Thanks for the phenomenal response, in such short time too! A bunch of you were wondering if it would have a second part, and here it is!
This is truly animeverse, because the mystery of Yako's father's death and canon mother are different in anime and manga. That is an important distinction for this chapter.
Title: Tomodachi (Friend)
Part 2 Summary: A friend who's accepting, a mother who doesn't understand, and the battle over the control of Yako's life.
"He's as inhuman as he was in the beginning."
Kanae looked up form the magazine she was reading, seated at the customary bench seat at the okonomiyaki store, staring across the table hotplate at Yako, empty bowls at one end of the table. The smaller blonde girl leaned back in her seat, face turned to the side. Kanae waited. Yako's eyes were gazing towards some distant point, she wondered if the girl knew she had spoken at all.
"What?" Kanae questioned her.
"Ne, Kanae." Yako said, turning unfocused eyes towards her, "Why do you think that is so?"
"Yako," Kanae told her, "I have no idea what you're talking about."
The blonde girl blinked, "Oh! Sorry Kanae. Just forget about it." She gave an awkward laugh.
"Mah. Are you talking about your Assistant again?" Kanae asked.
"Neuro?" Yako said with a nervous smile, "Well, kind of. But never mind it. I'm just randomly saying thing. Ha. Haha."
Kanae gave her friend a skeptical look. For a famous Investigator, her friend was too easy to read. "Well, let's forget about him for a second. How's your mom taking your sudden profession?"
Katsuragi Haruka had left the country before the Assistant showed up and Yako had set up her agency. While Yako had told her mother about some events over the phone, Haruka-san had not been expecting to return to Japan to find her daughter a famous Private Investigator. She had been surprised when she had seen Yako on friendly terms with the policemen who helped solve Haruka-san's case, but that was nothing compared to recently.
Haruka-san had never met the Assistant. When Yako returned from her unexpected trip to South America, although Yako had told Kanae that she was sneaking away without telling her Assistant, Yako had still came back and spoke with the soft, broken words: "He's gone."
Soon after it was like watching the beginning stages of Yako's decline into her shell again. Her shoulders were bowed, lips often pinched, and amber eyes stared off into a distance that none could reach. Kanae had tried, gently, to nudge her friend to go out and find another guy, one perhaps who might be more normal by everyone's standards but anyone was okay as long as they took her mind off the Assistant.
Haruka-san hadn't known what was going on, she had never had the chance to meet the so-called Assistant, who every one alluded to but sentences always trailed off when asked about. Haruka-san had mentioned once that she would have liked to thank Yako's Assistant for helping her solve the mystery of her case and Kanae, invited over for dinner, watched as her friend pasted on a painfully bright smile, brushed off the comment, and proceeded to eat and eat and eat until all the food was gone from the table. She then quickly stood, praising her mother's cooking, commenting on how she hadn't had a home-cooked meal by her mother in so long.
Kanae had stopped eating after the second bite into Yako's forced cheer, and Yako had stolen the rest of Kanae's half-uneaten bowl. Haruka-san had smiled, taking Yako's words for surface value, while Kanae could only once again, when they were alone, offer nonchalantly that she was there if Yako ever wanted to speak. Yako had laughed and pretended that nothing was wrong. Kanae let her.
There was something very fragile about Yako once more. Like forcing her to speak and face reality might just break her.
Haruka-san never really experienced Yako's fame, after they returned from South America Yako had placed the agency on hiatus. She sat in the chair staring at the empty seat or up towards the ceiling, amber eyes unfocused. Until finally she said she was going to close down the office.
There had been something very sad about Yako when she spoken those words, she looked like she was going to cry, but she never did. Kanae could only watch as Yako flipped through the phone book, chattering nonsensically about school and finding a good storage base for the files in the office.
Kanae wanted to hug her, but Yako's tense back did not welcome any overtures.
Then came that day, the day when Yako could no longer put off packing up the items in the office because the storage people said that they needed a definite answer this time; she either wanted to rent the space and they would pick up the boxes tomorrow, or they would rent the space to someone else.
Yako and Godai-san, an apparent trainee of their office that Kanae had heard occasionally about, had packed up all the office supplies. But Yako went back later because she said there were some files left, and no one had been allowed to touch them except for Neuro and her.
Kanae had ached but did not offer to go with her to help, because she knew Yako wanted to be alone when she taped up the last of the memories. And Kanae had wondered if this was what happened to people when their dynamics went out of sync. Yako looked lost, and so often empty.
But later when Yako returned it was with a smile of her face, eyes gleaming suspiciously bright, and a tall form looming over her shoulder.
Nougami Neuro, the Assistant.
It seemed the agency wouldn't be closed after all; Yako explained with a trembling smile and suppressed sniffles.
A large hand fell upon the top of Yako's head in a seemingly gentle grip. "Who said it would be closed, hrmmm?" The Assistant mused.
"No one!" Yako screeched. "No one at all!"
"That's what I thought!" The Assistant murmured softly while Yako tried yanking his hand off of her.
Standing three feet away Kanae had wondered if they had forgotten about her or if they thought she couldn't hear.
"Come on, Neuro! You were gone for a long time, I was worried!" Yako pulled harder at the arm encased in blue sleeves which refused to let go, the grip only tightening more.
"This just means we have to make up for lost time Yako!" He said with an innocent laugh.
"I'll see you later Kanae!" Yako bellowed as the Assistant walked away with her, dragging the high school girl by her head.
"Ah." Kanae had replied to thin air.
When she saw her again, it was the next day at school and Yako was already looking normal again.
"Kanae!" Yako had shouted, tackling her at the school entrance and latching on, "He was meeeeeeaaan! You wouldn't believe what he called me!"
But even as she recited the degrading names: dish rag, amoeba, wood louse, bathroom towel, plankton, single-cell organism, Yako was thriving with frustrated vitality. And the blonde girl had beamed, smiling as she told Kanae that day after school she was going on another case.
That day was again the start of many days when Yako would be out hunting for clues and socializing with police and criminals alike. Haruka-san would call Kanae when it was late, wondering where Yako was.
The police station.
The television studio.
The famous Italian restaurant.
"Why? With who?"
An investigation. With the Assistant. And occasionally Godai-san as driver.
Rarely with Kanae.
Half a year was a long enough time to change many things. Yako would be surprised when she walked in through the door to find someone was waiting for her at night, get scolded, be grounded, but somehow the girl would always manage to escape from her room and appear on the newest controversial crime scene. Haruka-san got tired of the routine but she wouldn't give up. Yako was her daughter, and she should be listening to her mother instead of running around late at night with random strangers in shady areas.
But Yako was now an adult, perhaps in more ways then Haruka-san was ready for. Haruka-san didn't like to acknowledge and think about the things Yako must have seen and dealt with in her investigations. A mother always wanted to protect her child.
Kanae had been over to keep Yako company when Yako finally decided to sit through Haruka-san's grounding. She wasn't going to leave the house without her mother's permission. Haruka-san had nodded, that was the way it was supposed to be.
Then the Chief Inspector of the police, Usui-san, showed up and along with him came his subordinates Tsukichi and Higuchi to speak with Yako about some recent developments. Later followed by the detective Sasazuka-san and his rookie partner Ishigaki-san. Then finally: the Assistant.
He walked through the door, tall and slender, with a naïvely confused look on his face, wondering why Yako she wasn't at the office; instead she was spending her working hours at home.
While Yako sweated bullets Haruka-san had explained that her daughter was grounded for the next indefinite period of time for violating the house rules and being out after curfew. All the policemen in the room seemed to stare at Yako, as if realizing once again she was just a high school girl.
The Assistant made the appropriate responses, placing his hands and all the blame on Yako. Yako had nodded like a little puppet, taking all the blame and repeating his words like a half successful ventriloquism.
Then when Haruka-san spoke of thanking him for solving her case, the Assistant said he was just following orders, that it was was Yako's job now: to save people. He was only a lowly helper and so many people, just like Haruka-san, were in danger every moment Yako wasn't allowed to move freely as she used to. And how does one remember the rules of living together after being alone and taking care of herself for so long anyways?
It was a harsh and blunt statement.
Surprisingly Higuchi-san backed him up, commenting that Katsuragi could take care of herself and the police force needed her on duty. Usui-san reluctantly agreed.
Cornered from all sides Haruka-san could only assent. From the sidelines Kanae had seen just for a moment how the Assistant stared at Yako's mother with murky eyes, as if she was an annoyance he did not need.
After coming to the compromise that Yako had to call to let her mother know if she was going to be home late due to a case, Yako was allowed to go.
Less then a second the Assistant had a hand on Yako's shoulder and disappeared out the door with the blonde. The policemen chased after them, and Kanae would later hear from Yako that they all ended up at the scene of a murder, catching the criminal the next day.
Time passed again in the normal pattern which had settled in ever since the Assistant showed up, except this time Haruka-san called Kanae a lot more to talk bout Yako and worry about the whereabouts of her child. How her child wasn't coming home in a reasonable hour for far more days then she had thought, and though Yako phoned, it was often already late, and when she solved a case, it was usually reported on television or in the newspapers. How could her child be so famous? How could her little Yako really solve all these crimes?
"She has a medal from the Prime Minister." Kanae said once, shocking the mother of the teenage investigator.
Yako had received that after she had saved the country from the threat of nuclear weapons by the Electronic Person HAL. But Haruka-san had been in South America, where unrest was always ripe, and news from outside the country didn't appear often in the reports, as their own conflicts and political tensions were of more immediate importance. Haruka-san would learn she was quite clueless about her daughter's career. The mother had thought that Yako worked as a recreational or low-end petty crime investigator, a child playing at an adult's profession, for in the real world who would truly trust a teenager girl to handle high crime?
The answer turned out to be a lot more people then Haruka-san thought possible.
While Haruka-san was in shock and disbelief about the answers she was finding, she gave up being able to herd her daughter home every night at a typical curfew hour.
On that topic, Kanae had her own thoughts. The Assistant didn't seem to like interference or uncertainty of his authority, and Kanae speculated that he might be deliberately keeping Yako out more often then there was a real need to. Before South America, Yako had stayed at the office voluntarily, telling Kanae that it seemed pointless to go home to an empty house when she could just as well have dinner at the agency with Godai-san and Neuro. But now that her mother was at home, whenever she tried to leave, she was finding that the agency had a lot more work then she had known before.
"It's just like when he first came!" Yako suddenly burst, as if continuing from a previous conversation.
Kanae gave up on making sense of the girl and let the magazine fall to her lap, staring at her friend with a bored expression.
"Brain like a worm! Get me something to eat! You're useless as a slug!" Yako mocked, supposedly imitating the Assistant. "What's with the sudden verbal abuse? I thought we got better at lowering the level on it." Yako looked ready to cry. "Why a worm again? I thought I was at least on level with the arthropods…"
Kanae's eye twitched. She didn't bother to comment on how sad that was.
"It's always: find me something to eat! Find me a mystery!" Yako ranted, "And when I don't he ruins my food, and when I ask if he has even has the least bit of respect for me, he goes 'What are you talking about? Don't forget, you're my-'" Yako cut off abruptly, a look of disbelief and horror on her face, thinking of what she might have revealed. "Ah-ahaha. What was I saying again?" Yako stared at anywhere except Kanae, moving jerkily. "Aren't you hungry Kanae? I'm hungry!" The girl said forcefully bright, "Let's order another serving!"
Kanae tried to stop her, "Yako, I can't fit anymore-"
"Another serving please!" Yako cried out ignoring her.
Kanae sat back in her seat and rested her chin on her hand. "Your appetite amazes me."
Yako laughed, "You know, that's just me."
Even with the Assistant back, Yako's appetite never returned to normal. She still ate the extraordinary amount she was inclined to since her father's murder, but it no longer seemed like purely comfort food. Maybe Yako had gotten used to it, or maybe she now needed the extra nutrients for running around the city and being dragged off to the newest crime scenes, but Yako's hunger was still as large as ever.
"Nah, Yako. Are you sure you have enough money for this?" Kanae questioned as the waitress brought another helping of the food.
One would think with all the publicity and high fame crimes Yako wouldn't have to worry about money constraints, but apparently they had to remodel the office and they always needed to either replace or get new equipment for the latest mystery.
The blonde girl was already pouring the batter onto the hotplate. "Yup! Don't worry about it, Neuro gave me my food money for this week already."
Another strange dynamic in the relationship was that the Assistant had control of the finances instead of Yako, even though everything was under her name - the Investigator and supposedly the boss. Akane-chan, the secretary she had yet to see, was the one who did the budget reports.
When Haruka-san said she would help Yako manage her money and place it into investments and savings under Yako's name, the daughter had laughed awkwardly and scratched her head, saying she didn't know how much she earned but she didn't think it was really that much – her paychecks weren't outstanding. And when Haruka-san had questioned how could Yako not know how much profit she was earning and where all the agency money went, Yako replied timidly: "Neuro takes care of it."
Yako's mother's eyes flashed to the Assistant but he simply smiled innocently and did not respond to the suspicious accusing look in her eyes. Yako had calmed her mother down while the Assistant stood unmoved by the reaction. Kanae, invited over once again, had watched the whole event from the side, not wanting to get involved in the drama.
"You mean your pay Yako." Kanae told her friend. "Money which isn't supposed to be all spent on food."
Yako gave a stuttered laugh. "But Neuro said it was 'money for feed'." She muttered under her breath.
Kanae gave up, it was a lost cause.
The girls fell silent as the food cooked.
"Mother wants me to quit investigating again." Yako said pensively after a moment.
It wasn't the first time Haruka-san brought the idea up. She was back in Japan now, able to look after her daughter, and she didn't want Yako running around in dangerous situations. She wanted Yako to quit the job and focus on her school, hopefully choosing a different stream to study in University. She had tried to get Kanae to support her, but while Kanae didn't disagree with the idea, she told her friend's mother that the decision should be Yako's.
"And?" Kanae prodded.
Yako shook her head, moving to start into the fried dish. "No good, she won't listen to me."
What mother would want to listen to their child insist on continuing a hazardous profession when she had already lost her spouse to senseless murder, no matter how the reports said it was a suicide.
"Have you told your Assistant?" As far as she knew, Yako never brought up that concern of her mother's with him.
Yako was taken aback. "Are you kidding? He'd never allow it."
So the girl had already chosen a side, even if she didn't seem to know it. She had already chosen which one was more important to her, whose wishes she would follow.
"Yako, you know he-" doesn't control your life. She wanted to say but was interrupted by the familiar trill of Yako's cell phone.
The tiny blond famous high school girl investigator pulled out her cell, read the text, choked on her last bite of okonomiyaki, and scrambled to pack everything up. "Sorry Kanae. I forgot I had some things to do. I have to go."
"Sure, go ahead." Kanae replied carelessly. She could probably guess who had sent the text message.
Less then a minute later Yako had ran up to the front counter, paid for her share of the meal, and raced out the door towards a well-known destination.
Truly Kanae wondered, now with the complication of Haruka-san in the equation, just how much longer the status duo was going to last.
. : building a mystery : .