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Bitterness and Sweetness

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...Perhaps it was better if he had continued his life as a band member rather than having a double job at the Relic Bar.

Sure, he did take the opportunity for added income, but this was already putting him on further stress. He doesn't know if his other band mates felt the same. Maybe he is the only one to experience this. They look like they were enjoying it more than he did...

Another thing is that he's put in a more complicated situation. He's a bassist, and he needs to have more time learning how to perfect his notes rather than serving customers cocktails. This was one of the reasons why he had issues with the Bar Master, who was his boss. He kept failing as a bartender, but she was very kind to give him lots of chances.

How many chances has it been? He could no longer count.

Maybe a hundred...every single one of them was lost.

And now, another day ended with the band finishing practice. The others had left early and he was the one who remained behind to fix their equipment, being the oldest member. He was about to head to the bar to get his other work done even if he knew he'd be causing a bit of trouble again.

He and his band members, despite having real names, still call each other with their pseudonyms. Looks like they've gotten really used to it, even though it's only been five months since they started working at the bar. Their names were based off their favorite cocktails, so it was easy to remember.

Like the cocktail he always loved, he was sweet, delicate, and a little bitter. He brought that personality with him everywhere, even at the bar, and that earned him a lot of fans, both as a bassist and as a bartender. LOTS of customers wanted their cocktails served by him most of the time, even asking for special requests. Only downside is the name of the cocktail, which he always detested.

Probably one of the few reasons he stays quiet, so he doesn't get called by such an embarrassing name all the time.

One remarkable trait of him is that he was a glutton. The other band members don't mind, but the food at the bar easily runs out because of him...

...

He steps out of the studio, his maroon eyes instantly looking up at the sudden gray sky. What? The morning news said it will be sunny today... Was what he thought. He didn't bring any umbrella or coat, and it would be bad if he got really wet. He didn't want to get sick. Not now, not ever.

The gray skies were already starting to loom over, and a bit of panic strikes him. He tied his hair on a ponytail and tried to make a run for it. His hair was so long it sometimes flew in front of his face when he was in a hurry. He didn't want to cut it - it was part of what made him iconic - his maroon hair, the same color as his eyes.

His feet carried him to where he wanted to go, although a bit slower. Relic Bar was a 20 minute ride from the studio, and since there were no taxis going around (then there is also the possibility of him becoming late to work) he just lets fate bring him to his destination.

And-

The heavy rain instantly poured. The entire city plunged into gray darkness due to the rainy skies. It felt like twilight but it was just three in the afternoon. He tried to find some cover for the rain but that was just silly - he was totally drenched even from inside his outfit.

This is the first time I'll be late. Maybe Master won't mind? It suddenly rained, after all...

He couldn't bear to look at the watch on his wrist, for the fear of how many minutes he has lost just being stuck in this weather. It could have been thirty minutes now. Everyone must have been looking for him. Everybody might have started to worry about him, even their Master.

Now's not the time to keep moping around. I have to go, now...!

He dashed through, unaware of what will happen to him if he gets way too drenched. He kept running as fast as he could, as fast as his feet could take him, holding his entire body as it shivered against the coldness of the pouring rain. It was not bad at first, but his shivering became worse by the minute, until he couldn't continue running anymore.

He stood there, in the middle of that bad weather, drenching himself further and drowning himself in the sorrows of being a trouble to other people. He closed his eyes, slowly relieving all the memories-

"Kaoru?"

Ah.

When was the last time someone called me by that name?

It's been...so long.

Only my band members know that name...

No, that's....that's not it. Before I worked on the bar, I had that name. It was my real name. And then because of my favorite cocktail, everyone at the bar started calling me Dirty Mother...

Kaoru...my name is Hidaka Kaoru, and I am Weissenschaft's bassist.

I suppose...only Master could remember that I had a name

like that. But that's impossible, why would Master be here? She should be at the bar--

"Kaoru!!"

A hand grabbed his arm firmly as he was pulled on something. He could no longer feel the pouring rain after that. An umbrella stood above him, and the person who pulled his arm was none other than the Bar Master herself.

"Maybe it would be better to call you Dirty Mother, but that won't make sense in this situation. You look...really troubled," Shiori Inoue sighed at him, releasing her hand from his arm. "Why did you suddenly run through this bad weather? It could get you sick!! You could have called a cab, or maybe called me instead...?"

Kaoru looks at her very worriedly. "I know you're busy. I didn't want to disturb you. Besides, I...I can still make it. I really didn't want to make you think I'd be a bother again. I mean, I've done lots of things that probably have left you in bad tastes with me."

When she heard his response Shiori just looked at him, very pissed. Then she yanked his hair, earning a loud "OUCH!" from the man. "I was on my way to the bar. I didn't want to take the cab because I've been saving up lately, and since I can just take a twenty minute walk to the bar, it's not a hassle."

"Y-You live near the bar?" Kaoru blinks at her awkwardly.

Shiori gave him a wink. "Heh, guess I'm found out. I tried to keep where I live a secret, but if it's you then it's fine by me! How was band practice? Did you guys manage to perfectly tune that song you were composing a week ago?"

"A-Ah, yes. It took a while, but the band members' effort were not put to waste. I was really happy when it came out as I had planned."

"You all really work hard. I'm so proud Weissenschaft are all members of my bar," Shiori lets out a small giggle, which made Kaoru blush slightly, followed by a sneeze that made her frown. "Okay, that sneeze isn't good. I should bring you home."

Kaoru panics, facing away from her and rubbing his nose gently, stopping himself from sneezing again. "But..I live pretty far from here..." Before he could say another word to her Shiori held his arm again (not as firmly as before) and dragged him somewhere.

"I'm bringing you to my place. I don't want you getting sick! Besides I don't think this rain's going to stop anytime soon," She puffed her cheeks. Kaoru felt his cheeks heating up. No way he was going to stay in Master's place!! That's just embarrassing! He didn't even invite himself, this was...

"Are you sure this is okay?! Don't you have anyone else living at home?!"

"I live alone. Only Grandpa is taking care of me, but he's looking after the bar when I'm not around. We still live separately, though."

He didn't know that until now. Nobody in the bar has dared to ask Master about her past. Or maybe, just a bit of her background. A woman who lived alone, managing a bar all by herself with many bartenders...it must have been really tiring like his day job as a bassist. He could relate.

Kaoru never knew how long he and Shiori had walked but the rain remained its strength from before, it didn't even lessen at least once. When they arrived at her place, his eyes widened. Her house was pretty big, not mansion-like, but quite big for a professional like her. A two-storey single house adorned with light blue paint. The gates were all colored black and there were trees and flowers everywhere, must have been a miniature garden.

Inside the house were minimalist designs and decorations. Shiori was never an extravagant woman even when working at the bar. She immediately told him to head to her brother's room - her brother was working and living overseas so his room was empty with only a few of his stuff and bed remaining.

"Stay in this room, my brother's clothes were placed somewhere else so I have to get them. I'll also bring you food and medicine, all right?" Shiori asked him, still worried, and placing a towel around his neck. Kaoru nods and she walks out, closing the door behind her.

Even in the end, he still felt bitterness towards himself. He always thought he was okay with what he was doing, but sometimes he felt it was still not enough. His Master was always looking out for him, cooking him food and making sure he was welcome and feeling okay. Kaoru relied on her all the time...no, Dirty Mother relied on her ever since.

Blue Moon was one of the few co-workers of his that was also a great help. He taught him so many things and had assisted him in various ways as well. When Sidecar, Seventh Heaven and Salty Dog were not with him, Blue Moon was the one who stayed with him most of the time. And his Master always talked to the two of them about novels and poems.

He didn't ask for other people's help and assistance, yet they were there for him. It made him feel he was dependent.

But, there was a certain sweetness in that assistance. His Master, Shiori, at first was doing it out of duty. It started to feel very different when the food she's been preparing for him had become even more delicious and intricate than before, like she put her emotions into it. Lately she also asked him to eat with her, something he didn't expect but he felt really happy inside.

He grabbed the towel Shiori gave him and smiled dearly at the thought. "Master was...very lovely. She always worried about me...even though the entire Relic Bar was busy. I'm grateful that I really adore her this much."

"And I'm glad that you adore me, too."

Kaoru had almost leaped from his seat when he heard Shiori speak in front of him, and the blushes on his cheeks just grew even badly. He lowered his head in an effort to hide those blushes. Shiori stifled a small laugh. "You don't have to be afraid of what you feel, right? I know you've always adored me."

"But I thought Master liked someone like Blue Moon..."

"Don't be silly, Blue Moon is like a mentor to me as he was to you. I also think he was the way for you to become attached to me."

"How could you...tell?" The shock on his face was really imminent.

Shiori sits down beside him, looking up at the ceiling. "Remember the time I was looking for you and Blue Moon said you were on his room? You were really happy and excited to see me. You didn't want to tell, even if Blue Moon kept teasing us, but I could see it."

The maroon-haired man could only sigh, and lean his face on her shoulder. "Master is so quick to notice..."

"You made me notice." Shiori laughed, turning at him and poking his cheek. "And, please don't think that you're a bother. You've been really helpful to everyone, and to me. You're a very strong man. It's part of my admiration for you."

He fell silent, still hiding his face on his shoulder.

"Could it be that, you're sometimes out of focus on your works because you kept thinking of me?" Shiori had finally asked, and the young man quietly brought the towel just close to his face. She felt his head move to nod. "And the song we practiced earlier, that was for you. We were...planning to sing it on a live concert," He replied, his voice muffled.

The woman smiled softly at this revelation...it was almost like an admittance of his true feelings.

Shiori gently pulled him from his shoulder, then looks at his eyes intently. "You know, Weissenschaft is so lucky to have you, just as I am lucky to have you. If you weren't there...what would the bar be like? Where would the band have been? I know you thought of that. You are the best person for me, for making the bar and the band lively." She raised his hand and brushed it against his bangs softly, wafting the dripping water off of them.

"Thank you. For being there, and for always thinking of me. Kaoru...Dirty Mother, one of my precious bartenders, and my...precious person."

Followed by her thanks was a kiss at the corner of his lips. Kaoru blinked once, twice, then laughs softly. His cheeks were still red, but he was no longer hiding it. A serene smile was forming on his lips. He then hugged her tightly.

"You really shouldn't be in my mind all the time. It sometimes distracts me," He jokingly tells her, and Shiori laughs at him before pulling him away again. "You should try your best. Oh, and...let's get you dried up. Hugging me while you're drenched in rain would make me sick, too."

The following moment later after he had changed and drank medicine, Kaoru fell asleep, with Shiori watching over him. She gently brushed his hair, then further pulled the blankets over him. She slowly left the room when he was already in deep sleep.

Touching her lips and remembering the kiss, Shiori had a loving expression on her eyes.

"It was a bit bitter, but very sweet."

-end