Saya got permission from her mother to have a small ‘get together’ while her parents were gone. There was a limit of ten people including her and Takashi, but that was more than enough.
“Saeko and Khota, of course,” she said as she and Takashi planned. “And Morita, too, I guess,” she added.
“Thanks,” he smiled.
“Baka,” she slapped at him without looking. “I think I’ll invite Hitomi Yamaguchi, too,” she mused. “She’s actually pretty studious but. . .I think she might like Morita.”
“Well, if she’s a girl, he’ll like her,” Takashi snorted and Saya laughed.
“What do you think about inviting Rika-san and Shizuka-sensei?” she mused. “Their plus ones would make ten. It would give Khota a chance to speak to Rika-san, and give me the chance to properly thank Shizuka-sensei for taking such good care of my baka,” she smiled.
“Shizuka isn’t a teacher, so I can’t see why it would be improper,” Takashi mused. “And there’s certainly nothing wrong with asking Rika-san,” he added.
“That’s the list, then,” she nodded firmly.
“Oh, I’d love to!” Shizuka exclaimed when Saya went to invite her. “But you don’t have to do that to thank me, Takagi-san,” she added, smiling.
“Please, call me Saya, Shizuka-sensei,” Saya smiled back. “And I know that. But both of us like you very much and I would like for you to come, assuming you want to.”
“I’ll be there,” Shizuka promised. “I don’t really have a plus one, though,” she thought for a moment. “Normally Rika would be for something like that.”
“Oh,” Saya realized that she hadn’t thought about that. Perhaps Shizuka and Rika-san were ‘closer’ than she thought.
“But if you’re inviting Rika then she’ll almost certainly bring Tajima,” Shizuka continued. “Well, I might find someone,” she smiled. “If I don’t, then I’ll just bring myself!”
“Excellent,” Saya nodded. “I look forward to it.”
“Oh, me too!”
“Trying to bribe me, kid?” Rika grinned into her phone as Takashi finished.
“Yep,” Takashi shot back at her, then grew serious. “Of course not. But. . .well, Saya and I both like you very much, and we’re asking Shizuka-sensei over as well. There will only be ten people present, and that’s if both of you bring someone. The others are all very mature, so I don’t think you’ll feel too out of place. Khota and Saeko will be there, and-”
“Saeko and Khota from the diner?” she asked.
“Well, at least if you’re eating at Takagi’s there’s less chance of your nearly killing anyone,” she snorted.
“Hey, now,” Takashi protested half-hearted. “Not fair!”
“Just kidding. Well, mostly,” she teased. “Anyway, that would give me a chance to speak to Hirano. Shizuka gave me his number but we’ve been so busy I haven’t had the chance to sit down and speak to him.”
“So you’ll be there?”
“Yeah, kid, we’ll be there,” she promised.
“Say what?” Morita was stunned.
“I’m hosting a small dinner party at my house,” Saya repeated. “Takashi and I would like you to attend.”
“R-really?” he stammered slightly. “I-I’d be honored,” he bowed. “Thank you Takagi-san!”
“Here,” she handed him an invitation. “Don’t lose this, you’ll need it at the gate.”
“Don’t be stupid. I’m sending my car to pick both of you up,” Saya told Saeko. “He’ll take you home when it’s over. Or you could spend the night,” she added.
“A sleep over?” Saeko almost laughed. “Well, I suppose that would be fun.”
“I’ll let Khota stay, too,” Saya teased and Saeko laughed again.
“Sounds like a plan.”
They had chosen a Friday evening, since Saeko didn’t have an event that next Saturday, and no classes before Sunday. By six, everyone was there.
“Morita, this is Hitomi,” Saya introduced. “Hitomi, this is Morita. He’s an idiot, but a loveable idiot and a good guy for the most part,” Saya teased. “Be nice to her, baka,” she told Morita. “Or else.”
“O-o-of course, Takagi-san!” Morita bowed low. “Pleased to meet you,” he bowed to Hitomi next.
“And I you,” she replied, her voice very soft and cultured. “How do you know Takagi-san?”
“We share some classes together, but her mostly I know her through Takashi, her boyfriend. He’s one of my best friends.”
“Ah,” Hitomi nodded as Saya walked away smiling.
“Hello!” she hugged Saeko as she and Khota walked in. Hand-in-hand, she couldn’t help notice. “I’m so glad you could come!”
“This is very impressive, Saya,” Khota said, taking in the manor.
“Khota, I just realized you haven’t been here before,” Saya apologized. “Let me get Takashi and we’ll give you the grand tour!” she announced and was gone.
“Wait, you don’t-” he stopped since she was already out of earshot.
“There’s no point in trying to stop Cyclone Saya,” Saeko smiled at him. “She has set her course.”
“So I see,’ he smiled back at her. He didn’t smile much, but when he did it was usually for her, something that always made her feel warm inside. Saeko hadn’t known Khota before he had changed, and sometimes she regretted that it was true. But the Khota she knew now was absolutely perfect in her eyes.
And her father liked him as well.
“Hirano-kun!” Shizuka beamed. “How are you! Busujima-san, hello!”
“Sensei,” Khota bowed. “A pleasure to see you.”
“Sensei,” Saeko nodded.
“I didn’t know you two were a couple,” Shizuka grinned. “You look so cute together!”
“It’s a recent development,” Saeko blushed slightly at being called ‘cute’.
“Wonderful! Oh, there’s Rika. Have you had a chance to talk to her Hirano-kun? Riikaa!” she called, almost running to where the purple haired police woman was walking in with Tajima on her arm.
“That woman is a force of nature,” Khota shook his head slowly.
“She is that,” Saeko nodded. “She’s caused more nose bleeds than mixed martial arts,” she added with a snicker.
“And this is Takashi’s room!” Saya pointed. “And that’s mine,” she pointed to the next door down.
“Takashi’s room?” Khota raised an eyebrow. “You live here too, Takashi?”
“Er, no,” Takashi was rubbing the back of his neck. “I do stay over once in a while. When I do this is the room I use.”
“I see,” Khota managed to nod seriously, making Takashi shoot him a suspicious look. Saeko had to bite her lip to keep from laughing. Khota had a very dry sense of humor and sometimes it was hard to tell if he was joking.
“Anyway, come on!” Saya called, moving on.
“I wish I could have seen that,” Rika was laughing as Saya finished telling her and Tajima about Takashi ‘saving’ the three seniors from Khota. “That had to be hilarious. How hard did you bite your tongue to keep from laughing?” she asked Khota.
“It was my cheek, and it bled,” Khota admitted with a grin. “Takashi was shaking from trying not to laugh, and made it sound like he was gagging.”
“That’s some quick thinking,” Tajima said, laughing. “And a good idea.”
“The best part I think was the other two ‘remembering’ the mall incident,” Takashi laughed. “I totally made that up!”
“It’s amazing what a little fear can do,” Rika nodded, still chuckling. “Hirano, why don’t you and Tajima and I take a side table and talk a bit.”
“All right,” Hirano nodded. Soon he was off to the side with the two officers.
“So, you want to be a police officer?” Rika asked.
“Actually, I either want to be SAT like you two, or I plan to go into the JSDF,” Hirano nodded.
“Well, at our level, there isn’t a great deal of difference in the training regimen,” Rika admitted. “What made you think about this, Hirano?” she asked.
“I enjoy shooting and recent events had shown me the importance of public safety,” he replied. “Someone has to do it. What if no one stepped up, like you and Tajima-san? At best we would live in constant fear, and at worst we’d face anarchy. There’s no way to have a decent society unless someone is willing to guard the door.”
“Well put,” Tajima nodded.
“It is,” Rika agreed. “Hirano-san, training is tough and lasts for six months just to get through basic. A good bit of that is law courses of course, but there is a physical element as well as firearms and hand-to-hand training. And for SAT you have to go further. Usually only about fifteen people per year make the grade throughout the nation.”
“I knew the selection process was tough,” he nodded. “It won’t be a problem.”
“Hirano, I don’t mean to be condescending, but that’s a mighty casual attitude,” Rika said. “We train at least twice a week and that’s not including what we do on our own time.”
“I know,” Khota nodded. “I’ve already been through worse than what the police academy will throw at me, Minami-san. I had also considered the JDF. I still am, to be honest. But as it stands now, I will almost certainly choose one or the other.”
“How will you choose?” Rika asked, curious.
“Don’t know yet,” Khota admitted. “Probably by looking at the rifles. And how likely I am to be awarded a rifleman’s post. If I can make sniper in the JDF but not the Prefectural Police, then it will probably be JDF.”
“Sniper, huh?” Rika grunted. “You must really think you got it, then, Hirano.” She was almost taunting him.
“Must be it,” he said simply, not rising to her taunt.
“I tell you what, sharp guy,” she said suddenly. “I’ll take you to the range tomorrow and you show me what you got. If you can back that mouth of yours up, then I’ll personally vouch for you if you chose the PPF. Assuming you haven’t killed anyone in the mean time,” she added drily.
“I’ll take that,” Khota said calmly. “Afternoon okay?”
“I’ll come get you,” Rika nodded.
“Okay to bring someone with me?”
“Looks like Morita and Hitomi hit it off pretty good,” Takashi noted as he and Saya had a quiet moment.
“I thought they might,” Saya nodded. “On the surface they don’t seem like a match, but Hitomi has a fun streak she hides, and Morita pretends to be dumber than he is. They’ll meet in the middle, somewhere,” she grinned.
“Having a good time?” he asked.
“Yes, I am,” Saya nodded again. “I’ve never really entertained here, Takashi. I’ve rarely had anyone over, other than you, and then Saeko. It’s. . .nice.”
“I’m glad you’re having a good time,” Takashi smiled. “You deserve it.”
“Tomorrow?” Saeko asked.
“You don’t have to, of course,” Khota told her. “I just. . .you let me see you doing your forms. I thought I’d return the favor.”
“I’ve seen you in action before, Khota,” Saeko smiled.
“Not with a rifle you haven’t.”
“Then I would love to,” she smiled and Khota beamed at her. Seeing him smile warmed her heart. Especially knowing that she put that smile there on a face that was normally so very solemn.
“Goodnight, and thank you Takagi-san for inviting me,” Morita bowed deeply. “I have never had a better evening and I will never forget it.”
“We’ll do this again,” Saya promised. “I’m glad you could come,” she told Hitomi.
“Thanks for inviting me and introducing us,” the other girl smiled. “He’s funny.”
“He is that,” Saya said drily.
“I had a wonderful time Takagi-san!” Shizuka bounded up just then. “Thank you so much for a lovely evening!”
“Fank ‘ou fo’ co’ing,” Saya’s voice was muffled as she was buried in Shizuka’s boobs as the older woman hugged her.
“Jesus, Zuki, you’re going to suffocate the poor girl!” Rika said.
“Oh!” Shizuka released Saya and stepped back. “I’m sorry,” she sing-songed.
“No problem,” Saya actually smiled. “Mina-, er, Rika-san, I’m glad you and Tajima-san could make it,” Saya smiled. “We’ll try to do this again.”
“Had a good time, Takagi-san,” Rika nodded. “I’ll be taking Hirano to the range tomorrow to see if he can shoot as well as he can talk. You guys want to tag along? Might be an adventure.”
“Ah, well,” Saya turned to look at Takashi who shrugged.
“Sure,” Saya turned back to Rika. Rika and Tajima took their leave, and then it was just Takashi and Saya, along with Khota and Saeko.
“You two staying or what?” Saya asked. Saeko looked at Khota who merely shrugged.
“I’ll stay if that’s what you want,” he said simply.
“I think we will stay, Saya,” Saeko told her. “I’d like to show Khota the garden,” she added, blushing just ever so slightly.
“Would you, now?” Saya grinned at her friend. “Well, you know where it is. Don’t get lost!” she chuckled. Hand-in-hand, the oddly matched couple left out the garden door, leaving Takashi and Saya alone.
“Success!” Saya suddenly grinned.
Rika arrived at the Manor the next day at one. All four ‘adventurers’ were ready to go. Saya had appropriated an SUV from her father’s garage for the four of them to follow Rika in. The three row seating allowed Khota and Saeko to sit side to side during the ride.
“Where is it we’re going?” Takashi asked over his shoulder as they rode.
“She didn’t say,” Khota replied. “Just ‘the range’. Probably wherever they train.”
Sure enough, after thirty minutes they were pulling into a drive near the foot of the mountains that sported a sign declaring it a danger zone and bearing the seal of the NPA. The National Police Association served as a controlling agency for Prefectural Police units in times of emergency, and over saw training and education services for all officers.
The drive was over a mile long and ended abruptly in a parking lot. Gunfire could be heard even before the engine was off and a door was opened.
“Police training center,” Khota said. “Nice.”
“All right, kiddo,” Rika sauntered over to Khota. “Time to walk the walk. Here. Everyone put these on,” she handed out eye and ear protection.
“Follow me,” she ordered and started walking. Tajima brought up the rear.
“Stay behind the red lines at all times,” Rika was telling them. “Stay inside the green areas when on the firing line. Weapons should be pointed down range at all times. If you are firing and hear three whistle blasts or horn blasts you will stop firing immediately and clear your weapon, then wait for further instructions.”
“You will not load or handle any firearm unless and until specifically told to do so. You will at all times assume that every weapon in your hand is loaded and ready to fire. When handed a weapon, you will immediately check for the chamber to be clear and the weapon unloaded.”
“Obey any and all other instructions issued by the instructor or the ranger master immediately and without question. These rules are for your safety. Any questions?”
No one had any, so they moved onto the line, into a spot of two isolated lanes that had RESERVED-MINAMI written in front of them.
Tajima moved forward, bringing with him two items that Khota instantly recognized as gun cases. Setting them on the bench behind them, he opened first one case, then the other.
Two gleaming rifles, one with a bipod and scope, a wicked pistol grip shotgun with a collapsible stock, an American made M-4 rifle and two Sig P-220 handguns filled the two cases, along with several boxes of shells.
“These aren’t Airsoft, kid,” Minami told Khota, who merely looked at her impassively.
“I can see that, Minami-san,” he finally said when she appeared to be waiting for him to reply.
“You know what?” Rika snapped suddenly. “I want to see what you can do, Hirano. No kid your age should be nearly as self-possessed as you seem to be trying to prove. I’m not going to tell you a thing about any of these. I’m going to let you show me you know what you’re doing. And when you fail, then I’ll be able to tell you I told you so.”
“Sounds fair,” Khota replied at once, appearing not the least bit concerned. “What would you like me to do first?”
Rika turned to call the range master to hide her growing anger. She had intended to intimidate Hirano into admitting he was talking out his ass, but he was determined to stick to his story. So she would put him in a position to screw up, then chew his ass out good and proper, right in front of his girlfriend and best friends. Maybe then he would listen, and learn something.
Even as she ordered the first round of targets set up, however, there was a tickle at the back of her neck. Something nagging at her that wouldn’t let go. She ignored it. Something she would never have done in a work situation.
“Rifle target is set to simulate 500 meters,” she managed not to smirk. “Take the 51 and load five rounds, then feel free to impress me.” Rika was letting her anger at this snot nose kid get the better of her.
Khota lifted the Tango 51 and opened the bolt, ensuring it was empty. He took five rounds from the box beside it and turned toward the line. He paused long enough to wink at Saeko, who blushed but smiled.
Deploying the bi-pod, Khota rested the rifle on the bench and quickly and cleanly loaded the five rounds into the magazine. Slapping the magazine’s back against his hand, he slid it beneath the weapons and popped it into place.
Without waiting he knelt to peer through the scope.
“Scope zero?” he asked simply.
“500 meters,” Rika replied, looking just the slightest bit surprised at the question.
“Known distance to target?” he asked next.
“150 meters,” her eye twitched, but then stilled when he said nothing else.
Takashi was watching closely, wondering where Khota had learned to shoot at all, let alone something like this thing. It looked like it would kill an elephant.
Khota steadied the rifle, took a breath, released about half of it, then squeezed the trigger. Everyone but Rika and Tajima flinched at the flat boom of thunder that rolled across them.
Working the bolt, Khota fired again before the echo of the first shot was gone. Then again, again, and again. Just like that, a total of twelve seconds, he had fired five rounds. He opened the bolt and stood back, his face still neutral as it had been when he started.
Rika said nothing, glaring as she waited for the target. The runner brought it down and as he got nearer, Rika spoke to him.
“Miss them all?” she called.
“Very funny, Sergeant,” the man chuckled. “I see you are maintaining your status in the rankings. Nice job.” With that he turned and ran back to his post, leaving the small target with Rika.
The SAT sergeant looked at the target and felt her right eye twitch slightly. In the middle of the small target was one ragged hole. Just about the right size it could be covered with a 100 yen coin.
“Will that do?” Khota asked, not a trace of smugness on his face or in his voice.
“Anyone can get lucky once. For all I know you hit it twice and missed the rest. Do it again,” Rika challenged. Khota selected five more rounds, detached and reloaded the magazine, then slammed it home. He shot the bolt forward, took aim, and fired.
Fifteen seconds later he was again standing by Saeko as Rika waited for the target. The same man brought it forward, smiling.
“Trying to prove a point, sergeant?” he asked, handing the target over again. Rika looked at it and felt her eye twitch again, harder this time. Her glare fell on Khota and he withstood it.
“You’re just a regular little smart ass, aren’t you?” she snarled before walking away, the target falling to the ground. Takashi walked over and picked it up, looking at Rika storm away as he did so. Then he looked at the target.
“Holy shit,” he breathed as Tajima walked over to examine the paper his partner had lost it over.
“Oh boy,” he grinned, looking at Khota. “Kid, you better be able to do that again!”
Five holes were in the target this time. One at the center, and the one each at two, four, eight, and ten o’clock.
“X marks the spot,” Khota shrugged.
Rika had finally calmed down. Most of her anger was at herself. She had intended to show the kid up, and he had put her in her place quite firmly.
“Where did you learn to shoot like that?” she asked.
“Took a class,” Khota shrugged. “Had a good teacher.”
“No,” Rika shook her head. “You didn’t just ‘have a good teacher’, kid. And you don’t learn to do something like that in ‘class’, either.”
“I went through a firearms training course in America two years ago,” he tried again.
“What kind of training course?” Rika would not be put off. “Taught by who?” She was insistent, prodding Khota, almost to the point of being in his face in an attempt to intimidate him. Saeko knew that would not end well.
“It was a private class,” Khota tried to down play it. “Taught by a certified instructor.” It seemed to Saeko that Khota was trying his best to get off the subject of his training, or at least to stop Rika Minami from asking more questions about it.
He was also getting angry, she was pretty sure.
“Just being a ‘certified instructor’ doesn’t make someone able to shoot like that, let alone teach someone else to do it,” Minami shook her head, leaning into the teenager. “Where, did, you, learn?” she all but demanded, almost invading Khota’s personal space as she did so.
“Executive Solutions,” he finally replied after a minute of sullen silence. “I was trained by Executive Solutions.”
“Jesus Christ,” Takashi heard Tajima mutter. “Did you take the CAT course?” he demanded incredulously.
“Yes,” Khota said quietly. “I did.” He did not seem happy at having to answer. Nor was he bragging, whatever this CAT course might be, Saeko decided. He had done his best to conceal where it was he had received his training. Minami has used her position to basically browbeat it out of him.
“Why in the hell didn’t you tell me that?” Rika almost yelled.
“You didn’t even believe me when I said I could shoot,” Khota told her flatly. “Why would you have believed me if I told you where I learned?”
“So you decide to make a fool of me, is that it?” she said, her anger returning.
“As opposed to how well you treated me just now?” Khota snarled, his own anger finally surfacing, refusing to be put off any longer. “You tried to make me look like an idiot, Sergeant. In front of my girlfriend, my best friend, and his girl. I’ve treated you with nothing but respect, not just for your position but because of how you dealt with us in the past, and yet you decide to set me up to fail. Then, when it backfires, you’re still angry with me? I think we’re done here. You’ve helped me make my decision, though, and for that I thank you. I don’t think I care to serve alongside someone like you, or anyone who would.” He turned to Saya before Rika could speak again.
“May I impose upon you to take me home, Saya-chan?” he asked very politely. And very correctly, even bowing slightly. Takashi didn’t miss that.
“O-of course, Khota,” Saya was still trying to catch up. “Takashi?”
“No reason for us to stay I guess,” he nodded. “Thank you Sergeant Minami,” he said evenly to Rika. “We appreciate your time,” he bowed.
“Now wait a minute!” Rika called out, but Khota merely kept moving. As Rika started after him, Saeko stepped in front of her.
“Please don’t,” she said gently. “He will not stay here, or participate anymore today. He had seen in you, the two of you, someone he might emulate. Instead, you have pushed him into a bad place and he does not. . .react well to bullying,” she settled for saying. “Please don’t press him, Sergeant-san. For both your sakes.”
Rika blinked at that. Was this girl warning her, trying to protect her?
“Look, I had a lot more planned today,” Rika settled for saying.
“I believe that well is truly poisoned, now,” Saeko told her sadly. “I regret that you did not treat more fairly with him Sergeant-san. He had spoken of you with great respect. Farewell,” she bowed and then followed Khota toward Saya’s vehicle.
“What the hell?” Rika looked at Takashi. “When did this become about me?”
“When you set him up, or thought you did, and he pulled the rug from under you,” Saya told the other woman flatly. “You did set him up to look foolish, Minami-san. Pretty much told him so, right in front of everyone. I’m sure you had your reasons, but as you can see, Khota is somewhat above average. I had hoped he would attach himself to you two as mentors and choose the police services. Now, he will almost certainly choose the SDF, which means that he will probably be serving somewhere else, and that means that either he and Saeko will be separated, or she will have to leave her father’s dojo and go with him.” She sighed sadly. “I regret introducing you to him now,” she admitted.
“Me too,” Takashi murmured, since he’d been the one to ask Rika to talk to Khota. He’d thought he was doing his friend a favor.
“We have to go. We do appreciate your time,” she bowed respectfully, as did Takashi. “Farewell.”
Rika looked at Tajima, who’s face was flat. Neutral. That alone told her what he thought.
She had screwed up.