Just another day working at the bookstore for Nao. But nothing ever goes right for her.
Work's pretty boring to be honest. I can't complain really, there aren't many places that'd hire someone my age, but still, it's dull. The reason why I chose to work in a bookstore eludes me for the moment. Sure it's pretty quiet, we don't get hundreds of customers a day, and the few others who work here all seem pleasant enough. Hah. It's all too easy to put up a front, I don't know these people at all. Well, except that they like to gossip. I've heard the whispers about my arrival today, the quick huddles behind my back, the congregation preaching around the high altar known as the coffee machine.
Looking about this place, I'm still pretty surprised at how open it is. Bookshelves line the walls with a corner that has some chairs to sit and read in. I don't get that myself, do we want them to come in, take a book, read it and then put it back? This isn't a library, we sell these books. Though, thinking about it, I guess that's the point. Who wants to go out and buy a book, only to find that once they get home and start reading, it sucks. So, we let them get a little taste of the book. The real problem though is the kids who come in to read Shounen Jump or stuff like that, since they may only want to read one or two of the manga inside. Stupid little otaku.
I feel a presence sidle up besides me, proffering a cup of coffee. The representative has been chosen I see, one Hasegawa Yumi, a woman who is as discreet as she is slim.
"So Yuuki-san," the wide lady stood at my side begins, deliberately not looking at me. "Who's the hunk who dropped you off this morning?"
I believe this is what's referred to as a spit-take. The coffee goes everywhere as it sprays out. I can't help but laugh, more so when I think of how Kuga would take it if I tell her. When I tell her.
I'm caught by surprise when a cloth appears before my face, in the outstretched hand of another staff member. Guess they were watching, waiting for my reaction. I start mopping up the coffee, still chuckling to myself.
"So? So?" comes the insistent urge from my left.
"First, Hasegawa-san, I'd like to remind you that I'm only fifteen. Second, a lady does not kiss and tell. Thirdly, if you can calm your insatiable curiosity, you can see for yourself later since the 'hunk' is coming to pick me up when I finish for the day. Let's leave it at that, shall we?" I grin back. This promises to be amusing, I practically guarantee the entire staff will be hovering around like vultures to get a peek, to see some sort of forbidden intimacy, which will really put Kuga on edge. Not that it takes much to do that anyway, she's worse than I am.
About an hour and a half later, the manager, Nakamura Ken, the only guy who works here, gives me my lunch break. I don't really have a whole lot to do on a break, but it's still a welcome escape really. I get a bit stir crazy stuck inside the store for so long. It's only about a ten minute walk to the bakery I often go to these days. A patisserie they call it, pretentious crap. Who on earth says that? Stupid Germans. I buy this thing they call a Danish; they're pretty good, and then head out to a bench by the fountain in the centre of town. I like sitting here, watching people as they go by; normal people leading normal lives, having normal days. I remember how it used to be, me and you living in that small Tokyo apartment, when things were alright. It still wasn't easy; I saw how hard you worked to support us both, the part-time jobs you did that took up so much of your time. I kept quiet, always doing what I could to help you. I even studied hard so that you could be proud of me, knowing you were doing the right thing. And then I remember the night it all went to hell.
I find my appetite has all but gone, but I finish the Danish anyway, before I start to head back to the store. It's odd though, there's this guy across the street, loitering by the entrance to a ramen store, and I don't like the way he's looking at me. I move at a brisk pace and I'm in the bookstore six minutes later. It's probably nothing really, but still.
The rest of the working day goes by without incident, nothing to say about it at all, which is fairly typical. I sold some books, I put some books on shelves, I made some coffee. Terribly exciting, right? It's about half an hour until we knock off and I've just poured the last batch of coffee for the day, carrying one for myself and one for Hasegawa who's at the central till area, where I join her.
"That's weird," she says, taking a quick sip. "This guy just walked in, looked around and then walked right back out. I think he must have been looking for someone."
I try to act nonchalantly as I set my coffee down, but I can feel myself shaking slightly. I just knew it. It was only a matter of time really until it all caught back up again. Got to love karmic payback. The problem is, I have no idea what to do now. Do I make a run for it and live to, well, be attacked another day. They'll just wait here for me tomorrow and the day after that. It'll put the other staff here in danger, and I can't drag other people into my crap, it's not fair on them.
My decision is made for me a few minutes later when six men come in; I can almost see the anger rolling off of them. Hagesawa makes to move towards them but I grab her arm, giving her a slight shake of the head when she looks at me in surprise. "Go to the back room with the rest of the staff. Now. I'll deal with this."
As she backs away, I step out of the counter area and walk towards them. Stopping about two meters away from them, I sink down onto my knees and press my forehead to the floor in the traditional way, holding my position even as I hear footsteps draw closer to me. I flinch as a fist wraps itself in my hair, dragging me up.
"You think you can just ask for forgiveness and we'll forget what you did to us?" the man says as my eyes meet his, the venom dancing there scaring me. I doubt I'm going to get off with just a beating either, but I can't let that happen again. I grab the hand that's gripping my hair as my other fist comes up, smashing into his elbow from below, before folding my arm up and jabbing the elbow into his solar plexus. As he staggers backwards, I get back up to my feet, only to be met by the back of a hand flying towards my face. It nearly lifts me off my feet as it catches me unawares, and I can taste the blood in my mouth.
"Get the fuck out of here," comes a man's voice, not directed towards anyone I can see. The group parts slightly and I hear a crack as one of them stumbles and falls clutching his face, a figure dressed in leathers and wearing a thick black helmet, now featuring some blood on the front from where it met the thug's nose.
"How about you follow your own suggestion and get out of here whilst you can still walk," Kuga says as she shrugs off the short jacket, throwing it to one side. I've not noticed the muscles in her bare arms before, but they're clearly defined.
"This isn't your fight Kuga," I say, not willing to pull someone else into this.
"They're threatening a friend, of course it's my fight." As she starts to take her helmet off, one of the men lunges at her, but Kuga merely sidesteps, pulling the helmet the rest of the way off before spinning and crashing it into the back of his head.
"Take them both!" roars one of them and chaos ensues.
A fist flies out towards me but I duck underneath it, grabbing it as it passes with my left hand. My right elbow lashes out again, this time finding his gut and then I turn into him, pulling his captured arm over my shoulder and pulling as I flip him over my back. Someone grabs me from behind, pinning my arms behind me, but I stamp down on a foot before flinging my head backwards, colliding with his jaw. As he takes a step back, I pivot on one heel, sending out my other foot in an approximation of a roundhouse kick like I've seen in the movies. It went pretty well as it sends him down to his right though I fail to keep my balance and fall on my backside.
I see Kuga smack one in the chest with an open palm, sending him flying backwards a few feet to the floor before spinning around to intercept a kick with her shin, hopping up to smash out with her other leg to the guy's face, a spray of blood filling the air.
I get to my feet, but an arm snakes around me, hand clasping my mouth as I feel cold metal press up against my neck. Kuga downs another opponent before she turns and sees me.
"I'm leaving and taking this little bitch with me!" comes the shout from just behind me.
"No you aren't," is Kuga's steely reply as she stares at him. Her eyes briefly flicker to me, a soft gaze meeting mine before her face hardens again as she looks back at him. "You're going to let her go, you and your friends are going to leave, and you're never going to appear before either of us ever again, or so help me, I will kill every single one of you."
"You don't get to tell me what to do! I've got the girl!"
"And? You're going to kill her in front of all these witnesses? Do you want to spend the rest of your life in prison? You've got one chance to get out of here alive and that's to just leave her alone."
His hand slips from my mouth as silence fills the store. I seize the opportunity, grabbing the wrist holding the knife and biting it hard. He roars in pain as he flings me away. I fall to the floor, but quickly turn to face him. Kuga's already there, her fist slamming into his gut, her other hand holding the knife-wielding hand. She slams it down onto the counter and he lets go off the blade, before she steps away and spins, pulling him with her before releasing and sending him tumbling away towards the exit.
She stands there defiant in a martial arts pose. "Get out of here whilst you still can."
They scramble to their feet, shooting angry glances at the two of us, but leave nonetheless. When they're gone, I look around the store, at all the faces staring at me and Kuga, at the bloodstains on the carpet, at the horrified expressions on the faces of my co-workers. So many things could have gone wrong there, so many innocents could have been hurt because of my actions, and it would have been my fault. All because I'm a stupid bitch.
Arms wrap around me, pulling me in close and I start to struggle against them before I hear Kuga's voice, whispering into my ear, and then I wrap my own around her waist and bury my head into her chest as I feel the tears come rushing out, my body quivering against hers.
"It's not your fault Nao, don't ever believe that. What you did back then was stupid, yes, but you're not like that anymore. You deserve forgiveness just like everyone else. I know you've had it hard, that you haven't been able to trust people, but you can trust me. If ever you need me, just ask and I'll be there, alright? I..." She hesitates, her hand still gently stroking my back, before continuing. "I care about you, so please, don't shut me out. I'll be here whenever you need me." She places a soft kiss on my head as her grip tightens around me. It makes me think of how my mother used to hold me when I had a nightmare, the two of us curled up in that small bed, her heart beating next to mine. I feel safe, protected, warm. I let out all the pain I've been carrying inside of me for so damn long as I squeeze her harder, sobs racking my body.
I'm not sure how long we stayed like that before I finally break away from her. The rest of the staff are standing around us in a loose semi-circle, just gazing down on the two of us.
"I..." I begin. "I'm sorry. This..."
Kuga grabs my head between her hands and turns me back to face her. "I told you, this is not your fault! You're not to blame for those bastards coming here."
"But... but they wouldn't have come here if it weren't for me."
"Well, why don't you ask your co-workers if they want you to leave then? I think you might be surprised by their answer."
As I look up, Hasegawa lowers herself uncomfortably to her knees and envelops me in a big hug. "Foolish little girl, of course we don't want you to go. You're one of us, don't you realise that? OK, we may not be much good in a fight, but still, we all care about you."
"Of course," comes a man's voice, and I look up to see Nakamura standing there, "this doesn't mean we're going to clean up after your mess. You get to try and get rid of the bloodstains." He smiles, taking the harshness out of his tone.
I don't understand it. Why are these people being so nice to me? They barely know me and I brought all this trouble down upon them, and yet they forgive me so easily? It's like... it's like Kuga and Tokiha both pushing what happened during the Carnival back, and treating me like a friend, despite the terrible things I did. I just don't get it, but still... it makes me feel kinda good. I hug her back, though I don't get quite the same feeling off her that I did from Na... Kuga.
Nonetheless, my heart still aches. All these people are here with me, here for me, but you aren't. Why won't you wake up, mama?