes widened and his mouth dropped in as he took in the sight. Much to his dismay, he immediately experienced another ‘mokkori reaction.’

Kaori stared wordlessly at his dazed expression and at the sudden appearance of his mokkori for a full minute before her face turned red, her eyes lighting up with rage.

“Ryo!” she seethed. “You heartless jerk!” Ryo dropped to the floor and put both hands over his head.

“Sorry, sorry,” he whined. “I won’t do it again, I swear.” But Kaori wasn’t listening to him and soon he was firmly planted into an enormous dent in the floor underneath another hammer.

“You mokkori maniac,” she said as she walked out. “Why don’t you just stay that way for the rest of the day?”

After she left the room, Ryo groaned and sat up, holding his head. Despite the pain he had just felt from the blow, he couldn’t stop himself from letting his mind linger on the image of Kaori walking into the room with just a towel on.

“Saeba-san, Makimura-san,” Emi’s voice called out from the hallways. “Breakfast is ready.” Emi then walked toward the bathroom and found Ryo sitting on the floor. He turned toward her, a bit of drool still on one corner of his mouth and his eyes glazed over.

“Ah, Saeba-san,” she said, putting a hand to her face. “I um, I made you breakfast. I hope you like it.” Ryo ran a hand over his face and shook his head. He then looked back up at Emi with an attempt at a smile on his face.

“Thanks, Emi-chan,” he murmured as he slowly got to his feet. Emi blushed and leaned toward him.

“You’re very welcome, Saeba-san,” she said. “And by the way, you’ll need to get up a little earlier than this if you want to see me in the shower.”

Ryo stared at her in shock while she giggled and walked out of the room. He then let out an exasperated sigh.

Well at least now I know that I’ll get something to eat. If it had been Kaori making breakfast, I wouldn’t have gotten anything after all this.’


 

“Thank you, Emi-san,” Kaori said as she finished her plate. “That was a wonderful meal. You really are a great cook.”

“Oh thank you, it’s nothing,” Emi said, swishing her hair off her shoulder. “Anyone can learn to be a great cook, really. That is if they choose to actually put their mind to it.”

Kaori’s face turned red, but she said nothing as she stood up to gather the empty plates. She then silently walked into the kitchen with them. Emi smiled and moved to sit closer to Ryo.

“Saeba-san, what did you think of my cooking?” Emi asked. “Is this more to your liking?”

“Breakfast was great,” Ryo said with a laugh. “But then again, I’m not the person to ask. I guess I just tend to eat whatever is in front of me.”

He laughed again and noticed the way that Emi’s face fell slightly in disappointment at his words. She quickly started to smile again though.

“So, what are our plans for today?” she asked. “Did you mean it when you said that you would be staying close to me?”

“Of course,” he nodded. “In fact, how about the two of us go out together?”

“Really?” Emi said, her smile growing. “I would love to go out with you, Saeba-san.”

“Good,” Ryo smiled in return. “I just need to drop Kaori off somewhere and then the two of us can have a date.”


 

The three of them ended up traveling to a nearby library. Ryo pulled out in front and let Kaori out near the entrance.

“Stay here until I pick you back up,” he said. “Make sure to find out all that you can about the things we discussed.”

“Wait, what are you doing with Emi-san while I am here?” Kaori asked.

“What else?” Ryo grinned. “Emi-chan and I are going on a date. I’ll see you later.”

Ryo drove off, leaving an angry-looking Kaori behind him. He knew that he would probably get another pounding from a hammer later on, but at the moment, he didn’t care about that.

Hopefully, Kaori will be able to find something that I can use to figure out what is really going on in this case,’ he told himself. ‘Plus, it’s busy and full of people, so whoever is after Kaori and Emi won’t try anything. Not in a place like that. Kaori will be safe and now I have a chance to try something else to draw this guy out.’

Ryo looked for a place to park on a side street. After finding a suitable spot, he got out and walked arm-and-arm with Emi down the street.

If this guy is even remotely competent, he won’t pass up an opportunity like this with me and Emi out in the open. At the very least, he’ll follow us and wait to see if I let my guard down at any point.’

‘And when he tries something that will give me another opportunity to get him and find out who is behind all of this.’

“Saeba-san, do you notice anything about me today?” Emi asked. Ryo looked over at her.

“Notice something?” he said. “Well, I…I….”

“I’m wearing that mini-skirt you said you liked,” she said. “What do you think of it?”

Ryo looked down to see that she was indeed wearing the skirt in question with a pair of tights. As he looked, he couldn’t help but note that she did have a nice set of legs.

“I love it,” he grinned. “It’s definitely mokkori.”

“I’m glad,” Emi laughed. “I was hoping that you would like it.”

She moved even closer to Ryo, holding his arm with both of hers. Ryo gulped as he felt her chest brush up against him. He laughed nervously and made a point to keep his eyes on the street in front of him.

“Say, Emi-chan, you have a boyfriend, don’t you?” he asked.

“No, not really,” Emi responded. “I have a couple of friends I see once in a while, but there’s no one that I am serious about.”

“Really?” Ryo said. “A vision like you with no one to be serious about. That won’t do.”

“I guess I am still looking for the right man,” Emi said with a sigh. “The men I’ve met so far…they have been nice enough, but they aren’t what I’m looking for.”

“Oh, and what are you looking for?” he asked.

“A real man,” Emi said. “A man who is strong and brave and who is willing to put me first in his life. A man who can sweep me off my feet and take care of me.”

“Hmm,” Ryo said with a slight smile. “Are you sure that’s the kind of man you want?”

“Of course it is,” Emi scoffed. “What woman wouldn’t want a man like that?”

“A lot of women probably would want that,” Ryo nodded. “But I’ve also known some women who look for other things. These women, they put others before themselves. They give freely of their hearts. Women like this are strong and can take care of themselves while still having enough strength to take care of those who need them. They don’t need someone who will merely cater to their every whim.” Ryo looked down at Emi, still smiling.

“Strong, caring women like these attract real men,” he said. “And the men that are lucky enough find them are always grateful for their presence and would do anything for them.”

“Saeba-san,” Emi said. Ryo put a hand on her shoulder.   

“Perhaps, all you need to do is tap into your own heart and strength,” he said. “Then you might be able to find the kind of man you are looking for…and I am certain he will feel lucky to find you as well.” Emi smiled at him, a blush forming on her cheeks.

“Thank you, Saeba-san,” she said. “But I wonder if maybe I have already found the kind of man I am looking for.” She then wrapped both arms around his waist.

Ryo laughed, a bead of sweat rolling off his brow. He searched his mind to find some way to change the subject and the mood, but was interrupted by the sound of an all too familiar voice.

“Ryo! What do you think you’re doing?”

Ryo whirled around to see Kaori chasing him down the street with another hammer in her hands. She was so intent on her target, she didn’t notice it when a green car suddenly burst out from a side street and headed straight for her.

“Kaori! Jump to the side,” Ryo yelled at her as he rushed toward her.

Kaori turned to see the car speeding toward her. The hammer she was holding disappeared and she tried to leap away from the car, but the heel of her shoe caught on a crack in the sidewalk. She ended up falling to the ground instead.

Ryo’s heart pounded as he increased his speed. He barely managed to grab Kaori and yank her away before the car could hit her. The car swerved and spun out back into the street. As it did, another spray of bullets emanated from an open window on the driver’s side.  Ryo pulled Kaori along and then pushed her and Emi toward the side of a nearby building, standing in front of them so as to give them cover. He pulled out his gun and fired back at the car, breaking two of the windows before the car started to take off. Ryo aimed for one of the tires, but was interrupted by a loud gasp from Kaori.

“Ah, ah Ryo, Emi-san,” she said. “She’s fainted.”

Ryo turned to see Kaori struggling to hold an unconscious Emi upright. He glanced back to see that the car was out of range, and with a growl of frustration, he put his gun away and scooped up Emi into his arms.

“Come on,” he said brusquely. “We should take Emi-chan somewhere safe so she can recover from the shock.”


 

Ryo ended up carrying Emi all the way back to the car before she finally started to come to.

“What…what happened?” Emi asked. “Saeba-san….”

“It’s fine,” he said with a smile. “Our friend with the green car showed up again, but I took care of it.”

“I was so scared,” Emi said, her eyes moist. “I just couldn’t handle it.” Emi then took one of Ryo’s hands into both of hers.

“But I will do better next time, I promise,” she said. “I really know now that you won’t let anything happen to me. I will try to be stronger, just like you said.”

“That’s good,” Ryo nodded. “Now, let’s go. I have a place in mind where we can relax while we figure things out.”


 

The three of them got in the car and Ryo headed toward the Cat’s Eye café with Emi in the front seat with him and Kaori sitting in the back. The ride was a quiet one and Ryo spent the time trying to calm down and figure out what he should do next.

That car…if I had been even a second later, it would have run Kaori down,’ he thought to himself. ‘Why didn’t she stay at the library like I asked?’

Ryo tightened his grip on the steering wheel. There were a lot of things he wanted to say to Kaori right now, but he knew that he would have to wait until Emi wasn’t around.

Once they arrived, they went in and Ryo waved at Miki and Umibozu, who were behind the counter.

“Hey, Miki-chan, Umi-chan,” he said.

“Hello, Saeba-san, Kaori-san,” Miki smiled. “Oh, who is this?”

“This is our new client, Emi-chan,” Ryo grinned as he guided Emi toward the counter. “Emi-chan, this is Miki-chan and Umibozu-chan.”

“Hi, nice to meet you,” Emi said, holding out her hand.

“Likewise,” Miki replied.

“Welcome,” Umibozu said before returning his attention to the plate he was wiping with a cloth. Emi and Kaori, who had remained quiet after greeting Miki and Umibozu, sat down at the counter. Ryo tilted his head toward Umibozu and the two of them walked a short distance away from the others.

“I need to go and meet with someone for a little while,” he said.

“Is it about the job?” Umibozu asked. Ryo nodded. “Fine, Emi can stay here.”

“I need Kaori to stay here as well,” Ryo said. Umibozu’s eyebrows went up in response.

“Why Kaori? Isn’t she going with you?” he asked. Ryo frowned and looked away.

“She would just get in the way,” Ryo sighed. “I need to get her out of my hair for about an hour.”

Umibozu stared at him for a full minute before nodding his head.

“Kaori is in danger too, isn’t she?” he asked. Ryo’s frown deepened and Umibozu crossed his arms over his chest.

“Hmph, why didn’t you just say so in the first place?” he said. “Go ahead and have your meeting. Miki and I will make sure that nothing happens to either of them.” Ryo’s shoulders dropped and he shook his head.

“Sorry for the trouble,” he mumbled as he walked toward the door.

“Ah Ryo,” Kaori said, her head down. “Where are you going?”

“I have an errand to run,” Ryo replied. “Stay here and keep an eye on Emi-chan.”


 

Almost thirty minutes later, Ryo was sitting on a park bench and was watching Saeko approach him.

“I came as soon as I could get away,” she said. “What is going on?”

“I need you to do me a favor,” he said. Saeko’s face lit up with a grin.

“A favor, huh?” she said. “I don’t know. I am awfully busy right now. I don’t know if I can find the time…that is, unless you were thinking about counting this as payment for a few mokkori points.”

“That’s fine,” he sighed. His tone made Saeko’s smile disappear.

“What do you need, Ryo?” she asked. Ryo handed her a piece of paper.

“I need you to find out about the car with this license plate,” he said. “Also, you remember that law firm that’s being investigated for their ties to that new drug syndicate out of Kyoto? I need you to give me as much information as you can about the employees of the firm.”

“Ryo, are you saying that you have some information that could break open that case?” Saeko asked. Ryo shook his head.

“I don’t know for sure,” he replied. “All I know is that I have a client whose story doesn’t check out. I need you to find this out for me as soon as possible…Oh and one more thing: I need you to find out everything you can about a woman named Emi Kushida. Here is her driver’s license.”

Ryo handed her the license and Saeko took it, examining it with a thoughtful look on her face.

“Something doesn’t seem right about this,” she said. “Plus this woman…I can’t quite place it, but she seems familiar somehow.” Ryo stood up and shoved his hands into his coat pockets.

“Let me know the minute you find out anything,” he said. “And you can consider this worth at least three or four mokkori points if you want.”


 

A short while later, Ryo returned to the Cat’s Eye café to find Miki and Emi chatting away at the counter. Kaori was sitting at the table near the windows, her eyes fixed on the scenery outside. As he walked into the cafe, Emi rose to her feet and walked over to meet him.

“Saeba-san, what is going on?” she asked. Ryo put both of his hands onto her shoulders.

“Emi-chan, I know that this is a big inconvenience, but I will need you to stay with Miki-chan and Umi-chan tonight,” he said. “Would you be willing to do this for me?”

“Oh, of course,” Emi stuttered. “If that’s what you really need me to do.”

“Thank you,” he said. He then walked over to Umibozu and Miki, who had returned to her place behind the counter.

“Is it all right for you if she stays here?” Ryo asked.

“It’s all right, Saeba-san,” Miki said. “But are you sure Kaori-san is all right? She has hardly said a word since she’s been here.”

Ryo looked over at Kaori. Even though she was still and quiet, he could tell by her tense posture that she was struggling to contain the cauldron of emotions that was sure to be churning inside her.

“Sorry again for asking for so many favors,” Ryo said before walking over toward Kaori. He stood in front of her table for a moment before clearing his throat. Kaori then glanced over at him, still not meeting his eyes.

“Let’s go, Kaori,” he said. “We need to talk.”

 

Chapter Text

Ryo did not say a word during the drive back to the apartment, preferring to spend his time concentrating on the case and on driving rather than thinking about the situation between him and Kaori. Kaori also remained silent the entire time which led to a tense atmosphere.

Ryo sighed and began to hum a tune to himself. He knew that he would need to maintain some control over his emotions when he did finally end up talking to her, but the more he thought about the events of the day, the more those emotions threatened to overwhelm him. It would be all too easy to let his temper and his frustration take over, but that was also the last thing he wanted to happen.

Once they arrived, they both walked in and took off their shoes, putting on their house slippers. Ryo sat down on the couch while Kaori went to her room for a short while. Eventually she joined him, having changed out of her skirt and blouse into a sweater and jeans. She sat down beside him and sighed.

“I know,” she mumbled. “I know that you’re mad at me. So why don’t you just say it?”

“Kaori,” Ryo said, lifting his eyes toward the wall in front of him. “Are you sure that you want to continue working within City Hunter?”

“What kind of a question is that?” she snapped, her face twisting into a scowl. “You know that I do. We are partners in life and in work.” Ryo turned toward her with an angry expression of his own.

“My partner,” he replied. “My partner was supposed to go do some research on this case so that we can gain some kind of advantage over our opponents. Did you do any of that or did you spend all your time following us?”

“I did some research but then I couldn’t stop thinking about you and Emi-san.” Kaori paused and looked away. “I did follow you for a while there, but I….”

“My partner was supposed to stay put so that I could focus on protecting Emi-chan, our client,” Ryo interrupted. “The client you chose to keep even after I offered you the chance to back out. Instead, I had to protect you and her. Do you realize how much danger you put Emi-chan in with your actions? ”

“What are you talking about?” Kaori retorted. “You wouldn’t have had to work so hard to protect her anyway if you hadn’t gone out on a date,” Kaori retorted.  “Emi-san would have been perfectly safe if you had just stayed here with her.”

“My partner should know my methods by now,” Ryo continued. “How else was I going to be able to draw out our friend in the green car so that I could have a shot at catching him? He is our best lead to figuring out who is behind all this.” Kaori gasped, her face turning red.

“I, I’m sorry, Ryo,” she murmured. “I didn’t realize that you were….”

“Kaori, I can’t work with a partner who doesn’t trust me,” Ryo said, turning his gaze back toward the wall. “And I certainly can’t work with someone who is so busy being jealous that she doesn’t even pull her own weight in during a case.” Ryo then looked at her again, his intense gaze making her flinch.

“Most of all though, I can’t work with a partner who has so little regard for her own safety,” he said. “And who always expects me to take care of everything when things get hazardous.”

“Enough!” Kaori yelled at him as she leapt to her feet. “Maybe I could have tried harder to take care of myself and do my duties. But you could have done more too. You could have told me about your plan. Instead, you leave me out of everything. You talk about trust, but you don’t trust me.” Ryo frowned and stood up as well.

“Dummy, I can’t always consult you before acting,” he snarled. “You should know that by now.  When I am doing this job, I have to be able to work on my own if needed and to do things my own way. You used to be able to accept that.”

“That was before….” Kaori started. She abruptly stopped and hung her head.

“Exactly,” Ryo said. “Before all this. And I am starting to wonder if this was a mistake. I don’t know if we can work together this way, Kaori….or if we can even live together this way for that matter.”

“What are you saying, Ryo?” she said as she looked up at him with watery eyes. “Are you saying that you don’t want me to be your partner anymore? Or are you saying that…that you…?”

“I suppose that’s partially up to you,” Ryo said, turning away from her. “Especially since it appears that you can’t trust me as your partner both personally and professionally. Maybe it’s time that we both made some hard decisions about what we really want.”

Ryo walked away and headed for his room. He was tempted to say a lot more, but he was already losing his temper, so he decided against it. 

As he walked to his room, he grew increasingly convinced that he had made a huge mistake in getting into this kind of relationship with Kaori. Granted, there had been moments of great happiness, but there also seemed to be no end to the tension and hurt feelings on both their parts.

I should have known, I should have,’ he told himself. ‘I’m just not cut out for long-term, intimate relationships. I can’t handle dealing with all this interpersonal stuff. Problem is though, now that it’s all come out, there is no way things can go back to how they were before.’

Ryo yanked off his pants and sat down onto the bed in his shirt and boxers, placing his head in his hands. He didn’t really want to go back to how it was before, but knew that even that was better than nothing at all. He did not want to contemplate the idea that Kaori might take him up on his implied offer to end their partnership both professionally and personally, but at this moment, he couldn’t see a way out of that inevitable conclusion.

“Ryo.”

Ryo looked up to see Kaori standing in his door way. Her eyes were wet with tears and her cheeks were red. She stared at him for a moment, her face growing even redder, before walking over to the bed and slapping him hard across the face.

“How dare you?” she gasped in-between her tears. “How dare you lecture me about trust? Especially when you keep giving me no reason to trust you.”

“I told you,” Ryo frowned. “I told you that my nature….”

“That’s not what I’m talking about,” she yelled at him. Kaori clenched her hands into fists and tried to swallow down the sobs in her throat. She then turned away from him.

   “I know how you are,” she continued. “I didn’t expect that to change and I didn’t care. That’s right, I didn’t care, and I still don’t care. I might hate it, and sometimes I get tired of having to use my hammer on you, but I’ve accepted that as part of your personality. Besides, deep down, I know that you’re never serious about those women and I...I….”

Kaori let out a sob and struggled to take a full breath before finally trying to speak again.

“I know that I can’t compete with them,” she said. “I’m too much of a tomboy, I’m not feminine enough. But I believed you when you said that you were mine and mine alone.”

“Are you saying that you don’t believe me now?” Ryo asked quietly.

“How can I?” she wept. “How can I believe it when we start to get close and you end up pushing me away? How can I believe it when we kiss and you act like you can only take it for so long before desperately trying to get away from me? How can I believe it when I try to hold you and you make it seem like some kind of terrible ordeal?  Is it torture for you to be affectionate with me that way? Is my touch that repulsive to you?”

Kaori started to shake and Ryo felt his heart constrict painfully. He had been so focused on trying to hide his mokkori reactions to her, he hadn’t considered the various ways his actions might have been interpreted.  

 “And then I see how you are with Emi-san,” she added. “I see how you’ll let her touch you, how you get so excited at the prospect of peeping at her…and then I think about how are with me. I know I was wrong to let my jealousy get in the way of our work, but I…I just can’t stop thinking about it. I can’t.”

Kaori bowed her head and wiped her face before letting out a long sigh.

“Tell me,” she said quietly. “When you force yourself to touch me, do you think about women like Emi-san? Is that who you see when you close your eyes to kiss me?”

Ryo stood up and walked over to her, unable to listen to anymore. All the anger he had felt earlier had been replaced by a crushing guilt over what he had done.

 A large part of him was tempted to run, to leave her here and run to the bars and cabarets to escape the feelings he felt right now, but he found himself unable to take a single step out of the room. He swiftly realized that it was because he couldn’t bear to leave her like this. Even though he was convinced that he couldn’t begin to make up for the pain he caused, he needed to try to find some way to apologize to her.

He moved closer to her and put his hands on her shoulders.

“Kaori,” he said. Kaori tilted her head toward him. He then turned her around and embraced her tightly.

“I’m sorry,” he murmured into her ear. He then proceeded to kiss her face and neck before moving to her lips. At first, she remained stiff and tense in his arms, but soon she relaxed and put her own arms around him. He put a hand to her cheek and tilted her chin upward.

“Look into my eyes, Kaori,” he whispered. “And you’ll see what I see when I am with you.”

 She lifted her eyes toward his and he caressed her cheek with his hand, making sure to focus on her gaze. He stayed that way for a few seconds more before kissing her again while holding her even closer to him.

“Ryo,” she sighed as she tightened her hold on him. She ran her hands along his back, and Ryo sighed at the touch. She started to kiss him, but suddenly stopped before her lips could touch his.

“Eh?!” she said. “What is…?”

Both her and Ryo looked down to see a bulge in Ryo’s boxers pressing up against Kaori’s thighs. Kaori immediately turned red, and Ryo continued to look downward.

“Ryo…are you….?”

“Sorry,” he mumbled. “The truth is…I can’t stop myself.” He grabbed her and pressed her even closer to him. The feel of her body pressed tight against his was making him even more excited, and he relished the sensation, even though he was aware that he was pushing himself into dangerous territory.

“I’ve been trying to hold back, but it’s no use,” he continued.  “I can’t stop myself from responding this way to you.” Kaori reached up and turned Ryo’s face toward her.

“Ryo?” she said, her face quizzical. “Are you saying that you have been….? That you’ve been trying to….? This whole time…?”

“I told you during our date,” Ryo murmured. “You have no idea how long I’ve been waiting for a moment like this. All the days that I fantasized about it, all the nights I spent dreaming about it. But I understand why it can’t be this way. It’s all right.” Kaori gave him a questioning look, and Ryo sighed.

“I know about your feelings about this kind of thing,” he said. “I know that you don’t approve, but the fact is, this is part of how I express my feelings, my love. I’ll try to curb it as best I can around you, but I can’t guarantee that….”

“Ryo,” Kaori interrupted. “Are you really that dense?” Ryo flinched, a large bead of sweat falling off the back of his head.

“Didn’t I tell you before how I felt? About how I have felt about you for all this time?” she said, her blush returning. “I just…I hated seeing you chase all those women, asking for ippatsu after ippatsu when you wouldn’t even look at me. I guess I’ve just always believed that something like that isn’t really real unless it’s borne out of love. Real love. So to see you try to…to see that kind of thing over and over while I held those feelings in my heart….” Kaori’s face grew even redder as she bowed her head.

“Still, despite my own feelings…more than once, I wished that you would… ,” she mumbled. “That you would ask me for…I kept telling myself that it didn’t matter if it was just for one night. At least then, if only for a moment, I could imagine that you….” Ryo stopped her by putting a finger to her lips and she looked back up at him.

“No Kaori,” he said, shaking his head. “The reason I never asked is because I never wanted that for you. A one-night stand that holds no meaning the next day…that’s not something a woman like you should spend your life hoping for. You deserve so much more than that.”

“It’s not like that was what I was really pining for,” she stammered. “But the fact is, there has only been one person who I wanted to…one person who I could even think of being with that way. But I knew that it was impossible for it to happen the way I dreamed that it would. That’s why I could be happy with just one night or….” Ryo let out a long sigh and shook his head again.

“Kaori,” he said. “I am an idiot.” Kaori blinked in surprise, but then grinned at him.

“Well we all knew that already,” she teased. “Any particular reason why you were able to figure this out this time?”

Ryo pouted for a moment before grinning back and leaning in to kiss her again. Their kisses increased in intensity, and he worked to suppress a groan as his passion grew.

Suddenly, Kaori touched his cheek, halting his actions.

“Ryo,” she said, her face a brilliant shade of scarlet. “Did you really mean it when you said that you had dreamed about…it…all those times?” A lecherous smirk appeared on Ryo’s face.

“Are you really asking me that now?” he chuckled while grinding his hips against hers. “I think you already know the answer.” Kaori laughed nervously, her eyes darting about. She then put her head against his chest and looked downward.

“Show me,” she whispered.

“What!?!”

“I want to know what you’ve been dreaming about,” she said in a tiny voice. “Show me…please.”

“Kaori,” he said, his smile disappearing and concern overtaking his features. “You don’t have to….”

“Ryo, stop that,” she said in a slightly louder voice. “Stop feeling like you have to protect me from yourself.”

Ryo gasped, startled at her words. With just one sentence, she had gone straight to the heart of one of his deepest fears: that the darkness that dwelled inside him could somehow contaminate the light that radiated from her soul.

“Please, show me,” she whispered again, snuggling up against him.

Ryo couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He had longed to hear words like that from her, but his mind still could not process the truth behind them. The truth that she wanted this as much as he did.

“Kaori,” he said, his voice hoarse, hesitant. “Are you sure?”

Kaori lifted her head and put a hand to his cheek, a smile on her face. She then freed herself from his arms and took a step back away from him. Ryo was confused at first, but then his eyes widened and he gulped as she removed both the sweater and the jeans she was wearing, leaving her only in her bra and panties. She then moved back close to him, her head turned toward the floor. Ryo enveloped her in his arms as she drew near and it was then that she lifted her face to look him straight in the eye.

“Please Ryo,” she whispered again. “Show me.” She was still blushing, her voice and demeanor still timid and shy, but Ryo could clearly see the desire mixed with love in her eyes.

The moment he saw it, Ryo knew that he couldn’t hold back any longer. He lunged toward her and kissed her. Kaori kissed back and wrapped her arms around him as he picked her up and carried her over to his bed.  As he laid her down onto the blankets, he watched her continue to stare at him, another warm, gentle smile on her face. He could sense some apprehension behind the smile, but by this point he knew that had more to do with her nervousness over this being her first time than it did with the fact that she was with him this way.

Ryo then joined her and held her close to him. He still could not believe how steadfast and deep her love for him continued to be. He then decided that tonight, he would not hold anything back. Tonight, he would make sure to show her how grateful he was for everything she did for him.

Tonight Ryo would show Kaori his heart…and the love that was there for her.

 

Chapter Text

The first thing Ryo felt sensed he woke up was warmth.

Ryo slowly opened his eyes and blinked several times in an attempt to clear the usual disorientation he felt after a deep sleep. As he did so he was met with the sensation of being surrounded with warmth. He moved his arms slightly and when his fingers brushed against skin, he became pleasantly aware of the position he was in: lying side by side with Kaori, his arms wrapped around her.

He smiled and carefully shifted his position so that he could watch her sleeping face and the slow steady rise and fall of her chest. His mind went back to last night and his smile grew.

Last night he had decided to show Kaori how he felt about her instead of trying to explain it with words, and the experience had been far more blissful than he had anticipated. Even though it had been Kaori’s first time, it was far from Ryo’s first experience with a woman. But, that night, everything felt new to him as he made love to her as opposed to having an ippatsu with her. Instinctively, Ryo had known for a long time that there was a difference between his usual mokkori activities and actually making love, but he had no experience with this distinction. Last night had been a revelation to him as he realized what he had been missing all this time.

Ryo didn’t want to wake her, but couldn’t stop himself from leaning down to softly kiss her shoulder and neck. He pondered on how Kaori had also given herself completely and freely to him last night, putting aside any apprehension she felt and placing absolute trust in him along with opening her heart. 

He then reflected on something one of his clients, Sara Nishikujo, had said to him. Sara, with her ability to read minds and hearts, had seen the cold, empty world his soul had inhabited for most of his life and had commented on his warm heart at the center of it. It had been an extremely uncomfortable moment for Ryo since, most of the time, he tried his best not to think about the loneliness he carried with him. He believed that if dwelled too much on the darkness in his soul, it would suffocate him. It was the reason he tried instead to live life to the fullest and focus on the simple pleasures all around him.

Last night, however, his heart and soul had managed to touch Kaori’s and he had been able to bask in the love and light inside her. The barren, frozen world was banished, and he was enveloped by her presence. The intensity of it had frightened him a bit at first, but any fears quickly disappeared as he allowed himself to get lost in her. Ryo was no longer alone. Kaori was there with him.  Until that moment, he had no idea that anything could make him as happy as he was when he felt his solitude finally end.

Ryo continued to plant feather-light kisses onto her skin while moving to cover more of her body with his. His mokkori was already awake, and nothing sounded better to him right now than to repeat the experience he had had last night.

Soon, Kaori stirred and let out a moan as she opened up her eyes.

“Ryo,” she murmured as she became aware of what he was doing. Ryo lifted his head and watched her rub her eyes.

“Kaori,” he said with a grin. “This is a much better way to wake me up in the morning.”  Kaori opened her mouth to ask him what he meant by that when her face turned red as he pushed himself closer to her and when she realized that she was no longer completely covered by the bed sheets. Kaori pulled the blankets over her chest and Ryo laughed.

“You do realize that I have seen it all by now, right?” he smirked at her.

“Well…some of us like to keep some sense of modesty,” Kaori pouted, her blush becoming more intense. “Do you think that’s funny somehow?” Ryo brushed her cheek with his fingers.

“No,” he said with a smile. “No I don’t.”  Kaori smiled back and the two of them kissed again with Ryo shifting to move onto her. His movements made his intent clear and Kaori could not stop herself from letting out a moan even as she raised her hands to stop him.

“Ah Ryo,” she stammered between his kisses. “Stop that. We need to get up.”

“I already am,” he chortled before going back to kissing her, his mouth moving downward along her body.

“That’s…that’s not what I mean,” Kaori replied, her blush increasing even more. “We need to get some breakfast and get going. We still have a case to….”

“No rush,” he said as he let his hands wander. “Umi-chan and Miki-chan are more than able to protect Emi-chan. We have plenty of time for other activities.”

Ryo decided to halt any further conversation with a hard kiss to her mouth while continuing to run his hands along her body. At first, Kaori continued to try to wriggle away from him, but soon, her struggles became less urgent and she responded with increasing fervor to his touches. Ryo soon raised his head and looked down with a smirk of triumph at the need written into her features.

“Are you going to try to tell me that you aren’t enjoying this?” he said. “Are you really going to say that we don’t have any time to spare? I think you want to find the time now. Am I wrong?”

“Ryo,” Kaori said, astonished. “You’re insatiable.” The smirk disappeared and Ryo closed his eyes while lowering his head to press his forehead against hers.

“Yes I am,” he murmured. “And you might as well get used to it because I will never get enough of you.” Kaori placed her palms against the sides of his face.

“You better not,” she whispered. “Because I’m not going anywhere.”

Ryo smiled again. He was thankful that Kaori instinctively understood his need for her assurances and never tired of giving them to him. He moved to look in her eyes, his smile widening into an evil grin.

“Good,” he said. “Now that that’s settled….”

Ryo turned his attention back to her and soon the two of them fell into a more intimate rhythm of kisses and caresses.

That rhythm was interrupted, however, by the ringing of the telephone on the nightstand.

“Ah, Ryo,” Kaori gasped. “The phone.”

“Ignore it,” Ryo growled, going back to kissing her neck. The phone rang again, and Kaori turned to reach for it.

“It could be important,” she said as she strained her arm toward it.

“It’s not that important,” he replied. “Ignore it.” He reached for her arm and pulled it back toward the bed. He increased the intensity of his kisses in the hope of distracting her.

The phone continued to ring and with a burst of effort, Kaori freed herself from his grasp and sat up. Ryo scowled and contemplated shooting the phone before she could answer it, but decided that it wasn’t worth risking Kaori’s temper.

“Hello,” she said into the phone. “Saeba Company. What? What is it, Umibozu-san?” Ryo’s expression instantly became venomous.

That stupid octopus, interrupting me in the middle of this,’ he fumed to himself. ‘Just you wait, Umibozu. There will be a truckload of cats in your future…that is, if I don’t just shoot you first.’

“What?!” Kaori gasped.  She lowered the phone from her ear and turned toward Ryo.

“Ryo, it’s Emi-san,” she said. “She’s disappeared.”


 

After quickly getting dressed, Ryo and Kaori rushed over to the Cat’s Eye café. The café itself was closed, but the door was unlocked so the two of them were able to walk right in. Umibozu and Miki were standing near the counter.

“Umibozu-san, Miki-san,” Kaori said. “How did this happen?”

“Good question, Umi-chan,” Ryo harrumphed. “I thought you were supposed to be keeping an eye on her and you let her get kidnapped right under your nose.”

“Hmph, she wasn’t kidnapped,” Umibozu frowned, turning her head. “What kind of pro do you take me for?”

“That’s right, Saeba-san,” Miki said. “She snuck out of here herself last night. She had gone to the bathroom to take a shower and when I went to check on her, she was gone.  There was no way that anyone could have gotten into the place, so she must have left on her own.”

“What did you do?” Ryo said, continuing to stare down Umibozu. “Stand too close to her and scare her away? Maybe she got too much of that monstrous face of yours?”

“Shut up,” Umibozu barked at him. “It’s your fault in the first place for shirking on your job.”

“Ryo, why would Emi-san run away?” Kaori asked.

“I don’t know,” Ryo said, putting a hand to his head. “But we need to find her. There is still someone after her and it will be deadly for her if he finds her before we do.” He then turned toward Umibozu again with another frown.

“You know, you should be helping with this search,” he said. “Since you were the one who lost track of her.”

“Hmph, she lost track of herself,” Umibozu said turning his head away.

“Falcon, don’t listen to Saeba-san,” Miki sighed.

“I’m not senseless enough to listen to him,” Umibozu replied. “But my pride as a professional has been offended. I have no choice but to find her before this useless mokkori idiot does.”

“Falcon,” Miki said, shaking her head. “Well…then I guess we’ll both look for her then.”

“Good, then let’s go,” Ryo grinned.

“Yeah, let’s,” Kaori said. She started to walk out, but Ryo stopped her by putting a hand on her shoulder.

“Not you, Kaori,” he said. “We still don’t know enough about Emi-chan and this case. Take a cab and go do that research I asked you about. Then meet me back at the apartment building.”

“But Ryo….” Ryo squeezed her shoulder.

“I’m depending on you to do this for me,” he said. “There is always the chance that Emi-chan might try to head back to our place and if so, one of us should be there.”

“All right,” Kaori sighed. “I’ll see what I can find out.”

“Thank you,” he smiled. “I will see you later. Hopefully, Emi-chan and I will be back in time for dinner.”

Kaori nodded at him and left the café. Once she was gone, Ryo turned back toward Umibozu and Miki.

“All right, I’ll meet the two of you here in a couple of hours,” he said. “Also, be on the lookout for a green car. The guy who is after Emi-chan is probably on the move and will be looking for an opportunity now that I’m not with her.”

“Understood,” Umibozu said. Ryo then rushed out of the café to watch a cab take off with Kaori inside. He knew that she was disappointed that he hadn’t involved her in the search, but he couldn’t bring himself to feel too guilty about it.

If Kaori gets too close to Emi-chan, this guy could try again to take both of them out at the same time. It’d be better for her to stay in busy places or at the apartment where she could take care of herself.’

Ryo got into his car and soon drove along the streets. He was worried about the turns this case was taking and the danger Emi was in, but he also could not stop thinking about how frustrated he was to be interrupted while he was spending more intimate time with Kaori. He hungered for both the physical pleasures and the feelings of warmth, security and completion she gave him and he was determined to get more of all of it as soon as possible.

Just you wait, Kaori,’ he smirked to himself. ‘Once this case is wrapped up, I promise you that you’ll be spending an entire day in bed…if not two days.’


 

Almost two hours later, Ryo drove back toward the café, frustrated. He had scoured the streets looking for Emi, but found no trace of her. He had even tried talking to several of his informants, and while a couple of them had seen her for a moment or two, none of them could give him any real clues to work with. Even worse, Ryo suspected that Umibozu and Miki would not fare any better.

As he searched for her, Ryo continued to mull over this case. He couldn’t deny that there was someone shadowing Emi, but now he began to ponder the notion that, for the most part, Kaori had been in more danger than Emi had been ever since he and Kaori started working on this case.

Something is wrong,’ he told himself. ‘If Emi-chan was really scared of this guy getting her, why would she run off by herself? What if…what if Emi wasn’t the target all along?’

What if it’s been Kaori this entire time?’

Ryo pulled up his car in front of the café and sat in the driver’s seat to wait for Umibozu to show up with Miki. His wait was not a long one, however, since a couple minutes later, Saeko pulled up along aside him.

“Ryo!” she said. “Where is Kaori-san?”

“By now she should be heading back to the apartment,” Ryo said, his mood suddenly tense at her tone. “Why?”

“Hurry up and get into my car,” Saeko said. “We need to find her right now.”


 

Less than a minute later, Ryo and Saeko were speeding down the road in her Ferrari.

“What’s going on, Saeko?” Ryo said, his tension growing.

“That license you gave me, I knew that I recognized her,” Saeko replied. “Her name is Emi all right, but it’s not Emi Kushida. The real Emi Kushida was found dead two days ago after being missing for months. The corner had just identified the body this morning.”

“So who is she?” Ryo asked.

  “Her name is Emi Sugisaki,” Saeko answered. “Several years ago, her older brother, Jiro Sugisaki, was arrested for murder and drug-trafficking for one of the smaller syndicates in the area. Sugisaki ended up spending the rest of his life in prison having died after six years of incarceration from a heart attack. Emi’s parents had died when she and her younger brother, Akita, were very young and Sugisaki had been raising them up to that point.”

Saeko tightened her hold on the steering wheel and Ryo felt the car speed up.

“The reason I remember her so well is because Makimura was the one who arrested Jiro Sugisaki,” she said. 

“Makimura did?” Ryo replied. Saeko nodded.

“Makimura and I were investigating some murders that had possible drug connections around Shinjuku at the time,” she continued. “During the course of our investigation, he discovered Sugisaki’s ties to the syndicate and found evidence that he had killed two people from a rival group.” Saeko sighed and shook her head.

“Even though the evidence was solid and Sugisaki admitted to the crimes, Emi, who was barely in her teens at the time, always insisted that the police had been overzealous in arresting her brother, and she blamed Makimura in particular. She would come to the station all the time to try to file some sort of complaint against him. She even persisted after Makimura left the force. And then when Sugisaki died….”

Saeko shook her head, her eyes sad.

“When her brother died, Emi only showed up at the station one more time,” she continued. “She told me about her brother’s death and she swore that one day, she would have her revenge against Makimura. I told Makimura about it, and he told me that he would be careful for both his sake and Kaori’s…but then, as you know, Union Theope put him on their black list and….”

Saeko did not finish her sentence, but Ryo didn’t need her to. Not a day went by when he didn’t think about Makimura and what happened to him at the hands of Union Theope. He knew that the same was especially true for Saeko.

“So…even though Makimura is dead, you think that Emi is after Kaori,” Ryo said.

“I’m sure of it,” Saeko said. “Ryo, you didn’t see Emi when she talked about Makimura. She was obsessed with making him pay for arresting her brother, and I don’t think Makimura’s death will be enough to appease her. And that is not all.  When her younger brother, Akito, got older, he got involved with a yakuza group out of Kyoto as a contract killer.”

Ryo’s eyes widened as what she said sunk in.

The man in the green car…that was her brother. That is why he his shots were so erratic toward Emi…he wasn’t trying to hit her at all. He was only after Kaori.’

“Saeko….”

“I know,” she nodded. “Hold on, I’m going to get us out of this traffic.”


 

After spending a couple hours at the library, Kaori made her way back to the apartment. The cab driver dropped her off across the street and she paid him before watching him speed away.

I couldn’t find anything useful,’ she thought to herself. ‘There wasn’t much in the way of records of Emi-san’s work at that firm which is somewhat odd, but not that helpful. And no one in particular stands to benefit from her silence, so there are no leads there.’

‘There’s nothing there to help Ryo out with this case.’

Kaori sighed, her shoulders slumping. Despite the bliss she felt over the night she had just spent with Ryo and the happiness his love had given her, she still was angry at herself for the blunders she had made on the case thus far.

I told Ryo that I would try to be an even better partner and not force him to carry all this responsibility alone…and yet, I haven’t done either one so far.’

Her thoughts were interrupted by the sight of Emi running into the apartment building. Kaori was about to call out to her when she saw a familiar green car parked nearby. One glance told Kaori that it was empty, and she immediately became tense.

That guy…the one who is after Emi-san is here. He could be waiting for her inside.’

Kaori approached the building stealthily. There were ways to get inside without being noticed, and Ryo had taught her all of them. She reached into the pouch that was around her waist and pulled out her revolver.

You’ll see, Ryo. I’m going to help you protect Emi-san. I am not going to just be a burden to you.’

Kaori quietly entered the apartment building through one of the secret entrances and crept around the corridors in search of Emi and the intruder. She eventually made her way to the floor with Ryo’s room and stifled a gasp when she saw a man walking around the front room. A rifle sat on the couch nearby and his back was turned toward the windows.

This is my chance,’ she told herself. ‘I’ll clobber this jerk and tie him up and then I’ll call Ryo to let him know what happened….Or I’ll just stun him and find Emi-san so we can run and meet Ryo when he gets here.’

Kaori slowly moved closer and then held out her revolver in front of her.

“Don’t move,” she yelled at him. The man turned and his face twitched in surprise.

“What…what are you….?” The man started to reach for his belt, but Kaori fired a shot into the ceiling.

“I said don’t move,” Kaori warned him. “Where is Emi-san? Why are you after her?” The man grinned at her maliciously.

“You really don’t know, do you?” he laughed.

“Know what?” she replied, her anger growing at his laughter. Suddenly she heard another sound from behind her: the sound of the hammer being pulled back on a gun. She turned to see Emi pointing another gun at her.

“I’m so glad to see you…Kaori Makimura,” Emi smiled, her tone mocking.

Kaori tried to ask what was going on but was cut off by a blow to the back of her head from the man behind her. As she slumped down onto the floor, she had the vague impression of Emi speaking to her.

“It’s time,” she said. “It’s finally time for my brother’s revenge…Makimura.”


 

Saeko and Ryo pulled up to the apartment building, and Ryo jumped out before she even finished parking the car. He ran toward the door, his gun already drawn. As he darted up the stairs, he felt an overwhelming sense of dread when he realized that he did not sense any murderous intent or fighting presence. He ran up to his floor and burst into the front room. Once he was there, he started at the sight of Kaori’s gun lying on the floor.

Kaori…’

“Ryo,” Saeko said, running up behind him. “I can’t find Kaori-san. Do you think….?” She stopped though when she saw what he was staring at.

They had been too late. Kaori was already gone.

 

   

Chapter Text

Ryo stared at a book of the road maps of Tokyo and the surrounding areas while Saeko talked on the phone.

He was unsure of why Emi and her brother had taken Kaori, but was relieved that they hadn’t decided just to kill her the minute they had her alone. He figured that they would head for an isolated place to hold Kaori and was currently trying to find the best routes to take to search for her.

After several more minutes, Ryo put down the maps with a growl of frustration.

It’s no good. The transmitter on her clothing is weak and there are too many places that they could have gone since they are traveling by car instead of on foot at any point. Without some kind of general starting point, it could easily take weeks to find her…and Kaori does not have anywhere near that long.’

Ryo watched Saeko converse with her subordinates at the police department. When Saeko first suggested calling the station, Ryo, out of reflex, forbid her to use the phone so he could wait for a phone call from Emi and Akita. It was only after he said the words out loud that realized that such a request was pointless. There would be no phone call for him this time because neither he nor a client was the intended target.

It was then that the danger Kaori was in truly sank in. He couldn’t negotiate or manipulate the kidnappers nor could he rely on his own methods to locate her like he usually did in the past. He would have to hope that whatever information Saeko could gather would give him something to work with. Watching her talk on the phone, Ryo felt helpless. It was a very rare feeling for him and he hated it.   

“Thank you,” Saeko finally said, hanging up the phone. She then turned toward Ryo.

“I was able to get a warrant put out for Emi and Akita Sugisaki,” she said. “If they are seen, they will be arrested on sight. Also, I was able to track down the car that you told me about. However….” Saeko shook her head.

“No one has reported seeing them thus far,” she continued. “And the car turned out to be stolen. I’m afraid we don’t have much in the way of leads.”

Ryo gripped the cushions of the couch tightly while his expression remained neutral. He felt his chances of finding Kaori starting to fade, but he refused to give up. Despite the grim situation, he would not allow himself to believe that it was too late.

“Wait…what about Emi Kushida?” he asked. “Since it’s more than likely that Akita killed her so that Emi could take her place, it’s possible that they are using her place as a hideout.”

“I thought that too, but no,” Saeko said. “We still have officers watching the apartment since we just started to investigate her murder. No one has reported seeing anyone there.” Saeko looked like she was about to say more, but paused.

“What is it?” Ryo asked her.

“Something one of my men told me earlier on the phone,” she replied. “Apparently, there was evidence that Emi Kushida was having an affair with her boss, Keiichi Iwadate.”

‘The old man was sleeping with his secretary, huh?’ Ryo thought to himself. ‘Typical dirty old man behavior. Why is it that guys like that always end up with some mokkori secretary?’

“The officer who was investigating Kushida’s disappearance thought at first that Iwadate might have something to do with it, but that lead was dropped when he determined that Iwadate was just as much in the dark about her whereabouts as everyone else. And then with his death shortly afterwards, it wasn’t given another thought. Still….”

Ryo leaned toward her while Saeko put a pair of fingers onto her chin.

“While they were investigating Iwadate, they discovered that he had a residence that he tended to use as a sort of ‘love nest’,” she added. “It’s in an isolated area, not too far from an abandoned business district.”

“In other words, the ideal sort of spot for a hideout,” Ryo nodded. “Is there any indication that either Emi or her brother could have known about this?”

“Actually there is,” Saeko said. “I had one of my officers show a picture of Emi Sugisaki to the secretaries who we have under police protection. A couple of them recognized her as a part-time paralegal who would come in to help out when the firm was exceptionally busy. And in fact, she tended to work with Iwadate in particular. Ryo…are you thinking that they….?”

“Exactly,” Ryo said, standing up. “It is as good of a lead as any.”

He turned and started to walk out, pausing as he reached the doorway.

“Saeko,” he said quietly. “I know that the police are looking for these two for Emi Kushida’s murder…But I am asking you: do not interfere.”

“Ryo….”

“I know what I am asking of you,” he interrupted, still not looking at her. “And I am sorry about the position I am putting you in….but the fact remains that those two have Kaori.”

Saeko opened her mouth to respond, but let out a sigh while nodding instead.

“I understand,” she said.  “Ryo, be careful.”


 

Kaori slowly came to and discovered that she was in the all too familiar position of being tied to a chair.

She blinked her eyes and looked around. From what she could tell, she was in someone’s house. She thought about calling for help, but a sharp pain at the back of her head reminded her of how she ended up in this predicament.

“I see that you are finally awake, Makimura.”

Kaori turned her head to see Emi staring at her, a venomous smile on her face.

“Emi-san, what is going on?” she asked. “Why are you….?”

“I see,” Emi said, shaking her head. “I guess your brother never bothered to tell you about me, about what he did to my family.”

“What aniki did?” Kaori responded. “What do you mean? What did he do?”

“He killed my brother and ruined our lives!” Emi shouted at her. She then walked over to stand in front of Kaori.

“Our parents died not long after my younger brother, Akita, was born,” she said. “There was no one to take care of us, so my older brother, Jiro, stepped up to raise us. For a while he struggled at all sorts of odd jobs to support us, but it was never enough and we were close to losing our home and starving to death.”

Emi took a deep breath and turned to look out a window.

“It was at this point that my brother ran into members of a drug syndicate who were just starting to get established in our neighborhood,” she continued. “My brother didn’t really want to work for them, but the pay was so good and we needed the money so badly….”

Emi gripped her hands tightly, her body starting to shake.

“Still, despite what he was doing, he made sure that Akito and I stayed out of this kind of work. He made us go to school and told us that we were to lead ordinary lives outside the criminal world. He always said that we shouldn’t follow his example.”

Emi then turned back toward Kaori, her eyes ablaze with fury.

“But then your brother came along,” she said. “And with that self righteous attitude of his, Makimura singled my brother out and arrested him while barely paying attention to the people who were even worse within that organization.”

“I don’t believe that,” Kaori protested. “Aniki would not have ignored all those other criminals just to arrest one person. That’s not the kind of person he was. Your brother…he must have done something that made him stand out to aniki.”

  “Oh sure,” Emi huffed. “Makimura tried to excuse his actions by saying that it was because my brother killed two men. But I know the truth. I just know that it was self defense. Jiro wouldn’t have killed them without a good reason, I know that. But your brother didn’t care about the truth. All he cared about was getting his big arrest and looking good in the eyes of the department.”

“So…aniki didn’t kill your brother after all?” Kaori said confused.

“He may as well have,” Emi retorted. “My brother…he had always had a weak heart, and being put in prison pushed him to the limit. Other members of the group got light sentences of only a couple years, but my brother was sentenced to prison for life. After six long years of torment, he ended up dying of heart failure.”

Emi advanced on Kaori again, her face contorted with rage.

“After that my life and Akito’s life were destroyed,” she said. “We ended up in an orphanage where we had to stay until we were considered adults and no longer eligible for any sort of help. I tried to work so I could put Akito through university, but he ended up working for the yakuza instead.”

A tear ran down Emi’s face and she swiped it away before continuing.

“So do you see now?” she added. “Do you see the pain your brother caused us? After Jiro died, Akito and I originally planned to take out our revenge onto Makimura, but before we could do anything, he was killed by some drug syndicate out of South America.”

“Union Theope,” Kaori breathed.

“Exactly,” Emi replied. “At first, I thought that your brother’s death would be enough, but as the years went by, I realized that our family was cheated out of our revenge…And then we remembered that Makimura had a younger sister. We decided that we could still enact our revenge after all.”

“So, this whole time…this whole time you weren’t in any danger after all,” Kaori said, lowering her eyes. “None of this had anything to do with that law firm or the indictments.”

“No,” Emi laughed. “I did work for them part time, but that just turned out to be an extremely convenient cover story. You and Saeba-san were so easy to fool. It was Akito who followed us in the green car and who fired at us at one point. All of this to make the two of you think that someone was after me, making it easy for me to get close to you so we could execute our plan.”

Emi swished her hair off her shoulder and pulled a gun out of her pocket, pointing it at Kaori.

“I thought about just shooting you at the apartment earlier,” she said. “But then I realized that that wouldn’t be enough. You needed to know about the pain our family went through. You needed to suffer the way we suffered.”

Kaori remained silent while continuing to stare at the floor. Emi moved closer and pointed the gun at her head.

“Well?” Emi replied. “Aren’t you going to say anything? Or are you finally finished with defending your precious brother?”

“I’m sorry,” Kaori murmured.

“What?!” Kaori finally looked up, tears shining in her eyes.

“I’m sorry,” she repeated. “I’m sorry that your family had to go through so much pain. But you’re wrong about aniki. I’m sure he didn’t really want to break up your family that way because…because we were just like you.”

“What are you saying?” Emi asked, narrowing her eyes.

“Both of our parents were dead by the time I was about five years old,” Kaori said. “Aniki had to take care of me growing up…and he continued to do so right until the day he died. So believe me when I say that I understand what it’s like to lose your family that way.”

Kaori sniffed and took a deep breath.

“Still, I’m asking you to please stop this,” she continued. “You said that your brother didn’t want either of you to go into the criminal world. Do you really think he wanted you to do something like this?”

“Shut up,” Emi yelled at her, striking her with the gun. “Don’t you dare tell me about what my brother wanted. You have no idea, no right to say anything.”  

Kaori felt blood run down her temple, her head throbbing even more. She felt bad about the pain Emi was going through, but figured that there was nothing more she could do or say at this point. Emi was past the point of consolation.

“Hey sis,” Akita said, walking into the room. “You had your say with her by now, right? How about we finish this?” His face twisted into a malicious grin and Kaori couldn’t stop herself from shuddering.

“Don’t do this, Emi-san, Akito-san,” Kaori said.  “If you do this, Ryo will never forgive you.”

“I’m not worried about Saeba-san,” Emi laughed. “He has no idea where you are by now.”

“Wait…wait a minute,” Akito said, his face going pale. “Emi, that bodyguard you were with, the guy who she works with…that was Ryo Saeba?”

“Yes,” Emi replied. He is also referred to as City Hunter. What of it?” Akito’s face turned an even paler shade of white.

“You didn’t tell me that we were going against City Hunter,” he spluttered. “Don’t you know anything about him?”

“I heard a few things, of course,” Emi replied. “Along with the usual exaggerations that come with any set of rumors.”

“Those were not exaggerations,” Akito nearly yelled at her. “Don’t you know that you’re as good as dead if you become his target? And you’re saying that this woman is his assistant? Are you insane?”

“That’s right,” Kaori said. “Let me go, and leave now and Ryo might leave you alone.”

“You’re not scaring me, Makimura,” Emi spat at her. “I also heard enough about Saeba-san to know that he can’t bring himself to shoot a woman. So I have nothing to worry about.” Emi swished her hair off her shoulder and leaned toward Kaori with a smile on her face.

“Besides, I can tell that Saeba-san likes me,” she said. “I’m sure he’s tired of being saddled with a violent, plain, tomboy like you. A man like him needs a real woman…like me.”

Her words stabbed at Kaori’s heart. She still harbored some insecurity that Emi was right, that she simply wasn’t beautiful or feminine enough for Ryo and it was painful to hear those insecurities spelled out into words.

But then Kaori remembered the night she had just shared with Ryo and the way he had been with her. He had said very few words that night, but Kaori had understood him. She could see the love he had for her in his eyes, and could feel it in every one of his kisses and in the way he touched her. She was also sure that Ryo had never shared that much of himself with anyone before her.

Kaori glared back at Emi, but held her tongue. What she had shared with Ryo was a treasure in her heart. She wouldn’t cheapen it or betray the trust Ryo had placed in her by using their intimate moments as a way to argue with Emi. She would keep it inside, satisfied that she knew the truth about Ryo’s feelings and his heart even if Emi or the rest of the world did not.

Emi lowered her gun and walked over to Akito.

“Have you forgotten everything our brother did for us?” she asked him. “Have you forgotten the sacrifices he made? I won’t let Saeba-san or anyone else get in the way of our revenge.”

Akito was about to say more, but stopped when a sound from outside caught his attention. Both he and Emi looked outside to see a red Mini-Cooper park in front of the house and Ryo get out of it.

“What do you mean, don’t worry about him?” Akito yelled at Emi. “You also said that he couldn’t find us here and yet there he is.”

“Ryo!” Kaori yelled. Emi whirled back toward her and shot a bullet at her feet.

“I told you to shut up,” she said.

“I’m leaving,” Akito said. “No matter what, I know that our brother wouldn’t have wanted us to throw away our lives for something like this.”

“So…you would betray me too, Akito?” Emi said, turning the gun toward him. “You would betray our brother? After everything he did? I suppose I should have known better. You tried, but you were never the man our brother was.”

“Stop…stop that,” Akito said, flinching. “What are you….?”

Emi fired and Akito slumped lifelessly to the ground. Kaori gasped.

“Emi-san…he was your brother,” she said, horrified.

“He was no brother of mine,” she said, her voice trembling. “No brother of mine would have forgotten what we went through. No brother of mine would have been so worried about his own skin that he would throw away our one chance at revenge.”

A pair of shots pierced the window, and both Emi and Kaori fell backward onto the ground. Kaori groaned at the impact of hitting the floor and struggled to clear away the disorientation she felt.

She then realized, however, that the ropes binding her had been cut by the bullets.

Emi snarled and kicked Kaori hard in the chest and in the legs before scrambling over toward the side of the room. Kaori lie there, gasping, stunned by this fresh pain and by the wound to her head from earlier.

“Your time has run out, Makimura,” Emi said as she crawled out of the room. “Make sure to say hello to your brother in the afterlife.”


 

After getting the address from Saeko, Ryo sped off down the streets of Shinjuku. After a while, he was able to pick up the transmitter signal and he knew that he was on the right track.

‘Wait for me, Kaori,’ he said to himself. ‘I’ll be there to rescue you very soon.’

Ryo increased his speed, worried that Kaori did not have much time left. Minutes later, he arrived at the house in question and had spotted the green car parked nearby. He then got out and could see both Emi and Akito looking at him through one of the windows. A second later a cry reached his ears.

“Ryo!”

Kaori.’

He took a couple of steps closer and peered in to see Kaori tied to a chair a short distance behind Emi and Akito.

Ryo then pulled out his gun and aimed toward the window. He could see Emi and Akito move off to the side and a minute later, he heard the sound of gunfire. He could tell that Kaori had not been hit, but Ryo knew that things were getting too dangerous for her in there.

If I rush in now, Kaori could be shot,’ he told himself. ‘I need to create a distraction first.’

Ryo then shot at the window. He had aimed at the ropes binding Kaori and was pleased when he detected fraying where his bullets had sliced through before Kaori fell backwards onto the floor. He re-loaded his gun and crept around the sides of the house at a distance.

By now they are more worried about what I am doing out here and aren’t keeping an eye on Kaori even though she is free to move. And I know that Kaori will know to wait until the right moment. So all I need to do is surprise them and I should be able to gain the advantage.’

Ryo looked for another way to enter the house while making sure to keep out of sight of the windows. He thought about firing another couple of shots to keep them distracted, but suddenly another sound sent a chill through him.

The tinny sound of a timer ticking toward the end of a countdown.

“Kaori!” he yelled. “Get out of there!”

Ryo started to rush back toward the front door, but instinctively jumped away at the last second to avoid getting caught in the explosion. He let himself fall and roll onto the ground away from the flames that engulfed the house. He then leapt back onto his feet and ran back toward the door.

“Kaori!” he yelled holding up his arms to shield himself from the heat. “Kaori, where are you?”

He almost reached the door when a piece of the roof fell toward him. Ryo jumped backward to dodge it and then watched as the house began to collapse onto itself in a blazing inferno.

“Kaori, answer me!” he yelled again as he began to search for her. “Are you all right?”

He was about to yell again when his eyes caught sight of something being carried in the breeze away from the house. He watched it flutter to the ground and something inside him compelled him to pick it up. Ryo noted that it was a tiny section from a larger piece of clothing that had been singed all along the edges with drops of blood still visible at the center.

It only took one more second for him to recognize it as a scrap of cloth from the jacket that Kaori was wearing that day. 

“Kaori!”

Chapter Text

Ryo gripped the piece of cloth in his hand and continued to call out Kaori’s name while scanning the area around the house for any sign of her. The house continued to burn, spewing out smoke and heat while the flames blended into the fiery palette of the sky whose sun had begun to sink. After several more moments of searching, Ryo’s steps slowed down into a halt.

Kaori….’

He turned his eyes toward the wreckage of the house and watched it listlessly.

‘I was too late…I wasn’t able to save her…’

‘Just like Makimura….’

Ryo felt his chest grow tight, and he opened his hand to look at the scrap of cloth in his palm. His mind went back to that rainy night and in his mind he could see Makimura stagger toward him, blood flowing from his wounds.  Ryo could hear the strangled sounds of Makimura’s voice as he begged him to take care of his sister.

‘That night…I promised Makimura to take care of Kaori…and instead I….’

‘Kaori is my partner…my partner in work and in life…it’s my job, my role to protect her…and instead I….’

Ryo’s hands shook as he stared at the cloth. He noticed the blood again and found himself hoping that Kaori had not suffered the way Makimura had at the time of his death. Instead of providing any sort of peace, however, that thought only increased the pain in Ryo’s heart as it drove home the finality of her death. He silently begged for another chance to save her, even though he knew that it was futile.

 ‘Just like Kenny, just like Makimura….Kaori is dead because I failed to protect her.

Ryo let out a bitter laugh as he contemplated the idea that he should be accustomed to losing the people closest to him by now. Ever since he could remember, death had been a constant in his life. Over the years, he had been forced to face the ephemeral nature of life over and over again as he watched friends die on the battle field and while working in the underground.

It was the reason why he had resisted allowing himself to open his heart to a woman for so long. The tragedies of his life had thoroughly convinced him that choosing to truly love a woman and build a relationship with her would be no different than handing her a death sentence. As painful as the deaths of his friends had been, Ryo knew that losing the woman he loved would create an inconsolable sorrow. Not to mention the fact that he simply did not want to see any woman suffer and die just because they had made the mistake of loving him. He knew that it was safer for them to keep every woman he met at arm’s length, allowing himself fleeting moments of pleasure and affection, but nothing more.

Still, the love he had for Kaori and the love she gave him in return had proven to be too great of a temptation. Despite his best efforts, Ryo had been unable to stop himself from finally giving in and opening his heart to her. The happiness he had felt had been indescribable, and for a moment, Ryo had begun to believe that he had been fortunate enough to finally escape his self-imposed solitude.

Watching the fire continue to consume the remains of the house, Ryo was faced with the enormity of his errors. He had allowed his heart’s selfish desires to cloud his judgment and now Kaori was paying the price for his mistakes.

Ryo closed his fingers around the cloth and held it up to his face. He could still detect Kaori’s scent through layers of smoke. He breathed it in while closing his eyes. The scent evoked countless memories….including the brief time they had shared as a couple.

Why? Why didn’t I send her away after Makimura died? Why did I keep her with me? Why did I let her get close to me?’

'Why do I continue to survive while the people closest to me continue to die?’

Ryo lowered his hand and opened up his fingers again. He hadn’t even realized that he had started to cry until he saw a teardrop fall onto the center of the cloth.

“Saeba-san.”

Ryo started at the noise, his tears stopping instantly. He whirled around to see Emi stumbling toward him.

“Saeba-san,” Emi repeated. “Oh, I’m so glad to see you. I was worried that you wouldn’t come.”

“Emi-san,” he said quietly, his expression and voice void of any emotion. “It’s time for you to stop lying to me. I know that you were working with your brother this entire time.”

Emi gasped and her eyes widened in shock for a moment before she started to cry.

“I know,” she sobbed. “I’m so sorry Saeba-san. I didn’t want to lie to you. I didn’t. But my younger brother, Akito…he was so obsessed with getting his revenge against Makimura-san. He killed Emi Kushida as part of his plan to murder Makimura-san.  I didn’t want to help him. Even though her brother hurt us so much, I wanted to let the past remain in the past. But Akito…he was so insistent. He said that he would be willing to die in order to avenge our older brother, Jiro. He even said that he would kill me, his own sister, if I tried to stop him.”   

Emi rushed over and wrapped her arms around Ryo’s waist.

“I’ll admit that I did have some animosity toward your partner when I met her,” she said. “But once I got to know her, I realized that she was not the horrible person Akito claimed she would be. I wanted to stop Akito from carrying out his plan, but I…I just couldn’t. Don’t you see? He was my brother, my only family left in this world.”

Emi tightened her hold on Ryo while he remained impassive and still. He was certain that Emi was at least partially lying to him, but his inner turmoil was making it impossible for him to separate any possible truth from the lies.

“Akito…when he saw you coming, he started yelling about a bomb and taking all of us with him,” she continued. “I tried to stop him, but I couldn’t. He set the timer and all I could think about was how I didn’t want to die, not like that. I…I hit him and ran out of the house as fast as I could…I just barely made it in time.”

Emi then started to stroke Ryo’s back and he stiffened at the touch. She then raised her head to look at him.

“I am sorry about your partner,” Emi added. “You lost a partner and I lost my family. Maybe…maybe the best thing for the two of us to do now is to comfort each other. Wouldn’t you agree, Saeba-san?”

Ryo placed his hands onto Emi’s shoulders, and she started to smile. That smile faded a second later, however, when Ryo pushed her away and turned his back toward her.

“Emi-san,” he mumbled. “The police will be here very soon. I think it would be in your best interests to give yourself up. Tell them your story and I am sure that….”

“That what?” she yelled at him. “That I will end up in prison like Jiro? That I will end up dying behind bars just like he did?” She walked over and placed her hands onto his back.

“Saeba-san, I think you know that we could be very good together,” she said. “I know that you find me attractive, and you are exactly the kind of man I’ve been looking for. I could devote myself to you. All I’m asking is that you help me get away from here. Please. Please help me and I will spend my life making you happy.”

Emi tried to embrace him from behind, but Ryo moved out of her reach, his back still facing her.

“I’m sorry, Emi-san,” he said. “But it won’t work. I’m afraid that you could never make me happy…because there is no one in this world who can. Not in the way you are implying. I am not the sort of man who can devote himself to any one woman.” Ryo took a deep breath and shoved his hands into his pockets.

 “You will have to deal with the consequences of your actions on your own,” he said as he started to walk away. “I can’t help you.”

“Can’t…or won’t?” she replied.

Something in her tone made Ryo pause and turn toward her. As he did, he saw that Emi had pulled out a gun and was currently pointing it at him.

“I don’t want to do this,” she said, tears in her eyes. “But I can’t go to prison. I can’t.”

“Emi-san,” Ryo sighed. “Whatever you’re planning, it won’t work.”

“It will work,” she insisted. “Akito is the one who kidnapped Makimura and who blew up this house…and the only other thing the police will find is that both you and Akito were killed as a result of a gun battle between you two. But it doesn’t have to be this way, Saeba-san. All you have to do is run away with me, and we can stay together.”

“And if I refuse?” Ryo said.

“Then I will have no choice but to kill you,” she said. “And you should know that I know all about you: you can’t bring yourself to shoot a woman. It will be easy for me to kill you. So, what is your answer, Saeba-san? Will you start a new life with me or will you let your life end here? ”

 Ryo stared at her and at the gun in her hands. Even if he couldn’t shoot her, Ryo knew that he could easily dodge her bullets and disarm her. It would be a simple thing to overpower her and let the police take her away. Despite Emi’s threats, he would survive.

He also knew, however, that surviving would be the only thing that he would be doing from this moment on. After this was over, he would return to the life he had before he met Kaori or Makimura. He would resume living a day to day existence with no meaning, no purpose, and no end to his solitude. This time though, he would be forced to carry the memories of both Makimura and Kaori. Those memories would serve as constant reminders of everything he had lost, everything he longed for.

Everything he could never have.

“My life is already over, Emi-san,” Ryo said softly. “Shooting me will not make any difference. If you fire that gun, the only one you will be hurting is yourself.”

“I see,” Emi said, reaching up to wipe a tear away before swishing the hair off her shoulder. She then took her gun by both hands again and aimed it toward his chest.

“Your life may be over, but mine is not,” she said. “I am truly sorry that it had to end this way, Saeba-san.” Ryo watched as her finger moved toward the trigger.

“No! Ryo!”

Both Ryo and Emi spun around to see Kaori running toward Emi. Emi started to point her gun toward Kaori, but Kaori was faster. She slammed herself into Emi and knocked her to the ground. The gun fell out of Emi’s hand and Kaori was able to grab it before Emi could reach it.

“I won’t let you hurt him,” Kaori said, pointing the gun at Emi with trembling hands.

“You….” Emi snarled as she started to get up.

“Don’t move!” Kaori yelled at her. “I’m sorry about what happened to your family…but no matter what aniki did, what you did to your own brother is unforgivable. So you will just have to stay there until the police arrive or….”

“Or what?” Emi smirked at her. “You’ll shoot? I don’t think you have it in you to do that.” Kaori narrowed her eyes at her and tightened her grip on the gun.

“Don’t be so sure of that,” she said with a slight tremor in her voice. “Unlike Ryo, I don’t have a policy against shooting women…and you should know that I will do whatever it takes to protect my partner.”

Kaori continued to shake as she said this, but her aim remained steady. Despite the toll recent events had had on her body, Kaori’s resolve was at its peak. Emi balled her hands into fists, her face contorted in rage, but instead of moving, she slumped downward onto the ground in defeat.

Ryo continued to stare at Kaori in stunned silence during all of this. He was in shock over what she was doing as much as he was over the revelation that she was still alive.

The sound of sirens interrupted his thoughts and he turned to see a couple of squad cars and a Ferrari pull up beside them. Saeko got out of her car and walked straight over to Emi, handcuffs in her hand.

“It’s been a while, Sugisaki-san,” she said. “Although I can’t say that I am glad to see you again.” Emi bowed her head and began to cry again.

“Jiro,” she wept. “I’m sorry….I’m so sorry….I couldn’t get your revenge for you after all.”

Saeko reached down and restrained her with no resistance on Emi’s part. As she did this, Kaori dropped the gun she was holding and turned toward Ryo.

“As for you…” Kaori said.

Ryo’s eyebrows rose, confused by her tone, but then he let out a yelp as a hammer appeared in Kaori’s hands. He barely had time to flinch before she brought it down on his head.

“What on earth were you doing just standing there like that?” she yelled at him. “She was going to shoot you. Are you really that stubborn about not shooting a woman?”  Ryo groaned and held his head.

“Idiot, you know that I am,” he yelled back. “And where were you before now anyway?” Kaori scowled and put a hand to her head.

“After I fell out of the chair onto the floor, I saw a trapdoor in a corner of the room I was in,” she replied. “I thought I heard some weird ticking noise and figured that I wouldn’t be able to get to the front door in time, so I went down into there. I ended up getting lost trying to find another way out.”

“Our people found that too when we were looking into Iwadate for Emi Kushida’s murder,” Saeko nodded. “Our theory was that Iwadate had it installed as a way to sneak women out of the place in case his wife ever showed up. There is a crawlspace that leads to an opening behind the garden.”

“Tch, he really was a pro womanizer,” Ryo said, rolling his eyes.

“Like you should talk,” Saeko smirked at him.

“I….I don’t feel so good,” Kaori mumbled.

Both Ryo and Saeko looked over to see that Kaori had suddenly become much paler.  Her legs wobbled and she started to sink downward. Ryo immediately rushed over and caught her before she could hit the ground.

“Come on,” he said as he stood back up with Kaori in his arms. “I’ll run you by the professor’s place so you can get looked at and then I’m taking you home. Saeko, I’m sure you can handle all this on your own.”

“I’m fine,” Saeko smiled at him. “Go ahead and take care of your partner.”

“Ryo, put me down,” Kaori protested. “I can walk.”

“Not until you’ve been looked at,” Ryo replied. “Oh and Saeko, you owe me some more mokkori points for this. After all, I did hand you a murder suspect.”

“Which only happened because I gave you the information you asked for,” Saeko grinned. “Sorry Ryo, but we’re even this time.” Ryo sighed and walked off toward his car.

“Stop trying to collect mokkori points,” Kaori frowned. “And put me down already.”

“No,” Ryo said, his tone suddenly becoming serious. “Not until I know that you’re all right.”

Ryo then held her even closer while still gazing into her eyes. Kaori blinked at him a couple times before letting out a huff and resting against him.

“Ok, you win,” she said. “Let’s hurry up and get this over with.”


 

About an hour later, the two of them arrived back at the apartment building. Much to Kaori’s chagrin, Ryo ended up carrying her in his arms again as they ascended the stairwell.

“Ryo, the professor said that I was fine and that I just need some rest,” Kaori sighed. “You don’t need to keep doing this.”

Ryo didn’t respond and continued up the steps until they reached his floor. He waited until he reached the front room before he finally let her go. The moment she was on her own two feet, however, he yanked her toward him for a near-crushing embrace.

“Ryo?” Kaori gasped.

But Ryo remained silent as he concentrated on her warmth, her scent, and the sound of her voice while he held her. Soon, Kaori wrapped her arms around his waist in response.

“What’s wrong?” she murmured. “You’ve been so quiet ever since we left Saeko-san with Emi.”

“Kaori,” he said. “Sleep with me.”

“Ryo,” Kaori sighed again. “I know that you can’t get enough when it comes to mokkori, but I’m….”

“That’s not what I mean,” he interrupted with a cough. “You need to rest and I want you to sleep in my bed. With me.” Kaori lifted her head, confusion evident in her features. She then tried to smile and put a hand to his cheek.

“All right, Ryo,” she said. “I will.”


 

After taking a brief shower and changing clothes, Kaori walked into Ryo’s room to find him already lying down on his bed, waiting for her. He pulled back the blankets and made room for her to lie next to him. Kaori crawled onto the bed and under the covers and was immediately enveloped by Ryo’s arms as he pulled her close to his chest. Kaori craned her neck toward him, a concerned look on her face.

“Ryo, what is going on? What happened between you and Emi?” she said. “Why were you….?” Kaori stopped when Ryo put a finger to her lips.

“Rest now,” he said. “We will talk later.”

Kaori looked as if she wanted to say more, but ended up nodding and placing her head onto the pillow instead. She closed her eyes and moments later Ryo could tell that she had fallen asleep.

He then closed his eyes and focused on the sound of her breathing. Even though he was tired and felt himself drifting toward sleep, Ryo made sure to take in as much of this moment as he could. Partially, it was because he relieved that she was still alive, and partially it was because he was happy that he had been given another chance to hold her in his arms again. 

But mostly it was because he knew that these would be some of the last moments he would ever have with Kaori.

Chapter Text

Almost four hours later, Ryo blinked his eyes open to see Kaori sitting up in bed beside him, lost in thought. She didn’t notice him waking up and so Ryo ended up watching her silently.

He wondered for a brief moment what she was thinking about and then his mind drifted toward thoughts of how beautiful she was in the soft glow of the lamp sitting next to the bed and how much he longed to take her back into his arms and make love to her again. He started to move a hand toward her, but hesitated at the last second. Only a few hours previous, he had thought that he would never see her again, and the fear and grief he had felt at the time had overwhelmed him. Even now, he could not fully shake those feelings and they only served to strengthen his resolve in regards to the decision he had made while driving her home from the professor’s place.

If Kaori stays like this with me, she will die,’ he told himself. ‘I can’t let her throw away her life. I have to stop being selfish and do what I promised Makimura all those years ago.’

‘I have to take care of her.’

Suddenly, Kaori looked down and smiled at him.

“Ah, I didn’t know that you were awake,” she said. “I…I was just thinking. About Emi.”

Ryo sat up and waited silently for her to continue.

“She said that she had lost her older brother, Jiro,” Kaori said. “And that her older brother had taken care of her growing up. Even though I was angry at her for blaming aniki for all her problems, I…I realized that I understood how she felt. I understood why she wanted to make someone pay for her brother’s death.”

Ryo’s heart sank, but chose to ignore the feeling. He saw his chance to do what he needed to do to ensure Kaori’s safety and he steeled himself for what was sure to come.

“Is that because you’ve had the same feelings?” he asked, his tone casual. “Because you have also wanted to get back at the person responsible for your brother’s death?”  Kaori whirled her head toward him.

“What do you mean?” she asked. “Union Theope? Despite what we’ve done so far I know it’s useless for me to….”

“No, I’m talking about the person who handed your brother over to Union Theope,” Ryo interrupted.

“Handed him over?” Kaori repeated. “What…what are you saying?”

“Makimura wasn’t supposed to go to the Silky Club that night,” Ryo said. “I was. I told Makimura that I was going to meet with the client. But he insisted on going, so I let him…even though I knew that it would be dangerous for him.”

Ryo leaned toward her, a neutral mask of indifference firmly fixed onto his features.

“I let Makimura walk into Union’s trap simply because I didn’t want to bother with a useless meeting with someone who I already knew wouldn’t be a good client,” Ryo continued. “I was too lazy to let your brother have the day off so he could spend your birthday with you, and as a result, Makimura died that night.”

Ryo watched Kaori’s eyes widen and her mouth open slightly in shock. He had never wanted to tell her any of this, afraid of how she would respond.  But he also knew that he needed to find some way to drive a wedge between them if he was to have any chance of getting her away from him.

“So, tell me,” Ryo added. “Do you understand Emi’s feelings a little better now? Do you understand why she hated the man who, in her eyes, was responsible for her beloved brother’s death?”

Kaori’s eyes misted over with tears, and Ryo bowed his head. He hated bringing up those painful memories and making her cry, but a voice inside him reminded him that this was far from the first time he had made her cry….a fact which gave even more encouragement to go forward with this plan.

“Ryo.”

Ryo looked up to see Kaori still staring at him, tears still shining in her eyes. He braced himself for what was sure to be a torrent of anger and grief against him.

Instead, he was shocked when Kaori reached over and gently placed her hands on either side of his face, tilting his head so he was looking directly into her eyes.

“I need you to listen to me carefully, Ryo Saeba, because I only want to say this once,” she said, tears making her voice tremble. “I have never blamed you for aniki’s death. Do you understand me? Never. You are not responsible for what those bastards from Union Theope did to him.”

Kaori paused and struggled to take a deep breath to calm herself. As she did, she brushed her fingers along Ryo’s cheeks.

“I know you,” she continued. “I know that you always tried to shield aniki from anything that might have been too dangerous for him…just like what you do with me now. I’m sure that you warned him or tried to find some other way to ensure his safety. But…I also know aniki. I am certain that he insisted on going, even after you offered to take his place, because he wanted to live up to his role as your partner. He never wanted to be to be a burden to you or make you shoulder all of the responsibility of City Hunter.”

Kaori moved one hand into Ryo’s hair, her fingers playing with the dark locks, while her other hand continued to massage Ryo’s cheek.

“It’s a feeling I understand very well,” she sniffed. “I know that I made mistakes during this case, but just like aniki, I will keep working hard to become a better partner. I promise.”

Kaori leaned toward him to kiss him, but Ryo backed away and pushed her hands down onto the bed. He turned away from her as he worked to rein in the frustration and anger that was building inside him.

‘She never listens. Why won’t she listen to me for once in her life?’ he asked himself. ‘Why does she refuse to listen to reason? Doesn’t she understand what I am trying to say?’

‘Why does she persist with this? All the things I’ve done to her…the way I let Makimura die….’

‘Why does she keep forgiving me?’

“Ryo? Ryo, what is it?”

Ryo clenched his hands. What happened earlier that day along with this conversation and Kaori’s questions were all prodding at his heart and he hated it. He hated having his nerves pushed to the limit; hated feeling lost and out of control, hated exposing so much of himself to anyone. His emotions were raw and close to exploding, and he wasn’t sure how much longer he could contain them.

“Don’t you get it?” he growled at her. “It’s that kind of thinking that got your brother killed.”

Kaori gasped, flinching at his harsh tone. He turned back toward her and felt the last vestiges of his control slip away.

“Makimura was a cop, a police detective, and yet he still wasn’t able to protect himself from Union Theope,” Ryo said, his anger increasing. “And you’re right. He thought that he could be my partner and continue on in his duties, no matter how dangerous they might be. And look what happened? He ended up as a battered, bloody corpse. Is that what he thought I wanted? Do you think that it was?”

Ryo wasn’t able to stop himself from grabbing Kaori by the arms and forcing her to look at him.

“You say that you want to be my partner, to be an even better partner, but how much of a chance do you think you have, considering how your brother failed?” he raged at her. “Don’t you realize by now that if you continue down this path that you’ll end up just like him? Think about what happened to you today and what could have happened. Doesn’t that make it clear to you?”

Ryo’s hands shook, but they did not relent in their vise-like grip.

“Think about how you threatened Emi with that gun,” he said, his voice cold and menacing. “Do you actually think that I want you shooting people? Do you think that I want to watch you turn into someone like me? Or maybe you think that I want to watch you die, just like how I got to watch Makimura die? Is that what you think I want?”  

Ryo was ready to continue yelling at her, but a gasp from Kaori stopped him. Her eyes shined with a mixture of panic and tears, and he was immediately filled with guilt. He never wanted her to be afraid of him and yet it was clear in this moment that she was.

‘It’s just as well. She should be afraid of a man like me. Maybe that will wake her up to reality of the situation: that I am not a knight who can care for her and protect her. I’m a killer, living in a world that she has no business being in.’

He let her go and moved to sit on the edge of the bed, his shoulders slumped downward and his head in his hands.

“Kaori, this isn’t going to work,” he said. “Maybe you don’t want to hear that, but it’s the truth. The best solution for you now is to leave. Forget about City Hunter and forget about me. Go and be happy in a normal life.”

Kaori continued to sit next to him silently and now it was Ryo’s turn to be afraid. He was certain that he had finally gotten through to her, but there was still that insistent scream from his heart to stop this, to beg for her forgiveness, and to hold onto her no matter what the cost. It took every ounce of strength he had to not listen to that scream and remain outwardly impassive.

He was so lost in his own despair, he didn’t even notice it when Kaori reached over and carefully pulled the singed scrap of cloth from her jacket, a piece of which was sticking out, from the pocket of his pants. He continued to fight with his emotions while she stared at it for several seconds before looking back over at him.  

“This…this is from my jacket,” she mumbled. “I ended up taking it off after you shot the ropes so I could get free faster. How did you get this? Wait, did you…? Did you think that I had….?”

 Ryo couldn’t really hear her. He was too busy waiting for the moment when she would leave him, angry and disappointed and ready to move on with her life. His thoughts continued to move further along their dark path while his heart grew increasingly numb.

A touch from Kaori jolted him out of reverie and he turned in time to watch her take one of his hands into both of hers.

“I am sorry, Ryo,” she said gently. “This time I am the one being an idiot. I get so wrapped up in my own grief over aniki’s death; I forget that you lost someone too. You lost your best friend. Not only that, you had to watch him die right in front of you. I don’t know if I could have handled that. And even though you tried to keep an eye on me while I learned to deal with my grief, not once did I try to console you or make sure that you were ok.”

Ryo’s mouth hung open slightly in shock as she caressed his hand and brought up to her lips so she could kiss his fingers.

“Even worse, I haven’t been considering what things like aniki’s death or the possibility of my own death could be doing to you,” she said after kissing him. “I took it for granted that you would always protect me, but I didn’t think about how much that responsibility could weigh on you or how you might feel if you ever thought that you had failed to protect me.”

She let go of his hand and moved closer to him so she could put her arms around his waist.

“I know that you’ve lost so many people in your life,” Kaori said. “I know that and yet I didn’t even think about how much pain you have had to endure, or how much sorrow you could still be carrying in your heart.”

Ryo bowed his head even more and continued to bury his face in his hands, unable to look at her. This wasn’t supposed to happen. She was supposed to walk away from him, not try to comfort him.

“But listen to me, Ryo,” she continued. “This is one of the many reasons why I will never leave you. I am here to help you heal, not to cause you even more pain. I told you once before that my life became yours when I agreed to be your partner…that applies to my heart as well. I’m yours, Ryo. Now and always. And there is nothing that can separate us.”

Ryo lifted his head and looked over at her, his expression blank. His mind struggled to process what she was saying while his heart continued ache under the morass of his conflicting emotions.

“And I know you think that it would be better for me if I left, but that just isn’t true,” Kaori said. “Do you really think that I am better off without you? How can you think that?”

Kaori gave him one last squeeze before loosening her hold and starting to stroke his back.

“Don’t you remember how it was after aniki died?” she asked.  “I am certain that my grief would have swallowed me whole if I didn’t have you and this job to hold onto. Or perhaps you think that my being with you puts me in more danger due to the criminals we deal with? Well maybe I have become somewhat more of a target because I am with you, but do you honestly think that I would always be left alone just because I wasn’t with you? This whole thing with Emi should tell you that there are people out there who could go after me because of a grudge they have with aniki. And that doesn’t even include Union Theope, by the way, or any of the other random things that have put me in danger at one time or another. Given all that, I can think of nowhere safer than right alongside the number one sweeper in Japan. You’ve protected me countless times, Ryo, and I have absolutely no doubt in your ability to continue to protect me.”

  Kaori reached over to brush his cheek causing Ryo to finally look over at her.

“Don’t you understand, Ryo?” she asked. “We are far stronger together than we ever could be apart. You work so hard to protect me and help me when I need it. All that I ask is that you let me do the same for you.”

Ryo leaned closer to her and gazed into her eyes. He was stunned at the depth of her stubbornness while simultaneously in awe of the wisdom behind her words. No matter how he tried to reason around it, he could not find a way to refute her logic.

“Kaori,” he said, his voice hoarse and strained. “I’m sor--….” Kaori halted his words by pointing an index finger close to his mouth.

“Stop,” she said. “I am apologizing to you right now. I told you that I was the idiot here and that is the truth. Do not apologize to me just because you allowed yourself to feel and to let those feelings show.”

The corner of Ryo’s mouth curled slightly upward as he carefully placed his hands back onto her shoulders.

“Then let me thank you instead,” he said. “Thank you, Kaori, for protecting me earlier today. You handled yourself well against Emi.”

Kaori blushed as he placed a chaste kiss onto her forehead.

“Thank you,” he murmured. “For saving me.”

Ryo then kissed her again on the lips. As he did, he contemplated just how much he had meant with those words. She had saved him, not just today by protecting him from Emi, but many times over the course of their partnership. She gave him light in his darkest moments, she gave him the extra strength he needed to fight some of his toughest enemies, and she gave him the support he needed to continue to live life as opposed to just surviving. The more he thought about it, the more Ryo grew convinced that he would have been dead long before now if Kaori had not been a part of his world.

He also realized, however, that that thought strengthened the argument Kaori put forth about the two of them being better off together than apart, a part of him was exasperated at that.

Ryo pulled back from the kiss and watched Kaori continue to blush over his words.

“Ah, I can’t believe that you’re complimenting me as your partner,” she said with a bashful smile. She put a hand to her face and paused when her eyes spied the piece of her jacket that was still laying on the bed.

“Ryo,” she said. “I heard you tell Emi that your life was over. You didn’t mean that, did you? It was a lie, wasn’t it?”

Ryo looked away from her. He didn’t want to tell Kaori the truth, but he didn’t want to lie to her either.  In the end it didn’t matter though. Kaori’s silence, which was only broken by the sound of her trying to swallow her tears, told Ryo that she had answered her own question.

Suddenly Kaori threw her arms around him, squeezing him as hard as she could.

“Ryo, you have to promise me,” she pleaded. “You have to promise me that, no matter what happens, you won’t give up. That you’ll always fight and live on. Promise me that, Ryo. Please.”

Ryo tentatively put his own arms around her.

“I promise you that I will fight and survive,” he said. “But I don’t know if I can promise you to live if….” Kaori lifted her head to touch his face against his.

“Don’t worry, Ryo,” she whispered. “I promised you that I would never leave you, and I meant it. You will never be alone. I will always be with you.”

Even as his mind tried to tell him that there was no way that Kaori could guarantee something like that, Ryo’s heart believed in her words. There was simply no way he could not believe when faced with the insurmountable strength of her convictions.

 “All right,” he said. “I promise.” Kaori nodded and kissed his cheek. That led to a series of kisses to Ryo’s face and neck which made Ryo smile and embrace her even tighter. His smile grew as he guided her to lie back down and as he joined in the kisses. He felt an enormous weight lift from his heart and happiness bubble back up into his soul.

Ryo grinned, unable to contain a few giggles, as he started to take off his clothes and was pleased when he met no resistance from Kaori as he reached for hers. He almost felt light-headed as relief filled him with giddiness and his heart swelled with love. After everything that had happened today, he wanted and needed to have some fun and to immerse himself in Kaori again.

“Ryo,” she moaned softly as he caressed her bare skin. “My knight…my Ryo….”

“Your knight always, Kaori,” he whispered as he kissed her. “Yours and yours alone….my partner….”

Chapter Text

Even though he normally hated getting up early, the next morning, Ryo opened his eyes and carefully crept out of bed. He looked over to see that Kaori was still fast asleep and he grinned at the sight. He pulled the blankets over her, tucking her into them, and watched as she settled into an even deeper sleep.

He then giggled quietly and snuck out of the room, ready to execute his plan.


 

Some time later, Ryo reappeared in his bedroom and was pleased to see Kaori just starting to stir. He walked over to the bed with a huge tray in his hands and sat down next to her.

“Good morning, Kaori-chan,” he beamed at her. Kaori blinked and yawned as she turned toward him.

“Ryo?! What’s all this?” she asked. Ryo smiled again and pulled the tray closer to her. Kaori’s eyes widened at the array of food perched on it.

“What does it look like?” he laughed. “It’s our breakfast. So go ahead and eat up. We’re going to need lots of energy for today.”

“Ryo…you actually made me breakfast?” she asked, confused. “And brought it to me in bed?” She blushed at him with a smile on her face which made Ryo cough in embarrassment.

“Well you were still asleep, and the professor said you needed plenty of rest,” he said. “And I was hungry and didn’t want to wait.” Kaori chuckled and kissed his cheek.

“Thank you, Ryo,” she said. “It’s lovely.” Ryo’s face softened into a smile at the adoration in her voice.

“Great, so let’s eat,” he replied. The two of them reached for their plates and started in on their food. Ryo quickly finished his own meal while Kaori took her time, savoring the moment.

Her eyebrows arched up, however, when she took a closer look at him and realized that he was probably naked underneath the bed sheet. A disturbing thought came to her mind.

“Ryo,” she said. “Tell me that you were wearing clothes while you made all this food.”

“Why?” Ryo asked. “Do you actually need clothes while making food?” Kaori sighed and put her face in her hand.

“Then, at least tell me that you made sure that there were no open curtains while you were cooking,” she said.

“Hmm, I think they were all closed,” Ryo said, putting a finger to his chin while looking upward. “I mean, I didn’t actually check them all….so who knows.”

Ryo laughed again and Kaori’s sighs grew even more pronounced.

“I’m going to get a bunch of phone calls from the neighbors today, aren’t I?” she asked.

“Don’t worry about that, Kaori,” he grinned with an evil glint in his eyes. “It’s not like you’ll be answering the phone today…what with all the phones on this floor being disconnected and all.”

Kaori lifted her head in surprise and immediately reached over for the phone beside the bed. Sure enough, when she picked it up, the line was dead.

“Ryo, did you do this?” she asked. Ryo giggled again.

“Just making sure that you won’t be distracted today,” he said. “Go ahead and finish your breakfast.”

Kaori gave him a suspicious look while she finished her food. Once she was done, Ryo picked up the tray and sat it on top of his dressers. It was then that she frowned at him.

“What’s going on, Ryo?” she asked. “You never do things like make me breakfast. You have something in mind, don’t you?”

“Just keeping a promise that I made to myself at one point during this last case,” he said, reaching over to embrace her.

“What promise was this, exactly?” Kaori asked. Ryo laughed and lowered her down onto her back.

“I promised myself that you’d be spending a day with me in bed,” he said. “So now it’s time for me to make good on that promise.” Ryo kissed her, but Kaori pushed his face away afterwards.

“Ryo! What kind of a promise is that?” she asked. “Wait, are you saying that you made me breakfast just so I wouldn’t get out of bed?”

“You’re catching on,” he said, his grin becoming far more predatory. He leaned toward her, but Kaori put her palm in his face again.

“This is ridiculous,” she said. “You can’t possibly mean that you want me to spend the entire day in bed with you.” Ryo moved his head around her hand and kissed her neck.

“Kaori, what part of insatiable did you forget about in regards to me?” he asked between kisses.

“I have to get up to check the board before long.”

“No you don’t,” Ryo told her. “Kasumi-chan owed me a favor, so she’ll be checking the board today and she will let us know later if there was anything there.”

“Well…but…I have to get to the chores at some point….”

“Already taken care of. As it turns out, you keep the place pretty spotless, so there was hardly anything to do.”

“Please don’t tell me that you were naked while you were doing the cleaning too.”

“And what if I was?” Ryo said with a lecherous smirk. “You definitely should try it yourself some time.”

Kaori sighed even louder and put her face back into her palm.

“How did I end up with such a hopeless pervert?” she asked herself aloud. “So, is all this your way of telling me that I’m going to be your mokkori target from now on?” Ryo reached down and removed her hand from her face.

“What I want…what I need from you and what I want to give you goes beyond mokkori,” he said. “Certainly mokkori is part of it, but it’s more than that. So much more.”

Kaori blushed and smiled at him as she started to understand what he was trying to tell her.  She put her hand in his hair and pulled him toward her so she could kiss him.

“Maybe…maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to take one day off,” she said as their lips parted.

“Of course not,” Ryo smiled.

“I can’t believe I’m doing something like this,” Kaori said. “You’re a terrible influence on me, Ryo. I swear, it’s as if you are actually trying to make me as decadent as you.”

“Perhaps,” he chuckled. “How am I doing so far?”

Kaori smirked at him but chose to answer with another kiss. Ryo smiled to himself as he realized that the time for conversation was over.

Now it was time for them to communicate their feelings without words.


 

A couple hours later, Ryo lie awake in bed, holding Kaori close to him. He was a little tired again after the energetic time he had just spent with her, but that was overshadowed by an overall feeling of contentment. Normally, he didn’t like to stay in one place for too long, preferring to remain active and always having something to do. He was bemused to discover how serene he felt simply holding Kaori while lying next to her. He then pondered how being in an actual relationship with Kaori continued to be full of surprises for him.

“Hey Ryo, what are you thinking about?”

Ryo looked over to see her staring at him. He smiled at her for a second before his expression became more serious.

“Kaori, I’m going to have a talk with Umibozu and Miki-chan,” he said. “I’m going to ask Miki-chan to teach you more about how to defend yourself in hand-to-hand combat and I’m going to ask Umi-chan to teach you more about traps and how to better handle that bazooka you seem to be so fond of.”

“Ryo? Are you….?”

“I am going to do everything within my power to protect you,” he continued. “But the fact remains that I can’t be with you every second of every day. I need to know that you can take care of yourself when I am not around. This is something I should have done before now, and I am sorry for that.”

 Kaori started to smile, but that smile vanished when she saw the hard glint in Ryo’s eyes.

“There is one thing though,” he said, his tone grave. “I am not going to teach you how to use a gun. You already know the basics and that’s all you need. And I am not going to allow Umi-chan or Miki-chan to do it either, so don’t bother asking them.”

“Ryo,” Kaori gasped. “How can I be your partner if I don’t learn how to better handle a gun?”

“You’ve already been my partner for over five years with your current level of gun skills,” he replied. “And it has worked out just fine. End of discussion.”

“Wait a minute,” Kaori said. “What do you mean by that? What are you thinking, telling me that I….?”

“I already explained this to you,” Ryo interrupted. “I do not want you to become someone like me. Even if you are my partner, I will not let you dirty your hands. Makimura never wanted that for you…and neither do I.”

“Now you sound like Sayuri-san,” she replied. “I’m not going to learn to use a gun to kill people. I just want to be able to defend myself and you and our clients if need be.”

“There are other ways to defend yourself, and that is what you are going to learn,” Ryo replied. He then reached over to cradle her closer to him while making sure to still look her in the eye.

“Listen to me, Kaori,” he said, his tone gentle despite his serious expression.  “This is something I happen to know a lot about. It is not a simple thing: taking someone’s life.  Do you understand? I have learned to deal with it because I had no other options. But it is a difficult burden to carry and, honestly, it is something that will follow me for the rest of my life. And it is not the kind of burden I would ever wish for you.”

Ryo ran his hand along Kaori’s face, soaking in the warmth from her body through his fingertips.

“You know how skilled Saeko is,” he added.  “And yet even she has mentioned to me that she is not always confident in her ability to consistently miss vital organs when shooting at someone. She is very aware that she runs the risk of killing someone in the course of her job, and thus she has to work even harder to be vigilant when she uses her gun both on and off duty.”

“I see,” Kaori mumbled. “That’s part of the reason why Saeko-san always talks about how good you are, isn’t it? It’s not just because of how fast you are or things like your one-hole-shot. It’s because you always have the option to not kill someone when you shoot at them…because you are always in control of every single bullet you fire.”

“Exactly,” he nodded. “The fact is, there are not many people out there who have that level of skill. I had to be trained from childhood in order to get to that level.”

Kaori lowered her eyes at that statement, her expression somber. Ryo knew that she felt bad about the kind of childhood he had had, and while he never wanted to be pitied, he was always touched at how much Kaori tried empathized with him and his feelings.

“I understand,” she said, still not looking up. “You don’t want me to learn more because there is always the chance that I could kill someone by accident even if I never intend to murder anyone.”

Ryo nodded again and watched as Kaori took a deep breath before looking back up at him.

“All right, Ryo,” she said. “I’ll focus on the things that Umibozu-san and Miki-san can teach me. But…I still plan on carrying my brother’s gun. I still need to be able use it, if for no other reason than to make sure that you never have to shoot a woman.”

Ryo’s mouth dropped open as she snuggled closer to him.

“I don’t completely understand it,” she said. “But I’ve known for a while now that, if you had to shoot at a woman, it would affect you far more than usual. And just like how you don’t want me to experience the burden of killing someone, I don’t want you to have to cross the line you have created for yourself. If it comes to that, I will protect you, Ryo...just like I did with Emi.”

“All right,” he smiled at her. “That is fair enough…partner.”

Kaori smiled back and the two of them embraced again, sharing several kisses before taking a break. Kaori touched his face one last time before extracting herself from his arms and grabbing one of Ryo’s shirts which he had tossed onto the floor.

“I’m going to take a shower,” she said as she slipped it on and stood up from the bed.

“That’s fine,” Ryo nodded.

“Really?” Kaori said. “I’m surprised. I figured that you’d protest my going off to do anything by myself during your special ‘mokkori day’.”

“You underestimate me, Kaori,” he giggled. “What makes you think that you’ll be alone while you take that shower?”

“You’re taking this mokkori day a little too seriously, aren’t you?” Kaori said, narrowing her eyes at him.

Ryo flung the sheets aside and jumped to his feet, rushing over to hold her from behind.

“Maybe I am,” Ryo chuckled into her ear. “But I can’t help myself. I had to wait years to be able to have these moments with you. And now that I have them, I can’t get enough of them. I know that it can’t be this way all the time, but I’m asking you to please give me this one day. Give me this one day to mokkori with you…to go beyond mokkori with you…without restraint.”

“Ryo,” Kaori said, placing her hands over his. “It may not be all the time, but it won’t just be today. There will be plenty of other times in the future, I promise. Don’t feel like you have to get in as much as you can today out of fear of not knowing when your next chance will be.”

“Oh, so are you admitting that you are after my body too?” he smirked at her. “And that maybe you are enjoying this as much as I am?” Kaori turned bright red and scowled.

“Do not think for one second that I am a pervert like you,” she said. “It’s just that I…I love… being this way with you…having you so close and….” Ryo kissed her ear.

“I know,” he said, squeezing her waist. “I know because it’s the same for me, Kaori.” He let out a sigh and closed his eyes for a second before giggling and letting his hands wander.

“Now, weren’t you saying something about a shower?” he chortled. “I was thinking about how that sounds like a great idea for the both of us.”

“Just how far are you going to take this?” Kaori sighed. “You know, we will need to eat again at some point and there’s hardly anything in the cupboards.”

“That’s why things like delivery exist,” Ryo replied. “Problem solved.”

“You better put some clothes on for when the food arrives,” she said, turning her head to glare at him.

“Of course,” Ryo frowned. “I don’t want to be nude in front of some delivery guy.” Ryo’s frown soon shifted to a smile, however, and he began to laugh again.

“Although…I suppose there is a chance that it could be a woman,” he said, drool appearing in the corner of his mouth. “And then it could turn into a mokkori delivery. So maybe….”

“Ryo!”

“Wait…wait a minute there shouldn’t be a hammer on mokkori day.”

“Hold still, Ryo!

“Forgive me, Kaori…I was just kidding…I’ll put some clothes on, I swear…”


 

A few hours, and one hammer strike, later Ryo and Kaori decided to leave the apartment. By this point it was late evening and while they had enjoyed their intimate day together, they were both feeling restless and decided to wander around Shinjuku for a while.

One of the first stops they made was the Cat’s Eye café. As they walked in, they saw Miki and Umibozu behind the counter with Saeko and Kasumi sitting next to each other on the stools in front of it.

“Hi everyone,” Ryo said, waving his hand.

“Ah, Saeba-san, Kaori-san, good to see you,” Miki smiled. “Kaori-san, are you feeling better today? I heard about what happened with your client.”

“Thank you, I’m fine,” Kaori said. “I just had a bump on the head and some bruises. Nothing serious.”

“Ryo, Kaori-san, you’ll be glad to know that we managed to arrest Emi Sugisaki for Emi Kushida’s murder and for the murder of her brother, Akito,” Saeko said. “She eventually confessed to both crimes. I guess she had been under a mental strain ever since her brother, Jiro, died and had finally snapped under the pressure and grief.”

“Poor Emi-san,” Kaori said. Ryo goggled at her.

“Really?” he said. “She did try to kill you.”

“I know,” Kaori said. “But still, it’s sad to think about how grief over losing a family can twist a person up inside. Looking back on it, I don’t know if she even realized what she was doing when she shot her brother, Akito. All she could see was her own pain.”

Ryo smiled slightly and put a hand on her shoulder. Kaori’s generosity never ceased to amaze him, and at this moment, he felt tremendously lucky that he was the one who was at the center of her heart.

“I’m surprised that you aren’t a little regretful too, Ryo,” Saeko said. “On the surface, at least, she seemed like your type.”

“On the surface, maybe,” Ryo nodded sagely, putting a hand to his chin.

“You’re giving him too much credit, Saeko-san,” Kaori smirked at him. “As far as this pervert is concerned, every woman is his type.”

“That’s not true, Kaori-kun,” he said, waving a finger at her. “My type just happens to cover a lot of ground. After all, much like how there are many delicious flavors of ice cream, there are many delicious varieties of mokkori. It’s the dream of every man to sample them all.”

Ryo then grinned and bounced over to grab Kasumi’s hands.

“So how about I start with your flavor, Kasumi-chan,” he laughed. “You can tell me about the mokkori client you lined up for me and then we can….”

“Ryo, aren’t you forgetting something?” Kaori said with a forced smile, a hammer appearing in her hands. “Like who your partner actually is?” Ryo let Kasumi’s hands go and held his own hands over his head.

“Sorry about that, Kaori-sama,” he said. “I didn’t mean it, I swear.”

“And what was that about sampling every flavor of mokkori out there?” she said as she started to chase him. “Maybe you would like to sample all the flavors of my hammers.”

“I don’t want any samples of that,” he screeched as he ran out of the café. Kaori ran out after him, while the rest of them watched them leave with amused stares.

“Do they actually think that they are fooling us?” Saeko said, shaking her head.

“Ah, so you saw it too,” Miki smiled. “Did you see it Falcon?”

“Of course,” Umibozu said, his face turning red. “I am a professional.” Miki laughed and put an arm on his shoulder, causing steam to rise from his head.

“What are all of you talking about?” Kasumi said. “I didn’t notice anything different.”

“You didn’t notice the way Ryo looked at Kaori-san at one point?” Saeko said. “Or the expression Kaori-san had on her face when she walked in here, holding Ryo’s arm?”

“I did notice that,” Kasumi said. “But I…wait a minute, are you saying that they…?”

“Yes,” Miki said with a smile. “They are not just partners in City Hunter. Their partnership is much deeper than that...and now they know it too.”

“Hmph,” Umibozu said, turning his head. “It took them long enough to figure it out. I’m surprised that Kaori was able to pull any sense out of that moron.”

“I guess this means that we are out of luck, Saeko-san,” Kasumi sighed. “I imagine Reika-san and Kazue-san will be disappointed too, but it looks like Saeba-san’s heart has finally been taken. Who could have ever imagined that?”

“It’s ok,” Saeko said with a wistful smile. “I think we all knew that it was going to happen eventually. I just can’t stop thinking about that look in Ryo’s eyes. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him this happy.”

“I’ve known Ryo for years,” Umibozu added with a nod. “I do not believe he has ever had the chance to have this kind of happiness. He was very fortunate to find a woman who is strong enough to give it to him….just like I was.”

“Falcon,” Miki beamed at him, wrapping her arms around him as best she could. Umibozu turned an even brighter shade of red and he waved his arms at her.

“Miki, cut that out!” he yelped. “Not in front of customers. Stop it!”

Saeko and Kasumi laughed and turned their gazes toward the door again before sharing a knowing look with each other.

Things had changed, and this time it was for the better.


 

Ryo smirked to himself while he stretched, trying to work out the kinks in his body after the blow from Kaori’s hammer. He was pretty sure that everyone at the café had figured out their secret, and he knew that neither he nor Kaori would be able to escape it from now on.

Umi-chan and Miki-chan will probably become even worse busybodies than they already are….But if Saeko thinks that she can get out of owing me those mokkori points, she is in for a big surprise.’

He watched Kaori’s hammer disappear and walked over to where she was standing, her arms crossed over her chest. He wanted to kiss her, but knew that it wouldn’t be a good idea. There were too many people around, too many people who could spread rumors. Despite Kaori’s thoughts on the matter, the fact remained that Ryo was absolutely certain that the people who wanted him dead would be far less determined to go after his partner in City Hunter than the woman he loved, even if they were one in the same. It just wasn’t feasible for the two of them to allow any public displays of their love.

Instead, he held out his arm to her.

“Kaori, how about I apologize by taking you to a noodle stand and buying you dinner?” he said. “And then I can show you one of my favorite bars in Shinjuku.”

Kaori relaxed her posture and reached for his arm, wrapping one of hers around it.

“Why not?” she said. “But it better not be a mokkori bar. That is unless you would like to sample another hammer flavor.”

Ryo flinched but then he looked into her eyes and smiled. He could tell that she was thinking the same kind of thing that he was, that she would like to kiss him. But instead of being unhappy over being unable to openly declare their love, as Ryo feared she would be, Kaori was focused on the moment between them. Standing here with him, holding his arm, and getting ready to spend the evening exploring his city, their city, was all that she needed.  

It was all that she needed because they were together…and it was then that Ryo realized that that was all he needed too.

The two of them walked away toward the neon signs which illuminated their path for the rest of the night.