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Hearts and Hubris

Chapter Text

It can certainly be said that heartbreak can be the fertile soil from which internal strength can grow and flourish. That doesn’t mean that it was just or right, but it does mean that a terrible end can be a prelude to a better beginning. But then the question is presented: what came before that caused the heartbreak, and what will the brokenhearted do with the mess that was made? In the end, it is their decision and theirs to make alone, regardless of how anyone else may try to direct their course.

But for the chronicle of these events, let us start where it all began so that question might be answered.

It began in spring, the season of events beginning anew, in a park in the middle of the bustling metropolis of Tokyo. On that day, a fresh coat of rainwater dripped from the leaves and blades of grass. The clouds had parted to give way to the sun, bringing a welcome warmth as the scent of petrichor filled the air. It made for an inviting scene, coaxing people to take a stroll for the park now that the weather was fair and temperate.

A girl had caught sight of the park from afar, and found herself venturing there to get away from the crowded streets. She still wore her rain jacket, on the chance the skies might darken and rain once more.  But her hood was down, allowing her more enjoyment of the sun’s warmth on the crown of her head. She strolled down the path, admiring the trees and the lush scenery of the lake just beyond.

Unfortunately, her admiration did not include her notice of something falling from her messenger bag. Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately as well, someone else did happen to see the fallen item as she was walking away. There was the brief whoosh of bicycle wheels coming to a halt, and the tap of feet on the ground.

“Excuse me!” called a voice from behind her, “I’m sorry, but might this be your smartphone?”

"My... my smartphone?"

She could have sworn that she still had it in her bag. The thought prompted her to open the flap and reach a hand in to search the small pouch in which she kept it. But to her dismay, she felt nothing when her fingers touched broken netting in the pouch.

"No!" She let out a small irritated whine at the discovery. "It might very well be, my phone pouch has a hole in it... a-and no phone either. I'm so sorry!"

"There’s certainly no need to apologize.” He flashed her a rather charming smile as he attempted to reassure her.

She looked up from her bag to see a boy approximately her age approach. She closely inspected the device he held in his hand as he presented it to her. There was a distinctive lavender butterfly sticker pressed to the back of the case around it. There’s no mistaking it, she thought, that’s my phone. It was certainly frustrating for her to know that she now had a hole in one of the pouches in her bag. But, she was grateful someone had spotted it and even immediately tried to return it to her. Even if it hadn't been hers, the fact it was the first thought of this person to attempt to return it was a kind one.

"Oh... sorry. I mean, it's just a bad habit I have," she replied hesitantly, trying to correct a second apology that succeed the first before it. "Thank you very much!"

"It's no trouble," the boy assured her, "I don't think I've seen you around before though. What brings you out to this park of all places? I never thought of this place as being particularly attractive for tourists."

He thinks I’m a tourist? Then again, it’s probably pretty obvious I’m a foreigner, isn't it? The girl laughed sheepishly.

"Oh no, I'm not a tourist. I'm actually going to be attending school here in about a month. I'm currently just getting settled in and gathering supplies before school starts, you know? The park looked really pretty though and I wanted to get away from the crowds for a while."

He blinked, shaking his head. "Oh, please forgive me! It was rude for me to make assumptions when I asked my question," the boy replied with another smile, this one more brief and apologetic in intention. "At this time of year students from elsewhere are sometimes on their spring break."

"It would be a little early for that where I'm from," she answered him, "I'm actually going to be attending Kiri Academy in the fall as an exchange student in the third year class. It's supposed to be a reasonable distance by train from here from what I've been told but I haven't gotten the route memorized yet."

"Kiri Academy?” he inquired, perking up in familiarity, “You don't say. I'm actually a student there myself. I'll be entering my third year next month, so I'll be the same grade as you," he replied. "This is a rather interesting turn of events… It's not every day I get to meet an exchange student before the school year has even begun."

“No kidding!”

The girl hadn’t yet had the chance to socialize with people her own age in the city, much less with someone who would be attending the same high school as herself. She spoke the truth when she said she was still settling into her new environment.

“You must have my apologies, but I can’t stay to chat. I’m afraid I have somewhere I need to be.” The boy frowned as he looked over his wristwatch. He looked back up at her once more however, flashing her that charming smile from before. “But it would be rude if I didn’t introduce myself to a fellow classmate. My name is Goro Akechi.”

Goro Akechi? … Akechi, Akechi, something about that name was familiar, but how? “Oh! Nice to meet you,” she replied, giving a slight bow in greeting, “I’m Mary. Mary Shaw. Thank you again for returning my phone to me, Akechi-san.” That was the polite greeting here, right? To bow?

He chuckled, giving a bow in return. “I’m surprised you didn’t offer a handshake, all things considered. You’re welcome. It’s fortunate I stopped when I did,” he said. He turned around to return to his bicycle, but not without looking back at her one last time.  “Well, then, perhaps we’ll meet again in school if not sooner. I wish you a good rest of your day, Shaw-san.”

She waved and he left, disappearing down the path. It was then she went about the task of finding a different pouch in which to store her phone.

Mary Shaw didn’t think too deeply on the interaction, save for the fact she was lucky to meet a fellow classmate and that she didn’t have the misfortune of losing her phone. Perhaps in the grand scheme of things, that interaction was perhaps not too consequential compared to others. Goro Akechi certainly didn’t think on it all that more deeply than she did.

She had simply met a pleasant boy who happened to go to her school. It made her a little less nervous about the prospect. She would at least recognize one face on her first day.

There was no reason to think more on it than that. But, regardless, this was indeed not the last interaction the two of them would have. This itself was a beginning of all that came before a terrible twist of fate. Nothing was certain yet, however.


That night, Mary sat alone in what would be her room for the next year. She prepared for bed, setting aside her pair of glasses. She unwound the bands that held her long braided pigtails together, running her fingers through her hair to completely undo them. Her day clothes were switched for an oversized T-shirt and pajama pants. A yawn escaped her, prompting her to sleepily blink and observe the dark sky through the window on the other side of the room.

“Why am I so tired?” she wondered aloud softly, tucking back a loose strand behind her ear. “I barely did anything today. I guess I got some paper, but…”

But I should have done a lot more. I’m going to need to do a lot more. I know the next year is going to require a lot of work from me.

She smoothed out the white fabric of her shirt, grumbling quietly to herself. There was no other sound in the room at first. But then, her phone unexpectedly chimed, causing her to briskly twist the other way. There weren’t many possibilities to who would be messaging her at this hour. It certainly wouldn’t be her parents back home in the States, they were keenly aware of the time difference.

Mary woke her phone from sleep, the screen lighting up as she quickly viewed a preview of the message that appeared. A smile appeared on her face as she recognized the icon of a cartoonish black creature with cat-like ears smirking off to the side.

Despite not having met any of her peers in person until now, she was not without friends in the city. Or at least she had one.

They had met on a messenger server for discussing computer parts. Alibaba, her friend had called herself. She had thought it a peculiar choice at the time, but Mary herself wasn’t one to compare with her choice of moniker. Mary went by the name of Notre-Dame on that server, named for the famous Cathedral in Paris, a place rather than an individual living or dead.

Even now those were the only names the two knew one another by.

Sometimes it was hard to determine where exactly in their interactions they had become friends. But, now it was a common occurrence for them to talk as friends did over private message. Even if they weren’t especially close, they could call each other that, right? Friends?

It surprised her little that Alibaba was awake at this late hour. Neither of them were exactly the sort to turn in early. Mary unlocked her phone, opening the messenger app to read the text in full. A welcome screen flashed on her phone briefly, and then the chat appeared for her to read.

‘Hey. Just wanted to warn you that one of the streets in Shinjuku is gonna be closed off. Don’t know if you were planning on going there or not but apparently there was a bus driver who just suddenly went into oncoming traffic and there was a crash.’

Her eyes widened and quickly she typed back a reply.

‘Wow, for real? Is everyone okay?’

It was a moment before Alibaba replied, the screen flickering with an ellipsis before the message appeared.

‘Unfortunately no. It seems a few people died in the crash. The driver who caused the crash was hurt and he’s in the hospital. The police tried to question him and he has no idea why he did what he did.’

Mary took a seat on her bed. ‘Yikes. That’s just awful!’

‘Yeah. Just thought you should know in case you haven’t heard in on any of the News Stations. You’ve probably heard that there were a couple of incidents like it earlier, right?’

‘Yeah, although I didn’t think they were connected.’

“Neither did anyone else,’ replied Alibaba. ‘But now that there’s been three of them. Looks like a pattern. It definitely will be if another one pops up.’

‘Jesus... I hope the police are able to figure out what’s going on.’

‘...’ There was a moment of pause before another reply appeared. ‘We’ll see. It’ll be good for you to plan accordingly in the meantime. And stay safe, yeah?’

Mary couldn’t help shaking her head as she sat down, getting comfortable where she was.

‘Thanks, Alibaba.I’m glad you told me.’ She thought a moment for making an addition. ‘Hey, do you go to Shinjuku much? I know you asked me if I was planning on going so I was curious.’

‘I don’t get out much.’

‘Do you think perhaps you’d like to go there sometime?’

At this, there was a long pause. Mary began to wonder if her friend had perhaps logged off abruptly. That would happen on occasion, especially when she asked certain questions. It made her wonder if perhaps she was making Alibaba uncomfortable or prying too much.

Should I apologize?

However, as she moved to type said apology, Alibaba sent a terse reply in response.

‘Nah.’

‘It’s okay. I was just curious,’ Mary answered. She wondered if perhaps a slight shift in the conversation would help and attempted to test it out.  ‘… It feels weird that we’re going to be living in the same city for an entire year.’

‘It is,’ replied Alibaba. ‘Although you won’t be able to do all the same things you normally do. You left your gaming computer at home, right?’

Mary sighed in relief as she read the reply. It seemed she hadn’t caused offense after all. But at the same time what was said reminded her of her situation and she couldn’t help but let out a small huff. ‘Yeah. Can’t exactly haul the big guy overseas. Had to bring a laptop instead. It can do schoolwork and the basics but no high powered gaming.’

‘Ouch! And they just announced a new edition of Galaxy Knights too. Tough going there. Especially since it’ll be a whole year.’

A whole year, she thought. I’m going to be in Tokyo going to school for an entire year.

‘Eh, they’ll be so much going on I’ll be back home before I know it. I just need to keep busy, yeah?’

She was sure that wouldn’t be difficult, especially between schoolwork and having to adjust to living in an entirely different country. Even if she had some fluency in the language, she was going to be out of her depth, and she knew that.

At least I have someone I consider a friend, though. If I’m lucky, I’ll make more friends, too.

‘Yeah. I suppose that’s true.’ Alibaba sent another reply, ‘Good luck out there, Notre-Dame. The outside world is rough.’

Mary typed back, sighing as she did so. ‘Yeah it can be, can’t it?’


As Mary sat in her room chatting away with her friend, there were less pleasant happenings going on elsewhere in the city. There were looming shadows, and not simply those created by the light of the moon cast upon the darkness. At this late hour, as rodents scurried and other creatures of the night came out to play, a solitary figure walked up a flight of stairs at the side of an apartment complex. Leather dinged against metal, a hand quietly reaching for the door as the shadow of a gun vanished into the folds of a tan overcoat.  

Goro Akechi swiftly made his way inside and ghosted down the hall to another door at the end. A key emerged from his coat and quietly the door was unlocked, and he entered what was an empty and quiet apartment. It was comfortable enough, and for him, this place was what he called home. Well as much ‘home’ as any place he had lived in. At least this time it was just his.

He ran his fingers through his hair, sighing tiredly before closing and locking the door behind him. He switched on one of the lights. It flickered on, allowing him to more easily traverse the place and stow away his things before he could finally allow himself to sit a chair over by the kitchen counter.

It was coming up on two years now since he’d begun his personal undertaking. All the cards that fate had dealt him, it seemed he’d played well. It was now only a matter of time before he would reap the benefits.

After all, the emergency election for Prime Minister was coming up at the end of this year. If all went well, this long game he had been playing would finally draw to a close. He had worked hard to ensure the fate he awaited was sealed.

It was only a matter of time.

His phone buzzed as he was about to set it on the counter next to him. Reflexively he checked the caller before answering. At this point, it was absolutely essential if he knew whether it was a stranger or someone known to him who was calling.

“Ah, Shido-san. I was waiting for your call,” he greeted the other as he answered and put the phone to his ear. “The target was neutralized.”

It was nothing out of the ordinary for him. As the election drew closer and closer, there were more requests for his skills to be employed.

“Good. I’m sure the one who made the request will be quite pleased with your work. I’ll have something for you to do as well on my behalf. You’ll be sure to be swift and efficient in your conduct of course?”

“It won't be a concern, I assure you,” Akechi replied, “The last thing I’d want to do is inadvertently cause a problem. As you know, I try to be meticulous about my work.”

“There’s a lower clerical worker in one of my opponent’s offices that might having gotten wind of some information concerning the operation. Mai Honda. Unfortunately she’s a rather cautious one. But you have your methods of getting around that.”

“It’ll be simple enough. I’ll have the target eliminated before she becomes a true threat. You needn’t be concerned.”

It was only a matter of time, he repeated to himself. He would use all the tools at his disposal to make sure everything fell into place. Any move he could make was fair game. As long as he achieved the outcome he wanted, his means would justify the ends.

All that mattered was his personal victory over what had brought him suffering, for what little life he’d lived so far. Or rather not what, but who.

“Very good. That will be all. I have another meeting to be at so if you’ll excuse me-”

The call abruptly ended. Akechi at last set the phone off to the side, folding his hands in contemplation.

This was the beginning of the end... it was only a matter of time.

Akechi was rather confident that fate was in his hands and on his side. It would be easy to think so at that point. But, the game he was playing hadn’t truly begun in earnest. There were still players that had yet to come to the table, and cards yet to be dealt.

But that would change, and soon.

 

Chapter Text

The Aokis were a very quiet and hospitable couple. Though they weren’t the most conversational host family, they certainly made the students under their watch feel welcome. It helped in Mary’s transition, allowing her to more easily sink into the fact that this would be her home for the next year. Their hospitality was especially helpful as she tried to pick up on daily routines and manners - something she still felt not all that confident about.

Their eleven year old son, Hinata Aoki, was a different sort however. He was the more adventurous type, asking all sorts of questions of the new exchange student now living in the house. It certainly wasn’t the first time they had an American exchange student, but it was the first time, apparently, to not have one that came from one of the more populous cities on either coast of the country. That seemed to intrigue him.

The adventurous side of Hinata also meant he was eager for her to see his favorite parts of the city. On this day in particular, Hinata had convinced her to go with him on the subway to a part of Shibuya. There was a bit of surprise on her part that when he mentioned coming here on his own on the way to visit relatives, or even merely with a couple of friends his own age to run errands.

“And your parents don’t worry about something happening to you?” she questioned him as the two walked down the street together towards their destination.

“It’s a lot safer here than you think,” Hinata answered her confidently, “I have my phone and can call if something happens. Plus, there’s usually an adult around who can help too. And besides, you’re with me today, right?”

Mary frowned. Such a practice assumed a lot of trust in the people around one’s self, even if they were strangers. That was certainly not an attitude that was shared back home. My parents would never have allowed that when I was eleven, thought Mary.

Even awareness of the difference in culture didn’t dissuade her concern entirely however. There was still the matter of the string of accidents that had happened in the city of late. That was certainly a cause to be on alert. It was all the more a good reason the two of them were out together today, she decided.

“Alright, you have a point. I’m a little worried about what they’ve been talking about on the news though,” she admitted.

Hinata frowned, tugging at the brim of his blue baseball cap. “I guess so. I hear my dad talking about it sometimes. It’s been really scary. But… we can be careful, right?”

Mary nodded. “We can certainly try.”

He nodded, smoothing out the sleeves of his jacket as they continued to walk. “Okay, so this cafe is down over this way. They’ve got amazingly good lemonade and soda there, it’s the best! You’ve got to try it!”

The two of them navigated the crowds of Central street, making their way past and minding the cars when they crossed. Mary kept an eye on Hinata, making sure she didn’t lose the younger boy. After all, it was quite easy to get lost here. Eventually however, they made it to their destination, apparent to both by the brightly colored sign that advertised the place just outside.

She continued to follow Hinata’s lead even into the interior of the place, letting him be the first to order when they eventually went through the line of people waiting. They chose to sit in one of the tables in the small patio area outdoors, mostly in part due to Hinata’s wish to watch passersby. Mary was normally not the sort to be fond of that sort of activity, but she didn’t mind. They took their seats and quickly their order was brought to them with glassware as equally colorful as the sign that designated the cafe.

Hinata marveled, chatting away about his favorite places in the area and pointing out things that caught his attention as people walked to and fro in front of them. Mary listened, taking as much of the information as she could. Though sometimes it became a bit of an information overload on her part, and she found it hard to follow. She certainly appreciated Hinata’s enthusiasm, but he seemed the sort not so easily slowed down.

All the while, Mary sipped on a cream soda. He’d certainly been right about the soda here tasting quite good, she observed, there was something about the taste that was better here. Though it was hard to exactly put a finger on how or why.

“Cat!”

She paused, blinking confusedly when he suddenly blurted out the word. “... Cat?”

“Yeah, over there! It’s a cat, look!” Hinata turned his head. Mary followed his gaze, looking out towards the sidewalk where people continued to move every which direction. It took her a moment, but towards the feet of others she indeed spotted what appeared to be the slight form of a little black cat with a splatter of white on its face and paws. It seemed to expertly avoid the trotting feet of the people around it. What happened to grab Mary’s attention however was a bright yellow color around its neck.

Obviously that cat belongs to someone, she thought. But would someone really let their cat wander around a crowded place like this? Was it a runaway?

“So it seems. What’re you doing out here, I wonder?”

“Oh.. no no kitty! Don’t go there, you’ll get hit!” Hinata called out as the cat started padding towards the street. He turned to Mary, a pleading expression clear on his face. “Please, Mary, we need to do something!”

He started to get up from his seat, when Mary put out a hand to gesture for him to stop.

“Don’t worry, Hinata-kun. I’ll handle this. You wait here, okay?”

“O-okay… be careful!” he called after her as she got up from the table and quickly attempted to make her ways towards the feline. Unfortunately, the crowds slowed her. Still, she kept her eyes on the cat, watching it every step of the way.

“Hold on…”

The cat stopped at the corner of the street. It stayed put, allowing Mary time to catch up. Cautiously, however, she stopped a far enough distance away as to not potentially frighten it. She crouched slightly, beckoning to it and attempting to coax it.

“Here kitty!” she called. She heard its ears perk up a moment and it turned its head towards her. “Hey there, little guy, don’t go out there, okay? It’s dangerous! Here, kitty kitty!”

She extended a hand for the cat to smell. However, the cat’s ears twitched, arching back as the cat backed away slightly.

“Mrow… meow mrow!” The cat almost appeared to be furrowing its brow, as though offended. Though Mary guessed fear might also be a likely culprit. After all, this was a rather noisy area and she was a stranger, after all.

“It’s okay. I don’t mean to scare you. Just come this way. Come here!” She spoke a little more softly, but tried to keep her voice audible enough above the din of the crowd around her. The cat tilted its head, not moving from where it stood.

“Mew? Meow meow! Mew mew mrew…”

“You’re quite chatty,” she remarked gently, “I’m not going to hurt you. I just don’t want you to get hit by a car.”

“Rrrrow.”

The cat continued to chatter back to her as she ever so slowly inched closer to it. Mary took great care, trying not to agitate it.

The last thing I want to to inadvertently ‘cause the poor thing to run out into the street and get hurt! Come on, just a little bit closer…

Eventually she was close enough to attempt to grab it. Swiftly, she wrapped her arms around the cat, attempting to put the animal in a comfortable position in her grasp.

“There we go! Now, let’s find your tag… ”

At that moment however, the cat let out a yowl in protest, pushing against her arms. The wriggling and writhing in her grasp made it difficult for her to hold onto.

I know, I know! I’m sorry,” she muttered frustratedly, slipping into her native language, “I need to check your tag, just hold on! Pleeeease!

She walked away from the street, trying to be careful not to give the cat a chance to bite or scratch. She just needed to find a safe spot to put the cat down. The only question was, where was that going to be?

She attempted to look all around the collar around the cat’s neck. But, it was completely devoid of any tags or identifying markings. Odd, how could that be? Did the cat manage to get its tags off before it came out here?

In the midst of her ordeal, she heard a somewhat familiar voice from behind her.

“I see you’re the sort to try and rescue cats from oncoming traffic… that was quite impressive.”

“Huh?” she turned her head to try and figure out who it was. However, the split second distraction was just long enough for the cat to wriggle enough to push out of her arms.

“H-hey!” Mary whined, trying to chase after it. The cat was more swift, able to outmaneuver her. It made a break for a nearby alley, loudly chirping in relief as it vanished into the shadows.  Mary sighed, rubbing her neck a moment as her eyes watched the alleyway for a moment. It was probably for the best. I was probably scaring the poor thing half to death despite my best efforts. At least it’s not in the street anymore! Still… I wish I’d been able to find out its name and who it belonged to.

“Not grateful for the rescue it seems.”

“Well, to be fair, how would you feel if some big stranger just randomly approached you and picked you up?” she asked, finally turning towards the sound of whomever it was who’d addressed her then. “I suppose I’d better get back before I’m missed… oh!”

She recognized a mop of light brown hair amidst the crowd, a pair of eyes that were umber in color meeting hers as a narrow path cleared. A familiar boy stood a short distance away from her, smiling at her.

Mary remembered his tall and slim stature, and his rather sophisticated style of dress. But most recognizable of all perhaps was the charming smile he wore. It was what stuck most with her, and what made his name surface in her thoughts.

“Akechi-san! I-I mean, hello there! It’s nice to see you again... ”

Mary found herself a tad flustered after the ordeal with the cat. However, she attempted to compose herself as she smoothed out the sleeves of her pink jacket. She was surprised to see her future classmate here. Then again, she hadn’t really expected to see him at all again, until school started. But, it really was nice to see a familiar face again so soon.

“It’s nice to see you again as well… Shaw-san?”

“Yes, that’s right,” she assured him at the sound of his uncertain tone. “I’m sorry, I need to be getting back to my table at the cafe over there.” Mary pointed.

Akechi nodded, laughing gently. “Ah, I’m terribly sorry. I had no intention of interrupting you if you’re busy. I just saw you and was going to offer to help but… it seems now I’m no longer needed.”

Mary frowned. His expression saddened a bit at his statement. She wasn’t the best at reading facial expressions. Yet it was still quite readily apparent to her that he seemed disappointed somehow. She folded her hands together, looking back at him apologetically.

“I’d offer for you to come sit down with us if you’re not busy, but…”

Before Mary could finished, she heard Hinata shout from across the way.

“WOAH!”

She turned her head to see him swigging down the last of his lemonade and dashing down to meet the two of them. “I don’t believe it! You’re Goro Akechi!” He turned to Mary, shooting her a questioning glance. “Do you know him, Mary-chan?”

“We only met once before. We’re in the same year and we’ll be attending school together next month,” Mary explained, “You seem to be familiar with him as well though, though, Hinata-kun.”

“Only because he’s a bigshot Detective!” Hinata declared, “He’s been on when my dad’s been watching the news or those law shows he likes.”

It had bothered her when she’d met him that the name seemed familiar. But, at Hinata’s comment, the name finally clicked. On the night I first arrived, Mr. Aoki was watching the news late at night. Someone mentioned later they’d be interviewing one of the detectives on the case later in the segment before I left but I’d forgotten the name until now… the name they’d said was Detective Akechi!

Yet, it now made sense to her why she hadn’t made the connection when they first met. She had presumed the detective would be an adult, not a boy her own age. Yet the way he dressed seemed like something a detective would stereotypically wear in her mind. A dark grey blazer, black slacks, leather shoes and gloves…

“You’re a detective? Wow, I mean,” she found herself tripping over her reply, “That’s really impressive. How’d a high school student wind up working so closely with the police?”

That was indeed a good question. That wasn’t exactly something she’d heard about happening back home. Then again, she wasn’t from a big city like Tokyo.

“I was just a special consult on a case a while back. Before I knew it though I was getting more and more involved with things. I guess somewhere along the line I became a detective,” Akechi replied humbly. “I guess it’s made me something of a celebrity of late. Especially since I’ve been working on the cases involving all those accidents that have been happening lately.”

“Oh, I see. Those have been truly terrible. I hope you and the police are able to figure things out. In fact, I’m sure you will.” Mary thought for a moment before looking back at the cafe. She and Hinata would need to get back to their table soon before the staff assumed they left without paying for their drinks.

“I’d love to ask you about what kind of specialization you have, if any,” Mary remarked, “We should be getting back to our table though.”

Her new acquaintance wasn’t just a fellow classmate, but a detective. It was a rather interesting and strange coincidence to Mary, considering where her interests lay. While her recreational interests mostly were in computer games, she did have an interest tied into criminal investigations. It really was too bad, she thought, it would be nice to talk about our related interests.

Though Mary was not thinking it consciously, she very much wanted to have a friend with similar interests. She valued her friendship with her online friends such as Alibaba, certainly, but it would also be nice to have some friends she could meet with face to face.

She’d also like to meet Alibaba face to face one day, if she were okay with the idea.

“Hey, Mary-chan, we should ask Akechi-san to sit down with us!”

“I’d love to and the thought is generous, but I do have somewhere I need to be soon,” Akechi answered with regret, “Before I go though, I just wanted to ask, what sorts of specializations were you thinking of, Shaw-san? Do police investigations interest you?”

“Well, not so much the police side of things. I have more of an interest in examining material evidence in cases. You know, things like blood spatter, trace biological evidence, and fingerprints. Although I suppose it requires more training to know what to look for and what sorts of tests to run. Especially for things like blood. You need two tests before you can even reasonably say it’s blood, much less human blood. And you need to know how to safely collect and store evidence and make sure chain of custody isn’t broken…” She realized she was starting to go on a tangent and stopped herself. It was absolutely important they get back to their table. “S-sorry. Here I am rambling when we both need to go.”

Akechi blinked for a moment, eyes widening. “That’s… quite alright. I’m just surprised, is all. Now I’m rather curious about how much you know about Forensic Evidence collection and storage.”

Mary was unaware of it, but Akechi truly regretted he had somewhere else to be. He had been friendly towards her for the sake of his image. It was just as important to keep up appearances with his classmates as with anyone else. But now… she could be a potential asset. A peer with knowledge of those sorts of topics could prove useful to him, assuming her knowledge was extensive enough, and accurate.

He didn’t want to waste his time if she was simply rattling off jargon she’d picked up from watching too many fictionalized crime dramas. At the very least, it would be more beneficial to endear himself to someone with that knowledge than to make an enemy of them. He would need to test her to be sure though.

“Maybe if we get the chance before school, we could talk more? Here, why don’t we exchange contact information.” Akechi retrieved a pen and small notepad from his pocket, scribbling down his name and a phone number and some other information before tearing out the paper to hand to her.

“Oh! That’s a good idea. Here.” Mary took the pad and quickly scribbled down her information in kind. “Oh! You have a Concord account too, nice! I use that app all the time.”

“Indeed? I made an account at the behest of an acquaintance but I’ve yet to use it much. I suppose if I add you I might get some use out of it.”

“Are you sure this is okay? I mean, you’re a Detective. Isn’t it dangerous to give out personal information?” Mary anxiously handed his pen and notepad back to him. Akechi was unfazed however, maintaining his pleasant demeanor.

“It can be. But I’m not giving you work-related information. I trust you to be wise with it,” he retorted, “Besides, you don’t seem the type to leak personal information for your own benefit. But then again we’ve only met once before.”

“I’ll be careful, I promise.”

He once again flashed her that ever charismatic smile, “Alright. I’d better go, and you’d better get back to your table. Let us plan our next meeting soon, Shaw-san.”

Mary nodded. “Until next time, Akechi-san.”

He departed, disappearing into the crowd. Mary blinked, taking a look at the piece of notepaper before storing it in her pants pocket. “I’m kind of surprised he’s not being mobbed if he’s a celebrity around here,” she muttered. Then again, he wasn’t exactly a big pop star or an actor. His celebrity status was probably limited to a few circles, were she to guess.

“Wow… so we literally just talked to Goro Akechi. And you said you’re going to school with him, too, right?” Hinata gasped, eyes wide with excitement as his hands shook. “You know what they’re starting to say about him?”

Mary blinked. “Hmmm?”

“They’re saying he’s the second coming of the Detective Prince! There used to be a young detective like him named Naoto Shirogane, and now he’s gonna be the next one to have the title! It’s pretty sweet if you ask me.”

“A prince?” she questioned Hinata, “Well, I supposed he dresses well and speaks very politely. I suppose one could consider him ‘princely’ by that logic.” There was also something disarming about him, something magnetic in how he drew positive regard. In that sense, perhaps he was ‘princely’ too.  “It almost makes him sound like a character out of some fairy tale or fantasy.”

“Well, I mean, he takes down bad guys like the prince in a fairy tale is supposed to, right? Defeat the robbers, the murderers, the dragons!” He leaned in as the two of them walked back to their table, whispering snidely, “… I know a lot of girls already want to be his princess.”

“I suppose. I guess it comes with the territory,” Mary sighed, rolling her eyes as she took her seat once more. “Hey, want a refill on your lemonade? You get one for free, right?”

“Yeah! I definitely want a refill.”

“Alright. I’ll get one for my soda too.” She nodded, grinning at her companion.

“Hey Mary?” asked Hinata. “What about you? Do you want to be his princess?”

“What!?” Mary raised an eyebrow. “I’m definitely not the kind to get worked up over a guy I’ve barely more than just met. And I don’t care he’s a celebrity. As far as I’m concerned, he’s just another classmate of mine. Besides, I’m not interested in being anyone’s princess right now.”

Hinata laughed, grinning back at her. He seemed rather proud he’d gotten a bit of a rise out of her.

Perhaps others might very well idolize Goro Akechi and even view him as a prince. But in her mind, he was a boy her own age, going to the same school. He was just very, very lucky in life. She certainly enjoyed fantasies about princes in her games such as Galaxy Knights.

But Goro Akechi was not a prince, and this was not a fairy tale.

She didn’t believe in such things.

Chapter Text

The first day of class was rapidly approaching. Once again, Goro Akechi would have to perform a very delicate balancing act between his school work and his involved and complicated plans. It was a cycle he’d already repeated before, yet circumstances framed his situation differently now. Since it was a matter of counting down the months, his focus had shifted to methods of how to ease the burden of ensuring everything came to fruition as he wished. Luckily it seemed options had already begun to present themselves to him.

He always made sure to test potential resources. Akechi knew personally well that initial appearances could be deceiving, so it was in his best interest not to invest too much in what could very well be a dead end.

Someone who could potentially assist him in his endeavors, particularly with his role as a detective, would be invaluable. That is, of course, if they possessed those traits that made for good detective work. Working knowledge of evidence would certainly be helpful, and he intended to test Mary Shaw on that as he’d first thought to. But he also needed to know something else.

He needed to test her ability to observe and analyze a given situation.

Akechi did not wait long to make good on contacting her, and set up a meeting between the two of them. The place was comfortable but not too conspicuous. He was starting to gain momentum now thanks to his caseload, and because of that the public eye would be more intently trained on his activities. That, and the general populous loved to jump to conclusions about what they saw without thinking too deeply on the matter. It certainly could be advantageous, but in other ways it could backfire, and it would do him well to be careful.

A light shower of rain patted on the window outside. His eyes followed the droplets as they pooled into one another and fell to the edge of the glass. Everything was set up, and for now all he could do was wait.

“Can I get you a beverage to start with sir?”

The server’s voice called his attention away and he politely nodded.

“Just a cup of coffee for now, thank you. I’m still waiting for someone to arrive.”

“No problem. I’ll get that cup of coffee for you right away.”

He was quickly left alone again. His hands remained steady as his fingers entwined in one another. Akechi didn’t want to give the impression of impatience. It was important he maintain the positive image he initially presented.

Fortune seemed to favor him, for only a few minutes went by before he heard the door swing open and a familiarly gentle voice respond when greeted.

“Yes, hello! I’m meeting someone who’s already here...”

He looked up to see Mary come into the little cafe. She pulled down the hood of her pastel raincoat, revealing her hair once again tied in twin braids. Though what made her stand out more was perhaps how vividly red her hair was in color. It had certainly caught his attention before, but perhaps not as consciously as now.

After all, he was intent on observing her more closely this time.

“Ah! Shaw-san, you made it,” he greeted her. “I hope the journey here was alright.”

The greeter at the front allowed her to pass, and Mary walked towards him, smoothing out her sleeves before she took her seat across from him.

“I had just the rain to deal with, but I don’t mind that at all,” she answered him, “Thank you for inviting me out here, Akechi-san. I haven’t been to this side of town yet.”

“It’s a bit more quiet and relaxed out here. I thought it would be a good place to chat on a day like today,” he mused. And, he thought, I want to see what you can do.

Mary lips turned up in a brief smile. “To be honest, I prefer the quiet.”

Akechi made a mental note of the statement. “It does make it easier to have thoughtful conversation, doesn’t it?”

Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed the return of the server, a cup of hot coffee in hand. He politely thanked her, and waited as she asked Mary what sort of beverage she might want. Mary asked for a soda, and with that she was off again.

He was sure to make a note of that as well.

I wonder if she has a sweet-tooth. Or perhaps she simply prefers the fizz.

“Do you particularly like soda, Shaw-san?”

“Well, I guess so. I more like the sweet taste to be honest. Guess I’m a bit of a sugar fanatic.”

It was then Akechi’s turn to crack a small smile at her at the remark. It seemed that was another thing they had in common, albeit a small one. If she proved to be a useful resource for him, it would be a small and easy way to gain favor. In the meantime, just learning more about her and who she was in such a small way would be useful in and of itself.

“I see. I tend to have a bit of a sweet-tooth myself,” he admitted, “I think we’ll get along just fine.” It was a statement in jest, but he was fairly confident in that assertion as well.  She seemed a friendly and pleasant sort, one that could be easily won with a bit of charm and some niceties.

It helped he also considered her pleasantly attractive, as well, though her aesthetic was a bit more cutesy than was normally his preference. Still, that fact did make it a bit more natural for him to rely on charm to win her over, regardless.

Mary adjusted her glasses, tucking a loose strand behind her ear as she did so.

“Definitely. So then, are you going to be putting a lot of cream and sugar in your coffee then?”

He laughed as he briefly glanced down into the murky brown of his cup. “Maybe some. You need to be careful with coffee though. There’s such a thing as putting too much in, I’ve had the misfortune to discover.”

“I see.”

“Say,” he started, shuffling through his things to pull out a small book, “I was wondering, do you like to read fiction at all?”

“Maybe a little. I’m more about computer games, but I do read the occasional book here and there,” Mary replied.

“Ah.” Akechi leafed through the book to a page he had marked. “I’ve been reading about a rather famous folk hero in western culture. Tell me, how much do you know about Robin Hood?”

Robin Hood,” she repeated the name, accent obvious in her pronunciation, “I wouldn’t call myself an expert, not even close. I only know bits and pieces. But I know some of the basics. He stole from the rich, gave to the poor, was loyal to the king whose brother had taken the throne, and he desperately wanted to win the heart of Maid Marian.”

“And in some variations of the tale he had a band of companions known as the Merry Men. Yes, indeed, that’s the one,” he confirmed, “It’s quite interesting really. Some say he was of noble birth while others believe he was a commoner. Some versions of the tale don’t even have Maid Marian. A shame really.”

His last remark was intentional, to gauge what sort of reaction she would have.

“I suppose so. I do rather like Maid Marian, at least based on the versions I’ve seen in movies and such. She’s usually very kind and noble of heart. A bit of an idealist, even.”

That wasn’t the most expected response. He had more expected her to inquired further on why it would be a shame, but what she said did give him an opening.

“An idealist?”

“Well, yes. She believes in certain principles and sticks to them, even when there’s pressure for her not to,” Mary explained, “And I think she wants to believe the best about the people she cares for and she remains true to Robin Hood no matter what.”

“An interesting perspective. Some may consider idealism foolish, you know.”

“Yeah… I know. There’s a lot of bad stuff happening in the world. I mean, I’m sure in your line of work you’ve seen some pretty horrible things, right?”

She didn’t know the half of it, and that was concerning what little she knew about to begin with.

“Yes, I have. Some of it can be truly incomprehensible and monstrous to the average person.”

Mary frowned. “I’m sorry. I’m sure it must be tough. I think it’s important to have something you aspire to and believe in though, you know? Like justice, or truth, or even just the will to survive at times. I know sometimes the world isn’t pretty. But that doesn’t mean we can’t want the world to be better, right?”

Perhaps the reason Mary spoke so fondly of Maid Marian’s idealism was that Mary was an idealist herself. It was something else he could play off of, if he needed to. It was also part of the sort of character he’d built for himself, one who aspired to the ideals of truth and justice. It was a mask, but it was one he’d learned to wear well.

“Of course,” he replied, “I would certainly like things to be better, I can agree to that.” Akechi paused for a moment, taking a sip of his coffee. “Robin Hood tried to take the law into his own hands in order to make the world a better place. I’m not sure if that’s something I can agree with. Then again, if he were around in the here and now, I’d have to arrest him.”

Mary rested her arms on the table and leaned forward slightly.

“Probably. Which is a shame. But, then again, he wouldn’t be able to commit the same crimes the way he did in the stories. In a modern day setting, he’d really have to improve on his methods,” she responded thoughtfully.

“That’s certainly true,” remarked Akechi, raising in eyebrow in curiosity. Oh, this was perfect. “I’m curious, how would Robin Hood be caught if he committed his crimes nowadays? What do you think he’d have to do to pull it off?”

“Well, I suppose if we just look at even a generic example of breaking into a noble’s home and taking their money, there’d be a lot more for him to contend with,” said Mary, “Fingerprints and shoeprints can be left behind, as well a traces of fabric, and sometimes… what’s the word…” She struggled for a moment, trying to find how to translate when the exact wording was unknown to her. “Little bits of skin…?”

“Skin cells, yes,” Akechi confirmed, “I think that’s what you’re trying to say, yes?”

“I think so, yes,” she replied with a nod, “Depending on the trouble they run into other types of evidence too. That, and security is more advanced than it was way back when. They need to have someone who was savvy with technology if they really wanted to pull something off.”

“That is true.”

“Indeed. They’d also need special equipment to either minimize or get rid of fingerprints, such as gloves or other ways to provide a barrier for contact. I’m not entirely sure it’s possible they could get away with leaving no trace evidence behind at all though. But they could be thorough enough that whatever they did leave wouldn’t be enough for the police to work with. If they avoid leaving DNA behind that’ll big a big advantage for them.”

“All of those are very good points,” Akechi considered. So far, he was pleased with the time she was taking and the thought put into her answers. “That might not mean they avoid security or the police altogether though. At points even back then, they did have to deal with confrontation. Robin Hood and his Merry men did have weapons after all.”

“Guns would probably be more likely to be the weapon of choice, yeah?” she inquired, “Although… I think gun laws in America are more loose compared to Japan, and police don’t carry them when they’re not working, yes?”

“Yes, it’s quite different here. You’re also correct, police are not allowed to carry firearms when they’re off-duty in this country,” Akechi acknowledged, frowning slightly, “It’s very rare to have more than ten gun related deaths in a single year. At this point knives are a much more common weapon and also easily concealed.”

Mary blinked, eyes widening. “Are your serious? Less than ten? That’s… that’s so small compared to my country.” She thought for a moment, briefly looking over as the server briefly returned to give her the soda she had ordered. Mary thank her before turning back to Akechi. “I suppose with that in mind there would be some that would use knives or other more easily acquirable weapons. But, just because they’re harder to get legally doesn’t mean they can’t obtain guns through less legal channel, right?”

“Well, it’s certainly possible,” Akechi noted, eyes briefly flickering with recognition easily unnoticed, “It does mean a lot more effort and resources are needed to acquire them though.”

“Well then… I suppose maybe I should think of other things they might use then. Knives would be a likely candidate. There are other ranged weapons besides guns a person could use if they were attempting to rob a wealthy person and expected confrontation. Though, wouldn’t there be more emphasis on not getting caught even with that possibility? It’s true they might account for it but still. If their options are more limited. Then again unarmed methods could be used, as well as improvised weapons from their environment… Though that’d run the risk of leaving more trace evidence behind... ”

Akechi tapped his chin thoughtfully. “It’s a more complex question to consider when you really start to consider all the possibilities and what there is to account for, isn’t it?” He tilted his head, watching her sip her soda as her brow furrowed in contemplation.

It was easy for him to tell from her expression and how detailed her answer was that she was thinking quite deeply on the subject. She was one to look into different possibilities and account for logical extrapolations, he noticed, but she could consider priorities in the likelihood of scenarios… yes, her analytical skills definitely showed promise.

He continued to converse with her, asking her questions. He probed her thoughts and listened carefully for evidence of her thinking patterns and her level of knowledge on certain subjects. As it turned out, she was indeed quite knowledgeable, and quite extensively in some ways. Much to his satisfaction even, the knowledge was genuine and not a distorted version one might garner from the consumption of a glamorized narrative of the work of law enforcement.

Of course, he continued to use Robin Hood as a focal point of the conversation and as his basis for inventing scenarios to discuss. It was serving his needs quite well, perhaps better than he had thought when he made his plans before this little meetup.

The example of Robin Hood wasn’t a random choice on his part. It was something he himself had learned a little of due to where fate had taken him, and the things he knew about himself that he kept hidden away. Robin Hood in essence was the image he wanted to present. He was no outlaw, but he wanted to seem on the side of justice and right in the eyes of the public for as long as he could be.

Though that wasn’t something Mary knew about. But, it didn’t stop her from eventually asking what had made him curious into looking into the folk hero.

“I suppose I find some interest in trying to figure out the sort of person who takes justice into their own hands as Robin Hood does,” he found himself saying in reply, “Remember when I mentioned some versions say he was noble and others he was a commoner? The noble version of the story says he was a noble whose lands were stolen. If I’m being honest, I find myself even preferring that particular telling. Perhaps… I like the idea of that sort of original wrong being righted. Though, I suppose I must ask again what I’ve been asking quite a bit in this conversation: what do you think, Shaw-san?”

A moment of silence passed.

“I don’t know… I think I rather like the idea that he was a commoner, personally. Someone like that I think would be the most sympathetic to the plight of the poor because they were poor themselves,” she replied, as thoughtfully as she had throughout their chat, “That and… I think someone who's suffered at the hands of someone as awful as the Sheriff of Nottingham would have a personal stake and satisfaction in getting back at him.”

Akechi stopped, blinking as he set down his coffee cup. He had been taking note and finding her response rather appropriate to her nature. But then the last part of her answer gave him… pause.

“A rather interesting take,” he answered simply, “It almost makes Robin Hood seem a little selfish.”

“Sometimes people do the right thing for not the best reasons… or do the wrong thing with all sorts of noble reasons and motivations. Or that’s what I’ve heard, anyway. I guess… I have a question for you, Akechi-san. What bears more importance in your opinion, a person’s motivations or their actions?”

“Well now, that’s quite a philosophical thing to ask,” he remarked, letting out a laugh. “As a detective, I must consider actions first and foremost, but it would be incomplete work on my part if motivation were not taken into account. I suppose they are things one must learn to use their judgment in balancing.”

“I see…”

“Context must never be disregarded, Shaw-san. Nothing ever happens without connection or influence from what’s around it.”

“Yes. The truth is always more complicated than people often like to make it.”

“Indeed.” Very good. In fact, the word most apt in this moment was perhaps excellent.

At that moment, he was finally able to determine for certain that this indeed had been a pursuit more than worth his while. Not only did he have a better sense of his fellow classmate, but she would indeed prove to be someone to consult and utilize for his endeavors.

Congratulations, Shaw-san, he thought to himself, I think you’ll make an excellent partner for me in the coming days. I’d rather not make an enemy of you. As long as I can keep you favorable to me, I think I’ll rather enjoy our future get-togethers.

“I like hearing the thoughts of others on deep subjects. Yours are particularly insightful and interesting, Shaw-san,” he commended her, “I hope we can have more conversations like this in the future. It’s been a while since I’ve gotten to so casually speculate.”

Mary smiled, her brow crinkling in a joyful expression. “I’d like that a lot! Maybe since we both have a sweet tooth why don’t we go somewhere with pastries or something?”

Akechi nodded in agreement. “A good suggestion. If you’re still finding your way around, I could certainly make a recommendation.”

“Sure.” Mary leaned back slightly in her side of the booth, her expression turning pensive. “Although, next time, I’d like to hear more of your thoughts, Akechi-san. I can’t help but feel like I did most of the talking while you sat and listened and maybe asked questions.”

He laughed and shook his head. “I’m starting to get asked my thoughts more often now that I seem to be taking off in popularity. I really don’t mind yielding the floor. But, I’d certainly be more happy for you to ask some questions of your own. After all, a balanced conversation should be give and take.”

His good mood at that moment was genuine. It was always satisfying to him when his instincts were proven correct. In this case, he was now sure he had a resource he could tap into when he would find it useful. That, and he would still accomplish the task of maintaining the mask he wore for others.

His remarks were also genuine. He found her to be insightful, thoughtful, and intelligent- all good traits for a detective to possess. However, her status as a foreigner and likely being out of her depth despite her competence  could be worked to his advantage. Though perhaps more so, her idealism and good nature would make her very agreeable to him.

Fate truly was on his side, he thought.

The rain began to pick up just a bit, pattering a bit more loudly on the window pane behind them. The smell of a second fresh cup of coffee wafted into the air after it was poured and he once again stirred it with cream and sugar. His eyes found hers for a moment, and he saw himself reflected in their green color.

Though what was reflected was the mask, and not the more complicated truth beneath.

Chapter Text

Time moves quickly. Especially when events make you forget its passage. The first day of school soon came, and with it, the direction of fate became a little more certain. Mary rose early that morning, making sure she had everything she needed as she prepared her bag with needed supplies. Mrs. Aoki was kind enough to prepare breakfast for her and Hinata that morning, and until they reached the initial stop at the train station, the two of them walked together.

Both carried an umbrella that day, as clouds had gathered over the city in a grey blanket that kept the sun from view. Rain was likely, and it was best to be prepared.

Mary hurried into the crowd, Hinata following behind as they hustled on board before the train took off. Hinata was calm, but she was still not used to the confined space. She kept to the edges near the windows, watching lights and tracks whisk by and the rhythmic sound as the cars hurried along.

She’d taken the time to memorize the route, and even taken the train a couple of times to know the path. Even so, she still felt her nerves kicking in. She was eager, but a part of her was hesitant, anxious. Perhaps it couldn’t be helped. It would only be today that she found out her homeroom, and met her other classmates aside from Goro Akechi.

Akechi…

She hoped she would see him again today. The sight of someone familiar, someone she knew to be friendly would help put her at ease.

Mary felt her phone vibrate in the pocket of her blazer. Curious, she pulled it out to see the message. Much to her surprise, she saw the familiar smirking black critter of Alibaba’s avatar next to the message. She was up early today, she observed, I wonder what’s up?

‘Wow, I just dodged a bullet.’

The message didn’t sit well with her. Mary blinked, her eyes darting back and forth, a sudden tension forming in the pit stomach. She quickly typed back a reply, giving voice to her anxiety.

‘Is everything okay, Alibaba?’

To her surprise she was quick to reply.

‘Yeah, I’m fine. Hey remember I mentioned my dad’s taking in a guy to stay with us for the next year? I was worried he was going to be sleeping in the guestroom next to mine. But turns out he’s going to be staying in the attic above the cafe my dad runs.’

Mary thought for a moment. They had shared some of their personal lives with one another. It took a moment but the memory surfaced, and when she recalled the details curiously shot back a reply.

‘The guy on probation? Yeah I remember.’

‘Yeah that’s the one. You know how I am. I’m not really much of a face to face person. So I’m glad it’s still just me and my dad at the house. I need my space.’

Mary breathed a sigh of relief. She had worried it was something bad, but knowing now what she was talking about, she could relax. Alibaba had mentioned a boy around her age would be staying with them because he was serving out a legal sentence. She also remembered that Alibaba had managed to uncover some more details on the matter by digging for it.

Hacking and sleuthing for it, to be more precise.

‘I still can’t believe he’s being punished for defending a woman who was being attacked.’

Mary hadn’t known that Alibaba was a hacker when they first met. It was something that had come later, through an incident of accidental bragging on Alibaba’s part. It was still difficult for her to believe at times, that she could count herself friends with someone who could do that. Sometimes it made her wonder how much Alibaba knew about her, compared to what she knew about Alibaba in kind.

How much don’t I know about her?

She was not one to pry however, and when she was curious to ask about things, she never pushed boundaries that were laid. Still the curiosity was there.

There was a pause before Alibaba replied.

‘The justice system here isn’t always just.’

‘Unfortunately that seems to be happening a lot these days. I’ve heard of some pretty awful things happening when I was back home,’ replied Mary, ‘Well, I hope he’ll be okay. And I’m glad you still get to have your space. Unfortunately I won’t be able to talk much until I get out of school for the day.’

‘Yeah… I suppose duty calls, eh? Good luck out there.’

‘Thanks,’ Mary typed, bidding her farewell for the time being with a smiley face and a small addendum, ‘You have a good day too! I’ll see you on the other side.’

Eventually the train came to a stop. Mary and Hinata stepped onto the platform and walked up the stairs to take transfers to the lines that would take them to school. It was at this point Hinata and Mary parted ways. They waved to each other, and Mary watched as the boy disappeared into the crowd to catch his train. The bustling around her filled her senses, and for a moment she wasn’t aware that as Hinata was leaving, another approached her. Instead, her eyes were searching for the signs that would leads to her transfer.

“Well, what a pleasant surprise! It’s nice to see you again, Shaw-san.”

The pleasant and familiar tenor rose above the din of footsteps. Mary turned her head quickly and found her eyes meeting none other than Goro Akechi’s. She blinked in startlement, nearly dropping her bag before she caught the handle in the nick of time.

He always seems to catch me off guard. I really ought to be more observant.

“Akechi-san!” Her emotional state came through as she hesitated in addressing him. “... Good… Good morning. I’m sorry, you startled me there.”

He laughed, reaching to rub the back of his neck.

“I’m sorry about that. I guess it’s easy to get overwhelmed with everything going on if you’re not used to it.”

“So, are you about to transfer too?”

“Why, yes, as a matter of fact,” he replied, flashing her that ever charming smile of his. “Actually, would you like to come along with me and walk to school? I’ve been attending Kiri Academy for years so finding the way is almost second nature to me.”

“I’ve taken the train a couple of times to figure out where to go,” she explained. However, she nodded reassuringly to show she wasn’t refusing his offer. Quite the opposite in fact. “But, it’d be nice to have someone I know walking to school with me.”

He tilted his head, seeming to show some curiosity to her response. “I see. Well, I can certainly do that if you’d like. It’s quite common here for friends to walk to school together.”

Friends. Mary wanted friends. She was excited about the prospect of making more. But, she didn’t know what sort of impression she would make. She also wasn’t the sort to have large groups of friends back home. There was usually a small handful of good friends, only one or two she was especially close to. But now, now she wouldn’t see some of those people for at least a year. As much as she was avoiding thinking of it, the prospect made her feel isolated.

Well, she did have Alibaba, although not face to face either. But maybe, just maybe Akechi could be her friend too.

“Well then, it’s settled. I suppose we better catch the train before it leaves.”

“Oh, of course!” Akechi seemed as though he’d been distracted for a moment as he blinked and turned around, trying to get himself back on track.  “Well, right this way then, Shaw-san.”

Mary followed him through a flight of stairs and down to the next platform. Both got on the train together, standing near one another in the host of the morning commute. The two of them chatted casually, of the morning rain and the school day to come. Akechi at one point veered the conversation more towards introspective topics, the sort that was more commonplace in their interactions.

The second train ride seemed to be over just as it began, and it felt abrupt when the train came to a stop. But, Mary regained herself, stepping onto the platform after Akechi.

Rain was pattering onto the sidewalk when the two of them ascended the stairs leaving the station. Both were able to shield themselves from the light shower, umbrellas becoming dotted with droplets.

They walking down a long street with tall buildings and people going in every direction. As they went, there began to be more people walking in their direction, dressed in the tan blazers and black slacks and skirts of Kiri Academy. They had now converged with their classmates, and Mary could hear them chattering away.

At one point, she could not help but overhear a pair as they glanced over, spotting her and Akechi walking together.

“Hey,” said one, “Isn’t that Akechi-senpai? It’s really cool we have someone like him going to our school, huh?”

“Yeah, seriously! But hey, check out that girl who's walking with him! I’ve never seen her before. She must be new. Probably an exchange student from the looks of it.”

“Wow! She’s so lucky she gets to walk to school with Akechi. I’m so jealous! How do you think that happened? Do you think they know each other?”

Mary sighed quietly to herself. By now she was keenly aware that Goro Akechi had a certain level of popularity because of his detective work. He’d even been featured in the media. It would be only natural he’d be the talk of others at school. By extension, they would talk about the people he interacted with.  Mary couldn’t help but be a little off put by it- she wasn’t the sort to have eyes upon her back home. It was certainly not something she was used to, to be sure.

“Is something wrong, Shaw-san?”

Akechi’s question drew her eyes away from the others. She sighed as she came to a stop for a moment, fiddling with the string on the handle of her umbrella.

“It’s nothing, just being unintentionally nosy about other people’s conversations.”

Akechi laughed at her answer, his lips quirking up in amusement. “I advise you to be careful, but those who are naturally curious by nature can’t help it, I suppose. It’s something I do as well.”

“Be careful? You mean as in the things I overhear from people can get me into trouble?”

“I was thinking along those lines, yes. I speak from experience on that matter,” he replied, “Curiosity is a merit, but so is caution. One has to temper curiosity with a critical mind.”

“I suppose that’s true,” she agreed. “One can be too careful though.”

“True,” he acknowledged, “But, in this instance, I don’t think that will be a problem.” He glanced from side to side before resting his eyes on her. “Mostly I’m just advising you to take what people around you say with a grain of salt. Especially when it’s gossip.”

Realization hit Mary, and for a moment her face flushed a light pink. So he probably heard what those other students were saying too. “I see. I’ll be sure to not let what people say get to me.”

“Good, I’m glad.” There was once again a flash of his charming smile. He was rarely without that sort of smile, wasn’t he? And it really was an effectual smile, at that. It didn’t seem all that surprising to her that he had admirers as he did when taking that into account. Sometimes a person could become popular on charisma alone.

But Akechi has his talents to back it up as well.

Mary really did see him as just a fellow classmate of hers that she was friendly with most of the time. But, perhaps in this moment in sunk in a little more that he wasn’t an ordinary sort.

He really was very, very lucky.

At last they came upon Kiri Academy’s front entrance. It appeared very modern with its large windows and white and silver color scheme. A placard ran across the side of the building, the school’s name embossed in metallic lettering. Mary had seen it from the outside on her trips to learn the route. But it was different to actually walk through the doors as a wave of students were filtering in, going every which way to find their classes. Although each stopped at a wall at the front where a long paper list was posted.

“You should check the list over there to find out what class you’ll be in, Shaw-san. I can already tell you that since you’re a third year like myself you’ll be on the first floor. But, it will be a matter of figuring out where.”

Mary turned to Akechi when she spoke, nodding before cracking a smile. “I heard it might be something like that. I don’t suppose we’ll be lucky enough to be in the same classroom, will we?”

“That will depend on the whims of fate, I suppose,” he replied, “But I share your sentiment. Let’s take a look then, shall we?” The two of them approached the list, and Akechi traced the edge with his fingers as his eyes scrolled through the names. Mary peered over his shoulder, looking over it herself. “Luckily I don’t think it’ll be that difficult to find our names.”

“No, probably not.”

Akechi’s index finger came to rest, and he tapped the list, reading aloud.  “Akechi Goro, class 1-F, now let’s see…” He continued to search. However he was interrupted when Mary continued to search and found her name a couple of rows over from his.

“There I am! Shaw Mary, class...” She frowned as her eyes fellow upon the class designation next to her name listing. “... 1-E.”

It seemed luck was not favorable in this instance. She had wanted to share a class with Akechi, but it seems that was not to be.

“Well, that’s unfortunate,” Akechi remarked, “Though not entirely. I happen to know 1-F and 1-E are right next to each other. We might not have class together, but it will be easy to meet during lunch or outside of class.” For a moment he seemed to stare pensively at the names on the list, not looking away as Mary replied.

“I suppose that’s true. Do you happen to know anything about the teachers for those classes?”

It was then he glanced her way. “Sato-sensei and Imai-sensei are the homeroom teachers for 1-F and 1-E respectively, it even lists them here. If memory serves me they teach Mathematics and English. But that’s about the extent of my knowledge, I’m afraid. I haven’t really had the chance to interact with most of the senior class faculty much.”

“I see,” Mary answered him. “English, eh? A funny coincidence, all things considered.” Putting the foreign exchange student in the English teacher’s class. That had to be some kind of cosmic luck on it’s own. That was unless the choice was deliberate, but she had no reason to think that was the case.

She would consider it misfortune that her hopes weren’t rewarded. But in time, it wouldn't be seen as unlucky as it first appeared. For now though, Mary would contend with initially knowing no one in her homeroom. She wanted to make a good impression, and she wanted to be liked. She still had that hope, at least.

“Perhaps it can be seen that way. It might gain you some attention as the foreign exchange student. I don’t doubt at least one person will need help with their English homework,” mused Akechi. “ Unfortunately we best not linger. We don’t want to be late.”

His choice of emphasis provided Mary a little reassurance. After all, Akechi had said he’d wanted to be in the same class too. But, that didn’t mean they couldn’t still continue to talk each other, as he’d said. They could even be friends- perhaps even good friends. Though in Mary’s mind it was perhaps still too early to tell how things would turn out in the end, even if it did seem like it might be as she hoped.

At last their walk came to an end when they went down the hall together, and he showed her where their two classrooms were. They were indeed right next to one another as he had said, clearly labeled as ‘1-E’ and ‘1-F’ above the doors.

The two of them said their goodbyes to one another for the time being, and Akechi gave her one last smile before he went on his way. The parting left Mary alone with her thoughts for a moment. She couldn’t help but find herself confused at her own emotional state.

I was so excited and eager for the school year, even just the other day. Maybe I was a little nervous, but I feel like I’m just nerves now. What changed?

Maybe it’s because this is actually happening right now and isn’t just something off in the future?

Mary slowly approached the door and gave a gentle knock. She knew nothing except what Akechi had told her. My homeroom teacher is Imai-sensei,  she thought, and they teach English. I wonder what they’re like…

Mary heard a slow shuffle and soft mumurings from the other side of the door. Her anticipation seemed to slow the flow of time for a moment. But then, the handle turned, and she heard someone speak from behind the door.

“Alright class, please quiet down. I realize everyone’s eager to see one another, but please.” The voice sounded as though it belonged to a man. It was low, and very authoritative. Mary immediately began to picture an older sort of teacher, with strands of gray in his hair. How strict of an instructor was Imai? Was he more of the friendly sort? It was hard to tell from one statement alone.

When the door opened however, the person she saw before her wasn’t much of a fit to what she expected. Instead of an older man, she was greeted by one who seemed on the younger side, perhaps in his early thirties were she to take a guess. His dark hair was smoothed down and slicked back, eyes framed by a pair of glasses. He had a mundane by professional navy suit to match.

Mary adjusted her own glasses at that moment, hoping they hadn’t fallen out of alignment since she’d left the house.

“Ah. Are you by chance my foreign exchange student?” he asked.

“Yes! Hello, Imai-sensei. It’s very nice to meet you.” Mary greeted him with a polite bow of her head. “Is everyone else here?”

“Yes, everyone is present in the room except you. That was perhaps the main reason I asked my question,” he replied with a serious nod of his head. Mary frowned. It was a bit difficult to get a read on him. He seemed polite and civil, but she couldn’t really tell much of his mood at the moment. So he was that sort of person then. It didn’t do much to soothe Mary’s nerves, but at least he was not in an obviously dour mood or unfriendly.

“Ah, I see. I’m sorry for being last. Um… I’ve heard transfer and exchange students wait outside and have the instructor call them in. Is that how things will go here?”

Imai raised an eyebrow. “Yes, you’ve heard correctly. You’ll need to wait a moment and I’ll call you to introduce yourself proper once I’ve made my announcements to the class. I will also assign your seat at that time.” His expression remained rather stoic as he continued, “However, please don’t apologize. You’re not late, so there’s no reason for it. Now, wait here and listen for when I call your name, alright?”

Mary nodded rapidly. “Yes sir!”

Imai nodded again in response. He then turned back into the classroom, once again calling for quiet and order. Mary took a deep breath as the chatter died, and Imai began to make his announcements. Just through the door were her classmates, all quietly listening. They would all be paying attention when the teacher called from her to come in.

Today was a day all about first impressions. In moments, she would be getting one of her class, and they of her. She could only hope, and her hope was that both sides impressions were positive.

Chapter Text

The glare of the screen reflected off of her glasses. She was hunched over her keyboard, typing away and watching words and numbers and code whiz past her view. Such a sight to the average person would be dizzying, but for her it had become second nature. Her computer was the bedrock of her existence, her window from which she saw the outside world, and the tool she used to reach out and affect it.

Neither her mind nor her eyes really gave thought to the room around her, however. There was no concern to be had over the bags of trash or items that had been taken out and yet to be returned to their containers. The blinds of her bedroom window were drawn, only slivers of daylight filtering their way in.

Futaba really didn’t have the desire to address those things, nor did she have the energy to. What little she had she put towards what was on her screen. What little will she had to live, she used to peer through her looking glass and see glimpses of what lay beyond.

This by no means meant she was limited, or that she knew little of things that were happening. Most would be startled if they knew just how much she managed to lay her hands on.

Her adoptive father Sojiro was minding Leblanc still. He might have told her that he had taken on a part-timer to help him, but she knew the truth of the matter. She perhaps understood his reasoning. Under normal circumstances an ordinary person would be frightened by the prospect that their relative was taking someone with a criminal record into their care. But, Futaba had her talents, and she was the sort to also look into things quite thoroughly.

After all, she had the means to look more deeply into things than others might be able.

It perhaps made things easier that she had managed to bug his cafe. That in and of itself was a feat considering she never left her room. But she had made it work, much in thanks due to Sojiro purchasing some new pieces of technology for the Cafe.

That was one of the ways she managed to find out what was going on in the world around her. She listened to the customers as they chattered away in their booths, and she listened to Sojiro as he conversed with whomever.

Ginji Arakawa was a victim of circumstance. He’d crossed someone of ill intent with a lot of power to wield. It was why he was serving a sentence despite being a defender rather than a true criminal.

It was also perhaps why she had yet to uncover who it was he’d tangled with. Whomever they were, they wanted to remain anonymous, and those swayed had done an excellent job of covering their tracks. Even with her skills, it seemed that was not something she could easily find.

At least for now, however, it was enough to know he wasn’t someone Futaba needed to be concerned with. He wasn’t a threat to her, not now at least. He wasn’t a dangerous criminal and he wasn’t staying in the house with her and Sojiro.

Futaba intended to remain here. She didn’t want anyone else getting the idea of coming into her room. As long as that was not something that was threatened, she was secure.

Her eyes flitted to the clock at the bottom right of her computer. It was late afternoon, almost evening. Most of her peers would be finishing up with school right about now. That meant the few of her peers she interacted with online would be available to talk soon.

Well, assuming they weren’t getting right down to studying the minute school ended.

She opened one of her messenger apps to see who was online. Most of the names were still grayed out. But there was one name that wasn’t, and she was surprised when the little ellipses appeared in the last conversation she had open.

So Notre-Dame was already here.

Very quickly, a message appeared in the chat log.

‘Hey Alibaba, just wanted to pop in. How’s your day going?’

‘Eh, same as always.’ She replied quickly. ‘Honestly I was expecting you to still be busy at school.’

There was a pause. ‘I am still at school. I’m just checking out something before I leave. But I promised I’d see you on the other side, yeah?’

Futaba couldn’t help but crack a smile as she typed her reply. Was she worried about her feeling left out? It was nice to be thought of, and it seemed to be common place for Notre-Dame to voice expressions of concern for her well-being.  

‘I appreciate you checking on me, I really do,’ replied Futaba. She was aware that perhaps she had her at a disadvantage. Futaba was far more knowledgeable about her friend behind the screen than the reverse. She knew her real name was Mary, to start, while ‘Alibaba’ was the only name she knew in kind.

This was of course in some part due to the fact that she put her skills to use as she often did. But, it was mostly out of the fact Notre-Dame was more forthcoming about herself and the life she led. She would never press Futaba in kind to share, but would always welcome what she was willing to tell. That was something she liked about her.

It was part of why she trusted her. Notre-Dame let her have her boundaries. She accepted her as she was.

Futaba found herself at a loss for a moment on continuing the conversation. The cursor blinked in the chat log as she mulled over anything else to say. One thing did come to mind, and for a moment she perused her files before returning to the chat.

‘Hey, want to see this picture I found?’ Before an answer could be given, she uploaded a picture into the chat and grinned as she awaited a reply.

The picture was a photograph of a dimly lit alley, a garbage can illuminated to reveal a raccoon buried up to its waste in its contents. Its rump and tail were above the mess as it was trying to gain a footing.

Outside of serious discussion and more in depth conversations, much of their exchanges involved trading amusing pictures and memes they had found littered throughout their daily ventures on the internet. When there was little to say, one could always at least induce a smile or a snicker.

Eventually, Notre-Dame’s reply came, and she was not disappointed.

‘...How did you find a picture of me?’ She asked, most likely pretending to be offended. ‘You hacked into my files didn’t you?’

‘Guilty as charged.’ Futaba answered, playing along.  ‘What are you doing rooting around in a trash can though?’

‘Well, I’m a raccoon, OBVIOUSLY. It’s where I belong.’

Futaba let out a loud guffaw and shook her head. ‘Nortre-Dame, No. NO.’ I’m the only one of us allowed to make self-deprecating jokes, she thought.  However, what was said gave her the opening for what was, in her eyes, a perfect follow-up.

‘You have better options for food. You’re a strong, independent raccoon who doesn’t need a trash can!’

A few moments later, Notre-Dame sent several emojis, expressing that she was laughing profusely at Futaba’s comeback. Futaba smiled and leaned back in her seat a bit, quite pleased with herself.

‘I suppose.’ Notre-Dame added more to her reply. ‘I mean a good gourmet pizza or something would be nice. Maybe some salmon…’

‘No, stop. You’re going to make me hungry!’

How long had it been since she’d had food like that? Most of the time, what she wanted more than anything was some of Sojiro’s curry. It was so much like the curry her mother used to make.

It was her recipe he was using after all. He was so close to making it just right too.

It was the one thing she still had, and it was one of the few things she was willing to eat on most days. That was assuming she even felt hungry at all, and sometimes she didn’t and wouldn’t eat as a result, even if she should. But right about now, the response she sent felt like the right thing to say.

After all, there were some days still when she would feel hungry. Ravenous even. Talk like that certainly didn’t help matters in those cases.

‘Okay. I’ll stop. So, a change of subject then?’

‘Yeah.’ Futaba thought for a moment. ‘Hey Notre-Dame, I know you’re staying in the city for the next year. Can I ask what High School you’re going to? I think you told me but I don’t remember.’

The truth was Futaba already knew the answer from her fishing around. But she wanted to give her the chance to actually share that information. That, and if she slipped up in the future and revealed that she knew, it wouldn’t be a problem.

Notre-Dame would have told her after all.

‘Oh, actually I don’t think I did. I’m currently attending Kiri Academy as a third year. That’s the equivalent of a senior in high school here I think.’

‘Yep, that’s right!’ Futaba rubbed her hands together, her expression becoming more serious as she typed out her reply. ‘Kiri Academy, huh? You don’t say. Well, in case you don’t know already, I thought I should warn you of something. There’s a guy at your school whose starting to become something of a celebrity.’

‘Goro Akechi? Oh yeah, I’ve met him. We’ve even hung out a few times and exchanged contact info. He seems nice.’

Ah, so she’s even met him, too. It was still worthwhile to ask just in case. From what she could tell, Notre-Dame never attended school with someone like that before. She was unsure about how her friend would react to it, whether she’d be confused or swept up in the fawning and idle chatter. It seemed the answer was neither of those things.

‘Exchanged contact information? I see.’ Futaba once again grinned widely. ‘Is he a dork? Please tell me he’s a dork.’

‘I’m not sure about that. I haven’t known him that long. We talk a lot about Forensics and criminal justice work. That kind of stuff.’

Futaba was completely unsurprised by her response. ‘ Of course you’d talk about Forensics with the junior detective.’

‘Well, it is a special interest of mine. I’d leap at the chance to talk about it. Especially with someone in a similar line of work.’

‘Of course.’ Futaba stretched her hands a moment. ‘Well, whatever happens, remember celebrities are just people and not to let fans make you feel weird.’

‘He actually said something like that too. I think I’m doing just fine for now though. I’m not worried. To be honest, I’m just glad I have someone from school I kind of ‘click’ with, you know? I haven’t really found anyone else I’ve been super friendly with yet.’

‘Well, I mean, it’s your first day. Most people don’t make friends with someone instantly. They need to get to know you first. Although there are people you ‘click with’ right away.’ Futaba’s smile became a little softer as she continued. ‘I still remember the day I met you on the Forum.’

‘Yeah. It’s still really funny to me that we wound up talking until three in the morning that day. Well… three in the morning my time, I mean.’

‘You’ll make friends, Notre-Dame, I know it. You’re a really nice person. People will be able to see that once they get the chance to really talk to you.’

‘I hope so.’

Futaba frowned. It was perhaps hypocritical of her that she offered to soothe the fears and anxieties of another but did nothing for herself. But, she genuinely believed that her friend didn’t have a reason to fear, nor did she deserve to be burdened with worry. That was true, even if she didn’t feel the same way when it came to herself.

‘You’re gonna be great. Remember how excited you were when you got here, okay?’

There was a brief pause before a simple reply came back.

‘Okay, I’ll remember.’

‘Good.’ Futaba finished a short reply just as her cell phone began to buzz to the right of her computer mouse. She turned away from her screen, picking up the phone to answer. It was Sojiro.

Then again, it couldn’t be anybody else, she thought. Perhaps somewhere in herself she was glad of that.

“Hey, I’ve still got a couple of hours until I come home. I’m making sure to have some curry ready for you like always. How are you holding up?”

“Same as always,” Futaba replied. “Hey Sojiro, can you bring me back a lemon soda too? If you have one in the cooler still.”

She could hear him laugh through the phone. “Sure. I can bring one for you. I’ll make sure it’s nice and cold.”

“Thanks. See you later.”

“See you later.”

The call ended, and Futaba’s eyes whipped back to the screen. It seemed Notre-Dame hadn’t left a reply yet, and her name became grayed out again, signaling that she was offline. Futaba huffed. Her best guess was that she needed to go do whatever she needed to do and leave school. But hopefully they’d have time to talk again.

Her friend’s time would become less once her studies picked up, and she meant it when she said she believed she’d make friends. A part of her was sad at the idea that she’d have less time. But at the same time, she thought, Mary deserves to be happy. She should have a life with lots of friends and sights and sounds. She doesn’t need to spend all her time with me.

Futaba looked to the window for a moment, hands resting on either side of her keyboard. All was quiet around her, save for the whirring of her computer and the soft sputter of her fan.

But then, in the dimness of the room, a sudden, sharp voice rang out.

“Why don’t you say something!?”

Futaba flinched.

No! I was having an okay day today. She hunkered down in her chair, shutting her eyes tight and clapping her arms over her ears.

Only Futaba and Sojiro knew that in the past several months, she’d begun to hear voices. Sometimes she would even see things that weren’t there. But most of the time, it was only things she heard.

“Murderer!”

They were jeers and accusations of the past. They were demands for answers she couldn’t give. They were insults that pained her, that she wanted to go away. But, at the end of the day, a part of her had begun to believe them and accept them as her truth. Sojiro had tried to get her a doctor to help. They didn’t seem to leave her though.

“You KILLED her!”

She’d told noone but him. It was the most wretched part of her day to day existence. Even harder to bear was the fact it seemed to slowly be getting worse. She had to wonder if eventually she’d just eventually be consumed by them.

“No…” She whimpered. “Please, not today. Please.”

Futaba remained as she was in her chair, nearly curled into a ball as she endured it. All she could do was wait for the quiet to come back.

“This is all your fault!”

“What a wretched child!”

They continued to accuse her and put her down. She couldn’t truly block it out. One couldn’t simply cover their ears in the face of something that wasn’t actually there. But, she waited. They continued, some of them repeating their cutting remarks.

Then eventually as they always did, the voices ceased, and she could only hear the sounds of her computer again. The fan made the blinds of her window flutter gently, causing a pattering against the window. She looked up, and took a deep breath to try and regain herself again.

Today it wasn’t as bad, she thought. Even if it was only better for a day, at least it was better. But the voices had reminded her of why things were the way they were now.

“Mom,” she whispered quietly. Only her voice rose above the gentle hum now. “...I’m sorry.”

She looked back up to her chat program, closing out of it and opening her internet browser. She needed to distract herself. There was little else she could do. But, she could at least do that, and put her skills to work.