Izumi stared back at the man who had just pulled off her blindfold. Trying to process what had just happened, she couldn't keep her thoughts in order.
- Chikage's here - what's going on - he kissed me - he's here to rescue me - it's Chikage - he's here - he kissed me? -
Taking notice of Izumi's disarray, Chikage chuckled, "I wonder...was that the kind of thing a noble knight would do for his rescued princess?"
Whether he was emotional after seeing her again, just messing with her, or experiencing a mixture of both was unbeknownst to Izumi. Chikage, who didn't have any real experience properly conveying his affections, only smirked as he observed her speechlessness. Izumi calmed down after seeing him in such a carefree manner and couldn't help but assume the notoriously deceptive Spring troupe member was just making fun of her.
"Chikage! Now isn't the time for your jokes!" Izumi pouted, her face now flushed with embarrassment.
"Jokes? I'm not—"
The two were interrupted by the sound of the door swinging open.
"Izumi!" Sakyo shouted in relief upon seeing the director safe and sound.
Masumi immediately sped past him and made a beeline towards Izumi. He pushed Chikage out of his way and wrapped his arms around his beloved director. Despite him hugging her so tightly that it slightly hurt a little, she felt happy to see him and other unexpected members of her theatre troupe arrive. Banri and Juza caught up to them and sighed after seeing Izumi.
"Kind of annoying that you were this close to the dorm all this time." Sakyo scoffed.
That was certainly news to Izumi, not having known her location at all.
"I'm...sorry?" She responded as Sakyo sighed. Needing some breathing room, she patted Masumi on the back, "Masumi, I'm okay. You can let go now."
He nestled his face into her shoulder, "I'm never leaving your side again."
This prompted both Chikage and Sakyo to pull him off of her.
"...Director. Are you hurt?" Juza spoke up.
She shook her head and held her hands up to show she wasn't injured. "I'm all good here! I've pretty much been unrestrained aside from being locked in this room. I'll admit I was a little scared at first, but I wasn't treated badly. They gave me curry and everything!"
The fact that Izumi looked so giddy about curry during her captivity left everyone exasperated.
Sakyo put his fingers to his temple, "What the hell? You willingly ate food that your kidnappers gave you? How careless can you be in this kind of situation?"
"Obviously if they handed me a cup of strange liquid, I wouldn't have drank it! I know curry better than anyone else so I could instantly tell they gave me regular, unaltered curry! Even as I was trapped in a dark room with no means of escape, the essence of curry filled me with hope that I would soon be reunited with you all! That curry may as well have been the reason I could keep myself sane!" Izumi proudly put her fist to her chest.
Chikage squinted at her, "...Have you no sense of shame admitting that?"
"We can share stories later. Let's get the hell out of here, first." Banri chimed in.
Everyone nodded. Chikage helped Izumi stand up, but one more question came to mind.
"Was everything else already taken care of, then? That guy didn't speak to any of you?" She asked, the boys now curious.
Sakyo looked back at her, "That guy?"
"There was a guy who brought me food and talked to me occasionally. He said that someone would be coming for me soon. Of course, I didn't expect so many people to come, but—"
Chikage interrupted her, "He said someone would come to get you?"
"Y-Yeah. He didn't really tell me much, but I'm pretty sure he was talking about you, Chikage." Izumi felt uneasy about Chikage's sour-turned expression.
Sakyo and Chikage shared a look with each other as both had the same idea. They both found it far too easy to move through the building, and the rescue had been going suspiciously well. They wanted to hurry up and get Izumi out of there, but their worries were soon realized as the sound of an alarm rang through the building.
The sound of a microphone being started up played on the wall speakers, “Looks like you all’ve successfully rescued your beloved director. I don’t have any further plans with you at this time. You’re free to leave at your leisure.” Izumi recognized the voice as it continued, “Oh, but I wouldn’t take too long getting out. These alarms instantly notified the police of an emergency. They should arrive shortly, so you’d best be on your way before they get the wrong idea.”
The announcement stopped, and everyone looked towards each other determined to get out of the building as fast as possible.
By now, the remaining members of Mankai had mostly grouped together back at the dorm. As instructed, mostly everyone was able to return in pairs, and there had been no further incidents that they were aware of.
Tsumugi scanned his eyes around the room, "It looks like mostly everyone's back. Homare said he's less than 15 minutes away."
"Itaru should also be back soon. He said he was held a little late at the office, but he's on his way now." Tsuzuru explained, holding his phone with the text from Itaru displayed on it.
Taichi frantically grabbed onto Omi’s arm, "W-What do we do!? Omi, there's no one else from Autumn troupe here except for us!"
Tenma also took notice of his absent members, "Hey, aren't we missing the rest of our guys, too? There's no way Misumi's hunting for triangles at a time like this."
"Misumi should be back any moment now. He was waiting for Yukki and Mukkun to—" Kazunari began to explain, but was cut off by the door opening.
Misumi walked in holding Muku and Yuki’s hands on each side, "We're back!"
Once finally inside, Yuki pulled his hand away from Misumi. "So? What's the deal with that cryptic text? You didn't explain anything and now Muku's lost in his fantasies again."
Omi scratched the back of his head, "Sorry for being so vague. I wanted to focus on getting everyone back at the dorm as soon as possible."
Tsumugi’s eyes narrowed, "Could it be...has something happened?"
"I don't know anything for sure, but...earlier today, this was found on the sidewalk not too far from here." Omi pulled out the bag that had been found earlier.
Sakuya was the first to recognize it, "That bag...!"
"Is that Masumi's school bag!?" Tsuzuru also knew who it belonged to, considering he was the roommate of said owner.
"I'm pretty sure it is. It has all of his stuff inside of it." Kazunari explained what he and Misumi had been doing with Sakyo earlier that day, and how they found the bag.
"There's not a possibility he could have just dropped it, is there?" Tsuzuru tried to find an explanation, but was quickly shot down.
Omi pitched in for Kazunari, who was struggling to explain the gravity of the situation. "Not only that, I had a strange phone call with Juza this morning and haven't heard from him since."
Omi told his side of the story and mentioned that both Banri and Juza had been unreachable all day.
Hisoka, upon hearing about these odd incidents, couldn't fall asleep under these circumstances. He furrowed his brows, wondering how this could all relate back to Chikage.
"So you thought it'd be better for everyone to stick close to each other until this gets sorted out." Tasuku concluded after gathering his thoughts.
Omi nodded, "Let's at least wait to hear from Sakyo before going back out without good reason. He might be able to find out something."
Kazunari raised his hand, "Wait, wait, wait! I just thought of something! Omimi, didn't you say earlier that we're low on groceries!? If we're staying here for who knows how long, will we have enough food!?"
"What!? This is like some kind of horror film! Are we trapped in here until we starve to death!?" Taichi became even more frantic than before.
"H-Horror!? Of course, I know this has to be my fault. This must be divine retribution for being such a stupid, brainless, air-headed—" Muku began to trail off.
Yuki grabbed his arm and brought him back to reality, "Muku, calm down! Listen, puppy pair, don't start spreading unnecessary panic!"
"It's true that we'll need to eat something eventually, though." Azuma calmly spoke with a worried expression.
As the anxious silence grew, Sakuya finally spoke up, "I think I already know the answer to this, but...no one's heard anything from the director, have they?"
Everyone shared worried looks with each other, unable to come up with a response. Despite the crowded room, silence yet again filled the air. It wasn't until the sound of someone clapping was heard that everyone turned their attention to the source.
"Now, now! We know that everyone here right now is safe and sound! If we stay close together and focus on silver bindings, we can prevent anyone else from going astray!" Citron exclaimed as he smiled widely.
"Silver binding? Are we using the handcuffs again!?" Taichi looked at him exasperatedly.
Tsuzuru sighed, "He means 'silver lining'..."
"Geez, you guys are so depressed that you're relying on Citron to cheer you up?" Itaru suddenly walked in the room with Homare following behind him.
Homare proudly brought his hand to his chest, "If anyone needs an instant stress relief, perhaps I could read to you all my best poems submitted for a weekly column I partake in! Replace those solemn emotions with new ones driven from my top-quality art!"
Tsumugi awkwardly chuckled, "H-Homare, I'm not sure that..."
"Don't be bashful now! Come, follow me and I'll prepare a seminar for us!"
Itaru wryly smiled and began to speak again, "While I'm not entirely agreeing with Homare's suggestion, I do think it's pointless for everyone to overthink this. Just like last night, there isn't a whole lot we can do right now. Even if it's hard, keeping our minds off of it might be the best thing we can do."
"Heh, so even the elite swindler can say something useful once in a while." Yuki teased.
"I still can't help but wonder about what could have happened to Masumi, though." Sakuya still thought about the safety of his friends and dreaded the thought of anything happening to them.
"Chikage's already taking care of Izumi, right? I'm sure if Masumi's involved, Senpai is more than capable of keeping the two of them safe. That goes double if Sakyo's also involved. That's what he's out doing now, right?" Itaru reassured him.
Itaru's words had somehow soothed the frantic energy that had been floating around the dorm members. While they still didn't have any answers, being reminded of Chikage and Sakyo's capabilities relieved some of the stress on their shoulders. Just as everything started to calm down again, a notification popped up on everyone's phone, the text instantly getting their attention.
As Hisoka read the message, his expression grew darker. "This is...!"
"M-Masumi, we're not running anymore. You don't have to keep holding onto my hand." Izumi tried to shake Masumi off, but he persisted in gripping her hand tightly.
“I said I'm never letting you go again. I'll hold onto you until you're safely tucked in bed in your own room." Masumi declared without hesitation.
"That's way too long! Seriously, I'll be fine! We're all together now, so you don't have to be so on guard."
"You don't need everyone else. Just rely on me."
Just as he said that, Masumi began to lean in for another hug until Sakyo once again caught him by the collar of his shirt. About to start scolding the younger man, he noticed Chikage heading back towards them after surveying the area.
"Did you send out the message?" Chikage asked Sakyo.
Sakyo nodded, "I did. Hopefully someone with a car is available now."
"That text from Omi should have them staying alert for a while."
Banri’s phone lit up and he held it towards them, "Oh, they just responded. Tasuku says he's on his way."
Chikage sighed in relief, "Good. Let's just wait here. This place should be far enough that no one can trace us to that building."
"Whoever set off that alarm probably knows we escaped. Utsuki, you're responsible for taking care of any loose ends." Sakyo glared at Chikage.
"I've got it covered. Actually..." Chikage pulled out a bottle of unlabeled pills. Everyone’s attention was focused on them as they leaned in closer. Sakyo’s eyebrow twitched, as he had a pretty good idea of what Chikage was planning.
“The hell are those?” Banri spoke up as he tried to find any kind of label on the bottle.
“I had these pills developed in case of an emergency. They’re designed to wipe your memory, but only for a short term. If you take these, you’ll probably only lose one or two days of your memory.”
“The results may be more or less than the intended effect, but I have no doubt that this will work. I based it off of another serum that was several times more effective, so this will definitely erase some portion of today’s events from your memory. Believe me, this is for the better. The less you know about this line of work, the less you’ll be a target in the future.”
Hearing that he based it on another serum, Izumi wondered if he was talking about the one that Hisoka had taken before. She closed her fist upon remembering the time Hisoka had rescued her from Chikage, and knew how important it was to take this pill if Chikage was suggesting it.
“I won’t take it.” Masumi firmly rejected it.
Chikage narrowed his eyes, “I’m not asking you. I’m telling you that you need to for your own safety.”
“No matter what it is, every memory of the director is precious to me. I refuse to forget about any part of her.”
“I don’t want to take it, either.” Banri agreed with Masumi, “When I heard that Izumi went missing, I felt like my heart had stopped. Even if you ended up saving her, I don’t want to forget the risk you bring to the company. If I remember what happened today, I’ll be sure to protect the director from shit like this in the future.”
Just as Chikage was about to say something, Sakyo took initiative and whacked both of the boys on the back of their head.
“You idiots. You have no idea what kind of consequences come with knowing about organizations like this. If you have information, you’re a target. If you’re a target, you’re only increasing the threat to Mankai. Take the damn pills before I force them down your throat.” Sakyo lectured them into silence.
With no further arguments, Masumi and Banri both looked away with irritated expressions, unable to retaliate. Chikage handed everyone a pill and explained that they might feel some type of drowsiness and should only forget about the past couple of days. Tasuku should arrive at any moment, so they had a small window of escape without fear of being tracked down by someone. After taking the pills, the effects took only a few moments to kick in. Everyone started to feel heavy and sat against the wall, soon to fall asleep.
Just as everyone was shutting their eyes, Chikage gave a questioning look to the one other man still standing. “Just what do you think you’re doing after making a speech about taking the pill?”
Sakyo continued to glare at the green-haired man, “Someone needs to remember the events that took place here. I’m the most qualified to take on the responsibility. Besides, I’m not leaving you alone with an unconscious Izumi.”
Chikage scoffed at Sakyo’s comment, but didn’t argue back. Sakyo was a member of a yakuza group, so it was true that he would be able to handle it if someone came after him. As long as Izumi and the more vulnerable members were safe, he had no complaints.
“Suit yourself. If anything happens to you because of this, I take no responsibility.”
Sakyo huffed. He didn’t want Chikage’s protection. He actually preferred to rely on himself, especially if the alternative was putting his faith in Chikage to keep the theatre group safe.
Chikage turned his gaze to Izumi’s sleeping face and smiled. The relief of knowing she was unharmed and protected kept him calm and determined to finish his mission. The guilt he felt of getting her involved in his affairs was still apparent, but it also motivated him to push forward. He thought about their kiss from earlier and how she probably didn’t really think of it during all the excitement. Knowing that she wouldn’t remember it, he slightly grimaced, as the feeling of her lips against his would have been burned into his thoughts forever. Memorizing every detail about the woman he loved, he wondered if he would ever see her again after that moment. Chikage looked towards his phone, reading over a message that he had kept secret from everyone else, and began to walk away from the group.
“Where do you think you’re going?” Sakyo’s question briefly stopped Chikage in his tracks.
Chikage looked back towards him, “If you’re going to stay awake, you’ll be able to watch over these guys until Tasuku arrives. I have other matters to attend to.”
Sakyo glared at him for a moment before speaking, “Don’t come back to the dorm until you fix this mess. If you ever put Izumi at risk like this again, I’ll make sure it’ll be the last time.”
Chikage took that warning to heart and continued on his way. Once he was far enough from them and out of Sakyo’s sight, he took out his phone again and reread the message. It was from an unknown sender and contained coordinates that were different from the location where Izumi was held hostage. The message he got the day before stated that someone would send him a location, but he wasn’t expecting it to be sent after he had already rescued her. He had a bad feeling about this and had reluctantly forwarded the message to Hisoka earlier, letting him know to meet up with him before going there. He didn’t want to get Hisoka involved, but when the group text was sent out to send Tasuku, Hisoka had privately messaged Chikage, insisting that he would go with him. Having confidence in Hisoka's abilities, Chikage and Hisoka settled on a meeting place along the way. As his mind circled around possibilities of what lied ahead, Chikage unconsciously picked up the pace towards his destination.
Tasuku had arrived in his station wagon shortly after Chikage had left, and the transportation of Sakyo and the unconscious members of Mankai back to the dorm was a success. Upon arriving back at the dorm, the remainder of the team had been anxiously waiting for them at the entrance. They were startled to see everyone unconscious except Sakyo, but the situation was quickly explained and the sleeping members had been brought back to their rooms to rest. To everyone’s relief, Sakyo mentioned that Izumi and the others were entirely unharmed during their absence.
There was one more issue that came up while Tasuku had gone to pick them up, and that was that Hisoka had abruptly left the dorm shortly after him. He didn’t leave any explanation aside from the fact that he would be back as soon as possible. Sakyo had concluded that it must have something to do with Chikage leaving to take care of loose ends, and had explained Chikage’s absence after Sakuya worriedly questioned him about it. Without much else to do, the theatre troupe wished for their safety, but were able to feel much more relaxed than before knowing their director was back home safe and sound. They were all aware of Chikage and Hisoka’s capabilities, so they didn’t feel too distressed about them. If Hisoka said he would return, they believed in him.
Omi still took it upon himself to check on everyone in case they were injured or sick, but they looked like they would be alright. Omi had made dinner for the dorm now that everyone felt more at ease and took one last trip to Izumi’s room afterwards. As he walked in, his eyes met with the sight of Tsumugi sitting in a chair by Izumi’s bed as she continued to sleep. He brushed his hand against the hair that had fallen in front of her face and smiled softly.
Tsumugi was startled upon noticing Omi, “Oh! Um…it’s not what it looks like! I was just…watching after her. I’ll head out now—I’m sure you still want to check on her health. Although, I think she looks fine now.”
“You don’t have to leave. I was just going to check on her and make sure she’s sleeping alright.” Omi gestured for Tsumugi to remain seated, “Sakyo said that memory loss pill would erase her memories for her safety, but I’m concerned about other side effects. Sometimes traumatic events like this can cause nightmares, but she seems to be sleeping peacefully.”
“That’s true. Just looking at her like this calms me down. It’s not often I get the opportunity to see her in such a defenseless state, so this kind of feeling from just watching her surprised me.” Tsumugi reached out for her again and gently touched her hair.
Omi noticed Tsumugi expressing himself more tenderly than usual and came to a realization.
Tsumugi, you…could it be that… Omi thought to himself as he watched him.
Tsumugi soon realized what he was doing and quickly jerked his hand away from Izumi. He frantically stood up from the chair and waved his hands in denial about any ideas Omi might have had.
“S-Sorry! I got carried away! I was just worried about her, so…my instincts got the better of me. I really didn’t mean anything by this…please, don’t say anything about this.” Tsumugi shyly looked away.
Omi chuckled and agreed not to tell others. As Tsumugi awkwardly shuffled out of the room, Omi looked back towards Izumi.
Well, it’s not like I don’t understand what he’s feeling. Because I also…no, it’s not the time for this.
Omi gave a bittersweet smile and returned to his own room.
Somewhere in the city, a man who had just had his entire base raided disgruntledly spoke on the phone.
“I asked for a capable agent and gave you a fair amount for it. Instead, you sent someone who carried a team of amateurs with him just to protect one woman. I demand an explanation.”
The voice over the phone laughed, “I sent you one of the best men on our team. I had no idea he would bring so many people. Actually, it’s rather strange of him to do that. Perhaps it wasn’t intentional.”
“The circumstances don’t matter. What matters is that my team was already on its last legs, and I paid you nearly everything we had to revitalize us!”
“Nearly everything? Hmm…guess I’ll just have to take the remainder during the aftermath of your team’s arrest.”
“You traitor! Don’t think I’ll let you get away with this!”
“Honestly, if you’re so stupid that you’d put your faith in me knowing that I’ve betrayed my own team, then you deserve what’s coming. Good luck trying to get your revenge from behind bars.”
The voice on the phone continued to laugh as the call ended. The irritated man angerly put his phone away and thought about what he would do from here without a team to back him up. He looked up at the sky and sighed.