Haruhi clutched her briefcase closer as she tried to keep up with the two men in front of her. Neither man bothered to speak as they set a brisk pace through the empty hallways. The facility they were in was minimalistic in style, but clearly military with its high security. Earlier when the plane had circled the base before landing, Haruhi had thought it to be of substantial size and importance given the number of guards patrolling the outside. Now inside its thick concrete walls, the building interior showed little sign of occupancy. They had walked quite a ways now without encountering any personnel.
Trying to not lag behind, Haruhi quickened her steps and hazarded a glance at her former senpai. His expression didn't give away any sign of effort, but his legs were moving almost as quickly as hers. Honey appeared seriously intent, the frown on his face unmoving since he walked out of a meeting with the older man beside him. The other gentleman had a head of short white hair and a stout wiry frame neatly shoved into a starched uniform. Based on the number of stars on his uniform collar, Haruhi would guess he was the man in charge of this military base. His occasional glare in her direction told her all she needed to know of his opinion on the situation. Her unanticipated visit clearly breached protocol, but Mitsukuni had won whatever argument had been had on the subject.
Stopping abruptly in front of a pair of wooden doors, the officer grabbed the handles, and looked back over his shoulder at the two of them in question.
"Fujioka-san, once we enter I suggest you find a quiet corner to work while I'm teaching. The general here only agreed to permit you on the condition that you are within my line of sight at all times. We can't have you wandering off starting trouble," Honey stated quietly. His voice had an edge to it that made Haruhi want to narrow her eyes and challenge him. Instead she buried the feeling deep and pulled forward her most impassive expression.
"Of course Haninozuka-san," Haruhi murmured submissively. Both men turned their attention to her as she bent herself into a demure bow. "I appreciate yours and the general's kindness in allowing me to work here for the next few days. I will do my best to stay out of the way."
As she rose out of the bow, Haruhi's large brown eyes met Honey's. He lifted an eyebrow at her as if questioning the authenticity of her words. Haruhi almost rolled her eyes at him, but the weight of the general's stare reminded her that they weren't alone. Smirking at him instead, she motioned towards the door and adjusted her hold on the briefcase. Honey's frown deepened but he turned away from her and nodded approvingly to the general.
As the doors opened, the quiet conversations around the training room instantly went silent. The space was comparable to a basketball court albeit covered in fall mats and tatami. Mock weapons stood in racks against one wall and a line of punching bags hung from the opposite. There were approximately thirty men in various states of stretching in the center of the room, but upon their entry all of them jumped to their feet to salute.
Peeling off from the other two, Haruhi headed towards the back wall where the water coolers and benches stood at the ready. As she walked towards the last row of benches, Honey commandeered the front of the training hall. Whatever eyes that had been trailing after her snapped forward to focus on the man demanding their attention. Mitsukuni moved with a natural grace and confidence that seem to draw her eye even as she tried to ignore him. Taking a seat on the small bench and placing her briefcase beside her, Haruhi found herself caught up in whatever spell he was casting over the room. The general stepped forward and waved an arm back towards him as he began the introduction.
"Gentlemen this is Mitsukuni Haninozuka of the Haninozuka clan. He will be conducting your close combat skills training for the next two weeks. I expect you all to give him your utmost attention."
"Sir, yes sir!"
"And with that, I'll leave you to it."
"Thank you General Chu. I will take it from here." The general nodded and gave a brisk salute before making for the exit. After the door slammed shut behind him, Honey redirected his gaze forward and seemed to size up every man before him.
"My name is Mitsukuni Haninozuka and as General Chu mentioned, I will be training you for the next two weeks. Some of you may have heard of me. For those of you who have not, all you need to know is that I can teach you techniques that may save your life out in the field. My expectations for you all are simple: show up on time and give me everything you have to offer for the duration of each day's training. Are we clear?"
"Sir, yes sir!"
"Good. Now about face." Like a school of fish all of the soldiers pivoted around to face Haruhi. Some of them kept their eyes trained straight ahead, but the majority of them strayed to examine her. Haruhi straightened her posture and opened her briefcase as if their attention did not bother her. "The woman you see there is Haruhi Fujioka. She will be sitting in on our sessions for the next few days. You are to ignore her and focus on what I'm teaching otherwise there will be consequences. Do I make myself clear?"
"Sir, yes sir!" Despite Honey's warning, Haruhi could still feel several eyes linger on her. Avoiding the blatant unspoken questions that hung in the air, she started sorting through her papers for a starting place.
"Good then let's get started. About face!"
"Is this really necessary?"
Haruhi's question hung in the air unanswered. She crossed her arms over her chest and leaned against the doorframe unwilling to enter the space. The room in front of her was smaller than any college dorm room she had ever lived in, more akin to a space in a capsule hotel. She wouldn't have had an issue with it if it had only held the single twin futon that it was designed for. Instead there was two small futons set up nearly on top of each other in the windowless room. Honey pushed past her and sat down on the futon closest to the door before starting to unlace his shoes.
"Would you rather risk someone attacking you in your room at night," Honey responded gruffly.
"If you think the yakuza can manage to get to me in a heavily guarded military base in a foreign country then General Chu has more pressing security concerns than me," Haruhi replied tartly.
"I'm not worried about the yakuza," Honey said with a slight head shake. Placing his shoes aside, he rested his forearms on his knees and observed her. "You are the only female within miles of this facility and these men have been cloistered here for training at least nine months. I'm sure you can put two and two together."
Haruhi frowned at his statement, his logic unappealingly sound. Ignoring his pointed gaze she abandoned her shoes next to his and gingerly toed around the edge of his claimed futon. She sat down on the futon shoved against the wall and spread her legs out in front of her.
"I'm sure a solid door with a lock would have worked just fine."
"It might have, but I don't like taking unnecessary risks. This way I can keep an eye on you and deter any potential suitors from trying anything." Haruhi snorted at him and opened her brief case. There was something personal and uncomfortable about sharing a room with him when he clearly wanted nothing to do with her. Trying to ignore her mixed feelings on the matter Haruhi pulled out her work and spread it atop her futon. It was a simple wall of papers, hardly a barrier at all, but Honey seemed to recognize her cue of dismissal. A heavy silence fell over them as Honey began stretching out and Haruhi occupied herself with work.
Haruhi sleepily dragged her eyes open as the call of nature forced her awake. The room was dark except for a sliver of light coming in from under the door. Soft ticks of a nearby clock and the even breaths of the man sleeping beside her were the only sounds in the quiet night. With a yawn Haruhi slid her blankets to the side and sat up. Glancing over at Honey's spread sleeping position, she considered the best route to get past without disturbing him. His legs were sticking out from the blanket into the narrow space not covered by futon and his arms were sprawled in her direction with a mound of sheets between them. Haruhi placed her feet on the floor delicately and stood. If she was careful, she could get out, use the restroom down the hall, and return back to bed without waking Honey.
To the best of her half asleep abilities, Haruhi snuck over Honey's legs. As soon as she was clear of him, she let go of the breath she had unconsciously been holding and stepped towards the door. By the time Haruhi noticed the slight pressure against her calf when stepping forward, it was much too late. The invisible string that had been laid across the width of the room in front of the door snapped with an audible pop and everything went into motion. The light to the room flicked on and a loud piercing alarm began shrieking from a box stuck on the wall next to the doorframe. Within seconds, the alarm was silenced with a metallic crunch.
"And where do you think you're going?" The words were growled from behind her. Blinking her eyes owlishly in the bright light, Haruhi started to reply when she spotted a large knife now protruding out of the alarm box.
"A knife? You seriously threw a knife?" Haruhi rubbed her eyes and sighed as she turned to face him. Mitsukuni had another knife in hand and his free hand relaxed from its tight fist. His hair and clothes were disheveled from sleep, but his eyes were sharp and alert. No surprise given that that alarm could have risen the dead. Haruhi made a halfhearted gesture to the small pulleys and strings that hung loosely around the door. "What the hell is all this?"
"Safety measures. Where were you going," Honey asked. Purposefully crowding into her space, he grabbed the knife from the wall with an angry sharp tug.
"Bathroom." Her crisp reply was given with a glare of her own. He was too close to her, but she wasn't going to back down from his challenge this time.
"You should have woken me-"
"And risked your temper? I think not," Haruhi interrupted. Her own ire was in full swing now, the assault of the bright light and obnoxious alarm ensured that.
"What do you think would have happened if someone attacked you in the hallway or in the bathroom? If I'm sleeping I can't help you if there's an emergency."
"It's," Haruhi checked the watch the watch on her wrist, "two thirty in the morning! No one in their right mind is awake right now. It would have been fine!"
"Let's go," Honey said motioning for her to unlock the door with the knives in hand. Tucking the second knife in the back of his pajama bottoms, he followed her out into the hallway. "I'd like to get back to sleep before dawn if you don't mind hurrying it up."
"This is ridiculous. Who needs an escort to the bathroom," Haruhi muttered as she quietly padded down the hallway to the restroom. "If anything your stupid alarm would have woken someone up."
As expected the facility was empty and she quickly took care of business. Walking out of the bathroom, Haruhi spotted Honey leaning against the neighboring wall spinning a knife with the tip of one finger. Mustering as much of an indignant expression as possible, she swept past him towards the room. As soon as she was inside, Haruhi threw herself down on the futon with a dramatic sigh and burrowed under the blankets. The sound of the door lock sliding into place behind her was quickly followed by the twang of string. She didn't bother to look back at him to see what sort of trap he set across the door this time, but it didn't take long before the lights were flipped off and the sheets behind her rustled. Closing her eyes, Haruhi tried to let go of her anger and relax back into sleep. Minutes ticked by as the peaceful quiet of night resumed its melody.
"You know I'm doing this to protect you right?" Honey's whispered words sounded apologetic and vulnerable in the space between them. Haruhi felt a margin of her anger melt away, but it wasn't enough to get her to turn around and face him. Pretending to be asleep, she listened as he sighed.
"I just… I…," Honey's voice trailed off before seeming to give up, "Never mind. Good night."
The dining hall was already roaring with conversation and laughter when Mitsukuni and Haruhi walked in. Long tables were filled with soldiers eating, broken up by hierarchy and their personal arrival time. Grabbing a tray each, the pair of latecomers helped themselves to the display of breakfast pastries and coffee before finding empty seats at the officer's table. Haruhi followed Honey's lead and took a seat at the end of the table leaving a sizable distance between them and the others already seated.
Tension lingered between them as they started eating their breakfast. The entire morning thus far had been a series of uncomfortable events. Haruhi had woken to the base-wide wakeup horn to find Honey already ready for the day, staring at her impatiently. With a frown she had gathered her change of clothes and made for the community restroom space, only to find that he had forcibly commandeered it for her exclusive use. The muttered curses from the soldiers staying on the same floor as them did not go unnoticed, but a harsh look from Honey sent them on their way. Haruhi had never showered and dressed so fast in her life.
A quick glance around the mess hall made it apparent that that they were the only ones sitting in silence. Everyone else was busy engaging the people seated around them, trying to get their socialization in before the rigor of the work day started. Haruhi didn't bother trying to strike up a conversation with Honey. She was still slightly irritated for his over-the-top protective behavior, but it was hard to fault him for being thorough.
Opening up her briefcase, Haruhi pulled out a few of the crime scene photos to review. The gory pictures of Tetsuya's murder would put most folk off their breakfast, but Haruhi simply took a contemplative sip of her coffee as she studied them.
"Why are the yakuza after you," Mitsukuni asked, interrupting the tranquility between them. Haruhi glanced up from the photos in hand at his question and met his steadfast gaze. His eyes shifted down towards her briefcase with interest before returning to her. "Thought you lived in America?"
"I do, but I'm helping Kasanoda out with a case."
"Why would he need you? Surely he's got a team of lawyers to do his dirty work as a syndicate leader."
"No one would take the case after Tetsuya was murdered over it. I'm the best chance he's got at this point." Recognizing that he was actually making an effort to have a conversation with her, Haruhi neatly stacked the photos in her hand together and set them back inside the file. Honey's lips puckered into a tight frown and his eyes lingered on the closed folder. Realizing that he must have caught a glimpse of the photos as she was putting them away, she offered him a confident smile in reassurance. "I have experience bringing down organized crime. Trust me when I say I will destroy these bastards for what they've done."
His eyes darted up to meet hers with a hard edge of reassessment. He seemed to take her in as if reevaluating her and if his expression was anything to go by, he was concerned with what he saw.
"How close have they gotten to killing you before," he asked. His tone was serious and his jaw tensed as he prepared himself for her response. Haruhi gave a nonchalant shrug and looked out over the mess hall. There was no danger here for the moment, but her hair stood on end just thinking about the number of close calls she had had in the last two years alone. Not that she would admit it to him.
"Nothing that left a scar," Haruhi replied carefully. Raising the coffee cup to her lips, she inhaled its fresh aroma before taking another sip. The memory of her last attack in the States wasn't pretty, but she had managed to disarm the gun wielding assailant with only a few cracked ribs and a black eye to show for it. "I suppose I could ask you the same question. Has anyone gotten close to killing you? Surely your skills in martial arts would make people think twice about going after you."
Honey chuckled darkly at her question and a self-depreciating smirk lingered on his lips. Turning his head, he looked out over the mess hall as well. Haruhi recognized the distant look in his eye as he finally answered her.
"Guns and bombs are pretty efficient weapons when in the right hands, Haruhi. Before Takashi and I started our consulting firm, we served the Defense Force's interests in several conflicts abroad. Active combat always leaves scars and losses in one form or another… no matter how good one is."
The hand not closed around his coffee cup clenched into a fist on the table top. Haruhi reached out and gently clasped it, drawing his attention back to her from whatever memory that had been sweeping him away.
"I'm glad," she spoke softly as she gave a gentle squeeze, "that you both came home safe. I can't even imagine what you went through."
Honey stared down at their united hands and let out a shuddered breath. Releasing the death grip he had on his mug, he placed his other hand on top of hers and delicately peeled it off. He rotated her palm upwards and he stared at the fine lines of her hand as he held it between his. The thick callouses and scars of his own were a stark contrast to the pale soft flesh of hers. Absentmindedly, he rubbed a thumb over her palm before retreating.
Grabbing his drink again, Honey leaned back from the table and finished it with a flourish. He avoided looking at her as he quickly grabbed his tray and made for the exit. Haruhi choked down a few more bites of breakfast before taking off after him. Juggling her breakfast tray on an arm, her briefcase in a hand and trying to drink the last of her coffee in the other, she caught up to him at the dish disposal cart. He shot her a sheepish look as he realized his mistake and reached out to take the tray from her.
"I was coming back you know. Figured I'd clear my tray while I waited for you to finish."
"No worries," Haruhi smiled as she sacrificed her empty coffee cup to the pile of dirty dishes. Motioning for him to lead the way, she fell into step beside him. "I was done anyways. Law school doesn't allow for such luxuries as time for breakfast."
Happy New Year squad! I figured there's no better way to start off the new year than to give you the next chapter of this story. The holidays have given me time to work ahead on this story so if I can keep the pace before things get crazy again I may be able to start posting regularly. I hope all of you are well and have a great holiday. Thanks for your patience and support as I continue this story.