notes – Bakuman's ended, but what a great ending/lead-up it was. And finally, I'm able to write something for the series. Takagi and Kaya's relationship was a really adorable aspect of the series, though I don't think it was as perfectly-handled by the authors during the third/fourth quarter of the manga. I'm glad Mashiro gave her recognition in the second last chapter. God knows she deserves that and more for sticking by her boys and helping them through everything.

The Back of the Tiger's Hand

He learns that she can hit hard.

Miyoshi is gentle and girlish when she holds onto the arm he offers her, oozing femininity when they go out to watch a movie. It's their first date and Takagi thinks – hey, maybe this isn't so bad. She seems like a nice girl.

But then, he and Saiko agree to play volleyball with her in the court after school. She tells them she needs the practice for the upcoming inter-class games, and that the girls in her class don't want to train with her.

"I wonder why?" Takagi asks as he and Saiko do stretches to warm up.

"Maybe they don't want to get sweaty?" Saiko answers, drawing all the knowledge in his limited bank of information about girls outside of Azuki Miho.

"Maybe," Takagi repeats. "But let's go easy on her, I don't want to make my new girlfriend angry," he tells his friend.

Saiko agrees with a slow nod, looking up to see Miyoshi on the other side of the net, tossing the ball between her hands.

"You guys ready?" she calls out.

They wave their hands to signal an 'okay'.

It is also the last time they can lift their arms above their heads for the next week or so, because the muscle aches they receive from their match with Miyoshi take ages to wear off. Takagi lies in his bed at night and wonders how he is supposed to feel about having a girlfriend stronger than himself.

"Well, whatever," he murmurs in the dark.

If the world were a world where one could buy and sell their talents, Miyoshi would be rich and he'd to dirt poor, Takagi thinks. He closes his eyes to in an effort to fall sleep, only to snap them open the next second. Wide awake, he bolts out of bed and rushes to his desk, flicking the lamp on.

"I have an idea…."

He can't listen to music around her.

Miyoshi talks. A lot. She asks him about homework before asking him how to do it, and then following it up with a suggestion to stay for dinner at her house. The order and content of the conversation varies at times, but most of it ends with her having the last word. There is rarely a quiet moment when she is around, rarely an opportunity for him to put on his headphones and press 'shuffle' then 'play'.

At least she's more understanding than Iwase. Miyoshi listens when he tells her to leave him alone, but she doesn't always agree with a pleased expression (though her pout is kind-of-maybe cute but that's not the point here). Takagi remembers that they are only seventeen, and normal teenagers don't have to handle preparing an official name and a manuscript on a weekly basis. The only author doing this apart from Ashirogi Muto is Niizuma Eiji, and that's saying something.

Times like these, he wonders why Miyoshi still sticks with him and Saiko.

And then there are instances when Takagi finds himself stuck in the thick of a plotline – even with his favourite red track suit on, even with his favourite music playing, he can't seem to worm his way out and find a clear idea to develop. These are the rare moments where he doesn't mind having Miyoshi with him. He's grown used to having her around while he flips through his notebook, grown used to her wayward comments about how she doesn't understand how this-and-that makes sense in the grand scheme of things, or how that-and-this isn't as exciting as something you'd see in One Piece.


"This is good as usual, but it seems to be missing something," Saiko tells him one day, thumbing through a name for Detective Trap. "The feel of the chapter just isn't there, if you know what I mean," his partner tries to explain.

Miyoshi peers over Saiko's shoulder, tilting her head to get a better look. "Isn't this guy usually more dark and shadowy and 'ho-ho-ho'? He doesn't seem as evil on this page," she says before returning to her duty of sweeping the floor.

Saiko's eyes widen. "Miyoshi has a point," he says, "the villain doesn't have as much of a presence here compared to the last arc. Let's try to change that before Hattori comes by for the meeting."

"Right." Takagi takes the name from Saiko. His gaze remains on Miyoshi as she tidies up the studio, broom in hand, the tune of a Saturday-morning cartoon on her lips.

"What?" she asks when she catches him staring, frowning a little at this.

"N-nothing," he says quickly before slotting himself into his desk.

Of course, Miyoshi isn't the sort of girl who takes 'n-nothing' for an answer. So after Hattori has left and after Saiko says he'll stay back and lock up the place, when both of them push their bikes down the sidewalk, Miyoshi interrogates him.

"What were you looking at just now?" she asks as they pass under a street lamp.

Takagi attempts to play dumb, but then she raises a fist to intimidate him. It works, and he has to re-strategize his plan of action. Eventually, he decides to be honest with her. Even though it usually ends up with him getting hurt, it's better than prolonging the inevitable.

"I was just wondering why you're still here," he says.

"It's because you and Mashiro are here, isn't it?" Trust Miyoshi to reply his question with one of her own.

"Don't you find it boring? I can't take you to the movies all the time like other couples our age," Takagi says, pocketing his hands in his track pants.

"Ehhh? I'm used to it," Miyoshi replies casually, "and it's interesting being with you. You and Mashiro are working together so that Mashiro can achieve his dreams with Miho. I have to help my best friend in any way I can!"

"That's true." Takagi nods. If Miyoshi wanted to leave them, she could've left months ago.

The girl closes the distance between them and loops her arm around his. "Besides – I like you, Takagi. For someone so smart, you sure can be dumb about things like this."

Oh, right. He forgot to take that into account.


Takagi's alarm clock beeps at 6.30 A.M. He wakes up on his desk, submerged in drafts upon drafts of names, a voice message waiting in his phone.

"Hi, Takagi! I know you're probably busy with the next chapter now, but remember to get enough rest for school. Don't worry, I've prepared boxed lunches for you and Mashiro today. Well, Mum did but I helped! Good luck with your writing and get it done soon. We haven't gone out on a date in ages. See you in school," a girl's voice plays in his ear.

Takagi smiles wearily as he places his phone on the table. The morning sun is peaking through the curtains over the window and he has to start preparing for school. Miyoshi's voice is sometimes the only thing he needs to hear to get him through the day.

She makes a lot of mistakes.

Takagi learns that Kaya is the kind of girl that jumps, no, leaps to conclusions all the time. She never considers her words before she speaks. She simply says or does the first things that come to mind. He remembers the time she decided that they would be a couple, and the time at the playground where she kissed him without asking for permission. When they're finishing up a manuscript for Run! Daihatsu Tanto! Kaya is always there to question how the invention of the week works.

"It's not supposed to make sense, it's for the comedy," he explains for the umpteenth time.

"Ohh," Kaya hums before carrying on pasting tones onto the page in front of her.

Takagi already predicts that she will be asking the same question next week, but he's used to it. It's as much of a habit of his as it is for her. He's been with her so long that he knows how the inside-outs of her personality. Nothing will surprise him.

However, when he starts chatting with Yuriko Aoki, Kaya immediately assumes that they're having an illicit love affair of some sort. Maybe it's partially his fault for keeping it from her – and Saiko only affirms this when he gives Takagi an accusing look, arms crossed.

"I should have told her about Aoki and Iwase, huh?" Takagi admits. This isn't one of his finer moments.

"Now Azuki is mad at me too," Saiko sighs as he leans against a bookshelf full of comics. He stares longingly at his handphone, the sadness on his face very apparent.

"Sorry," Takagi apologizes, even though he knows that he should be saying it to someone else. Saiko offers him a shrug of his shoulders before returning to his work. "Shujin, you're my friend, so I kept my word. But you've got to resolve it yourself," he says in that sagely way of his.

Okay, so he's going to apologize to Kaya. That sounds like a plan. This isn't the first time he's made her mad, and it probably isn't going to be the last. Hopefully everything will work out, and they can go back to being –

"Marry me!" Takagi shouts when Kaya starts to run away.

It's the first time he speaks before he thinks. But even then, Takagi knows that he hasn't made a mistake.

Kaya has never had a penchant for cooking.

Takagi hadn't seen that as a big deal – he doesn't mind swallowing too-sweet or rock-hard chocolates for Valentines, or eating the overcooked condiments in the occasional bento she packs for him. Kaya means well, and she takes his criticism in stride. Takagi takes the swift punch to his left arm in stride as well. Saiko prefers to remain silent as he struggles to finish the portion Kaya sometimes prepares for him.

"You just don't want to hurt her feelings," Takagi remarks when they are alone in the apartment.

Saiko, who's still chugging down a bottle of water, takes a minute to reply. "There's that too," he says as he wipes his mouth with the back of his sleeve. "Kaya's got a strong arm. I never want to get on her bad side. I wonder how you can get away unharmed."

"I don't!" Takagi tells him, kneading the sore spot on his arm to demonstrate. "I haven't since we started dating."

"Well, that's just how you and Kaya are. Azuki and I would be different, I think." Saiko leans back in his desk chair and smiles at the thought.

And Saiko's right. Takagi can never imagine being anything but blunt with Kaya. A white lie is a white lie no matter how you look at it, well-intentioned or not. He isn't going to let the Aoki-Iwase situation repeat itself again. He doesn't think he can survive the process of marrying Kaya the second time round.

In all their years together, Takagi wonders if Kaya has learned as much about him as he has about her. Maybe that's why she understands. Takagi isn't straightforward with just his criticism – he's straightforward about his feelings for her too. When she asks him if he still loves her, he tells her yes without skipping a beat. When she envies the bodies of the idols on TV, Takagi tells her 'it's true they look prettier than you,' and Kaya fumes.

Then he'll remind her 'but you're still the only one for me', and her expression softens into something like quiet pride. It's an even trade.

As their married life goes on, Kaya does get progressively better at cooking. Maybe it's because she has to start eating her own meals on a daily basis, maybe it's because she's been learning from her mother – all Takagi notices is that the fish isn't as salty, and the vegetables are starting to taste just right.

The one thing Kaya has always been good at is taking care of others. When the assistants come by to get started on the next chapter, she is always prepared. She serves Orihara a cup of chocolate milk, Shiratori some warm green tea, and iced coffee for Moriya. She knows how much sugar Saiko needs in his coffee, and the exact temperature Takagi likes to drink his at.

Most of all, she knows how much he likes it when she cuddles close to him in bed at night. He's never told her – but Takagi has a feeling that Kaya knows.

Another difficulty is having to avoid writing Kaya into their stories, or bits and pieces of her, like the odd way she chortles instead of laughs, or the delicate dips of her collarbones. She sneaks herself onto the page sometimes, and Takagi doesn't trust himself to be able to keep Kaya and his storyboards separate, but he tries.

And he's thankful because Saiko knows him so well: can count off all his quirks with those ink-worn hands. He can tell when Takagi is stumped and when Takagi is on the verge of a breakthrough, just from the way he fiddles with a pencil.

"Doesn't this remind you of something Kaya would say?" Saiko says on a Saturday night after the assistants have packed up and left. He flips through the first draft of a name and points out the panel in question. This time, it is a storekeeper with a loud voice.

"You're right," Takagi replies and makes quick work of erasing the speech bubble.

"Shujin, it's fine for you to include little things like that," Saiko says thoughtfully, his other hand sketching a page featuring Annojyou Mai. "There's no harm in it," he continues as he colours light into the girl's eyes.

"I know, but it feels weird," Takagi admits. To be so close to a person that you start unconsciously slipping parts of them into your stories.

Saiko raises an eyebrow, hearing the words that go unsaid. "You're married, Shujin. More importantly, you're in love. There's no reason for you not to include the girl you love in what you do for a living," he tells him in a way that is so Saiko – never condescending or superior, just plain and earnest.

The artist lowers his eyes to the nearly finished sketch of Mai. "It just comes naturally," he says this in a softer voice. The studio is silent for a brief moment.

"Should I… leave you and the drawing alone?" Takagi asks.

He skillfully dodges a blunt pencil and breaks into laughter from his new position behind the couch. Saiko starts chuckling despite himself, and the two of them stay like that for awhile, in their element. Maybe, Takagi thinks between laughs, Saiko has a point.

A few weeks later, Kaya holds the latest issue of Jump in her hands. She slumps on the couch in the studio, turning the pages to read PCP's chapter first, like she always does. There is a companionable quietness during this time, while he and Saiko work on the upcoming name and Kaya sinks herself into the PCP world.

Suddenly, she bolts upright and jabs a finger at the page.

"Hey! Makoto's favourite food is the same as mine!" Kaya informs them, frantic and excited.

"We know that," Saiko says without looking up from the page he's drawing, "we're the ones that made the chapter after all."

Kaya is speechless for once, holding the magazine out, transfixed in odd exhilaration. Her eyes are sparkling and the grin on her face is comical. When she snaps out of it a few seconds later, she hugs the Jump to herself. "I'll go out and buy your favourite snacks!" she decides.

She pecks Takagi's cheek as she wears her boots. Holding her head up high, Kaya skips out the apartment door.

"Your wife is something," Saiko says, still not bothering to look up from his desk.

Takagi rubs the spot where she kissed, the corner of his mouth lifting. "Yeah, I'm a lucky guy."

Takagi doesn't express himself well. He's clumsy with words when they aren't part of a story he wants to tell, unsure of emotions that don't belong to a main character in a manga.

And then there's Kaya, who thrives on letting everyone know how she feels, emotions pouring out of her all the time. Hunger, confusion, anxiousness – and then – happiness, patience, love. Love, she shows with a tired but knowing smile, the small 'I love you's she whispers when she feels she needs to. He doesn't tell her how it tethers him sometimes (it's unnecessary, and it would be awkward to just say outright), reminds him that his life is not only about characters running on paper and how well young boys aged between ten and eighteen will receive them.

He can feel her when she holds him close at night, arms crossed on his back. She smells like her cherryblossom shampoo, but also like pen ink and manuscript paper. Kaya's spent as much time in the studio as him and Saito.

Takagi wonders what trials she must face, being with a mangaka. He mumbles this question into her shoulder after a particularly exhausting day.

Kaya chortles in that special way of hers. He can feel the soft rumbles of her body when they sit so close on the bed. "What does that mean?" she asks, clueless.

Takagi pulls back and holds her in his hands, unsure of what to say.

"Being with you is tough sometimes, Akito. But it's always felt more like… an adventure, like the ones in a shounen manga," Kaya says. Trust her to simplify their life into the plot of a shounen. Trust her to do that and still make his heart thrum.

She blinks and looks straight at him, never turning her eyes away. Takagi exhales and feels the hollowness in his chest fill up with indescribable warmth. The only thing he knows for sure is that Kaya has always been the only one who can make him feel this way.

Maybe, just this once, Kaya is right and he's wrong.

final notes - I got a lot of tidbits from Charaman, the Bakuman Character Guide. Kaya's favourite manga really is One Piece, and Takagi's work style includes him wearing his track suit with his headphones because it makes him feel more comfortable. They started dating in December 2008, and the oneshot of 'Money and Intelligence' was published in September 2009.