The next day. Shinra’s apartment.
It was the day after the long weekend.
The afternoon news announced that three assaulters had been arrested without warrant.
Two of them were copycat offenders; one was a man who claimed to be an OPD fan but was disliked by the fan community, which saw him as a radical. The other was a woman who had attacked OPD relentlessly online and even published several statements addressing the mass media. Seeing the possibility that the woman could have an accomplice in the organisation she had founded, the police were continuing the investigation.
Both had been wounded and absolutely terrified, repeating cryptic things such as, ‘The Headless Rider is the Slugger,’ or, ‘There was a demon,’ and so the police would continue their interrogation while suspecting abuse of dangerous or illegal drugs.
But what stunned the public most was that the original Slugger was also nabbed at the same time.
It was a newly employed hostess at a cabaret club, who had discovered a man who had rejected her horribly in the past was now dating another hostess at the same club, and assaulted the couple wearing a random piece of clothing she had at home that could cover her face.
‘I never thought it would turn out this way in the end.’
Now aware of the full picture, Celty slumped her shoulders wearily.
“It just means that human jealousy is a scary thing, influence of manga or not.”
‘But that woman was an OPD fan, right? OPD will still be slammed for this in the end, won’t it?’
“I dunno. Both copycats said they were inspired by the news reports, so they’ll probably return to their senses with the right push and it’ll just blow over, I think? Besides, the anti-OPD leader was one of the Sluggers.”
‘The world can be horrible. Well, the true culprit was a hostess, but people can’t be hating on all hostesses, at least.’
Shinra smiled at the text Celty had typed, and said,
“Yeah, that’s true. It’s human envy that should be blamed. The cardinal sin of all humans, even me.”
‘Shinra, if I cheated on you, would you put on a cosplay and try to beat me up?’
“No way. I’ve calmed down these past few days.”
Shinra’s countenance had indeed tempered. Celty asked him,
‘Then what would you do?’
“…Cry; cry like no tomorrow. There’d be a grown man in front of Ikebukuro station bawling and wailing your name in broad daylight.”
‘Don’t, that’s even worse for the people watching! …Wait, I remember having this conversation before…’
As she typed this Celty felt at peace.
Things had been bumpy after their return from their vacation, but she felt that perhaps finally, they had returned to their version of everyday life.
While the TV began to report the details on the nabbing of the Slugger , the internet was in commotion over the appearance of a Dark Owl crowd in front of Ikebukuro Station.
Celty, reading the article, asked Shinra,
‘I wonder whose doing this was? It must have been a prank, since they escaped once the police arrived without hurting anyone.’
At that, after some thought, Shinra offered his own hypothesis with an irritated face.
“Eh, it must’ve been Aoba and co, right? You said Blue Square’s been teaming up with an aggregate website, right? Shouldn’t it be related to that?”
Shinra’s theory hit the nail on the head, but they had no way to obtain immediate proof.
‘Wasn’t it a self-proclaimed artistic display by that Underrars group?’
“It can’t be, the demon hammer Bannanjin…?”
‘Th, there’s no way it’s an alien conspiracy, right?’
As they exchanged theories, Celty suddenly remembered Kuon.
—That boy complicated things again; he seems to like scheming.
—First it was Izaya, then Mikado-kun, Aoba-kun, Kuon-kun; is Raira jinxed to have evil masterminds?
—Ah well, but Kuon-kun’s cuter than Izaya, at least.
—What can I say, Izaya was wrecking the city with Shizuo since high school…
At this point, Celty paled mentally.
‘I forgot about Shizuo!’
‘The Slugger! I passed him to Karisawa!’
The peaceful atmosphere from before turned completely, and Celty collapsed onto the sofa gloomily.
‘Aaaaaaah, how do I apologise…’
Raira Academy. After school. Rooftop.
“You look sleepy, Yahiro-kun.”
Yahiro tilted his head, to which Himeka gave an expressionless reply.
Yahiro was sitting at the corner of the rooftop as he had this exchange.
He told Himeka truthfully about what had happened the day before and the fight with the Sluggers, though he kept secret about Kuon.
“Fu~n… But, how did you know that woman was the Slugger?”
“Um… When she looked our way there was this, I don’t know, like, killing intent…? She was giving off this aura, like she really, really wanted to come over and hit someone… I thought it must have been me. Since I got that look a lot back in Akita.”
Yahiro had thought she could have been one of the culprits of the fake kidnappings who had discovered his identity and had a grudge against him, or a person who had had a family member hurt by him back in his time in Akita, and wanted revenge.
But when the hostile gaze had vanished after Yumasaki and Karisawa had departed, the thought had struck that perhaps it was one of them that had been the target, and he had decided it would be best to check on them in case it was really the Slugger.
“In the past there was someone who was glaring like that while throwing a Molotov at me… So I got worried about Yumasaki-san.”
“So you just happened to meet her eyes.”
“? Not exactly? It’s more like I was looking at everyone around and found her…”
Himeka asked, stumped.
“I mean… When I was a kid people would always attack me in the middle of the street, so… I have this habit of watching the face of everyone I can see.”
Yahiro replied frankly. Resigned, Himeka said,
“Do you mean you treat everyone who walks past you on the street as a threat? Wait, even now, are you on your guard in case anyone attacks us here on the roof?”
Yahiro nodded promptly. Himeka heaved a sigh, and a small smile came onto her face.
“You really are weird.”
Yahiro tilted his head, to which Himeka nodded kindly.
“I see… Maybe, I’m weird?”
Yahiro consulted her on one more thing.
The instant of killing intent he had experienced when fighting the Slugger—and how he had enjoyed it.
Himeka listened seriously to the end, and spoke after some thought.
“If you beat me up and murdered me right now, would you enjoy it?”
“And Kuon-kun? And everyone else you’re watching up here on the roof?”
“I don’t even want to imagine.”
Yahiro answered seriously. Himeka replied,
“Then I think that’s fine for now.”
“I can’t say I’m an expert on psychology, but you have many people to confide in, so if you just do that instead of bottling everything up something will change, right?”
Although she was expressionless, likely she was truly, with her own brand of seriousness, concerned about Yahiro.
Yahiro felt her warmth, and nodded, smiling.
“…I see, thanks. I’ll talk to Kuon, too.”
“Oh, you’re not using honorifics anymore.”
“Yeah, stuff happened.”
As he said this, Yahiro suddenly felt worried for Kuon.
—He said he’d take the day off to see a dentist… I wonder if he’s okay.
Hoping he hadn’t collapsed somewhere because of the injury from Yahiro.
Somewhere in Ikebukuro. A park.
True to expectation, Kuon had collapsed.
But it was not Yahiro’s punch that had caused this.
He had been punched by a completely different man, and was lying on the ground.
A few minutes ago—
Kuon had been standing in front of Shizuo and Tom, who had had a bandage around his head, while they were in the park having a break.
“Yo, Shizuo-san and… Tom-san? Your head injury was pretty bad, huh?”
“Huh? Aren’t you the friend of that Yahiro guy?”
Shizuo asked, suspiciously, while Tom asked,
“…How did you know I was hurt?”
“Of course I do. I was the one who encouraged the Slugger and made him attack you.”
Then Kuon proceeded to chatter on about the entire story to Shizuo.
Unabashedly, as offensively as possible, even going so far as to mention the man’s younger brother.
As a result, expectedly, Heiwajima Shizuo exploded.
At the sight of Shizuo’s incoming figure, Kuon thought: this would do.
With this, he would have taken responsibility, in his own way.
He had considered Horada an enemy from the start, so he had no intention of apologising on that front. He was not planning to be that much of a good person. But if he failed to make amends for involving Tom, an innocent bystander, it would be an insult to his pride as the one who had so arrogantly thought he had been in control of the situation.
And—he would probably never be able to surpass Orihara Izaya like that.
It was a choice he made with determination.
—If this kills me… Sorry, Nee-chan.
Under the pressure of Shizuo, his sister’s face appeared in his mind—
In the end, Kuon fell to the ground immediately after that.
But it was not due to Shizuo’s fatal blow.
Tom had cut in from the side and punched Kuon’s face without mercy.
The punch had sunk in where the injury from Yahiro’s had been. Combined with how unexpected it was, Kuon crumbled on the spot.
In front of a startled Shizuo, Tom said, coolly,
“I was the victim here. So I hit him. Is there a problem?”
Unlike his usual self, there was no room for argument in his eyes.
Understanding his intent, Shizuo let his anger disperse, and shook his head.
“…No, there’s no problem.”
And so things led to the present.
“Hey, why did you come to us? Things would’ve blown over if you’d just kept quiet.”
Tom asked quizzically. Kuon, still lying on his back, replied.
“…A troublesome urban legend convinced me…Would you believe me if I said that?”
It was not a lie, but Kuon intended it as a full-blown provocation.
For some reason Kuon did not want to lie; and by referring to Yahiro as the urban legend Snake Hands, he presented the truth as an insult.
He expected Shizuo to grow enraged again at these words that could only be seen as mockingly unserious—
But the two still standing exchanged glances, and nodded in understanding.
Then Shizuo, after leaving the following words, departed.
“I got it. On that urban legend’s account, I’ll let you off today.”
After the duo had left, Kuon, still sprawled in the middle of the park, rubbed his cheek.
—Oww… Shit, another tooth might’ve come out…
—Well, if Shizuo had punched me I might really have died, so…
At that point, Kuon suddenly realise why Tom had punched him.
“Did… that old guy Tom… protect me?”
Indeed, punching Kuon first might have been the only way to placate Shizuo back in that situation.
In other words, the man had saved Kuon despite knowing Kuon had caused his injury.
“Shit… Damn it… Damn it…”
Looking up at the sky, Kuon covered his eyes with his arm, and felt humiliated at how powerless he was.
And, as if scolding his own self, he spoke from his bleeding mouth:
“This is why… I hate humans.”
“…I’m sorry, Tom-san.”
“If I hit him, things might have gotten too serious to talk out of. And now I think of it, it seems he came to take responsibility after Celty talked to him.”
“Don’t worry about it. I collected on my own debt, that’s all. I really wanted to beat up the actual Slugger bastard, but I’ll leave things to the police.”
Tom said this with a shrug, and rubbed his knuckles with a grimace.
“I haven’t hit anyone in a long time… I doubt anything’s broken, but it hella hurts.”
Tom, examined his hand, sighing, to which Shizuo responded,
“Do you want to see that guy for a check-up again? He has no X-ray, though.”
One hour later. Shinra’s apartment.
When Celty returned home, Shizuo and Tom were just leaving.
—Crap! I’m not mentally prepared yet!
—Sigh, I’ll just have to straighten up and apologise…
With this decision, Celty was about to type something, but Shizuo bowed his head deeply towards her.
“Thanks. Looks like you’ve been looking out for us.”
Celty was confused. Tom added,
“Really, I expected he’d have to be tied up tight to be brought to us, but to think you convinced him to come of his free will… That’s really impressive.”
—? ? ?
“Well, we have to go back to work now. I’ll thank you properly the next time we meet.”
Patting a clueless Celty’s shoulder, Shizuo and Tom smiled gratefully and left to continue their work.
Celty, who understood nothing of the situation, was left stranded at the doorway.
—What’s going on?!
Had she lost her memory without knowing?
At the thought that a UFO might have abducted her, she went weak with shock and began crying into Shinra’s chest—
But that is another story.