Author's Note: Next chapter. I'm not entirely sure of how long I am going to make this one yet, but I can say that it might be a little longer than I originally planned. Hopefully it will work out. :)
I do not own City Hunter or any of its characters.
Thank you to everyone who is reading/following/reviewing this. It is always appreciated.
Eve: Thank you. The Goodbye Hard-boiled City two-parter has fascinated me ever since I saw it. Part of me wished that it had been a three part episode like the season two finale was, but hey, that is what fic is for, right? To imagine how the "gaps" might have been. :)...I should warn you now though that you will have to wait a lot longer for that kind of payoff in the manga. :)...And as always I am glad that you enjoy my spin on Kaori in this one. I do think her character really went through the wringer in this one, so I wanted to explore just how she might have been affected by the events in this one and what could have been going through her mind throughout. Anyway, I do hope you enjoy this update as well.
-Aniki: One of several Japanese words for (my) older brother. Interestingly enough, you also see this used between anime and manga characters who are not related by blood, so was Hojo giving us a hint there when Kaori used it all the time to refer to Makimura? Hard to say...;)
-Oden: A Japanese stew whose ingredients vary by region. Oden is often a winter dish and a hearty one at that as it often includes things like boiled eggs, potatoes, fish or rice cakes and tofu products among many other things.
The next morning, Kaori yawned and stretched as she got out of bed. She had slept soundly the night before and she knew that that was part of the reason for her change in mood.
After Ryo had left yesterday, she had tackled her usual household chores with an almost frantic energy, desperate for some kind of outlet for the cauldron of anger and resentment that was seething inside her. As she finished cleaning, her anger began to slowly bleed away and she started to be able to think clearly and with less bitterness. She did end up going to check the chalkboard at the Shinjuku station, but instead of handing out flyers when she didn't find any work, she took the rest of the day off to shop for food and for a couple of things for herself. She also ended up renting a couple of videos, and after making herself a simple dinner, spent the rest of the day relaxing in front of the TV.
By the time she was ready to go to bed, Kaori felt somewhat refreshed and had a different perspective on the argument she had had with Ryo earlier that day.
'Even though we've been in dire straits before, Ryo always finds work that pulls us out of the red in the end. He'll probably end up doing that again before too long. And…as much as I hate it, he is right. If I would accept more female clients we wouldn't have to worry about money as much in the first place.'
Kaori stayed up for a while, waiting to see if Ryo would come home at a decent hour. When midnight came and there was no sign of him, Kaori figured that it would be better to wait to talk to him again tomorrow.
'I guess I did overact somewhat,' she told herself. 'I let my jealousy over Chiemi's whirlwind romance and her upcoming wedding and honeymoon get to me. Even though what we have is nothing like that, Ryo does care about me to some extent, I think. After all, he always makes sure to protect me when I need him. I'm his partner, and that means something, right?'
At first Kaori found it hard to sleep, her lingering doubts and questions getting in the way of being able to relax. Eventually, however, she decided to take a different approach the next time she saw Ryo again.
'I should try to be a little nicer to him once in a while. After all that is what partners do: they accept each other and try to help each other. Tomorrow I will try harder to be his partner and not just an obstacle in his path.'
With that thought in her mind, Kaori slowly drifted to sleep. That night her dreams were filled with the errant wishes and imaginings of a different sort of life with Ryo, a life where her feelings were out in the open and where Ryo responded to them with tender feelings of his own. This time though instead of her dreams giving her a sense of regret, she found some comfort in them.
Kaori yawned again as she walked up the stairs and onto the floor with Ryo's room. As she walked in she found his clothes scattered on the floor and she knew that he had finally come home.
"I guess Ryo was really drunk when he came home last night," she said to herself.
Kaori started to gather up his clothes and slowly make her way to his room. She knew that he would probably have a massive hangover and would not be in the mood to get up any time soon, but she decided to wake him up anyway and offer him one of his favorite breakfasts of ham and eggs as a peace offering.
'Ryo usually doesn't get this drunk unless something is bothering him,' she told himself. 'Maybe he has something on his mind too. Still…I wish he wouldn't get that drunk. What if someone were to decide to try to attack him when he was like that? Ryo could get hurt.'
Kaori's concerns abruptly stopped, however, when she spotted a woman's blouse at the top of the stairs leading to Ryo's bedroom.
As she got closer and closer to his bedroom door, Kaori found more pieces of women's clothing scattered about and a very unpleasant picture began to form in her mind.
'Ryo! Did he…did he actually go out and….?'
Kaori stomped toward his room and threw the door open.
There she found Ryo lying in bed, more than likely naked, with a woman lying on his arm. It did not take much imagination on Kaori's part to guess what had happened in that bed between the two of them.
Kaori barely realized what she was doing as a larger than normal hammer appeared in her hands and she brought it down squarely onto Ryo's head.
"Ryo! What is going on?"
Kaori felt her rage increase as Ryo sat up in bed seemingly oblivious to what could possibly be making her so angry. When the woman sat up and made it clear that she had had a "good night" last night, Kaori knew that there was no way she could calm down.
"Who are you? Why are you here?" Ryo asked the girl lying beside him.
As soon as Kaori heard that, her blood began to boil.
'I can't believe this. I can't believe that I was stupid enough to be worried or concerned about him. I can't believe that I was actually thinking of trying to find a way to apologize to that jerk. He doesn't care. He doesn't care one bit about me. Why else would he go out, get drunk and then spend the night with a woman while not even bothering to learn her name? The fact that he doesn't even remember her name just shows how little he cares about anyone other than himself.'
Unable to listen to Ryo for a second longer, Kaori decked him and stormed out of the room. She immediately threw on some clothes and gathered up some of her things.
'I can't stay here,' she told herself. 'I can't stay here for one more second with this heartless, selfish bastard.'
'I can't do this anymore.'
After grabbing a bunch of her stuff into a blanket and bundling it up, she marched up to Ryo's floor to find him dressed and standing in the front room area.
"That's it Ryo! I'm not your partner anymore."
Kaori felt pangs of regret even as she said those words, but she chose to ignore them. She knew that if she continued to stay with him while he acted this way, her pride as a woman and her self respect as a person would never recover. She slammed the door in his face, determined to not look back for even a second.
She started to walk away from the door when she heard Ryo muttering to himself about how he couldn't remember anything and wondering about who he had come home with last night.
'That jerk still won't face up to what's he's done. Unbelievable. Why on earth did aniki entrust me to some like him?'
Kaori opened the door and glared at Ryo.
"Famous last words: take responsibility," she said before slamming the door in his face again. She then walked out of the apartment building with the intent of walking out on Ryo as well.
Meanwhile, back in the apartment, Ryo continued to stand there, stunned by the events that had just occurred. He vaguely remembered running into this woman last night and asking her to drink with him. He was pretty sure that she had accepted and that she had decided to go home with him that night, but after that Ryo could not remember anything else.
'I must have blacked out once I got home,' he told himself.
Ryo rubbed his head. He suddenly remembered that there were a couple of men who tried to attack him, but he figured that he must have taken care of them and since he didn't feel any more murderous intent or sense any more enemies, he must have let himself succumb to his intoxication.
In that moment, Kaori's words came back to him again.
Ryo blinked hard. Responsibility was something he usually didn't think about consciously even if he sometimes tried to actively take on some responsibility in his life from time to time.
Like when he made the promise to take care of Kaori.
He was distracted from these thoughts when the young woman held up a bowl to his face and declared that breakfast was ready. Still disorientated, Ryo decided that the best thing to do for the moment was give himself a chance to collect his thoughts and get something to eat.
He continued to watch the woman serve the rice into bowls and sat down beside her.
'Well she is really cute. Just the type I would have tried to take home with me before Kaori….'
Ryo swallowed hard and lifted the soup bowl to his lips. He had figured out what Kaori had been thinking when she walked into the room and he couldn't blame her for being upset at him.
Still, he knew that the truth wasn't much better: that he was so drunk that he didn't remember this girl's name and that he had invited her to his place with no thought about how things might turn out.
Ryo let out a sigh. He figured that it was only a matter of time before this girl lost her temper with her too, but he decided that he should at least try to be polite to her until that moment came…starting with trying to figure out her name.
"By the way, what's your name?"
Ryo anticipated that she would be insulted by such a question, but instead she let him continue to guess until finally revealing that her name was Rumi Takahara.
'Well, she's a patient one at least,' Ryo thought to himself. His shock only grew when she asked to stay with him.
"Can't I?" Rumi asked, her eyes pleading.
"Of course. You can stay forever."
The words had left Ryo's lips before he had even had a chance to really think about them. At the back of his mind though, he suspected that there was more to Rumi's request than a simple desire to spend time with him.
'Those men last night. I wonder if they were just random muggers…or were they after her in particular. And is it possible that she knows that she's being targeted?'
Ryo looked over at her again as he sipped more of his soup. He couldn't be sure if he was just being paranoid or if his instincts were right on this one. He decided that a sure way to figure it out one way or the other was to find out if he had really had a mokkori night with her or not.
"Well Rumi-chan you were in my bed last night, weren't you? I wonder if something happened."
"I enjoyed it very much."
Ryo's mouth dropped open in surprise. There was, of course, his usual frustration at the idea that he could have actually had some mokkori and yet managed to somehow miss out on it again. But then he started to wonder if maybe Rumi just liked him after all.
Ryo invited her to bed again, but Rumi politely declined, declaring that she needed to attend to the household chores.
'It's as if she's already moved in and made herself my girlfriend just like that,' Ryo mused. 'That's just not normal for a woman. There really must be something else going on here.'
Ryo thought again of Kaori while he finished his breakfast. Despite what she said to him, Ryo knew that she would be back because she had left most of her stuff behind in her room downstairs. He had thought about going off to find her, but then thought about how angry she had been before she left.
'Kaori wouldn't listen to me right now no matter what I tried to tell her. I should just let her cool off and then when she comes back I can explain things and we can work it out.'
'But then again…what if she doesn't listen then either? What if she is serious about leaving this time?'
'What if I were to just let her go?'
Ryo felt his heart twist at that last question, but ignored it. He thought about how he had recently been trying to figure out what the best thing for Kaori was and it occurred to him that the both of them had just been given the chance to part ways.
'Maybe this is for the best. Kaori can go back to having a normal life and I can have my freedom again. No more worrying about her, her moods, her lectures or having to protect her. I can do as I wish without having to take care of someone else. She'll be happier and I'll probably be happier in the long run.'
Ryo smiled at Rumi again while he ate. He wasn't sure how long this thing with Rumi would last, but he decided that he better enjoy it while he can.
Kaori watched the scene between Rumi and Ryo play out in front of her through a pair of binoculars from on top of a nearby building. Tears stung her eyes as she watched the way Ryo smiled at Rumi while he ate.
"That jerk Ryo! He didn't even try to stop me."
She stuffed her binoculars back into her bag and made her way down the building. She couldn't understand what had possessed her to look in on Ryo, but now she regretted that she had done it.
'Did I actually think that he would be sitting around, wishing I would walk back through the door? Am I really that much of a moron?'
Kaori knew that people were staring at her as she walked down the street with the huge bundle of her clothes on her back, but she didn't care. All she could think about was the sight of Rumi in Ryo's arms and the fact that he didn't seem to care how she felt about any of this.
Kaori yanked her purse out of the bundle and found a hotel to check into. The desk clerk appeared reluctant to let her stay there, but the barely concealed rage in Kaori's eyes had been enough to intimidate him into letting her check in. Kaori took her key, went to her room and threw her stuff onto the ground.
She then sank down onto the bed and started to weep.
'Why am I crying? I shouldn't cry over that loser. I'm finally free of him, his laziness, his endless mokkori hunts and his overall bad habits. I can finally have a chance to be happy and find a man who will actually treat me like a woman instead of a slave. I should be thrilled to get away.'
Kaori laid down onto the bed and buried her face into the pillow, her tears increasing. She tried to tell herself over and over again how much better she could make her life from now on, but all of her assurances felt hollow to her.
Deep down, Kaori knew the reason why: no matter how much she tried to convince herself otherwise, the fact remained that she still had feelings for Ryo. Feelings that could not be erased just because it would make things easier for her.
Kaori continued to cry and as she did she began to wonder if the tears would ever really stop.
From across the street, the same man from yesterday continued to follow her and when he saw Kaori collapse onto her bed in tears, he started to grin.
'Yes, this anger, this conflict…it's perfect. You will suit my needs perfectly. Just wait, when the time is right, you will find your new purpose with me and my men and our cause.'
'Just a little longer and you will be mine…Sarah.'
Later that evening, Ryo sat near the window and watched the moon rise in the sky. He had spent the day trying to talk to Rumi, but she continued to avoid anything beyond the most basic of pleasantries. Instead, she puttered around the apartment building, cleaning things and occasionally taking a break to read a magazine or watch television. Ryo even tried his usual mokkori pursuit with her, but Rumi seemed immune both to his efforts and to any sort of irritation at his attempts.
After a few tries, Ryo grew weary of it himself. He couldn't understand why, but for some reason the thrill of the chase was gone for him. By late afternoon, he ended up taking a nap for a few hours until Rumi came to wake him for supper.
Ryo sat down at the table and noted that Rumi had made tempura.
"What's the matter Saeba-san?" Rumi asked after several seconds of watching him stare at his plate. "Don't you like it?"
"Nothing's wrong," he insisted with a smile. "Remember, I said that I'm not really picky at all, and this looks really good."
The two of them then began to eat. As he ate, Ryo admitted to himself that Rumi's cooking was tasty, but for some reason he couldn't bring himself to enjoy it.
'What I really wanted was some oden,' he thought to himself. 'That's what I like on a cold night like this. Kaori used made me oden when….'
Ryo gulped down the food in his mouth, startled by his own thoughts.
'But…Kaori's not here anymore. She's not here to make me oden or anything else for that matter. And I will have to get used to that.'
Ryo continued to eat his food even though he could barely taste it by this point.
After they finished supper, Rumi cleared the table and did the dishes. Once she was done, she yawned and stretched.
"I think I'll go to bed now," she said. "Say Saeba-san, where would you like me to sleep tonight?"
"You could always sleep with me," Ryo grinned at her.
"Don't be silly," Rumi said. "We can't do that sort of thing every night. Besides, I'm too tired for anything other than sleep. Say, where did the woman who used to live here sleep? I could use her bed."
"No!" Ryo insisted. "You can't."
Rumi jumped a little in surprise over his harsh tone, and Ryo was confused by his reaction to her words as well.
"I mean, we have a guest room you can use," he said, making sure to smile. "You can sleep there tonight."
"Thank you very much, Saeba-san," Rumi smiled at him.
Ryo showed her where it was and Rumi wished him good night before going in and shutting the door behind her. For a moment, he thought about trying to peek at her undressing for bed, but found that his heart wasn't truly into the idea. Instead he ended up going to his room and climbing into bed.
As he rested his head on the pillow, his eyes happened to glance at a framed picture of him and Makimura that was sitting on the stand near his bed.
'I finally kept my promise, Maki-chan. Kaori is going to lead a normal life from now on. You won't have to worry anymore about anything happening to her because she chose to live in the underground. I'll make sure of that.'
Ryo squeezed his eyes shut and started to count his breaths as a way to distract himself to sleep. As he drifted toward unconsciousness, Ryo thought for a second that he could sense someone in the room with him, someone trying to tell him something, but dreams overtook him before he could make any sense out of it.
"Ryo…you are making a mistake. Don't you see that?"
But by this point, Ryo heard and felt nothing but the dull ache in his heart which continued on for the rest of the night.