J.K. Rowling made it sound so easy, Becky thought as she found herself crammed into the train car with dozens of other morning commuters. In the Harry Potter world, folks could fly around on broomsticks, walk through fireplaces, and best yet, teleport. Well, she mused as she found her face uncomfortably close to a salaryman's armpit, Rowling had a lot to learn about real witchcraft.
She emerged from the cramped car a few stops later, moving through the busy station and towards her exit. If witches in Japan could teleport, Becky wouldn't need her Suica card. Not that too many people knew she was a witch, though. That was one thing Rowling had gotten right - witches and wizards were better off keeping to themselves. And in Japan, you really would stand out if you were zapping things in public.
Becky was an odd sort of witch. Magical folk in Japan hadn't mingled with outsiders much, but her mother had a rebellious streak a mile wide, and so Becky was the result of a marriage between a Japanese witch and an English wizard. Centuries of isolation had made the Japanese style of magic different from other countries - her parents' bold match had left her an odd mishmash of a person and an odder mishmash of a witch.
Her father was adept at telekinetic powers, having wooed her mother by creating a spectacular floating garden in the backyard years back. And her mother had always been in tune with nature, growing unnaturally hardy plants and knowing just the right sort of ingredients for potions. Becky was skilled at killing plants and making the wrong things float. She'd been a laughingstock at witch cram school and had settled for being a normal human woman who could occasionally light a candle with the snap of her fingers.
Her friends, her normal friends, had normal jobs and normal families. Becky had always been just a little too eccentric for that sort of life, and her unintentional backfired magic had gotten her pink slips at half a dozen office jobs. The best solution, she'd decided, was to hide in plain sight. Japan at large didn't know about their magical inhabitants, but they sure did love magic and anything slightly supernatural.
It was a ten minute walk from the station to her tiny shop in Akasaka, off the main street and off another side street and down a twisting alleyway. "Madame Becky, Coffee Tasseographer", her sign read in English with "Your Fortune Told from Coffee" neatly printed in Japanese beneath. She unlocked her door and slipped inside. Sure, not too many people went to fortune tellers who read the future in coffee grounds, but it was a living and it was her own business, and she was proud of it.
The interior was all of her own design, a few small tables with colorful tablecloths she'd stitched together herself (and with some magical assistance once she pricked herself with a needle a few times too many). Along the other side of the shop was her coffee bar she'd hand-painted with flowers and hearts and bright green vines. Some fortune teller shops liked to cloak their readings in dark, hazy rooms but Becky preferred to let the sun shine through the front glass, and the crystals she'd hung around the room easily caught the light. Her shop was usually full of rainbows on a sunny day.
She wasn't the best with reading the future. Even witches couldn't really see everything, but it didn't matter. Becky liked to meet people and being a clumsy witch had made that hard for a long time - but people always opened up to a fortune teller in hopes of their dreams coming true. Was it a little dishonest? Maybe, but she didn't charge as much as SOME people in the neighborhood that she knew.
Even now as she grabbed a new bag of coffee beans from the storeroom and brought them to her counter she could see the man across the street opening up his creepy little store. Her rival in the neighborhood, The Amazing Nino, tarot card specialist. Sure, there were a lot of potential rivals in their little alleyway. There were fortune tellers up and down the block, but she and The Amazing Nino had one thing in common: they were both the real deal. In a neighborhood of frauds, only she and her annoying rival across the way had actual powers.
And The Amazing Nino always liked to lord his abilities over her. For one, he always said with his smarmy little smirk, the cards were more straightforward than coffee. And for two, most people looking to have their fortunes told were female, and nothing put a female more at ease than a good looking man with an easy smile and a deck of tarot cards. Or at least that's what The Amazing Nino always bragged as he escorted yet another customer out of his store, smiling across the way at Becky's usually empty shop. She didn't think he was that amazing.
She turned the sign on her front door to "Open!" and tried not to scowl. Today was an important day, after all. It was inspection day. Japan was a country of bureaucrats and its magical citizens were no less bureaucratic. Her hands were a bit shaky as she straightened her tablecloths to await Sakurai's arrival.
Any witch or wizard who used their abilities out in the open had to adhere to certain protocols. Becky and The Amazing Nino were regularly inspected by the stuffy folks from the Bureau of Magical Concealment who worked to ensure that Japan at large remained ignorant of their gifted countrymen. Fortune telling could never be 100% accurate, there could be no overt magic use in public, and most importantly, they couldn't profit unfairly from the weak.
The Bureau of Magical Concealment agent for this part of Tokyo was Sakurai Sho, descendant of a long line of witches and wizards going all the way back to the Sengoku period. Sometimes Becky wondered if Sakurai had ever used his powers to their full potential, so intent was he on making sure Becky's shop and others like it never got "too good" at telling fortunes.
She'd gone through two customers (The Amazing Nino eight) before Sakurai showed up in his well-tailored suit and horn-rimmed glasses. He had his usual briefcase and paperwork, running through his checklist of her shop's appearance. He'd be a good looking guy if he ever paid attention to himself, but work was his life, and even now he was smelling her coffee beans and poking at the homemade dreamcatchers she'd hung around the room.
"Could I get you some coffee, Sakurai-san?" she asked, fingers itching to turn the handle of her fancy coffee grinder so she could brew him a cup and make a little money.
"I'm sorry, got a lot of inspections today," he said politely before shaking the coffee bean pouch in his hand. "No hexes, no charms on these?"
"They're just coffee beans," she said the same way she did every time. But either way, he still pinched a few out of the pouch and slipped them into a small baggie.
He checked a few more things off his list and set the clipboard down, handing over a fancy fountain pen. Conjure something, she always wanted to chide him. Nobody's watching! But instead he waited for her to sign her name and stamp the paperwork.
He was just heading out the door when he frowned. "He needs to stop doing that," Sakurai said huffily, and Becky looked out her front glass to see that The Amazing Nino's sign had changed from "The Amazing Nino, Tarot and Fortunes Told" to "Ninomiya, Sex God and Private Investigator." Becky grinned as Sakurai casually flicked his wrist and Nino's sign changed back to normal.
"See you next time!" she said, the chimes above the door singing with his departure. He headed across the street to inspect The Amazing Nino's shop. She cleaned up the mess of coffee beans Sakurai had scattered across the bar.
Two giggling high school girls came in a short time later, obviously ditching school. They went with coffee for each of them, but didn't feel like paying extra for their fortunes. Becky added the small handful of coins to the cash register and smiled like always, her happiness slipping away as soon as they departed the shop. She understood that it was still a recession, and things like fortune telling were definitely expenses people could do away with. But rent at her apartment was due next week, and rent for her shop the week after. Times were tough.
She was just sealing up a bag of beans to keep them fresh when her door chimed again. Instead of giggling high school girls, there were two men. The first was in a fancy suit, tall and looking around suspiciously. The man behind him was similar in height but with lighter hair and wearing sunglasses.
Sunglasses Guy stayed back by the door, inspecting her dreamcatchers as Fancy Suit approached the coffee bar. "Welcome," she said cheerfully. She didn't get too many men her age coming into the shop - mostly down on their luck midlife crisis types. But Fancy Suit was probably in his late 20's and his companion as well.
"You do fortunes here?" Fancy Suit asked, his eyes large but shrewd. "How fast?"
"Oh, don't rush on my account!" Sunglasses Guy said happily, and even with the sunglasses he seemed slightly familiar.
"Well, I have to grind the beans first. Fresh beans make the best coffee, you know. Then I add the grounds to hot water..."
"How fast?" Fancy Suit insisted. "We're on a schedule, miss."
But Sunglasses Guy was irritated, coming up to the bar and giving his companion a shove. "It's a press conference about me," the man said. "I think they can wait."
"But Masaki," Fancy Suit mumbled.
Sunglasses Guy removed said sunglasses and Becky nearly dropped her bag of coffee beans on the floor. The light hair, the friendly face with the big toothy smile, the odd voice - she definitely knew this man. She only watched him on television every single week!
It was Aiba Masaki, the comedian. He and his partner Yokoyama formed a duo, Miracle Boys, and they'd been steadily gaining popularity ever since they started appearing as panelists on variety shows Becky watched. The "ikemen comedians" they were called, and he was even better looking in person than he was on TV. It was the very first celebrity she'd ever had in her shop, and she was suddenly very worried about what to do next.
Fancy Suit took out a business card from inside his jacket. "Matsumoto Jun, I'm Aiba-san's manager. He has a very important press conference this afternoon, and he insisted on..."
Aiba just pushed his manager aside with a laugh, leaving Matsumoto looking annoyed. He gave her a smile that sent her heart racing. "Oh, ignore him, he's such a killjoy. You're Madame Becky right? I read the sign outside. I'm not so bad with English."
"Yes," she said. "Yes, I read fortunes in coffee. You're here for a fortune?"
Matsumoto shoved his client so he was standing in front of Becky again. "And as I said, he has a very important press conference. So if you could just read his palm or whatever..."
"Oi," Aiba complained. He turned back to her, leaning on the countertop and resting his chin on his palm. "You take all the time you need, Madame Becky. This is something my manager can't understand, but that's why he's the manager and I'm the celebrity, right?"
"I will kill you in your sleep one of these days," Matsumoto grumbled, leaning away from the bar. "You have 20 minutes. I'll be in the car."
He headed out of the shop in a huff, and Aiba laughed. "I'm sorry about him. We grew up together, and he's kind of a control freak. He's got my schedule down to the millisecond. But I don't know, Madame Becky, I'm the type of guy who goes where the wind takes me." He smiled again. "And today the wind took me here."
She cocked her head. "The Amazing Nino already had a line out the door, huh?"
Aiba's pretty face fell, and he blushed. "Ah, well...yeah. But you're just as good as him, right?"
She nodded. She wasn't that special after all. He'd wanted The Amazing Nino and had gotten stuck with her. She was a second choice, but if Mr. Celebrity Comedian really needed his fortune told, then she'd tell it.
"Just a moment. I'll brew you a cup, and then I'll read the grounds when you finish drinking. 500 yen, is that reasonable?"
He wandered around the shop, poking at her crystals while she brewed a fresh cup of coffee for him. She watched him from the corner of her eye, cringing as he managed to tug one of the crystals off its string by accident. Thinking himself sneaky, she watched him slip it onto one of the tables, assuming she wasn't watching. Good looking he may have been, but he was a bit of a nuisance. Becky was beginning to see what a tough life his manager must have had.
"One cup of coffee," she announced a few minutes later, sliding the cup onto a small saucer and pushing it across the coffee bar for him to drink. In the time it had taken her to brew his cup, he'd tugged off three crystals and had fingerprinted up her front glass - most likely checking to see if the line over by The Amazing Nino's had gone down. He was still there in her shop, so it obviously hadn't.
She withheld her displeasure, smiling politely as he settled himself on one of the stools at the bar and brought the cup to his lips, completely ignoring the smiley face she'd attempted to draw in the foam for him.
"Ah! Hot!" he squealed, spilling coffee all over the counter. He looked up with a frown. "Does this mess up your reading?"
Becky held in her urge to scream at him, grabbing a damp rag instead to clean up his mess. And she thought she was clumsy! She remembered that he was the dumb one in the Miracle Boys duo. He just didn't have Yokoyama to berate him here. "No, it should be fine. Just...drink more carefully, please, Aiba-san."
He sipped slower while she wondered how long it would take to get her crystals hung up again once he left for his press conference. Speaking of...
"So Aiba-san, what's your press conference for?"
"Oh!" he said. He set down his coffee cup and tried the winning celebrity smile on her again. He'd been sparkling and pretty when he'd come in, but that had worn off quickly enough once he'd started ruining her shop's decor. "For a drama. I'm going to be starring in a drama, so I just thought I'd see if things looked favorable. You know. Fortune-wise."
"You could have gone to a shrine, right? Prayed for success?" she asked, rinsing out the pot and demitasse cups.
"That's what Jun-kun suggested I do..."
She didn't have to be a mind reader after all. "So because you like to make him mad, you decided to go to a fortune teller instead."
He giggled, and it was less charming than it was on television. For one, he snorted in person. "You're good, Madame Becky. Are you a psychologist too?"
"I'd be charging you more if I was," she told him, turning off the sink.
"I like you already," he admitted. "Since Yoko and I got famous, people are always falling over themselves to suck up to us. Wanting us to endorse products and do gags over and over. But not you. You're funny."
She smiled despite herself. "You never know, Aiba-san. I may ask for a favorable review of my shop when you're next on television."
He downed the rest of his coffee and slid the cup across to her. "You have good timing. Maybe you could be on variety shows like me. Madame Becky, the sassy fortune teller."
She rolled her eyes. Sakurai Sho from the Bureau of Magical Concealment would definitely say no to that idea. "Let's see what the future holds for your drama," she said. All she really had to do was say a bunch of vague, positive things, and he'd leave with a smile on his face. It was what he wanted to hear, after all. It was what everyone went to a fortune teller to hear.
But as soon as she picked the cup up in her hand, there was a flash before her eyes. She felt an arm around her back, so warm. A sharp intake of breath, her own breath. And then there was a mouth over her own, so sweet and perfect and gentle and when it was done the person leaned back to smile at her. Love was in his eyes. Love for her.
And it was Aiba Masaki.
When she emerged from whatever bizarre state she'd been in, she discovered that she was crouched down behind her coffee bar and the shards of the coffee cup were at her feet. Aiba-san was shaking her shoulder.
"Madame Becky? Madame Becky, are you okay? Was it that bad? Is my future that horrible?"
She scooted away from him in a hurry, falling back onto her bottom to stare at him. She'd had charms and things backfire on her, but she'd never had a vision like that before. Hell, she'd never had a vision at all. Her mom had tried to induce them in her for years in hopes she could be a decent psychic, but it had never worked. It was just another thing she was awful at, Becky the mixed up witch.
But she'd felt it so strongly as soon as her fingers had touched Aiba's empty coffee cup and she'd glanced at the pattern within. It had definitely been him embracing her, definitely his mouth on hers. What kind of vision was that? She'd only met him fifteen minutes earlier! She felt embarrassment hit her, turning red.
"Madame Becky?" he asked again.
She stumbled to her feet. In the future, she'd kiss Aiba-san. Aiba-san, the comedian who yanked all her crystals down with his clumsy fingers. No, no, it had to be a false vision. Something had obviously backfired in her brain.
"I'm fine, I'm quite fine. I'm very sorry," she said, shooing him away from the shards on the floor. "Be careful, don't cut yourself right before your press conference."
"Is it going to get terrible ratings? Is everyone going to hate it?" Aiba was asking her frantically. "Yoko will never stop laughing at me if I fail! I mean, he's just jealous that I got a starring role before him. But I never got jealous when he shot that bubble gum commercial with the girls in bikinis...well, not that jealous..."
"Aiba-san," she interrupted him, still feeling a little dizzy after her strange vision. "I saw great things, marvelous things."
Like how wonderful a kisser you are, she thought with an odd excitement before reminding herself that it was obviously a big lie. Someone like him would never kiss someone like her.
"Really?" he asked, and she had to stop staring at his mouth.
"Yes, really. You'll have a...great co-star," she started babbling, anything to get him and the bizarre fantasy out of her mind. "You'll be widely praised. They'll say that Aiba-san isn't just a comedian, but a good actor..."
"You saw all that in the coffee cup?" he wondered aloud. "But I mean, if that's true, then that's awesome. Oh, Madame Becky, you had me so worried!"
"Haha, sorry!" she said, pushing him towards the door. "But anyhow, don't want you to be late! For the press conference. I envision...bad stuff happening if you're late. Okay? Thanks for patronizing my shop!"
She shoved him out into the alleyway. "But don't I have to pay?" he asked her.
"Service! A service for today!"
"Thank you, goodbye now!"
Aiba headed off to a sleek black sedan parked a few buildings down and got inside, and the car pulled away as soon as the door closed. Matsumoto really did keep Aiba to a strict schedule. She stood there in the street, confused and still thinking about her strange vision until she felt a tap on her shoulder.
Of course, it was him.
The Amazing Nino was smirking at her with that all-knowing smirk he had. "Was that Aiba Masaki just now?"
"He wanted to see you. He had to settle for me instead," she admitted.
"Hmm," he said, giving her a knowing smile. "Something's wrong with you." He gestured across the street. "My services are always available should you require...guidance."
She turned on him with a scowl. "He's just some bigheaded celebrity. Probably looking for some cute story to tell on television about seeing a psychic."
Nino smiled wider, and the car with Matsumoto and Aiba finally was out of sight. "You're so cynical. You saw something in his coffee that weirded you out, didn't you?"
"Nothing out of the ordinary," she replied almost too quickly, and before she could blink there was a card in his hand. He waved it in her face, and the jester painted on the card seemed to be smirking at her the same as Nino himself did.
"I think this is your card," Nino said. "They say that the Fool means a new beginning, Madame Becky. You have no idea where you're going, and no idea what to expect. I think that's what you saw in that man's coffee. Funny you should see your own future in another man's cup."
"I think you're full of it," she said before heading back into her shop. The Amazing Nino's laughter rang in her ears, and nothing could erase the phantom feeling of Aiba Masaki's lips on hers.
It was annoying to have a roommate who didn't contribute to the rent, especially with the current economic climate. Then again, Becky knew, it wasn't really Ohno-kun's fault that he couldn't help out. He was dead, after all.
Being magical made witches and wizards more in tune with the spirit world, and Becky knew the apartment had been too good to be true. It was a safe neighborhood, located close to the city center, and it cost half as much as the other apartments in the area. It was still expensive, but it was Becky's kind of expensive. Upon moving in, however, she'd learned why it was cheaper.
The place seemed to just feel funny to the average person, and the reason for that was because it was haunted. Not that Ohno Satoshi was an evil poltergeist or anything. Far from it. He'd died young, and he hadn't yet moved on from this world. He didn't remember why or how he'd died so he was stuck there, not that it ever seemed to bother him. And thus he'd become Becky's roommate.
It wasn't easy living with a man who wasn't a boyfriend. She could never fully relax because while Ohno-kun was kind, he wasn't very observant. He tended to open doors without knocking since, after all, it had been his apartment before he'd died. So going around without her bra or with a puke green exfoliating face mask on was just not something she felt comfortable doing in case Ohno saw her.
She entered the apartment with a sigh. "I'm home!" she called, slipping her shoes off. If anyone heard her, they probably thought she was talking to herself or talking to a pet.
But there was Ohno, sitting on a cushion on the floor with a beer cracked open. Despite being a ghost, he was always asking her to buy him beer, and he could still put them away just as good as a human could. "Ah, welcome home, Becky!" he said cheerfully.
So it was nice to have someone to talk to, but it wasn't like it could go anywhere. She didn't have a boyfriend. She had a freeloading, beer-guzzling, oblivious ghost roommate. And she couldn't exactly introduce him to anyone. She moved into the living room, dropping to her knees before stretching out flat on the floor.
"Ugh," she murmured into the rug.
He had kind of a fuzzy outline rather than an ethereal glow, but he was solid enough despite being a ghost. That helped on days like these, and she gratefully accepted his pat on her back. "What's wrong?" he asked, lowering the volume on the TV. "Rough day?"
She sighed, wiggling her fingers to magically close the blinds and shut out the outside. Somewhere out there in Tokyo was Aiba Masaki. She explained her day to Ohno, about Sakurai's inspection and Aiba Masaki's visit. And then about the press conference she'd sat through on the TV in the back room.
Aiba Masaki, smiling and beautiful as the cameras snapped. He'd explained how excited he was to be playing a hardworking accountant who solved financial mysteries. It sounded like the most boring TV drama of all time, and she'd told him it was going to be a great success. He'd even admitted that his future was looking bright, all thanks to a brief stop at a fortune teller - at least he hadn't mentioned her name.
Since Ohno was a good listener and never passed (much) judgment on her, she admitted the vision she'd seen of her and Aiba. Well, she didn't tell him about the kissing part - just that she saw a future where she was with Aiba in some capacity. It wasn't really a lie.
"Hmm," Ohno considered, scratching the peach fuzz on his ghostly chin. "You haven't had any visions before. I mean, just in the past week you blew all the fuses in the fuse box, accidentally defrosted the freezer when you meant to turn on the microwave from in here..."
"...tried to turn your bedsheets rainbow colors and ended up turning them gray when you could have just gone to the store and bought them..."
He smiled. "But no visions. That's really cool, Becky-chan, maybe you're getting better!"
"I'm sure it's just another misfire. Like everything," she said, sitting up and hugging one of her purple fuzzy pillows. "I can't do a regular job. I can't do a magical job. What should I do with myself? I'm bleeding money with that shop."
"But it makes you happy. And it made Aiba-san happy today."
She wrinkled her nose. "Happiness doesn't pay for your beer though."
He shrugged. "What do you want me to say though? I mean, having a vision is something new. Maybe your powers are just a little behind, developmentally-speaking, and now they're emerging. Maybe you're going to get better at everything." He smiled, the trouble-free smile of the dead. "You shouldn't be so hard on yourself. I'm sure you're going to be really great someday."
She highly doubted that. How could she trust anything magical she'd done or seen? After all, she'd seen a future with Aiba Masaki, and there was no possible way she'd ever run into someone famous like him again.
When she got to the shop in the morning, she almost fainted. Matsumoto Jun was there in another expensive suit, leaning against the fancy car from the day before. "I need you to stay closed today," he explained sharply, opening the car door. "Will you come with me?"
She held onto her purse protectively, using it as a barrier between herself and Aiba's manager. "What do you mean? Am I in some sort of trouble? For what I said to him yesterday?"
He tapped the door with his hand impatiently. "Masaki has...requested your services."
She raised an eyebrow. "He what? Why can't he just come to the shop like any other customer?"
Matsumoto raised an eyebrow right back, and she understood just why Aiba liked to tease him so much. He was so serious! "You know why he can't be wandering around this kind of neighborhood."
Becky's pride hurt a bit at that, but she tried not to let it show. It wasn't like she worked in the red light district! "What if I don't want to get in the car with you? What if that's not the way I do business?"
Matsumoto gestured behind him to The Amazing Nino's shop. "I'm sure that your competitor would be just what Aiba needs to..."
"Oh fine, I'll come with you," she blurted out stupidly.
"Finally. Get in."
Matsumoto stayed preoccupied with messages on his phone as the driver pulled away, Becky seated beside him nervously. She kept her purse on her lap and hugged it to her, wondering how she'd let herself agree so readily. Aiba had requested her services? What did that even mean? She presumably needed her coffee grinder to even do her job properly. She'd let the thought of Aiba choosing Nino over her be enough to convince her.
They arrived at the TV Asahi studios, and Matsumoto escorted her past security, handing her a badge. "You'll just have to flash this every time you come now."
"What are you talking about?" she asked, but he said nothing. And he walked fast too, especially with his long strides, and she struggled to keep up as they wandered through a maze of hallways overcrowded with staff and wardrobe carts and spare set pieces.
Finally they arrived outside of a room labeled as Aiba Masaki's dressing room. Matsumoto knocked once and opened the door. Aiba was sitting there in a makeup chair reading a magazine while a woman styled his hair, but he immediately sprang to his feet upon seeing her reflection in the mirror.
"Madame Becky, you came!" he exclaimed, hurrying over to grab hold of her hand and shake it vigorously. "I'm so glad you came. Sorry for the whole cloak and dagger act, but I wanted to get you here without a lot of fuss."
"Nice to see you again," she said nervously, noticing all the staff around them. Probably producers and makeup people and other managers like Matsumoto. "I was wondering why..."
"Can I have a moment with Madame Becky please?" Aiba asked with a smile, and everyone immediately cleared the room, leaving them alone. That was star power for you.
It was incredibly difficult not to stare at his mouth. She'd been up late the night before. Even after Ohno's encouragement of her abilities, she couldn't stop thinking about Aiba Masaki and the unlikelihood of a second meeting like this. About his perfect looks and perfect smile. And about his clumsy behavior. For every appealing point, he surely had one negative. And yet...
"Aiba-san," she muttered.
He wrapped a friendly arm around her shoulder, escorting her to sit in one of the other makeup chairs. She wondered if the bright lights around the mirror highlighted her distress all the more. "Let's get down to business then," he said, looking at her warmly. "I realize taking you away from work isn't very nice, but you didn't seem that busy anyhow..."
She clenched her fists and tried to smile through his unintended insult.
"...so I mean, if you didn't pick up on it yesterday, I'm kind of nervous about starring in this drama. Really nervous. Dry heave nervous," he said, scratching his head and most likely ruining the clean effect the stylist had been going for with his hair. "So I was hoping you could help me."
"You want me to read your fortune again? I saw positive energy all around you," she lied. She hadn't seen anything but him making out with her.
He leaned forward to look into her eyes. She thought of The Amazing Nino and his free of charge reading for her the day before. The Fool card was her card. Well, she certainly felt like a fool, falling right into the "ikemen comedian" trap Aiba was laying for her. "Madame Becky..."
"It's going to be a three month shoot, and I need all the positive energy you can foresee for me." He bowed his head to her. "Please agree to be my spiritual advisor while I film this drama. Please!"
Spiritual advisor? What the heck was that? But there Aiba was, the famous comedian Aiba Masaki, and he was begging her to stay by his side for three months? Had she really foreseen the future? A future where she and Aiba...
He looked up again, worry in his eyes. "No good? I mean, it's a long time to be away from work, but you wouldn't have to do it every day. I get days off, and sometimes we film at night so you can still open your shop during the day!"
But what would the Bureau of Magical Concealment say? And what would the press say if people found out that the lead actor in a major television drama was utilizing the services of a fortune teller? Surely Aiba-san would become the laughingstock of the entertainment world.
"Jun thinks I'm out of my mind, but he just doesn't understand the pressure! I don't need you to read my coffee grounds every day, just...be here for me. I mean, every other time I've had my fortune told they tell me I'm not meant to be an actor, that I should stick to playing the idiot role. But you saw great things for me. I want to keep you around."
He reached forward boldly to squeeze her hand.
"I want you near me. You can be my good luck charm!"
When she got back to her shop that afternoon, all she could do was pace back and forth. It wasn't like she had any customers anyhow. Everything that had happened that morning was racing through her mind. Becoming the bodyguard of Aiba's mental health. Signing the bizarre contract naming her as Aiba's "life coach" while Matsumoto Jun looked like he was about to keel over and die of embarrassment. The bright smile Aiba had given her before telling her to meet him on set the following day ready to channel all her positive energy at his acting. The ridiculous amount of money they were going to pay her for three months of positive energy...
Now she was doomed. If there was one thing she was terrible at, it was channeling her energy - positive or otherwise. She thought of all the plants she'd tried to raise with all her heart, only for them to die. She thought of the cat she'd acquired in hopes of it serving as her familiar - it had run away and never come back. And she of course had a ghost in her apartment she couldn't do anything about.
"Yaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!" she screamed out loud in the middle of her shop, unable to hold her terror in any longer.
The door opened, setting off the chimes, and there was The Amazing Nino. "Ah Becky, did you finally see yourself closing this shop down? I've seen it in the cards for months but didn't have the heart to tell you."
She shook her head. "Oh shut up. And don't come barging in here."
"You were screaming like someone was trying to kill you," he pointed out. "I can't ignore a screaming woman in distress, even if it's you."
Becky slumped down in a seat at one of the tables, sneering at him. "Don't you have people to bamboozle?"
He sat down across from her, wiggling his fingers at the cookie jar she kept on the counter. It floated over and landed between them gracefully. He lifted the lid and helped himself. "You're obviously in some trouble here, and it's the neighborly thing to do. See, I even closed my shop to help you."
She peered over his shoulder and out the window to see his new sign: Ninomiya Kazunari, Wilderness Explorer and Guide. "And you think nobody's going to come by?"
"Nah, I hate the wilderness," he said, munching on his cookie. "So what's the problem?"
Not that it was really his business, but at the very least, he was probably the most objective person she knew. She explained her meeting at TV Asahi and her brand new role as Aiba's assistant for the next three months. He sat patiently, helping himself to a second cookie while she let out her worries.
When she was done, he looked at her with something she'd never seen in his face before, at least not when she was around. It looked like jealousy. "Well, if you don't want to help him, surely I'd be a better choice. My skills are top notch. And I've helped dozens of celebrities before."
"I'm sure you have," she muttered. "But I already signed the contract."
"Then do your job. I mean, if his drama tanks at least he's got a good scapegoat."
"You're always such a comfort, Nino," she grumbled.
He helped himself to a third cookie, unpaid, and got to his feet. "I think you've got a real opportunity to do well here. But really, how are you supposed to help him if you can't even trust your own abilities? Look at me for example. I'm awesome. I'm amazing. And that's what keeps people coming back." He leaned forward until they were nose to nose. "Believe in yourself, and surely Aiba-san will believe in you. It's the oldest trick in the book."
He left the shop with a cheerful wave, and Becky didn't feel all that comforted. Believe in yourself? Easier said than done. She focused on the cookie jar, wiggling her fingers. The jar wobbled a bit as it lifted off the table with none of the ease The Amazing Nino had shown. It took a few seconds but she slowly moved it back to its original position, setting it down with a clumsy thunk.
A cookie jar was fragile, sure, but a person's livelihood was in her hands now. Becky was pretty certain that was something even more fragile.
The set at the TV Asahi studios was bustling when she got in the next day. She'd had a breathe-into-a-paper-bag kind of panic attack the night before, and Ohno had had to talk her down from it, but now that she was back at the studio, one among dozens of people, she didn't feel as frightened. At least she wasn't the one being filmed.
She and her ghostly roommate had figured that if she was really going to try pulling off some spiritual role, she had to look the part. She'd let her long hair out of its usual ponytail and curled it a bit. She wore a long green dress that reached her ankles and a rainbow colored hooded cloak from a party store. At least she could use the extra income from Aiba's management to pay for it.
Matsumoto found her first, seeming to hold back a shudder at her appearance. She'd been in jeans on their previous two meetings. "Good morning," he said as politely as he could. He brought her around the set, introducing her in quick succession to the director, a few producers, the scriptwriter, and a few members of the crew. Finally they ended up at the craft services table where Aiba was shoving sushi rolls into his mouth.
"Ah, Madame Becky!" he cried happily, rice spraying from his mouth and onto her cloak.
"Just Becky is fine," she said, inclining her head.
"I was hoping you could give me a quick reading before we film the first scene," he said, tugging her by the hand and pulling her closer. "Do you need my palm? Do I have to have Jun-kun run to Starbucks real quick?"
"I'm not running to Starbucks real quick," Matsumoto grumbled.
She didn't really do palm readings, but Matsumoto and Aiba were eyeing her with suspicion and hope respectfully. So she took Aiba's ridiculously sweaty palm in her hands, examining it quickly.
"Um, well here's your uh...your life line," she said, drawing her finger in a semi-circle. "See how it curves like that? It um...it's a good life line. You're full of vitality and enthusiasm."
"Great!" he said, his hand wiggling a bit in hers. "Is there a drama line?"
"A drama line?"
"Aiba-san, we'll be starting in just a minute!" one of the producers called.
He wiggled his fingers nervously. "Becky, can you tell me what my drama line says?"
There was no such thing, but if she told him there was and she told him convincingly, it would be enough, right? She poked at his thumb and took a deep breath. Ohno-kun had said that it would seem more realistic if she took deep breaths before making up answers.
"Aiba-san, we need you!" the producer shouted.
He was so close. Aiba was way too close to her. She could smell the sushi that he'd eaten. "It's...it's...your drama line is..."
Matsumoto started tugging on Aiba's arm. "Masaki, you're being rude to the staff!"
Aiba's voice dropped to a whisper as he looked deep into her eyes. "Becky, help me..."
She felt a shock go through her body then at the sound of his voice, and she released his hand with a gasp. "You'll have to work very hard, but in the end you'll feel a great sense of accomplishment," she blurted out.
He beamed from ear to ear. "Thanks, you're the best!" he cried, running off to the set and shouting apologies to everyone.
Her hand was positively shaking. And all because he'd sounded so desperate for her help. The way he'd looked at her had contributed, too. Something had happened, something she didn't understand about her magic, but the fortune had come racing out of her. Matsumoto patted her on the shoulder.
"Are you alright, Becky-san?" he asked.
She was still trembling. Had she been so convincing that she'd even convinced herself? "Yeah," she muttered, pulling her rainbow cloak around her. "Yes, I'm fine."
She stayed back while the staff introduced the actors and everyone clapped politely. "And now," the staff member said, gesturing to a woman Becky hadn't even noticed, "playing the role of Aiba-san's love interest Yamane Yuko, we have Yoshitaka Yuriko-san!"
Everyone clapped while the woman walked onto the set with a graceful air. But while everyone cheered for the actress, Becky felt her blood run cold. The woman was a few years younger than her if Becky had to guess, with jet black hair and a strange quirk to her lips. She approached Aiba and shook hands with him, and Becky could feel a headache starting.
Aiba-san's love interest Yamane Yuko. The accountant drama had a romantic storyline? She hung back behind Matsumoto, suddenly embarrassed at her body's strange reaction to this woman. Was she actually jealous? They were actors. They were playing parts! But the vision she'd had with Aiba the other day, and the way her body had just reacted during Aiba's palm reading...what did they mean?
She could have laughed at herself for behaving so stupidly. She barely knew Aiba. But then again, she thought, she was responsible for Aiba's well-being for the next three months. She supposed that she'd have to keep track of this Yoshitaka Yuriko as well. To ensure they worked well together for Aiba's sake.
Filming for the day went surprisingly smoothly. Becky mostly stayed back and out of the way, watching how relaxed Aiba seemed compared to how he'd been when Becky had first arrived. She hoped that she'd been able to help him even with that ridiculous palm reading.
After a few hours, she noticed that Aiba and his co-star were chatting easily. She watched them between takes, running through lines, joking and laughing. Becky felt her heart clench a bit, but it was irrational of her. Aiba was a comedian - he probably got along with anyone, and besides, it was best for him to get along with his co-star.
When filming wrapped for the day, Aiba found her again on his way back to the dressing rooms. "First day of filming complete!" he said cheerfully despite his long day. "And I'm sure I have you to thank. I think I only NG'ed two or three times. That's a record for me!"
"I'm happy to help," she said shyly.
"Location shooting tomorrow, though," he noted. "Dress warm, and Jun-kun will make sure the car's ready to pick you up. See you then!"
One day down, Becky thought, the better part of three months to go.
The first few weeks of filming went as best for Aiba-san as Becky could imagine. The first episode would be airing that night, and the set was abuzz with the reasons why it would probably be a success. Aiba and Yuriko-san had spent much of the week going on variety shows to promote the drama, and everyone had been talking about their interesting chemistry. His comedic charm and her quirky humor. That their characters' potential romance would be a definite reason to watch.
Becky had to admit there was something going on between the two of them. Even though it hadn't been so long, Aiba and Yuriko were acting like old friends. Sometimes when Aiba was filming scenes on his own or with other actors, Yuriko would show up with treats or with encouraging words, and Aiba would accept them just as gratefully as he accepted a coffee or palm reading from Becky.
Well, it made sense, Becky kept trying to tell herself. They had to get comfortable with each other now if they were going to have to hug or even kiss by episode eight or nine. But it seemed like Aiba's attention would be on Yuriko whenever she was in the room and Becky's presence seemed more than unnecessary. Yuriko was more of a coach than Becky seemed to be.
As filming wrapped for the day, Matsumoto found her sitting in the rear of the studio next to some light fixtures and cords that weren't being used. "Becky-san," Matsumoto said, not eyeing her as awkwardly as he had when they'd first started working together. He'd gotten used to the rainbow cloak at least. "Masaki was hoping you'd join us for dinner. We've booked a private table at one of his favorite restaurants so we can watch the premiere episode together."
"Me? He wants me to come?" she asked, stumbling to her feet and nearly tripping over a pile of wires. Aiba hadn't done much more than greet her that morning once he arrived on set - he hadn't even asked for a reading.
"We'll be leaving in a few minutes."
Matsumoto didn't wait for her answer, and within 10 minutes she was in a car with Matsumoto and Aiba en route to a restaurant in Shibuya, said to be famous for its fried chicken. The potential for a greasy, messy dinner, and Aiba seemed over the moon about it.
"I wonder if I'm going to look sexy on the screen," he mused, leaning back against the seat cushion lazily. "What do you foresee Becky?"
Becky was glad that it was dark inside the car. If anything, Aiba the serious drama actor had only become more attractive since she'd started coming to the set. He'd taken her advice to work hard, and he seemed far more diligent and thus attractive to her. And it didn't help that Ohno-kun liked to pry these sorts of details out of her every night over beers - he only made her more conscious of her growing attraction.
"I'm sure lots of people will fall in love with...your character," she said quietly. "I can see them rooting for you."
"That's good to hear," Aiba cheered.
They were escorted to the private table in the rear of the restaurant, and a TV was wheeled in. Matsumoto shunned the greasy food while Aiba tore into it with abandon. The long hours of filming were taking a toll on him and he'd lost some weight - he ate whenever he had a spare moment, and he'd been eating a lot of junk food. And it didn't help that Yuriko-san brought him cupcakes nearly every day.
Becky nibbled on some chicken as the drama got started. The storyline was, as expected, kind of dull - she didn't understand why someone would write an entire manga about accountants, much less make a drama adaptation of it. The Japanese entertainment industry was clearly running out of interesting ideas. But she had to admit that Aiba's character was charming, even as the man himself was sucking grease off of his fingers noisily beside her at the table.
The door to the private room slid open, and Aiba looked up with a huge smile. "Yuriko-chan, you made it!"
Matsumoto scooted over so Yoshitaka Yuriko could slide into the booth next to Aiba. Becky suddenly felt self-conscious, seeing the fresh-faced and beautiful actress get comfortable while she was sitting there with a napkin for a bib and a chicken wing in her hand. "Hello, Yoshitaka-san, the drama's really good," she said kindly, gently setting the wing on her plate and reaching for her glass of water instead.
To Becky's surprise though, the usually cheerful actress completely ignored her and wrapped her hand around Aiba's wrist. "Oh Aiba-kun, you started the show without me!" Yuriko complained, looking rather disappointed in him.
Becky slunk down further in her seat as Aiba blushed. "But the show's broadcasted at a certain time, it's not like I can control it."
The two actors sat rather close together while Matsumoto made phone calls about Aiba's schedule for the coming week and Becky sat alone and pretty much ignored. She sipped her water uncomfortably, trying to watch the TV even as Aiba and his co-star talked noisily about bizarre things like having humans as pets and the pros and cons of long underwear. The two of them were the weirdest people she'd ever met.
They kept talking as soon as the drama ended and the TV switched to the next show, and Becky decided she'd had enough. She got to her feet, setting her napkin down on the table. "It's getting late, so I better get back."
Matsumoto had gone out into the hall for another phone call, and Yuriko-san was laughing as Aiba made two chicken legs do a bizarre dance on the tablecloth. Neither of them acted like they'd heard her.
She bowed humbly. "Well, thank you for the meal," she said, picking up her purse. "I'll see you on set tomorrow."
She waited a few moments for either of them to acknowledge her, and when they didn't she left in a huff. Jealousy had never really become her, and as she walked home in her distressed condition, several street lights popped and exploded, showering sparks down onto the pavement.
After that night at the restaurant, odd things started to happen on the set. The drama had received astonishing ratings of 21%, and everyone seemed to be in an excitable mood. Maybe that explained why Aiba had misplaced his script three times in as many days. Maybe that explained why he'd gone through filming with toilet paper stuck to his shoe for an hour before anyone noticed.
But the last thing Becky needed was for Aiba to land himself in trouble. He was still working very hard at his acting, but at the expense of his common sense. She decided to use what magic spells she could actually count on to help him, even if they weren't as powerful as something any other witch could do. And since they were so lacking in power, Sakurai Sho from the Bureau of Magical Concealment had given his begrudging approval.
Becky brewed Aiba special coffee that she'd cast a mild calming charm on - it still sat on the craft services table in its thermos. Aiba had instead gone for the hot cocoa Yuriko-san had brought for the actors and staff. She'd also baked him a cake with memory charms in the batter and rainbow sprinkles in the frosting - it too sat neglected, although one of the AD's had tried a piece and showered her with praise.
She was starting to feel unnecessary and unwanted, and yet the paychecks were still coming in without fail, and Matsumoto ensured that the car was ready to pick her up every day Aiba had filming.
They were just about to shoot a new scene in the studio, and the director was giving Aiba and the other actors some last minute instructions. Becky watched, almost happy because Yuriko-san's character wasn't in this scene. It was rude to think so, but it wasn't as though Yuriko was as nice as she appeared. The actress watched the filming from her nice vantage point at the scriptwriter's side.
The director called "Action!" and the scene began. The actors went through their dialogue skillfully, and Becky could see everyone watching Aiba-san happily. He wasn't the most amazing actor, but he'd seemed to have this magnetic pull ever since the first day of filming. All the critics and TV watchers were talking about it. Even Yokoyama had teased his comedy partner about it on a late night show the previous night.
So everyone's attention was on Aiba as the camera rolled, and that's when Becky noticed the scraping noise. She got out of her chair in the rear of the studio and approached quietly, trying to determine where the sound had come from. Her eyes were drawn upward to the catwalk far above the set - one of the light fixtures had come loose and was just about to fall.
She didn't want to interrupt the filming. She wouldn't dare! Not when she was already kind of a nobody on set. But it made the scraping noise again, and nobody seemed to hear it! It detached with a squeak, and the trajectory was obvious. It would land on Aiba-san's head if she didn't do anything. She had never been skilled with objects in motion, but she felt the same electric shock course through her just as it had when she'd read Aiba's non-existent drama line on his palm.
Every bit of her father's magical blood seemed to come to her aid, and she directed the light fixture away mid-fall with a fast swish of her wrist, and it crashed into the wall of the set, knocking it down with the force of her magic. There was a panic, and the actors stopped abruptly.
"Cut! Cut!" the director screeched. "Is everyone okay?"
Becky hurried forward to make sure Aiba was fine, but she was too late.
Yoshitaka Yuriko was already out of her seat, having knocked Aiba down to the ground and was shielding his long, lanky frame as best she could with her thin, petite one. "Aiba-kun!" Yuriko-san was crying, and everyone burst into applause.
"That light could have killed him!" the staff were saying. "She saved his life!" "Yuriko-san moved Aiba out of danger."
Yuriko blushed, her arm wrapped around her co-star's middle as she helped him up. "I didn't think. I just acted. I did what my heart told me to do."
Everyone let out a collective "awwwwww" that made Becky want to puke.
She stood there in the background as all the staff rushed forward to help the stars off the set. Matsumoto came over to her side. "Becky-san, are you alright?"
She watched Yuriko soak up all the praise as they left for the dressing rooms. The staff were already on their way up to the catwalk or down on the set floor examining how the light had knocked the wall down.
"Yes," she said through gritted teeth. "Yes, I'm just fine."
"Was I supposed to let it fall on his head?" she screeched, thumping her fist on the table.
Sakurai Sho sat across from her, adding some milk to the coffee she'd brewed for him. The situation was serious enough to warrant a house call from the Bureau of Magical Concealment. Ohno sat watching the both of them, sipping a can of really fancy beer Becky had angrily bought him with Aiba's money after her terrible day.
Sakurai looked at her over the top of his glasses. "Becky-san, I don't recall granting permission for you to use magic of that caliber while in Aiba-san's employ. The little charms, fine, but that was high level."
"It wasn't high level," she shot back. "You just mean it was high level for someone like me."
The wizard sipped his drink. "We already have people in place. The police will discover that the light fell straight down from a different part of the catwalk. There's no law of physics that could have explained what you did, so we're covering for you."
"Well, thank you very much. I'm sorry my life-saving tactics were such a nuisance for you."
Ohno set down his beer. "She only did it to help Aiba-san," her roommate pointed out.
Sakurai nodded. "The drama's great, Aiba-san's great, I know, but you could have kept the light floating and moved it safely and quietly onto the catwalk. Such a dramatic gesture is reckless. Please be more careful or I may have to rescind your privileges."
"I'll rescind your privileges," she replied.
"Becky, that doesn't make any sense," Ohno said.
"Don't take his side, dead guy!"
Ohno and Sakurai exchanged a worried glance. Great. Just what she needed. Sakurai as a babysitter for her job and Ohno as a babysitter at home. Didn't anyone care that she'd performed the strongest magic of her entire life in order to save a man from getting smushed by a light fixture?
There was a knock at the door then, and the three of them froze. Well, to be fair, two of them froze - Ohno and his beer popped out of the room to hide somewhere else in the apartment.
"Becky?" came the voice from the outside. "Becky, are you home? It's me, Aiba Masaki!"
Sho shook his head. "You're not here," he mouthed.
"But I am here!" she mouthed right back.
"You've caused enough trouble today!" Sakurai mouthed again.
She tugged him to his feet, yanking on his tie. "Just a moment, Aiba-san!" She opened up her closet door, hearing Sakurai's pathetic squeak as she shoved his stuck-up magical behind inside it and slammed the door.
Okay, she was definitely going to be in trouble for that, but she'd deal with that later. For right now, she had Japan's newest heartthrob actor knocking on her door. She glanced in the mirror quickly - hair in pigtails, pink pajamas covered in hearts...she didn't look like a fortune teller at all. She hurriedly grabbed a snow globe her parents had bought for her on their last trip to England and tried to look aloof and mystical as she pushed the door open.
"Aiba-san," she said in her spookiest voice. "I saw you coming...in my crystal ball."
He stared at the snow globe briefly, clad in a puffy vest, plaid button down, and jeans. He looked blissfully normal, not like the flashy man on the set that every girl in the country wanted to date. It was the blissfully normal part that Becky was sadly most attracted to. "Oh really? That's cool. I'm sorry to bother you though."
She allowed him to enter. "Ah, but I saw you coming. I..." She looked at the table, noticing her mug of coffee and the one that Sakurai had been drinking. "I...made you some coffee."
"Well, that was very nice of you."
They sat down across from one another. Becky could imagine Ohno quietly sipping his expensive beer in the bathroom, Sakurai fuming in the closet. She couldn't bear the thought of Aiba-san discovering that she had two other men in her apartment presently, a dead one and a wizard to boot.
"Oh, you put milk in it. You know me so well, Becky," Aiba said cheerfully, sipping right out of the cup Sakurai had been drinking from. She hoped the wizard wasn't the type to backwash.
She sipped her coffee nervously, the snow globe with Stonehenge inside sitting on the table between them. "So you came to ask me something."
"I did," he admitted, setting down the drink. "I mean, I know that you're contracted to help me with my professional development. So Jun-kun doesn't know I'm here. I mean, he thinks I'm at pilates or something, I forget what he had in his planner so I can't stay too long."
"I just...I feel like I'm ready to take this big step. I don't know what's come over me. Sometimes I feel like there's this fog covering my vision and other times there's this ridiculous clarity. And today's one of those foggy times, and I know I have to do this. I don't know why, I can't even explain it. But I have to go through with it, every part of me is saying I have to."
She shook the snow globe and let the little flakes settle around mini-Stonehenge. "Well, just tell me what's troubling you, and I'll give you my honest prediction. No charge."
He smiled, and her chest tightened. He hadn't looked at her like that for weeks now. She thought of her silly vision, of the way his arms had felt around her. The way his kiss had made her feel. Her heart pounded as he stared into her eyes. She remembered how strongly she'd fought to save his life that day and all the effort she'd put into the coffee and cake. It was hopeless to deny it any longer. She was falling in love with Aiba Masaki for real, wasn't she?
He looked down at his coffee cup. "Becky, I'm thinking of asking Yuriko-chan to be my girlfriend. I mean, to go out with me in hopes of becoming my girlfriend," he said shyly. "Do you...do you see that going well for me? I mean, I know that we're both busy with the drama, but I feel like there's something between her and me, especially after what happened today. Can you see it in your crystal ball? Do you need to see my palm?"
She couldn't breathe. "Aiba-san..."
"I'm sorry, I know this is sudden, and you're doing your very best to help me with the drama. I know we haven't chatted much lately, I'm really sorry about that. So I mean, if it's too much to ask..."
She looked down, seeing the last of the snowflakes falling around Stonehenge. Becky couldn't see the future, not really. But she knew exactly how to make Aiba-san happy. She'd worked so hard for the past few weeks to really get to know him. If she thought about the job he'd hired her to do, the answer was ridiculously obvious.
"Aiba-san," she said, hiding her shaking hands in her lap so he couldn't see them. "I can see that you and Yuriko-san will have a bright future together. I don't need my crystal ball for that."
He got to his feet and let out an excited yelp. "Oh really? Really really? Oh Becky, it has to be true if you say so! Thank you! Thank you so much...I...I could scream, you know? You're the best, Becky, the absolute best. I should go, I have so much to think about. I mean, how am I going to ask? What if the paparazzi find out? Jun-kun's going to kill me, but it'll totally be worth it!"
He was utterly giddy, and she stumbled to her feet, escorting him to the door. "Well, the future is always being written," she said quietly, "but I think you'll will write an amazing one together."
Aiba slipped his shoes back on and embraced her right there in the entryway. His arms felt just the way they had in her vision. Maybe even better. He was warm and perfect and in that split second, he was hers.
But then he was opening the door and heading out into the night. "Becky, thank you!"
The door shut and she slid down the wall to the floor in a confused, jealous heap. Why had she told him that? He trusted her, and she could have told him anything. That Yuriko-san didn't like him that way, don't bother. That Yuriko-san had a sexually transmitted disease, don't bother. That Yuriko-san was a lesbian, don't bother. All those options and she'd decided to tell him just what he wanted to hear, the same way she had when he'd visited her shop for the first time.
She heard her closet door open and a few moments later, Sakurai-san was looming over her. He crouched down and handed her his handkerchief. She hadn't even realized she'd started to cry.
"You should quit," he said gently, far kinder than he'd been before. "You really should quit, you know. It'll just hurt more if you stay."
"I promised him. Three months, I promised him," she replied, dabbing at her eyes. The feeling of Sakurai's handkerchief was already calming her down - the thing had to be laced with some sort of powerful but soothing charm.
"Well, the Bureau is watching you. I can't keep covering up your messes," he said, getting back to his feet. He opened the door and looked back at her. "And if you ever shove me into a closet again, I will turn your nose into a pig's snout."
She giggled half-heartedly as the door closed, leaning back against the wall and tossing the helpful handkerchief away. Ohno popped into view, standing beside her like a silent guardian as she let herself sob.
Another month passed, and filming continued at its grueling pace. The tabloids had only just discovered Aiba and Yuriko's whirlwind romance on the set of their drama, and it boosted the ratings. No other drama in their timeslot had managed to keep ratings over 20%, and the show was performing better each week despite universal agreement that it wasn't very interesting.
The country was obsessed with the will they-won't they of Aiba and Yuriko's characters, and nobody knew that better than Becky. Whenever she had a free day, she opened her shop in Akasaka and dealt with The Amazing Nino's pestering. He had been a Yuriko fan for years, and he was livid at the thought of a romance between his darling and "that stupid comedian."
But there really wasn't much Becky could say in complaint. Sure, Yuriko had been nothing but rude to her on set, but what did that matter? Who was Becky but just some weirdo Aiba kept around the set? So the cast and crew universally adored her, eating all the cupcakes she brought every single day. Becky wondered if the things were laced with cocaine.
And with all the preoccupation about the show's romance, nobody seemed to be paying much mind to Aiba himself - well, Aiba the actor and star got plenty of attention, but Aiba the person was having a rough time. Even though he was eating the cupcakes Yuriko brought and was obviously head over heels for his co-star, he was still losing weight and had dark circles under his eyes. His makeup artist and Jun were constantly chiding him for not looking after his health.
Becky tried to help. She made him lunch with health charms worked into the rice every single day and brewed him relaxing teas and coffees. But he never seemed to see them even with the time she'd spent wrapping them up and decorating the thermoses. It was difficult to get close to him because he either had a staff member around him or Yuriko herself hanging off him, doting on him like he was her pet.
It was frustrating. Didn't anyone want to actually help Aiba? He was clearly stressed out, but he would never complain. He wasn't the type to do that. After all, she was the one who'd told him to work hard.
Today was a big day on location. They were filming in Yokohama with the big ferris wheel behind them at dusk - Aiba's character and Yuriko's character were finally going to kiss for the first time. Not that the actors themselves weren't practicing non-stop when the cameras weren't rolling. Becky had inadvertently destroyed half a dozen pieces of mechanical equipment with her jealousy-induced magical outbursts, though thankfully nobody had seemed to figure that out. She could imagine Sakurai's displeasure, but she didn't much care.
The actors wouldn't be needed for another few minutes as the crew got the lights and recording equipment ready while other staff did their best to keep the area roped off. Rabid fans had been hanging around lately in hopes of seeing the scenes before they made it to the air. Becky hung back with the costume truck. She'd felt so useless for so long that the head of costuming seemed to take pity on her and had her patch up some of the minor characters' clothes from time to time.
The truck was empty, and Becky headed inside. Yuriko's character was a rich girl falling in love with the poor but earnest accountant Aiba. All of her clothes were designer, and Becky couldn't help looking at the well-tailored business suits and form-fitting dresses Yuriko got to wear. She was just glancing at one of the Prada bags her character carried around when she heard people at the door - definitely Aiba and Yuriko's voices.
A smart person would have stayed right there, greeting the stars with a smile. Becky, however, was not always smart. Yuriko already disliked her and would probably be furious that Becky, a nobody, an unwanted presence, was daring to snoop around (even though she had permission). She instead ducked down behind an overloaded bin of men's shoes.
"Masaki-kun, don't you love me?" Yuriko was asking in her matter-of-fact voice, and Becky realized right away that this wasn't a conversation she wanted to overhear. She peered over the top of a pair of brown Oxfords to see them in the doorway.
Aiba didn't look right considering that he would be filming in ten minutes. He looked almost in a daze, and Yuriko's grasp on his arm seemed rather tight. "Hmm, what's that?" he asked, none of the usual cheer in his voice.
"Do you love me?" she asked him again, staring into his eyes. "You do, don't you?"
He blinked a few times. "Huh?"
Yuriko sighed. "You're such an idiot," she said, and Becky couldn't see because of a costume rack, but it seemed like Yuriko had pulled something out of her bag. "Here, eat this. You love my cupcakes, right? Just like you love me?"
"Cupcakes," Aiba muttered in the same depressed voice. But as soon as he swallowed the sweet treat, there was an instant change. The color returned to his face a bit, and he looked down at his co-star with love in his eyes. "Your cupcakes are the best, Yuriko-chan."
"Mmm, they're good huh?" She shoved another one toward his mouth, smearing chocolate everywhere. "Eat the whole thing, Masaki-kun."
They kissed then - not the kiss of a drama program on television, but the kiss of people who looked like they were devouring each other's faces. Complete with heavy breathing and noisy moaning. Becky didn't know if she had ever been more disturbed in her life. And that counted the time when she'd accidentally caught ghost Ohno watching porn with his pants off.
Yuriko took out a handkerchief from her bag, licking it and dabbing the chocolate from their faces. "That's my good boy," she said. "Come on, we have to get to makeup."
"I love you so much, Yuriko-chan," Aiba said, and they kissed again before departing for the makeup trailer.
Becky got up slowly, wondering what the hell she'd just seen. Had she just figured it out? The reason for Aiba's strange health issues? There really was something in those cupcakes, but how in the hell could she prove it? If Aiba really was in some kind of danger from his bizarre co-star, then it was on her to protect him.
She didn't like following people. It wasn't in her nature to stalk, but Aiba Masaki's livelihood was at stake here. She'd tried to broach the topic with Matsumoto after filming had ended that day, but the man had been overwhelmed - dozens of magazines and news shows were constantly calling to have some sort of interview with Aiba. Matsumoto simply didn't have time to help her, and what was she supposed to say? Yuriko was feeding Aiba magically poisoned cupcakes?
Becky didn't know more than a few basic hexes, but whatever was in those cupcakes had to be fairly advanced. If it was able to alter Aiba's behavior and make him love her, it had to be some complex magic. But she couldn't go to Sakurai without solid proof that Yuriko was up to no good. Yuriko was, after all, the most popular actress in the country right now, and Becky would just come across as some jealous fan.
She waited outside the restaurant for a few moments. Yuriko and Aiba were celebrating their first month together and their television kiss, and as soon as they were seated it was time to act. She hurried off, heading to the nearest subway stop. Being in the car with the driver every day was a quick way to find out where people lived, and she'd managed to get Yuriko's address.
The apartment building had security and cameras, but that wasn't anything that The Amazing Nino's Jacket of Invisibility couldn't handle. It had been reckless for her to ask him for it and risk Sakurai's wrath, seeing as how the jacket was laced with forbidden spells that made the wearer invisible. Though she had a different motive in breaking into Yuriko's place, the promise of stealing something for Nino had been all the payment required.
She made it through the door and took the stairs up through the fancy building to her apartment. It took a few tries, but she managed to magic the door open. Becky took a deep breath. It was wrong, she knew. But what Yuriko was doing to Aiba was even worse, right?
She flipped on the light switch, finding the world's most normal looking apartment within. Becky frowned, tiptoeing through the rooms. She managed to find a spare sock on the floor, slipping it into her pocket as a creepy memento for The Amazing Nino. Browsing through Yuriko's cabinets and refrigerator yielded nothing out of the ordinary. Sugar, flour, eggs. Nothing that looked tampered with, nothing that set off that bad feeling in Becky's head that she'd sensed the first time they'd met.
An hour passed, and she'd found nothing. No black magic shrine, no cursed items, no Aiba Masaki voodoo doll. Aiba and Yuriko were probably wrapping up their dinner, and here she was, breaking and entering with nothing to show for it. Maybe she was just a jealous and terrible person. She slipped back out of the apartment, thoroughly ashamed.
When she got home, Ohno had no judgment regarding her behavior. There was really no time for it since he dragged her to the TV with all his ghostly strength. "Becky, you won't believe this!"
There, being broadcasted live, was a press conference, and Becky dropped The Amazing Nino's magical jacket on the floor in surprise as soon as she read the caption on the screen:
Japan's golden couple announces a sudden engagement! Aiba Masaki and Yoshitaka Yuriko to wed!
She saw Yuriko wiggling her hand and a glimmering diamond sparkling. The photographers immediately started snapping photos while the gathered reporters clapped.
"He just asked me to marry him during dinner tonight, and we wanted you all to know right away!" Yuriko exclaimed happily while Aiba stood at her side, beaming ear to ear.
"No," Becky murmured, "no, they can't possibly..."
"Haven't they only been going out for a month?" Ohno murmured behind her.
The camera zoomed in on Yuriko's smiling face. "And we owe it all to our matchmaker. She's been snooping and sneaking around, but all to make this possible. We wouldn't be this happy without you, Becky!"
Aiba grinned his dumb, hypnotized-by-cupcakes grin. "Thanks Becky!"
Ohno cried out in surprise as Becky's rage caused the TV to catch fire before her.
The security guard at the set gave her a sad look the next day. "I'm sorry, I've been told not to let you through anymore."
She pulled her rainbow cloak tightly around her. Yuriko knew, she must have known that Becky had been in her apartment snooping around. "What do you mean? I've been here almost every day for two months. I'm Aiba-san's assistant."
"The order came from Aiba-san himself. Please leave without making a fuss."
She grabbed the man by the arm. "Please, what's changed? Have I done something wrong? Can I at least speak with Aiba-san's manager?"
The security guard sighed. "I really shouldn't..."
"I signed a contract," she insisted, "and they've given me no notice that they intended to break it. I'd like to speak with Matsumoto Jun, please. Or should I be speaking with my lawyer?"
Matsumoto was there within minutes. "Becky, I'm very sorry. Masaki thinks it's for the best. We'll pay the rest of your contract in full, I promise."
"He's getting married? I mean, isn't this ringing alarm bells? They barely know each other. I foresee this being an incredibly bad decision on Aiba-san's part!"
"I grew up with the idiot," Matsumoto said, rolling his eyes. "He's always been stupid and impulsive."
"I think there's more going on here than him being stupid and impulsive."
Becky wanted the old Aiba back. The man who'd yanked down the crystals in her shop because of his odd curiosity. She wanted the Aiba back who was humble to a fault, eager to work hard and become successful. Hell, she'd even settle for the Aiba who'd come to her apartment that one night desperate for her help. At least then he hadn't been a total zombie shell of his former self. She needed that Aiba back, the Aiba she'd fallen in love with and was desperate to save.
Even if that vision she'd had in her shop had been wrong, even if she and Aiba weren't destined to be together, he still didn't deserve a life of false love. Becky had gone through every book of spells she still had leftover from witch cram school. Love magic was dangerous. It was damaging. And if Yuriko kept Aiba under her power for much longer, he'd waste away and die. But she still had no physical proof.
"Becky," Matsumoto said, hands on her shoulders. "Thank you for everything you've done for him until now. I'm sorry it has to end this way. Masaki's grown very fond of you."
"Then why is he the one who wants me gone?"
"You don't think that's strange?" He said nothing, and it dawned on her. It wasn't really Aiba's call. They were all protecting her, weren't they? "It was Yoshitaka-san's decision, wasn't it?"
"Look Matsumoto-san, I'm going to leave. And I'm not going to come back, just as requested. But if you care about Aiba-san as much as you seem to think you do, then do one thing for me."
"Don't let him eat any more of her cupcakes."
She flung Yoshitaka Yuriko's sock in Nino's face as soon as he opened the door to her shop. "Whoa, is this really hers?"
"I need your help!" Becky pleaded. "That woman you worship is evil!"
He grinned at her. "You sound like this stalker ex-girlfriend I had in high school."
"I know what it sounds like," she grumbled, carrying the cookie jar over so he could sit down and steal her snacks. He'd been kind enough to switch his sign over to "Nino's Armenian Cuisine and Hookah Parlor." If only Sakurai could see it.
He shoved Yuriko's sock in his pocket. "Okay I'll admit it, you've had me worried."
"That's a new feeling for you, isn't it?"
He smiled. "I know we've never been the best of friends, but as a fellow practitioner of all things magical, I thought it was best to keep an eye on you. I mean, you come over to me and beg me for my Jacket of Invisibility, and every word out of your mouth these days is Aiba, Aiba, Aiba..."
"Maybe I don't need your help..."
He reached across the table and grabbed hold of her hand, his face suddenly serious. "I did a reading with you in mind last night. Hell, I ran your cards four different times, and I got the same result. I mean, it's never this damn similar without the person even there."
He slapped the Tower card down on the table, and her eyes went wide. "Every single time, Tower came up for the immediate challenge you're facing. It didn't matter which spread I did. Every time, Becky."
"And that's bad."
He smirked. "Tower is a way to tell us that what we know to be truth is actually a lie. And it comes to us in shocking clarity. It's a painful thing you have to acknowledge."
"Well," she admitted. "Aiba's engaged to that...that woman now. Their relationship is based on a lie. She's hurting him, Nino. Killing him with this magic. And now she's got me out of the way. I can't go on the set, I can't be near him. I can't help him!"
Nino set down another card. "Five of Cups is an obsession over something you've lost, and last night this was your immediate future. Meaning right now, yes? But the cards acknowledge that, Becky. It's not as hopeless a situation as it may seem."
She rolled her eyes. "Well then skip to the ending here. What's my future? What can I do? How can I stop her?"
He set down the Chariot card before her.
"I don't know what it means," she told him. "I read coffee grounds, you know."
Nino squeezed her hand. "Remember what I told you the last time you bugged me for advice? Believe in yourself. You'll know what to do when the time comes."
She paced back and forth, and Ohno was watching her from his comfortable cushion on the floor. "They'll arrest you if you go to the set like a crazy woman," he pointed out.
"And they'll arrest you if you try to break in to her place again. Or if you try to kidnap him."
"I know that," she snapped.
"You really love him."
She scowled at the ghost. "Shut up."
Ohno beamed. "It's fun seeing you in love though. Some girls get all cute and stuff, but you're playing on a whole different level. I mean, if Aiba-san only knew how hard you've worked to help him. Baking him all those cakes and things. Trying to thwart the evil psychopath actress who has him hypnotized..."
"Well, so what if I'm in love? He's engaged and under her crazy love spell, and the Japanese media is gobbling it all up!" she shot back. "I love him, but I can't do anything!"
There was a knock at the door. Ohno smiled again. "Maybe it's Aiba-san. Maybe he tried your cake?"
"Maybe you should go clean the toilet!" Becky snapped. She hated being so irritable, but more than that, she hated being useless. So it was almost a relief when she opened her apartment door to find Matsumoto Jun looking nervous in the corridor.
"If you're looking for donations for Aiba-kun and Yuriko-san's wedding shower gifts, count me out," Becky said.
Matsumoto's usual cool exterior was gone, his eyes darting back and forth. "I don't mean to be rude, but could I come inside?"
She held the door open and allowed the manager to enter. "What's wrong? Has something happened?" So help her, if Yuriko had fed Aiba one poisoned cupcake too many and he really was hurt...
"So you were right, there's something going on," Matsumoto admitted. "Aiba's got the weekend off before filming starts up again on Monday, so I just thought he could use some time to relax. He's been working so hard, not thinking about his health, going on and on about how Yuriko-san's wearing him out and..."
"Sorry," Matsumoto said, "but anyway, I rented this cabin in the mountains. Away from Tokyo, away from the set. Some place where he can just regain his focus and calm down. And because he's Masaki he said fine, but the further we drove from Tokyo, the stranger he started to act. He was whining and jittery, and he kept mumbling about Yuriko's damn cupcakes."
Becky hung on his every word. For the first time in two months, it seemed as though Aiba and Yuriko were finally separated. Whatever hold her magic had on him was definitely snapped, but Becky knew that love magic was even more dangerous when something drastic happened.
"Where is Aiba-kun now?" she asked.
"Well," Matsumoto explained, looking embarrassed, "something was obviously not right. And I can't put my finger on it, but it's obviously something with Yuriko. I was worried she was trying to get him into drugs, something awful like that. So I...I may have..."
"May have what?" she pressed him, desperate to know.
"May have locked him in the cabin and left him there to dry out." The manager started to pace nervously. "I'm worried it may have been the wrong decision. I mean, I've known Masaki forever, and he's never been like this, but abandoning him like that? When he might need me the most? I...I'm not sure it's the right call. So, uh, this is where I come and apologize to you."
"Apologize to me? For what?"
He put his hands on her shoulders. "Becky, you've been more supportive of Masaki than even me, and nobody's really taken the time to thank you. Least of all Masaki himself." He shoved a key into her hand. "This is the key to that cabin, and if there's anyone I can trust to calm Masaki down and get him back to his normal, idiotic self, it's you. I'll pay for the taxi to get you there out of my own pocket. He needs to be away from that woman, but he needs to be able to stay focused on his career, too. I think you're the only one who can help him. Please, Becky? Will you help him?"
Behind Matsumoto, Ohno popped back into the room, giving Becky an encouraging thumbs up. But could she really help him? No amount of palm readings or positive energy was going to help someone under the lure of some psychotic witch. But at the same time, the thought of seeing Aiba again, one on one and without Yuriko getting in the way? Maybe she really could help. Aiba trusted her. He'd said she was the only one who'd had positive things to say about his acting - she had to at least try to reach him.
"I'll...I'll do my best to help him," she said, and Ohno let out a noisy cheer. Of course, Matsumoto didn't notice.
"I'm not asking you to be a miracle worker," Matsumoto told her, "but maybe you can at least talk him down from the whole whirlwind wedding. Get him to just slow down and relax."
While Matsumoto called a taxi for her, Becky packed an overnight bag. She wasn't sure what Aiba was going to be like upon their next meeting, but all she could do was be herself. Yuriko relied on lies and manipulation, and Becky realized that she'd been manipulative with Aiba's feelings herself. Maybe what Aiba Masaki needed was a little honesty.
The taxi driver had been smart enough not to comment about their destination, two hours away from the center of Tokyo and out in the middle of nowhere. Aiba's management was footing the bill after all, so the driver happily drove off, leaving Becky and her duffel bag at the foot of a gravel path at sunset.
Matsumoto had given her the key to the cabin and directions, and she headed up the path. Before she left, she'd made sure to use every bit of her power to brew up some coffee for Aiba, lacing it with charms for serenity and relaxation. She hoped. She'd been in a hurry after all, and she'd had to mumble the incantations to keep Matsumoto from noticing in the living room.
The cabin itself wasn't too far up the path, nestled between tall, leafy trees. Her stomach was a bundle of knots, knowing that Aiba was shut up inside and probably scared. Jun had somehow conned him into the cabin's windowless basement and left him there. She unlocked the front door, announcing her presence.
"Aiba-san! It's Becky," she called into the empty cabin. It was cheaply furnished but cozy, and she could see Aiba's suitcase in the corner where he'd left it before his manager had locked him away. "Aiba-san, can you hear me?"
There was a thump from the next room, and she set down her bag. "Aiba-kun?"
"Becky!" His voice was muffled by the door, and he started pounding on it. "Oh Becky, thank god it's you!"
But who knew how much Yuriko's magic had addled his mind? She wiggled her fingers at the other doors and windows, whispering charms to keep them locked. If Aiba really wanted to run away, he probably could since a child had stronger magic than she did, but she at least had to try. She unlocked the basement door with the key, and Aiba came stumbling forward, looking around in a bit of a daze.
"Where's Jun?" he muttered, staring around. "Why are you here? Jun-kun said he was going to get something from the car and he must have forgotten about me..."
She tried to meet his eyes. "Aiba-kun? Do you...know why Matsumoto-san brought you here?"
"Some sort of relaxing weekend, I guess. All about the wilderness, no phones, no Internet. I haven't been able to chat with Yuriko-chan in hours," he said. His eyes were still wild, and he was almost vibrating with his seeming nervousness. Or seeming lack of Yuriko's dark magic controlling his mind. "Though I can't say being locked in the basement was very relaxing. But I'm glad you're here...wait, how did you get here?"
"Will you sit with me?" she asked, moving to the lumpy sofa in the center of the cabin floor. "I'm here to talk to you. I brought you some coffee..."
He obligingly sat down beside her but shook his head at the thermos. "Yuriko only wants me to eat food that she's prepared."
She set the thermos down on the floor. "Aiba-kun, about her..."
"The whole engagement thing was impulsive, I know. I barely even remember asking her to marry me. It's so weird."
She grabbed hold of his wrist. "She fired me, you know. She made me leave the set of the drama."
Aiba looked apologetic, almost like his real self was peeking through. "I'm very sorry, she said you were a bad influence."
She was the bad influence? Her grip on Aiba's wrist tightened. "You're the one who came to me in the first place. You wanted my help. And not just for your acting. Listen Aiba-kun, I don't really know how to tell you this, but Yuriko-san is a dangerous woman."
Aiba laughed at that. "What, does she have a bad aura or something? Maybe you read that wrong in the tea leaves, coffee, whatever. Yuriko-chan's my fiancee!"
She didn't want to tell him. Seeing the earnestness in his eyes that she'd fallen so hard for, she almost didn't have the heart to say anything, but Jun was counting on her.
"I didn't read anything. Ever," she admitted. "Not in your coffee, not on your palm, not ever."
"What are you talking about?" he asked in confusion, pulling away from her.
She could feel herself tearing up. Even if she wasn't the person who had been the cruelest to him, she'd still lied. "I'm not really a fortune teller. I mean, I run a shop, but I'm a fraud. I made it all up. And I'm really sorry. But I'm not lying when I tell you that Yuriko-san is trying to hurt you."
Aiba got to his feet. "So you lied to me for over two months and now you're not, huh? What's with the change of heart? Are you jealous or something? Were you just using me to get customers in your shop?"
"No! Would you just listen to me?" she cried, getting to her feet. "Yuriko's putting something in the food she gives you..."
"I don't want any of your explanations, Becky-san. I would like you to just leave before I lose my temper," Aiba said, and she hated the look in his eyes, the betrayal she could see in them. "Please."
"Aiba-san, I can't leave," she said, trying to stand her ground. "You don't know it, but she's hurting you..."
"I said that's enough!" he shouted at her, and his body started to shake. As if something, or someone, was starting to interfere...
Becky sensed it deep in her gut, whirling around a moment later to see Yoshitaka Yuriko standing in the doorway. The actress laughed as soon as their eyes met.
"You call that a protection charm? Are you kidding me?" Yuriko chuckled, shaking her head. "Everything about you is no good. From your fortune telling to your...other talents."
"Yuriko-chan, you're here!" Aiba cried in happiness.
Aiba tried to hurry over to his fiancee's side, but she raised up her hands and seemed to freeze him in place. "Oh Masaki, the things I have to do to keep you," Yuriko said with a sigh.
And with a flick of the actress' wrist, Becky went flying, the unreal strength of Yuriko's magic forcing her down to the floor hard.
Aiba gasped. "Yuriko-chan, what the hell..."
Yuriko cracked her knuckles. "I told you to stay away from her. She only wants to use you..."
"What did you do to her?" Aiba asked, still unable to move. "Becky, are you okay? Becky!"
For her part, Becky ached in a dozen places. All she'd prepared was the coffee, not her other abilities (or lack thereof) - she hadn't counted on Yuriko finding her way all the way out to the cabin. "Just leave him alone. You're going to kill him if you keep using that magic," Becky wheezed. "It's not right what you're doing!"
"What I'm doing is becoming the most beloved actress in Japan! You know what that means? It means Hollywood, Cannes, whatever I want to do! And if I have to tie my star to some idiot to get there, then I'm going to!" Yuriko screamed.
"What do you mean idiot?" Aiba wondered. "Yuriko-chan, I can't move! Did you do this? How did you do this? Let me go!"
"You're the idiot, idiot!" Yuriko berated him as Becky tried crawling back across the floor to try and stand between Yuriko's powerful magic and the oblivious Aiba. "Two months I've had to deal with your stupidity! Two months I've had to make lovey-dovey eyes at you and listen to your bizarre jokes and lame pick-up lines and endure all your farting in the bedroom, but we're finally at the top, aren't we? We're the golden couple! Now let's get out of here, you and me. Let's go get something to eat and go register our marriage and just forget this pathetic excuse for a witch ever existed!"
Aiba was obviously hurting. "You...you love me, don't you, Yuriko-chan? You're not...you're not really using me, are you?"
"Does it even matter?" Yuriko shot back at him. "I'll feed you a cupcake and five seconds later you'll be putty in my hands. Men are such idiots. You're nothing more than a pet to me!"
Becky stumbled to her feet, blocking Yuriko from Aiba's sight. She stared the actress down. "He deserves better than you. You could have earned your fame all on your own. Why did you have to hurt him?" She remembered the nervousness Aiba had had when he'd come to her apartment that night, wondering if he should ask Yuriko out, remembered the sincerity in his eyes. "My magic may be pathetic, sure, but I don't use it to get ahead at such a high cost."
Yuriko sighed and pointed at her, knocking her back down once more. "Would you just go away? I need to feed my pet his cupcake!"
She got to her feet again defiantly. "He's not your pet. He's not anyone's pet. He's a human being!"
Again and again Yuriko toyed with her, standing around with her bored expression and using telekinetic magic to fling random objects from around the room at her. Becky deflected them all, her anger barely contained as she made sure she stayed in front of Aiba, protecting him. Aiba begged Yuriko to stop, and Becky worked harder than she ever had in witch cram school. She worked harder than she ever had in her entire life.
Becky finally managed to direct a book Yuriko had flung at her back in the actress' direction, and she just barely dodged it. Becky used it to her advantage, taking a deep breath before lifting her arms and making the couch itself levitate and wobble. "Yuriko-san, you need to stop."
"You'd do all this to protect that idiot?" Yuriko laughed. "You're even dumber than he is! I should just kill you both! A murder-suicide would really get the public on my side!"
As Yuriko raised her arms to attack, Becky felt a vision rip through her, a vision of nothing but pure, white rage. She didn't know where she was, but she was riding in a chariot. Becky heard herself scream and everything seemed to slip away...
...and then she was coming to, and she was on the floor, save for her head which was propped up in Aiba's lap. "Becky!" he was saying, but he sounded so far away. "Becky, are you okay?"
She blinked a few times. Her head ached, but she forced herself to sit up. The feeling of Aiba's arm wrapping around her shoulder then was almost unreal. The cabin was a mess - the couch Becky had somehow raised earlier was overturned and in pieces in the corner. All the other furniture was destroyed. It was as though just that one room had been visited by a tornado save for one circle - a circle of complete calm that consisted of just her and Aiba.
And then The Amazing Nino was looming over her with a grin. "I'm rather disappointed I didn't get to join in the fight."
"Nino...what are you..."
Sakurai Sho was standing beside Nino soon after, also staring her down. "Do you have any idea how much paperwork this is going to create for me?" he grumbled.
"Can we back up?" she asked the three men surrounding her. "What the hell happened?"
"You happened, Becky," Aiba explained. "She tried to kill us, and you wouldn't let her come close. I couldn't do anything. It was all you."
"I didn't..." All the blood seemed to rush out of her. "I didn't kill her, did I?"
Sakurai shook his head, adjusting his glasses. "Ninomiya and I arrived just in time. I've got her in a pretty fancy binding spell, and the Bureau's already got a holding cell ready for her. She's not going anywhere."
Fancy binding spell? The man had finally used his magic, and she'd managed to exhaust herself so badly that she hadn't been able to see it.
"Didn't know you had it in you," The Amazing Nino teased her, "but it seems like the cards knew you better than I did."
Sakurai wasn't really in a joking mood. "I went to check up on you, and Ohno-san was kind enough to point me in the right direction. It was foolish to go against someone of her strength on your own. I'll admit that you held your own, but I'm going to have to wipe Aiba-san's memory. Not to mention what we'll have to come up with in order to salvage Aiba-san's television program!"
"Oi!" Aiba complained, and Becky realized he still hadn't let go of her. "Look...I...I get that you guys are all special. Or maybe I'm just an idiot and you guys are normal in comparison. Or something. But seriously, don't wipe my memory, please? I can keep all of this secret. All of it! I swear!"
The Amazing Nino grinned. "He's a comedian, Sho-san. If he started blabbing about his psychotic witch co-star drugging him with magical cupcakes, who's gonna believe him, right? Have a heart."
Sakurai scowled. "My family has worked for generations to keep our kind a secret..."
"Becky saved my life," Aiba said. "She put herself in danger for my sake. I don't want to forget that. I never want to forget that."
She could feel a blush creeping into her cheeks, and Nino helped her up. "We came in two cars. I'll take you kids home," The Amazing Nino said before turning to Sakurai. "Come on, Sho-san, isn't it enough that you're locking the nutjob up?"
"The nutjob?" Becky murmured. "She was your favorite actress."
"And I'll imagine her hand-feeding me her special love cupcakes with a smile on my face until the end of time," Nino shot back before turning back to Sakurai. "You're smart. You can figure out something to tell TV Asahi."
Sakurai still looked pissed off but he reluctantly agreed. He didn't offer any details about what would happen to Yuriko while in Bureau custody, but Becky suspected that at the very least her acting career was over. She and Aiba headed back to Tokyo, sitting side by side in the back seat of The Amazing Nino's tiny car.
While Nino sang along with the radio, she wondered what kind of power she'd been able to use to defeat a witch who was so much more powerful than her. Was her love for Aiba really enough to fight back so strongly? She glanced over to see him in profile, looking out at the lights on the highway as the car drove onward. What on earth did he think of her now? She felt her heart start to race - he was the man she'd risked her life to save, and even if she didn't understand the full extent of her powers, she'd do it all over again without hesitation. Maybe her feelings for Aiba had unlocked something in her brain she just didn't yet understand.
"Aiba-kun," she said quietly.
He turned to look at her, and where he'd been so blank and strange for the past several weeks, she could see the old Aiba Masaki again, though he looked a little worse for wear.
"I'm sorry I lied to you," she told him. "About...well, everything."
He only nodded, still seemingly overwhelmed by the number of realizations he'd had in such a short amount of time. She left him to his contemplation as Nino's car puttered along with no magical assistance whatsoever.
The story was already on the news by the time Nino dropped her off at her apartment. Ohno's face was full of a pride she didn't feel she deserved as Yoshitaka Yuriko had apparently just been arrested for drug possession. Aiba Masaki, however, was not accused of any wrongdoing. It was only creating more interest in Aiba's drama - would they kill Yuriko's character off? Public sympathy was already swaying to Aiba-san - his career was definitely remaining intact. Good job, Sakurai-san, she thought with a grin before wincing.
"Ohno-kun," she mumbled as the ghost lightly escorted her down the hall to her bedroom to rest. "Remind me to never use that much magic in one go ever again."
He smiled as he tucked her blankets around her. "I'll remember."
Though the Yuriko obstacle was out of her path, Becky didn't return to the set of Aiba's drama. She instead devoted her full attention to her shop and to understanding the new magical abilities she'd finally managed to unlock within herself. The Amazing Nino and Sakurai helped her as best they could, but Becky was fairly certain that she was always going to be a bit of a klutz when it came to magic.
She'd always be an odd mishmash of a witch.
She narrowly dodged an elbow in the head as she got off the subway train and walked to her shop in Akasaka. She turned the sign to "Open!" and readied her coffee beans and materials for another less than lucrative day. Across the way, The Amazing Nino was on vacation - at least that was what the "Nino's Tanning Salon and Gerbil Kennel" sign implied to her.
Becky was just putting the finishing touches on a doodle of the newest espresso drink on her menu board when she heard the chimes by the door. It was Matsumoto Jun in a fancy suit, Aiba Masaki at his heels. Jun looked at her and pointed to his watch. "Fifteen minutes," was all the manager said before heading back out the door.
She felt herself blush as Aiba walked over to the bar counter with his cheerful smile. He'd been sending her emails for a few weeks, checking up on her with cheerful, flirty messages full of strange misspellings. But it was the first time she'd laid eyes on him since the night in the cabin.
"You're not here for a fortune, are you?" she asked him. "Because as you well know, I'm kind of a fraud."
His drama had just finished airing, and he looked far healthier and happier. "Why don't you brew a cup for yourself, on me. I mean, if anyone can go around pretending to be a fortune teller, it can't hurt if I give it a go, right?"
She only nodded, feeling his warm, kind eyes watching her as she brewed herself a cup. While she drank, he told her he was taking a break from acting for a while. He'd be focusing more on his comedy and variety work with his partner Yokoyama since they'd been offered their own show in a late night timeslot. While not as glamorous or high profile as his drama, he seemed rather content with the concept. He didn't bother asking her for advice either.
Instead he held out his hand when she had drained the cup, still smiling his gorgeous smile. "Come on, let me read your fortune."
"There's a trick to it," she said. "It's all about confidence. I heard that if you believe in yourself, others will undoubtedly believe in you."
He grabbed the cup and started to pace the floor of the shop, walking between the tables. She came out from behind the counter, standing there patiently while he launched into a theatrical reading of her fortune.
"I envision great things for you, Becky," Aiba announced with a flourish. "But that's to be expected of someone smart and pretty and wonderful like you..."
She shook her head. "Skip the flattery, get to the fortune," she said huffily, though hearing the words 'Becky' and 'smart' and 'pretty' in the same sentence coming from the lips of the guy she really liked was enough to make her giddy.
He approached her then, trapping her between himself and her bar counter. He set the cup down and looked her right in the eye. "I don't think you're a fraud. And I wasn't lying back then when I said I wanted you to be my good luck charm, that I wanted you near me. I just didn't realize how much."
He moved closer, slipping his arms around her. He was solid and strong, and she didn't need a crystal ball (real or fake) to see how enamored he was with her.
"I needed you then, but not as much as I need you now." He giggled in embarrassment. "That is, if you'll have me, of course."
She grinned at him. "Well, what did my coffee cup say? What's my future?"
He kissed her for the first time as sunshine bounced off her crystals to send dozens of rainbows all around the walls of her shop. And, Becky decided as she lost herself in Aiba's embrace, it was better than any vision.