Chapter 2: Separation

Aniki: brother (older)

Moshi-moshi: hulloh (answering the phone)


Kaori landed in Sapporo at 11.30, feeling exhausted and lonely. She had fallen asleep as soon as the plane took off, and awakened only when the pilot officer announced their descent to Sapporo. In a daze, she waited for her suitcase, then searched for a payphone. She had to contact Miki.

"Moshi-moshi?"

"Hi, Miki-chan! It's Kaori."

"Kaori-chan! How lovely to hear from you! How are you?"

"Actually, I'm... I'm not too good", she said, her voice trembling.

"What? Please explain yourself! You're worrying me!"

"In fact, I've just landed at Shin-Chitose. Could you...?"

"Of course, Kaori-chan! I'm coming right away! Wait for me at the west entrance, I'll be there in twenty minutes."

Kaori hung up, feeling a little bit better now that she knew her best friend would soon pick her up, and went to find an empty bench near the said entrance. She had had no time to prepare herself from this heart-breaking separation, from her city, from... No, she scolded herself, feeling tears welling up in her eyes yet again. Don't think about him now. He'll take care of himself. Just take care of yourself now so you don't annoy him anymore. You'll see him again soon.

She half-convinced herself, but her heart was seriously rebelling against her brain. Why did she have to fall in love now? With a sweeper, a murderer, a guy wanted by all the police forces of Tokyo? A guy who, in spite of what her best knowledge and the mere reason that was resonating in her mind said, wasn't able to protect her brother from these mad drug dealers? She really didn't blame Ryo, she tried to convince herself. But the truth was, some tiny, shameful part of her did. She would have work to do on that.

The minutes passed by in a blur, and when she heard a shout at the entrance, she started a little, wrapped up as she was in her own thoughts.

"Kaori-chan!"

"Miki-chan!"

She got up and ran to her best friend, throwing herself in the outstretched arms waiting for her, and soon, to her intense dismay, she dissolved into tears. The shock of the last twenty-four hours was simply too overwhelming.

"There, there, Kaori-chan", Miki whispered in her ear, caressing her short brownish hair, effectively soothing her. "Don't worry, I'm here now. Breathe calmly. It's okay."

Soon Kaori took deeper breaths, her sobs died down, and she was able to pull herself together. She detached herself from her worried friend and grabbed the handkerchief she was handing to her.

"Thanks, Miki-chan. I'm sorry."

"Don't be. Just take your time. We'll talk in the car."

Miki grabbed Kaori's suitcase and they exited the airport, heading to the parking lot. Soon Kaori was on the passenger seat of Miki's Prius, and the latter pulled up in the light traffic of Sapporo. Five minutes passed, then Miki started, looking a little nervous.

"So, Kaori-chan, what brings you to the coldness of Hokkaido? I'm happy to see that you've come to see me at last."

"I'm very happy to see you, Miki-chan", Kaori replied with a quivering voice, trying to be strong. "But I'm afraid I had to come, and not by choice."

"What do you mean?"

"It's..."

It was hard for her, painstakingly hard. Talking to her best friend about it would mean that the whole thing was real, and not some weird and morbid nightmare. But she had to. Miki was trustworthy, and she deserved the truth, if only because she could be a collateral damage from the drug cartel if they tracked her down here. Focus, Kaori, she encouraged herself. Be a woman, not a cowering child. Face your fate.

"In fact, I came here because I need you to house me for a while. I had to leave home in a hurry."

"What for? Hideyuki-kun's being too pushy? I don't believe it."

"No, Miki-chan. Aniki's dead."

"What?"

Miki, looking flabbergasted and shocked, looked at her for so long that Kaori feared they would crash into a passing truck. But Miki steadied the car and concentrated back on her driving, frowning deeply.

"How did he die? In a police mission? When?"

This would be tricky. Kaori knew that Miki didn't know anything about her brother's resignation from the police or his partnership with Ryo, or his underground job. But she had to be honest. Miki was like a tomb. She wouldn't tell anyone. Besides, she thought with a grudging smile, she didn't have anyone to tell. She was all alone, like her now.

"He died yesterday. He was on some sort of mission, but not for the police. He resigned from it two years ago. He was killed by a drug cartel."

This time, no shout from Miki, who was staring at her with an appreciative look. A too-knowing look, Kaori realized. It was like old news for her best friend. How could that be...?

"And now you're targeted as well?" Miki asked seriously.

"It's a strong possibility."

"So why are you here? Kaori, forgive me but if your brother's been killed yesterday, you should be dead by now. How could you escape them?"

They were reaching the part she was reluctant to tell. Be honest, she reminded herself firmly.

"My brother's partner, he protected me yesterday and this morning. He drove me to Narita airport. He... he told me he would take care of this matter."

"All alone?" Miki was incredulous. "How can he be such an idiot? What's his name?"

"He's from the underground, Miki. I don't think you know him."

"Maybe you'll be surprised, Kaori-chan."

The tone sent chills up Kaori's spine. She watched her friend very carefully, and soon recognized the faraway look in her eyes. She was thinking about the past, about the man who had left her all by herself, returning to life after... After what?

Miki never told her about her past, the childhood she had, except that she didn't grow up in Japan. She arrived at age fourteen, in a foster home where the parents weren't too concerned about her but kind enough, and they had been best friends ever since. But she never spoke a word from the time before they met, only telling her during a post-drinking-abuse conversation that she had been raised by a kind and extraordinary man who had left her at fourteen to fend for herself.

So... was Miki from the underground too? Was that what it meant? So Kaori told her, her heart beating faster at saying his name.

"His name is Ryo Saeba."

"Humpf. City Hunter, no less. Then there shouldn't be any problem."

This time, it was Kaori's turn to be flabbergasted.

"You... You know him?"

"Not in person. Just by his reputation. He's quite the best in his line of work, apart from..."

Kaori saw Miki's eyes becoming very bright all of a sudden, so she had no trouble finishing the sentence.

"Apart from the man who left you. Is that it?"

"Yes", Miki nodded gravely, a single tear escaping her eye.

Silence fell for a few seconds, and then Miki spoke up again.

"You've been very trusting and straightforward with me, Kaori-chan. I'll do the same. You've deserved it since a long time ago."

She took a deep breath, and started the sad story.

"I don't know my real family. I was an orphan from my early days. I was raised in a South American country by some mercenaries I ran into on a terrible day. I was starving and lonely, and one of them took pity on me. Against the other men's advice he took me with him. I had a family at last. He raised me, he fed me, he taught me to defend myself. He even trained me to..."

She drifted off, but Kaori understood.

"You became a mercenary yourself, didn't you?"

"Yes. But he... one day, after a mission we did together, he told me that was enough. He told me I had to go away from him, from this warlike life, to have a normal life. He sent me away by the first plane to Japan. I couldn't change his mind. I tried everything. But he was... he is like a rock. When he decides something..."

The sad but tender tone alerted Kaori. She knew then, and she saw it on her best friend's face. It was certain as the sun rising in the east on every morning.

"You're in love with him."

"Yes", Miki admitted, shedding another single tear.

"Do you know what happened to him?"

"He retired from the mercenaries' group a few years ago, when the war was over. He came to Japan to be a sweeper, like Saeba."

"Where is he?"

"In Tokyo."

Kaori thought carefully about her following words.

"Do you plan to go meet him someday?"

"Yes. I don't know when exactly. I know he's keeping track of my whereabouts, so I try to be oblivious. Prove him I really have a normal life."

"Do you?" Kaori wondered aloud.

Miki shot her a sympathetic look.

"Kaori, you have to know that when you fall into the underworld, you don't quit. It's for a lifetime. You're marked. Tainted by the blood, the injuries, the psychological trauma. You cannot have any normal life whatsoever. Falcon was a fool to believe such a nonsense."

"Falcon. It's his name?"

"His codename as a mercenary. His real name is Hayato Ijuin. And your Saeba nicknamed him Umibozu."

"Sea elephant? What for?"

"I don't know. Maybe because he's tall and strong, maybe because Saeba is stupid. But the nickname stuck. In the underworld, everybody knows him as Umibozu now, just like everybody knows Saeba as City Hunter."

Kaori fell silent as Miki parked in front of a small building. The two women got out, and Kaori understood immediately what Miki meant about the coldness of Hokkaido. The blowing wind was bitterly cold, and on the sparse trees along the pavement glittering ice drops shone in the sunlight. She hurriedly followed her friend inside of the building, and they went up the three flights of steps. Miki opened the door on the left.

"Welcome to my place."

Kaori entered and felt at ease in a heartbeat. The place was neat, spotless, with rare furniture and even rarer decorations, as her friend liked the place back in Tokyo they had shared during high school. Miki led her to a nearby guest room and put her suitcase on the bed.

"I hope you'll be comfortable here, Kaori."

The young woman noticed the change immediately. No -chan after her name meant that Miki, who had always shared everything with her except her past, was now feeling like she was family. And that brought tears in her eyes. I'm turning into a fountain, she thought half-amused half-moved.

"It'll be more than perfect. Thanks, Miki."

Miki smiled, looking moved too, and offered her a cup of coffee. Kaori gladly accepted, she was chilled to the bone. Soon they sat in the small kitchen, catching up, but silence settled after a few minutes. Kaori was feeling better now she had talked about the dreadful news, but her mind was still wandering.

"What are you thinking about, Kaori?"

Miki's soft voice jarred her, and she stammered a little.

"I'm... I'm not thinking about anything in particular. Just... just wondering what I'll do now."

"Mmmh." Miki clearly wasn't convinced. "Or, should I ask, who were you thinking about?"

Kaori knew the mischievous glint in her best friend's eyes. She knew she was hiding something. Time to confess everything.

"I was thinking about Saeba-san. I hope he'll be okay. He'll face the Teope Union all alone, so I worry, a lot actually."

"The Teope Union? Doesn't sound familiar", Miki said. "But is it all, Kaori? You worry about his safety? Or you worry about him?"

"Same thing, isn't it?"

Miki shook her head, a smirk on her lips.

"Of course not. First case, you worry he'll get killed because of the drug cartel. Second case, you worry he won't return your love."

Kaori wasn't surprised. Miki had a knack for nailing things, and like always she had it right on the head.

"Both, Miki. It's true I don't feel good with leaving him alone fighting to protect both of us, but it's also true I'm in love with him, and I don't know what will happen to me if he dies."

"Then you know exactly what I feel", Miki stated calmly.

The sharing of feelings was a comforting thing, and they drank their coffee in complicit silence. Then Miki made lunch, helped by Kaori, and they ate quickly. After that, Miki insisted Kaori had some sleep, since she looked dead on her feet, no joke meant, and the young woman complied.

When she woke up, the sun was setting. She settled down in the guest room, arranging her meagre belongings, and took out last the photo of her brother and herself.

"Aniki", she whispered softly. "I miss you so much. But it's okay. I'm with Miki, and Saeba-san will protect me. So don't worry. Please look after me from where you are."

She put it on the nightstand, and then she remembered. She went to the kitchen and asked Miki for a pen, a sheet of paper and an envelope. Then she wrote a short letter. Miki gave her a stamp just as she was sealing it.

"Already writing to your lover?" she teased her.

"Just giving him your address, if you don't mind. He wants to keep track of me too."

"I don't mind. Did you tell him about me?"

"Just your first name. Nothing else."

"Okay with me. We'll post it tomorrow, on our way to university."

"Miki, I..."

"No, Kaori. We've talked about this countless times on the phone before. You didn't want to go to a university in Tokyo because it was too expensive, but here in Sapporo it's much cheaper. You'll work with me in a little café in evenings and the weekends, so you'll have enough money to pay for your studies and more than enough to live too."

"Don't forget I'll pay you for the room too."

"We'll see about that. In the meantime, come. Dinner is ready."


Four days after driving Kaori to the airport, Ryo walked back to his apartment, weary and in pain. He had finished his mission, he had killed every single member of the Teope Union in Tokyo, but he hadn't been unscathed. He had been injured in his left upper arm with a bullet, and an explosion from the headquarters had left him groggy.

Groaning, he put the mail he had just picked up on the low table and collapsed onto his sofa. He had to look at the wound, even if sleeping was all he wanted right now. But the sight wasn't worrisome. The bullet had grazed him. Only the blood loss, and more probably the concussion from the explosion, made him so dizzy. So he disinfected the wound, he bandaged it, and he sank back against the cushions.

He was free now. Taking care of a powerful drug cartel like the Teope Union all by himself would allow him to have a break for a few months at least. Every yakuza or villain in town would fear him even more than before, therefore leaving him alone and doing nothing to attract his attention. But like every time, some new idiots would eventually come to town, pretend they were the best, and to prove it would want to kill him. Old news, he thought bitterly while lighting a cigarette.

He was so weary. So tired of this clandestine life, of these deaths and injuries around him. His world was so dark. From the beginning he had had the worst luck that could happen to somebody. Raised by mercenaries, taught to maim and to kill when he should've been playing with marbles and sticks, used by his group as the ultimate weapon, and finally left all by himself at the end of the civil war in South America. Gone to the States, become a hitman, become the best. Gone to Japan, his birth country, with no roots waiting there for him, still a hitman, become the best here too.

And then he met Hideyuki Makimura. The only man who saw behind the hitman, behind the pervert, behind the sorry excuse for humanity he was. The only man who had convinced him to be a sweeper, to restore some justice in this neighbourhood instead of selling his gun just for money. And thanks to this kind man, he wasn't just a murderer anymore. He was City Hunter, a respected sweeper who was paid to avenge some wrongs, not do whatever he wanted. He wasn't all-powerful anymore, he didn't have any right over life and death anymore, and that made him human again.

Lost in his thoughts, he didn't hear the soft knocking on his door, but he heard the footsteps coming inside. He recognized them immediately. But tonight, he wouldn't play his usual part. Tonight wasn't the night. He turned his head an inch to the left and met the intense and lost look of the beautiful young woman.

"I don't suppose I should wish you a good afternoon, should I, Saeko?"

"No, you shouldn't", she simply said, calmly sitting beside him and locking eyes with him.

In her bright amethyst gaze, he could see her sorrow, her loneliness, her pain, a little bit of guilt and resentment too. All because of him, of course.

"Is it time already?"

"You just have time to take a shower and put on some clean clothes, Ryo", she scolded him.

"Why should I bother? It's not as if I can be next to you, next to the coffin", he said with a bitter taste in his mouth.

"You'll be nearby, and that's all that matters", she said comfortingly. "Makimura wouldn't resent you for that."

"But maybe he'll resent me for sending his little sister away. She won't attend her own brother's funeral because of me."

"I don't think so. You meant to protect her, after all. Are you done, by the way?"

"Yes", he confirmed, his eyes closing in spite of himself. "I've killed their general an hour ago. Destroyed their headquarters on the way. Not a single one remains. Your colleagues will have a hell of a time cleaning up that mess. And in case you're wondering, I'm not sorry about that, at all."

"That I know", she said with an even gentler tone, which made him suspicious.

"What's the matter, Saeko?"

"You look like you've walked to hell and back, Ryo. Did you take a look at yourself?"

"I arrived ten minutes before you did. All I did was treating my arm, nothing more."

"So you didn't notice that your clothes are soaked in blood, I assume. Or the gash on your forehead."

"A gash?"

He wiped his forehead with his left hand, and sure enough it came back dark red with dried blood. He sighed.

"No wonder I feel so dizzy. Do I need stitches?"

"Yes. Fortunate you are, though, I can do it myself."

"Hold that thought."

He got up with difficulty, and she had to rush at his side to steady him. He refused to be accompanied to the bathroom, though, so she sat down again, idly looking around the room, while he made his way to his shower stall. The vertigo he had felt had passed, and he was able to scrub himself thoroughly, and examined the mess in his mirror. He needed at least three stitches, all right.

Sighing again as he shaved his growing stubble, his thoughts wandered. They wandered to the cemetery, where his best friend would be lying under six feet of dirt in less than two hours. To Sapporo, where Kaori was probably crying and grieving still. To his own living room, where Makimura's fiancée was waiting for him, ready to forgive him his failures and still be there for him, even if she had lost the love of her life.

He went to his bedroom to pick up some clean clothes, and when he entered the living room, he saw Saeko waiting for him, with everything ready at the table.

"Here, sit down next to me."

"Are you inviting me to make a slow dance with you, Saeko-chan?" he tried flirtatiously.

She frowned, but the shadow of a smile was playing on her lips.

"Not tonight, Ryo-chan. I've got to make you fit for the ceremony."

In no time she was done with his stitches, so they left for the cemetery. It was late in the afternoon, but Ryo was exhausted as if it was midnight. Saeko and him went each with his own car, he couldn't be seen with her. She was a police officer, after all, she was supposed to arrest him. Soon he parked well away from the other cars, and approached the grave under the dark shade of the trees. He rested against a trunk and followed the simple ceremony with a distracted expression, but not losing a word.

Very few people had come. Saeko, of course, was next to the coffin, and she was crying openly now. Two old colleagues from the old time of Makimura in the police were there too. And that was all. Except himself, of course, but he couldn't approach nearer. And Kaori was missing. Her absence was loud, so loud inside this quiet cemetery. It wrenched Ryo's heart. He felt bad. Woozy, nauseous, guilty. Bad. He had to put a hand on the tree trunk and bend over while they put the coffin down into the grave, worried that he would vomit here and then.

And he did, for long minutes. When he finished retching, horrible spasms still contorting his stomach, he felt Saeko's hand on his shoulder. And then he knew that in spite of everything, she had truly forgiven him. It warmed his heart. But he would've rather have another hand on his shoulder, another warmth. But he had sent away that warmth, to a cold region of Japan, away, so far away, out of his reach.

"I'll drive you back, Ryo. We'll come back for your car tomorrow."

Too weak to protest, he let her stir him to her Porsche, let her drive him back to his place, let her put him in his bed, let her go away silently and still crying. For once he allowed himself to be a weak, sick, ordinary grieving man. No City Hunter tonight, just Ryo Saeba.

And when he shut his eyes, he remembered the mail on his low table. He had seen a letter from Hokkaido, he was almost certain of it. Maybe a letter from his angel. He would read it first thing in the morning. And on that comforting thought, he fell asleep.


A/N: Please leave a review ;)