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7nights masquerade -2- night 7 -part 7-

from the back
7 nights masquerade -2-
night 7; as one

- part seven -


Tsuruhara had been expected the question, but still took a long time to answer, “Okamoto was the classmate I got on best with in the police academy. We both entered the special forces and after graduating formed a three-man team with another officer named Nishita Tatsunori.

“Somewhere along the lines, Okamoto got bored with police work and turned his attention to other, darker things. He invited me to join him, citing that it would better tap our potential, and I’m not proud to say I considered it at times; I was already taking questionable actions working with an illegal immigrant and a morally ambiguous bartender time to time.”

Hatta snorted her tea. “Fun times!”

“What changed your mind?” Miyano asked.

“In my case, I was still getting my job done, just in an unorthodox way. Okamoto was in it for the thrill, regardless of morals, and tempting me to his ‘side’ became a game. His attempts to prove to me that ‘doing good’ were futile came to a head when he killed Nishita, and tried to frame me for it, all while preventing me from keeping the most important promise of my life.”

Tsuruhara set down his coffee and looked directly at Hatta, “I never told you, but when we met my mother was dying of cancer. The side jobs I picked up through Gerry were all to pay for her treatment. She passed away the same night Okamoto put me in the hospital.”

Hatta offered no words, but the sympathy on her face said enough.

“Given the timing, I’ve wondered if it was too good of a coincidence...” Tsuruhara trailed off, then shook his head and changed tracks, “That cross pendant, Nishita gave it to me to give her since I didn’t have time to shop for a mother’s day gift.”

“The one you gave to Minami-san?” Miyano checked.

Tsuruhara nodded.

Miyano scratched his head. “I see...” He returned to his curry but paused before eating, “I suppose he warned me to be careful around you so I wouldn’t give out his name.”

“Probably.”

“And what about Egarashi?”

Hatta put down her fork and held out her hand in a ‘stop!’ motion to Tsuruhara while she swallowed. “Allow me! I think you’ll find I outdid myself this time.”

Tsuruhara conceded with a ‘go ahead’ motion.

“First of all, what I learned from Gerry after I punched him- oh, by the way, I punched him again after I discovered he sent Minami to that party out of sheer curiosity, was- yeah, I know right!” She agreed when Tsuruhara rolled his eyes, then put herself back on track, “Anyway, Okamoto went underground, as we know, and somewhere along the lines fell in with Egarashi, you know what they say about like attracting like. Egarashi happened to have been Yanaru Hokuto’s go-between to the black market when she was selling part of her research. Oh, and according to what Gerry said based on something Minami saw of Hokuto’s memories they may even have been more than just business partners if you catch my drift.”

“I don’t understand how she was getting these memories if there was no trigger and the databank was far away,” Miyano shook his head and pushed his empty curry dish aside.

“nngh,” Hatta looked to Tsuruhara for help.

He tilted his head to the side in thought. “Probably it’s either residual memories from the incident last year, or the initial incident with Satou’s technology activating a bug in the subroutine, or both, or, well, who knows, really. She says she has it under control now.”

“But does she really?” Hatta bit her lip in worry.

“We’ll be there for her if something happens again,” Tsuruhara said patiently. He noticed Hatta beam at him and paused in taking a drink of his coffee. “What?”

“Just remembering the sweet way you assured her who she was. I didn’t know you had it in you.”

Tsuruhara made a face into his coffee and mumbled something about being caught up in the moment and to shut up about it.

Miyano helpfully steered the conversation back to its original topic, “So when Kimura started trying to trace her fiancé’s nanotechnology, she found Egarashi?”

“Who, of course, knew all about Hokuto’s death and about Kagemusha and Minami-chan. How he connects to Yanaru if Yanaru didn’t know his wife was selling parts of her research I don’t know.”

“I suppose it could have been through Minami-san’s mother?” Miyano suggested. “I mean, the one that raised her.”

“Asai did say Egarashi mentioned knowing ‘both’ her mothers,” Tsuruhara agreed.

“Makes sense,” Hatta nodded. She continued, “At first, Kimura balked at going after the girls and tried Shibutani and PATH instead, and we all know the rest.

“The only thing I couldn’t figure out,” Hatta said after pausing while her dessert arrived and she set upon it, “is how they were listening in on us. I mean, the obvious answer is Kouji-kun, except for when Egarashi attacked you in the office and left us in the closet with the bomb.”

“It’s fairly easy, actually,” Tsuruhara explained, “We’re all creatures of habit, and people like Okamoto are good at exploiting that. I drink my coffee black, you always order dessert, Asai can’t be without her mp3 player, and Miyano...”

Miyano’s eyes widened and he flushed as it came to him. “My cellphone...”

“They purposely left it out on the floor so they would know when I returned that night, and even if I didn’t pick it up, Egarashi easily could have when he came in. For all we know, they’re listening in right now.”

Miyano looked down on his cellphone darkly, “I’ve been wanting an upgrade anyway.”

Here Tsuruhara took over explaining for Hatta, “In any case, Okamoto and Egarashi are gone for now. For their part in it, Kimura Sonoko and Satou Hideyuki have been charged with a number of minor offences.”

“Because being soulless isn’t a crime,” Hatta interjected.

“Misguided, more like it. I also don’t have to tell you that all of Satou’s data and prototypes involving Yanaru Hokuto’s nanotechnology had been destroyed before the forensics team got there.” Tsuruhara didn’t have to say who the most likely culprit was, or that he had the same suspicions as Minami. “As for why they abducted Asai, the official story is they wanted data from her, and never mind the particulars. Iseya Yujiro agrees that no one would believe it anyway.”

“Is Iseya Harue still bedridden?” Miyano asked.

Tsuruhara nodded, “It seems she’s taking it as losing her daughter all over again.”

“I wonder how much Minami-chan really remembers,” Hatta said to no one in particular. “I suppose she’ll tell us in time, but still...”

Tsuruhara didn’t comment, but instead drank the last of his coffee and reached for his coat. “Speaking of, it’s about time to go meet her.”

“Say hi for us,” Hatta finger-waved him to the door.

Tsuruhara paid for his portion of the meal and pulled his coat collar close against the cold as he headed up the street toward the train station. Hatta had a point, there was no telling what Minami remembered or didn’t remember of what happened between Satou modifying his program and Tsuruhara bringing her back to herself, but he found he was strangely unconcerned. Minami would tell them in time. In the meantime, that was all in the past. What concerned Tsuruhara most, now, was the future.

※※

Epilogue

The colour of twilight accented the details on her skirt as Kagemusha alighted on the rooftop. Framed by the last glow of the setting sun, her face showed no sign of the curiosity that had to have brought her here. From where she was standing by the fire escape, Minami waited until her hair and the light chiffon bow at the small of her back finished floating down to join the rest of her before she spoke,

“You got my message.”

Kagemusha only looked at her.

Minami didn’t mind. She expected it.

“I’ve done a lot of thinking,” she leaned against the ladder and said, “a lot of thinking; and I’ve come to the conclusion that I could never be like you. There was a time, once, when you kept wondering are we the same, are we different? I wondered too. Thinking back on it now, though, it’s not hard to see that we are different. I’ll never catch up to your grace, your skill, and your power. You’ll always be magnificent, while I’ll always struggle just to be competent.”

“It’s your heart that holds you back,” Kagemusha said without emotion.

Minami nodded in agreement with a small smile, “But also what makes me strong. There are people waiting for me; me, Asai Minami, not the future Yanaru Hokuto. Not even you could take that away from me. Someday I will use this strength to save you. I’ll find a way to pull you from the shadows. Even if it takes the rest of my life, I’ll set you free.”

For an instant, Kagemusha almost looked sad. “You can’t make me something I’m not.”

Minami met her expression with a look of resolve. “Even a caged bird can see the sky. I know you can be free someday. Without any more bloodshed.”

“Are we done?”

“Yeah,” Minami turned away and put her hand on the fire escape. Instead of climbing the ladder though, she used the rail to lightly pull herself up onto the edge of the building. She tossed another gentle smile over her shoulder, said, “See you,” and stepped off the edge.

Tsuruhara met her where she landed in the narrow alley below and bopped her on the head. “Don’t do that. I don’t care if you can, it makes my heart stop every time.”

“Sorry,” she laughed, “I got caught up in the moment.”

He shook his head, then asked, “Are you satisfied?”

“Yeah.”

“Good,” he said, and they walked together out onto the main street. It wasn’t far to the Aratas’ home, and they walked in comfortable silence, wrapped up in their own thoughts.

“Tsuruhara-san,” Minami said, just as they entered the more quiet residential area.

“Hm?”

“If I wanted you to call me by my given name, would you do it?”

Tsuruhara pondered on this. “If you called me by mine.”

Minami opened her mouth, thought about it, closed it, opened it a second time, then closed it again and shook her head. “Never mind, it’d be weird.”

Tsuruhara squeezed her fingers, long-since laced with his. “Yeah, it would.” After a beat he added, “But we can try it sometime, maybe.”

**end of 7nights masquerade book 2**



Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoyed 7nights masquerade books 1 and 2. I regret to tell you that book 3 is still in the planning stages, but it is in the works... mostly. Where will the Tsuruta family's adventures take them from here...?

In the meanwhile, expect to see a few drabble-y things here and there maybe.

But again, thank you so, so much.