And then -
She opened her eyes.
"Ah, she's awake. Looks like her condition's far from critical - she may even be able to walk on her own pretty soon."
"Thank you very much."
"No problem. Figured I'd better not refuse a request from Shizuo's brother if I didn't want to be punched all the way to Mars afterwards."
She still hadn't regained her consciousness in its entirety.
But she was able to understand that the whiteness in her vague vision was that of the ceiling.
She could hear voices engaged in what seemed like a conversation, but it still felt like everything around her was happening in a distant land.
People can't see things happening in a distant land without television. But somehow she felt as if she were a TV set capable of processing wave signals from afar. Her senses slowly began to sharpen.
She could hear a voice devoid of emotion. Another voice was laughing wryly.
"I'm sorry Brother's been bothering you so much......"
"Not at all, I actually have to thank him since he had helped Celty out of so much. But I can't afford to have Celty fall for Shizuo, so will you tell him to try not to let her see too much of his manly side? I can't tell him myself since he'd be sure to beat me up if I did. Ah, I'm a little thirsty. Can I get some water?"
"I'll get it."
"Ah, thanks. As for her......can she drink? Get her a glass of water too just in case."
The male who said this was looking at her face.
He was a young man wearing glasses and giving off the vibe of an intellectual.
Judging by the white coat he wore he was probably a doctor of sorts.
But the room they were in did not look like one she would expect to see in a hospital.
She saw bookshelves that lined an entire wall as well as ornamental foliage plants often seen in expensive restaurants.
It would have been a pretty chic room if not for the laundry hanging from several hangers at the entrance.
As her gaze fell on the bubbling water tank that held tropical fish, she began to hear the mews of a cat from somewhere inside the room. The room looked expensive and cozy at the same time.
She blinked hard and tried to clear her head.
But the next second, she realized that a dull pain was running through her entire body.
The pain was not severe enough to make her scream, but it was still a wonder how she only just took notice.
Seeing that she was frowning from the pain, the male who looked like a doctor said:
"Ah, don't make yourself get up if you don't feel up for it. Even though I did give you analgesics - and even though your recovery was fast, your injuries were serious enough to put anyone into a coma. I wouldn't have been surprised if you failed to wake up."
She regained her breath quietly as the doctor briefed her.
If this had been the hospital, she would have had to ready herself mentally for what was to come next -
But now, since she had not the slightest idea where she was, she needed to know first.
"Are you all right? Any sense of sharper pain other than the dull pain you're supposed to feel throughout your body?"
The male in the white coat nodded as if reassured as she shook her head.
It was probably safe to assume that the doctor would not harm her.
She swallowed hard and said in a determined but stifled voice:
"Can I ask......where......this place is?"
Her voice was too delicate to convince anyone that only minutes ago she had been wearing a zombie mask. Kishitani Shinra - the male in the white coat - was apparently moved as he continued to nod:
"Ahhh, your voice sounds exactly the same as it did on television."
"Ex - Excuse me......"
"Oops, I'm sorry. But please allow me to savor this moment. This is different from love, but before I answer your question...please let me savor the excitement at meeting someone I admire. Just a couple of seconds, please."
The female on the bed had to stop talking and nod instead to avoid more pain.
Shinra stroked his own chest as if relieved before raising his open arms high again to express his heartfelt happiness in front of the injured:
"It's a world worth living in after all despite all the tribulations it puts us through! This is what's moving about it! Could you...um...once you feel comfortable enough to walk again, could I have your autograph? Can I have two if that's possible? I know it would sound like we're just jumping the wagon, but my roommate is also a big fan of yours!"
The underground doctor seemed to have forgotten his gentlemanly manners completely and was bubbling with joy in front of the injured. He bowed cautiously to the idol he admired.
But to be fair, a lot of males would have behaved the same way he did.
Some would even be so nervous that they'd be able to do little more than stare and stutter.
"Who would have expected that this indecent job I have - "
Shinra opened his arms even wider and said the name of his patient aloud -
" - would have given me the opportunity to treat everyone's idol, Hijiribe Ruri!"
Excerpt from the entry for Hijiribe Ruri from Fuguruma Youki, the Free Online Encyclopedia
Hijiribe Ruri （聖辺ルリ） is a Japanese actress, talent and model. Her agency is Yadogiri Shining Corporation.
Her real name is the same as her showbiz name.
Her birth year is unknown. Her birthday is August the 8th.
She was originally an apprentice of Zakuroya Tenjin, a special make-up artist, and later scouted by Yadogiri Shining Corporation to debut as a model.
Before she debuted, she had already served as a special make-up artist for several Japanese films, the most critically acclaimed being her work in "Vampire Ninja Carmilla Saizou", for which she was listed alongside her master in the "100 Juiciest Special Make-Up Artists" by the World Film Village Association.
After that, she debuted as a magazine model and began to earn supporting parts in TV series only half a year later. Her unique looks attracted many loyal fans.
She is often regarded as the type of idol who attracted fans not because of her acting skills but because of the uniqueness in herself.
Her impeccable white skin and her melancholic and delicate looks blessed her with a sort of inhumanly charm. Most of her roles were delicate females with dark and downbeat personalities.
Unconfirmed rumor has it that she's a "natural beauty" who never puts on any make-up.
Her personality is said to be just as delicate and maidenlike in real life as on-screen. She mentioned in an interview that she did not have friends or a boyfriend because she lacked the necessary social skills.
Although her popularity is widely attributed to her looks, she remains without a rival since there are currently no actresses or models who are of the same type as she is. Her unworldly charm makes her popular among both male and female fans.
It is widely believed that she is not very athletic, and therefore has never taken part in sporting events like swimming contests on TV.
Since her downbeat personality made her an easy victim in variety shows, she is usually invited to talk shows instead. However, she hardly ever talks or reveals her own character unless she was prompted to by other artists moderating the shows. She also said that she was not very athletic in a talk show.
But there are reports saying that she was an outstanding athlete in areas like track and field when she was in elementary school, and that her delicateness is a show she put on for popularity - this view is supported by many of her fans. (*Citation needed)
Additionally, she was popular among anime and manga fans because her unworldly aura resembled those of 2D characters. She topped the chart in a "Artists Who Should Become Cosplayers" vote online.
Without a doubt, this very idol - Hijiribe Ruri - was right in front of Shinra's eyes.
After the zombie make-up was removed, she appeared unworldly in a different sense.
Naturally, she was not wearing any make-up right now. But her skin remained silky smooth and her features as delicate and refined as a painting.
- Hmm...if Yuuhei-kun had stepped straight out of a shoujo manga, this girl had probably stepped straight off a Western oil painting of angels.
Shinra looked at her in awe and regretted deeply about not having brought colored paper for autographing purposes.
- Anyway. I can hardly blame myself for not having expected to meet her.
He was doing his usual cleaning around the house and waiting for Celty to return when his cell phone rang all of a sudden. The number displayed on the screen evoked his nostalgia.
The younger brother of his old schoolmate called saying "I have a patient I cannot take to ordinary doctors. Please come over." and he had hurried over since he had nothing else to do anyway -
And what he saw made him conclude in gratitude that it was the right decision of his life to become an underground doctor.
Hijiribe Ruri thought to herself as she watched the overexcited male in the white coat.
- So...who exactly is this man?
- This......looks like someone's home......but then......it's way too big...
Judging by the way the interior was furnished, it was probably a room in an apartment rather than a single-family house. But what bothered her was the fact that it was way too roomy for an apartment.
- Right...how come I......
- I remember being hit with a park bench by that man in the bartender suit...and then.....
She recalled vaguely that that was when she lost her consciousness.
Someone took her to this room and fetched this male who was apparently an underground doctor to treat her.
That was what she was able to gather from all the loud and excited talking the male was doing.
Ruri decided to remain silent and contemplate her situation.
- Does this man...know who I really am?
- He already knows that I'm Hijiribe Ruri.
The important thing for her was whether he had realized that she was the killing monster "Hollywood".
The very fact that he did not call an ambulance was suspicious enough to her. Had he done so she would have been in a far more dangerous situation - but not as fatal as the situation she would have been in had he just left her lying on the ground.
She felt pain coming from all over her body as she continued to think - but suddenly, a cat climbed onto her abdomen.
The pain intensified in a split second as the cat's paws came into contact with her wounds.
She was about to get the cat off her body when she noticed that the cat on her blanket was extremely cute.
It was a teeny Scottish Fold with its ears folded forwards.
The creature looked like a soft ball of wool with life; it tilted its head to stare at Ruri and mewed.
The killing monster found it so cute that for a second she completely forgot about her pain and her worries.
Another male had entered the room, stopped next to the male in the white coat and reached out his hands to fetch the cat.
"Shush, don't do that, Dokusonmaru. You can't climb onto someone who's injured."
The young man said with a face devoid of expression as the male in the white coat asked.
"His name's Yuigadokusonmaru*. Isn't it cute?"
* "Yuigadokuson" is a Japanese/Chinese idiom meaning "Only I am holy." It was first said by the Buddha when he was born, and later used to describe a holier-than-thou attitude.
He proceeded to hand the cat over to the male in the white coat, who withdrew himself as if scared.
"......You need to smile a little bit when you give cats to other people to pet. Otherwise it's just scary."
"...? But I am smiling."
"If my dad ever sees you he'll probably be dying to cut you open."
The underground doctor shook his head in resignation at the completely emotionless face of the other male.
As the two of them conversed, Ruri was able to notice -
That the young man wearing a cheap T-shirt with a designer belt had a face she was not unfamiliar with.
Putting the cat on the floor, Yuuhei turned around with no expression on his face as he heard her murmur and said:
"Good. You look like you're feeling even better than I expected."
None of his body parts moved except his lips. It was impossible to tell whether he actually felt happy about it, but -
She was aware that her "fellow artist" was a person who hardly ever showed any emotion.
They had met a few times, but they weren't really friends.
Ruri did Yuuhei's vampire make-up in his debut film "Vampire Ninja Carmilla Saizou".
After she debuted as an actress, they had appeared together on the TV screen for two hours in another series.
It was a crime drama with Yuuhei starring as the police officer and Ruri guest starring as the daughter of the criminal. And that was it.
The question surfaced in her mind before she could even allow herself to be surprised at meeting him again.
How come a fellow actor is standing right in front of her eyes?
- Could it be that......"he"...told him to......
She shook her head immediately at this thought.
- "He" has no connection to Hanejima-san as far as she knew.
A look of confusion appeared on the actress's beautiful face. Yuuhei asked quietly:
"Would you like water?"
And handed her the glass with a robotic expression on his face.
Ruri felt like she was about to be poisoned, but took the glass anyway and let the water flow down her throat.
Her whole body was in pain from trying to sit up, but she could still drink.
As he watched Ruri, the underground doctor said to Yuuhei:
"So yeah, her insides seem intact even though her muscles are badly damaged. But just to be secure you should take her to the hospital and do either an X-ray or an MRI once she's able to walk on her own again. Internal bleeding in the skull won't manifest itself until much later. I would have performed the check myself if I were able to borrow Nebula's research facilities. I'm sorry."
"Don't be. You're already doing me a great favor for coming over so late at night. Thank you so much."
"Ah, not at all, not at all. I should thank you instead for giving me this opportunity to get so close to my idol. But don't tell Celty I said that - she's also a huge fan of hers, and she would probably get jealous of me before she gets jealous of her."
The underground doctor was smiling a foolish smile again with a lover's joy -
When his cell phone vibrated from inside his chest pocket and he had to walk to a corner of the room to answer the call in a low voice.
The two talents did not try to make conversation on their own; an eerie silence fell.
Ruri had to break it when she apparently couldn't take it any more and said in a faint voice:
"......Why am I here?"
"Because you fell in front of my car when I was on my way home. I know it was a little rude on my part, but I felt like I should take you home and get a doctor I know to treat you."
"Why your home and not the hospital......?"
"I had my reasons - "
Yuuhei paused to inhale before he continued:
" - but I think...Ruri-san would have wanted to avoid going to the hospital as well."
"If I am wrong, I will apologize right away and take you to the hospital."
"......No...this is good."
Ruri kept her vigilance in front of the expressionless Yuuhei as he continued to talk in a flat voice.
Silence fell again soon enough since their exchange remained polite and distant.
The underground doctor had returned. Sighing, he said:
"I'm sorry, but I just got another urgent patient! Really, I can't believe I got two in the same night. God, this is so annoying. It's not like I can get this close to Hijiribe Ruri-chan everyday at work......"
The male muttered his complaints as he got ready to leave. He whispered into Yuuhei's ear:
"Could you get her autograph for me? Celty would like one too, I guess. Please!"
"I'll make sure to ask her."
"Thank you! In return for that I'll just treat her for free today!"
"But that's a little......"
"No problem! I'll make that other patient who dared ruin my hour of bliss pay instead! Bye, and don't forget to say hi to Shizuo!"
The male was still smiling as he said this and walked out of the room in his white coat.
The cat left the room as well as if to see him off - leaving the two clamored-after top idols to their own devices.
Without the legions of fans that usually surrounded them, they passed the time in complete silence.
Yuuhei, who was sitting on a chair next to the bed, was the one to break the silence this time.
"Can I ask you something?"
"......What is it?"
Ruri sat up in her bed to face Yuuhei - and was shocked at what she saw.
Yuuhei was holding the zombie "skin" she had been wearing until a short while ago.
Ruri went tense as Yuuhei said what she was expecting him to say:
"Ruri-san...you're the killing monster 'Hollywood', aren't you?"
His tone made it sound like he was almost certain, but Ruri didn't give up trying to deny it, until -
"Your body is different from an ordinary human being's. The doctor told me that."
- He...is sure about what he said.
There was no point in lying or trying to change the topic.
Ruri lowered her head and muttered a vague reply as she looked at the poker face right in front of her.
"......If you're so certain...why didn't you...hand me over to the police?"
"Do you want me to? If so, I'd suggest that you surrender yourself instead."
"......That's not what I meant......"
"Then I see no problem."
Yuuhei said in a voice devoid of emotion as he stood up. Having just confirmed her identity as "Hollywood" from the conversation they had just had, he nevertheless reached out for the empty glass in Ruri's hand in silence.
All of a sudden -
As Ruri opened her mouth quietly -
Her wrist had sprung forwards as if propelled by a spring and grabbed Yuuhei's neck.
She pulled Yuuhei onto the bed and, ignoring the pain that was washing through her body, turned over and pinned him to the bed and sat astride him.
Ruri held her finger to Yuuhei's throat and asked him a question.
Even though she delivered it in a nonchalant tone, her voice still exerted overwhelming pressure on the listener:
"So...did you never expect things to turn out like this......?"
Despite everything, Yuuhei remained expressionless as ever. Ruri's tone went steelier as her irritation grew.
"I will say this to you, Yuuhei-san. I know your personality is not a facade you put on for popularity......but to be frank, it is simply abnormal."
"Yes. Your brain is without doubt abnormal if you just let killing monsters in your home like this."
Ruri raised her hand and asked the young man under her who was tilting his head:
"You might get killed - did that thought...really not occur to you even for a split second?"
Two hours after, Sunshine 60 Street, Ikebukuro
"My, my, I can't take this anymore. I need at least two more heads and four more arms for a night with two jobs like this one."
Shinra was muttering things that would have earned him a good spanking had a real doctor been able to hear him. He put the money into his medical bag and continued to walk in the Ikebukuro night.
"There's still time. I'll probably just go back to Yuuhei-kun's apartment and get the autographs before heading home."
As he walked the nightly street with sparse traffic with such thoughts on his mind -
(Oi, isn't that the guy?)
(Ahh, that's him!)
(There's no mistaking it!)
(Oi! Camera, camera!)
He heard noisy voices approach him and raised his eyes -
And was suddenly showered in flashlight.
"Ex - Excuse me! You are the one who walked out of Hanejima Yuuhei-san's apartment about two hours ago, right?"
He had already been assaulted by five rounds of flashlights when he came to the realization that these people were paparazzi.
"Can you answer questions for us? Every apartment in that building belongs to Hanejima Yuuhei-san, so are you a friend of Hanejima-san's......?"
- Ehhh!? No kidding!? Is he that rich!?
He had heard that Yuuhei had used the 1.2 billion to make even more with his investment skills. But it was still unbelievable that he was able to purchase the entire building of luxury apartments, each one of them comparable to the one Shinra and Celty was nurturing their love in.
But it was hardly the time to wonder whether that was true.
"Can I ask you something? About an hour ago Hanejima-san and actress Hijiribe Ruri were seen kissing in front of the apartment. Do you know what kind of relationship they have?"
"What was it that they asked you to come over so late to treat?"
"What's your speciality - ?"
"Are you a gynecologist......?"
Voices, voices, voices from journalists hired by several magazines were threatening to drown him like a raging tide.
"Wait! Wait! Wait a moment please!"
- What!? What!?
- What the hell has happened afterwards between those two!?
- Why were they kissing all of a sudden!
- What about the autographs!? Did he get the autographs!?
An overload of questions popped up in Shinra's confused head - but he knew that his ability to think rationally was being deprived by the combined attack of questions and flashlights.
"I see...anyway, I'll deliver the answers to your questions straight to you rather than announce them here, so allow me to insert some commercials here! Stay tuned!"
Before he even finished the sentence, Shinra had made run for it at full speed.
"Ah, he's running away!"
"Say something please! Anything is good!"
As he looked back on the journalists and cameramen who ran after him -
Kishitani Shinra had embarked on some real physical endeavor he had been foreign to for years.
He did not know, however, that Celty got chased by television cameramen the same night -
Twelve hours later, an apartment building on Kawagoe Highway
"God, now that I think about it, yesterday was a scary day."
Shinra wriggled around on the floor in the bundle of black threads as he waited for Celty to return.
"Speaking of which, what the hell happened exactly...? After I'm freed from this cocoon I'll...guess I'll watch the news first. But they're probably not going to show my photo in the news since I ran away yelling that I would sue them if they infringed on my right of publicity."
As he muttered such things to himself he remembered that it was almost time for the wide show, so he tried to flip channels as he kept wriggling like a black caterpillar.
Just as he had at last found it -
The doorbell rang.
- Ahhh, this is bad. I can't receive guests in my current state even if I wanted to...
- But hang on! If I can get someone to help I might be able to break free from these threads!
Shinra thought to himself as he tried to come up with a convincing story to get others to help him.
But before he could even think of a way to answer the doorbell, he heard the sound of a key being turned.
"Ah, Celty, is that you!? You're a lifesaver! But then I can make it through anything if I just think of it as a form of neglect play to heighten my spirit......"
He greeted the person who had entered the apartment with a silly lovey-dovey smile -
But it turned out to be several well-built men and a slimmer one.
The stronger men didn't look like they had decent occupations -
The thin man at the center of the group, however, looked no different from any ordinary person.
The thin man stepped into Shinra's apartment without showing any sign of discomfort and said in an icy voice:
"Neglect play...I have to say I don't really understand that phrase."
"......Sir Shiki*, to whom do I owe the honor today?"
* Shinra (and Akabayashi, too) refers to Shiki as "Shiki-no-danna", the honorific being one that shows casual respect towards a male figure with some level of authority. It's hard to find an English equivalent so I had to go with "Sir".
The male referred to as Shiki smiled in a wary but peaceful way to the man who spoke to him.
Needless to say, they all belonged to the violence group called Awakusu-kai. Shiki was probably the youngest among its authority figures.
"It doesn't look like...you have an urgent patient..."
Shiki was the only one who held the spare card key to this apartment.
They were the Shinra's VIP clients more or less because of their special occupation. Shinra had given Shiki the spare key just so that he would be able to ask Shinra for help in case of emergency even if Shinra was sleeping.
But it didn't look like they had come with someone who had just been shot or anything.
As Shinra wondered what exactly this was about - Shiki, with a stern expression on his face, tossed a newspaper to the black caterpillar Shinra had become.
The bold headline of today's entertainment paper read "HANEJIMA x HIJIRIBE: SECRET 'PREGNANT!?' DATE IN THE MIDNIGHT......" and it was obvious that he had made it into the report as well.
In short, a doctor that looked like a gynecologist was seen walking out of the apartment before the two idols were seen kissing each other.
Shinra read the report closely and sighed in relief at not finding his own face staring back at him in the newspaper.
"Really, you...who else would wander the streets in the neighborhood in a white coat?"
One of Shiki's subordinates said. Shiki bent down in front of Shinra and asked:
"We have only one thing to ask you, sensei..."
"What is it?"
"You...were doctoring Hijiribe Ruri, weren't you?"
"Kind of, yeah."
Shinra answered without a second thought. Shiki quietly put on a cold expression - although it was cold in a different sense from Yuuhei's.
"......Then I'll just skip the formalities and ask - what is she?"
His voice was calm, but so powerful that it would have been able to crush his conversation partner all by itself.
Shinra, however, avoided the question and said in an airy manner:
"......Before that, can I ask for a favor?"
Shiki's face had turned somewhat pale while Shinra's looked more serious than ever as he said the most important thing on his mind at the moment:
"Could you...help free me from these black ropes?"
"I've been dying to go to the bathroom......"
END OF CHAPTER 4