My first fanfic in a long time. Hopefully I'll keep this baby rolling 'till the end. As always, Bakuman is the property of Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata.


The steaming streets of Tokyo have a way of instigating gossip. Yes, the summer heat, causing box shaped businessmen to pull up the sleeves of their white button shirts, and schoolgirls to fan their thighs with their long uniform skirts, thus garnering the attention of their male peers. This unbearable heat causes a phenomenon of rude behavior, and the acceptance thereof. A reasonable reaction: listening to a rumor about the couple of male grad students living next door beats having to remind yourself that, even with SPF 90, you're still going to get an awful sunburn, and possibly skin cancer. Skin cancer isn't exactly a breadwinner in regular conversation.

As such, it is on this one particular day, nearing the end of summer and during the third week of the school year, that the temperature reached ninety-eight degrees Fahrenheit. Tokyo was in luck: the top headline for the day's paper was a real catch. A brawl between the infamous vigilante Crow and the city's syndicate Otters in Ameyoko became the ultimate distraction from the suffocating humidity. The classroom 3-2 of Yakusa North High was no exception; the second year students formed small groups around their desks, gabbing with excitement as they loosened their collars and ties.

"The Otters have nothing on Crow—he's a genius!"

"Genius my ass. All he does is pull stupid pranks—on some top dogs, I admit, but it's still just pranks. He's probably some college dropout that thinks he's the shit or something. He should get a life."

"Well said, Tomoko!"

"Is it true that the Kiyoshi Knight was there? My brother said he saw him—white hair and everything."

Yes, the students of Yakusa were eager for conversation on such an unusually hot day. Everyone that is, except for one. In the left corner of the back row of desks, far away from the giggles and passionate debates of his peers, sat the awestruck Moritaka Mashiro. A square of bright light flickered on his frozen expression, boxing the space in between his black widened eyes. His left hand shifted his phone back and forth in his palm, coated in perspiration. The right thumb hovered over the phone keyboard in hesitation. I need to respond, he reminded himself, but the thumb dared not make a move, lest he make a life changing mistake.

From: mihochan

RE: just checking

Do you like me?

She was certainly forward. Needless to say, Mashiro was very much in a tight spot. How do you respond to something like that? Yes, Miho; I've liked you ever since the start of middle school, and had secretly been drawing you from behind those past two years; and ever since you've been going to that private school I've been going nuts because I can't wait to get your texts and—Mashiro realized that might be getting in creepy territory. He leaned back against the wooden school chair, biting his lip in anxiety.

A simple 'yeah' could work, thinks Mashiro, his thumb finally inching towards the flickering screen. Then a sudden thought: maybe too simple? The Master of Over Thinking once again put his thumb on pause as he pondered.

Though simple and sweet, the message may give Miho the impression that it's half-hearted and take offense. Mashiro decided that he'd prefer avoiding his friend's anger; a fight would distance them even further apart. Being in different schools was distant enough, in his humble opinion. On the other hand, the sixteen year old teen felt uncomfortable sending any longwinded text—especially if he ended up sounding like a creep. 'Who knows,' thought Mashiro, 'maybe she's not even talking about that kind of like. Maybe she means it in a friendly way. 'In the back of mind, his instincts screamed "Are you kidding me? Just text her something already!"

Mashiro sighed in resignation of his better impulses. His faithful right thumb tapped speedily across the keyboard.

From: morimashi77

RE: just checking

Of course; we're friends.

He pressed send immediately. No more second thoughts.


A known fact: Kaya Miyoshi can be impatient.

"Mashiro! Hurry up!"

Very impatient.

"The trains gonnna leave in ten minutes! Come on!"

As he tried to shuffle out of his school shoes, Mashiro repeatedly reminded himself of this fact. Not that he held anything against Kaya for it: oftentimes her impatience was well needed when he's especially sluggish. If her nagging was grating, it was only because it rang true.

"Mashiro!"

"I'm coming," he said, quickly tying his sneaker laces into fat bowties. He tapped his left shoe into place against the hardwood floor before sprinting out of the school entryway. Kaya jogged in place by the school gate in anticipation for Mashiro, her high ponytail bobbing back and forth like a pendulum. Her expression was ecstatic, as if sparklers were going off in her eyes. As soon as Mashiro reached the gate, Kaya grabbed his sleeve and started running. She weaved both herself and Mashiro through pedestrians and climbed up the long set of stairs towards the train station with enthusiastic strides.

Entering the shuttle, the two friends gasped for air. The other passengers gave the students only short a sideways glance before tuning out their existence. When he finally caught his breath, Mashiro grabbed onto a train latch. He glanced back at a gasping Kaya.

"I can run pretty good without you pulling."

A Chesire grin crosses Kaya's face as she follows her friend in holding a train latch. "Yeah, but we would've never made it on time. Slowpoke."

Mashiro only made an exasperated sigh; as the train began to move he slid his free hand into his pocket, feeling for smooth metal. "Did she reply yet?" asked Kaya, making a loud yawn as she did so. His phone out of his pocket, Mashiro pressed on his mailbox tab. No new messages. He shook his head.

"So much for impulsiveness," he mused discouragingly, slipping the phone back into his pocket.

"Why are you asking, anyhow? You talk with her twenty-four seven."

Kaya shrugged. "I got my phone taken away last Friday. I don't know anything now."

Mashiro smiled. If there was one thing you could admire about Miyoshi (and there were many things to admire), it was her loyalty to Miho. Even after Azuki's transfer into private school, Kaya's single-handedly sustained their tradition of walking home together. The girls were practically joined at the hip—they've been best friends since elementary school, and their friendship has never wavered since then. He was almost jealous of their sisterhood, for he truly never had a best friend, or at least a kinship as close as they did. One of his few childhood memories was being read a picture book by his mother. The book was kind of hokey, and the pictures were cartoony; still, the last page showing two friends running off to their next adventure struck a chord with him as a child. "Where's my best friend?" he'd ask his mother, and each time she would say "I'm sure you'll find your friend soon enough. Everyone has their fated match."

He didn't know about the fate part, but Mashiro could agree that he'd eventually find something close to what the girls share. 'I mean, I can't be that pathetic, can I?'

Mashiro found that couldn't answer that question, which was unquestionably frightening.

"Our stop's coming."


When Mashiro and Kaya arrived at the gate of the Junchiro Private Academy, Miho walked out of the school entryway with her usual grace. Unusually, someone was walking close beside her: a tall boy with scruffy light brown hair and a slick pair of square framed glasses. The stranger seemed to be talking frantically, and his close proximity with Miho didn't sit well in Mashiro's stomach. As the pair got closer Mashiro caught on to the last part of their conversation.

"I'm sorry," said Miho, "I know you mean well, but they're my own problems. It's my business, not yours."

"Miho, I-"

"Goodbye, Takagi."

Miho picked her pace, fast walking in rigid steps. As she met her friends at the gate, she took no heed in giving the stranger the time of day, who was visibly distraught. "Let's go," she said in a hushed tone, already walking two steps ahead of Kaya and Mashiro. The stranger's countenance held a deep frown, sneaking his fisted hands down into the bottom of his pockets. As she passed by him, Kaya gave him an apologetic smile, than hurried to Miho's side. Mashiro gave the scruffyhead a grim, passing glance before catching up with the girls.

Kaya was bubbling with curiosity. "Who was that, huh? He looks cute. Was he trying to ask you out?"

Miho's face was stern; if Mashiro hadn't known her he would've thought she was stone. "No," she said coldly. Mashiro had never known her to be this cross, even when they argued.

Miyoshi seemed to also take notice. "What's the matter? Is something wrong?"

The raven haired beauty looked down unto her pristine dress shoes. Mashiro squinted his eyes, trying to get a scope of what Miho could be feeling. To his misfortune, her expression was as blank as a slate; only when she finally looked up from her shoes towards Kaya did she form a gesture: a pout. "You didn't answer any of my texts last weekend."

Miyoshi made a silent gasp, her mouth in a symmetrical o-shape before putting her hands together in an apologetic prayer. "I know, I know! So sorry!"

No sooner had she started praying for forgiveness, Kaya's expression became slightly annoyed and her hands shifted onto her hips. "But you know that Haruchi-chi sensei, the chorus teacher? Took my phone away! I wasn't even using it; I was taking it out of my pocket so that I could change for gym class—I mean, I wasn't changing right there and then, but still. He's not even my teacher! What gives!"

A small, giggly laugh from Miho was all it took to calm Mashiro's fears. He had to hand it to Kaya, she knew how to lighten the mood.

'Still, though,' thought Mashiro as the girls chatted happily, 'what's going on with her? First asking if I like her, and then—that kid. Takagi.'

Just because you know jealously isn't a charming trait doesn't stop one from being jealous. Mashiro learned this the hard way, copious thoughts swirling around in his head like a toilet bowl as they walked Miho home.


From: mihochan

Subject: Good evening

Hey! =)

From: morimasi77

RE: Good evening

Hey. What's up?

From: mihochan

RE: Good evening

Nothing. Just want to talk w/ you! =)

So…you just think of me as just a friend?

From: morimashi77

RE: Good evening

Well…I mean, there are other ways.

From: mihochan

RE: Good evening

Like…?

From: morimashi77

RE: Good evening

A sister, I guess.

You and Miyoshi, I should say.

From: mihochan

RE: Good evening

Anything else?

From: morimashi77

RE: Good evening

Um. I guess some of these ways exceed friendship.

Why are you asking all the sudden?

From: mihochan

RE: Good evening

Because I really like you, Mashiro.

From: morimashi77

RE: Good evening

Really?

From: mihochan

RE: Good evening

Yes!

Do you think I'm lying? =/

From: morimashi77

RE: Good evening

No. It's just…

From: mihochan

RE: Good evening

?

You don't believe Miyoshi, do you?

About Takagi?

There's nothing between us.

In fact, that was only the second time he talked to me.

I hardly know him.

From: morimashi77

RE: Good evening

It's not that.

I just wish it was done in person, you know?

Like, so we could hug or something.

Like, 'hurray, we like each other!'

From: mihochan

RE: Good evening

Yeah. That would've been better.

I wish I was still in Yakusa with you guys. =(

Then we wouldn't have this mess.

From: morimashi77

RE: Good evening

Yeah.

You know, you've been different too.

I mean, today you seemed kind of distant.

Is everything okay?

From: mihochan

RE: Good evening

It's nothing.

I'm fine.

Sorry. I need to go to bed.

Pre-calc exam tomorrow.

From: morimashi77

RE: Good evening

See you tomorrow, then.

'Night.

From: mihochan

RE: Good evening

See ya.


The next morning, the Mashiro household got an early phone call.

"Moritaka, it was Azuki's mother, Miyuki. Azuki's been kidnapped."

Mashiro couldn't help but fiddle with his phone that he swore felt like it was burning his pocket.