Through swaying branches, the early afternoon sun glimmers down upon the entryway of Setagaya Junior College. A slight and calm breeze moves the hairs and clothes of bystanders in a serene rhythm. The buds of the cherry blossom trees threaten to escape, but are not quite ready to make an appearance just yet. A discomfiture of whether or not to wear a heavy coat or carry along an umbrella hangs in the air for the people of Tokyo.
“What do you want to get for lunch?” A girl with blonde hair asks her brunette friend as they stride down the steps of the Junior College. The clacking of their heels reverberates against the loose breeze that whips the girls’ hair out of their faces.
“I’m still kind of full from breakfast,” The friend answers, recalling her morning, “But maybe if we sat down and studied at a cafe, I would-” The friends synchronously stop in their tracks after they descended the cement steps. Holding their noses shut with their hands, repulsed noises emit from their throats.
“Ew!” The blonde friend seethes, squinting her eyes as she looks around, “What is that horrible smell?!” The brunette joins her friend in attempting to locate the source of the stench. Rotating her body around, she spots the open doors to the college’s greenhouse.
The brunette’s facial expression drops in realization, and an annoyed sigh escapes with her minty breath. “It’s the greenhouse,” She informs her counterpart, making her friend look towards the glass building as well, “The dirt and compost smell is getting out through that open door.” After pointing to the entryway, the brunette looks back to her friend.
The irritated blonde student waltzes over to the source of the earthy aroma with the brunette in tow. As they near the entrance to the rather small greenhouse, they see another girl with choppy black and white hair bending down by a particular plant.
Peering over her friend’s shoulder, the brunette analyzes the scene as well. “She’s always in here by herself,” She whispers to her friend who is gripping the door, “I kind of feel bad for her… Should we go up to her?”
“No, are you kidding?!” The blonde hisses over her shoulder, “I’m not trying to smell like manure for the rest of the day, thank you very much!” The blonde pulls and slams the door to the greenhouse shut, making the eavesdropping Junko inside flinch slightly.
Sighing, she diverts all of her attention back onto the potted Red Anemone flowers in front of her. Reaching her hand to the moistened petals, Junko touches the softness and purity of the floral blade. Considering the exuberance of sun rays shining down on her back, salty sweat begins to bead on her forehead.
Junko draws back her hand and places her palms above her bent knees. Pushing off, she stands at her height and looks around the empty, vegetation-filled, glass room. She understands why a person without a green thumb would be weary of such strong smells oozing from a place like this.
But, to Junko, it’s downright rejuvenating. Being surrounded by this surplus of life is rewarding, and offers a comforting feeling she cannot put into words. In a strange way, Junko is subconsciously atoning for the lives she’s taken throughout the years by caring for these mindless plants. It’s a realization she continually pushes to the back of her mind, in pure avoidance of the truth of her humanity.
“Junko, no!” Junko’s mother yells exasperatedly out to her daughter from the front door of their house. A young Junko straightened her bent legs and snapped her head towards the noise. “Don’t pull those flowers! I just planted those, sweetie!” The flustered mother made her way from the doorway over to where her daughter stood in their small garden out front.
“But they look so pretty, Mom,” Junko offered to the approaching lady, “I wanted to surprise you.” Her head bowed in embarrassment and sadness as her gaze laid upon the picked Petunias in her soft grasp. A kind-hearted chuckle sounded from the mother’s chapped lips as she stroked the top of Junko’s head. “They do look beautiful, right?”
Junko’s mother bent down to reach her daughter’s height, and flattened the back of her skirt to match her curves. Reaching her hand out, she felt the frailness of the Petunia petals that had yet to be plucked. “But because they’re so pretty, we should leave them be.” Junk blinked at her mother’s words, but followed her gaze to the singular flower still slightly swaying in the summer breeze.
“Flowers are so pretty because they’re the souls of people who passed away,” The mother’s soft voice was carried by the wind to reach her daughter’s innocent ears. “We should take care of them, since this is the last shape of life these souls have left.” Her blonde hair swayed like the current, and her brown eyes caught the glint of the sun so candidly.
She took the flowers from her daughter’s hands and gathered them in a makeshift bouquet. Taking one from the bunch, the mother tucked the purple flower behind Junko’s ear - treading her hand along the silky pureness of her daughter’s white hair.
“Flowers are so small and vulnerable, but their beauty captures us, and we end up taking away the last life they had left.” Junko blinked again, but her eyes began to tear at the sadness before her. Pouring her gaze onto the flowers in her mother’s grasp that beheld ripped, torn roots, Junko realized that she had just killed three innocent souls.
The memory flashes quickly, and the sound of a gunshot is heard in the caverns of Junko’s mind. One after another, bodies hit the floor. Men, women, non-binary individuals, mothers, fathers, business leaders, artisans, anyone and everyone was dead by Junko’s hand.
But it’s for the best, isn’t it? These lives don’t deserve human form. This was Junko’s job - to rid Tokyo of criminals behind the civilian eye. The blood she and her friends shed was righteous and just. Not only was this Junko’s job, but it was the destiny bestowed upon her.
Shaking her head free of the negative thoughts, Junko heaves a heavy breath.Twisting her left wrist and gazing at her watch, Junko decides it’s time to head back to her apartment. That way, she’ll have enough time to prepare for the night that awaits her. Being Monday, Niko should be doing some schoolwork from last year. But, knowing her brother, he’s more than likely still asleep in his bedroom - still in the clothes he wore yesterday.
After using her hands to dust off the remnants of dirt from her long skirt, Junko makes her way to the door. She grabs her backpack she had previously placed on the dirty table and the jacket rooted next to it.
She opens the once slammed door and is immediately greeted by a velvety, sweet breeze that kisses her cheeks and arms. A smile makes its way to her face as Junko begins her trek to the train station. In order to avoid any unnecessary attention from onlookers, Junko opted for public transportation rather than her eye-catching motorcycle. Besides - the fresh air is always welcoming, and the exercise is nothing but beneficial.
Back at headquarters, Yuuto and Ren arrive together through the clamoring of the metal door. “Oi, people,” Yuuto announces as he throws his keys into his pocket after pulling it from the lock, “We have arrived! Come greet us like the kings we are!” Taking the glasses off of his eyes, he clips them onto the loose collar of his white shirt.
As if on cue, Kagome and Jiro begrudgingly present themselves after Yuuto’s narcissistic comment. With her arms crossed, Kagome smirks at his joke, “Just for that,” She rebukes, “I’m telling Niko to spit in your serving of rice balls.” Yuuto rolls his eyes at the banter, and Ren high-fives Jiro and Kagome while he walks past.
Ren, being the individual allocated to surveillance duty on the upcoming assignment, is dressed head-to-toe in black. In contrast, Jiro is dressed in his casual streetwear - in order to avoid Aoki’s questioning eyes.
“Are Junko and Niko here yet?” Ren queries Jiro and Kagome. The ladder shakes her head and the former speaks up to answer, “No, not yet. Should be here soon, though.” Yuuto throws himself onto the couch and places his arms along the backrest. Crossing his legs, he glances at Kagome as she retreats into the kitchen.
“I know their apartment is closer to Junko’s school and all,” Yuuto starts as he stares at his muted reflection on the television screen, “But wouldn’t it be a lot less complicated if they just… lived here? I mean, you guys live here, so it’s not impossible. I’m sure there’s enough room for both of them, too.”
Jiro stares a second longer at Yuuto while he gathers his thoughts. Uncrossing his arms, he sits atop the armrest to Yuuto’s left. “Junko used to live here, actually,” Jiro reveals stoically to his friend, which causes surprise to lace Yuuto’s features.
“It was back when we were sixteen and still in highschool. For about a year, Junko lived in Kagome’s room and I lived in my room. Then, we met Kagome, and she needed a place to stay. So, Junko gave up her room for Kagome, and moved out on her own.” Jiro says, but his gaze seems far away - as if recalling something that had surfaced in his mind from the story.
From the kitchen, Kagome’s eyes seem just as distant - if not, more so than Jiro’s. Her glass of water had fallen from her lips and was subconsciously placed back onto the countertop. With her back to the rest of the room and the people who fill it, they are unable to catch this haunting expression. The way her eyes glaze over slightly, and the memories that taunt and mock her so vividly make her question what’s past and what’s present.
Flashes of her mother’s frail back running away, deep into the dark house - leaving her hysterical daughter behind. Hearing that same gunshot pierce through her eardrums, and the thud of the burly body hit the creaking wood floor. The small baggie filled with that cruel, weightless substance laying ever so heavily within Kagome’s grip.
“I remember those days,” Ren chimes in from the kitchen table, where his arms are splayed out across its surface as his head lays against the wood. The sudden words drag Kagome out of her trance, and she brings the lukewarm water to her lips once more.
Yuuto lets his head fall back onto the cushion behind him to engage in Ren’s recollection. “Junko moved out for Kagome, and to have a space away from her life here. She wanted that for Niko too, so she took him along.”
Jiro, still staring straight ahead in a daze, takes in Ren’s words silently. His eyebrows are tense, but his face draws slack. The room around him grows quiet as each person thoughtfully mulls over their relationship with their lieutenant. The individual responsible for bringing everyone in this apartment together, and giving them purpose after they thought they had lost all meaning.
Jiro has been friends with Junko since they were naive little children, but the rest of the crew came later on in Junko’s course of life. Had Junko not saved these individuals here today, who knows where they’d be now?
Drawing everyone from their thoughts, Junko appears in the apartment after a sturdy push of the metal door. Behind her, Niko waltzes in with the shiny black helmet under his left arm. Shifting the object to his hands, Niko chucks it in the direction of Jiro’s sitting figure on the armrest of the couch.
Catching it in his grip, Jiro watches Niko plunge into Yuuto’s desk chair in the corner of the room. “We’re here, sorry for the wait,” Junko announces, laying her black boots onto the broken, rusted shoe rack by the door. “Don’t worry about it,” Yuuto responds from his seated position on the couch.
“Ren, I see you're properly dressed for the occasion,” Junko observes as she walks further into the apartment, planning to meet Kagome in the kitchen. “Of course!” Ren assures as he stands straight up off of the cold floor, throwing a peace sign towards Junko as his other hand finds his hip. She responds with an appreciative smile and continues on her path.
Opening the fridge, Junko pulls out a can of tea. She closes the door using her hipside and peels the tab open with her slender fingertips. After enjoying some of the crisp liquid, Junko wipes at her mouth with the sleeve of her leather bomber jacket.
Junko’s perceptions are on edge - and no matter what she tries to distract herself with, nerves consistently creep into the back of her mind. This happens on every assignment Junko embarks on: anxious convictions are nothing new to this stoically presented captain. Being the leader of this squadron, Junko could never show this side of herself to the team. Pushing these anxieties to the farthest corners of her mind is all she could do. It’s all she ever could do.
From next to her, Kagome places an endearing hand on Junko’s shoulder. Twitching at the sudden contact, Junko looks over to a grinning Kagome. Smiling back, Junko turns back to face the room. “Yuuto, you all good to go?” Junko asks the technician, who stands at the question and nods his head once, “I’ve already gained access to all the street security cameras from Essence to his apartment. I’ll be able to watch over you and oversee any inconsistencies.”
“Sounds like everything’s ready,” Jiro huffs, bringing himself to a standing position next to Yuuto, “Can we get this show on the road, already?” At that, Junko finishes the can of tea in her hand and crushes it in her grip. Nodding to her counterparts, Junko tosses the mangled tin into the wastebasket behind her - sinking it in as she heads for the door. Kagome raises her hands in the air and cheers, “Three points!”
By the dining table, Ren hoists a duffle bag onto his right shoulder and waltzes after Junko. He passes a seemingly expectant Niko, who paints a hopeful expression on his features. Throwing a smile at him, Ren meets Junko and Jiro by the metallic exit. Ren failed to witness the nerves Niko conceals in his taut fists - clutching the desire to join them, to embark on this assignment alongside these officers.
However, Niko knows that time is not of the essence, and his opportunity to become a Special Operations officer will come. With hard work comes success, and with patience comes reward. Despite his mind repeating these thoughts and affirmations in order to remain at bay, it does not halt the yearning nor the deeply rooted hurt he feels in his heart.
Surely, if Niko was as intelligent as Yuuto, as lean as Ren, as strategic as Junko, as agile as Jiro, or as strong-willed as Kagome - they would have no reason to keep him from joining the squadron. His superiors are simply using his lack of a high school education as an excuse to stall his entry onto the Special Operations Task Force.
All he will do is weigh them down, should he join the team as is. Niko is, at the end of the day, some naive child with foolish dreams and an eager mind. None of his friends truly believe he is ready or capable to work alongside them in this field of work. On the surface, their pitiful excuses and mindless rejections are merely taken with a grain of salt by Niko. But - deep within the caverns of his heart - Niko stores their dismissals and denials, and burns them into the depths of his mind.
“We’re off,” Junko states after Ren finishes sliding on his black shoes - matching with the rest of his monochromatic outfit, “Not sure when we’ll be back. Keep an eye out for us, Yuuto!” She finishes off as she throws a casual two-finger salute towards the squadron’s technology guru. In response, Yuuto crosses his arms and gives a soft nod to Junko. “You know I always do,” He says, as a smirk laces his features, “You just make sure that old fart stays within your field of view.”
With one final nod, Junko follows after Ren and Jiro and closes the metal door behind her. The soles of their shoes pad against the aging wooden steps as they descend the raggedy staircase. Gripping the knob of the wooden first floor door, Ren tugs it open and enters the musty bar. Jiro clutches the door before it swings into his frame and steps aside, allowing Junko to enter before himself. Nodding to her counterpart, Junko steps into the uncrowded room.
She eyes the only two patrons situated at the bartop, conversing casually over a few pints of beer. The two men laugh simultaneously: throwing their heads back as their laughter ricochets against the confines of the room.
“We could all use a beer after this is all done,” Jiro comments from behind Junko. A smile of agreement fades onto her face as she continues on her path towards the exit. “Niko’s seventeenth birthday is coming up at the end of this month,” Ren adds to Jiro’s thought, “Perfect excuse to get drunk, don’t you think?”
“I’m ten steps ahead of you,” Junko answers, catching up to Ren before they exit the bar, “Poor kid can’t even drink yet, and he’s going to be surrounded by five drunk idiots!” She jeers as she turns around to face Ren - having passed him in stride. Using her backside, she opens the entrance to the bar and is greeted by a brisk wind blowing through the streets. Ren and Jiro join their lieutenant at her side - basking in the night air alongside her.
With one last sigh, Junko throws her prized helmet over her black and white locks. To her left, Ren adjusts the strap of his duffle bag on his shoulder, and Jiro finnicks with his cap on her right. After tapping the top of her helmet twice, she draws her right hand into the pocket of her bomber jacket.
The sound of keys jingling against each other pours out of Junko’s pockets as she pulls the ring out of her jacket. “Just to recap,” Junko quips before she parts from her fellow officers, “I’ll be following Aoki by vehicle, since Toshima is about a twenty minute drive from his apartment. I’ll ensure which car is his, and observe any individuals tagging along on his commute.”
Jiro nods at her quick debriefing, “I’ll be waiting in the lobby of his apartment building,” He says, throwing his hand to his chest, “Once Aoki enters, I’ll follow him to the elevator and discern which floor is his, as well as confirm he is not being followed.”
“I’ll be waiting on the rooftop of an adjacent building,” Ren interjects, adding his role into the conversation, “Securing a decent vantage point, as well as detecting if any other individuals are already within his apartment.”
Placing her hands on her hips, Junko throws a firm nod towards her officers. Everything is set: Aoki is almost done at Essence, and Yuuto sits watching them from the available street cameras he was able to override. “We’re all good to go, then,” Junko declares, gripping her keys tighter in her taut right fist. The three officers cast their goodbyes as they head towards their designated surveillance posts. Jiro and Ren set out together, and Junko slides onto her cold motorcycle seat.
Shoving out a shaky breath, Junko pushes the key into ignition and feels the engine come to life beneath her. Revving the engine once, she kicks the kickstand out from underneath. Junko turns the handles and thrusts her bike forward - into the vibrant streets of Tokyo.