After he had a talk with Shijima, Akira accompanied Sheryl back to her base. But their pace was very slow, even slower than when Akira was dragging Wataba’s corpse. The reason being Sheryl walking very slowly behind Akira, slow enough that she would get left behind if Akira was walking at his normal pace.
Every time she got left behind, Akira would call her and she would hurry up to his side. But it did not take long before she got left behind again. And every time that happened, she would run slower and slower to Akira’s side when he called her name. She eventually walked instead of running, then finally came to a halt. She just would not step forward.
Even for someone as ignorant as Akira, he knew that Sheryl was acting strange. So he walked to her to check on her. But when he reached her side, he was more confused than before, Sheryl was looking down and crying without making any sound.
While looking confused, Sheryl finally realized Akira was standing right beside her. She then slowly raised her head. Normally, Sheryl would say something as to not worsen Akira’s mood, but she did not say anything this time, raising her head was the only thing that she could do now.
Their eyes met each other’s, Akira was confused seeing Sheryl cry silently. After a brief moment of silence, Akira, who did not know what to do in this situation which was obviously outside his scope of communication ability, finally squeezed out some words.
When he asked that, Sheryl could not hold back and started crying loudly.
Akira remembered that the same thing happened back when he met Sheryl for the first time. He then turned to Alpha, seeking for help.
“It’s not my fault this time, right?”
Alpha smiled teasingly.
“Well, I wonder now. But at least, just like before, it’ll attract people around and might cause a problem.”
Akira’s face twitched as this was the last thing he wanted.
Akira thought that it would cause needless worries if he dragged the crying Sheryl back to her base, but it was not like he could just leave her alone too. Thus, just like the last time, he decided to take Sheryl to his room.
Akira had moved to an inn with a smaller room. In order to avoid attracting other’s attention, Akira somehow brought Sheryl to this room. But he still did not know what to do in this situation where a girl was sobbing in front of him.
Last time, he let her take a dip in the bathtub and she calmed down after that. But this time, he was living in a cheap room with no bathtub, so he did not have that option. He knew that the cheap shower would not be able to substitute a bathtub.
Akira fired up all his cylinders to think of a way to get out of this situation, he then finally came up with something. He slowly approached Sheryl and hugged her awkwardly. He remembered that last time when he was hugged by Shizuka, even though he panicked in the beginning, he calmed down eventually. So he tried to do the same to Sheryl. He decided to just stop and take a step back if Sheryl hated it.
Sheryl did not fight back nor did she say anything as he hugged her. After a while, she slowly hugged Akira back as her cries became louder.
Akira was so surprised as he frantically tried to move away, but Sheryl was clinging to him strongly, he could not break free. He finally gave up and let out a sigh. He just let Sheryl hug him. He too hugged her back lightly. It took some time before Sheryl stopped sobbing. After that, she went to sleep as if she emptied her battery crying.
“…What the heck was that?”
Akira mumbled and looked tired as he did not understand what just happened.
Sheryl had reached her limit.
The gang that she was in was destroyed and she could not join other gangs. After losing everything that protected and supported her life, she had no other choice but to temporarily live in the back alley of the slum city. It was emotionally taxing for her.
It was because of her emotional state that she could not think clearly, as such, despite the fact that Akira was someone that she attacked, she thought that there might be a sliver of hope that Akira did not remember her. Thus, she tried to talk to him hoping that it would be able to help her get out of her current situation.
But that sliver of hope was crushed. Before she could even say anything, Akira noticed her and threatened her, she was trembling and could not say anything from the fear of getting killed. It further crushed her already tired heart and her spirit was broken to pieces.
After that, something unexpected happened to her, Akira agreed to support her, but in exchange, she had to start a new gang in place of Sibea’s gang and she had to be the boss of that gang. But that did not mean that she finally got into a safe situation. Some people came to her base to threaten her, but she was somehow able to drive them off with a bluff. But that experience of passing those dangerous bridges, again and again, wrung her heart even more.
Not to mention that operating her own gang was not that easy, it was filled with problems and Akira would not visit the gang regularly. And when he did visit the gang, someone from her gang attacked him. The merchant that Akira introduced to her intimidated her and Akira threatened to kill her if she did anything stupid. Akira might be helping her, but it was not like he was her ally. Sheryl was made to understand that multiple times.
And finally, the latest incident. The negotiation where both sides were more than ready to have a shootout was enough to completely push Sheryl’s tired psyche to its limit. It was more than what she was able to handle.
Finally, she was left with no other choice but to think about what to do next right after she went through all of that, Thus her steps back to her base were very slow and heavy. She then realized that she had to face these kinds of situations repeatedly in the future. The moment she realized this, it gave the last prod to her heart that had reached its limit and it broke down completely.
Sheryl was crying unconsciously. She just kept crying without even realizing it herself. She just wanted to lean on someone and she did not care whoever it was. She cried seeking a place to lean on. She did not know for how long she was in that condition, but when she realized it, someone was already hugging her. She did not even know who it was. But one thing for sure, that warm embrace was saying that it was okay to lean on that person.
Thus Sheryl hugged that person back as strong as she could to make sure that person would not go away. Only after she depleted all of her energy, she felt relieved that the person she hugged did not cast her away as she fell asleep.
Akira was sitting on the floor, operating his information terminal. Sheryl was still hugging him. Since it looked like she would not let him go anytime soon, he was doing something else while waiting for her to wake up.
Thus Akira decided to surf the net in the meantime. It was also a form of training for gathering information using the information terminal.
The internet of the eastern district was filled with a huge amount of information. It was so huge that it would be almost impossible for someone with no ability to search to find what he or she was looking for. Of course, there were some searching sites too, but even using that, it was pretty hard to find something for Akira who had lived all his life in the back alley of the slum city.
Normally, any important or highly valuable information was not free. There was a need to buy them directly from people or organizations who were working as information brokers. There were countless paid service sites on the net that provided information tailored for Hunters. They provided information like the locations of the ruins that still had expensive relics, guides to fight powerful monsters and many others.
Then finally, there were countless sites that provided all kinds of information for free due to certain reasons. It was an important skill for a Hunter who wanted to survive and rise to success in the eastern district to be able to extract important and worthwhile information that could be relied on from these sites.
But Akira’s current searching skill was not even enough to get him accurate searching results for the next day’s weather or a restaurant near him. He might be able to find them instantly if he asked Alpha, but now he was trying his best for the sake of his training. He had a lot of experiences where he got baited to chase some unimportant information that got into his eyes or some other things that led him to waste time on the net.
As Akira spent his free time learning trivial knowledge, Sheryl finally woke up.
Sheryl was still in a daze as she was staring at Akira from a close range while still hugging him.
“Can you let me go now that you’ve woken up?”
Akira thought that Sheryl should have calmed down by now as he said that and tried to break off from Sheryl’s hug. But when he did that, Sheryl desperately clung on him and looked like she would almost start crying again.
Sheryl then begged to Akira who looked troubled.
“…Please help me.”
Sheryl looked so weak and her eyes started to get teary as she asked Akira for help because she had no other place to turn to.
“…I beg you, please help me.”
As Akira stayed silent because he did not know what to do, Sheryl took it as a no, so she begged him again as she started to cry.
The short nap gave Sheryl who was in an unstable emotional state enough energy to cry again.
Although Akira was used to seeing irritation, mockery and hostility, he was not used to having someone looking at him with teary eyes while begging him for something. Due to that, Akira could not handle the pressure from those eyes as he reflexively answered Sheryl.
“S-sure, I’ll help you.”
Sheryl froze for a bit before smiling as she felt relieved. She seemed so happy as she closed her eyes. She loosened her hand that was gripping Akira’s hand so hard until that time as if she would die if she had let it go. Sheryl then leaned back to Akira and clung on him as she fell asleep with a happy face.
“What the heck…”
Akira let out a sigh while looking puzzled.
Akira then picked Sheryl up and laid her on the bed before starting the routine maintenance of his gun. As he was doing maintenance of his AAH assault rifle like usual, he once again realised that it was his lifeline, thus he took great care in performing the maintenance.
Since the AAH assault rifle was durable and sturdy, it could handle violent treatment and could last long in a bad environment, it was pretty popular for a gun. It was fully justified when they said that it was a gun beloved by Hunters for the last 100 years.
Akira was also indebted to his gun in so many instances in the past. It was thanks to this gun that he was able to stay alive up until this point. Although he was just a complete beginner not too long ago, Akira was able to proficiently do gun maintenance on an AAH rifle.
“Rather than buying other guns, it might be a good idea to buy one more of this rifle as a spare.”
“That’s right. I can also carry 2 guns with both of my hands.”
Akira then imagined himself marching with 2 guns in his hands.
“…That sounds cool!”
Alpha was able to receive the glorified image of Akira holding 2 AAH guns that Akira unconsciously sent through telepathy.
“If you bring 2 guns like that, most of your shots will miss and it might even rip your arms off due to the kickback.”
Akira realized that Alpha read the image in his mind as he embarrassedly answered back.
“S-so it’s a no, huh?”
“Well, you don’t have the strength to handle 2 guns, after all. So if you handle an AAH rifle with a single-arm, it would not serve any other purpose other than shooting a warning shot. Once you get an augmented suit, you’ll be able to handle the kickback from the guns even in a bad posture. So if you want to carry 2 guns simultaneously, you should at least wait until you get your augmented suit.”
“Hearing that makes me impatient to wait for the augmented suit… But until we get that, it’s not like there’ll be more incidents, right?”
“Can you stop triggering flags like that?”
Akira returned back to his usual mood and continued doing the maintenance. In the middle of doing that, he glanced at Sheryl.
“Alpha, so what was that exactly?”
Alpha lightly shook her head.
“I don’t really understand either. I’m sure that she’s too tired, but when she wakes up, it might be a good idea not to ask her too much.”
Alpha did not explain Sheryl’s psychological condition to Akira since she thought that it might be better this way.
“Akira, how about you take a rest for today too? I think this problem is solved for now, but another problem might come up again tomorrow, so you better take a good rest.”
“You’re right. I’ll go straight to sleep once I’m done with this.”
After finishing the maintenance. Just like usual, Akira took a short shower to suppress his feeling of wanting to take a bath before going to bed. Since his guest had already taken the bed, he just pushed her to the side before settling himself beside her. Although it looked as if Akira crept into Sheryl’s bed, it was he who paid for the room. Moreover, Sheryl clung on him for quite some time. So he was sure that Sheryl would not mind sharing a bed with him as he slowly fell asleep.
On the next day, Sheryl woke up before Akira. She was still dazed when she looked around, but when she noticed Akira was sleeping beside her, she drowsily hugged him and went to sleep again.
But Akira immediately woke up when Sheryl suddenly hugged him. He then tried to wake Sheryl who fell asleep again.
“Don’t go back to sleep, wake up and let me go.”
After saying that, Akira was afraid that something like yesterday would happen again.
But Sheryl obediently let him go. She still looked drowsy as she let out a big yawn and lightly rubbed her eyes. Akira smiled as he saw that.
Akira looked a bit puzzled since Sheryl was acting so differently compared to the previous day. She looked relaxed, there was no trace of her from yesterday. As she was smiling brightly, she looked way more beautiful than usual, which was also scary at the same time.
After that, they ate breakfast together. And just like usual, it was only warmed up frozen food. So in short, it was not very delicious and tasted bland. But they were having breakfast in a different mood than usual.
Akira was overwhelmed by how much Sheryl changed as he kept eating his breakfast. As for Sheryl, she looked like she was in a good mood. In contrast to the breakfast that they were having, their moods were so much different.
Sheryl then stopped in the middle of the breakfast and bowed to Akira.
“Akira, I’m really sorry to have troubled you yesterday.”
“Eh? Ah, it’s okay, don’t worry about it.”
After blurting that out without thinking, Akira remembered what happened the previous day. Although it was Sheryl who started the problem, it was mostly him who blew up the trouble. Although he did not feel guilty about it, he still understood it.
Thus Akira was worried if it was Sheryl’s way of saying that she hated him in a roundabout way. But she was actually being honest when she said that she was thankful. And since Akira was a bit bothered by the bad thing that happened yesterday because of him, he answered back in such a way as he was trying not to offend her.
“Well, a lot of things happened yesterday, but if anything comes up again, you can just tell me.”
If Sheryl thought that she had unnecessarily involved him in regarding yesterday’s incident, it would at least be shown in her behaviour. So, by saying this he tried to ease her thoughts, but Sheryl answered back with something that Akira did not expect.
“In that case, can I hug you again?”
As Sheryl replied back with a happy smile. Akira was a bit taken aback as he asked Sheryl.
“I feel safe when I do that. Like, you know, I can feel very relaxed.”
“It’s not like it’ll cause you any trouble, right? And it’s not like you’ll lose anything too.”
“No, I’ll lose something. Ah, that’s it, I’ll lose my mobility. Moreover, we’re in the middle of breakfast now, it’s hard to eat if you cling on to me, right?”
“In that case, I’ll feed you.”
“…At least let me eat my own food, will you?”
Sheryl then leaned towards Akira who pulled himself back a bit. She kept smiling as she insistently asked Akira.
“In that case, it’ll be okay if I do it after we finish breakfast, right? Managing the gang is really hard. So I’m really tired right now. Not to mention the incident that happened yesterday. Just treat this as a sanity check for me. If you let me do so, I’m sure I’ll bother you less in the future. So it’s okay, right?”
Akira understood that if he agreed with her without giving it a serious thought, then Sheryl would come up with all sought of reasons so that she can keep on clinging onto him. But if he rejected her strongly, there was a chance that something like yesterday would happen again. When compared to that, it might be better if he just let her cling onto him, after all, it was not like it would cause any inconvenience to him.
“Alright then, you can do that after we finish breakfast.”
Sheryl immediately beamed happily.
Although it was only a bit, Sheryl was able to manipulate Akira. Alpha realized that as she decided to be more careful with Sheryl.
After they finished their breakfast, just like promised, Sheryl clung onto Akira. She embraced him from the front as he was sitting, she was in a pose that looked like she was straddling Akira. She wrapped her arms around Akira’s back and neck, she looked very relieved. But she then asked Akira for something more.
“May I ask you to hug me back or pat my head?”
“…Well, I don’t mind though.”
As Akira did what he was asked to, Sheryl started to mumble while looking extremely happy.
[What the heck am I doing here…?]
Akira was making an awkward face as he was asking himself that question. But as he caught sight of Alpha smiling teasingly, his mood immediately soured.
“It’s nothing. Seems that she really likes you.”
“What do you want me to do then…?”
“No idea, I don’t have an answer to that question. But if you don’t get away from her, we’ll have to start today’s lesson in this situation, you know?”
As Akira realized that he might really have to start studying with Sheryl clinging onto him, Akira tried to get Sheryl off from him.
“Sheryl, can you let me go now? I have other things to do.”
Sheryl replied back in a sad voice as she reluctantly let Akira free. He was relieved since he thought that Sheryl would not let him go.
Sheryl then smiled at Akira.
“I’ll return back to my base. I have to explain yesterday’s incident to everyone in the gang. If I may, can you please accompany me back to my base?”
“Thank you very much.”
Sheryl looked so happy as she politely bowed to Akira.
After that, Akira accompanied Sheryl back to her base. Sheryl walked happily on their way there. Although Akira looked at her with a puzzled look, she just ignored it as she walked back with a happy smile on her face.
Sheryl politely bowed to Akira when they arrived in front of her base.
“Thank you very much for accompanying me all the way here. I’ll contact you again if anything happens. And also, I’ll be very happy if you visit the gang even if you don’t have anything to do here. I’ll do my best to manage the gang, but since it’s a hard job, it’s really helpful to have a day like today where I can get a breather.”
“Well, I’ll come again if I have free time.”
“Thank you very much, I’ll be waiting for you.”
Sheryl stood there as he saw Akira off until he was gone from her sight.
On his way back, Akira grumbled. He looked back to everything that happened yesterday, like Sheryl’s emotional breakdown and so many other things.
“Alpha, Sheryl really did change, didn’t she? It’s like, she changed so much, I just can’t explain it well though.”
“Well, it’s not like she’s depressed or something, so I don’t think there’s any need to worry.”
“You’re right, but still…”
Alpha looked displeased as she then said.
“Rather than worrying about her. I really want you to be more careful not to cause any problems before you get your augmented suit. The last incident was pretty dangerous, you know?”
Akira smiled bitterly as he made some excuses.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t think it would become that bad, you see.”
Akira was saying sorry because of his inability to see that coming, he was not apologising for making the condition worse. Akira did not realize that. Alpha who noticed these facts was reminded of how hard it was to control Akira. She then gave Akira a warning with a serious face.
“From now on, you’re absolutely not allowed to go outside your room until you get your augmented suit.”
“Yeah, I heard you loud and clear. I’ll obediently stay inside my room.”
The children in Sheryl’s gang did not sleep last night. After that incident happened, Akira and Sheryl went out and did not come back even after one whole night passed. Thus half of the children started to worry.
The children thought that Akira and Sheryl were killed and they were already in an all-out war with Shijima’s gang, thus most of them already ran from the gang. And most of the children who stayed back didn’t do so because they believed in Sheryl and Akira having a negotiation with Shijima’s gang but stayed there because they had nowhere else to go.
Thus when Sheryl returned, it raised a commotion in the gang.
Although the children were looking at her with a worried look, Sheryl did not let it bother her as she kept smiling confidently.
“I’m back. Did anything happen since I left?”
The children just swarmed Sheryl.
“What is with that question!? Or more like, how did the negotiation go?!”
Although all the children were making a commotion as they surrounded her, she was very calm.
“It went well. We had a talk with Shijima and sorted out everything, so there’s no problem now.”
The children started to make a bigger ruckus. Although it was a very relieving answer, at the same time it was a very unexpected one too. Thus they simultaneously tried to ask further about it.
“N-no problem, you say!? How about Akira!? He isn’t together with you!? Did he get killed?!”
“Are you for real when you said that you had a talk with Shijima?! But we did kill one of his gang members, you know!? So how did you wrap it up with just a talk?!”
“Do we have to surrender our base and our territory?! How did it end up regarding that part?!”
Sheryl smiled to calm everyone down and to make them feel at ease.
“Akira is unhurt. Shijima’s gang won’t ask us to surrender our base and territory, they might even work together with us. So it’s okay, no need to worry anymore regarding this matter.”
Sheryl looked confident in front of everyone. And from the way she said it, it did not seem like she was lying or trying to trick them. Thus they calmed down although they found it unbelievable.
Then Sheryl’s face turned serious as she said in a strong tone.
“So then, what are you guys doing here? Shouldn’t you guys be doing your job like cleaning the territory, patrolling around or collecting metal wreckages? Or is it like you guys have already completed those jobs?”
“W-well, no. We thought that it’s not the time for doing something like that when we’re in this situation…”
“So then, where are the people who’re not here right now? Did you have a change of schedule or something?”
Then the children looked at each other as they hesitated before telling Sheryl.
“The guys who are not here are… I think they left the gang and ran away.”
Sheryl then just replied back casually.
“I see. In that case, we have to redo everyone’s schedule.”
It was fully within Sheryl’s expectations. Even after she estimated the number of people who left the gang, she was not surprised at all. The only thing in her mind was that it was a good thing she was able to flush out those people who would abandon the gang at the sight of threat. She then gave out a command in a calm tone.
“Erio, take some children with you and search for those who ran away. If you find them with our guns or food provisions, retrieve everything. But you don’t need to bring back those children. Alicia, confirm how many people left the gang and how many people who’re still here. Report to me once you’re done. As for the rest of you, just follow the usual schedule for now.”
Some of the children looked at each other in confusion, some still wanted to ask more questions to Sheryl. Some could not follow what was happening. And some just stood there dumbfounded. But no one started working.
Sheryl’s face turned stern as she shouted.
All the children immediately scrambled to their own job. Sheryl just stood there watching them scurry off before returning back to her private room.
The representatives of the children who remained at the base, Alicia and Erio, were talking to each other. Erio was making a puzzled face as he carefully asked Alicia.
“Say, it’s about Sheryl, though. She’s scarier than before, isn’t she?”
Seeing how Sheryl was able to smile confidently despite what happened yesterday, Alicia had the same impression. But in order not to make Erio anymore worried and in order to keep herself calm, Alicia smiled and said.
“I think it’s just your imagination. She looked in a good mood and full of confidence to me though.”
“Is that so? I see. Well, she did say that there’s no problem now. But since that happened, I guess it was better rather than looking worried, huh?”
“That’s right. But we should go too or she’ll be mad.”
Erio and Alicia then changed gear and got on to their own job.
Sheryl was still in a good mood as she was thinking of her next plan.
Sheryl was a smart girl from the beginning. And with her intelligence, she was able to do well in Sibea’s gang and was able to live a pretty comfortable life. In contrast to that, she was not good at anything related to combat. Of course, there were a lot of fights that happened in the slum city, but every time it happened, Sheryl always hid behind someone’s back until it was over.
But after the gang she was affiliated with was disbanded. She was thrown into a world where she could be killed anytime. It was a world where one needed to get used to little by little, but she was thrown there suddenly without any preparation. It was a world that was way too harsh for her.
The endless days of nervousness, terror and the pressure that came from such a world were very emotionally taxing on her. Her heart was somehow able to hold on, but it left her heart with countless cracks. Then finally, the last push crushed her heart into small bits.
As her heart was ground to dust and scattered into the wind, she was looking for a place lean on. Then she found a place to cling and it became the new foundation that supported her as she gathered her crushed heart piece by piece into a new shape.
The cracks between the pieces that she gathered were filled with something that was flowing out from that new foundation. A safe haven, sense of relief, trust and reliance glued the pieces together and even transformed the pieces.
Sheryl’s psyche was rebuilt from scratch when she met Akira. It was rebuilt again and again without changing its name or identity. The Sheryl up until now was not able to give her maximum performance due to her fear. But now that she had perceived a sense of safety and regained her confidence and sense of freedom, all of a sudden the idle gears inside her fit perfectly into the bigger picture.
Sheryl then looked back to her old self where she was careless and full of flaws. There were a lot of points that needed improvement. She reflected back as she decided to do better in the future. She had so many things that she wanted to try inside her head. She was reassessing, reevaluating and improving all of those ideas that she had.
As she was thinking about the future of her gang. She knew that it had to grow bigger and do better both for her own sake and for Akira’s as well. It had become something very important to her to make the world where she and Akira could live happily.
As Sheryl imagined the future that she wished for, she let out a captivating smile.
Silavin: Damn. Sheryl has fallen in love with him… Well, Akira is weak to true emotional care for him and I see that as a huge plus. I wonder how he will develop in the future. Right now, he can’t really give a good response to such emotions.