John shrugged off Kai's arm. Glancing at his friend, John shook his head and said, "I'm sorry, but things worked out in the end, didn't they?"
Kai took a swig from his beer can and jabbed a finger at John's chest. "Sorry's not good enough! The hell you have to be so much better than me, huh? The hell you gotta do the same things I tried and make it work out, huh? Why are you so much better than me, huh?! Fuck!" He took another deep swig from his beer and tossed it.
Minato quickly jumped out of his chair and walked over. Yuri's grandfather moved far faster than his old age implied and grabbed the can before pulling Kai into a headlock.
"The hell?! Let me go old man! Let me go!"
Minato looked up at John and let out a wry smile. "Sorry about the kid. He's always been a bit rowdy when he drinks."
John waved his hand. "It's fine. I'm used to being yelled at by drunks."
Men and women alike, actually... That had been an experience. And the few times where *he* had gotten drunk...
Kai broke free from Minato and then swung his arms. "I'm not drunk!"
Minato frowned and then grabbed Kai's arm, pulling him around. "Kid. Calm down. You don't want Tsuki to see you like this, do you?"
Kai froze and then he slumped, staggering back to a chair. He grabbed an unopened beer nearby and cracked it open, taking a deep swig.
Minato sighed and then dragged a chair over to sit next to Kai.
As a friend, John felt obliged to go over and chat with Kai to help him out. But at the same time, this was his wife's baby shower... so first, he decided to check on everything to see if he needed to help out.
The food was done. Daji and Xuannu finished up the preparations he made and even added more of their own specialty dishes.
Bai and Qing had arranged it all on a pair of long tables, buffet style with plates and silverware at one end.
For the most part, the food was a traditional Chinese wedding meal, one that John prepared for Yue before he left to get everyone. Lobster and chicken, Peking duck, eight treasures soup, a roast pig, abalone and sea cucumber, baked salmon, scallops, noodles... The works.
But in addition to that, there was also some mapo tofu, more fish dishes, and then a plethora of baked goods ranging from cakes to pies and even donuts.
Daji and then Xuannu's specialties.
At a table nearby, Tsuki was sitting with Xuan and Wu, the young girls happily chatting and sharing sweets.
In the corner of the room, Alphy, Meggie, and the other members and prospective members of Project MirAIs were playing Just Dancing.
...Though Suzume seemed to be wrecking all of them from the maxed out bar that John could see.
In the center of the room, gathered around a couch with Yue in the middle were all the women. Like everywhere else, there seemed to be a lively atmosphere there, and Yue looked like she was having fun. Daji and Xuannu seemed to be a bit unsure of how to react to Yue still, but Qing's energetic silver-haired gyaru girlfriend and Bai's girlfriend... who was the doctor that John ran into at his apartment before, were carrying the conversation along with Sakura and Zhaojun.
As for Bai and Qing themselves... the two Divine Beasts were still arranging things in the background.
Of course, since everything was already prepared, they were clearly just avoiding John.
John clicked his tongue and sent a mental transmission to those two. 'Oi. Get over here and take a load off. We'll talk about that later in private. For now, join the guys and don't be loners.'
Bai and Qing froze, but reluctantly started heading over.
John nodded and turned his attention back to his immediate surroundings.
A karaoke bar setup in the other corner of the underground kitchen, opposite the gaming setup.
The bar was self-serve and there were crates of beer cans stacked nearby the karaoke machine. A classic disco-style stage with flashing tiles was set up between two speakers, along with three mics to let multiple people on at once.
And somehow, all the guys just naturally drifted towards the area. Though considering how most of them were former yakuza, maybe that was to be expected...
The sound of a beer being cracked open echoed nearby.
John glanced over and saw Takashi holding a beer can out.
"Here." Takashi raised the beer and said, "For you."
John smiled and took it. "Thanks, Kimura-san."
"Hey." Takashi shook his head and said, "Just Takashi's fine. We're friends now... Though I didn't expect to share my first drink with you like this." The former officer cracked open another beer and then glanced over at the others.
John followed his gaze and laughed. "Yeah... It's been a bit of a mess. Though, I'm surprised at how everyone knows each other."
Takashi nodded and sipped his beer. "It really is a small world... Though I'm the one who should be surprised." He glanced over at John and said, "I heard from Chi-chan that she might be applying for a new job, but I didn't expect her to be applying for Project MirAIs. Imagine my surprise after Qing mentioned he was interviewing her today."
John blinked, suddenly remembering the list of potential candidates Qing gave him. After that, he frowned and said, "I thought Chihiro was recommended because of you. Like you wanted her to be nearby so you wouldn't need to be worried about her staying home alone."
Takashi shook his head. "That's a nice coincidence... but Chi-chan took the initiative to apply on her own." He took a long swig from his can and sighed. "Seems like she's starting to not need this old man anymore."
"Hey." John lightly tapped Takashi on the arm and said, "Daughters will always need their dads. Even if they run off and do their own things."
Takashi looked at John and said, "Speaking from experience, huh?"
John remembered how Betty had gone off to do her own thing and sighed. "Yep."
Takashi took a sip from his beer and said, "It was surprising though. Apparently Chi-chan's a big fan of Project MirAIs. She's drawn a lot of fanart for them. And from what she tells me, she's making a lot of money too... though I don't know how I feel about that. Still, if it makes her happy, that's fine."
John nodded. But then stopped to think about that.
...In the past, he joked about have an MC aura, but ever since arriving back on Earth, things had been conveniently working out... and then inconveniently not working out in the worst ways.
Then again, he basically got isekai'd just like a web novel protag, so maybe that was just par for the course. Though he would have thought it would have stopped by now back on Earth...
And then there was that obnoxious guy who kept messing with him... Maybe he should teach that guy a lesson. John couldn't reach that guy directly, but if he asked around, he could probably find a few other people who wanted to help out...
A deep sigh echoed. Minato, walking over with a beer in his hand as well. Looking at Takashi, he shook his head and said, "Kids really do grow up fast. I didn't think Yuri would lower her head to work for someone else." He sipped his beer and said, "She was always a haughty and brash girl... though I guess that was my fault."
Takashi shook his head. "It couldn't be helped, Minato-"
"Like hell it couldn't be helped." Maji stomped over, chugging a beer bottle. He wiped his mouth and then pointed at Minato. "Old man, did you even stop to think of how a young girl grows up around your level of fame? Always being in the public eye, always having to not dishonor her only remaining family?"
Minato winced and bowed his head. "I know. Well." He laughed and glanced at John. "I know now." He turned his gaze back to Maji and sighed. "I was already such a fool... But you know." He narrowed his eyes and said, "While I messed up, you messed up more, Maji. If you were alive, you should have shown your face." The old man's face turned red and he said, "Didn't you care for Maki at all? Why didn't you show up at her funeral?!"
"Of course I did, you old bastard! But how the hell was I supposed to show up, huh? I was already-!" He bit his tongue and shook his head. After taking another swig from his beer, he straightened and put on a posh voice. "Why hello there, young lady. I'm the man who could have been your father." He turned to Minato and scowled. "Like that could have worked! Did you want me to get tossed out, huh?"
John wisely decided to stay quiet and sip on his beer. He'd had enough drama for the time being, thank you very much.
So the beer.
It was good. Bai picked out some quality stuff. Though, the tiger knew his alcohol and treasures, so...
Kai staggered over and waved his hand. "So what? Better than letting Yuri grow up like that!"
John groaned. "Kai. Please. As your friend, I'm telling you that you don't want this conversation."
"Shaddap!" Kai held up his beer to John and said, "A *real* friend would back me up here!"
Takashi frowned and then said, "You aren't one to talk, Kai Jin. In all these years, have you contacted Sakura once? Were you there for her when she cried herself to sleep raising Rin?"
Kai flinched. "T-That's-"
John clapped his hands. "Alright. Enough of this." He wrapped his arm around Kai's shoulder before dragging Takashi in too. "We're all friends here. And this is a celebration... So let's have some fun."
And for good measure, he cast a few sobering formations on the guys.
Kai staggered and then he nodded. "...Yeah. You're right." He let out a deep sigh.
Takashi coughed. "...I'm sorry, John."
"If you're really sorry, then come on. Let's do some karaoke."
Maji adjusted his coat and clicked his tongue. "Boss is right. This ain't the time to have this talk."
Minato nodded. "True. This is a celebration... We can finish our talk with our fists later."
Maji cracked his knuckles. "Oho? Think you've still got it, old man?"
"I've been enlightened a bit since you showed me a few tricks back in your dinky udon shop."
"Oi!" Maji pointed at Minato and said, "Udon is a cuilnary masterpiece and you can't tell me otherwise!"
"When you resort to udon, you're done! Of course it's good! It's soul food and not something gourmet!"
"Soul food is better than gourmet, you old donkey!"
John sighed and walked over to the karaoke machine. As he did though, he noticed that Kiri was already on stage, with Saji seated in the front row holding... a tambourine?
He blinked and then glanced at the front row of chairs in front of the stage. There were tamborines there too. And then he remembered.
Saji pumped his fist in the air. "Kiri!"
Kiri smiled and said, "This one's a real classic. I sing... for you."
Music kicked in. A melodica paired with rising strings...
And then Kiri started singing. A low, sonorous voice that caused everyone nearby to stop and listen.
We've all been fools and oh so childish
Falling down, we got up still to chase our dreams
Never could hide that truth in our eyes
And just like that, you found out all our lies
John sat down in the front row next to Saji.
The infamous yakuza tiger glanced at John and nodded before turning back to Kiri, shaking his tambourine along with the song.
I love udon
something we never heard...
John froze. "Wait."
Saji burst out laughing. "Nice, Kiri!"
Always getting laughed at, I still feel the hurt
John face palmed.
Takashi chuckled and sat down next to John. "Good to see Kiri finally unwind again."
"I guess, but..."
John had been looking forward to a proper performance, dammit!
So then why, come on just tell us why
You come back for more, and always buy...
Maji cackled and hopped on the stage with Kiri, slinging his arm around Kiri's shoulders. "That's right, Kiri-chan! Let's belt it all out!"
Kiri smirked and then went back to singing, joined by Maji.
Yes we're the best
Udon shop Maji toraki
Just fall in love, with our slick and thick noodle broth
Come on and try
You can always eat the pain away
You know what to do... Come and get some food
Don't be a fool
A somber finish. Despite the ridiculous lyrics that sounded more like an advertisement than a song, both Maji and Kiri finished with a serious expression.
And then Maji burst out laughing. He clapped Kiri on the back and said, "Didn't take you for a jokester, Kiri-chan! Thought you only sang serious songs."
Kiri chuckled and said, "We're singing for fun today, not singing out our heart." He smiled and said, "It's fine to be a bit ridiculous now and then." He looked at John and said, "Right, Boss?"
John sighed. "You aren't wrong, but..."
"Alright, Kiri!" Maji shoved Kiri off the stage and said, "My turn in the limelight!"
Kiri smiled and walked off. "Maji ka?"
"Maji da! Now get!"
Kiri laughed and sat down on the other side of Takashi.
The former officer looked at Kiri and smiled. "Glad that you're having fun, Kiri."
Kiri picked up a tambourine and said, "Mm. Since there's no more trouble, I thought that I might as well."
"Oi!" Maji pointed at Kai and said, "Kid! Get up here! Boss, you too!"
"Huh?" John blinked and pointed at himself. "Me?"
Kai frowned. "...I think I need a few more drinks first, so-"
"Aaargh! Just get up here!" Maji dashed over to Kai and carried him like a sack over his right shoulder.
"H-Hey! Maji-san, let me go!"
John laughed and followed after them. "Well, looks like no getting out of this one, Kai."
"John, you bastard!" Kai squirmed and said, "You're my friend, so help me out!"
"Hey, I'm walking up here as your backup singer. That's plenty of help."
Maji set Kai down and said, "Relax, Kid. I know you've got a lot on your mind, so I got the perfect song for you to belt it out." He winked and said, "And if you do it right, you might even impress that lady friend you've got your eye on, you know?"
Kai glanced at Sakura and then quickly coughed, averting his gaze. "There's no one like-"
Maji turned to John and said, "You got my groove, right, Boss? My signature song?"
John paused. "Which one? The true male fantasy, or the more serious one?"
Maji paused and then turned to look at Kai.
Kai froze, sweat forming on his brow.
Maji laughed and said, "We'll do the serious one first. Gotta warm this stiff guy up a bit."
Kai started edging away. "I-I don't know the lyrics though. Where are we supposed to-"
Maji reached into his jacket and pulled out a sheet of paper. He smacked it into Kai's chest and said, "Read up. You've got five seconds."
Maji turned to John and said, "Count us down, Boss!"
John grinned. "Alright. Five!"
Kai glared at John. "Don't you dare!"
Minato sat down in the front row and picked up a tambourine. After that, he looked at Kai and said, "Don't worry, brat! This old man will support you!"
Kai groaned. Realizing he didn't have any way out, he glared at the paper, as if trying to burn the lyrics into his head. But as he read, his expression shifted, turning thoughtful. And then he paused and turned to Maji. "Maji-san. This song-"
Bai and Qing finally arrived.
"Karaoke, huh?" Bai sat down in the row behind Saji.
Qing sat down behind Kiri and said, "I suppose John could have inflicted worse punishments..."
"Hm?" Kiri turned around and looked at Qing. "You are...?"
"Three two one go!" John snapped his fingers.
Music started playing. An acoustic guitar joined by a harmonica playing a nostalgic melody.
Maji's face turned serious and he said, "Now presenting... It's alright if you're happy, by Maji Yuurei." He turned to Kai and said, "Get ready, kid! I'll do the first verse so you get the melody. You come in on the second! Boss, backing vocals! Here we go!"
The music came to a brief lull... And then Maji started singing.
If I had the world to do as I wished
Free to change it and then rearrange it all as I want
And if I could have all the girls within this entire world
I would let them go because I would know of your sorrow...