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Life is Sweet

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~*~

It was a beautiful day. The sun was shining. The birds were singing. The phone was…

...alright, the phone was ringing off the hook before Seiji could even have his morning coffee, but hey, that just meant business was booming.

Seiji put a pot of coffee on to brew before strolling over to his desk, spinning his chair and flopping down with a flourish. He kicked his feet up, knocking over his mug full of pens, but having to pick pens up off the carpet was a small price to pay for style . He reached for the phone, still rattling on its stand, and tossed it over to his other hand.

“Welcome to Cutie’s, Seiji Hayami speaking…”

A pause, then a chuckle.

“...No, sir, I’m not the cutie. That would be my colleague,” Seiji smirked. “But believe me, sir. If you have something that needs solving, Cutie’s on the case.”

~*~

Natsuko awoke to the rich aroma of coffee wafting in from next door-- one of the few things that could ever get her out of bed. She yawned, lifted her arms above her head and stretched, before slumping back into bed with a sigh. Despite her odd hours as an Inspector, she was still hardly a morning person. Especially nowadays, when she had even more reasons not to get out of bed.

There was one reason, for instance, curled possessively around her waist and pinning her in place. There were two reasons wrapped around her neck, and two rather big reasons currently smushed into her face.

“Honey,” she said, muffled, into Honey’s copious cleavage. “What are you doing.”

“Cuddling!” Honey chirped. Her bright smile faded into something more sheepish. “And, um… apologizing in advance.”

“What did you do?” Natsuko blinked. The sunlight through the blinds was brighter than she’d expected. She reached for the nightstand, pulling on her glasses. “Wait, what time is it? What happened to our alarm--”

Natsuko took in the sight of the bisected halves of their alarm clock on their nightstand, along with the Honey Boomerang tellingly lodged in the wood just behind.

“...clock,” Natsuko sighed. She pinched the bridge of her nose. “...Honey…”

Honey winced. “...I love you…?”

“Honey.”

“It startled me!” Honey squirmed. “It was a reflex. And also, I didn’t want to get up. I wanted to stay with you… I’m sorry, Nacchan…”

Oh, that did it. The pouting was one thing, but that nickname…

“...It’s okay,” Natsuko sighed, leaning in and giving Honey a peck on the lips. “I forgive you. But you’ll have to get off me and let me out of bed. We’re supposed to be ready for work.”

“It’s not even nine!” Honey pouted, clinging to Natsuko’s arm.

“We should always be ready,” Natsuko wriggled her arm free and started searching for her shirt, her pants, her suit jacket, all haphazardly strewn on the carpet. “Just in case.”

“In case what?” Honey wondered.

The door flew open with a bang.

“In case of a case !” Seiji announced with a dramatic flourish, an instant before a pillow whalloped him in the face.

“Get out!” Natsuko hissed.

“I’m sorry, I should have knocked first!” Seiji said, with heroic gravitas. He struck a pose, one hand on his hip, the other pulling his cap down over his eyes. He cleared his throat. “...Although, really, what’s the point of sleeping at the office if you’re gonna be late to work anyway?”

“We’re self-employed, though!” Honey chimed in. “We’re never early or late. Whenever we show up, we’re right on time!”

“Ah, but the early bird gets the case,” Seiji grinned. “Speaking of which, we have one lined up. We’re heading downtown for a handshake. Are you two ready to go to work?”

“I am,” Natsuko said, shrugging on her blazer. “And Honey can change in a snap.”

“That’s right!” Honey beamed. She pressed two fingers to the heart-shaped choker around her neck and cried out.

“Honey Flash!”

There was a blaze of pink light. The covers that Honey was still tangled in exploded into their component molecules, before forming around her body and solidifying into an elegant sundress and floppy hat.

Honey smiled, bright as the sun, before glancing at the bed and realizing what she just did.

“...Honey…” Natsuko said with a weary fondness.

“Sorry,” Honey giggled. “I’ll get us a new blanket on the way back.”

~*~

Natsuko eased down her motorcycle’s kickstand and dismounted, straightening out her jacket and cuffs. Seiji was waiting for her, leaning rakishly against the hood of his garish burnt-orange hotrod in a sky-blue blazer and sunglasses.

“You look ridiculous,” Natsuko said, with a certain, grudging fondness. “Where’s Honey?”

“Buying a blanket,” Seiji shrugged.

“Seriously? When we’re supposed to be meeting a client?” Natsuko sighed. “I take my eyes off that girl for one second…”

“Maybe if you didn’t ride a motorcycle, she could’ve rode with you,” Seiji grinned.

Maybe if you drove a normal car, we could all ride together ,” Natsuko said dryly.

“C’mon, Nat, it’s part of our branding,” Seiji argued. “When Cutie’s on the case, we gotta do it in style .”

Natsuko just rolled her eyes.

The client’s business was just down the street from the public parking lot, an incongruously elegant storefront crammed between a bar and a maid cafe. Seiji pulled his sunglasses down his nose, peering at the women next door, bright and chipper first thing in the morning. Natsuko knowingly caught him by the arm and dragged him inside. A “Sorry, We’re Closed” sign fluttered against the door as it swung shut behind them.

“Good morning, sir,” she announced as they arrived. “Cutie’s Detective Agency, at your service.”

The owner, a middle-aged gentleman whose plain features and awkward expression stood at odds with his finely tailored suit, received them with a bow.

“Welcome, detectives. I am Yoichi Fukushima, the owner of Clear As Crystal jewellers. This is my store manager, Higen.”

“Welcome,” the younger man dipped his head in a bow.

“I am Natsuko Aki, private investigator,” Natsuko introduced herself. “It’s a pleasure.”

“And I…” Seiji struck a pose, hand on his hip, the other tipping his hat down over his eyes. He whipped his sunglasses off with a flourish. “...am Seiji Hayami, the owner and founder of Cutie’s Detective Agency!”

“Er… right,” Higen nodded. He glanced at Natsuko, awkward. “Um. Would that make you the titular ‘cutie’, miss…?”

Natsuko fondly rolled her eyes. “...No, sir. I’m not the cutie.”

The door flew open, right on cue. Haloed in light, Honey stepped into the jewelry store in her elegant sundress, sunglasses perched on the rim of her big, floppy hat, her arms laden with shopping bags and flashing an absolutely radiant smile. Natsuko could practically hear their clients’ jaws hitting the floor.

“I’m sorry I’m late!” Honey chirped. “Honey Kisaragi, at your service! How can I help you today?”

Fukushima blinked, stammering. “Um… m-my… my store has been robbed.”

“A robbery? How awful!” Honey squealed, a hand over her mouth. She flashed them a daring grin. “But not to worry! Cutie’s on the case!”

“That’s right!” Seiji reached into his jacket and whipped out his trusty notebook. “So! What can you tell us about the robbery, Fukushima-san?”

“I wasn’t here when it happened,” Fukushima nodded to Higen. “Higen was the one who saw it.”

“Yes,” Higen said, swallowing hard. “It was earlier this morning, around 7, maybe. I came to the store early, to take inventory. We weren’t even open for business yet. But these men burst in, wearing masks. They pulled guns on me. One of them gave me a bag and told me to start filling it. I opened up the display cases and did what I was told. Necklaces, earrings, wedding rings. They told me if I called the police, they’d k-kill me. Then they ran off, jumped into a van and they were gone. I called Fukushima-san after they left, and then he called you.”

“I see,” Seiji nodded along, scribbling furiously in his notebook. “Do you remember how many men there were?”

Higen blinked. “Uh… I’m not sure. At least three or four…”

“Do you remember what their van looked like? What they sounded like? What they were wearing?”

Higen squirmed, wringing his hands. “Uh… um--”

Breathe .”

Honey took Higen’s hands with a squeeze, stopping his fidgeting. She gave him a soft, gentle smile.

“It must have been scary, being held at gunpoint like that,” Honey said sweetly, “and the last thing you want to do now is be bombarded by questions. But we need all the details we can get if we’re going to find who did this to you, so just try your best to answer Sei-kun’s questions, okay?”

Higen stared at her, transfixed. Eventually, he nodded. “...O-Okay.”

“Alright,” Seiji darted in, notebook at the ready. “Let’s start at the beginning. Tell me everything you can…”

Honey stepped back as Seiji continued his questioning. Honestly, she wasn’t that great of a detective. Seiji and Natsuko were the real investigators. Mostly, she was there as muscle if it came to a fight and they needed her to transform-- and with Panther Claw on the decline, that need was getting rarer and rarer. Still, she smiled to herself, satisfied that she was at least able to offer some moral support.

Honey brushed up against Natsuko, briefly bumping her head against hers like a cat. Even that little bit of affection in public was enough to make Natsuko stiffen up, especially when they were on a case. When Honey reached into the shopping bags hanging on her arms and Natsuko heard the telltale plastic crinkling of something being unwrapped, that... didn’t help.

“Honey,” Natsuko whispered.

Honey took a big bite of convenience store onigiri, squealing with satisfaction.

Honey ,” Natsuko hissed.

“Hey Nacchan!” Honey chirped with her mouth full. She smiled. “...You think they mind if I eat in here?”

Seiji’s bombastic style of interviewing was, mercifully, keeping their clients’ attention focused on him instead of Honey’s general lack of professionalism.

“Honey, I thought you were buying a new blanket,” Natsuko murmured.

“I was going to, but I got distracted,” Honey smiled, sheepish. “We skipped breakfast, so I went to the konbini and got some rice balls! I can’t transform on an empty stomach, and you said I should be ready for anything. ...Also, I just really love rice balls, hehe.”

Natsuko shook her head, unable to keep the smirk from her face. “I love you.”

“Nacchan!” Honey squealed, embarrassed.

Natsuko smirked. She briefly brushed up against Honey, bumping an elbow against hers.

Only briefly, of course. They were on a case, after all.

Out of the corner of her eye, Natsuko noticed the store manager, Higen, squirming in his seat as Seiji took his statement. He was pale, sweat beading his brow. The shock of armed robbery would do that to a person, Natsuko supposed. But he kept stealing glances at Honey when he thought she wasn’t looking.

Natsuko narrowed her eyes. Honey did have that effect on people, but…

Natsuko turned, studying the front door, the display cases, the street outside. She nudged her glasses up her nose and pursed her lips, thoughtful.

“Thank you for your time,” Seiji was saying, as he flipped his notebook shut. He glanced towards Natsuko and Honey. “That’ll be all. Unless my partners have any other questions…?”

“Nope!” Honey said, ever cheerful.

“I do,” Natsuko spoke up. “Is this the only Clear As Crystal location in the city?”

Higen blinked, caught off guard. The owner, Fukushima, chimed in.

“We have a sister location, just a few blocks away,” he said. “Space is at a premium here in the city. It was more feasible to open a second, small store, rather than finding a new, larger location.”

“...I see. Thank you, sir,” Natsuko said, stoic. She turned to her partners. “Honey. I’d like you to stay here and watch over these two for the time being. We may not be police, but if the robbers know you reached out to private investigators they may still retaliate. Honey, keep these two safe.”

“Mm!”

“Seiji,” Natsuko said firmly. “Let’s take a walk.”

~*~

“Do you think these guys are on the level?”

“I have my suspicions,” Seiji said as they walked. The address Fukushima gave them was only a short walk away, as densely packed as this part of town was. Close enough not to drive, long enough for them to compare notes. “But I bet you’ve already gone and solved this thing already.”

“Not quite. But I have a feeling,” Natsuko said. “Did you notice anything about the door?”

“Yeah,” Seiji nodded. “Lock was intact. No forced entry. Maybe the manager left it unlocked when he arrived, but if he was there early to do inventory, and the store wasn’t supposed to be open yet…”

“That’s not all,” Natsuko pressed. “The display cases. Not shattered and ransacked, but each section neatly unlocked and picked clean. These aren’t just diamonds sitting around in boxes, either. Display busts, rotating racks. Delicate work. Why would a man held at gunpoint take his sweet time picking through the cases instead of just grabbing what he can? Why would these robbers linger so long in the store, in plain view of rush hour traffic?”

“You suspect collusion?” Seiji wondered.

“Yes,” Natsuko said. “More than that, I suspect that if they have a man on the inside, they’re not going to leave the job half-finished…”

The secondary branch of Clear As Crystal loomed on the street ahead, this time claustrophobically surrounded by an office, a beef bowl shop, and a karaoke bar above.

“Visit our new cat cafe!” announced a young woman in a maid uniform, handing out flyers.

“No thanks,” Natsuko said without a second glance.

“Here, I’ll trade you,” Seiji chimed in, taking a flyer and passing her a business card in return. “Hi. Seiji Hayami, Cutie’s Detective Agency. Tell your friends, tell your parents--”

Seiji yelped as Natsuko took his wrist and dragged him down the street.

“Hey, Nat, don’t be like that,” Seiji protested.

“Let me guess,” Natsuko drawled. “It’s for our branding.”

“Yeah, it’s about our branding! Being self-employed is rough. Have to do all our own advertising. Also, keep dragging me along like that and you’ll end up looking like my nagging wife.”

“You wish.”

They exchanged looks, friendly smiles. Then Natsuko’s eyes grew wide. She held out her hand, stopping Seiji in his tracks.

“Crime in progress,” she hissed.

Through the store’s glass door, they could see them-- a quartet of men in black masks. They were armed, but not threatening-- they just stood around, waiting, as a clerk patiently and unhurriedly filled their bags with jewelry. 

“Does that look like a smash and grab to you?” Seiji muttered, reaching into his jacket.

“No,” Natsuko said firmly, her pistol already drawn. “It looks like a deal.”

They approached, hugging the shadows of storefront awnings. The masked robbers emerged from the store, casually slinging their bags into the back of their nondescript white van. The engine rumbled to life.

“Stop! Law enforcement!” Natsuko demanded, striding out into the street.

The masked man stared Natsuko down from the driver’s seat. Natsuko and her pistol versus him and his two-ton van… as far he was concerned, his was bigger.

Natsuko raised her pistol. The driver revved the van’s engine.

The van shot forward, wheels squealing against the pavement. Natsuko faced him down, unflinching. She took aim--

Seiji crashed into her from the side and tackled her off the street as the van screamed past. Natsuko scrambled to her feet, cursing.

“I had him!” she insisted.

“Stopping the driver wouldn’t have stopped the van. Not before it flattened you, at least,” Seiji said, leveling his pistol down the street. “...I’ll take the left.”

Natsuko nodded, sighting down her target.

They fired together, perfectly in sync. Both of the van’s rear wheels blew out and the van ground to a halt, axels scraping against the pavement.

They approached the stalled van, guns raised.

“Come out!” Natsuko demanded. “Come out with your hands on your head!”

The van’s doors thunked open. For a moment, it looked like they were going to comply with her request.

Natsuko seized, crumpling to the pavement. Seiji whirled around to see the pins of a stun gun embedded in Natsuko’s back, and the clerk of this branch of Clear As Crystal looming behind.

“Nat!” Seiji cried.

Something cracked him in the back of the head and sent him sprawling across the pavement, his pistol skittering across the sidewalk. Seiji groaned, looking over his shoulder to see four masked men above him, cracking their knuckles.

“Well, this sucks,” Seiji sighed, as the fists came raining down.

~*~

Seiji stirred. He woke with a groan, bruises blooming over his eye and down his jaw. His arms were aching and sore-- tied behind his back. He felt someone shift beside him, their head leaning against his shoulder.

Seiji bolted upright, beset by a sudden painful clarity.

“Nat!” he hissed as loudly as he dared.

She was slumped against him, her eyes closed. An awful fear curled in Seiji’s gut.

“Nat. Hey. Nat! Are you okay?” Seiji urged.

Natsuko groaned. It was an effort for her to open her eyes, much less sit up straight.

“...I’m fine…” she said, stubborn, through gritted teeth. “You act like I’ve never been tased before.”

Seiji balked. “When was this ?!”

Shadows moved around them. Seiji lifted his head, propping Natsuko up so she could see, too. Men emerged from the shadows. Not just the four from the van, but more. At least a dozen, all of them wearing masks. Not the ski mask you’d expect a robber to wear, but a form-fitting leather cowl.

“Where have we seen that before…” Seiji muttered.

“Panther Claw,” Natsuko hissed.

“Well, well,” one of the men said, clapping his hands with anticipation. “The diamonds are one thing. The insurance is another. But Cutie Honey’s very own besties… I can’t even imagine how much she’d pay to get you back.”

“Not a whole lot,” Natsuko said dryly. “Sorry to burst your bubble, but Honey isn’t really made of money.”

“Yeah, we had to co-sign the lease on her apartment,” Seiji chimed in.

“We’ll see about that,” the minion said with a grunt. “We all know that that charm around her neck is more valuable than anything we’ve stolen today.”

“The Honey System…” Natsuko murmured. She and Seiji exchanged glances.

A blast of synthesized fanfare echoed through the room. A voice rang out, as music began to play…

Kono koro hayari no onna no ko
Oshiri no chiisana onna no ko
Kocchi wo muite yo Honey
Datte nandaka
Datte datte nanda mon...

Everyone, from the dozen masked men to Natsuko herself, stared at Seiji, bewildered.

“What is that?” Natsuko stared at him.

Seiji winced, shaking his head. “...It’s Honey’s… theme music.”

“Her what .”

“I commissioned some official theme music,” Seiji groaned, sheepish. “It’s part of our branding. Don’t give me that look! I’m just trying to promote the agency!”

One of the Panther Claw minions stalked up to Seiji’s chair and brusquely stuck a hand into his jacket and pulled out his phone. His ringtone was still blaring, incessant.

Iya yo, iya yo, iya yo, mitsume cha iya…
Honey Fla--

The man clicked open Seiji’s phone and thumbed it onto speakerphone.

“Sei-kun!” Honey chirped. “Any updates? You and Nacchan have been gone for so long…”

“Cutie Honey, I presume,” the minion leered.

Honey gasped. “Who-- who is this? What have you done to Sei-kun?!”

“We have your boyfriend,” he smirked. “If you want him back--”

“He’s not my boyfriend!” Honey clarified, helpfully. “He’s just my long term male friend-slash-coworker-slash-business-partner, so rescuing him would be more of a professional courtesy!”

“Oh, wow,” Seiji drawled. “So this is what I get for co-signing that lease.”

“We also have your pet glasses girl,” the man growled. “You want her back, don’t you?”

“Nacchan!!!” Honey cried. “What are your demands? One million? Two million? If you hurt her, I swear, I’ll… I’ll… I’ll hurt you worse!”

“She’s not great at threats,” Natsuko said flatly, shooting Seiji a look.

“Try five million,” the man said. “By sunset.”

“Done,” Honey said firmly. “And where should I bring this ransom?”

The minion blinked, not expecting Honey to be so cooperative. “Oh. Uh. We’re maybe twenty minutes out of the city--”

“Uh-huh. Go on.”

“Yeah, if you just follow the main road out of the market district, and make a left at the base of the hill--” The minion caught himself, growling. “Grr! Nice try, Cutie Honey! But you’ll have to try harder to outwit Panther Claw!”

“Aha! So you are holdouts of Panther Claw, after all!”

“Sh-Shut up!” the man snapped, flustered. “Five million! By sunset! Have it ready, and then we’ll come looking for you! A single yen less, and your friends are dead, you hear me? Dead!”

The minion clapped Seiji’s phone shut and threw it into Seiji’s chest with a grunt.

“...Your ringtone is terrible,” the man sneered, before walking away.

Seiji gasped, affronted. Those words hurt even more than getting beaned with his phone.

“Well,” Seiji muttered, dejected. “That’s just rude.”

~*~

The minutes ticked by. Natsuko squirmed in her seat, shifting until she was sitting upright. She heaved out an irritated sigh.

“You okay, Nat?” Seiji asked beside her.

“I’m fine. I’m peachy ,” Natsuko said dryly. Her eyes flashed, resolute. “...I have a way we can contact Honey.”

“How?” Seiji wondered, wiggling his fingers. “We’re both tied up. Our phones are a no-go.”

“My necklace,” Natsuko said. She lifted her chin, revealing the white choker around her neck secured with a black-and-white checkered clasp in the shape of a heart.

“Oh, wow,” Seiji blinked. “How long have you had that?”

“Honey gave it to me as a gift for our first whole year together,” Natsuko said, cheeks growing pink at the memory. “...She wanted us to match.”

“Aww!”

“Shh!” Natsuko hissed. “Listen. I can use it to call Honey, but there’s only one problem.”

“What is it?”

“You need to press a button to turn it on, and our hands aren’t free,” Natsuko sighed. “...We’re gonna have to improvise.”

Moments later, Natsuko and Seiji were in… well, quite the compromising position. Natsuko all-but draped across his lap, his head buried in her throat.

“Hey!” a minion grunted.

They froze, and he glared at them, patting the garish, brass-plated pistol on his hip. He sniffed.

“...Don’t get too cozy,” he grumbled, before turning away.

Natsuko turned back to what she was doing-- trying to guide Seiji’s mouth to the black-and-white heart clasp on her neck.

“The things I do for my friends,” Seiji muttered. “If Honey could see us now.”

“Relax. You’re my ‘if I had to pick a guy’.” Natsuko said dryly. “You’re Honey’s, too. It’s a compliment.”

“If you say so,” Seiji said, muffled. His teeth found the clasp of Natsuko’s choker and clicked in the activation stud. “Oh! I got it!”

“Honey,” Natsuko murmured as loudly as she dared. “Honey, can you hear me?”

The disguised commlink came to life with a chime.

“Nacchan?” Honey’s worried voice came over the link. “Nacchan, are you okay? Is Seiji with you?”

“We’re okay, but we could use a hand,” Natsuko murmured.

“I’ll be there as soon as I can. I just need to know where!”

“Right. That’s the thing,” Natsuko winced, and shook her head. “We’re in some kind of storage facility. A warehouse. But there are hundreds of those in this city. We need some way to narrow it down…”

“Wait,” Seiji said suddenly. He glanced up, straining to hear. “...Do you hear that?”

Natsuko blinked. “...What?”

Seiji gasped, a smile of relief flashing across his face. Through the warehouse’s high windows, Natsuko could just barely make it out: a faint, whistling bird call.

“That’s the Japanese Red-Crested Booby!” Seiji announced, triumphant.

Natsuko stared at him. “...You just made that up,” she said flatly.

“No, they’re real! And they only live in one place in this city!” Seiji grinned, leaning into Natsuko’s throat. “Honey! Listen to this!”

Seiji pursed his lips and whistled. Honey gasped over the line.

“Oh! The Japanese Red-Crested Booby!” Honey beamed.

“Yes!” Seiji cheered.

“What,” Natsuko said flatly.

“I know where you are! I’m coming!” Honey announced. “Just hold on until I get there, okay?”

“Honey, wait!” Seiji cried. “One last thing: call me right before you arrive. I might not be able to pick up right away, but… just call me.”

“You? Not Nacchan? Why?”

Seiji grinned. “Trust me.”

True to her word, Honey called just a few minutes later. From the phone on Seiji’s lap, music began to play, just as Seiji and Natsuko heard the telltale rumbling of a motorcycle racing their way.

Kono koro hayari no onna no ko
Oshiri no chiisana onna no ko
Kocchi wo muite yo Honey…

“There’s someone coming this way!” a lookout cried.

“It’s her,” one of the men announced. “Get ready!”

The minions drew their Panther Claw-issued brass-plated pistols and leveled them at the main loading bay doors. They adjusted their hats and black leather hoods, shifting their grip on their pistols as they waited, sweat beading at their brows…

Onegai! Onegai! Kizutsukenai de
Watashi no haato wa
Chuku chuku shikau no

Iya yo, iya yo, iya yo, mitsume cha iya
Honey Flash!

A bright pink glow suffused the loading bay doors. They crumpled in on themselves and vanished into wisps of light-- just as Honey’s motorcycle hit the ramp like a missile.

The Panther Claw minions opened fire, their shots spanking off the metal briefcase Honey had propped up between her dashboard and her chest. She launched herself into the air, sending her motorcycle barreling into the crowd and scattering them like rats.

She landed, stomped one minion into the pavement beneath her heel, whipped off her motorcycle helmet and sent it flying into another minion’s skull. She flipped her hair, briefcase in one hand, the other on her hip, a radiant smile across her lips.

“Attention, criminals!” Honey announced, smiling like the sun. “I am Cutie Honey, the warrior of love! Cutie’s on the case!”

Honey yelped and ducked behind her briefcase, bullets smacking off the case in showers of sparks. Honey pouted, a coy finger to her lips. Then she bashed a man over the head with a two-handed swing of the case, hard enough to leave a dent. All this, while wearing a smile.

“What’s the matter? I thought you wanted this ransom money!” Honey grinned, flipping through the air, contrasting elegant spinning kicks with brutal smacks of her briefcase. “Well, here! Take it! Honey Flash!!!”

The briefcase shone with pink light. Honey hurled it through the air with a two-handed swing, one Panther Claw minion opening his arms to catch it. There was a flash, and suddenly the man recoiled, a sword through his chest.

Honey kicked him off her blade, flicking her left wrist.

“Honey Boomerang!” she cried.

The Honey Boomerang shot out of her gauntlet and sailed through the air like a comet leaving a pink trail. The air filled with the sounds of clashing metal as it sliced open wrists and smashed pistols out of minions’ hands. After ricocheting through the crowd, it made a beeline for the corner where Seiji and Natsuko were being held captive.

Seiji saw his chance. He grit his teeth, ran up the wall and somersaulted into its flight path. The Honey Boomerang sheared through the ropes binding his hands. He landed on his feet and struck a pose, one hand on his hip, the other tilting his cap, before whirling around and socking the minion sneaking up on him right in the face.

Seiji punched the man in the face once, twice, grabbed him by the tie as he went reeling, pulled him back in and punched him again.

Seiji caught Natsuko’s eyes, saw the question in them, trusted her completely. He cupped his hands as she ran towards him, and boosted her over his shoulder in a flying somersault.

The Honey Boomerang sliced through her bonds on its way back. Natsuko landed in a crouch, drawing a metal rod from her belt.

A minion came at her, pistol raised. Natsuko kicked the pistol out of his grip, threw her baton at his nose and caught it as it bounced off with a crunch. She flicked her wrist, extending her collapsible baton until it matched Honey’s sword.

Honey flipped over the crowd and drew her friends protectively behind her. The Honey Boomerang flew obediently back into her grasp, and she brandished it like a dagger alongside her sword. Natsuko was by her side, mirroring Honey’s sword stance with her own knife and collapsible baton. Behind them, Seiji raised his fists, his handfuls of gaudy rings-- at first glance just a quirky fashion choice-- locking together into brass knuckles.

“You always know how to make an entrance,” Natsuko said, flashing Honey a smile.

“I know,” Honey beamed. “It’s part of my branding.”

The Panther Claw minions dragged themselves to their feet, tossing away empty or broken brass-plated pistols. They drew switchblades and trench knives, knuckle dusters ending in curved spikes that glinted in the light coming in from the warehouse’s high windows. Honey raised her sword in salute, leaving trails of shining pink light wherever she went.

“I almost feel bad,” Honey smiled. “There’s only, like, twenty of them.”

“Don’t get cocky, Honey,” Natsuko smirked.

“Let’s go, ladies,” Seiji said, shaking out his shoulders. “Seiji’s got your back!”

“Claw!” The Panther Claw minions grunted in unison.

They charged, and Cutie’s Detective Agency stood their ground, fighting together with the comfort and ease that could only come from history and trust. They fought together like they were born to do it, and as they filled the warehouse with the sounds of clashing metal and meaty impacts, Seiji’s phone in his jacket kept blaring out their song…

Onegai! Onegai! Oikakenai de
Watashi no omeme ga
Shiku shiku shichau no

Iya yo, iya yo, iya yo, mitsume cha iya…

Honey Flash !!!

~*~

They burst back into the first branch of Clear As Crystal, Seiji and Natsuko’s pistols raised. Higen jumped, darting behind Fukushima and jabbing a gun into his neck.

“Drop it!” Natsuko demanded, with that steel in her voice that always made Honey’s heart flutter.

“Get back! All of you!” Higen cried.

“Don’t be stupid, now,” Seiji pressed.

“Why, Higen?” Fukushima asked, his voice trembling.

“Oh, shut up,” Higen snarled. “You’ve got theft insurance, don’t you? You would’ve been fine! We all could have come out of this a little richer, but no, you just had to ruin it…”

“Higen-san--” Honey began.

“Back, I said!” Higen hissed, pressing his gun barrel harder against Fukushima’s neck.

Honey stepped forward. She reached up and placed her hands atop Seiji and Natsuko’s pistols, gently easing their aim down towards the floor.

“Higen-san, please,” Honey cooed. “This isn’t like you.”

“You don’t even know who I am,” Higen spat.

“Then tell me,” Honey said gently. “Please.”

Higen glowered at her. He swallowed hard, shifting his grip on his gun.

“...I’m with Panther Claw. Or I was.” he grumbled. “Just your rank and file grunt. The hat, the hood, the weird suit, everything. But you three-- you, especially-- have been very bad for business. When you took us down, you put us all out of a job. We had to find other ways to bring in the kind of cash we were used to.”

“That’s no excuse to resort to violence,” Honey said, firm.

“That’s easy for you to say,” Higen mused, bitter. “That gem around your neck is worth more than anything we stole today. You don’t even know how much. Dr. Kisaragi’s miracle technology-- the Airborne Elements Reassembler, Integrator and Condenser System.”

Honey blinked, puzzled. “The… ‘Eric’ system…?”

“No, you idiot!” Higen growled. “AERICS. ‘Heiress’. That’s exactly what you are. Someone who had the world dropped into her lap without having to work for any of it. You have the power to make anything you want. Gold. Diamonds. Anything! And yet here you are, using it to play dress-up.”

Honey considered this for a long moment. She stepped forward, meeting Higen’s eyes.

“...I’ve never really cared for stuff like that,” Honey murmured. “Frankly, gold is only truly valuable for electroconductivity, and the diamond industry is built entirely on lies. Pretty things like those only have as much value as society gives them. They mean nothing to me. If it weren’t for a case, I might have even thought about letting you get away with taking them.”

Honey’s eyes flashed in the light. She raised her sword.

“...But then you hurt my friends. That’s something far more important. It wasn’t enough just to steal from your own store. You just had to sweeten your deal with ransom money. You stole my Nacchan. My most precious jewel. And that is something I can never forgive.”

Fear flicked across Higen’s eyes. He grit his teeth, raised his aim--

Three shots were fired in the same instant.

Higen’s shot flashed against Honey’s sword and deflected harmlessly into the wall over her shoulder.

Seiji’s shot struck Higen in the forearm and made him drop his pistol, just a moment too late.

Natsuko’s shot struck Higen in the shoulder and spun him away from Fukushima. He landed on the floor, clutching his arm and wailing.

Honey took a deep breath and sighed, her sword and battlesuit fading into wisps of pink light and transforming back into her sundress and floppy hat.

It wasn’t long before Natsuko was cuffing Higen and handing him off to her former fellows in the Tokyo MPD. She stepped back into the Clear As Crystal, ‘Closed’ sign still dangling from the front door. Their client, Yoichi Fukushima, was sitting at the counter in a daze, Seiji and Honey by his side.

“I’ve been a fool,” Fukushima said, shaking his head. “To think, I thought I was doing that young man a favor, hiring him after such a gap in his resume. To think, he’d spent that missing time in the employ of a shadowy organization as this ‘Panther Claw’.”

“We put an end to the worst of their operations,” Honey said as Natsuko returned, placing a fond hand on Honey’s shoulder. Honey took her hand and laced their fingers together with a squeeze. “But it would seem not all of the rats went down with that ship.”

“Thank you. All of you,” Fukushima bowed his head. “An employee going over my head to commit insurance fraud is one thing. But kidnapping? The very idea…”

“Hey, don’t worry about it,” Seiji grinned. “Sometimes you just have to get captured to find the bad guys’ evil lair.”

“We know all about that,” Natsuko said dryly.

“How can I ever thank you enough?” Fukushima asked.

Seiji swooped in, a friendly arm around Fukushima’s shoulder and a contract plopped down in front of him. “There’s no need for that. Only our hiring fee. And reimbursement for expenses incurred in the course of our investigation, of course. If we could just go over this itemized list of charges…”

Honey giggled, shaking her head with a weary fondness. Natsuko pulled her up out of her chair and ushered her out of the store, the shop behind them filled with the warmth of Seiji’s chattering. The door swung shut behind them with a chime, and the duo stepped out into the light.

~*~

The sun set on another case closed for Cutie’s. Back at Honey’s apartment, Honey and Natsuko went through their nightly routine after a long day at work-- a hot shower for Natsuko, a bubble bath for Honey. As the sun dipped below the horizon, the duo found themselves sprawled across the couch, Honey’s head on Natsuko’s lap.

“I told you, I’m alright,” Natsuko said gently, trailing her fingers through Honey’s hair.

Honey clung to her arm, pouting. “...I should have been there. I almost lost you.”

“It was okay,” Natsuko said, brushing her fingers against Honey’s cheek. “I had Seiji with me. I trust him with my life.”

Honey huffed and turned away, still stubbornly clinging to Natsuko’s arm. Natsuko sighed.

“...But you don’t trust him with mine,” Natsuko said quietly.

“That’s not it,” Honey grumbled. “I just… don’t want to lose you. Ever.”

“Oh, Honey…” Natsuko cooed.

The timer on their rice cooker went off with a chime. Natsuko reluctantly untangled herself from Honey and stepped into their kitchen, getting dinner ready.

“You know, I’ve been thinking,” Honey murmured on the couch, watching Natsuko work and hugging a throw pillow to her chest, wishing it was Natsuko instead.

“About what?”

“My favorite foods.”

“Yes, that sounds like you,” Natsuko smiled.

“My favorite people remind me of my favorite foods,” Honey chirped, her melancholy mood from earlier starting to lift. “Nacchan, you remind me of onigiri!”

Natsuko made a face. “I’m… flattered.”

“You’re plain, practical, no frills, not too fancy…”

Natsuko rolled her eyes with the utmost fondness. “Thank you, Honey.”

“...you’re always there for me when I need you…” Honey murmured, smiling sweetly. “...you’re what I crave when I’m sad…”

“Honey,” Natsuko cooed, touched.

“...and you know just how to fill me up!”

Natsuko sputtered. “H-Honey!”

Honey giggled, mirthful, her eyes twinkling with mischief. Natsuko glanced away, trying to will away the heat in her cheeks.

“Alright, then,” Natsuko said. “What does that make Seiji in this food analogy of yours?”

“Oh, that’s easy,” Honey said, sitting upside down on the couch, dangling her legs over the top, kicking them back and forth.  “He’s a parfait.”

“A parfait.”

“Yep!” Honey chirped. “He wears layers. He’s sweet. Colorful. Very fruity.”

Natsuko snorted. “Well, I don’t know about parfaits tonight, but I can definitely make some onigiri…”

Honey almost fell off the couch in excitement. “Oooh! Really?”

“I’m not going to let you keep buying out the konbini’s stock of onigiri when I’m perfectly capable of making them at home,” Natsuko declared.

Honey rolled off the couch, sprang up and joined Natsuko in the kitchen. She snaked her arms around Natsuko’s waist from behind, perching her chin on her shoulder. She watched as Natsuko worked, stuffing mounds of warm sushi rice with sour pickled plums and shaping them into triangles, securing them with a strip of seaweed.

Honey, feeling playful, let her fingers wander up from Natsuko’s hips, up her arms and finally to her face. She snatched Natsuko’s glasses away with a triumphant cry.

“Ha! I’ve got your glasses!” Honey grinned.

“Oh no, what a nightmare,” Natsuko said dryly, as she continued assembling rice balls without any impediment.

“I always forget you can see perfectly fine,” Honey murmured. “You only wear them for the aesthetic.”

“It’s part of my branding,” Natsuko said with a smirk.

“You look so cool and aloof with them on. You're tough as nails!” Honey smiled, trying Natsuko’s glasses on for herself. “But without them, you look so…”

Honey trailed off. Natsuko glanced at her, puzzled, only for the look of tenderness and wonder in her eyes to make her heart flip in her chest.

“Wh-What?” Natsuko asked, suddenly warm.

Honey bit her lip. She glanced away, setting Natsuko’s glasses aside.

“...Honest,” she said softly.

Natsuko smiled gently. She swayed to the side, brushing an elbow against Honey’s.

“We have been through a lot, haven’t we?” Natsuko reminisced. “Best friends in high school. Business partners now. There was that one bit in the middle, though, when I went away to become a police inspector, and we lost touch for awhile…”

“And when you did run into me again, you were so prickly about it,” Honey teased.

“I do not prickle ,” Natsuko drawled, swatting at her like a cat. “It was just that… I had spent my time after graduation learning about the danger you used to face every day as Cutie Honey. It… scared me. It turned out, I was afraid of losing you, too.”

Natsuko bit her lip, thoughtful. She cleared her throat, handing Honey an onigiri from the plate she’d been preparing.

“...Here, Honey,” Natsuko said, not quite able to meet her eyes. “You transformed a lot today. You must be hungry.”

“Oooh, can I?” Honey took the rice ball in both hands like it was a gift from God, her eyes sparkling with a simple, earnest joy. “Oh, it looks great! Let’s eat!”

Honey chomped down. She squealed in pain and pulled away, clutching her mouth.

“Owww…” Honey whined. “I bit something! An umeboshi pit or something…”

Natsuko cringed. “I-- I’m sorry, Honey. This was… more romantic in my head…”

Honey pulled the ‘pit’ out of her mouth, clearing away stray grains of rice. It shone in the light, a thin silver band with a heart of rose quartz gleaming in the center.

Honey’s eyes went wide. She dropped the rest of her rice ball (onto a plate, thankfully, and not the floor) and stared at the ring between her fingers. Her eyes flitted between it and Natsuko, one hand over her face in embarrassment. She flapped her hands, so excited she didn’t know what to say.

“Are you-- Is this--?!”

“Yes, Honey,” Natsuko said, a smile managing to poke through her nerves “I… was wondering if you would--”

Honey bolted forward and seized Natsuko in a kiss. She tasted of the purest sunlight, seaweed, and pickled plums.

“Yes! Yes, a thousand times yes!” Honey squealed, tears streaming down her cheeks.

She pulled Natsuko close and peppered her face with kisses, so overflowing with affection she didn’t know whether to talk or just kiss her silly.

“I love you-- I love you--” Honey cried between kisses.

“I know,” Natsuko smiled, her voice trembling. “I love you, too. I'd thought about doing this for a long time, but after today... well, let's just say I had jewels on my mind."

Honey beamed, before scrunching up her nose. She looked down at herself, suddenly frantic. “No-- Wait, I-- I need to--”

Natsuko smiled, tender. “Honey, you don’t need to do anything…”

The Honey Boomerang materialized in her hand. Honey closed her eyes, concentrating.

“Honey Flash!” she announced.

There was a blaze of pink light, fading into a single glowing ember in her palm. The Heiress system reassembled the Honey Boomerang’s molecules into a braided band of silver and rose gold. Natsuko stared at her hand, before gazing into Honey’s eyes and pulling her into another breathtaking kiss.

They stood there in the kitchen, swaying, laughing, crying, the two of them so overcome with emotion they could barely exchange their new rings, much less finish dinner. They clung to each other, hearts filled with light, and together, the two Cuties laughed and laughed.

~*~

It was another beautiful day. The sun was shining. The birds were singing. And the phone was, once again, ringing off the hook before Seiji had even had his first coffee, but he didn’t mind a bit because that meant his investments in the theme song, the billboard, and the TV ad were all starting to bear fruit.

Seiji struck a pose, one hand on his hip, the other spinning his computer chair before he flopped down into it, kicking his feet up onto the counter and knocking over his pen mug. He swept the office phone off its stand and tossed it into his other hand with a flourish, bringing it to his ear.

“Welcome to Cutie’s, Seiji Hayami speaking…”

A pause. Seiji chuckled.

“...No, sir, I’m not the cutie. That would be my colleague. What’s that?”

Seiji took his feet off his desk and sat up straight, making a face.

“...This is a detective agency , sir. And it’s not even nine in the morning! Sheesh!”

Seiji clapped the phone back onto its stand, blowing out a breath. He briefly wondered if the design for his billboard-- merely the name “Cutie’s” over a trio of alluring silhouettes-- was sending the wrong message.

“That’s ridiculous,” Seiji scoffed to himself. “Haven’t these people seen Charlie’s Angels?”

Seiji’s phone rang in his pocket. He slipped it out of his jacket, answering the call.

“What’s up, Nat?” Seiji began. “...Taking today off? Hell, after what we went through yesterday, I can hardly blame you. Shouldn’t be a problem. I’ll see you tomorrow, yeah? Ciao.”

Seiji ended the call, and was about to slip his phone back into his jacket, when it rang again. He blinked, caught off guard, and answered it.

“Hey, Honey. Oh, you’re taking today off, too? Yeah, Nat called and said she couldn’t come in, either. ...No, no, I can handle things by myself for a little while. Just don’t be gone too long, okay? It just isn’t the same without you two around. Okay, ciao.”

As soon as Seiji ended the call, his phone started ringing again. And then the phone on his desk started ringing, and then the phone on Natsuko’s desk opposite his started rattling. And if Honey had a desk, instead of a couch by the window that faced both of theirs, well, he’d be willing to bet that her phone would be ringing, too.

Seiji let out a satisfied sigh, setting his cell on his desk and kicking his feet up.

All these phones ringing made quite the racket. But all it meant was that business was booming. And besides, he paid good money for that custom ringtone. Maybe he’d let his cell sit unanswered for awhile. Having their theme song playing was almost better than coffee. Almost.

Seiji grinned. He whipped out his notebook, picked a pen up off the floor and swept his office phone off its stand.

“Welcome to Cutie’s, Seiji Hayami speaking. No, I’m not the cutie. But if you have something that needs solving, Cutie’s on the case…”

~*~

Kono koro hayari na onna no ko
Oshiri no chiisana onna no ko
Kocchi wo muite yo Honey…

Datte nandaka
Datte datte nanda mon

Onegai! Onegai! Kizutsukenai de
Watashi no Haato wa
Chuku chuku shichau no

Iya yo, iya yo, iya yo, mitsume cha iya…

Honey Flash !!!

 

~*~