“Yeah… The texture and taste may be different, but it sure feels nostalgic,” Shinichi said.
Perhaps all ‘mother’s cooking’ possessed a similar warmth.
For people like them that were estranged from that warmth, it was something they were sensitive to.
“Good thing I made you take me along,” Tomoe said.
“It’s too bad I couldn’t keep it all to myself,” Shinichi said.
“Ha ha, you’re so greedy. Well, it’s not like I don’t understand,” Tomoe said.
Indeed, this was something worth monopolizing, Tomoe ate with relish.
Her cheeks loosened at the taste that she hadn’t tasted since losing her mother.
“─────So, can I ask now?”
After eating her fill, she took a sip of the soup and asked Shinichi that question.
Shinichi nodded as he reached out for his next rice ball.
“That man that came in the end. Am I right in assuming that he’s the man in charge of the underworld in that area?”
She couldn’t ask anything back then since the man seemed close with Kouta and Shinichi seemed to know what was going on.
Despite that she still had her own conjectures.
“When he was young, he was known in the neighborhood as a man with old-fashioned integrity. Though it’s half-half whether that’s his real personality or just an act,” Shinichi said with an expression that could be taken for either praise or dismay.
When he heard that the perpetrators had named themselves the Yamagi Group, he thoroughly investigated the organization. It was then that he noticed something strange.
“When I investigated one of their members, I found a connection between him and a person in this inn that I also investigated when I was deciding which inn to pick for our lodging.”
“Putting aside why you were even in charge of deciding our inn, could the people you’re referring to be that man and the proprietress?”
Shinichi casually revealed that he was the person that chose their inn, but as interesting as that was, Tomoe pushed it aside and gave her own guess.
Really, it was less a guess and more her woman’s intuition.
Shinichi’s eyes twinkled at that, and he quickly nodded.
“…Well done realizing that. They were together all throughout elementary, middle school, and high school. They were childhood friends and the proprietress’ parents adored him. He also seemed to adore her late husband like a real older brother even before they were married. However, he seemed to have hidden the matters about his family from the proprietress.”
A woman who used to work at the inn posted a bunch of pictures on a social networking site.
Some of those pictures were taken in one of those old places that helped people find work. There were several shots of the proprietress’ family still alive there, as well as a young boy that appeared to be getting along well with them.
There were also other stories he dug up from the inn’s longtime employees, as well as stories from the people that were monitoring the proprietress from inside the inn.
Supposedly, that man used to come in almost every day, but after the proprietress got married after graduating from high school, he suddenly stopped showing his face.
At the same time, the Yamagi group tightened their control on their affiliates in the underworld, and he distinguished himself and became its de facto leader.
“…Are you saying that he made it so that no one could touch this place? That’s why he’s distancing himself from the proprietress and isn’t showing himself?”
She was originally from that sort of family, so she knew how they operated.
For people in their line of work, it was better to use their own bloodline to protect those they held dear than to rely on straightforward means.
As long as they didn’t get directly involved, they can keep the people they cared about clean.
“That’s probably it. When I told him what happened, he was so pissed I could tell it even through the phone despite him keeping quiet.”
Tomoe thought it touching that he would hold such feelings for the proprietress and secretly protect her, but Shinichi just bitterly dismissed his efforts, saying that the incident was his fault for not keeping a closer eye on her.
“You sure are harsh. When did you even call him?”
“During the 40 seconds I was waiting for you.”
“Ah,” Tomoe said with a sense of defeat.
She took less than a minute preparing, so that should have been much less time than he was expecting, yet he still managed to use that time effectively.
“But if that’s the case, then…”
It was all too easy to imagine that – regardless where they came from – they must have been in a rush.
Shinichi carried her the way he usually did despite her protests and teleported all the way to that warehouse, yet they still arrived not long after at a speed that could have very well caused an accident, showing just how serious the matter was to that man.
But while the man indeed made a relieved face when he saw Kouta, that wasn’t the sort of expression one would make just seeing a benefactor’s child safe.
There was clearly affection there too. If so…
“…Hey, don’t tell me… Does he actually love…”
“Some things are better left unsaid.”
Perhaps he expected that she would get excited upon realizing that that he covered her lips with his own finger.
“There are times when not saying anything and keeping your distance is a way to protect someone. Him secretly playing with Kouta was definitely just him having fun, though.”
In a rare display, Shinichi laughed sympathetically.
Even if you just want to watch over them, if you’re too far, you might not be able to make it in time.
But it’s dangerous to get too close as childhood friends.
Just the suggestion that they were related in someway would be enough to cause trouble for the proprietress, so he had to maintain a reasonable distance.
To be able to see yet not touch. Maintaining such a delicate distance with one’s loved ones was not an easy task by any means.
Him interacting with Kouta in secret must’ve been just the right distance for him to distract him from the pain.
“Lingering affections sure are difficult… Hamu amu.”
Yet despite saying that, Shinichi’s face remained the same.
If anything he seemed to eat his rice balls even more joyfully than usual.
However, Tomoe felt as though Shinichi understood the man’s feelings a bit too well, almost as if he were talking about himself.
Perhaps he too had someone he could only see but not touch.
The first people that came to her mind were of course those twins, but they were too close for that. They were even in the same school.
So her attention turned to the taste of the food.
──How did he describe this again?
The nostalgic taste of a mother’s cooking. It was then that she realized it.
She’s spoken about her parents, but he’s never said anything about his.
As she realized that, a chill ran up her back and a terrible thought flashed through her mind. He was a returnee, someone who was drifted through the dimensions and was forcefully separated from where he belonged.
Though he managed to come back, there was no guarantee that he was also welcomed back.
She wanted to ask about it straight up, but just when she was about to, she suddenly stopped.
“Oh? To think you’d suddenly kiss my fingers. You’re surprisingly bold,” Shinichi said.
“Huh? Ah, wawa!?”
Tomoe found herself leaning and accidentally pushed her lips into his finger, painting an invincible happy smile on Shinichi.
“I wonder why girls’ lips are so soft.”
“I-I don’t know! And don’t just started giving your impression about how my lips feel!!”
He was even so serious as he pondered that question, leaving her with no recourse but to turn beet red.
There was also the implication behind his words that he knew how other girls’ lips felt, but she ignored that with all of her strength.