At last, here's the final chapter. Now that the RL issues are over, I think I'm can say I'm officially back to business. Anyway, the first part is more about the mystery stuff, while the rest is full of the fluff everyone is so fond of. I guess this chapter is more Kouichi oriented, given the circumstances; as for Ruka's fans, no worries. He'll have his moments too... only a little later.

CHAPTER 5

The charm of a smile

The happenings of the previous day set Misaki's wish to find out the truth about the assault on fire: that was the reason why she asked for help from her evil yet well-informed cousin Tsukushi. She had to go over all of his blackmailing procedure, but she also stumbled into something quite interesting. That was the reason why, when she stepped into the classroom like the events of the previous day never happened, she felt as victorious as a paladin who just got back from a glorious and heroic battle.

Her kidnappers made a mistake, and now she was the one with the winning hand; she just had to play her cards right.

As soon as she dropped the bag on her desk, Taira immediately approached, a big smile on his face.

«Nomura-san!» he greeted her. «So you came! I thought you were sick or something!»

«Kind of» she answered with a huge grin. «But it was nothing serious. By the way, the Witch isn't arrived yet, is she?»

Taira quickly glanced at the side of the classroom where most of the girls sat, then shrugged.

«Apparently not. Not even her ''pets'' are here yet» he said, referring to Misaki's archenemy Morimoto Megumi and the girls who always hung out with her.

«I see. I'll wait for her, then.»

Misaki's grin grew even wider as she sat on her chair, her legs crossed. Taira blinked, surprised, and for a second he looked like he wanted to ask her what did she want from Morimoto. He knew the two of them didn't get along. After a while, though, he decided that it was better for him to mind his own business and didn't investigate any further.

Meanwhile, she remained still and quiet, smiling by herself like some evil boss from an RPG who just managed to make the heroes fall in his trap, until the door finally opened and Morimoto made her appearance in the classroom, followed by some of her minions as usual. Her expression was as arrogant as usual but, as soon as she noticed Misaki's presence in the classroom, she turned as pale as a ghost, her mouth comically opened in shock and disbelief. She then quickly turned away, looking everywhere except the place where she was.

Misaki waited until the girls got back to their usual places, then she rose from her chair and slowly walked toward them, enjoying every minute of the sight of their frightened faces..

«Hi there, folks!» she greeted them cheerfully, as if nothing ever happened.

The girls sitting beside Morimoto turned away as if they were scared to look at her, but she didn't, trying to behave as usual.

«...What do you want? We don't have time to spare with a working-class delinquent like you.»

If not for the fact that she was in an extreme good mood, Misaki would have probably slapped her. Still, she knew that Morimoto wasn't the only one in that school to think that way about ''working-class kids''... and honestly, she had no time to thing about that stupid abuse. She was attacked, and that was far more serious.

«I'm no delinquent and the condition of my family isn't something you should concern about.» she chirped, apparently as cheerful as before, but with a threatening look lingering on her face. «What I came here for is to ask if one of you could lend me her notes of the last maths class... since it's your fault if I missed it.»

Two of the girls gasped and one of them opened her mouth as if she wanted to say something, but Morimoto shut her up with a gesture and gave Misaki a raging glare.

«I have no idea what you're talking about» she said coldly.

«Unfortunately for you, I perfectly know what I'm talking about. And you know, too, Morimoto-san. Or else...»

Before she could react, Misaki grabbed her wrist and quickly pulled back the sleeve of her jacket, showing five, long scratches on her skin. Morimoto gasped and tried to cover them, but it was too late. She already saw them.

«It must have been a VERY big cat to scratch you that way» she chanted in her most evil way. «A cat with five fingers, perhaps?»

Morimoto grew even paler, staring at Misaki's face as if she was looking for a weakness, but the only thing she saw was her stern expression.

Without any hint of uneasiness, she sat down on the free chair in front of her archenemy, joining her fingers together as if she was meditating.

«You know» she started, while her grin completely disappeared from her face, «I know a person who knows a lot of things, so I already have an idea of what happened. Still, there are some black holes that need to be filled in. Do you mind to explain why did you do this to me? Or do I have to show you just how ''delinquent'' I could be?»

Morimoto didn't answer, looking away from her. Her friends were fidgeting, as if they didn't know what to do if their leader didn't tell them.

''They're nothing but a bunch of dolls'' Misaki thought, feeling kind of sad for them. ''How can someone with even a little bit of dignity renounce to a personality to follow someone so blindly? Can't they thing for themselves?''

Then, after a second of hesitation, the so-called leader finally spoke, showing her usual, arrogant expression as a wall against her.

«We have nothing to talk about, Nomura-san.»

Misaki sighed, getting up from the chair. She was kind of expecting that kind of answer, so she wasn't caught off guard, but still, she would have preferred if she decided to talk voluntarily, instead of forcing her to use the same methods as Tsukushi. But she had no choice, anyway.

«If you don't want to talk about it, someone else will. I could report you, you know? I haven't broke out of that room alone. Some people saw what you did to me» she threatened her in a low voice, so that no one else around them could hear her, except for her friends. «I think they might be interested in knowing about your relationship with some guys from another school not far away from here, too. And...»

Misaki stopped, hesitating just for a second. This was pretty risky, because it wasn't only about her anymore. Ruka and Kouichi were involved, even though she didn't tell them yet. If she mentioned their names now, she could either obtain what she wanted, or create a whole bunch of troubles for everyone; still, if she didn't gamble, she'd waste all of her chances to understand what was happening.

«...if someone else finds out about what was the incident about, I'll have no way to prevent something bad to happen. You'll all probably be expelled, and the people you are trying to protect will be in even worse troubles.»

There, she said it! She could just hope that things would turn out the way she wanted to.

Thankfully, the reaction of Morimoto was exactly the one she hoped for. She gritted her teeth and looked at her straight in the eyes, trying to look aggressive, though no matter how she tried, she only looked scared and cornered.

«Are you blackmailing me?»

«Somewhat. It's my way of being a ''delinquent'', if you know what I mean. But I don't lie: if I don't say that you and your friends here are involved, nobody will know and you won't be involved. If someone asks me something, I'll just say that I don't know who locked me in that room. The only condition is that you have to tell me what's going on exactly.»

A short silence followed Misaki's words, as Morimoto thought about what to do. Then, she suddenly stood up and, after telling her friends to stay there, grabbed her wrist to drag her in the farthest corner of the classroom, where nobody could hear them.

«What is it that you know, exactly?» she asked in a low voice, while quickly glancing around to make sure no one was listening.

«Just a few facts. Ruka and Kouichi never talk to me about the rumour about them, but they kind of let slip that they are being ''picked on'' from time to time. So I just asked someone to let me know if there had been fights or other minor incidents involving my friends. Looks like there are some rumours about a couple of fights involving both Ruka and Kouichi, together with some students from a school nearby. Yotakado High School, if I'm not mistaken. Also, if my informations are correct, you're going out with a student of that school» Misaki answered and, as soon as she finished talking, she sighed.

Those were the information Tsukushi could find her in a day, and they weren't very encouraging. They might be only rumours, but they were enough of a confirmation that there really was something true behind the brothers reputation. Whether it was their fault or they were really being picked on, she couldn't know. Of course she hoped her friends would really do something bad, and maybe that was the reason why she wanted to find out the truth so badly. If Ruka and Kouichi didn't want to talk, that was the only way she had left!

Morimoto carefully thought about what Misaki said, then finally spoke.

«That's correct. There are some... bad guys at that school. The kind of people that would easily beat someone into a bloody pulp, then let them die along the street. And they don't like those friends of yours.»

Misaki nodded to encourage her to go on.

«So?»

«I don't know the details. They just happened to find out that my boyfriend was dating me, and they started bugging him about finding a way to get to the Sakurai Brothers. He didn't want to end up in troubles with them, so he asked me and I told him about you. I didn't want those freaks to hurt my boyfriend, so I offered to try and kidnap you. They were sure that, if they had you, the Brothers would immediately try to rescue you. But it didn't work, and now we are all in troubles anyway.»

Misaki chewed her bottom lip as she listened to what the other girl had to say. I sounded kind of weird, as if she suddenly left the reality she knew and ended up in a spy movie. It was hard to take something like that seriously.

«Are these guys that dangerous?» she asked, still sceptical. «How can some guys of our own age be like gangsters? Aren't they just some bullies?»

«Maybe» Morimoto answered with irritation. «But I seriously don't want to know. You do?»

With a sigh, Misaki shook her head.

«...No, I suppose. Can you tell me the names of this guys, at least?»

«Even if I knew, I wouldn't tell you. I don't want other troubles.»

After saying these last words, Morimoto looked away from her and refused to say anything else. Normally, Misaki would insist about something that important, but the other girl looked seriously down, so she decided not to pry. After all, if what she found out was true, probably Ruka and Kouichi already knew about those bullies. Maybe they even suspected that there were them behind the aggression. But if that was the case, they could at least say something about it!

...Ah, what an headache! It looked like she was cursed to spend all of her time in that school with her head hurting!

«...Okay, then» she gave up already. «I'll keep my promise and won't tell anyone about the incident. But you and your friends still owe me something.»

Morimoto showed her an exhausted face, as if she was wondering what was she plotting now.

«What do you want?» she asked, sounding strangely meek in comparison of how arrogant she usually was.

Misaki smirked, with her head filled with all sort of medieval tortures. After they almost made her choke to death, the idea of doing something cruel to them was really, really tempting; still, she liked to consider herself as a nice girl, so, if she didn't want to change her mind about that ideal-self, she had to be nice even then.

«Oh, don't worry!» she ended up saying with a big smile. «It will be fun... for me, at least.»

«Your maths homework is ready, Misaki-sama!» Morimoto said with a resigned look, as she handed her back her notebook.

«Do I have to help you carry your bag, Misaki-sama?» said one of her friends, trying to grab Misaki's bag from the desk.

«No, I'll carry it for Misaki-sama! I'm more reliable than you!» another one interrupted her.

Misaki watched the bickering girls while grinning widely, feeling both very evil and very satisfied.

«Don't fight, girls! There's enough job for everyone!» she said. «The lesson is over, so all you have to do is carry my bag until the gates. Then, you'll be free.»

That was her idea. To make up for what they did to her, Morimoto and her loyal helpers had to be her slaves for the whole day. So, they basically spent all of the lesson copying the notes for the lessons she missed the day before, doing her homework and stuff. At the end of the day, it was as if she never missed that day. Carrying her bag was just a little ''bonus'' over the rest of the task, while the ''Misaki-sama'' part was just funny to listen. Unfortunately, the school day was now over, so she had to release them.

What a pity! She was just starting to have fun!

While everybody around them stared with curiosity, Misaki and her bunch of ''temporary'' servants got out of the classroom and exited in the courtyard, directed toward the gates. As soon as they were there, despite her evil side who wanted a little bit more of revenge, she finally decided to let them go.

«Okay, that's it. You can go, now. You don't owe me anymore... for now, at least.»

The girls gave her a poisonous look, but nothing more than that. They knew they were wrong and that they were lucky not to be expelled. Then, without a word, they took their leaves, running away before she could change her mind.

Misaki was still staring at their backs with a satisfied grin, when she heard someone applauding right behind her.

«Not bad, Misaki-chan. Or should I say, ''Misaki-sama''.»

Recognizing the voice, she quickly turned around with a smile. Ruka was standing near the gate and was looking at her with her usual amused face.

«Ruka!»

As she called his name, he came closer and shot a quick glance at the other girls, who were now far away.

«So, they were the ones who locked you in that room?» he asked casually, despite the killer look in his eyes.

«Something like that, but I think they learned their lesson, so I'll let it slide.»

Ruka's eyes narrowed and, even if he didn't drop his casual attitude, Misaki could tell that he was angry. Very angry.

«...You're too nice. If I were you, they would end up in my Bad Guys List right away» he hissed.

For a second, he looked kind of a scary and Misaki could easily imagine that, when he was furious, he could be as scary as Kouichi, if not more. Of course she kind of knew about that: if the both of them had that kind of reputation, there had to be a reason; still, seeing it with her own eyes was another thing and she was kind of overwhelmed by that reality.

As much as she wanted not to believe the rumours, there was definitely something dark in her childhood friends lives and, when she was attacked the day before, she realised that just hanging out with them could be dangerous. Even so, she wanted to protect them; she wanted them to be safe, even if she didn't know how to help them.

Trying to shake away that feeling, she laughed.

«This is bad, Ruka! A hero must be ready to forgive those who repent of their sins!»

At her words, the scary expression disappeared and he smirked.

«That's why I haven't caught them and tied them on a railway!» he joked. «This and... because you probably wouldn't want me to do it.»

Misaki nodded.

«You got that right.»

Ruka stared at her for a few seconds with a questioning look, as if he wanted to read her mind. She quickly looked away, as if he could really see what was going on inside of her head.

«...You aren't hiding something from me, are you?»

She wasn't sure what to answer. If she said she wasn't it would be a lie; if she said she was, then they could end up doing something crazy, and she didn't want them to purposely go looking for troubles. But even not telling them that someone was trying to hurt them felt wrong!

...Ah, what an headache!

«Tell me just one thing, Misaki-chan. Did it all happen because of us, by any chance?» Ruka insisted, and Misaki swallowed hard.

Well, that confirmed her hypothesis. She didn't know about Kouichi, but Ruka definitely suspected something.

After a brief moment of hesitation, she finally spoke.

«Some people don't like you. I don't know much, really, but... I just want you to be careful and not end up in trouble. I don't want something bad to happen to either of you.»

Ruka's eyes narrowed even more and she clearly saw his firsts tightening, as if he wanted to hit something right then and there. But this lasted only a few seconds; after that, his normal smile returned as if nothing happened.

«We'll stay out of troubles, then. If that's what you want, it can be done.»

Misaki barely kept herself from hugging him right that instant.

«Thank you!» she said with a grateful smile, feeling a little relieved.

Ruka shrugged as if it was nothing important, then the tension completely disappeared from his features and he turned back to the cheerful and slightly crazy guy she knew so well.

«Anyway, let's stop talking about depressing stuff! I wanted to ask you if...» he started, but Misaki interrupted him on the spot.

«I've got nothing to eat right now!»

He pouted for a second, then shrugged.

«What a shame! I just happened to be a little hungry, but I guess I'll have to resist a little longer» he sighed. «Question number two, then: do you know how to prepare beef curry?»

Surprised by the sudden request, Misaki frowned.

«Yes, but it depends on how you want to cook it. Why?»

Surprisingly, Ruka looked away and appeared somewhat embarrassed.

«Well, you know... Kou likes this kind of stuff.»

With that embarrassed face, he looked as adorable as a puppy dog and Misaki couldn't help but smile. She stood on her tiptoes and reached out for his head, patting it lightly.

«Awww, how cute! You want to make your big brother happy?»

He glared at her instantly, even if the embarrassment was still there.

«As if! It's just that, since we always eat what I like, I though that at least on his special day we could eat something he likes.»

«Special day?»

Misaki tilted her head, puzzled. It was enough for Ruka to understand that she had no idea what he was talking about. He sighed, shaking his head.

«Do you know what day it is today, Misaki-chan?»

She nodded and took out her cellphone, just to be sure.

«Yeah, it's May the 19th... CRAP!»

Before she could even finish the sentence, she already realized what the problem was and started beating her forehead with her fists! Because of all that happened, she completely forgot, but that day was actually...

«It's Kouichi's birthday! How could I forget something so important! I'm an idiot! Idiot! IDIOT!»

«Oh, well... Kou certainly won't like this. He'll feel like a dog left outside in the rain» stated Ruka, who for some reason appeared almost pleased.

Desperate, she quickly checked the hour on her cellphone. It was still pretty soon. Maybe, if she hurried up, she could still manage to buy a little present and go give it to him. It was too late for something great, but it was better than nothing.

«Say, Ruka, where is he now?»

«He left a few minutes before me, since he works at Stallion today. You'll probably find him there» he answered, already knowing what her deal was.

«The Gas Station? Thanks!» she said with her biggest smile. «Then I have to go, or else I'll never make it in time! See you, Ruka!»

As quick as a thunderbolt, she dashed out of the gates.

«Hey, what about the recipe...!» he called her out, still surprised by her speed. But she was already too far, and the loud voices of the other students were enough to cover his own.

Since there was nothing else he could do, he shrugged and left the courtyard himself. Somehow, he felt a little gloomy. It was no big deal, really, but he was a little saddened by the fact that she just stood him there to run to his brother, even forgetting about what he asked her. Yeah, he knew Misaki was like that: forgetful until the end! He even found that side of her kind of cute at times, since it was easy to tease her, but still...!

...Okay, maybe he was just a little bit jealous. Just a little, though.

Then suddenly his cellphone started to buzz. He took it out of the pocket to see he just got a new mail. When he opened it, he saw a list of ingredients and simple instruction on how to cook a decent beef curry. Then, at the end of the message, just another line of text:

''...I haven't forgotten about you, you know? Have a nice dinner!''

After reading the mail, Ruka chuckled and put his cellphone back in his pocket. Maybe it really wasn't big deal, but there was one thing he couldn't deny: he felt a little happier than before, and it was thanks to her.

«Stallion, Stallion, Stallion... Ah, there it is!»

The Gas Station were Kouichi worked wasn't exactly one of the places where she used to hang around, so the way to get there was still a bit unfamiliar. Still, after a while, she managed to find her way and get there. She was holding in her hands a little red package containing the present she just bought: a plastic model of a SR400 motorbike. She would have wanted to find something more useful for her friend, but she couldn't afford to spend a lot of time on choosing and, since she knew he liked motorbikes, she thought it would be a good idea to buy that one. Still, the more she thought about it, the more it seemed weird that she had to present him a toy. Also, she had no idea if she could manage to give it to him, since he was working. She wasn't even a client, after all!

Anyway, she had to try. It was already bad enough that she forgot about his birthday, but not even congratulate and giving him a present would be terrible.

She kept her distance from the Station so as not to caught too much attention, carefully looking around to spot him. Then, after a while, she finally saw him busy with his job, wearing his red uniform.

«Target locked! Here I go!» she exclaimed, and began walking to approach him.

She wasn't even arrived nearby that she saw the car Kouichi was serving exiting the station fast... too fast, in fact! Then, a short, sturdy man approached her friend and started yelling at him. She couldn't understand what he was saying, but he certainly looked very angry. Misaki stopped dead on her tracks, wondering if maybe it wasn't the right moment to go there. She waited, studying the situation to see how it would evolve. Then, when the sturdy man stopped yelling, Kouichi left his place and walked inside the building in the back of the station. She couldn't see his face, but he did look kind of down.

It was really sad to see Kouichi that way. Even when they were little, he always looked like some sort of warrior who was never scared of anything and that nobody could hurt; even more so now, since he became so tall and strong that nobody could ever bend him. Misaki wasn't used to seeing him down. It just wasn't like him.

''Okay, I definitely need to go there!'' she decided. Maybe it was nothing, but she just couldn't leave it at that after she saw him that way.

The only problem was that the building he went inside was staff only, and she couldn't just walk in... not if somebody spotted her, anyway. She would have to sneak inside.

Before the workers could see her, she changed the course of path so to be able to walk in the back of the Station, avoiding the gazes of the people there. Then, she waited until all the staff was busy to make a run for it and quickly sneak inside of the door.

As soon as she walked inside, she spotted a very depressed-looking Kouichi sitting beside a table, looking at his fist with his frowned face.

«Hey there, little ogre! Someone stole your candies?» she greeted him cheerfully.

Kouichi looked up, surprised, then frowned even more when he realized who she was.

«Nomura? What the heck are you doing here? It's off limits!»

She rolled her eyes, then simply sat down in front of him as if she was at her home.

«Yeah, yeah, I know. But I saw you a little down, so I thought I'd come and cheer you up. So, what happened? Your boss scolded you?»

Kouichi shrugged as if he didn't care, even though his expression said otherwise.

«Yeah. Looks like I scared a customer. Again.»

«What have you done to scare him?»

«Nothing. I just asked them I could I be of service.»

Given the situation, Misaki would have wanted to be understanding, but she just couldn't help it. When she imagined the scene, she started laughing.

«What're you laughing about? I'm being serious here!»

«Sorry, I didn't mean to offend you» she apologized, even if she was still giggling. «It's just that, when I imagined the scene...»

Kouichi glared at her, making that kind of scary face that Misaki learned to associate with a pout.

«And here I thought you came to cheer me up...» he muttered, disappointed.

Seeing how upset she was, she forcefully choked her laughter, trying to be serious.

«Well, you know, Kouichi... If you make that face every time you approach a customer, it's normal for them to get scared.»

He glared again, frowning even more.

«It ain't my fault if I have this face, ya know?»

Misaki shook her head and leaned forward over the table to look at him more closely. As a reaction, Kouichi leaned backward, surprised.

«What do you want now?»

«See, it's not the face itself the problem. You don't look bad» she stated, examining him like a doctor would. «It's the expressions you make. Like now, for example: I know you, so I understand that you're just a little in a bad mood; if I didn't thought, I'd say you are glaring at me like you wanted to kill me. If you just smiled a little bit more...»

«Sorry if I can't smile whenever someone tells me to» he snorted, then looked down at his hands.

Misaki sighed, resigned. Maybe Ruka was right when he said that Kouichi often behaved like a little kid. Even if she told him he looked cute when he smiled, he wouldn't believe her!

«Anyway, I can't stay here for much longer, or I might get you into trouble. So, this is what I came here for. Happy Birthday!»

She took out the little package of the birthday present in a dramatic fashion and pushed it toward him from over the table.

Kouichi finally raised his head and stared curiously at the little box.

«...I thought you forgot. What with all the stuff that happened...»

«As you can see, I'm not that forgetful» she said proudly, but his sceptical face was enough to make her fall back on the ground. «...Okay, I confess: I completely forgot. It was Ruka who reminded me. Anyway, I'm here now so it doesn't matter, right?»

He shrugged.

«It's not like a care. Even if you forgot, I wouldn't mind.»

''You jerk'' she thought, glaring at him. She knew he didn't mean to offend her, but that wasn't exactly what she wanted to hear after running around like a fool to get him something that looked like a present! At least a ''thank you'' would have been in order!

«If you don't need it, I can take it back» she threatened, trying to take back the present.

Before Misaki could reach it, though, Kouichi snatched it away.

«I haven't said I didn't want it. ...Thank you.»

That was better! Misaki smiled, while he tore the paper open to see what was inside. When he saw the little, plastic motorbike, he frowned, making her heart sink. He didn't like it, after all. So she was right when she thought it was a childish present! Ah, if only she bought a sweater, or something like that! Maybe it wouldn't have been a creative present, but at least...

«...Not bad» he stated after a while. «It's exactly like mine, only smaller. Even the colour is the same.»

Misaki, who was right about to apologize, stared at him in confusion.

«Wait! You just said you like it?»

«Yeah. Why, you thought I wouldn't?»

Misaki's smile grew from ear to ear, her eyes sparkling like stardust.

«Yes, yes, YES! I knew it! I'm a genius! I knew from the very beginning that you would! It's not like I thought you wouldn't, you know?» she exclaimed. She was so happy that she could jump on the table and start dancing on it.

Kouichi stared at her in confusion for a while, then smiled.

«...You really are weird.»

When she noticed his smile, Misaki smirked like she just got exactly what she wanted.

«See? You're not scary at all, when you smile! You even look kind of charming!»

But, as soon as she said that, Kouichi seemed to come back to reality and instantly erased the smile from his face, frowning even more then usually.

«I wasn't smiling, you idiot!»

Misaki looked up and sighed. There they were again! Kouichi was so busy sabotaging himself that he didn't realize how much cuter he would be if he just relaxed a little. That guy just couldn't understand the charm of a smile.

Oh, well! It was still okay, as far as she was concerned: he didn't knew that, but that aDORKable side of him made him look cute all the same.

To be continued...