Sadami's phone buzzed at eight in the morning. He answered without even checking the number. He was lying supine on his bed, "Hello?" He heard Chiharu's voice and he bolted upright, "Chiharu? Hey, what's up?"

"I wanted to say I'm sorry for not speaking to you in a while."

"Well that's not your fault," Sadami said, shuffling his position, "I didn't even remember if we exchanged numbers."

"We didn't — I used the list I have from the front desk." She laughed.

"Oh, that's convenient." Even miles away, she still made him nervous. He wondered how awful he could possibly sound over the phone; no better than he did in person.

"Anyways, you're birthday is tomorrow, isn't it?"

"Yeah, it is. I'm think I'm just going to visit my mom or something."

"You're not throwing a huge party for your sixteenth birthday?"

"I've never really been fond of parties; I might just do a small dinner. It's awesome when you have a friend who drives."

"I see," she trailed off and vaguely expressed disappointment in her tone.

"Chiharu, you alright?"

"Yeah, I'm fine. Do you think maybe this weekend you and I could do something for your birthday? A little belated, but it'd be fun, right?"

Sadami scratched his chin and mused over this; if he invited her to eat out with the others, Tobi would be in a foul mood and Chikako might say something out of line about their situation. Not only that, but he didn't need his mother to get protective over the 'predator' he'd brought to meet her. It'd be a difficult schedule afterwards because exams were coming up and he'd lose pretty much all his free time until the winter break.

"I'll be busy starting this weekend with school, so maybe you'd like to do something tomorrow with the rest of us?"

Chiharu's attitude bounded upward, "Really? You wouldn't mind?"

"Of course not. And besides, it's my birthday — the others can't complain over what I want to do." He simpered; he could hear Chiharu's smile on the other side of the phone.

"Just save my number and text me later what you want to do."

"I will." He felt the temperature in his cheeks rise, "Later." He continued to grin stupidly even after they hung up.

Tobi was having the nicest sleep-in until something poked his face. He blinked to see Howl's snout was right in front of his nose; he stared at him with worried eyes until he moaned and signaled he was awake. Howl yipped; his master was awake!

Tobi rubbed the sleep dust from his eyes then turned to his other side.

Howl rushed back to Chikako, the one who'd opened the gates to his master in the first place. He ran around her in circles and excitement, oblivious that Tobi wasn't getting out of bed. The sound of a downpour could be heard against the walls and the distant thunder was getting closer.

If it was still even slightly dark outside, then it wasn't morning yet — ignoring it was almost ten.

"Hey sleepy-head," she called to him. Tobi weakly grunted in response, "Sadami wants to talk to you about something, I thought I should let you know."

Tobi lazily sat up and rubbed his eyes, "Is it important?"

"I dunno, he just wants to talk to you."

"Mm-kay." He rasped in a deep, morning voice. Tobi had a routine before he could have an in-depth conversation with anyone once his day started; he needed to debate whether or not he could fall back asleep if he tried and then if he couldn't, stretch. Then brush his teeth, hair, make tea, tell everyone to leave him alone while he has his tea… and then see if he remembers if someone wants to talk to him or not.

Sadami wouldn't let Tobi forget he needed to speak with him even if he delayed him for a few hours; everything was crucial to Sadami. Right went Tobi took that first invigorating sip was when Sadami threw the news at him; Tobi was wide awake before the hot drink could even sting his tongue once he heard him, "I'm sorry, what?" He blinked.

"I know you're not crazy about her, but she called me this morning; I think it'd be nice if I got to do something with her before school gets busy again."

"I'm not against her coming to dinner for your birthday," Tobi explained, "I am against having to spend hours 'getting to know her.'"

"So you are against the idea of me inviting her." Sadami confirmed, recognizing Tobi's own paradox of a statement.

"I'm not saying she can't come; I'm just saying if she's there, then I shouldn't be." Tobi talked with his hands.

Howl panted as he perched in Tobi's lap — he'd given up on making Chikako hold him since he'd squirm right back to Tobi so he could be pet. Chikako was just as clueless as Howl was, not sure if her input would matter. What she could do was make a suggestion, "Maybe Sadami could do something with Chiharu and then the rest of us could all do something later."

Both young men turned to her; Tobi's brow went up and Sadami's jaw went agape, "Huh, good compromise, Chikako." He continued to praise her like a child, "But I feel like it's important for my best friends to get to know the girl I really like."

"I've spent enough time with the princess," Tobi shrugged, "and I trust your judgment… I just don't want to see you get hurt."

"I'll be fine, Tobi. I'm a big boy." He grinned; he was trying not to laugh at how sweet it was when Tobi got protective — it was rarely shown in such a light.

Tobi might have said he trusted his judgment, but he knew that the hormonal teenager was relying on other feelings, "Alright." He sighed, "You and Chiharu should go out tomorrow and then we can head over to your mom's and do something."

"Yaaay!" Chikako cheered; her plan had been taken!

"You're awesome, Tobi." Sadami exclaimed with all of his sincerity.

Tobi rolled his eyes and brought his mug to his lips, "I know." He slurped up his warm ginseng tea with honey. His throat had been rather sore lately — it always dropped back and forth between fine and crackly when the weather went from cool to freezing so suddenly.

He sure as hell better not be getting sick; there was no worse betrayal his body could do than give him a cold or flu right before he had exams to submit. Timed exams, no less.

Tobi hated the flu — he cursed it with his entire being. He'd only gotten a bad case of it twice; the first time, it evolved into a sinus infection and he had to miss two weeks of school. Motoka nearly spoke to the headmaster with how stressed he was with his make-up work.

The second time was, being his luck, during his winter break of his senior year. He wasn't woken up Christmas morning by the Akiyama family prying him out of bed to come see what they surprised him with, but by the fact he couldn't breathe unless he was sitting upright.

During the former contraction, however, fifteen-year-old Tobi made a rather extraordinary discovery; some shows on T.V. were actually funny! When his mother was out at work and he had nothing to do but pop antibiotics and lie on the couch with a blanket, he decided to venture through her DVR and see what was so amusing about it — his brain betrayed him as well while he was sick; not being able to focus on what he was reading if he tried to.

Sadami wasn't scared of a sinus infection; he willingly came over on the weekends to keep him company and play video games on his laptop, more like Sadami played while Tobi watched and told him what to do. He'd always been on his side, literally and emotionally — it wouldn't hurt for him to trust Sadami this once. He just didn't want princess to run off because she thought his best friend was a mutant freak.

At least he could say he had an excuse for not going anywhere; he as getting sick. He couldn't deny it, but he hoped the achy throat would be the worst of it. Tobi could do ibuprofens and eating nothing but soup and broth for a while; he couldn't do the disgusting yellow goop that clogged his breathing and relying on awful-tasting medicines for sleep.

Tobi prayed that for all of his luck, it was just a twenty-four-hour cold. Or maybe not even that, just his throat reacting to the temperature change. It was in the forties today, and the rain didn't intend to cease as it focused on inconveniencing the Shinjuku residents.

Being literally cold wouldn't help his situation, so Tobi bundled up in his bed and leaned over to bring his charging laptop to his knees. As he did, Howl pranced in to see what he was doing, "You gonna keep me company?" Tobi snorted, "Just stay off the bed and we're fine." Before he could get the top open, he heard quiet growling and Howl was teething on his bed sheets. "Hey," Tobi lifted the pup by the scruff of his neck and then held him underneath his armpits, "just because you're not on the bed doesn't mean you're allowed to chew on it."

He was surprised by his own playfulness, but he felt comfortable since no one was watching — not to his knowledge.

Then Tobi heard a giggle from his open door and saw Chikako was there, "I was gonna take him out your room for you, but I guess you two are friends now." She grabbed her arm.

Tobi's face went blank and he lowered the dog, dropping him, "Dumb dog." Neither Howl nor Chikako were falling for that. Howl yipped up at Tobi and wagged his tail ferociously.

"You feeling okay?"

"I am," Tobi said, turning on his laptop, "I'm thinking that maybe if I convince my professor to give me early access to the exams, it won't be so bad if I get sick this weekend."

Chikako's face fell, "You're sick?" Instead of doing what any normal person would do upon making that presumption, she approached.

"I think it's just a sore throat." He wasn't paying attention and he typed in his password. He looked up to see big blue eyes right before him. He flinched, "Can you back up?" He pushed her by the shoulder, "You know I don't like people so close to me."

Chikako said nothing and felt his forehead, shuffling his bangs as she did so. Tobi was far from endeared, "You have five seconds to get your hand off of me." He rumbled.

Chikako was pondering something, ignoring his threat that she knew by now he wouldn't act on, "You feel pretty warm, did you take any medicine?"

Tobi reached his limit prematurely and he shoved her hand away, "What do you care?"

"I'm just making sure; if it turns into a cold, you'll get all congested."

"This is modern times, brat; no one dies from a common cold anymore."

"Some people certainly act like it." She folded her arms and smiled. Did she just tease him? Tobi wasn't sure to be impressed or be embarrassed. He wasn't acting dramatic about anything, though, more than likely she just wanted earn a grin from him.

Tobi went to turn away in a huff but then something attacked him, an ugly cough caught him off guard. He could feel this cough too; it sizzled in his chest while phlegm built up — he just couldn't win these days, could he?

Chikako was in the same stance, but her smile was gone, "…That didn't sound good." It was a polite way of saying 'That was disgusting.'

"You should get out of here before you're coughing up hairballs." He said, looking back to his computer screen. Howl stayed behind and stared at Tobi with his gleaming eyes.

Chikako decided to check on Sadami, who was on the phone with Chiharu once more, "I guess that would work, that leaves time for me to do family stuff on my actual birthday." He stopped for a moment, scratching the back of his head and chuckling at something she didn't hear, "Alright… I mean if the weather lets up and you can make it, that'd be great. And it not, we can work something out." She saw Sadami's cheeks go hot; she smiled to herself, wishing Tobi would look that way whenever he talked to her.

"Okay, so just tell me later." He hung up the phone and Chikako walked in, feeling playful.

"Sa-da-mi's-got-a–girl-friend! Sa-da-mi-likes-a-gir-irl!" She sang as she strutted in.

"Not my girlfriend." He pointed a finger, "I wish, though." He dropped himself onto his bed.

"I think you two are really sweet together." Chikako cooed.

Sadami gave her an indebted smile, "It's good that one of us does."

Chikako cocked her head to the side, "What do you mean?"

"Nothing,"

"Sadami," she said, insisting. Sadami looked up at the young woman and abided.

"Well, you promise we can talk about it just me and you?" Chikako didn't wait a moment, nodded, and sat next to him, "Don't get me wrong; I love Tobi like a brother, and I know he just wants to look out for me, but I feel like he's coming down way too hard on Chiharu."

"How so?"

"I mean, I understand his point of view from what I've told him, but he doesn't know her like I do. I'd tell him, but I feel like I'm telling him someone else's business, you know?"

"Mhm."

"But it's like… it's like how people judge him when they hardly know him and I have to take up for him. I feel like I have to do that for her now too."

"Really?" Chikako brought her feet up on the bed, curling her robe over her toes that were freezing.

"I already have to tell Chiharu what a good guy he is, and he really is, but it's really difficult when he's making me feel that liking her is so horrible."

"Why can't you just tell him?" Chikako probed.

"I don't wanna cause any more problems; I mean look, he's been stabbed, he had a bad flashback a week ago, he's got some creepy stalker on the internet—"

"Tobi's a strong person, he can handle those things." Sadami supposed he agreed with her, "And not only that," she sat back upright, placing her feet back on the ground, "Tobi's a really caring person."

Sadami snickered, "You and I are the only ones who know, huh?"

Chikako smiled, her sky blue eyes shone, "He is just looking out for you… but if you're sure about how you feel, then just tell him. He won't be mad."

"Yeah, but I don't want him to worry either." Sadami said; he wasn't going to admit that he really wasn't sure about what he felt. He just wanted to be good enough for adventurous, beautiful Chiharu Nazuri. He was sure she'd gone through a slew of boyfriends before him, but in her being homeschooled, maybe he was her first.

That was worse — that meant he was setting a standard. He didn't want to make her have to set the bar low. The thoughts that keep a teenager up at night.

Despite this, it warmed Tobi that his biggest concern was being a friend to him — he'd heard it all from the hallway when he went to take a shower to clear his sinuses. It warmed him, but it also pained him that he was the one putting the pressure on him. Sadami might willfully put all of his empathy to Tobi, but Sadami was the one with a generalized anxiety disorder, a recently deceased father, and college exams coming up.

It wouldn't hurt to let him have one evening free of worries, would it.

...

"Did princess say you two were up later?" Tobi suddenly entered Sadami's room without warning. He was in different clothes and his hair was still slightly wet; he sounded much clearer than he had pre-shower. Sadami was confused and he set his textbook and papers for studying aside.

He was flummoxed by how eager Tobi sounded, as though he wanted him to go, "Uh… not sure. If the weather clears, then yeah."

"Sounds cool. What were you thinking?"

"Probably dinner somewhere, then I walk her back to the train station. She's tough, but I don't like the idea of a pretty girl walking to an underground subway late at night by herself."

"You said she lives in Shibuya; I'm sure she's out every night on her own." Shibuya was known for its shopping plazas; a popular spot for tourists.

Sadami snickered, "True." He heard Tobi sniffle and remembered how he'd sounded like a chain-smoker that morning, "You sound better; did the shower help?"

"Yeah, but if it's the real deal, it won't last. I'm waiting for my professor to respond to my email and give me the password for the exam."

"Good idea." Sadami lifted himself off of his stomach and onto his bottom, "Clever Tobi, always thinking ahead." He twirled his pen a few times, but not even that anxious gesture could distract him, "I'm a little nervous about going out with her again, Tobi." He said, "It feels weird, knowing that I've kind of been fooled into helping her… if she just straight up told me, I would've gladly bought her some food or let her eat in with us."

"Now you see it from my perspective?" Tobi leaned against the doorframe, "Look, you've got a good gut; I trust it. But if you're getting second thoughts about her, then that says something."

"Does it, though?" Sadami mused, "There are a lot of people who 'second-guess' on their wedding day, but they still end up pretty happy. Besides, it's not like she'd actually go out with me anyway — I just want to stay her friend because I care about her."

Tobi pitied his dear friend; it might be the most humdrum situation to be in during the grand scheme of life, but it was astronomical for one who hadn't experienced all of life's grand problems. Deep down, he knew what was really bothering Sadami about going out this way for his birthday, but why should he make this even more uncomfortable?

"Sadami, if she's genuine, then she'll prove to you she's your friend. If not, then so be it." Sadami continued to grimace, Tobi shifted his weight and folded his arms, "I'm not trying to be mean, but your biggest problem is that you've always been too sympathetic."

The redhead raised an accusing brow, "What's wrong with having compassion?"

"Nothing; but you let the problems of others hurt you more. You take people's problems home with you."

Sadami couldn't get any angrier; he was right. He released a defeated groan, "I know…" He dramatically collapsed on his back, "Why am I cursed with kindness?" Tobi smirked and rolled his eyes, "Hey, can I borrow your attitude for a while? That might help."

"If I haven't worn off on you after all this time, then it's not going to happen now."

Tobi's computer had been on sleep mode while he bathed and talked with his friend; opening the top, he reentered his password and his email came up. He refreshed the page and he had four different emails — two were from class, one was an ad from the website, then the other; Hanna Kappel.

Not even an aggravated sigh could be heard, Tobi had an easy solution. In order to do so, though, he had to go into the message.

And then he saw the first line read: 'Before you block me,'

Shrewd girl indeed. Tobi might as well give himself a laugh and see what she had to say. Somehow, it was less aggressive; almost desperate. She really needed to interview a local for a report and no one else was responding. She also wanted intense practice Japanese-to-Japanese; a native speaker was required. She asked him to meet her at a particular teahouse at about eight that night.

It ended with: 'I'm sorry for the trouble and discomfort I've caused, but I really, really hope you'll be there. Bitte, Tobi. Sad to say, you've been the nicest to me since I arrived here to study.'

Damn it, now she was playing the sympathy card. Tobi tried to keep a cold heart, but now he felt like he owed her something; like he'd encouraged her by replying and speaking to her that one day.

What's the worst that could happen? It's obvious she needed an in-person experience sine she'd never once offered to do one virtually (which is what Tobi begged for each time). Sadami wouldn't want to go out late anyway, and even so, Chikako could take care of herself — she was more than capable, even with a puppy.

Tobi thought about this, feeling obligated was the worst. It wasn't a considerate act for a friend; he was like a cat being backed into a tight space. But cats were flexible and could squeeze through anything — he was just himself being backed up into a corner.

...

"Ich bin immer noch sitzt vor dem computer, Vater. Noch nichts." Hanna sat on the single bed in her hotel room; she was squeezing her blistered foot, having spent all morning looking for somewhere easy to meet and determining where the men could be to pick them up should things go 'smoothly.'

"Just keep waiting, he'll respond eventually." Frederick responded in their home language.

"We already know he's going to say 'no.'" Hanna said, flipping her layered hair behind her shoulder, "But I've already got everything I need — I just hate having to keep changing my plans every time I choose a new spot to knock him out."

"Liebe, are you sure you're strong enough suddenly stick a needle into someone twice your size? You know they're dangerous!"

Hanna rolled her eyes, "Kurosawa said I was the one he had high hopes for; I'm the one who found him, so I'll be the one to bring him back." She sighed, "And then we can finally go home, you and me."

"You could have stayed," Frederick reminded, "You didn't have to leave Germany. You can call it off and go home now if you want; they're giving me all the money I need to pay for your hotel and everything else. Hanna, you still have a life to live."

"And so do you!" She bitterly replied, "No man has the right to trap you in a foreign country when you were only there to work temporarily."

"I'm not trapped," Kurosawa tried to explain, "Chief Kurosawa was in need of a staff at the time, and I was one of his highest rated recruits."

"Yeah, yeah." Hanna said, "It's been three years since you've been home; I'm doing this so you can finally have your life back!"

Her page suddenly glitched and she had a new response email. Frederick was still thinking of something to say while Hanna hurriedly checked and read;

'I'll give you one hour.'