Homecoming - Chapter One

Shinjuku Gyoen, Tokyo, 4 days later

He was walking toward the Greenhouse, lost in his thought. So lost, he didn’t particularly notice the white clouds of cherry blossoms in full bloom along the path.

He didn’t really care about the cherry blossoms, really. He wouldn’t have come if his friends hadn’t insisted, and his friends’ kids hadn’t pitched in with their demands for the presence of their favorite uncle.

He sighed, waiting for the smile to extend his lips as it always did when he thought about those kids.

Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Damn it.

He was never serious. Never, except when a specific person was involved. Had been involved, to be precise. He’d been seriously trying to insult her, protect her at all costs, even if it involved pushing her away, but he’d never seriously intended to let her leave. He hadn’t been able to. She’d crawled under his skin like a parasite, she’d had her claws embedded so deep in his heart, in all his tissues, it would’ve taken a drastic laser surgery to get her out...

She’d provided that surgery herself. By leaving. By leaving him alone.

He couldn’t even blame her. He’d gone overboard that last time, pretending nothing had happened, after she’d lost her memory. And when she’d regained it, she’d never said a word, and he’d gone along, pretending he hadn’t known...And then it had all gone to hell with her leaving to work for one of his two best friends...But when it had all blown over, when he’d been finally ready to admit everything, to try everything to get her back...

She was gone.

Just like that.

No note, no goodbye, no fuck-you-very-much. Nothing.

He’d been glad. Seriously glad. Well, he’d been serious about pretending to be glad. He’d reverted to his old ways of drinking himself into a stupor—it was the only thing that kept the demons at bay when she wasn’t around—and bedding a different girl (or two) every night.

He’d felt like shit every single morning when he’d slipped out of the girl’s apartment. He’d felt like shit every single morning when he’d entered his empty apartment, trying to prevent his heart from making that single, tiny leap in joyous expectation of hearing her voice, seeing her face...Only to remain disappointed when she wasn’t there.

He’d had no idea when exactly he stopped whoring around—something she would’ve considered a small victory if she knew, but he had, deciding against the emptiness and filth he’d felt coating his skin and soul every morning. Years went by, but he’d continued drinking, though. More and more, until he was unable to do his job properly.

Until that day, when he’d killed an innocent, because he’d been too drunk to see straight. To aim straight. Out of all the black spots on his soul, that innocent life was the largest one, the most oppressive one. One he would never be able to forget, or wipe clean.

He’d tried convincing himself it had all been her fault. He wouldn’t have been drinking if she’d stayed. He would’ve shot the bad guy if she’d stayed...But he knew better.

The fault was his. Only his. He’d made her leave, he had to live with the consequences. He had to live with the emptiness inside and out, the repercussions of his choices and actions, with the solitude and loneliness those choices and actions had brought.

He’d retired the sweeper persona that same year. He simply hadn’t been able to be a killer for hire anymore. He hadn’t been able not to be normal anymore. Go figure. Someone who’d always been out of the norms, thanks to the accident in his childhood that had left him without memories, without an identity, thanks to his upbringing in the middle of a civil war, thanks to years of living in the sewers of humanity, sweeping the underbelly of society of its filthiest creatures...Someone like that only wanted to be normal, try to make amends, try to live.

So he’d collected all the favors he was owned, and they’ve resurrected him, given him a true identity—albeit the same he’d been using before, but at least now he existed, documents, including a birth certificate—with the date of birth on March 26, he wouldn’t change it for anything in the world, and a bank account that had quickly filled once he’d recovered the debt owed him by the Tokyo Metropolitan Police.

He still vividly remembered that scene...The sputtering commissioner, the purple faces of his aides, the sheepish, yet admiring smile of the woman who’d accumulated all the debt—although not in actual currency—and never thought he’d come to collect, especially not with proof and an idiotic exchange rate.

But they had paid, and that money had helped create a new life, a new purpose, and a new course...He might’ve retired the City Hunter persona, but that didn’t mean he’d retired the cause. He still helped those in need, only with different means. The company he ran with his two friends offered anything and everything from personal bodyguards, self-defense lessons, survival training, high-tech security systems, and investigative services.

He hadn’t held his Python since that fateful day, he hadn’t taken a single shot since that fateful day, he didn’t drink anymore. He hadn’t had a one-night stand in years. He’d tried his hand at a relationship or two since he’s come back to the living, but he figured those just weren’t for him. That meant he would never have a family, but he was content with what he had. His friends and their kids were his family. That would have to do.

That was his lot in life, because he knew, deep down he’s always known, there was only one woman for him, only one woman with whom he’d ever contemplate having a life, having a family. And that woman had left him behind seven years ago and never looked back.

That same woman that was somewhere in Tokyo these days, which was the real reason for his brooding this morning, for his unwillingness to participate in his family’s outing.

A child’s carefree laughter drew his attention. He looked to the right, toward the cherry trees, and his breath lodged in his throat. A woman was leaning down, close to a low cherry branch, holding her cell phone close to the blossoms. Her hair fell down to her shoulders in layers, the reddish hues catching and holding the sunrays filtering through the sparse clouds. She wore a red leather jacket with corset-style laces on both sides of the back, a black blouse peeked from beneath the jacket, covering her ass. Her shapely, incredibly long legs were encased in tight, faded black jeans, and she wore red Converse high tops to complete the look.

Without intending to, he stepped off the path and onto the grass, walking slowly toward that enchanting figure. She drew him in like a magnet, like a moth to a flame. Because although the woman wasn’t looking at him and he couldn’t see her face, he knew her. He knew those legs, he knew that ass. He’d spent more than a decade salivating over that ass, dreaming of those long legs wrapped around his waist. Even though he couldn’t see her face, he would recognize her anywhere.

He stopped only two steps behind her, and although he didn’t make a sound, he saw her stiffen. He smiled. She knew very well who was behind her. It was good to know she hasn’t lost her ability to detect him. She slowly straightened, her phone clutched in her hand, but didn’t turn, as if waiting for him to make the first move.

He decided to grant her wish.

“Hello, Kaori.”

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