AN: Edited by the corking prettyinpinkgal.
Please enjoy this weird little tale, and yes, this is about as close to an actual plot or an IC Masumi as I'll ever come. Feel free to weep for me.
Language note: As I'm still insecure about Japanese titles and whatnot, Tsukikage will not be referred to as "Sensei", but rather as simply "Teacher". I am aware that I'm bastardising both Japanese and English, but writing "Maya-chan", "Tsukikage-sensei", etc, brings back painful memories of my dorky adolescence that I'd rather avoid. Just so you know.
Chapter One – Glance
Tsukikage knew exactly who she was and what she wanted: she was the woman who was going to revive the legendary play "The Crimson Goddess". She was less certain about how she would go about achieving her goal when everything and everyone seemed to be conspiring against her, but she had a feeling that the plain girl writhing around on the floor in front of her was part of the solution.
Said plain girl, named Maya Kitajima by her unappreciative mother, had been a godsend to Tsukikage, but as far as godsends went, she was extremely high maintenance. The girl had no confidence in herself, little experience and no competitive spirit. But she had qualities that made her shine in Tsukikage's eyes, namely that she was an escapist through-and-through, frighteningly dedicated to acting and a quick learner.
But even so, the girl needed a lot of guidance, as her current performance was more than lacklustre; it was painfully amateurish. She was practising for her audition for the role of Helen Keller, a deaf and blind girl. It would've been a challenging part for anyone, but for Maya, it might have been the most difficult role she'd encountered so far. Maya's strength was emoting; her crippling weakness was her lack of technique. The way she was fumbling around the church was embarrassing. Her movements weren't like those of a blind person; they were like those of a seeing person who had simply closed her eyes.
"Come on, Helen!" Rei, acting as Annie Sullivan, said, grabbing hold of Maya's wrists. "Use your manners! Eat with your spoon! Fold your napkin!"
Maya ripped her wrists out of Rei's grip and pushed her friend back. She then scurried away, her eyes blank as she waved around her arms in front of her to feel around for obstacles.
"Don't go!" Rei shouted. "You're not done eating yet! Helen!"
Maya tripped over the uneven floorboards, stumbling to her knees. She slapped at Rei as she approached, hissing with fear and aggravation. Tsukikage pursed her lips; it was obvious that Maya'd unconsciously reacted at the sound of Rei's footsteps.
"Helen! Helen, stop it!"
Having seen enough to judge that Maya was in dire need of a wake-up call, Tsukikage took hold of a pitcher of water, raised it up into the air and then casually dropped it. The loud crash made Maya and Rei snap out of their practise, both of them gasping as they saw who'd caused the disruption.
"Teacher!" Maya cried out, hastily scrambling to her feet.
Tsukikage glanced at the shards by her feet, momentarily regretting her act of vandalism. Not only would she have to pay the priest back for the broken pitcher, but part of her skirt was completely soaked through. But as she was an actress first and foremost, even now, she felt that she would pay a far higher price to receive the awed looks her students directed at her.
"Why are you staring at me, Maya?" she demanded. "Is it because you heard the pitcher fall?"
"Huh?" Maya made an excellent audience, at least; even the slightest dramatic gesture earned a strong reaction from her.
"Aren't you supposed to be deaf?" Tsukikage brushed past her students, ignoring their concerned remarks as she retrieved a battered doll from the floor. She despised being fussed over; it made it harder for her to ignore the symptoms of her failing body.
"Helen," she cried out, waving the doll in Maya's direction, "your doll is here! Come and get it!"
After some initial hesitation, Maya's eyes dimmed and she sat down on the floor with a heavy thud. She started to feel about her for her doll, sadness and anger occasionally flitting over her otherwise detached expression. It was an interesting interpretation, but it lost whatever appeal it might have had when coupled with the girl's stilted body movements.
For the next hour, Tsukikage reprimanded her mercilessly every time she showed the slightest sign of being able to see or hear. Every flawed movement was severely criticized, and Maya was forced to redo several scenes dozens of times before her teacher grudgingly allowed her to move onto the next. Any normal girl would've run out crying after just fifteen minutes of this harsh treatment, but Maya was thick-skinned when it came to insults. She corrected herself after her teacher's orders without any comment, too focused on her task to be insulted.
Maya was a godsend, but was that enough? She was steadily improving, taking every lesson to heart, but she was so inexperienced, it would take years for Tsukikage to shape her into a proper actress. Though her lack of knowledge had been a perk in the beginning, as it'd allowed Tsukikage to mould the impressionable girl however she'd wished, the veteran actress now realized that her own body wasn't up to the task.
Tsukikage felt the limits of her endurance with unbearable clarity at the end of Maya's "rehearsal". She and her protégée were both exhausted, gasping for breath as sweat trickled down their temples. Despite feelings as though her lungs and throat had been scraped raw, Tsukikage cried out another order:
"One more time! Now you play by yourself as Helen!"
Maya was startled by her suggestion, and her confused expression made Tsukikage's jaw clench. She really had no idea what Tsukikage wanted of her, and it made the aged actress realize that she'd been mistaken to place so much faith in her. The quality of Maya's performances were too erratic, her talent too unpolished for her to be the sole contender for the Crimson Goddess.
"If you can't even do that," she said, her voice made raspy by a solid hour of shouting and coughing, "then it's clear that you don't know how Helen's life was like. And if you don't know how she lived from day to day, you can't understand her behaviour."
Another reason as to why Tsukikage had taken Maya under her wing was because she was naturally emotive. She didn't hide her feelings like others did; rather, she communicated her emotional state with her entire body, whether she wanted to or not.
Tsukikage, however, didn't suffer from this handicap, and therefore remained outwardly indifferent at her student's hurt and confusion. She even smiled, as she knew that Maya was that rare sort of person that thrived in difficulty. Whatever happened, whatever damage she sustained, she always came back stronger. Tsukikage could see herself in that aspect of Maya's personality.
Tsukikage's musings were interrupted as she was wracked by a coughing fit so powerful, she nearly doubled over.
"That's enough!" Rei said, her voice tinged with panic as she supported her teacher's trembling form. "Please, let me handle this!"
"Yes," a cold, distant voice spoke, "why do you always push yourself so hard?"
That voice, which belonged to her worst enemy, brought Tsukikage right out of her dizzy spell. She pushed Rei aside, erasing the signs of her exertion, refusing to let a man like Masumi Hayami see her weakness.
Like always, Masumi was completely devoid of expression and smoking like a chimney. Tsukikage had long ago learnt that Eisuke's heir only showed emotion when he had something to gain by it, and even then, the feelings he demonstrated weren't his own. She supposed she should be impressed by a man that could put on such a convincing act, but she only felt disgust. Acting for the sake of monetary gain and manipulation was sacrilege to her, a perversion of something that should be beautiful and selfless.
"I checked the hospital," Masumi continued, ignoring the fact that he was about as welcome as a cockroach, "but you weren't there. You know," Masumi tapped the ash from his cigarette off onto the church floor, "if it weren't for your penchant to run off whenever the nurses turn around, I'm sure you would've already been discharged."
Maya looked as though she wanted to comment on Masumi's indelicate wording, but the fight was nipped in the bud by a sudden cacophony of car horns.
Tsukikage's mouth went dry; in her experience, nothing good ever came out of cacophonies.
She strode outside, and was greeted by a parade of construction vehicles. One of the construction workers stuck his head out of his truck, and called out, pointing at Masumi's sleek black car:
"That car is blocking our way. Please park it somewhere else."
"What's going on here?" Tsukikage shouted, her chest constricting with apprehension.
"Oh," the construction worked hopped out of his truck and approached Tsukikage, "you don't know? We're tearing down the church."
"What?" Maya ran to Tsukikage's side, mirroring her mentor's shocked expression.
The construction worker scratched his neck, discomfited by the women's forceful reactions. "This church doesn't exactly draw a crowd anymore, so the new caretaker wants to rebuild it in a modern style."
"The new caretaker?" Maya mumbled, leaning against Rei, who slung an arm around her friend's shoulder.
"He's here, if you want to meet him." Without waiting for a reply, the construction worker bellowed out, "OI! Preacher! There's someone here who wants to talk to you!"
After a few more beckoning cries, the new caretaker appeared, clearly displeased by the brusque summons. He was a stern-faced man, and Tsukikage knew exactly what sort of a person he was when he glanced down his nose at her, as she'd received that look hundreds of times before. He believed that everyone, without exception, should follow the same path, and that those who strayed from it deserved little to no sympathy. Apparently, the preacher didn't feel that poor actors lead a respectable life style, which was an unforgivable offence.
"I heard about you," he said, and it was clear that he hadn't liked what he'd been told, "but I can't lend this place for your acting practises anymore."
Life had taught Tsukikage to prepare for the worst, no matter how pleasant the present was. But after she'd lost her fortune, her theatre and her reputation, she'd thought she'd hit rock bottom, and so foolishly had let her guard down. The news that her pupil would lose the one place she could practice, that she would lose her chance at playing Helen, hit her harder than she should've let it.
"Ugh!" She groaned as her heart gave a nasty throb. The pain of her constricting chest drove her to her knees, where she gasped for breath.
Her vision started to fade as her students cried out with alarm. A strong arm encircled her body to keep her from slamming into the ground, and the last thing she heard before she passed out was:
"Stay calm. She'll live; I'll make sure of it."
Only Masumi Hayami could speak so dispassionately while cradling a collapsed woman in his arms.
Tsukikage always became frustrated when she was confined to a hospital bed. But now that she only had her own carelessness to blame for her confinement, as well as Masumi to thank for getting her help so quickly, she was extremely peeved. The vice-president wasn't making the situation anymore endurable for her by growling:
"What did I say before? Now you have to stay here longer."
He put a cigarette to his lips, but discarded any hope of lighting it when a nurse gave him a sour glare and menacingly tapped a "No Smoking" plaque. He was easily forgiven, however, as he smiled charmingly and mouthed "Sorry". Maya and Rei exchanged an annoyed glance; that same nurse had scolded them just for dropping a napkin on the floor.
"Don't you regret that I didn't die?" Tsukikage drawled. She was a middle-aged, bedridden woman; it would be common decency to just leave her to her misery, rather than intensifying it by lecturing her like a child.
But Masumi didn't have any common decency, and proved this by laughing at her rebuke.
"I'm used to sarcasm," he said. "Especially from this shorty."
He nodded at Maya as he spoke, who reacted as any overwrought teenager would at being slighted:
"But it's true, isn't it? Go home! You always bring bad luck with you!"
"Be quiet! Patients need peace and quiet in here!" the nurse, rather hypocritically, shouted at Maya.
Maya drew back, baring her teeth in mortification before she bowed to the nurse, sheepishly murmuring "I'm very sorry".
"Now you're bothering them too, eh?" Masumi chuckled, bending down his head so that he could get a better view of Maya's embarrassed grimace.
Tsukikage rolled her eyes, and was about to tell Masumi that he should at least let her poor protégée be when she saw something that robbed her of her voice:
Masumi was staring at Maya with undeniable adoration. His slight, thoughtless smile all served to strengthen the impression, as it was such a stark change from how he usually presented himself. Tsukikage could tell that his affectionate expression was genuine, as he had absolutely nothing to gain by making it.
The smile only lasted for a second, before Masumi's features returned to their usual indifferent arrangement. He probably hadn't even noticed making it, as he sounded completely normal when he said:
"Well, I should be off. Don't worry your students by running off anymore, Tsukikage. Shorty's got her plate full already."
Maya rolled her eyes, feeling that it was a bit rich that Masumi was talking about not bothering her unnecessarily, when he indulged in that very same activity just for kicks. But, as she'd no wish to be admonished for being loud again, she said nothing, nodding curtly as Masumi bid her goodnight. She'd apparently taken the wrong approach, as Masumi merely laughed at her sullen silence.
"How annoying can you possibly get?" Maya hissed, gnashing her teeth at the vice-president. Her mood took a 180 degree turn as she swivelled around to face Tsukikage, going from being livid to becoming anxious. "Are you alright, Tsukikage? You're not still in pain, are you?"
It took Tsukikage some time to answer her student's question, as she'd yet to process what she'd just seen:
"I'm... I'm fine, Maya. There's nothing to worry about. You and Rei just go home, before you miss the last train."
Maya was put-off by the sudden dismissal, but could read her teacher well enough to see that she wanted to be alone.
"Alright," she said, linking her arm with Rei's. "We'll see you tomorrow, Teacher."
"We'll sort everything out," Rei promised, "so there's no need for you to do anything but to recover your strength."
Tsukikage fondly parted with her students, waiting until they were out of sight before she let her gut wrenching anxiety show.
Why was Masumi Hayami giving her underage protégée looks of affection? What right did he have to do so? He'd nearly destroyed the girl's career, he tormented her every chance he got, and he still dared to look at her like that?
I must be mistaken, Tsukikage told herself, twisting her blanket around her hands. It's simply not possible for him, of all people, to feel anything for Maya. She's just a child, after all. I must be mistaken.
But Tsukikage was incapable of fooling herself; it was her habit to confront her troubles head-on, rather than to ignore their existence. So she went through her memories of Masumi, analyzing his attitude and behaviour in order to unearth some clue as to why he'd looked at Maya like that.
While Tsukikage made it a rule to fraternize as little with the enemy as possible, she'd had a chance to observe Masumi under normal circumstances, before he'd announced his intentions to take "The Crimson Goddess" from her. He'd instantly struck her a perpetually serious, calculating man. She hadn't been able to discern anything else about his personality; it was as though behind that personable exterior, there was absolutely nothing else to behold. He only showed what others wanted to see. Why would a man like that attach himself to a girl like Maya, to whom all forms of subterfuge was alien?
But that was just it, she realized: Maya couldn't lie to save her life, and she couldn't tell when she was being deceived. Someone as easily influenced as her would be the ideal prey for a professional manipulator like Masumi.
Tsukikage bit down hard, so furious that she was shaking.
It isn't enough that his father drove Ichiren to commit suicide, she thought, or that he destroyed my theatre just to make a statement; now he's out to ruin Maya too?
She rose to her feet and started pacing, clenching and unclenching her hand. The nurse was about to instruct her to lie down again, but changed her mind when she saw Tsukikage's stormy expression.
Unforgivable! the aged actress thought, digging her nails deep into her palm. I refuse to let him place so much as a finger on her! I'll kill him if he dares to speak a single suggestive word to her!
After a few minutes of intense pacing, Tsukikage had come up with five ways to murder the vice-president of Daito, three ways to dispose of his body and one way to make sure he was never going to be able to so much as glance at Maya without her approval. While Masumi's reputation was hardly the best, he had an image to uphold. He couldn't let his weaknesses show, or they would be mercilessly taken advantage of.
Tsukikage smirked, her fury replaced by malicious pleasure. Finally, after decades of waiting, she would be able to strike back at her tormentors and make them experience the same kind of pain they'd inflicted on her.
It's only fair, she thought, as she climbed back into her bed, that he should be dealt with using his own methods.
She slept more peacefully that night than she had in years, dreaming of her triumphant revenge.
Masumi knew exactly who he was and what he wanted: he was the man that was going to avenge Aya Fujimura's death by sabotaging the revival of "The Crimson Goddess". Or that was what he'd intended to be, but he'd found that playing the part of the avenger was a dirty, thankless position, and that getting the rights to the legendary play was nigh impossible, as the most stubborn woman in the world currently possessed the rights to it.
Said pigheaded woman, named Tsukikage by her late mentor, had just finished interrupting the Artist Award ceremony with the announcement that she wanted Ayumi to become a candidate for the Crimson Goddess. Ayumi had, of course, gladly accepted the offer, and "The Crimson Goddess" was as far out of his grasp as it'd ever been before. If Maya'd been the sole candidate, he would've been able to strong-arm the rights from her at Tsukikage's death, as she knew little of the financial side of the entertainment world. Ayumi was far shrewder than her rival when it came to such matters, and she would easily be able to find a different sponsor if Tsukikage told her to steer clear of Daito.
Though he tried to convince himself that this was all that bothered him about Tsukikage's sudden change of heart, he knew that a large part of his displeasure stemmed from the treatment of the first candidate: Maya Kitajima.
Masumi had never met someone who was so easy to figure out, yet managed to be so bloody enigmatic. She truly was a normal, shy girl, yet it was a fact that she'd just won the Best Supporting Actress Award, despite having been an actress for the small span of three years. Beyond that, she'd performed with a 40 degree fever, improvised an entire play and learnt to disconnect her sight and hearing through sheer willpower. There were times when Masumi suspected that she wasn't entirely human, as it should be scientifically impossible for such a small body to house such a huge paradox.
But maybe he didn't have any right to comment on the subject of split personalities, as he seemed to suffer from the same ailment. He'd caused the Tsukikage Theatre to disband, yet he was the one who'd given Maya a place to practise for the Helen audition when the church she usually used for that purpose was demolished.
He honestly didn't know what he felt for Maya. He admired her drive and enjoyed teasing her, but reasoned that all he'd done to help her under the guise of "Purple Rose", he'd merely done out of guilt. It was the first time one of his schemes had demanded such a young victim, so it was only natural that he should want to do something to make up for the damage he'd caused. It didn't mean that he cared for her or anything equally ridiculous; it just meant that despite his efforts to eradicate it, he still had a conscience.
But while he was half-convinced that he only had a bizarre sense of duty to her, he still felt bothered as he watched Tsukikage command Maya to better herself. There'd been no "Congratulations on winning", "I'm proud of you", or even a polite "I'm about to make a shocking announcement, so prepare yourself". That was what annoyed Masumi so greatly about Tsukikage: she didn't have to prove anything to anyone, yet she always chose to act in such a brusque, overly-dramatic manner. She was more or less the legal guardian of a fragile teenage girl; some delicacy was in order.
After Tsukikage was finished with Maya, she approached Masumi. He forced himself to smile, and though he wanted to begin the conversation with the line "You know you're absolutely mad, right?", he felt that a little discretion went a long way:
"It seems that we're too late this time. I was hoping to obtain the licence to 'The Crimson Goddess'."
While it was a relatively straightforward statement, Tsukikage didn't answer him immediately. She looked him up and down in a pensive manner, as though she was sizing him up. Masumi had a sudden sense of foreboding; there was a distinctly unpleasant gleam in the aged actress's eyes.
"... For whose sake?" she finally spoke, her lips curled into a smirk.
Once again, Tsukikage refrained from explaining herself. Instead, she did something unprecedented: she took hold of his arm, pressing it against her side. She gestured at her protégée, who was awkwardly posing with her award in front of a crowd of photographers, and asked him:
"What do you feel about Maya, Masumi?"
Masumi's sense of foreboding grew to an alarming size, but he casually commented:
"I feel that she has the potential to be a great actress, but that it'll take a lot of work for that to happen."
"That's all?" Tsukikage said, sounding surprised.
"Yes," Masumi snapped, "that's all. Why are you asking me this? I have better things to do than to have a pointless chat about your student, Tsukikage."
"There's nothing pointless about this conversation. I just wanted to gauge exactly how great a liar you really are."
"And what conclusion did you come to?"
"... You really are a magnificent liar. If I hadn't happened to see that one second of weakness, I would've never suspected the truth about you. I would've never known..."
She broke off, her grip tightening on his arm. Her expression lost its former joviality, her lips set in a grim frown.
"Tsukikage?" Masumi was so surprised by the former actress's display of emotion, he reached out and touched her hand. "What's wrong?"
Tsukikage looked up at him, and Masumi was taken aback by the intensity of her gaze.
"If you ever hurt Maya again," she told him, "if you ever so much as touch her, I will make you suffer so much, you will wish you were dead."
Masumi drew in a breath, impressed by the delivery and overwhelmed by the animosity, but soon found his voice:
"Is there any particular reason for why you're making this ridiculous and ineffective threat?"
"I never make a threat I can't enforce. You see, I know something about you that would cause you quite a bit of trouble."
"By all means: enlighten me. The suspense is driving me mad."
Tsukikage smiled, adjusted her hold on Masumi's arm and said:
"You're in love with Maya."
Masumi momentarily forgot how to breathe, his whole body taken over by shock. Once his senses returned, his ripped his arm from Tsukikage's grip and hissed:
His outcry attracted some unwanted attention, but he didn't even acknowledge his surroundings; he was completely focused on Tsukikage, all of his mental faculties dedicated towards discrediting her claim.
"There's no need to shout," Tsukikage said, unperturbed by Masumi's insult. "There are a lot of witnesses here; do you want to show all of them the chink in your armour?"
Masumi's jaw clenched, but as letting the aged actress rile him would serve no other purpose than to give her what she wanted, he forced himself to calm down before he replied:
"Forgive me for raising my voice, but boldfaced lies always make me lose my temper. Why would you say something as an absurd as that? You should know, more than anyone, that I am incapable of feeling something like that."
"Oh," Tsukikage made a dismissive gesture, "I know you to be quite incapable of experiencing any selfless emotion. I just said that to get your attention. I do, however, believe you to be fully capable of succumbing to a number of base urges, such as the lust for dominating someone completely."
The accusation affected Masumi more than he should've let it, but as he'd buried his feelings down so deep that he himself could hardly acknowledge them, he'd never expected anyone else to find out about them. Though he knew he should laugh at Tsukikage, he became enraged:
"I think you should be very careful about what you choose to insinuate about me. There's no need to turn our feud into a personal vendetta."
"That's exactly the sort of thing a felon would say to avoid his own guilt," Tsukikage said.
Throughout his life, Masumi'd been provoked countless of times, but he'd hardly ever lost his temper. But to more or less be called a paedophile was more than he could bear. He advanced on Tsukikage, about to tell her exactly what he thought of her when his path was impeded by the worst possible obstacle: Maya.
She slid in between him and Tsukikage, drawing herself up and staring him right in the eyes. While she wasn't the least bit threatening, Masumi drew back with a start.
"Stop bothering Teacher," she commanded, her eyebrows giving off a twitch, as though she was looking at something disgusting.
Whatever Masumi felt at Maya's interference, he was able to hide as he saw Tsukikage grin smugly. He quenched his anger, injecting a sizeable portion of sarcasm into his voice as he said:
"While your towering 150 cm puts the fear of god into me, I'll have to ask you to leave the conversation. You've absolutely nothing to do with it."
"I won't let you bully her!" Masumi nearly winced at Maya's high-pitched cry, as it carried across the room and reminded him that she was so very young. "And I'm 153!"
"As admirable as your height and sense of civic duty is," Masumi said, "I'm not bullying your teacher. She's the one who's bothering me with baseless assumptions."
"You're free to waste your energy refuting it," Tsukikage said, motioning her disciple to move aside, "but I'll still know the truth and have no qualms about shouting it out to the world. Now what are you going to do? Are you going to keep denying it and force me to give another announcement, or will you agree to discuss it in a more private setting?"
Any hope Masumi'd had of denouncing Tsukikage's claim was crushed right then and there. Tsukikage was fully prepared for battle, while he was completely defenceless.
The element of surprise is a very effective weapon, he reflected bitterly.
"So you would stoop this low," he said, "just to get back at me?"
That seemed to hit a nerve; Tsukikage went pale, her voice frosty as she said:
"It was you and your father's shameful behaviour that started this. I'm not doing anything that you haven't had coming for a long time."
"So speaks a felon trying to cover up her guilt," Masumi said, giving Tsukikage a sharp smile.
Tsukikage pursed her lips, but had to admit that she was impressed by Masumi's stylish recovery. Then again, he was probably used to having his integrity questioned in public places.
"So when would you like to have this 'discussion'?" Masumi continued, acting as though he was scheduling a business meeting. "I seem to have misplaced my secretary, so I can't give you an exact time, but name a date and I will try to squeeze you in."
"I'll let you choose the day," Tsukikage said. "You should be allowed to prepare your case, however hopeless it is."
"How kind of you," Masumi said, his words contradicted by his scowl. "Well, I've no reason to stay here any longer and every reason to leave, so goodbye. I wish you both the best of luck in your careers."
Without waiting for a reply, he turned and walked into the crowd in search of the one person who could help him cope with this disaster. Tsukikage watched him go, so satisfied by the results of the confrontation that she felt a rush of euphoria course through her. She nearly jumped as she felt Maya touch her arm; she'd been so caught up in her triumph, she'd forgotten her student's presence.
"Are you alright, Tsukikage?" Maya asked her.
Tsukikage smiled at her student, returning her touch.
"I feel wonderful," she said, enjoying the open-mouthed stare Maya gave her.
"Ah... um, g-good," Maya stammered, caught off guard by her teacher's uncharacteristically cheery behaviour. "But... are you really going to meet with Hayami?"
"Yes," Tsukikage confirmed, "but don't worry; I'm sure I'll have the upper hand."
Maya dearly wanted to interrogate Tsukikage about the meaning behind that sentence, but lost her chance when Rei arrived with the question:
"What did Hayami want with you, Tsukikage?"
"Nothing. I wanted something from him, and I'd be very surprised if I don't get it. In fact," Tsukikage's smiled widened, a strange glint entering her eye, "I'd be very surprised if Masumi Hayami will ever be able to bother us again."
Maya and Rei exchanged a worried glance, but knew that they could get nothing out of Tsukikage when she was in such an enigmatic mood. They decided to just let it go and trust that teacher wouldn't do anything illegal.
Sometimes, trust is incredibly misplaced.
"What's wrong, sir?"
Mizuki studied her boss's expression, which was unlike anything she'd ever seen before. She'd known that something bad had happened when he'd dragged her out of the party hours before he was scheduled to leave it, but it wasn't until they'd gotten into the car that she realized the full extent of his anxiety. His expression was pinched, his entire body tense, his gaze restlessly flitting from the interior of the car to the scenery outside. This worried Mizuki, as Masumi never got tense; it was a sign of weakness and a waste of energy.
"... Can I trust you to be discreet?" he finally said, his voice matching his body language perfectly.
"Of course, sir," Mizuki assured him. "I'm your secretary; you can trust me with anything."
A small smile flashed across Masumi's lips. "I sincerely hope so. But I can't put my faith in trust alone. If I'm to entrust you with a secret, I have to use threats to make sure you won't divulge it."
"Well, that seems a little excessive to me, but I understand that a man of your position has to be careful about who he confides in. Please, go ahead."
"Thank you for understanding." Masumi cleared his throat before he continued, "If you ever break my trust in this matter, I'll make sure you'll spend the rest of your life in impoverished obscurity. Do you still wish to be my confidante?"
"Though your threat is frightening, it doesn't scare me, as I don't intend to give you any reason to implement it. Please, sir," she touched his shoulder, "tell me what's troubling you."
Masumi covered his eyes with his hand, laughing soundlessly. "It's so ridiculous, you'll probably smack me for getting you involved in it. And the worst thing is that I've only myself to blame."
He beckoned Mizuki closer, glancing at the driver's seat; it would be inconvenient if anymore of his staff overheard him talking about his private affairs. His put his mouth next to Mizuki's ear and said, his voice quivering slightly:
"I think... I think Tsukikage's going to blackmail me."
Sometimes, Mizuki wondered if Masumi had been cursed as a child; there really was no other explanation for why he always ended up in such bloody bizarre situations.