A bright smile on his face as he looks down at her.
Innocent eyes full of wonder and hope looking up at him.
A time when they were so innocent and carefree. A time where they had wishes only little children could think of. Despite knowing that he was born with his weak body, Popo felt like he could do anything when she looked at him like that. He felt like he could rule a kingdom with how great he felt in that moment.
Excitement ran through his body. He remembers how his hands trembled with anticipation. He remembers how the thoughts cruised through his brain. He felt like a king on top of the world; a thousand civilians cheering him on.
"You can be a princess, Cheki!" He proclaimed to his dear friend as she looked at him with those eyes full of wonder. "You can have all the nippo you could ever want!"
She cheered him on. She told him how excited she was for his dream to come true. She gave him happiness just by knowing she was on his side.
She loves nippo. Always has, still does. When she looked at him with that kind smile of hers, he felt like he had to do anything to keep her smiling just like that. Her tiny giggles were music to his ears. He wanted to stay that way...
But you know... Life is cruel.
Sometimes you have to be a villain in order to achieve the greater good.
Because now, even though Popo could have all the nippo he could eat in the palms of his hands...
He realized that she stopped smiling at him somewhere along the way.
Years have passed since then. Their dreams weren't dreams anymore. Popo was a leader; a role model in their community. He's able to afford all the nippo he could ever want. Not only that, but he can do more than afford some fruit. The more he grows, the more he's able to achieve a greater good.
Despite that, he still has his doubts. These days, Cheki doesn't talk much anymore. Or maybe... she stopped talking and having fun with him.
Popo sat on a chair, wondering just what he did wrong. He did it, you know? He's become influential among his peers. With his new body, he was able to do countless things to help the Issoudan achieve greatness. Sure, some of these things weren't exactly good... But he did it all for their future. He made the choices he did for them. And he wasn't exactly done yet, either. There's still much to be done in the organization. He was determined to see things through.
Popo looked down at the nippo in his hand. He had a bag full of it next to his seat. It gleamed and shimmered. Fresh nippo, plucked with his own hands. It reflected the look on his face. He looked like a man down in the dumps.
When he saw himself like that, he couldn't help but think...
Did he make the right choice?
He thought about it every once in a while. He's used people. He's manipulated people. It's not like he can stop now, though. He's come too far to go back. Plus, it'd be like turning his back on the Issoudan at this point. He can't do that to them.
But as cruel as he's become, he still cares for his friends. He wouldn't really let harm come towards Neiro. She was his friend too, after all. He always thought that Cheki was on his side... He thought she knew that he cared for her, too, even if he had an obligation towards the organization.
But as he had these thoughts, he heard footsteps from behind him. Someone was coming down the hall. Light taps coming towards the room he was in.
He glanced behind him, waiting for the person to stick their head in from the hallway. The footsteps got louder and louder until he saw the familiar pink hair go past his room.
He doesn't know what came over him.
But he called out to her anyway.
"Cheki!" Popo yelled out her name. He felt the lump in his throat as he waited for Cheki to come back. It was hypocritical of him to call her when he pushed her away so many times before, but still... He wanted to see her.
He couldn't hear the footsteps come back. But still, he saw her peeking her head through the doorframe not a moment too late.
"Popo," Cheki said, her eyes locked onto him. It wasn't cheerful like the many other times she's called his name. In fact... it was pretty devoid of emotion.
She was waiting for him to speak. She wanted to know why he called her name and why he wanted to see her. He called her on a whim, though. He had no idea what he wanted to say to her, what to tell her. He mustered up a little bit of confidence and rolled with whatever came into his head.
"Cheki!" Popo called her name out once more, excitedly. He quickly got up from his chair to face her. His arms were wide open. He plastered a smile onto his face.
"That's it," Popo told himself. "Keep doing what you're doing. Everything is fine."
Popo grinned as he stepped closer to her. He showed confidence and determination. He masked the mixed feelings he showcased earlier, hiding it from his childhood friend.
"Cheki, want some nippo?" Popo asked, holding out the fruit in his hand. "I know how much you like it. Wanna come sit down and eat with me?"
Cheki looked at it. Her fingers twitched for a second. A little moment of hesitation in her eyes. But... she made no other move to grab it. No desire to take the nippo from his hand. That's when Popo realized that he made a mistake... That this was an encounter turned awkward... And he knew that he didn't have anyone else to blame but himself.
"...No thanks," Cheki replied, her big eyes glancing away from the fruit. Her hand moved up, pushing his hand away. Popo was saddened with how his offer was refused. The fruit was pushed back to him, yet he couldn't exactly force her to take it. He squeezed the nippo in the palm of his hand. It was only then that he realized he was shaking a bit.
There was a brief moment of silence. Things were made awkward. Popo mustered up the courage to talk again.
"Well, suit yourself," Popo said with a chuckle as he took a bite out of the nippo. "It's good, you know. You're missing out."
As he ate the nippo, Cheki stared at him. He had a feeling she wanted to ask him something. Even though he knew what it was, he asked her anyway.
"What do you wanna say?" Popo asked her. "You look like you want to tell me something."
Cheki visibly froze up a little bit. Perhaps caught off guard. She was still a strong girl in her own right, however, and didn't waste this chance to tell Popo what was on her mind.
"Popo..." Cheki mumbled his name. "Are you really going to keep helping the Issoudan?"
Popo narrowed his eyes at her. She knew the answer to this question. In fact, she's asked it just about a million times over. It would be obvious that this would be his response, but she was persistent.
"This again, Cheki?" Popo said as he gave a frustrated sigh. He crossed his arms over his chest as he looked at her. "I still wonder what goes on in your mind. Why are you so against the Issoudan? Can't you see that they're helping us? Don't you have any loyalty towards the Issoudan?"
Cheki gulped. "Popo... things are weird. Can't you see? There's something wrong here. There's something wrong with Neiro. There's something wrong... with you too."
This time, Popo froze. He didn't know how to reply to being told he was weird straight to his face.
"There's nothing wrong with me," Popo denied her accusation, glaring at her. "I'm just following orders. Neiro is too. If anyone, I'd say you're the one who's acting strange."
Cheki closed her eyes. She slowly shook her head. She was confident in her beliefs.
"No... Popo..." Cheki replied. "There's definitely something wrong here... I gotta find out what it is. I can't take not knowing what's going on anymore. the Issoudan is hiding something from us. You're hiding something too, I know it!"
Popo gulped. He couldn't deny that... he was hiding things from her. What he's doing... What he's done to Neiro... But if she knew, she'd be hurt.
Popo stepped forward. He grabbed her shoulders, and Cheki made no move to push him away. Her arms were limp by her side. She looked down, her face hidden from sight. Popo wanted to look at her face. He wanted to have a proper conversation with her, get her to understand his intentions like she always has.
"Cheki, it's for the greater good, I promise," Popo told her, squeezing her shoulders tighter. "Just trust me. I wouldn't let any harm come to you."
Cheki made no move. She didn't reply to his sincerity. Popo worried whether he made a mistake somewhere in their conversation. Was it wrong to hide things from her? Were her concerns really something he couldn't answer?
Cheki sighed, a long exhale escaped her lips as Popo squeezed her shoulders. Popo stared, it was all he could do, after all. It felt like he wasn't allowed to speak anymore. At least... that's what the signs were telling him.
He let go of her shoulders. She continued to look down, refusing to meet his eyes.
"Cheki," Popo called out, her name ringing out a little more desperately than he wanted it to. He begged her to look up at him, but she made no effort to do so.
His fingers curled into a fist. His mouth opened and closed... opened and closed... The syllables of her name were on the tip of his tongue, wanting to call out her name over and over again... but... he just couldn't say them.
"Cheki," Popo wanted to say. He didn't even know what he would say next.
"Cheki," Popo screamed in his head. It was much louder than anything he could have said right now.
Cheki looked up, a glare on her face; anger visible in her eyes. Popo was immediately shocked. He froze up on the spot, his mind blanking out.
"Cheki..." Popo whispered, unable to say anything else. It was like he was scared... He feared what would come next.
"You... You're lying to me again...?" Cheki said, visibly choking up. "I'm sick of not knowing anything, Popo. You changed. You used to be so cool. So kind to everyone... You're too different now. I try talking to you over and over, but you always give me these vague responses. Is being a leader really that important to you? Do you not care about us... About me anymore?"
"It's not like that!" Popo blurted out instantly. He gulped. He could feel the sweat dripping down his face. Cheki... was kinder than he ever was. Sweeter than any nippo he's ever eaten. He hardly ever sees her make an outburst like this. He wanted to do something... Anything to make it stop. He wanted things to be normal again, for them to be friends again.
He knows... He knows that she's always worrying about him and Neiro. About the others involved in the Issoudan. She cared for a lot of people. She was just... far too kind.
So to get on her bad side...
"Cheki..." Popo called out her name once again. "I... I..."
"I don't want to hear it!" Cheki cried out, pushing him away. Out of reflex, he held out a hand in order to grab her. But after seeing her squirm away from him, he knew he couldn't touch her anymore. "I don't want to hear any more excuses," Cheki muttered, "I'm going to get to the bottom of this, with or without your help."
"Cheki!" Popo called to her as she turned her back on him, walking right out the door she came through. Still... She paused, if only for a moment. Standing in the doorway, she glanced back at Popo. Perhaps it was all the resentment piled up... Perhaps she was just so done with everything that these words came out of her mouth. Still, she couldn't help herself. She said them anyway, despite knowing just how much they could hurt him.
"You're not the Popo I know anymore," Cheki said, looking at him with a face full of disgust. After seeing the shocked look on his face, she turned her head around and ran away. She ran as fast as her feet could take her.
Popo was left there, his hand still reaching out for her. Slowly it dropped back to his side. Once again, he was alone in the room, a bag full of nippo by his side, and no one to share it with.
Is it really over now? He came this far, but...
He gave it all away.
He gained influence. He gained respect and honor. He gained all the nippo he and Cheki could ever dream of...
...And all it took was her smile...
Still, it was just too late to turn back now. So he marched on, prepared for the next step in his mission. He could only have faith that Cheki would come around and see he was doing all this for her in the end.
Little did he know that his relationship with Cheki would never be the way it used to be.