317 – An Honest Deal
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Kai's house in Kichijoji, the early morning after the VR incident with the Prodigy girls.

John sat across the table from Kai, waiting for an answer from his friend.

Kai blinked and then said, "...Aren't you some kind of god or something? What the hell do you need my help for?"

Before John could answer, a woman walked over and placed down a cup of coffee and pancakes in front of John.

"Here you are, Mister John."

John looked up at her, taking the time to examine her.

A beautiful blonde woman, probably around the same age as Sakura. No, a little bit younger, actually.

Sakura was in her late twenties, but the woman seemed like she was in her mid twenties.

She was wearing a frilly pink apron over teddy bear pajamas at the moment, making her seem a bit childish. But the bright smile on her face was definitely not. Instead, it was the expression of a newlywed wife, shining with happiness and contentment.

Elise Rothschild. Someone who should have... and who *did* die, resulting in Tsuki staying with Kai. Also someone whose death accelerated Kai's downward mental health spiral.

But because of a 'Christmas Miracle,' she was here, alive and well.

On paper, that was because the Rothschild family faked her death and used her as a lab subject to experiment on bioweapons. Apparently, she was rescued after Toby and some of the current Legends Security group members raided 'Parasol' and did away with those guys.

Emphasis on 'apparently.'

In actuality, John noticed how his friend was slowly self-destructing and decided to take an active measure to stop it.

It took a bit of finagling to sort it out, actually. Earth didn't have an after life or purgatory where people went to after they died. There wasn't a river of reincarnation or anything where John could just reach in and pluck out a soul like there was in the Three Realms.

Fortunately, souls could linger if they had regrets, and Elise had plenty.

And because of that, Elise was alive and well. She was here to both anchor Kai as well as raise Tsuki in the family that she should have had, but never had the chance to before death.

Elise smiled at John before looking at Kai. "I'll have yours up in a bit, Mister Yakuza."

Kai smiled and said, "Take your time, Eli."

Elise's smile widened before she walked back to the kitchen.

John watched Elise leave, walking with a light spring in her step. After that, he looked at Kai and said, "She seems pretty happy. Things going well?"

"...Better, at least." Kai reached up to adjust his tie, only to meet thin air. At the moment, he was only wearing a simple white t-shirt and sweatpants. As a proper Dad should be.

Kai quickly noticed though and coughed, moving his hand to scratch his head instead.

John chuckled and said, "Don't worry about it, Pal. Now." He sipped on the coffee and then looked at Kai. "Will you or won't you?"

Kai shook his head and said, "If this is a joke from when I first sold the building to you-"

"It's not." John gave Kai a serious look and said, "The new girls need someone who's familiar with the business to help them sort things out. Not only that, but they need proper mentor figures."

Kai frowned and said, "And you can't do that between you and your family? 'Jenny' should know enough about being an idol to mentor them, doesn't she? And I've seen that she streams as well."

John nodded. "Yes. But she's helping me with other things right now. I think she'll be free to manage some girls later, but for a few months at least she'll be busy." He paused and then tilted his head. "But why are you hesitating so much? You're definitely more qualified than I was to open an idol business, right? Streaming is a little different now, but the principles are all the same."

Kai sighed. "You know how my idols turned out." He ran his hand through his hair, causing the light to reflect off his salt-and-pepper hair. "I've ruined the lives of every girl who's depended on me. Doing it again-"

"That isn't true, Mister Yakuza." Elise walked over and set down a cup of coffee and pancakes for Kai. After that, she sat down next to him and said, "I'm here. And Miss Sakura is as well. Also, Tsuki's told me that her three aunties were doing better these days, right?"

Kai shook his head. "But that's not because of me." He pointed at John and said, "If it wasn't for him, none of that would have happened. You, Sakura... Even the girls. If not for the fact that John's girls took the spotlight, Mystic Bouquet would still being dragged through the mud because of that incident."

"You give me too much credit, Kai." John cut off a piece from his pancakes and ate it. After that, he said, "From what I saw, everything was already settled about them before I started Project MirAIs. Also, great pancakes by the way, Elise."

Elise smiled. "Thank you, Mister John."

Kai frowned.

John sipped on his coffee and said, "I'm not asking you this just because you're my friend, Kai. To be honest, from all that you've done since I've known you, I'm hesitant to trust you with anything. Especially with the fiasco involving Yue."

Kai winced. "That... Well, yes. I suppose that one is on me."

Elise tilted her head. "...Fiasco? With Mister Smith's wife?" She paused and then gave Kai a blank stare.

Kai's eyes widened and he said, "It wasn't like that, Elise."

Elise looked at John.

John nodded and said, "Yes. Meggie would have ripped him apart if he tried." He paused. "...I think."

John's youngest... Second youngest daughter now. Anyway, Meggie at the time had been pretty put off by John's actions. Maybe she wouldn't have. Especially with how close she got with Tsuki.

Yue definitely though was lovesick at the time. She wouldn't have done anything like that.

John shook his head and said, "Whatever the case, Yue wouldn't cheat on me. Especially with someone like Kai."

Kai raised an eyebrow. "Someone like me?"

"Yeah." John ate another piece of his pancakes and said, "Yue has only one type and it's me."

"...Your self-confidence continues to astound me, Friend."

"And your perpetual self-castigation keeps astounding me too, Pal."

It was understandable. But Kai continuously pulling himself down while running off to try and fix his mistakes got pretty annoying.

Elise reached over to rip off a piece of the pancakes from Kai's plate and then looked at him. "What's so wrong with helping him, Mister Yakuza?"

Kai reached out to pick up his coffee cup and said, "There's nothing wrong with helping him, Elise. It's just..." He paused before sipping on his coffee. "...I'm not the right person for the job."

John frowned.

Kai was still in the dumps about his capability. Again, understandable with his history. But those were factors outside of his control.

John's first friend in this world was a good person... even if he was a terrible friend at times. If that wasn't the case, John would've cut all ties with Kai a while ago. *Especially* after the fiasco with Yue.

But John didn't. And that was because he could tell that Kai was similar to him.

His friend was a person who instinctively wore his heart on his sleeve and hated injustice. He went out of his way to help girls who fell through the cracks and tried to drag them back into the light. But he just didn't have the resources or abilities to do so. Not only that, but the world seriously seemed to be against him. Enough that John kind of wondered if Kai wasn't a mass murderer in his past life to constantly meet all these setbacks.

But regardless, Kai *was* the sort of person for the job. He was hyperaware and concerned for the girls he cared for, so he would definitely keep the girls from collapsing under the pressure and stress. Not only that, but from what John read, Mystic Bouquet was already on the way to being a top idol group without resorting to any dirty tricks or tactics until 'the incident.'

It was inevitable. Kai was a light in the darkness that was constantly trying to snuff him out. Obviously he wouldn't be able to shine. But in the right environment and with the proper support...

"Look Kai." John slid his plate and cup off to the side and then leaned on the table. Lacing his fingers together, he looked at Kai and said, "You're my friend, right?"

"...I would hope so."

"And you know that I wouldn't say things to just puff you up."

Kai rubbed his jaw and chuckled. "I'm well aware of that fact, yes."

"Good. Then listen when I say this." John lowered his hands and looked Kai straight in the eye. "You are a kind and competent person who simply had bad luck. You aren't a bad guy. You've done bad things, sure. You've also made terrible mistakes. But you were always operating in the worst environments with the worst opponents. Even so, you managed to make things work out."

Kai shook his head. "That's not-"

"It *is* true. And you shouldn't look to me as a standard. Remember, while I'm human, I'm a human who's managed to rule over an entire dimension and attained not just immortality, but transcendency to cross over into this world from a different plane of existence."

Kai blinked. "What?"

John blinked as well and said, "Oh. Right. Guess I haven't told you that yet. But anyway." He shook his head and said, "The point is, you can do it. With the right circumstances, you can not only help girls thrive, but you can help them fulfill their dreams."

Kai frowned. "...I don't know. That's-"

"Also." John cut him off and said, "Those girls of yours still have it, don't they? The dream to become idols and bring happiness to the world? While it'll be difficult for them to become 'real' idols anymore... And even if they don't have the courage to step onto the stage again, I think they'd be happy to help guide other girls there, wouldn't they?"

Kai let out a wry smile and said, "Generous, are we? Considering the scandal... Won't Project MirAIs get into trouble if it comes out? My girls can hide their voices a bit, but devout fans would easily recognize them."

John shrugged and said, "Does it matter? Project MirAIs has always been about saving those in the dark and giving them fresh starts. And besides." His eyes flashed and said, "If people try to use that incident to shame the girls or twist the narrative, they'll find out very quickly what it means to touch a dragon's reverse scale."

John had dealt with enough of that bullshit in the Three Realms from crazy 'Righteous' sects, thank you very much.

"Anyway." John looked at Kai and said, "This is something only you can do. So... Will you do it?"

Kai stared at John.

John stared back.

After a few moments, Kai sighed and let out a faint smile. "If you're that insistent about it, I might as well."

"Of course I'm insistent. Now." John reached over to the side and pulled out a briefcase. "It's good to strike while the iron is hot." He pulled out some papers and placed them on the table. "If you would just sign here and here..."

Kai laughed and said, "You never let that go, did you?"

"After all the headaches buying the idol company from you was? Never."

Uno reverse, Kai.