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Princess Rescue Mission: Chikage Edition

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Chikage never intended for his director to get involved with one of his missions. The day he brought her back to the dorms after keeping her locked in his old hideout, he swore he would never let her get anywhere close to his life in the organization again. Izumi was meant to live in the light alongside her family, the Mankai Company, and Chikage took it upon himself to dutifully guard them from the eyes of his associates that moved in the shadows. His experience maintaining his dual lifestyles kept him confident that he could protect his theatre company, which made it all the more shocking that he had slipped up and given the enemy leverage to blackmail information out of him.

Hesitant in finding an unmarked CD that one day appeared in his coverup workplace mailbox, he made a quick scan of his surroundings before hiding the disc in his brief case, making sure no one was around as a witness. There were several scenarios that could explain this strange package - perhaps a coworker wanted to pull a prank on him so they could see his usual composed personality become unraveled, or perhaps someone was trying to discretely deliver a less-than-safe-for-work video to another, only to accidentally place it in the wrong mailbox. Being a place of business, immature motives like that weren't all that likely, but people are still people and aren't restricted to professionalism just because of their age. After all, his own roommate and coworker was the perfect example of an adult that didn't abide by the typical Japanese salary man stereotype. Unable to confirm the contents of the disc until he was in a secured environment, Chikage spent his workday only able to hope for such an uneventful explanation.

Putting together any reasonable excuses he could come up with, he was able to leave work earlier than usual and immediately set out for his hideout. He made sure to keep watch of any suspicious individuals who may be tailing him, and checked his phone for any possible alerts from his organization. For now, it was in his best interest to remain calm, at least on the outside, and keep the existence of this disc a secret for now to prevent any unnecessary alarm from others.

Finally arriving at his safe house, Chikage had two main objectives - check the contents of the disc and review his workplace's security footage (which he had made sure to copy on his flashdrive earlier) to find hints about who could have placed the disc in his mailbox to begin with. Using a laptop that was modified to be untraceable to him, Chikage placed the disc inside the CD-drive and anxiously waited for it to load. All that was immediately shown was a single video file with what appeared to be a corrupted name. Worst case scenario grew more likely to him with each passing second, and his suspicions were confirmed once the first image on the video loaded. Several emotions began to well up inside of him as he stared at the footage of an unresponsive Izumi, blindfolded and tied to a chair. Doing his best to maintain focus, he paid close attention to the remainder of the video.

"Chikage Utsuki. Age 26. Currently working as an average businessman at a prestigious company as a coverup for your real profession as a secret agent. We have been watching you for some time. We are greatly impressed with your contributions to your group, and your skills in deception and information gathering are quite the assets to an underground organization," the distorted voice played as the image of Izumi remained on the screen, "We have been foes of yours in the past, but we believe you would be a valuable ally and want you to consider partnering with us."

In such a short time, Chikage had become overloaded with information as thoughts raced through his head. Who sent this message? How long have they been observing him? Where have they taken Izumi? When did they find out about his connection to her? What would be the most optimal resolution to this? The video went on for a short while longer, giving him the timeframe he had to respond and informing him that they will notify him their location after two days have passed.

"Two days." Chikage quietly said to himself.

In just two days, this mysterious organization wanted Chikage to make his decision, and they were holding Izumi hostage as a means of forcing him to join them.

I had been so careful to mask any relation I had with her from my own organization, he thought to himself. Could this other group have witnessed us together somewhere without my knowledge?

For confirmation, he immediately tried to contact Izumi through one of his many burner phones. While he had hoped that by some miracle this was all some elaborate prank or misunderstanding, he was reaffirmed of the direness of the situation when she had not picked up. Retracing conversations with her in his mind, he tried to remember if she mentioned anything about her schedule today. He briefly recalled she would be assisting a friend with their theatre company and would stop by the market to pick up groceries. If she didn't pick up, she could possibly have been busy still working with her friend, but that was unlikely given the footage of her he had seen. Just for good measure, he did a quick search of the contact information for her friend and introduced himself as one of Mankai's actors just checking up on their director. To his dismay, Izumi's friend mentioned that she wasn't able to reach her, either, and that Izumi never showed up to her theatre. He knew it was unlikely that the video was a hoax, but he still couldn't help but feel even more distraught now that another person had confirmed his director's disappearance.

Chikage considered himself hidden well enough that he could walk right out into society without being recognized as a secret agent. The fact that another group was able to recognize him was alarming in and of itself, but at some point he must have been spotted with Izumi, as well. The guilt he felt for getting her and potentially the rest of his theatre troupe involved in his high risk matters was immense, but this was no time to dwell on his self-pity. He needed to analyze this video and the security footage as quickly as possible so he could formulate a plan to fix this dilemma.

Upon inspecting the video again, which never changed from the scene of Izumi bound to a chair, Chikage could not pinpoint any giveaways that could determine exactly where this took place. The enemy here was thorough in making the room look as empty as possible, aside from the hostage in question. It was a dark room with walls and flooring most likely made of concrete. There were no signs of light from the outside, so it was possible that this was underground. However, the camera never moved away from its position. Izumi herself had no noticeable bruises or cuts on her, and no one else had entered the video. The only sign that it was a recording rather than just a still picture was that Izumi's breathing was apparent. While this gave Chikage some kind of reassurance, there was no confirmation that anything was or was not done to her before or after this video was taken. If anything, her being unconscious in that position at all meant she was either knocked out with brute force or drugged, both of which caused Chikage to grimace knowing that such a thing was done to her.

As for the security footage of his workplace, it revealed even less than the disc. This organization must be pretty commendable to be able to corrupt the data without leaving a single trace back to them. The entire day up until a few minutes before Chikage found the disc were wiped completely. He had a general time frame of when the disc was delivered, but the length was much too broad to track down a culprit.

Chikage tried to think of more potential ways to find them. Could I send in this disc to his organization for a finger print scan? No, he knew there was still a traitor among them, and he couldn't trust anyone with this until their identity was discovered. Maybe I could get in touch with Sakyo and have the yakuza assist with finding Izumi. No, he should get as few people involved as possible. Plus, if Sakyo were to find out Izumi was in the hands of some dangerous group because of Chikage's carelessness, he couldn't guarantee he'd make it out alive from Sakyo's wrath.

Right now, the only trustworthy person he could turn to was...

"It's unlike you to slip up like this, April." Hisoka commented after reviewing the video. Chikage had called him to the hideout after reviewing his options, and Hisoka, being the only person who knew Chikage's real occupation, was made privy to this delicate situation. Normally, Hisoka could be found peacefully sleeping around the dorm, and his exhaustion held no exception for him at this moment. However, the stress of knowing his director has been taken by someone was enough to keep him awake and (to the best of his abilities) with undivided attention.

"I'm well aware of my mistake. I didn't call you over here for a lecture, I need your help figuring out who the sender is and where Izumi has been taken." Chikage retorted, wanting to save Hisoka's reprimands for a better time. He sat on his couch with his crossed fingers propping up his head as Hisoka stood beside him.

"They said they've been watching you for a while. Has anyone else gotten caught up in this?"

"Not that I'm aware of. As you saw, the video only depicts the director, and I haven't received any other threats. If anyone from the theatre was involved in this, I have no doubt one of us would have heard about it by now. I suppose that might be an indication that the enemy won't get involved with them until the deadline. Anyway," Chikage paused the video and adjusted the lighting, "are you able to find anything particular about this location? I've looked over it several times now, and it looks as though they've done a thorough job of making this place as untraceable as possible."

Hisoka leaned in closer to analyze the screen, slowly looking over every section of the frame. He let out a sigh and shook his head. "It's no good. I can't think of a possible location based on this alone. The poor lighting could imply this is somewhere underground, but it could also just happen to be in a room without any windows."

Chikage also sighed. "Yeah, that's the same conclusion I came to. I could give it my best efforts, but I can't confidently say I could find her before the two days are up just based on this video. It might be more productive to take a different approach."

"A different approach...like finding out who's behind this."

Chikage nodded. There was no sense in wasting time on a location with no leads. He should focus on figuring out who's targeting him, as well as a plan for when he confronts them. Getting a clearer picture in his head of what he needs to do now, Chikage felt a little less overwhelmed. He was still nowhere near a secure solution, but at least speaking with Hisoka helped organized his mind. Without wasting a moment, Chikage immediately started putting together a report of potential suspects based on his previous missions.

"April...you're looking calmer and more determined now," Hisoka began, "but there's still another problem."

Continuing to tap away at his keyboard, Chikage was still listening to Hisoka, albeit less attentively.

"April. The director is going to be missing for two days. The others are going to notice her absence."

Chikage immediately stopped typing. In his fit of panic earlier, he didn't even consider that the theatre members would be suspicious of her sudden disappearance. After all, it's not uncommon for the dorm members to have a meeting with each other when the director is out even slightly later than usual.

Hisoka continued, "The other members are going to be suspicious that the director has disappeared with no sign of contact. They trust you now, but they're all already suspicious of what happened back when you first took away the director for several days. If you're also going to be absent while she's missing, they're only going to suspect you more. Especially Sakyo."

Chikage let out another exasperated sigh and put his fingers to his temple. There's no realistic excuse that could calm them down, especially after the kidnapping stunt he pulled before. Chikage suddenly felt all of his regrets piling up on him at once. How the hell am I supposed to explain this...?

"...I'll come up with something." Hisoka spoke up after a moment of silence between the two. Chikage gave him a skeptical look.

"You're going to come up with something? You don't sound like you even have a plan. Don't go around saying something careless and making this situation worse." Chikage scoffed, irritated by Hisoka's vagueness.

"I don't know what I'm going to tell them, but they trust both of us. I'll reassure them that you and the director are safe and together. I'll also make sure not to let them get involved. You can trust me with this."

The confidence in Hisoka's promise reached Chikage, though he was still slightly doubtful of whatever explanation Hisoka would come up with. Unfortunately, there was no time to waste dwelling even more on a possible explanation. Chikage had chosen to trust Hisoka with this information, so he felt he should follow through with that and believe in him. After taking some time to think about it, he gave Hisoka a nod of confirmation and turned back to his screen. He felt a little better, reassured that Hisoka would take care of the theatre group.

That reassurance was soon washed away, however, as soon as he heard the sound of snoring beside him. Hisoka was now on the floor propped against the side of couch, sleeping away while there were more important things to be doing. I swear...after making such a speech about taking care of the others... Chikage couldn't help but clench his teeth, restraining his urge to violently wake him up.

After some intense shaking, Chikage managed to wake Hisoka up and reminded him to go and speak with the dorm members as soon as possible. As much as Hisoka wanted to be carried back home, Chikage had told him to "carry his own ass home and stop wasting my time."

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Hisoka parted from Chikage and somehow managed to drag himself outside, trying his best not to fall asleep on the way home. He was successful in staying awake throughout the whole walk, which took an incredible amount of energy after the taxing amount of worrying he'd just gone through, as well as stirring his head for a good reason why Chikage and Izumi would be gone for a couple of days. As the sun was starting to set, mostly everyone would be back by now, which was good timing as Hisoka had intended to give them the news immediately. Upon entering the dorm, he began to walk towards the lounge, where many of his dorm mates were already hanging out. Homare was the first person to greet him.

"Ah, Hisoka! There you are. It's rather unusual for you to be walking about on your own." Homare remarked, as he was used to seeing Hisoka sleeping somewhere at the dorm at this time of day. Or anytime of the day, really.

Hisoka stood quietly in front of his friends, noticeable trying to say something, but finding difficulty. Tasuku and Azuma seemed to pick up on this and gave each other a concerned look.

"I...have to tell you all something..." Hisoka managed to mumble out. Everyone present in the room started to quiet down, catching on to Hisoka's serious tone. "You see..."

As Hisoka tried to force the words out, he had lost a battle. A certain battle between himself and the irrepressible urge to sleep. The built up exhaustion from the past few hours had finally caught up to him, as he could no longer keep his eyes open. He heard the concerns and panic of his friends fading out as he slowly drifted away.

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Somewhere in the city, two people were discussing a particular plot to recruit a particular agent in a dark alley that was not particularly notable. A stack of money was exchanged from one man to the other.

"I appreciate your efforts for recruitment, but don't you think two days is far too long? If this agent is as extraordinary as you say, he should have more than enough time to devise a plot against us." The man paying the sum expressed his concerns.

"That's what you've got the woman for. I've been keeping a watch on April for nearly a month now that I've found where he works publicly. He's always been careful not to lead a trail back to wherever he's hiding, but I've seen him several times with that woman during his breaks." The confident man chuckled to himself and looked at the picture he had taken of Chikage smiling fondly towards the woman that they had now taken hostage. "Now that we've got her, we can use her as bait to force April into doing whatever we want. The two days will be just long enough to give him hope, but as long as you're the one in control of that woman's life, April won't be able to do a thing."

The now-a-bit-wealthier man walked off, but not before making one last remark to his companion.

"This will be the end of my involvement in this recruitment. Can't have my organization know I have ties with the enemy. You know, gotta play it safe and all. Give it some time before contacting me again, would ya?" The man turned back around and left.

The other man scoffed and started heading back to his own base. He took out the ID card he had stolen from his hostage earlier in the day and briefly studied it.

"Izumi Tachibana, huh." He put the card back in his pocket and continued on his way.

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A few hours had passed since Chikage had his discussion with Hisoka. He had tirelessly reviewed through his organizations former clients, adversaries, and anything he could find suspicious about his current coworkers.

- this group prioritizes a different skill set than mine - this group has no need for a Japan-based agent - this group has never been the type to resort to involving innocents - this group wouldn't benefit from any intel I can provide -

Endlessly sorting through information and reasoning why someone would want to recruit specifically him was not typically a task that would wear down an exceptional agent like him, but knowing that Izumi's safety was in jeopardy had made the search especially draining. Chikage had no choice but to pull his eyes away from his screen before his brain blew a fuse. Leaning back on his sofa stretching out, he stared at the ceiling and tried to collect his thoughts.

The more time I take recharging, the less time I have to rescue the director.

He took a deep breath and set his fingers back on his keyboard, readying himself to get back to work. Except, his fingers would not move as he wanted them to. Thoughts of Izumi clouded his mind, preventing him from keeping focus. All he could do was hold his head in his hand, grimacing while thinking about Izumi's well-being.

How long had it been since he fell for her? Not even Chikage was aware of his feelings until just a little while ago. After his kidnapping incident where he spent an excessive amount of alone time with her, he began to see positive qualities in her that he wasn't used to seeing in other woman. What began as feelings of disgust eventually bloomed into fondness. At first, he thought it was simply because of her similarities to August, although she definitely lacked the skills to be as good of an agent as him. Still, despite not being a complete 1:1 with August, Chikage believed he must have found her exceptional among woman due to those shared traits. Her obsession with curry paired with his love for spiciness surely also played a part in that. As the days passed and they went on more outings together, his feelings had become much stronger for her, falling harder each moment until his emotions overflowed in his heart and finally forced him to notice.

When Izumi spent time with Sakyo sharing an irreplicable bond of childhood friendship, Chikage couldn't help but feel a slight tinge of jealousy in his chest. When Masumi and Kazunari would practically hover over Izumi, making it no secret that they were madly in love with her, he felt the urge to pull them away. When Azuma would sensually flirt with her, Chikage felt almost possessive, wanting to be the only man who could make her flustered like that. Hell, just seeing her talking with Omi and Tsumugi caused discomfort to stir in his heart, knowing that they would be better men for her than he could ever be. These thoughts of jealousy floating around in his head were enough to make him feel embarrassed, despite knowing there's no one around to see him upset over a woman who doesn't even know his true feelings.

What the hell am I doing? I don't have the luxury to sit around daydreaming. If my feelings mean anything, then I need to focus on saving her.

Chikage positioned himself over his laptop once more, this time fully committed to searching for his beloved director. He started to tap away, only to suddenly be interrupted by of his cellphones ringing. Upon recognizing the caller number, he sighed to himself and, for the second time that day, had to repress the violent urge to give hell to Hisoka.

He knew it would be difficult to explain this situation to the others, and he didn't blame Hisoka for not keeping everyone calm. This was ultimately caused by Chikage's decision to involve himself with the theatre company, and he knew that. Still, he was really relying on Hisoka to at least make part of this easier on him. Chikage decided letting his phone ring for too long while Sakyo was calling was probably not in his best interest, and reluctantly answered the phone. Chikage wasn't able to get a full word out before being interrupted by a hostile Sakyo, however.

"You better have a good explanation for this, Utsuki. Just what the hell is going on?"

Chapter Text

My back hurts...

My neck feels stiff...

I can't move...

I...I can't move...!?

Asleep for most of the day, Izumi Tachibana had finally woken up after being kidnapped and drugged, although recalling those events came to her in a disconnected haze. Whatever drugs they gave her were still partially in effect, making any attempts to move or speak take several times the amount of effort. She didn't feel pain anywhere, aside from general soreness, but this was nothing to celebrate over. Waking up blindfolded and tied up in an unfamiliar environment was possibly the most alarming thing she had experienced in her life.

"..Hello...?" Izumi cautiously called out, her mouth being the only part of her that wasn't restricted.

There was no answer, except the barely audible echo of her own voice. Having been blindfolded, she couldn't verify if she was actually alone right now, but she couldn't hear anything moving around her. She was fairly certain she was at least not physically near anyone else. She tried fidgeting her hands that were tied together behind her, but it was no use. Izumi knew she was no master escape artist and that her most valuable skill was the art of cooking curry, and there wasn't much she could do on her own to get out of this situation. Unable to break out of her constriction, she tried to remember anything at all about how she got here.

This morning...is it still the same day...? I must have been sleeping for a while if I'm feeling this sore. I...am feeling a little hungry now that I think about it. The last thing I ate was breakfast made by Omi, so there couldn't have been anything in that meal that would hurt me.

There was nothing she could find suspicious about her own theatre members. She loved them, after all. Mankai Company was an irreplaceable family to her, and she fully believed there was no chance any of them would take nefarious actions against her.

I was...walking somewhere. I think I was supposed to help my friend with her theatre's next performance. I don't remember seeing her, though. Something must have happened before I got to her building.

Izumi was traveling by foot alone that morning, as the students and businessmen had already left for the day. The free spirits crew all had their own agenda, and none of them had plans to head out at the same time as her. This wasn't a problem with her, as she had walked alone around the city plenty of times, morning and evening.

When I had turned on a corner, I had passed a couple of guys in suits. I think I had bumped into one of them because they were walking so briskly. And then I was...!?

The day's previous events flashed in her mind. Her arm was suddenly grabbed and she was pulled somewhere away from the main road. Something covered her face and everything started to get hazy from there. She couldn't remember the faces of her captors, but she wasn't entirely sure they ever revealed that to her in the first place. Everything wrong with this situation slowly started to sink in, and she could feel her anxiety rising. She almost wanted to scream for help, but the fear from not being able to see prevented her from making any loud noises. Her breathing started to get heavier and more shaky, but she held her breath as soon as she heard faint footsteps coming closer.

The sound of a door opening and being closed again. Footsteps of some walking straight towards her. Was he going to hurt her? Should she start screaming now? A thousand befuddled thoughts sprang across her mind, mostly comprised of internal cries for help. Feeling some kind of pressure on her wrists, she involuntarily let out a squeaky yelp. Then, the binding on her arms vanished, and she was free to move them again.

Her first instinct was to steadily move her arms around. There was nothing directly in front of her except for an open space everywhere she could reach her arms out. Her next thought was to reach for the blindfold on her face to inspect her surroundings--

"I wouldn't remove that blindfold if I were you." a gruff, masculine voice interrupted her train of thought. The sound of an unknown man startled her so much that she was practically paralyzed, unable to take the cloth off of her eyes. She tried to form a sentence, a question, anything to respond to the man, but was interrupted yet again.

"You're safer not knowing my identity. If you value your current life, you'll keep your eyes closed and away from me." the man warned. Finally able to calm herself down a little more after a few moments, Izumi was able to speak again.

"Um...if you can't tell me who you are, can you tell me where I am?" She managed to force out a question.

"There's no need for me to tell you that. All you need to know is that you're not a free woman right now, so just be good, obedient bait and sit quietly." The man spoke as he started walking around again.

Izumi could hear the sounds of furniture moving around the room. She was anxious to know what was about to happen, but her main concern was the keyword she just picked up on.

Feeling more attentive, she lifted her head up and asked, "Bait? Bait for what?"

The man did not answer. He simply continued to move furniture around the room, and was heard exiting through the door again. Izumi sighed.

I want to scream for help, but he said to sit quietly. If I cause a scene, there's no guarantee someone won't forcefully shut me up.

Clenching her teeth, she was unsure of what her next move should be - if she had any options at all. She began to think about her troupe members and wondered if they were alright.

They've probably noticed I'm missing if I've been gone for a while. Right now, we're still in the early stages of deciding what to do for our next play, so they don't need me to come back immediately.

Relieved that she didn't have to worry about a performance being ruined any time soon, she felt her heart rate slow down and took a deep breath. Izumi wanted to reach out to her troupe members somehow, but she couldn't feel her cellphone in her pockets. She didn't even have her wallet on her. Feeling around herself again for any clues, she thought she might be able to tear off the remainder of the binding somehow, but pulling on it revealed that it was tightly constricted and she didn't have the energy to break free from it. The sound of footsteps came closer and she quickly straightened herself, trying not to make it obvious that she just tried to wriggle free. The door opened again and her nervousness crept up. This was soon subsided from a recognizable scent that filled the air.

Wait...is that...?

"Curry?" Izumi couldn't help but blurt it out.

Being the curry expert that she was, the smell that now entered the room was unmistakably curry. Izumi hadn't eaten for supposedly a long time, and the blindfold heightening her other senses made the scent all the more enticing. The sounds of tableware being set up in front of her could be heard as the smell of curry became stronger. She felt like she could lose control to her hunger and just start digging in, but the situation called for some amount of caution.

"Is this...for me? I'm not sure if I can eat this blindfolded." She quietly mentioned, hoping this wouldn't upset the man. He let out a sigh in response.

"This food was prepared for you so you don't go starving while under my custody. I'll go ahead and excuse myself, so you can take off your blindfold and actually see what you're eating, since you seem to be skeptical." the man said, stepping further away from her, "The food isn't poisoned or anything. If we wanted you dead, we wouldn't be talking right now."

Reminded of her own helplessness, Izumi sat in silence as she heard the man's footsteps heading to the door, opening and closing it, signaling that he once again exited the room. Alone again, she decided to take another moment to analyze her situation.

He doesn't sound interested in me in particular. He said I was bait. Who could he be trying to draw out by bringing me here?

She mentally ran through a list of her troupe members, trying to think of the most likely candidate. The students all seemed to live relatively normal lives. Some of them were more likely to get in trouble with gangs than others, but nothing that would warrant this level of crime. That left the adults - two men in particular who might have been the reason she was taken hostage.

Sakyo and Chikage both work in sketchy professions. If someone was going to kidnap me and use me as bait, they probably had some grudge against the yakuza or whatever secret agency Chikage was involved in.

Hisoka also came to mind, as he had ties to Chikage's organization, but he hadn't been directly involved with them ever since he lost his memory. She couldn't rule him out completely, but the other two were more likely to be targets. Strangely, this gave Izumi a small sense of relief. She had seen first hand the level of expertise Sakyo and Chikage had in their fields. If she was to be rescued by either of them, she felt a little safer knowing she could rely on them. Now she could focus on the issue right in front of her - removing her blindfold and seeing if they really gave her the curry she was so hungry for. As she removed the cloth and her vision started focusing, she almost felt like someone covering their eyes and being told to open them to reveal a surprise birthday party. The sight in front of her compelled bells of celebration to ring through her head as she clasped her hands together and showed gratitude for her meal.

"Thanks for the food!" She picked up the one spoon she had been given and immediately lost all sense of hesitation. The curry and her hunger completely overrode any sense of caution she upheld just moments ago, and she enjoyed her meal, not even thinking about the fact that she was still confined to a chair in a dimly lit room that resembled a prison cell.

A man keeping surveillance of his hostage through a hidden camera stared at the screen dumbfounded as his captive merrily dug at her food. The man who had been strict about maintaining focus on his objective and nothing else couldn't help but express a smirk, finding a new interest in her while waiting for his target to make a move.

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About half an hour had passed after Hisoka had collapsed in the middle of delivering an ominous message. His friends had relocated him to the couch, troubled about whatever he could have been trying to say. Omi and Azuma took care of checking his temperature and looked for any signs of injury, and were relieved to see that this looked like his usual case of drowsiness. Homare made attempts to wake him up with marshmallows, but each time he woke up he could only maintain his consciousness for a few seconds just to eat before immediately falling back asleep. His determination to prioritize eating marshmallows was almost admirable, but this was not the time to be eating snacks and taking a nap. Itaru had just come through the door, being the last person to arrive back home for the day aside from Chikage and Izumi. Sakyo immediately confronted him.

"Chigasaki, have you heard anything from Utsuki?" Sakyo's tone and expression weren't anything new for Itaru, but the sudden interrogation felt unsettling all the same.

"Um...he hasn't really said anything to me all day. I actually had to ask him about something at the office, but he left pretty early today." Itaru replied, not entirely sure what Sakyo was getting at. Itaru pulled out his phone and continued, "If you need to talk with him, I can try calling him now. I have an event starting soon, though, so I'll have to be brief."

"Forget about your damn games! The director has been unreachable all day! Utsuki's disappearance has put her in danger in the past. The fact that we've heard nothing from either of them for this long is a sign that something must be wrong!" Sakyo was on the verge of grabbing Itaru by the collar and threatening him until he understood just how serious this was.

Sakyo was used to keeping his cool when concerns about Izumi arose. He typically handled any sudden disappearances with a sigh and would go out on his own to resolve the situation, making sure to keep violence to a minimum. Knowing that Chikage was potentially involved, however, set off every red flag in Sakyo's mind. Neither of them had made any contact with the dorm members for the entire day, and now both of them were out late with their whereabouts unknown. Sakyo had chosen to trust Chikage once he proved himself to be a reliable team member after he had shown his commitment to his role in the last Spring troupe performance. However, Sakyo never forgot about Chikage's kidnapping of the director shortly before that. As much as he wanted to believe in the man, Sakyo couldn't bring himself to feel secure leaving him alone with Izumi. Now that she was unreachable and Chikage was the only other dorm member not yet home, Sakyo's suspicions practically possessed him. His intense aura kept the other troupe members in the room silent, immobilized by Sakyo's radiating intimidation.

Itaru sighed, feeling annoyed. Coming home after a long day at work to be immediately bombarded by a raging Sakyo was not his ideal scenario. Feeling exhausted, he tried to come up with some reassurance for the belligerent yakuza boss before he ended up beaten and bruised right before an important presentation he had the next morning.

"Listen, I get that you're worried about the director. I want her to be safe, too, but she's been out of the dorm overnight before. This isn't her first time going AWOL." Itaru responded. In fact, he himself had once dragged his director with him on an impromptu overnight adventure without leaving any indication of their whereabouts for his fellow troupe mates. He sure as hell wasn't about to remind him of this, though. "Have you tried calling Chikage yet?"

"I tried calling the number he gave me, but I haven't gotten a response yet." Sakuya now pitched in, "I've tried calling twice, but..."

He trailed off and looked towards the hallway leading to the dorm rooms. Tsuzuru walked in from that direction and sighed, having heard the last few bits of the conversation.

"Masumi's been calling both Chikage and the director's cellphones nonstop. He came to the same conclusion as Sakyo when someone brought up that Chikage wasn't home yet, either." Tsuzuru explained to Itaru that Masumi was in their room feverently calling them over and over again with no responses. Tsuzuru was usually the one to hold Masumi back from his obsessive impulses, but Masumi wouldn't tear his attention away from his phone no matter what he tried. Seeing his roommate in such a desperate state made Tsuzuru feel a little sorry for him.

Sakyo had concluded that waiting around the dorm was not an option at this point. Doing his best to calm down, he put on his coat and started to head for the door, but someone had grabbed him by the arm. Sakyo turned around to see an unexpected interceptor.

"Trust in Chikage." A groggy yet determined Hisoka mumbled as he tightly gripped onto Sakyo. It was no secret that Hisoka had insane athletic abilities and quick mobility, so he must have woken up at just the right time to sprint over and stop Sakyo from leaving.

"Explain yourself, Mikage." Sakyo demanded, his eyes boring a hole through Hisoka.

"Chikage...is keeping the director safe..." Hisoka said as he started dozing off again, "They'll be gone for a few days...please trust him..."

Hisoka was able to keep himself standing up straight. He looked back at Sakyo and their wills seemed to be battling out as they stared each other down. Sakyo opened his mouth as if he was about to say something when a hand rested on both of their shoulders.

"Let's not fight among ourselves," Omi protested, acting as a mediator between the two. "Hisoka, you said that Chikage is taking care of the director, right? Chikage is one of our teammates. If Hisoka says that we should trust Chikage, then let's put our faith in him for now."

Omi gave the two men a smile with a demanding expression hiding behind it, not loosening his grip until both of them gave him a nod of agreement, though Sakyo was rather reluctant to give in.

"No fighting, no fighting!" demanded a pouty Misumi from across the room.

"Hisoka, you're saying Chikage is together with the director right now?" asked Tsumugi, who felt more comfortable speaking up now that the heavy mood had lifted.

Hisoka looked away from him silently for a moment before turning back to him and nodding in affirmation. He felt guilty about lying, but Hisoka found it necessary to keep anyone from making a reckless move.

Tsumugi smiled in response, "Then we don't need to worry so much. Of course, I hope the two of them will be okay, but it might be a better option to believe in him rather than blindly search for them."

Relieved that the atmosphere shifted to a more peaceful one, Hisoka was glad he managed to keep everyone away from the issue. He didn't want to keep secrets from them, but it was for the best so that they wouldn't also get involved. His expression maintained its calm and collected default state, but he must have revealed some uneasiness by accident, as Azuma was still staring at him from afar, having detected that Hisoka was still worried about something.

Everyone, while still concerned for their missing director, gradually began to get back to whatever they were doing before Hisoka's chaotic return to the dorm. Many of them retired to their rooms, exhausted from all the excitement and having nothing to contribute except for their belief that Chikage would take care of whatever the issue was. Hisoka had decided he would take a nap out in the garden. Most of the dorm members were heading to bed early, so it was bound to be a quiet night outside. It was a good opportunity for him to clear his head and finally have a peaceful nap. He thought about reaching out to Chikage to check up on him using the phone numbers he was only given for emergencies, but his formidable foe named fatigue had taken him against his will before he could make a decision.

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Azuma quietly sat by the porch reflecting over everything that happened just a few hours ago. Everyone's favorite director had made no contact with anyone for the entire day, thus panic ensued among the dorm. Fortunately, Omi made the right choice to de-escalate the situation before anyone resorted to violence, but it was clear that the members of Mankai would remain restless until they had answers. Not to mention, Azuma had noticed hesitation from Hisoka as he pleaded for everyone to believe in Chikage's innocence. It's possible that Hisoka himself was not entirely convinced of his own argument, but was there anything deeper than that? Azuma knew that Chikage and Hisoka had a secretive history together, so Hisoka was most likely keeping unnecessary facts from his dorm mates, but just how heavy was the truth and to what extent was the severity of this situation? Azuma decided to take his time walking around the dormitory to collect his thoughts, stopping after noticing Hisoka sleeping against a tree in the garden. Azuma found himself a little envious of the peaceful expression on his face. Perhaps it was time for him to work his sleep-inducing magic on himself so he could get his prized beauty sleep. He headed towards Tasuku's room to let him know Hisoka should be carried back to his room, but came across another individual along the way.

"If you're having trouble sleeping, Sakyo, surely I could help you." Azuma playfully teased, beckoning Sakyo to come with him to ease his mind. "I was just about to head to bed myself after I get help moving Hisoka to his own bed."

"So Mikage's still out tonight. Good." Sakyo ignored Azuma's provocative suggestion, briskly walking right past the professional sleep assistant.

"You're still going to interrogate him after what we all agreed on earlier?" Azuma questioned before Sakyo walked too far off, now toning down his flirtatious vibes.

He turned his head to the side, back still partially facing Sakyo as he analyzed his body language. Sakyo stopped after hearing Azuma's query, knowing he was receiving a look akin to that of a mother wanting to protect her child. There wasn't a chance of Sakyo being intimidated by the likes of a soft character like Azuma, but he still felt a warning being conveyed to him.

"Anyone who didn't notice that Hisoka was keeping something to himself must be blind or ignorant. There's more to this story than what he's letting on." Sakyo exclaimed, clenching his fists with his back still turned away. "I've let Utsuki get away with this once, and I warned him to never let this happen again. I know now that I was a fool to trust him."

Azuma eased his eyes, understanding that it must be especially painful for him to be told to wait on standby while the safety of someone he deeply cared about was on the line.

"We all understand how you feel, Sakyo. It hurts to feel so helpless at a time like this, but there's no benefit to fighting with each other." Azuma tried to sympathize with him and continued, "Hisoka must be carrying a heavy burden himself. I'm sure if he felt comfortable telling us the whole truth then he would have done so by now, but he must be hurting, too. Sakyo, all of us here at this company love the director, and we know how much you love her, too. If you trust us, you should know that we'd do anything we could to keep her safe. Hisoka is probably making the choice he thought would best keep everyone out of harm."

Sakyo finally turned around, not letting up the hostile pressure he was exerting.

"I'm the only one here who could understand what I'm feeling." He dismissed Azuma's attempt to console him. "In all of my time working with this company, I've made tireless efforts to keep you all uninvolved in my occupational affairs. I've held myself back, restraining my own feelings, all for the sake of securing this company's future. I've eliminated anything that would pose as a threat, no matter what it would cost me."

Azuma remained expressionless, listening intently and waiting for Sakyo to finish his piece. Sakyo hardened his glare and continued, "I have no idea what work Utsuki gets himself involved in, and I had no intention to care until he let Izumi get involved. His deceptive nature was already a risky thing to let into this company, but now he's gone off without explanation for a second time with our director. I've run out of patience for him to get his act together, and right now Hisoka is my only lead to take care of this mess."

Sakyo turned back around to head for Hisoka, but was stopped once again by another troupe member calling out to him.

"We're not going to let you terrorize one of our members, no matter the reasoning." A deep voice exclaimed. Sakyo looked behind him to find Tasuku standing next to Azuma, looking ready for a fight if necessary. "If you're going to talk to Hisoka, we're coming with you."

It was just like the winter troupe's motherly and fatherly roles to step in when one of their own was in trouble. Sakyo had no further argument with them, so long as he could speak to Hisoka. The three of them headed to the garden together, still finding Hisoka to be peacefully asleep. Sakyo noticed, however, that Hisoka's phone screen was lit up, with the contact information of the man in question on the screen. It appeared there were several phone numbers attached to his profile, as opposed to the one number they had been trying to reach earlier.

Sakyo gave a harsh look towards the phone in Hisoka's hands, tempted to snatch it right then and there so he could finally give Chikage the pent up rant he had been forming in his head throughout the evening. Before he lost his control, Tasuku crouched over and gently nudged Hisoka to wake him up. This was a fruitless effort, as Hisoka remained in deep slumber.

"Aha! You should know by now that you'll need more than a soft tap on the shoulder to awaken our serenely slumbering sleeping beauty~!" A cheerful voice rang out loudly behind the group of men, and they turned around to see the ever-so-optimistic face of Homare and winter troupe's leader tagging along beside him.

"Homare, perhaps you should keep your voice down so late at night." Tsumugi let out a small laugh, reminding Mankai's self-proclaimed genius literary artist that a majority of the dorm residents were trying to go to sleep. Azuma chuckled at this unplanned gathering.

Tasuku turned to Tsumugi with a concerned expression. "You didn't need to follow me out here."

"I know, but I got worried when you said you heard arguing somewhere outside and left all of a sudden. I happened to find Homare on my way out, and we saw you guys out here together. Sorry if we were butting into anything." Tsumugi explained, feeling like he interrupted their conversation. Azuma shook his head and smiled, signaling that their arrival was no trouble at all.

"I simply came out of my chambers to search for my roommate! He'll definitely be needing a soft bed to rest in after having such an eventful evening!" Homare enthusiastically proclaimed, lifting up the bag of marshmallows he had carried with him. "However, if you need to speak with him, I'd be delighted to assist!"

Sakyo refrained from rolling his eyes, seeing that the entirety of winter troupe had gathered together, presumably to prevent him from dropping the hammer down on their marshmallow-loving amnesiac. The group of men decided to let Homare take care of persuading Hisoka to awaken once again through the use of his trademark marshmallow coercion.

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During his nap, Hisoka hadn't really dreamt about anything. His stress should have at least influenced some type of dream about the director's rescue, but he was able to fall into a plot-less sleep, the sound of silence in the garden whisking him to wherever the mind goes when it's not spinning its cogs. Unfortunately for him, his tranquil rest was short-lived once the sound of a discussion began to fade into his eardrums. Then, an unmistakable substance that he could recognize without even opening his eyes appeared before him.

Hisoka was able to chomp away at a few marshmallows before fully waking up. Before him was his roommate holding a bag of marshmallows crouched in front of him and four other men staring down at him with varying expressions - a sight that he knew spelt out trouble. Homare was the first to speak.

"There we are! I've successfully woken up the prince of naps!" Homare cheerfully shouted, Azuma playfully protesting that he wouldn't mind that nickname for himself. Homare stepped aside to give the stage to the others who were waiting to talk with him.

Sakyo motioned towards Hisoka's cellphone and demanded an answer, "Mikage. What the hell is this?"

Hisoka looked to the phone in his hands to see that Chikage's information was right on the screen. On reflex, he shut off the screen in an attempt to hide it, but there was no use for that anymore now that the others had seen it. Hisoka remained silent again, formulating a response.

"Don't ignore me. I know everyone agreed earlier on trusting in Utsuki, but I haven't made my peace with that decision yet. If I'm going to sit around this dorm waiting for him to wave his magic wand, I'm at least going to give that bastard a piece of my mind." Sakyo's aggression shot up once more, this time with Hisoka feeling the pressure of his demands. Still, he was hesitant to just give in right away.

"Hisoka, listen. It might help to at least let Sakyo speak to Chikage. If it will calm him down, that'd be a better outcome that letting him rampage through the city." Tasuku tried to persuade Hisoka into giving out Chikage's alternate number.

Sakyo felt slightly irritated that they were talking about him like a beast that needed to be tamed right in front of him, but he didn't let it bother him too much if it meant he could speak to Chikage once and for all. Tsumugi crouched down next to Hisoka, who was still propped up next to the tree. His soft expression eased Hisoka's tension just a bit.

"We've told you before, right? That if you're struggling with a heavy burden, surely it's nothing we can't all carry together with you. If you're afraid for our safety, we'll do as you say to stay out of trouble, but we want to help you before anything else." Tsumugi tried to sooth him and reassured that Hisoka didn't have to worry alone.

Hisoka took a few more moments to process everything, and ultimately decided to hand his phone to Sakyo. At the very least, he rationalized that out of all of them, Sakyo would be able to take care of any issues the most delicately, without inciting further trouble.

"If I recall correctly, the last time we were in a similar situation, you were too anxious to fall asleep. You seem to be sleeping pretty soundly this time around." Tasuku commented.

"That's because...I have faith in Chikage..." Hisoka mustered out. As Tsumugi's words rang in his head once more, Hisoka felt it easier to quell his stress knowing that he could rely on others.

After pulling up Chikage's contact page, Sakyo immediately began dialing the numbers into his own phone, ready to speak as soon as he heard the other line pick up.

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"You better have a good explanation for this, Utsuki. Just what the hell is going on?" Sakyo demanded answers as soon as Chikage had clicked the answer button. Chikage sighed to himself, preparing for a mental beatdown by the one man he wanted to talk with the least.

"I take it Hisoka's explanation was not sufficient enough for you." He replied wearily, already exhausted from his stressful day and knowing that he was about to have Sakyo's fury unleashed upon him.

On the other side of the phone, he could hear sounds of some other dorm members trying to calm him down. Tsumugi and Tasuku, maybe? He didn't have a clear image in his head of who exactly was listening in, but knowing that even more people could hear him made him uneasy. He would have to be careful with his words around the others. Truth be told, Chikage felt that if someone had to find out, Sakyo was probably the most reliable comrade, having the skills and background to protect himself if necessary. He would have to unveil only the necessary information to keep Sakyo at bay without inciting action from anyone else.

"So then," Chikage took a deep breath and decided to push through this conversation, "How much did Hisoka tell you?"

Sakyo explained that Hisoka basically gave them no information and just insisted that everyone trust in him. It's not like Chikage had any better ideas, but he figured it was obvious a reasoning like that would cause even more suspicion than a lie. Perhaps his honestly (or at least, the fact that he didn't make up a blatant lie) would be helpful in regaining the trust of his doubtful dorm mates.

"Then there's not much else to it. I'm securing the director's safety as we speak. This mission will potentially leave us absent for a few days. I can't ask for much more of you other than what Hisoka said. For the sake of everyone, I need you to trust me with this." Chikage carefully reiterated what he needed the dorm members to do in the most vague way possible. He had hoped this would be enough to suffice.

There was a moment of silence on the line before Sakyo spoke up again. "Hold on. You're securing the director's safety? As in, she's not secure right this second?" Sakyo's tone became increasingly hostile, and Chikage had a bad feeling about this. The yakuza boss continued, "Hisoka had informed us the director was with you. Let me speak with her."

Damn. So Hisoka did lie, after all. Would have been nice to get a heads up before letting Sakyo start digging into me, December!

He knew Sakyo wouldn't put his faith in him without proof of Hisoka's claim, which unfortunately was nonexistent. Chikage put his hand to his forehead in exasperation, readying for another attack from Sakyo.

"That...is not possible right now. Sorry." He knew this was not going to fly with him, but he tried anyway. He couldn't find it in himself to verbally admit Izumi's missing status. As expected, Sakyo was not buying this at all.

"I suppose you're not able to provide any proof of the director's safety. Is that what you're telling me?" Sakyo impatiently awaited a response.

"...That is correct. I can't prove that at the moment." Guilt began to overwhelm Chikage, but he needed to keep fighting. "Sakyo. I need you to stay out of this. I can't let anyone else get involved in my own affairs. Please trust me to handle this."

"You should have never let this happen in the first place, Utsuki!" Sakyo shouted, with more panic heard on the other end of the line consisting of his dorm members yet again trying to calm him down. "You can lie your way into tricking the others that you're capable of taking care of this, but you're not fooling me."

"Sakyo, listen to me--!!"

The line was cut off. Sakyo must have hung up on his end, leaving Chikage worried about the state of the Mankai dorm. If Sakyo revealed to everyone that Izumi was not actually under protection, let alone missing, he wasn't sure who else would insert themselves into this rescue mission. Cupping his fist in his hand to prop up his forehead, Chikage felt despair sinking in. Was there fix he could make so that no one else would get mixed up in this? Flashbacks of when he lost August started to play in his head, and feelings of dread and grief began to overtake him. He didn't want to go through something like that ever again.

Izumi...please be okay...!!

Chikage desperately pleaded for his director's safety. Had he not been an experienced agent, his mental state may have shattered from the responsibility he felt pressing down on him. Fortunately, he knew what he had to do. He just had to pull himself together and rescue the woman he loved.

A beeping notification came from his phone, snapping him out of his minor breakdown. It was a message from an unknown number, the contents of which Chikage braced himself for.

[Tomorrow - 21:00]

That was all the message contained.

Chapter Text

Between the panic attacks and his phone giving him bad news with every notification, Chikage felt like he couldn’t catch a break. Given a date and time by who he presumed was Izumi’s captor, the need to hurry began to set in. Shaking off his doubts from a moment ago, he quickly got back to work.

So two days basically meant a little under 48 hours. Relax, Chikage. You’ve worked under more stressful conditions in the past. You’ll find Izumi if you just set your worries aside.

It was unlike him to give himself a pep talk, but if telling himself that everything would turn out okay in the end would make his fingers move faster then he would sure as hell do it. Fake motivation or not, Chikage was now fully concentrated, feeling as though he was working at a faster pace than before. He had no time to worry about the Mankai residents and had no choice except to continue his search without rest. Whatever troubles he ran into along the way, he would just have to deal with when they found him. It was going to be a long night for the green haired agent.

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Back at the Mankai dorm, the group gathered in the garden were still gathering their thoughts on the phone call that just took place. While unable to hear the exact wording from Chikage, the winter troupe members could put together the pieces of their conversation based on Sakyo’s responses. Tasuku turned to Sakyo, about to say something, but the disgruntled yakuza boss acted first. Without saying a word, Sakyo shoved Hisoka’s phone into Tasuku’s hand and walked away. Anyone who saw Sakyo’s expression of a terrifying man ready to kill would have to be out of his mind to say anything to him. Turning back to each other after watching him leave, they debated whether or not to confirm what they had just heard with Hisoka, who was currently looking down at his feet, guilt eating away at him.

“I…can’t pretend I didn’t hear what Sakyo said,” Tsumugi took the initiative, “but you asked us to trust in Chikage, so that’s what I’ll do.”

Tsumugi gave a look of determination towards Hisoka, who still didn’t pick his head up. He only nodded in response.

“You lied about the director’s safety because you were worried about us, right?” Azuma gave his troupe mate a sad smile, “I wish that you hadn’t lied to us, but it’s understandable why. Thank you for looking out for us.”

Azuma’s expression of gratitude only stung Hisoka more. He gave another quiet nod.

“Sakyo’s conversation was pretty loud. It’s possible someone heard him from their room. I hate to feign ignorance, but for the sake of maintaining peace in the dormitory, we should act like this conversation never happened.” Tasuku mentioned. The other members agreed with him, hoping that everything that went down would stay between those who were present. Hisoka finally looked up at his members, ready to say something.

“I’m sorry that I lied to you. I’m sorry that my former organization dragged our director into this. If I could go out and search for her right now, I would, but if I’m found—"

“Now then, Hisoka.” Homare interrupted Hisoka before he could say anything more, notably speaking in a firmer tone than usual, “You must be overloaded with thoughts by now. Let us return to our room and retire for the evening, putting an end to this day once and for all.”

Homare’s grandiose expression made its way back into his voice by the end of his brief speech, and an affirming smile returned to his face as he motioned for Hisoka to follow him. The winter troupe was able to loosen the tension in the air as they made their way backs to their rooms, unaware that some members had in fact heard Sakyo’s discussion.

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Misumi stared at the winter troupe as they walked out of the garden. He hadn’t returned to his room at all that evening and had been on the roof counting how many triangle constellations were in the sky, at least until he heard other people start gathering outside. He hadn’t been able to hear the whole conversation, but Sakyo’s yelling was loud enough that Misumi had a clear idea of what was going on. With a thoughtful expression, Misumi stared back at the sky.

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In room 104, Banri and Juza were still awake. Banri was laid out on his bed with his arms crossed behind his head, irritated at the discussion he had just overheard.

“Aaaagh, dammit! How the hell am I supposed to get any sleep after hearing that shit!?” Banri grabbed his pillow and pulled it over his head, tempted to shout into it to let some stress out.

“Shut the hell up, I’m trying to study right now.” Juza nagged at him, not turning away from the notes on his desk. This caused Banri to instantly sit up and glare at him.

“Haaaah!?” Banri almost threw his pillow at Juza, ready to throw down with him, “You sayin’ you’re just gonna ignore everything Sakyo said!? No one knows where the director is right now. Hisoka lied to us! I can’t just sit still after he said all that shit! What’s gonna happen to the director? To the company? You tellin’ me you don’t give a shit about any of that!?”

“What are you going to do about it?” Juza finally stopped what he was doing and looked up from his desk.

“Huh? You tryin’ to tell me I’m useless? Huh!?”

“Right now. What are you going to do?”

Taken by surprise by the question, Banri cooled down and thought about what Juza just asked.

Juza continued, “There’s nothing we could possibly do right now that Sakyo can’t handle himself. It’ll be the same tomorrow, too. You can run around the city wreaking havoc as much as you want, but you may end up just making things worse. You may think you’re perfect, but you won’t be able to punch your way out of everything—”

“Alright, shut up! I get it!” Banri shouted back in response, actually throwing his pillow this time. “I don’t need to hear you using your fucking brain so much, it’s goddamn creepy!”

As irritating as it was, Banri had to agree with Juza’s argument. All Banri could do right now was force himself not to think about it.

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Next door in room 105, Omi let out a sigh as he heard his troupe members finally quiet down from the other side of the wall. He hadn’t expected Banri to calmly take everything in, but he also didn’t expect him to react so strongly (and loudly) about it. From his own room, Omi had also been able to hear the commotion out in the garden. Taking a similar stance to Juza, Omi felt it was better to pretend like he hadn’t heard anything for now. Looking over to the other side of the room, he observed Taichi sprawled out on his bed snoring away without any idea of the situation. Relieved, he felt it was better this way. Taichi was definitely the type who wouldn’t be able to lie to the others, and him panicking would only increase the already immense amount of stress floating around the dorm. Omi decided it was time to turn in for the night, his thoughts plagued with wishes for Izumi’s well-being.

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On the second floor, the door to room 202 had been shut as the sounds of footsteps returning to the hallway came closer. Muku was already sound asleep, as he always turned in early on a weekday, while his roommate leaned with his back against the door. Kazunari donned a perturbed look on his face, an expression not common to the college party boy. He may have played around a lot and flirted with more girls than he can count, but he always meant it when it came to flirting with Izumi. Even more than just his theatre director, Izumi was a special woman to him. Feeling his emotions about to burst out of his chest, he didn’t feel like he could keep his thoughts to himself. Already suspicious of the fact that the director was unreachable, he wanted to talk with someone about Sakyo’s conversation on the phone as soon as possible.

Waiting for the footsteps outside to quiet down, he made his way out of his room as quietly as he could manage. Kazunari didn’t reach out to Tenma or Yuki, as they were probably sleeping by now, for the same reasons as Muku. He had texted Misumi that he wanted to talk with him, but hadn’t received a response yet. The lights to room 203 were turned off, so Kazunari thought he either doesn’t have his phone with him or he was already asleep. He was too restless to go on a search for his neighbor, so he opted to visit a room that most likely still had both of its residents awake. Standing outside of room 102, he waited for his friend to answer his text, only for the door to be opened first. Tsuzuru let Kazunari in, hoping that maybe he could talk some sense into a dazed Masumi who had been repeating the same actions for several hours now.

“He won’t listen to a word I say. I’ve tried telling him how long he’s been at it, but he won’t respond to me and keeps trying to call them. He’s exhausted himself over the director before, but I think knowing that Chikage is involved made him more depressed.” Tsuzuru began explaining, “We don’t even know for sure if Chikage has anything to do with this. For all we know, Izumi may have just gotten caught up in something and her phone died. Maybe she tried getting a ride home, but couldn’t reach anyone and now she’s stuck at a hotel somewhere. She’s accidentally stayed out overnight with Itaru, before, right? And it turned out they were just playing games the whole time!”

Kazunari mentally commended the scriptwriter for his creative excuses for such an odd situation, especially after Hisoka’s behavior from earlier. Maybe he’s trying to convince himself that she was never in danger, he thought to himself. He picked up on the fact that neither Tsuzuru nor Masumi heard what had happened outside since they were pretty much in the exact same state as before. Kazunari debated whether he should tell them about what happened, wondering if it’d be worse to let them know that Izumi was in fact, not safe at all. No, he felt like he needed to tell them. He couldn’t bear to see Masumi in this state, hoping that learning the truth would at least exhaust him enough to force him to rest. It wasn’t an ideal conversation, but Kazunari still wanted to discuss the issue with someone, and this may have been his best opportunity to do so. He looked at Tsuzuru and then to Masumi, getting ready to deliver the harsh blow.

“Massu, the director is…” Kazunari started to explain, but hesitated to get the words out. Upon hearing him mention the director, Masumi suddenly jerked his shoulders and stopped dialing into his phone. He looked up at Kazunari, revealing his tired, yet crazed eyes, thinking that maybe there was good news from the unexpected guest.

“What about the director? Did she come back? Did she respond to someone? Where is she? I need to see her!” Masumi asked question after question, begging to hear that Izumi was found. It pained Kazunari to know that he couldn’t give a good response to any of his questions. Tsuzuru also wanted to know what Kazunari was trying to tell them, only for his thoughts to be interrupted by one of Masumi’s tirades. “She decided to leave because I wasn’t good enough for her, is that it!?”

Without an immediate response, Tsuzuru and Kazunari both stared at Masumi in silence, trying to decipher his thought process that led him to such an unlikely solution. Tsuzuru was the first to speak up, amazed but not surprised by Masumi’s claim from left field.

“No, uh. I’m pretty sure that’s…definitely not what happened.” Tsuzuru tried to convey his doubts in the least negative way possible, but it seems his words continued to go through one ear and immediately out the other.

“I understand. My love must have overwhelmed her. I was so careless, thinking that Chikage was the type to push others away without a care. He expressed no interest in her whatsoever when he first joined our troupe. He actually seemed almost repulsed to be near her at times. What did I miss? When did I miss him making his move? Seeing that my strong affections weren’t swaying her to fall in love with me, he must have taken the opposite approach to get close to her. Of course he was trying to get to her from the beginning! He must have fallen in love with her the moment he tried her delicious curry, since he’s such a spice addict. I should have kept a closer eye on him sooner. It’s been bothering me that he’s been spending so much time with her lately. I’d been doing my best to intervene when I can, but I didn’t think he’d jump on an opportunity to elope so soon! All I can do now is figure out where he would take her from here. Where would be the most likely place that two curry lovers would travel to?” Masumi’s distress morphed into a rant to himself as he sat at his desk and started scribbling ideas into the nearest notebook he could reach. Tsuzuru and Kazunari watched his explosive rant in awe, relieved to see that he wasn’t hovered over his phone anymore but now highly concerned for different reasons.

Hahh, yeah. This room must generate some strong creative energy, another thought that Kazunari had decided to keep to himself.

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About a week prior to the incident, Masumi had been tailing what looked like a date between his beloved director and his newest troupe mate. He had overheard the two of them making plans to go shopping for spices the night before, as he was spying on them at that time, too. He was being extra careful not to be spotted by anyone, as he’d been more frequently scolded for his not-stalking-just-observing sessions by his dorm mates recently, especially from Sakyo. Masumi wouldn’t have felt the need to follow Izumi around so much recently if it wasn’t for Chikage’s sudden change of attitude towards her. He had noticed one day that Chikage walked closer to her when they were together, and his eyes looked more softly at her than anyone else. Their discussions, despite usually being about spices, would run on for far longer than the brief conversations they held when he was still new to the company. When it was Izumi’s turn to cook dinner for the troupe members, Chikage would always volunteer to help her whenever he was available.

The worst part about all of this was that Izumi wasn’t denying these advances! The director was quick to turn down any moves that Masumi made towards her, even though he was always acting as thoughtfully as he could. She had known Masumi for longer, too, so why would she let herself be so vulnerable for a man she barely knew? What did Chikage have that Masumi was missing? Could it simply be the fact that he’s obsessed with spiciness? Is that how far Izumi’s love for curry could influence her? Masumi grinded his teeth as his thoughts trailed on, almost causing him to lose sight of his observational subjects. Barely keeping them in his sight, the two made a sudden change in direction as the director tugged on Chikage’s sleeve and pointed towards a nearby café. Chikage softly smiled as he let out a chuckle, words too far away for Masumi to interpret as he yielded to Izumi’s request. Tempted to intervene, he couldn’t let himself be found just yet. He needed to know just how far Chikage was willing to go to court the director. If he made any unacceptable moves (which, by Masumi’s standards, were criteria already violated numerous times) he would swoop in and rescue Izumi from his scheming rival in love.

Masumi relocated his position to somewhere he couldn’t be seen by the two, but still close enough that he could reluctantly watch them dine together. Chikage’s first strike was when they first arrived at their table and Izumi made a motion as if she was a little chilly. Chikage started taking off his jacket and started to pass it to her, fortunately for her to turn it away (because she didn’t want to accidentally get food on his clothes). The next strike was when he was holding out a spoon of food that he already ate from to Izumi, insisting that she try a bite of whatever he was eating. To Masumi’s relief, she seemed to have rejected his advances, as she hesitantly denied his suggestion (because he ordered the spiciest thing on the menu). At some point during the meal, Izumi had walked away from the table. Masumi hoped that this meant she was going to finally ditch him, but she left her belongings by the table, meaning she was probably just going to the bathroom or something. While she was gone, Chikage had called over a passing waitress and started saying something to her, quickly gesturing to the food. It ate away at Masumi knowing that he couldn’t hear what nefarious deed the man was plotting (he was just letting the waitress know he was paying for the whole meal).

Masumi regretted not hiding in the restaurant himself, willing to take the risk to know just what Chikage was up to now. As he scanned around for a better spot, he noticed that strangers passing by were giving him judgmental looks. Reevaluating his current position, he realized that in a rush to spy on them as soon as possible, he had picked the most practical spot for observing but not hiding. He was nearly squatting in the middle of the sidewalk glaring through the window of a restaurant across the street, so it made sense those passing by would be weirded out by him. Not wanting to risk getting seen by any potential nearby dorm mates, he would have to take his eyes off the pair so he could find another spot.

After a more thorough analysis of his surroundings, he found an alley not too far from the restaurant that would allow him to at least see when Chikage and the director would exit the building. He jogged around the corner, not expecting to trip over something that was hidden in the same spot he intended to observe them from. Slamming his body into the concrete floor, it took Masumi a moment to process what he tripped over. What appeared before him was a now knocked-over man in a suit, rubbing his head after the unexpected collision. To be tripped over like that, he must have been crouched over at the very edge of the wall, or so Masumi had concluded. The man quickly pulled himself up and apologized.

“Sorry, kid. I didn’t mean to scare you. Make sure to watch your surroundings when you’re running around, alright?” the suited man spoke quickly and immediately headed off somewhere, as if he was trying to rush getting out of there.

Masumi was suspicious of the man, and was confused why he was apologized to when it was himself who had recklessly run around the corner. There was no time to pay mind to that, as he wanted to get back into observation mode as soon as possible. He made his way to the corner of the wall and slowly peeked his head over, only to find a familiar face looking back at him suspiciously.

“I take it the director must be somewhere nearby?” Itaru asked, slightly amused by Masumi’s pouting face. Masumi nodded reluctantly. Itaru gave him a small smile and thought he’d make an offer to him. “I’m on my way home from the office and just saw you running into this alley. Figured you were off stalking the director again. Why not just come home with me now that I’ve found you?”

Masumi didn’t like the idea of cutting his mission short, so he was about to protest before Itaru interrupted him again.

“It’d be better for you to come home now rather than get caught by someone else. In exchange, let me know the next time you have a free schedule and I’ll try to keep Chikage busy for the day. That way you can plan something together with the director.” Itaru smiled at Masumi, who was now intrigued by the offer. He wouldn’t admit it, but Itaru was just looking out for Masumi knowing that Sakyo mentioned plans to be somewhere nearby at this time, and he was trying to save him from getting an earful later.

Masumi agreed to go back home with him, plotting in his head what kind of date he wanted to take the director on. In the midst of his fantasizing, he noticed a familiar man in a suit walking across the street in the same rushed manner as before. The man stopped in front of an old-looking building and checked his surroundings before he went inside. Masumi couldn’t help but wonder what he was up to, giving a questioning look in his direction before Itaru called back out to him.

“Hey, you’re not thinking of heading back while I’m not looking, are you?” Itaru asked. Masumi shook his head and continued on his way, quickly forgetting about the suspicious man and going back to his daydreaming.

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After recalling the events of his espionage, Masumi felt even more annoyed, remembering that his date with Izumi was supposed to be tomorrow. After he finished with his classes, he had cleared his plans to show off a new restaurant that served curry that he was positive she hadn’t visited before. Thinking about how Chikage had taken Izumi away and ruined his date, he started scribbling even faster in his notebook.

Knowing that there was going to be no rest for Masumi that night, Tsuzuru sighed and decided it was time to give up on convincing Masumi to go to sleep. He turned back to Kazunari.

“You texted me saying you wanted to talk about something, right? So what’s up?” Tsuzuru inquired, remembering that Kazunari had texted him.

Kazunari thought to himself again about whether it was right to tell them or not. With Masumi now focused on revenge instead of dread, and Tsuzuru appearing to have accepted this is the best state possible for Masumi right now, Kazunari revised his decision.

“It wasn’t anything serious. I just wanted to check on Massu. He seems to be distracted now, so I guess that’s better than before!” Kazunari let out a laugh and Tsuzuru smiled in response.

“Thanks for looking out for him. I know you must be stressed out, too.”

After saying goodnight, Kazunari headed back to his own room, thoughts still full of worry over his director.

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After a long night, it seemed like the next morning had arrived at long last, many of the boys waking up groggy after getting poor sleep from an eventful evening. Most of them kept up a straight face, hoping that it would at least appear to be business as usual. Omi could be found in the kitchen finishing up breakfast as the troupe members arrived one by one. Despite his best efforts, the usual delicious food that Omi had prepared was not enough to extinguish the tension that still remained in the air. Among the early birds were Banri and Tsumugi, two men that none of the other members ever expected to get into a fight. Banri was glaring at Tsumugi from across the table, looking like he wanted a fight, while Tsumugi nervously tried to keep his eyes away from him, feeling the intensity radiating towards him.

“Banri, you’ve been sitting there for a while without touching your food. You don’t want it to get cold, do you?” Omi tried to clear the air.

“Just not feeling too hungry this morning. Sorry.” Banri brushed him off, still giving Tsumugi a nasty look.

Most of Banri’s aggression was really geared towards Hisoka, but unfortunately, he was still asleep in his room. The next best thing Banri could do was try to intimidate information out of Tsumugi, who he knew was protecting him. The other members at the table, all unaware of last night’s events aside from Tasuku, didn’t know what to say to break the tension. Tasuku, sensing that Tsumugi wasn’t going to tell him off, decided to speak up.

"If you have a personal problem, take it somewhere else. This is the breakfast table and you’re making everyone here uncomfortable.” He argued, giving Banri a glare of his own.

Banri, now feeling even more annoyed, stood up from his chair and retaliated, “I do have a problem, actually. If you want me to take care of it, we can settle it outside right now.”

Tasuku almost took him up on that offer before Tsumugi grabbed his arm, signaling for him to calm down and leave him alone. Banri’s behavior was practically telling the two that he knew what they talked about last night, and he wasn’t happy to keep secrets from everyone. Unfortunately, the dining table with everyone present was no place to bring up a sensitive topic, so Tasuku and Tsumugi opted to not say anything for now.

“Uhhh…I was going to eat something real quick before heading out to work, but what’s with the air in here?” Itaru had just arrived, confused about what was going on. He had been gaming late last night for a gacha event that just started, so he had not paid attention to anything going on outside of his room. “It’s pretty unusual for Tsumugi and Banri to get into a fight. Did I miss something last night?”

Tsumugi and Tasuku both wore an uneasy look, and Banri was about to say something before a certain king of confusion loudly interjected the conversation.

“Oh!! Last night you missed an incredible event!” Citron exclaimed. Tsumugi and Tasuku both gave each other a look, knowing they had to stop him from spilling the details somehow, but Citron continued, “Sakuya and I performed the sacred arts of picking up chicks! We were busy well into the night!”

Any heavy atmosphere lingering before was immediately demolished by such a wild claim as Sakuya panicked, waving his hands in the air as he tried to clear the misunderstanding.

“Th-that’s not what happened at all!” Sakuya frantically argued, the rest of the table now confused and exasperated by the rush of emotions being thrown around recklessly.

“Picking up chicks…I guess you are a typical teenage boy, after all.” Yuki said in his classic judgmental tone.

“H-hey! Sakuya! You have early classes today! Why would you be out late doing something like that!?” Tenma instantly believed Citron and was now completely flustered at the thought of someone pure like Sakuya suddenly developing into a womanizing playboy.

“I told you it’s not like that! Citron, please don’t give anyone the wrong idea!” Sakuya continued to argue and flail about, his face now completely flushed with embarrassment.

“Things became unexpectedly heated! Sakuya was using every technique that I taught him!” Citron continued to blab on, despite Sakuya’s pleas.

“Huh…well, as long as you’re not hitting on the director, I don’t care.” Masumi made a quick remark and brought his attention back to his meal, too tired for the excitement from his troupe mates.

“I’m pretty sure ‘picking up chicks’ is meant to mean something else.” Itaru gave a small laugh as Sakuya rapidly nodded his head in agreement.

“We were just playing cards! Citron asked me if I wanted to learn how to play games, so we pretended to gamble with fake money and poker chips!” Sakuya was finally able to give an explanation, sighing in relief.

“Oh! I meant to say we were ‘playing with chips’! Sorry!” Citron laughed off his mistake.

“That’s way too far from ‘picking up chicks’! Are you just doing this on purpose!?” Tsuzuru gave his usual straight-man response as the rest of the audience to this manzai performance either sighed or groaned at the unnecessary chaos.

With the chaotic atmosphere starting to fade away, Citron gave a discrete wink to Tsumugi and Tasuku before joining the breakfast table and pretending nothing happened. The two winter troupe members were concerned that Citron of all people had overheard them, but thankful that he was keeping it a secret. Banri, still pretty pissed off, got out of his chair and picked up his bag, saying he was just gonna go ahead and leave for the day. Other students soon followed suit, Masumi heading out the door after Banri but not before bumping into Juza at the entrance.

“Hey, is Settsu still here?” Juza asked with a concerned expression.

“No, he just left a few minutes ago.” Masumi replied.

“Alright, thanks.”

Without stopping by the kitchen to pick up any breakfast, Juza quickly ran outside to catch up with Banri. Omi watched from afar as Juza rushed out the door to chase after Banri and sighed.

I’m leaving it up to you to stop Banri from doing something stupid, Juza. Omi thought to himself as he continued to act casual with the remainder of the dining table.

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Banri was noticeably still fuming and looked even more annoyed when he noticed Juza jogging up to him.

“The hell do you want, Hyodo? Aren’t you supposed to be heading the other direction?” Banri tried to shake him off.

“Did you say anything to anyone?” Juza shook off any aggression from Banri and got right to the point.

“I didn’t say shit. That damn Tsumugi sure as hell made no effort to hide his guilt, though. May as well have written that something was wrong all over his face.”

“You didn’t pick a fight with him, did you?”

“Dammit, leave me alone! I don’t feel like looking at your ugly mug right now!” Banri tried to get away from him, but Juza kept up his pace.

“You need to try harder yourself to conceal your anger. The others are gonna know something’s up if you act like this.”

“The hell you just say!? You better get the hell away from me before I kick your ass! I’m not in the mood to deal with your shitty comments!”

“It’d help to talk about it, right? I wanted to talk about it with someone, too. Believe me, I’d prefer someone else, but I don’t think any of winter troupe will tell me about it, and I sure as hell ain’t going near Sakyo right now. So I’m stuck with you.”

Banri clicked his teeth and stopped walking, dangerously close to wailing his fist straight at Juza’s face.

“What do you wanna talk about, huh? Weren’t you the one who said we couldn’t do anything? So what, you got a plan or somethin’?” Banri barked back at Juza, waiting to hear what brilliant idea the simple-minded thug could possibly come up with.

“No, I didn’t come up with a plan.” Juza replied, which made Banri stomp his foot.

“Then why the hell are you wasting my time!? Forget it, I’m leaving—”

“Who do you think took the director?” Juza’s question caught Banri off guard.

“What? How am I supposed to know that? It could be Chikage for all we know.”

“Maybe someone close to Chikage would know something.” Juza suggested, his calm and collected thoughts still very much throwing Banri off.

“We already know Hisoka won’t talk. The only reason he gave in to Sakyo is because he looked like he was about to kill the guy.” Banri was now able to tone down his rage, admitting he did want to talk to someone about the issue.

“Someone from spring troupe might have an idea. Itaru works with him at the same company, so maybe he would know someone who has a grudge against Chikage.”

“It’s gross that you’re thinking so hard about it. Whatever, we can ask Itaru when we get back if he knows anything. Maybe he’s seen someone suspicious hanging around him or something.” Banri decided to end the discussion there, knowing there wasn’t much else they could do until Itaru came back home for the day.

Juza finally parted ways with him and turned around, only to suddenly stop in his tracks to see a fellow dorm mate had been walking behind them the whole time, keeping his distance until now so that he could listen in.

“Someone acting suspicious around Chikage took her?” asked Masumi, as a surprised Juza and Banri stared at him for a few moments before shaking off their shock.

“Hey. How much did you hear?” Banri stared down Masumi, preparing himself for however the director-obsessed man would respond.

Masumi thought to himself for a moment, as if he was close to remembering something important. He looked at the two of them and spoke up, “I might have seen the guy who’s after Chikage.”

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Having been in an enclosed room the entire night and working nonstop, Chikage hadn’t noticed that the sun had already come out and the early morning had passed. It was only when he noticed the time on his phone that he realized how long he had been working. He had been engrossed in his search for the enemy, making sure to scan through any details that might point him in the right direction. He could feel his search narrowing to a close, however, as he was down to his final possible candidates that could have taken Izumi. Unfortunately he didn’t have time to keep investigating if he wanted to inspect all potential locations before his deadline, and he didn’t want to exclude any of the groups on his list just for safe measure. He began to pack together any materials and equipment for back to back infiltrations.

Chikage looked at the phone that he had spoken to Sakyo with just the night before, reflecting on the conversation once more. He was fully aware of Sakyo’s feelings for the director before he even recognized his own feelings. Reading people was one of Chikage’s many skills as a professional secret agent, so the signs of love were obvious when Sakyo would take care of Izumi in his own distant way. He would let her into his heart when he was frustrated, would occasionally look over to her when she was busy to make sure she wasn’t overworking herself, would offer to drive her places whenever he could just so he knew she was safe – honestly, Chikage felt like his actions couldn’t compare to the man who watched over her for so long. Chikage could relate to Sakyo in that they both needed to keep their distance from intimate relationships so that no one could get hurt from it, but Sakyo still expressed his love in ways that Chikage felt surpassed his own.

Seemingly insignificant actions can build up over time, and it would be no surprise to anyone if Izumi fell for Sakyo one day. When Chikage thought about how his mistake had led to Izumi being a hostage compared to Sakyo’s carefulness and determination to protect her, he couldn’t help but feel like his own feelings were futile. If the situation were reversed and Izumi was taken by one of Sakyo’s enemies, Chikage was sure he would be experiencing similar frustrations, but Sakyo’s care for Izumi made the chance of that scenario entirely unlikely. If she were to stay close with Sakyo instead of himself, surely nothing like this could ever happen to her.

Perhaps, once this is all over, I’ll need to stay away from everyone. Away from spring troupe, and…away from Izumi.

Chikage finished gathering whatever he needed and headed out for his first break in of the day.

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“Are we having curry again for breakfast?” a blindfolded Izumi asked the mystery man who had just placed another plate on the table.

“…Are you serious? I’m surprised you’ve been able to stay calm until now.” The gruff voice began, “You’ve been here for almost a full day now. Earlier, you were so scared you couldn’t even speak, and now you’re telling me what you want for breakfast?”

“It’s not like I was specifically asking for it! …Though, it would be nice.” Izumi began to argue, but then remembered she should probably not yell at the man who was holding her hostage. “The bed was a little uncomfortable and it’s weird wearing a blindfold whenever you come in the room, but you’ve been letting me walk around to use the shower and bathroom, and it’s not like you’ve really hurt me aside from tying those ropes too tightly.”

Izumi’s worries had gradually subsided from the moment she was taken until now. It’s true that she was terrified when she first arrived, not knowing where she was, but she had been given curry and was shortly freed to use the building’s facilities after she woke up. There were only two rooms she could use – the bathroom and the cell. Fortunately, the cell had a bed that she was able to use, as well as a table to eat her meals on. She was undeniably uneasy about being a hostage but didn’t sense any real hostility from her captor.

“A little advice,” the man began, “You should show more caution in situations like this. Maybe if you were a little more careful to begin with, you wouldn’t have ended up in this situation. It was way too easy to bring you here.”

Izumi, surprised by the lecture, replied, “You seem like a pretty nice guy if you’re giving me advice like that.”

This caught the man off guard. Being told he was a nice guy while he was holding her hostage? He couldn’t help but wonder what kind of logic went through her head.

“It’s stuff like that that makes you vulnerable to others. You must be the type that gets taken advantage of a lot.” The man laughed.

“Excuse me! I know when I need to put my foot down! If I was influenced by whatever people told me, I could never be a successful theatre director.” Izumi was upset with the man’s accusations, though this only amused him more as he continued to smirk at her.

“A theatre director, huh? It’s surprising to hear a ditzy girl like you was put in charge of a whole theatre group.”

Izumi groaned at his mockery, now reminded of the Mankai members. Images of them worrying about her sudden disappearance flashed in her mind, and her agitation turned into sorrow. Unsure of how much longer this situation would continue, she thought about how much she missed the others and became silent.

“Um…could you please tell me why I’m here?” Izumi decided to ask again about her whereabouts.

The man sighed, “I told you before – that’s not for you to know.”

“Right now, my troupe members might be out looking for me. Aren’t you worried they’ll find you if you keep me here for too long?”

The man became silent as he thought about a response.

“…One of them will definitely come for you. That, I can assure.” He said, which caused Izumi to lift her head up at him.

“Is someone coming!? Did you speak to one of them!?” she couldn’t stop herself from blurting out more questions. Just knowing that someone from the team was coming to get her filled her with hope.

“You’re asking too many questions. The more you know, the more danger you’re putting yourself in. You should just stay quiet and wait.” The man went back to his original cold persona, repeating his warning from before.

Izumi quieted down again, recognizing she had gotten out of line and spoke up too much. She was at least relieved to hear that someone would reunite with her, and hopefully soon. She could hear the man leave the room again, so she took off her blindfold to reveal a traditional Japanese breakfast – a small bowl of rice with egg on top and a bowl of miso soup. Disappointed that it was not curry again, she still managed to finish her food due to her restricted imprisoned diet. As she ate, she thought again about her current situation.

I’m free to walk around to this room and the bathroom when that guy’s not around, so it’s not like I’m being interrogated for information. He said someone’s coming, so that must be whoever they’re trying to target.

She thought about the Mankai members again, thinking about who it could be.

….Looks like I was right. The only people I can think of who would need to be drawn out like this are Chikage and Sakyo, which means whoever’s keeping me here had probably laid out a trap for them. They’re professionals, so I’m sure they’ll expect that, but I’m still worried. Sitting around just waiting just makes me feel worse.

Thinking about how there wasn’t anything for her to do while locked up except sleep, she started feeling nervous again. When she finished eating and the man came back, she spoke up again.

“Is there anything I can do while waiting? Sitting here in silence is making me feel anxious.” She decided to throw her request out there, convinced that even if she pushed him, he wouldn’t end up hurting her.

The man found her nonchalant attitude almost jaw-dropping. She was really asking this unknown man, who was keeping her locked up in a cell, for something to kill time with while she was in captivity. He felt like he should applaud her brazenness.

“I don’t exactly have games or movies for you to watch. Surely you don’t expect a man keeping someone hostage to provide entertainment.” He gave reply critical of whatever her intentions were.

Izumi took a moment to think of a response, then remembered her experience the last time she was kidnapped.

“We can practice acting together. We could do an improv skit!” Izumi enthusiastically suggested.

The man stood in silence again, completely in awe of her proposal, and replied “…What?”

Chapter Text

"Kazu? Um...are you sure you're feeling alright?" Muku questioned his roommate before heading out for the day, "I'm still a little anxious myself after last night, so if you need me to stay and talk with you about it, I can--"

"Don't worry about me, Mukkun!" Kazunari tried to reassure him and winked, "You've got to go to class, soon, right? Let's trust in Hiso-Hiso and Chika-chon to take care of the director!"

Muku gave a solemn nod and turned to the door, still deep in thought about what Hisoka said the night before. The longer he thought about it, the more his head stirred with increasingly wild possibilities of what could have happened to their director. Kazunari saw the worries overtaking Muku's expression and ushered him outside.

"For now, you should focus on having a great day at school! Yukki's probably waiting for you downstairs. I'm sure he's worried about you, too." Kazunari gave Muku a light push out of the room, still not managing to erase the grim look off of his face.

"Heeeey. Don't tell me you're still asleep." A certain green-haired tailor could be heard from afar, "If you still want time to eat then you need to come down now. Otherwise I'm not waiting for you."

Kazunari gave a playful look as if saying, See? I told you so. Muku gave him a forced smile and finally managed to head out. Once he was out of sight, Kazunari let out a sigh and closed himself in his room again.

I said that, but I'm not even sure if I'm up for classes today.

He rubbed the back of his neck, still feeling just as overwhelmed as the night before.

I wonder if Tsuzuroon caught onto what I was trying to tell him. He hasn't texted me or anything since then, so probably not, but...

Kazunari wasn't comfortable just waiting for the problem to be fixed by someone else, but he was at a loss of who to turn to. He certainly didn't have any secret spy skills or a gang of yakuza to back him up, making him feel helplessly backed into a corner. Suddenly, he heard his window being open as someone jumped in.

"Kazu! Are you okay?" Asked a cheerful Misumi who had just broken into the room. While it wasn't the first occurrence of this, the unexpected entrance amidst his silent thoughts caught him off guard.

"...'Sumi, you really shouldn't barge into people's rooms through the window like that." Kazunari tried to laugh it off with a smile.

"I saw you looked really sad through the window, so I wanted to make sure you were okay!" Misumi tilted his head, concerned for his friend.

Leave it to 'Sumi to notice that from outside.

Figuring that he'd already been caught, Kazunari decided he should explain, "I'm doing great like always! ...Is what I'd like to say. I'm just still thinking about the director, you know?"

Misumi listened quietly, nodding with an understanding smile on his face.

Kazunari continued, "Even after Hisoka told us to trust in Chikage, I still feel like I should do something, but I don't know what I can do to help. And..." He paused, debating whether he should bring up Sakyo's phone call from last night, ultimately deciding to trust Misumi with the information, "...I think I found out something I shouldn't have. Last night when everyone was sleeping, I heard from outside..."

Forming it into words was still difficult, and Kazunari found himself stopping short yet again. Looking away from Misumi's face, he felt his hands picked up and turned back to see Misumi clasping his hands together while sliding a Mr. Sankaku into them.

"It's okay, Kazu. I know." His friend comforted him with a soft voice, "We have to find the director, right? I know how we can help!"

Surprised that Misumi already knew what he was going to say, Kazunari nodded and listened to his plan.

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"Hey!! Just where the hell do you think you're going!?" Banri shouted as he tried to stop Masumi from running off, "You can't just say something like that and then leave! What do you mean you know who's after Chikage!? Hey, Hyodo! Don't just stand there, help me out here!"

Juza watched as Banri struggled to hold back a feral Masumi. Processing what he had just said, he walked up to the two and firmly grabbed Masumi's shoulder.

"Masumi, tell us what you know. We're going with you." Juza looked him in the eyes.

"The hell happened to that cautious approach from before? Whatever, he's right. What's this all based off, Masumi!?" Banri gripped him harder until Masumi slacked his shoulders, accepting that they wouldn't let him leave until he confided in them.

"It's just a hunch. I saw someone acting suspicious around Chikage last week and saw where he went afterwards. That's all." Masumi told them about his experience the week prior when he accidentally bumped into someone who was using a hiding spot he had intended to use to spy on Chikage and Izumi. "It's not much to go on, but I'll try everything. If she's not there then I'll just search every curry restaurant in Japan until I find her."

He tried to walk away now that he had explained himself, but Banri still held him back.

"That's too many restaurants, man! No, wait, that's not the point. Let's think before rushing into some random building!" Banri argued.

"He's right. We don't know what kind of security they might have. If this is some dangerous group they could do worse than just beating us up." Juza looked towards his bag, "Oh, I also have new candies I just bought in here. I don't want them to get crushed and go to waste."

"One of those things is definitely not important!"

Masumi shot the two of them a glare, "If they're dangerous then that's all the more reason to go now!"

Unable to reach an agreement, they were at a standstill. Banri refused to let go of Masumi, who was most certainly going to run off unless someone physically restrained him. It was only until a cellphone started ringing that the tension broke.

"...It's Omi." Juza looked at his phone's caller ID and showed it to Banri.

"He's calling now!?" Banri asked, grimacing as Masumi started struggling to get away, "Dammit, how are you so strong!?"

"We can't just ignore him." Juza answered the call, turning away from the two. "Hello?"

"Hey. Just checking up on you. I know Banri's upset about the director and figured you chased after him to stop him from lashing out." Omi explained, alone in his room so that he could keep the conversation discrete.

"About that...we're, uh..." Juza looked over his shoulder to see Banri constantly having to change his grip as Masumi tried to escape, "...it's fine. We're fine."

Omi let out a sigh of relief, "Is that so? Glad to hear it. Let me know if something happens, alright? I'll make something sweet tonight as a thanks for looking out for Banri."

Juza smiled, happy to hear that his troupe mate had his back, "Thanks, Omi. I--"

The sound of a bag falling interrupted his train of thought. He looked again to see that Masumi had pulled off his bag, causing Banri to lose his grip, and sped off.

"Shit! I told you to help, Hyodo! He's getting away!" Banri shouted and ran after Masumi.

Omi heard Banri yelling from over the phone.

"What was that? Juza, what happened!?" Omi asked, growing alarmed.

Juza clicked his teeth, "Leave Settsu to me, I've got it covered. I'll definitely call you if there's an emergency." Juza pleaded for Omi to let him handle it.

"...Alright. Definitely call me if something you can't handle comes up. I'll be on standby until you both return safely." Omi trusted Juza with his decision. Juza thanked him over the phone again and hung up, following Banri in his chase to stop Masumi.

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“You’re seriously a theatre director? That had to have been the worst acting I’ve ever seen.” The man keeping Izumi hostage laughed at her failed attempts to start an improv skit.

Izumi wasn’t fazed by the man’s criticism. She pretty much expected it, knowing her acting skills had always been well beyond subpar.

“It’s true that I’m a pretty ham actor. Right now I’m just trying to have fun, though, so it’s the passion behind it that counts!” Izumi exclaimed, causing the man to laugh even harder.

“You’re trying to have fun? Blindfolded, restricted to a windowless room, not even knowing the identity of the man you’re speaking to?” he was greatly amused by the situation, “I had always expected to put up a fight if I ever took anyone as a hostage. You know, kicking and screaming, that sorta thing. You’ve completely subverted my expectations.”

Izumi took notice of his phrasing and cocked her head to the side.

“Expectations? You’ve never kidnapped someone to hold as a hostage before?” she inquired.

“…I suppose if you’re just going to keep asking things, there’s no harm in telling you a little bit about us. Don’t blame me if this gets you into trouble later.” The man warned and continued, “No, this is the first time my group has resorted to involving a hostage. We’re mostly a hands-off intel gathering group in the first place, and none of my guys are particularly skilled enough for a real interrogation, let alone kidnapping someone whose skills were worth all of this trouble. You might think it’s ridiculous for a criminal organization to say they want to keep their hands clean, but you don’t need to use violence to get money if you’re intelligent enough. The only reason we kidnapped someone for this mission was more of an advisement.”

Izumi quietly listened; a bit relieved to hear confirmation that this person truly didn’t want to hurt her.

An intel gathering group…sounds like it’s Chikage they’re after, then. And an advisement? If this group didn’t want to resort to violence, then who did?

“So…was there really no other way to accomplish your goal than to kidnap me? What is it exactly that you want that’s so valuable that I need to be used as leverage?” She felt she may have been pushing her inquiries too much, but it was worth a shot.

“That is…something you’ll probably find out eventually. You should just be happy with the fact that you’re not in any real danger, though that may change depending on how all of this plays out.” The man gave Izumi a veiled threat, silencing her from any further questions.

Once again, she heard him leave the room as she let out a sigh. Back to silently waiting, or so she thought. Shortly after he left, the sound of many people’s footsteps and shouting became louder from outside, though Izumi couldn’t quite make out what they were saying.

“…suspicious individuals…surveying the building…get inside…should we do…” Izumi could only hear some words clearly, as the noises of movement drowned out the rest of it. She put her ear to the door to try to get a clearer sound.

“It doesn’t look like any of them are Utsuki. Bait them in and restrain them somewhere. Knock them out if you have to.”

“Where do we keep them? That was the only room prepped for hostages!”

“Just find any room and make sure they stay there!”

“Taking the girl was one thing, but two of these guys look like they mean business! Are we even equipped to handle guys like that!?”

“Then send everyone if you need to! We’ve come this far, we won’t mess up now!”

“Even though there’s so few of us already…understood. Let’s go!”

The man from earlier sounded like the one giving out orders, while everyone else must have been his lackeys. Judging by their conversation, Izumi started to reconsider the threat level of her captors. The man did say that they didn’t like to use violence, after all. A new problem did arise, however – the people trying to break in. Was it someone from Mankai? Another organization? Izumi had no way of figuring it out, hoping that her troupe members weren’t trying to do something irrational.

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Masumi stopped in front of the building he saw the suspicious suited man walk into just a week ago. Walking up to the metal doors, he tried to pull them open, only for them to remain locked.

“Hey! Are you crazy!? You can’t just bust in through the front door! They’re gonna know immediately that something’s up!” Banri lectured Masumi, catching his breath after he finally caught up to him.

“I can’t get in. It’s locked.” Masumi continued to try to pry open the doors, only to be pulled away by Banri.

Juza looked to the side of the door and noticed an electric lock that had a slot for a card to be swiped. “Looks like we need a key to get in.”

“Even if we had a key, we still can’t just walk right in! Think before running straight into an ambush! And we don’t even know if this is where the director is, anyway!” Banri was able to loosen his grip as Masumi let go of the door.

“Keep your voice down, idiot. Someone may be monitoring the entrance.” Juza motioned to what looked like a security camera in the corner by the entrance.

“Hah!? Who are you calling an idiot—hey!! Where the hell are you going now!?”

Banri noticed Masumi start to look around the building’s exterior. There were windows, but they were all sealed. The second story windows were too high up to check for openings, and despite the building being large overall, there didn’t appear to be any other entrances aside from another locked door in the back. After circling around once, the boys all looked at the second story windows once more.

Masumi took a step towards the building and looked at Banri, “…We’ll have to get in through there. Banri, lift me up.”

“I'm not picking you up! Hyodo, you lift us.” Banri passed the demands onto Juza.

Juza glared back at him, “You’re not leaving me out here. You’ll definitely get caught with that loud mouth of yours.”

“I’m not gonna leave you! I won’t be able to handle Masumi by myself so I’ll pull you up.”

“You’re clearly struggling to hold him down. Lift me up first and I can hold him back while pulling you up.”

“Like hell I’m lifting your ass!”

The two boys argued without even noticing Masumi trying (and failing) to climb the building on his own. The sound of a loud click brought them to a halt as they all looked towards the door. The once unresponsive lock now had a green light above it.

“Did the door just unlock?” Banri was the first to break the silence, quickly grabbing Masumi by the collar of his shirt before he could go too far.

“No one’s coming out, though.” Juza was hesitant about this, “They know we’re here.”

“Let’s just go inside already! They’ve already seen us, anyway. I’ll kill them if they really took the director.” Masumi continued to try to pull away from Banri.

Banri sighed and looked back over to Juza, “We don’t got another choice, do we? If she’s really in there and we leave now, they might take her somewhere else.”

Juza nodded, “…Guess there’s no other way.”

The three men walked up to the door, mentally preparing themselves to get ambushed the moment they stepped foot in the building. Banri slowly opened the door and walked in first, looking around and seeing that no one was there and that the lights were dim.

“It’s dark in here, but I don’t see anyone nearby. Keep your guard up and stay quiet.” Banri led the other two inside, still scoping his surroundings.

Upon entering, the first room looked like a generic lobby with an unmanned desk. The area didn’t have much furniture aside from some chairs and shelves, but other than that, it was pretty much empty. There wasn’t really anything that could be sorted through for clues as to what this building was used for. Another door led to a hallway that appeared to have several rooms and a staircase at the end. There weren’t any elevators in sight. Judging by the windows on the outside of the building, it was probably about three stories tall, so they had a lot of rooms they would need to investigate. Banri looked behind him ready to have a quick meeting with the other two, only for him to widen his eyes in shock.

“Hey, Masumi, where’s Hyodo!?” Banri kept his concerns as quiet as he could, whispering out a shout.

Masumi gave him a confused look and turned around, confirming that Juza was no longer following them. The sound of a thud brought his attention back as he faced forward, seeing Banri had fallen to the ground. Suddenly, a sharp pain entered his neck, as if he were being stung, and his vision started to go blurry. Falling forward, Masumi soon lost consciousness himself.

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Sakyo was sitting in his dorm room at his desk staring at his phone. He still wasn’t sure how to approach this situation, despite making a big fuss about it the night before. He stared at the list of contacts on his phone, hesitant about reaching out to his underlings. Was he really willing to get his whole gang of yakuza involved? Worst case scenario would draw them into a battle they had no right being involved in, not to mention sending a team of men out to infiltrate a secret organization’s hideout could pose several other problems down the line. He had already messaged Sakoda not to come by today, which only sparked worry in his devoted underling, but he didn’t want him involved in this.

Of all the times, am I really powerless to do anything for her? I could storm every building in this city and there’d be no guarantee I’d find her. Hell, there’s always a possibility that she’s nowhere nearby. If Utsuki has a lead, he’s already got the upper hand here. There was probably no choice but to leave it to him from the start.

He clenched his teeth and gripped his phone even harder.

There’s no way I’m giving up. Izumi is the heart of this company, and I won’t risk losing her. I’ll search this whole country if that’s what it takes to get her back.

Sakyo thought to go seek out Hisoka once more. He honestly didn’t want to keep tormenting the poor guy, but there was no one else he could talk to for any clues. He opened his door ready to head to room 205, but met an unexpected pair of visitors who looked like they were about to knock.

“…Miyoshi. Ikaruga. Stand aside.” Sakyo was about to walk past them when Kazunari put his hands up to stop him.

“H-Hold on! We wanted to talk to you about something!” Kazunari forced a smile, feeling a little nervous about confronting a stressed-out Sakyo, “Can we talk? In private?”

Sakyo raised an eyebrow to the two, wondering what they had to discuss with him. Despite not having the time to mess around, he could sense that they were persistent and wouldn’t just let him walk away.

Sakyo sighed, “…Make it quick. Come on, get in here.”

Misumi smiled at Kazunari as if saying, It’ll be fine! Kazunari nodded back at him and they followed Sakyo inside his room. Sakyo sat back in his desk chair, and without any place for them to sit, Kazunari and Misumi stood awkwardly, looking for an opportunity to share their plan.

“…So? Are you two just going to stand there?” Sakyo asked, ready to hound on them if they interrupted him for something asinine.

Misumi spoke up first, with a determined expression, “We love Hisoka very, very much! But we want to help find the director, too!”

The fact that these two overheard him last night was news to Sakyo, but he didn’t particularly care. He was going to find Izumi no matter what, so he continued listening.

“That's right! We decided we're both on team Frooch for this one! Hiso-Hiso's a good guy, but we don't feel right about sitting around doing nothing!" Kazunari chipped in.

Another sigh from Sakyo, "You two getting involved is just going to slow me down. If you have nothing to contribute, then you're better off waiting for me to take care of it."

"Don't worry about a thing! 'Sumi and I already talked about it. He's gonna let you use his secret weapon!"

Sakyo briefly tried to imagine what Misumi's secret weapon could possibly be. Was he going to turn his vast collection of triangles into a weapon? Would he take advantage of his inexplicable ninja-like reflexes and accompany him when he discovered Izumi's location? Pressing his fingers to his temple, he shook his head and tried to rid himself of these irritatingly illogical thoughts.

Misumi raised his hands up, "You can use my triangle network!"

Sakyo involuntarily looked up with a bewildered expression. Just hearing such an absurd name that was supposedly a weapon was enough to stupefy Sakyo and break his hardened exterior.

Triangle network? What the hell is Ikaruga going to pull...

“’Sumi! He’s not going to get it if you say it like that!” Kazunari laughed at Sakyo’s reaction and explained it to him.

As Sakyo understood it, the “Triangle Network” was basically hearsay from various older women around the city who Misumi would occasionally chat with while hunting for triangles. He was ready to brush them off completely when Kazunari chipped in again.

“Hold up! You don’t understand! He’s used this before when we were searching for Massu’s grandmother! It’s super useful for searching for people!” Kazunari did his best to persuade Sakyo of the Triangle Network’s viability while Misumi nodded along.

Sakyo was a serious man. He didn’t find humor in a lot of things, let alone the ridiculous plots that would often arise from summer troupe’s loudest members. In fact, most of his interaction with the two involved him lecturing them to quiet down or stop causing chaos. The idea of him trotting along town while leisurely chatting up old ladies in the middle of a predicament to this extent was one of the worst ideas they could present to him.

However, Sakyo’s only other option at this time was to interrogate Hisoka, who he was sure he had already exhausted all the information he could get out of him. Sakyo stood up and glared at the two, as they nervously smiled back at him in silence.

After a few moments, Sakyo finally spoke, “One hour.”

Kazunari and Misumi cheerfully smiled at each other, celebrating the small victory. Sakyo was about to leave the room, but Kazunari had one more thing to add.

“Oh, Frooch! Just one more thing real quick!” Kazunari was now free of the tension from before, which unfortunately removed his filter when dealing with Sakyo. “You’re naturally pretty scary, so it’ll be hard for you to talk to the ladies! Just let me and ‘Sumi handle the convos and you can sit back and listen in! Otherwise they might be too intimidated to say anything!”

Sakyo’s expression instantly became something terrifyingly incomprehensible. It was a miracle that the next hour went by without any severe pummeling of the summer troupe members.

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Somewhere in the city on a not-particularly-important building’s roof, Chikage had marked another name off of his list on his laptop after several hours of infiltrating and searching other organizations’ hideouts.

This one’s a bust, too, huh.

He reviewed his list over again, concerned that he may have overlooked something before in his haste.

Not much left to go now. I’ve already done a thorough scan of the biggest suspects, but none of them seem to be keeping anyone captive at the moment. It’s possible they could be hiding her somewhere else, but…

He looked at his phone with the message stating the meeting time. He still had quite a few hours to go before the scheduled time and was expecting them to send out the location shortly before that.

If I just wait for them to reach out to me, I might be too late. The location they send may not even be where Izumi is being held. This list, though…none of these remaining groups stood out that much to me. Most of them are only on here due to their close proximity to Izumi’s usual route around the city. If I just had more time to revise my options…

Chikage took a deep breath and pulled out another phone, dialing the number of the one person he could discuss his work with.

Relieved to hear the line picked up immediately, Chikage felt slightly calmed down. “I’m surprised you actually picked up right away. I was expecting to have to call a few times before waking you up.”

“…Tasuku told me to change your ringtone for now so that I would recognize it.” Hisoka explained in his usual tired voice.

Ah. I’ll have to thank him for his quick wit, later.

“I’ll make this brief. Keep yourself alert in case I contact you for an emergency. If I send you coordinates, I need you to head there as soon as possible.”

Hisoka took a second to process what he just said, “…Are you sure it’s safe for me to show myself?”

“No. I still have no idea if anyone who thinks you’re dead is involved with this, but I’m running out of time. It’s risky, but I’m running out of options.” Chikage’s voice had slight hints of desperation, which caught Hisoka off guard. “Please, I need your help.”

Hisoka knew Chikage wouldn’t ask him to put himself in danger unless it was a last resort. He also knew how important the director was to him. Hisoka himself was notably fond of her and wouldn’t hesitate to put his life on the line for her safety over his own.

“I’ll do my best to stay awake. Arisu picked out a ringtone for you that’s super annoying, so if I fall asleep, your call will wake me up.”

Chikage found the idea of a sound so annoying that it would instantly wake up Hisoka to be a bit comical, and he’d certainly like to figure out what kind of sound Homare picked out. For now, though, he was satisfied hearing Hisoka’s response.

“Oh, and another thing…” Hisoka continued, “you’re not alone anymore. Mankai is your family. You can rely on us to help carry that heavy responsibility of yours.”

Sharing winter troupe’s words, Hisoka quietly waited on the phone, sensing Chikage feeling emotional from the other end of the line. Chikage took a minute to pull himself together, his rigid expression not matching the rush of sentiments brewing inside him.

“Thank you.”

Chikage disconnected the call and packed his things together, setting off for his next destination.

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Over an hour had passed since leaving the dorm, which was longer than what Sakyo had promised the two summer troupe members. To Sakyo’s surprise, however, the information they managed to get seemed usable, which is why he let the expedition drag on for as long as it did. Once Misumi had talked with every kind old lady who was available, the unlikely trio began heading back to the dorms to recollect their thoughts and put together a plan of action.

From what we could gather, Izumi was last seen in the early morning of her disappearance. She wouldn’t have gotten that far from the dorm when she was taken, so she wouldn’t have met up with anyone else yesterday. A lot of the women also mentioned that recently, a building thought to have been vacated was being used by unfamiliar men in suits. A lot of them noticed this just a few weeks ago, so it hasn’t been in use for that long.

This new information didn't contain anything concrete, but it was at least a usable lead. Sakyo had to revise his current image of Misumi. He was aware that Misumi was an athletic monster, but to have a talent for underground search and investigation as well? Suddenly he found new reasons to keep his distance from the private life of the triangle-obsessed summer troupe member.

“Leave it to ‘Sumi to find the missing director!” Kazunari cheered.

“Don’t celebrate just yet. The location they mentioned is just one of many possibilities. It could just belong to a regular business owner for all we know.” Sakyo made sure to cut off any kind of merriment before they got ahead of themselves. “Save your high spirits for after we bring the director home.”

Kazunari gave a small pout, but soon turned it into a smile knowing that they had something to go on. Sakyo may not have expressed it, but Kazunari could tell his mood was brightened, too. Misumi, who had been walking ahead of them, stopped in his tracks after turning a corner, causing Kazunari to bump into him from behind.

“Hm? What’s wrong? This is no time to stop for triangles if you’re thinking of something ridiculous like that.” Sakyo was about to physically start dragging Misumi until he spoke up.

“Over there.” Misumi stared at the familiar bag that had been laying on the ground.

Kazunari looked over Misumi's shoulder, “Huh? It looks like a school bag. Could it belong to someone from the dorm?”

The men walked up to it and saw that a notebook had fallen out of it. Kazunari picked it up and began flipping through it.

“This is…this is Massu’s notebook!” Kazunari exclaimed, immediately drawing Sakyo’s attention. “It’s filled with notes about the director and a whole bunch of curry restaurants! What’s it doing out here!?”

Sakyo kneeled over and searched through the bag, finding his cellphone and other school-related materials inside. He was hoping that the explanation was as simple as Masumi accidentally dropping his bag without realizing it out of his depression from the director’s disappearance, but Kazunari’s observations only worsened his bad premonition.

“Hey…there are really expensive headphones in here. It’d be one thing if he just left the bag, but Massu’s always got these on him.” Kazunari furrowed his brows, “For him to drop everything out in the open like this is too unlikely! His cellphone, his headphones, his notebook full of notes of the director – he wouldn’t forget about all of this stuff!”

“Miyoshi. Quiet down.” Sakyo brought his panic to a halt. Giving a quick survey to his surroundings, he picked up Masumi’s belongings and handed them to Kazunari. “I’m going on ahead to the location. Ikaruga, stay together with Miyoshi and head home now. Don’t let anyone know about this yet since we don’t have the full story, but see if you can reach anyone who might know Masumi’s whereabouts.”

“You’re going alone!? We can come with you—” Kazunari was interrupted by Misumi’s hand on his shoulder.

Misumi shook his head towards his friend, “Let’s go home for now.”

Understanding the gravity of Misumi’s tone, Kazunari felt no choice but to go along with him.

“Try not to let anyone leave the dorm without letting on that something happened. If this turns out to be related to Tachibana’s disappearance, everyone in the dorm could be at risk.” Sakyo warned, only adding to the uneasiness of the situation.

Misumi nodded while Kazunari still wore a worried look on his face. Misumi ushered him to follow, and Kazunari gave Sakyo one last nod before the two set out for the dorm. While nowhere near an ideal scenario, this worked out, as Sakyo had already planned on going alone. He was just going to drop the two off and give them a similar message, anyway. Not really needing anything but his experience as a yakuza boss, Sakyo started heading for what he thought might be a potential location of the director.

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After returning, Kazunari and Misumi did a quick scan of who was home. Right now, it was only Omi, Azuma, Hisoka, and themselves. Kazunari had been texting everyone individually on the way back just to check if they would respond, and he got a response from everyone except Banri and Juza.

Looks like mostly everyone’s at school or work. Hyodle and Setzer are the only ones not answering, but they’re supposed to be in class right now, so they could just be busy.

Hisoka was napping somewhere in the lounge and Azuma claimed to be taking a “self-care day,” which left Omi as the only person he needed to focus on keeping in the dorm. Misumi, being the more physically gifted of the two, set out to wait in front of St. Flora’s entrance so that he could walk the two younger members home. Kazunari stood by Omi’s dorm room trying not to act suspicious, but couldn’t help but jump when the door opened as Omi walked out.

“Omimi! You going somewhere?” Kazunari greeted his dormmate upon seeing him exit his room.

“Oh, Miyoshi.” Omi greeted him back with a smile. “I was about to head out to get groceries for the dorm. The director had planned on going yesterday, but…”

He started to trail off, Kazunari aware of the rest of that statement.

“I, uh…!” Kazunari was struggling to come up with an excuse, “I think I already saw some stuff in the fridge! It’d be easier to use what we have, right?”

“Ah, yeah. I saw some stuff, but not enough for all of us tonight. We just barely had enough, yesterday.” Omi let out a small chuckle, “Well then, I’ll be off.”

“W-Wait!” Kazunari was running through his brain for any reason he could find, Omi now looking back at him confused. “It…It’s safer for you to stay home!”

A lightbulb went off in Omi’s head, now understanding Kazunari’s franticness. Some of it, anyway. “I see. You’re worried about me because of the director’s disappearance, right?”

“Uh…yeah. Yeah! There’s always the possibility that someone might come for you, right? I’m just, uh, looking out for you!”

“Thanks, I appreciate the thought. But…” Omi chuckled again, “I don’t think I’ll need to worry about that. Not to pat my own back, but I’m pretty confident I can handle myself in a fight.”

“Aah, right!” Kazunari forced out a laugh, but felt a little better once he realized that Omi was right. He probably was the last guy from the dorm that someone would mess with aside from Sakyo himself. Kazunari was about to let him go, but remembered to ask, “Oh! Before you go, have you heard from Hyodle or Setzer recently?”

The question set off an alarm in Omi’s head as he remembered his phone call with Juza earlier. His tone turned serious, “Not in the past few hours. Why do you ask?”

His expression grew dark, the intensity startling Kazunari.

“What? Oh, I was just trying to get their opinion on something!” Kazunari tried to laugh off his nervousness, “They must be in class!”

Omi thought to himself, recalling Juza’s promise to call for his help if he needed it. He looked back at Kazunari, “Why those two in particular?”

“Th-That’s, uh…! Omimi, your face is starting to scare me!” Kazunari partially raised his hands up and started backing away.

Omi realized his wolf-like intensity and backed off. “…Sorry. Miyoshi, do you know something about them?”

Kazunari looked at his feet and back to Omi. “Let’s go back to my room. I need to show you something.”

Omi nodded and walked with him to 202. Upon shutting the door, Kazunari brought out Masumi’s backpack that was found earlier.

“’Sumi and I found this when we were just around the corner. It’s got all of Massu’s belongings that he took with him today.” Kazunari explained as Omi investigated the bag. “We didn’t want to alarm anyone in case we were mistaken, but we thought this could be related to the director, somehow.”

Omi took a moment to analyze the situation. “I see. This morning, I was worried that Banri was going to run off on his own to look for the director, so I called Juza to see if he stopped him. I had thought everything was fine, but then something strange happened.” Omi told his end of the story as Kazunari listened intently, explaining that the call ended with Juza asking for Omi to trust him with Banri. Unfortunately, Juza didn’t give any details, but said he would call in an emergency.

So Setzer and Hyodle got taken too!? No, that’s just jumping to conclusions. Still…

“And you hadn’t heard back from either of them since then?”

Omi shook his head, both of them thinking that something could have happened to the two of them before Juza had the chance to call for help.

That’s four missing people, now. Is someone coming after Mankai? Wait, Chika-chon was involved in this, right? Hiso-Hiso was covering for him, so there had to be a reason for that. Was it right to send out ‘Sumi on his own? I should—

A hand rested on his shoulder. Kazunari didn’t even realize it, but he had been shivering at the thought of what was happening, and Omi had brought him back to his senses.

“You were right not to alarm everyone without knowing everything. For now, let’s just call an emergency meeting in the group chat for everyone to come home, and try to stick together with someone else if possible.” Omi’s calm demeanor eased Kazunari’s tension. The two quickly sent out a message to everyone, not revealing exactly what’s going on, but stressing to come home as soon as they could.

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Chikage had nearly finished going through his list of candidates. Still without any luck, his next target was one of the proximity-based locations. He had considerably low expectations for this one. According to the information he gathered on them, this group had a non-existent history of violence. They’re only redeeming quality was their lack of renown, which was valued in an organization devoted to secrecy, but even that was a quality he had noticed diminished in recent years. In Chikage’s opinion, this group was ready to collapse at any moment. The only motive they could have to recruit him would be desperation – the willingness to put their faith in a complete outsider to bring them back up from the ashes. In this line of work, it was a pretty pitiful move, but Chikage could consider himself even more pitiful due to the fact that he was trailed and baited in the first place.

Giving the building a quick overview from the shadows, he saw a familiar face walking right up to the door, seemingly without a care in the world about how risky that was.

I knew he wasn’t going to listen to me, but what’s Sakyo thinking!?

Chikage slowly moved closer, careful to avoid any hidden cameras he spotted along the way. Fortunately, before Sakyo could get close to the entrance, he stopped to look at his phone. Chikage felt a vibration from his cellphone used exclusively for Mankai members, which he kept on during this mission in case of any urgent updates. He checked his messages to see a new notification from Omi.

Omi Fushimi

Requesting an urgent meeting for all Mankai troupe members. Please come back to the dorm as soon as you can, preferably with someone with you at all times.

A brief, but informative message of the situation back home. Seems like this mission didn’t turn out as secretive as he’d hoped, but he was relieved to see that Omi was advising caution.

“Those idiots. I told them not to reveal anything that would cause panic!” Sakyo grumbled to himself, causing Chikage to look back at him.

Deciding it would be better to stop Sakyo from just waltzing right into enemy territory, Chikage walked out of the shadows within Sakyo’s view. The two stared each other down, Sakyo being the first to speak.

“The fact that you’re here makes this place even more suspicious. So? Have you found the director yet?” Sakyo stayed to the point, not letting his emotions get the best of him.

Chikage paused for a moment, “Nope. This place is my next target to investigate. You’re right, though. Seeing that you found this place as well only makes it more likely that the director’s here.”

“Tell me, Utsuki.” Sakyo hardened his glare, “I can understand taking the director to get your attention. The way you’ve been hovering over her recently has been your worst attempt at discretion to date, so it’s no wonder that someone would try to use her as bait for you.”

Sakyo’s accusations stung, but it’s not like Chikage could deny it. Even Chikage knew how comfortable he had gotten with the members of Mankai, especially with Izumi. He responded, “Unfortunately, I have no rebuttal for that. Sorry for making it so obvious when you’re clearly in love with her, yourself.” Expecting retaliation from Sakyo, he instead heard an unexpected question.

“Save me your sassy retorts. Are you really so careless that you’d let your relation to everyone else in the company become known?”

Chikage raised an eyebrow at this, not sure what Sakyo was getting at. “The entire company? What are you…” it clicked. “What happened? Did someone get hurt?”

“Usui appears to have gone missing.” Sakyo briefly explained that this didn’t seem like a normal case, as his belongings were randomly found tossed on a sidewalk.

Hearing this news, Chikage’s expression grew dark. “…If they know my relation to the Mankai Company, it’s not unlikely that they’d go after other members.”

Omi’s text suddenly made more sense, and Chikage was all the more thankful for it.

“Let’s not idly stand here, then.” Chikage led Sakyo behind the building, using his tools to deactivate any nearby security cameras and decrypt the electronic lock.

Chikage knew that just because they weren’t using the front door doesn’t mean the enemy wouldn’t be ready for them. While this group didn’t appear to be threatening from the outside, there may have been internal changes that he hadn’t been aware of. Sakyo and Chikage entered with caution into the dimly lit building. The two of them could sense eyes on them the moment they stepped through the door, and they intended to strike first.

“Don’t fall behind, old man.” Chikage taunted, rushing towards the nearest enemy presence.

“Hah? Worry about yourself.” Sakyo followed suit.

Being experienced with similar scenarios aided them in taking out all the men within the nearby vicinity. They were close to a staircase, but still had some rooms left to check on the first floor before heading up. Giving the remainder of the first floor rooms a quick glance, all being empty aside from regular office supplies, they decided to head upstairs.

“It’d be faster if we split up. I’ll go up to third and you check on second.” Chikage suggested, thinking that they’d be fine with their skillsets to take on any enemies alone.

Sakyo clicked his teeth, “I don’t need you giving me orders, but fine. Don’t get yourself caught by amateurs like these.” Exiting the stairwell, Sakyo moved into the second floor hallway as he parted with Chikage, who continued upwards.

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The layout was pretty much identical to the first floor, and Sakyo concluded that this was just a regular office building being used as a temporary base for some criminals. He decided to give a quick look over some papers and materials as he passed by them while investigating. Most of them consisted of financial reports, which could possibly have been left by the building’s prior tenants. One item on the desk particularly caught his eye.

Tachibana’s ID!?

He picked up the ID card, feeling angrier knowing this low-life group of criminals did in fact have her hidden somewhere. He felt enemy presence approach him again as the sounds of movement grew closer. Soon, he was surrounded by a small group of men.

“H-Hey…is this the guy? He’s got glasses…”

“Idiot. Didn’t you see the picture? Utsuki ain’t blond.”

“I thought he was told to come alone! What are all these guys doing here!?”

The mention of Chikage’s name caught Sakyo’s attention. Not that he wasn’t already convinced of his involvement, though it sounded like they weren’t the first to arrive.

“You punks. I’ll give you one chance to tell me where Tachibana is before I kick your ass.” Sakyo threatened, his intense gaze causing a shock to go through their spines.

“D-Don’t try to give us orders! We’ve already taken out three guys, ya know!?” One of the men tried to put on a tough front, not at all fazing Sakyo.

Hearing that they “took out” three guys was worrying to Sakyo, but it didn’t deter him from beating up the group of men who had no intention of giving him information. Quickly knocking them all out, he ran back out into the hall and checked the other rooms. He heard voices coming from further down.

“Damn, I can’t move my arms at all! I swear once I get out of here I’ll kill those guys!”

“…My bag’s been totally crushed.”

“Could you not worry about your damn candy right now!? Help me get this rope off!”

“I’m tied up, too. I knew something like this would happen if we just rushed in here.”

“Shut up! You were the first one to get caught, so this is your fault!”

Sakyo was familiar with those voices. Irritation slowly forming on his face, he was sure to give them a stern lecture later after he dragged them both back to the dorm. He opened the door to the noisy room, startling the tied-up men.

“Hey. What the hell do you think you’re doing, getting caught up in this?” Sakyo’s terrifying expression left Banri and Juza speechless for a moment, stunned both by the surprise of seeing him and the fear that they weren’t going to get off easy later.

Sakyo also saw Masumi tied up next to them, sitting sullenly without a word . The sight of his safety was a relief, but Izumi was still nowhere in sight.

“Sakyo! Cut off these ropes!” Banri tried to wriggle his arms, showing that the ropes were too tight to pull off.

Juza looked away from him, “…Sorry about this.”

Sakyo sighed and pulled out his pocketknife, freeing the three men. “How the three of you got captured by these incompetent fools is beyond me. Try and think next time before getting caught in a blatant trap.”

“We came here because of this guy.” Banri motioned to Masumi and explained what happened. The pieces began to line up in Sakyo’s head as Banri continued, “We didn’t get very far before being knocked out with some drug, so we still have no idea if the director’s even here.”

Sakyo stared at Masumi, “Well, your instincts aren’t bad if they led you here. Looks like that’s the first good thing that’s come out of your stalking habits, which are going to end immediately, by the way.” Sakyo gave a reluctant compliment to Masumi’s intuition, as the boy looked back at him trying to figure out what he meant. Sakyo pulled our Izumi’s ID card and held it up to them, alerting the three men. “I still haven’t located her yet, but these men are responsible for taking her.”

Masumi immediately tried to dart off, caught again by his shirt collar. Banri and Sakyo both holding him back this time, he was definitely not breaking away from them.

“Those bastards…I’ll kill them…” Masumi mumbled to himself.

“Utsuki is here, too, investigating the third floor. I’ve mostly finished checking around here, so we’ll go meet with him now.” Sakyo informed them and led the way to the staircase. “Keep alert for anyone trying to sneak up on you. I’m not responsible for you getting caught again.”

“Believe me, there’s no way they’ll get me twice now that I know they have the director.” Banri grimaced, fired up for a fight.

“Masumi, stay close to me.” Juza took charge of making sure the most vulnerable of the four wouldn’t get hurt, but Masumi’s pure rage gave him the confidence to fight a hundred men if he had to.

They reached the staircase without issue and headed up, unaware that one person had been keeping an eye on them from his security camera.

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Chikage briskly made his way through the third floor, investigating every room he passed along the way. He had run into a few lackeys, who were no trouble at all for him

This group’s as weak as I imagined. Could they really have Izumi here?

With only a few rooms left to check, he noticed one door had a different lock on it than the others. Nothing so spectacular that Chikage couldn’t break into it, but notably more heavy duty than any of the previous locks in the building.

They’re really this obvious with their work? Either they’re really that inept at being secret agents or this is a trap.

The ease of infiltrating this building left Chikage not knowing what kind of impression he had of them. Everything involving investigating and infiltrating this group had been such a breeze that there was always the possibility it was just a trap to loosen his guard. Staying cautious, he unlocked the door and slowly opened it, eyes wide open at the sight in front of him.

Izumi Tachibana was right there, not even tied up to the chair she was sitting in, yet blindfolded resting her head on her arms. The sound of the door creaking open caused her to lift her head.

“You’re back so soon. Are you bringing me lunch now?” she asked curiously.

The casualness of her approach to what she assumed to be her captor was worrisome, but the rush of emotion from finally seeing her, unharmed and acting like usual, prompted him to run over to her. All suspicions of a trap escaped his mind as the only thing he could think about was holding her in his arms.

“Izumi!” he shouted, the familiar voice startling her.

“Huh? You’re—mmph!?” Izumi was about to put a face to the voice, when her train of thought was cut off by something soft pressing against her lips.

Feeling her face cradled in someone’s hands, she was too stunned by his actions to actually react. Her lips released and his hands pulling away from her face, moving to the back of her head, the blindfold she wore was unknotted, revealing her rescuer, Chikage Utsuki.

Chapter Text

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.

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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.

"Well..."

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...!"

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"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.”

“Probably!?”

“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.

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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.

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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.