Machi could not believe her eyes. Was this some joke? Her instinct hadn't warned her about this! Life was too cruel. Anyone would be better than him. Anyone. Even Hisoka. She stood, immobile, hand still on the doorknob. Her heart had gone stark still.
His handsome face gazed back at her, wondering but amused.
"I didn't think I would see you again after the bookstore."
He spoke first, smooth, languid, effectively hiding his emotion with a friendly front.
She could not do the same. Being around him had always made her honest, brutally so. She asked coldly, "Is there a reason I shouldn't kill you right here and now?"
"Why yes, there is. I'm your employer though I can't imagine why you would want to work for me."
So that was why she had felt the name Jacobs to be familiar. She had pushed her last encounter with him to the back of her mind when instead, she should've remembered that nothing good could ever come out of seeing him again.
"So your last name's Jacobs now?"
"Well, yes. In his will, the previous owner allowed me to change the name of this company once he died," he said it lightly, gazing at her intently, "And you know what? It's nice to have a surname for once though I doubt you would know."
Truth was a bitter pill. She swallowed back harsh insults, biting her tongue so that it drew blood. Had she been here for the money, she would've slit his throat without hesitation. But this was a mission. She masked her sour feelings and sudden fury but not well enough for an edge of venom slipped through as she said, "What can I do for you?"
"You're the new seamstress?"
She gave a curt nod, withdrew a needle, and materialized the Nen strings.
"I need a suit. A nice one. For a wedding."
She stared back. No longer hostile but oddly blank. The implications of his words hit harder than she dared show. Machi bent her head, trying to figure out what to do next. He was getting married? Once again, it felt as if her heart had stopped and her whole body had gone cold.
Ridiculous. She shouldn't care. She had no right to care.
But she couldn't help but remember a time long ago. When such a thing would have completely crushed her. When she had come to live by his smile, live for his warmth. His promises had been everything to her, the only light in a dark, dark world... The only treasures in a land of trash.
Let's run away together, Beautiful. Let's fly away and never come back.
He handed her an object, "A tape ruler. To take my measurements before you start."
She took it and moved closer, snatching a glance at him before beginning to work.
…Were her memories deceiving her or had he always been this attractive? He was fair-haired and blue-eyed. A striking chin and perfect skin. Before, he had never cared about his appearance. Her best recollections of him were of a boy, dirt-stained clothes, smudges on his cheek, and laughing like a child as he surprised her from behind.
But every aspect was rich elegance now; a Rolex on his wrist, classy sunglasses in his shirt pocket, and Italian shoes on his feet. Once, he smelled like clay and bricks, sweat and labor. Now, he was covered in a rich scent of expensive cologne.
She was satisfied that he was this way now. Happy, even. This way, she wouldn't be bothered by him or his affairs. He was too different to be ever seen in the same way.
She finished measuring his arms and crouched to measure the lower half of his body. Something descended on her as she was measuring the width of his ankles. Mussing her hair. She stiffened as fingers fell fondly to her cheek, stroking it before lifting up her chin.
"What do you think you're doing?" she said sternly, jerking back. Her own hand reached to touch her cheek as if it had been burned. She scowled, "Don't touch me."
"You look troubled, Beautiful. Want to talk about it?"
"It doesn't concern you." Was her mask falling? She checked it hastily, making herself as hard as possible, distancing herself from the emotions she refused to feel.
"Doesn't it? I'm not the one getting married, by the way," he told her with a chuckle, kneeling down until they were face to face. He was smiling like they were good friends, "So don't be upset."
"I'm fine," she said shortly, turning away, "And don't touch me again or I'll break your fingers."
"Hai, hai… Aren't you going to measure my waist?"
They both stood up. Machi instructed, "Lift your arms."
He obeyed and with obvious sulkiness and not-so-obvious nervousness, she reached around him in the superficial imitation of a hug. His arms remained high in the air but the intimacy had an effect on them both, even if they strove to hide it.
"You're as beautiful as always," he whispered as she pulled away, "And just as cold, too…"
She ignored him, "I think I've gotten all I need."
"Very good… The cloth will be sent to your room."
"Is that all then?"
"Yes." He paused, changing his mind, "No. I want to ask a question. What are you doing here?"
She began to leave. He grabbed her arm with a serious expression, "I know you're not here because you want to be. Who sent you? Why?"
"Don't touch me!" she snarled, pulling away with startling force.
She was stronger than him so he let her go.
"I know there's a reason behind you being here because I never expected you would come back," he called after her but she had already gone. There was a hard, ugly look in his blue eyes as he finished quietly to himself, "Never… not after what we did to each other."
Ryo was waiting for her when she stepped off the elevator. There was a sunflower in his hand but the minute he caught sight of Machi's face, he shoved it hastily into his backpocket. Unfortunately, the tops of the bright yellow petals were still visible.
"For me?" Machi asked, leaning her head to the side as if he wasn't worth the scum on her shoes.
"No," he lied. He was a kid, but he wasn't stupid. He knew by the disdainful gleam in her eyes that his gift was unwanted.
She snorted condescendingly and then began to walk toward her room.
Ryo followed as timidly as he could, lamenting his own cowardice. Perhaps he should have just given her the flower anyway. Maybe it would've cheered her up. The new seamstress looked awfully upset.
There was a tight, fierce look on her face. As if she had just gone through some rigorous test and had failed horribly. After studying her, he finally concluded that it was too late for a present. It might anger her. From behind, he glanced at her wistfully. She was so pretty. Prettier than any lady he had ever seen. But scary at the same time as well. Childishly, he wished he could make her smile.
Silent as a mouse, Ryo walked behind her until she reached her door at which point she whirled on him in a cold fury, "What do you want, kid?"
"Eep!" he squeaked in alarm when she grabbed the front of his shirt angrily. Machi wondered at his expression. There was surprise, to be sure, but hardly any terror. Of course, he didn't know who he was dealing with. He didn't know that she could snap his neck in a second.
Hn, If the brat knew who I really was, he wouldn't be so eager to be friends…
But this assumption was wrong. Had Ryo known her true identity, he would've behaved in the same exact friendly, fearless manner. Mostly because he was not prone to fear as most boys his age were. He had worked for the Mafia for over two years now and had learned some valuable lessons. To show fear almost always guaranteed death whereas a smile suggested mercy. He couldn't afford the luxury of a tremble, a shiver, or a howl. Instead, he had trained himself to smile on reflex.
"Don't mock me, boy. I'm not in the mood."
"No, no! I'm not mocking you!" He waved his arms in protest.
She let him go, shoving him back roughly, "Then what do you want?"
He coughed, blushing softly and avoiding her sharp gaze, "Well, it's lunchtime…so I was wondering… would you like to have lunch with me?"
She looked at him in mild confusion.
"My treat," he added. And then, a pleading, "…Please?"
Machi rolled the idea over in her mind. A part of her wanted to flatly refuse. But, the truth of the matter was, she could use a free meal. And more importantly, Ryo could provide a free distraction. Spending time by herself alone with her thoughts was not pleasant. After the encounter with Yuki, she felt no desire to return to her room to ponder everything in silence.
…Was Hisoka back from his shift? The idiot had been hired as a card dealer on one of the casino floors of the mansion building. He hadn't bothered to share his working hours with her. Not that she cared when he got off. She had no intention of spending more time with the psycho than she had to. The longer he had to work, the better. She looked at Ryo's hopeful grin and shrugged mentally. Surely it couldn't hurt? He was just a kid, anyway.
"Fine," she consented at last.
For a minute, he looked ready to explode with happiness. Then, with effort, he restrained his joy to bowing solemnly and offering an arm. With practiced cordiality, he said formally, "This way, ma'am."
And for the second time in years, Machi was completely taken offguard. By a child, no less. The past few days had been filled with nothing but torturous and bothersome encounters with men whom she would not hesitate to murder in their sleep. She stared for a long time at the gentlemanly gesture and then her lips turned upward in a sardonic curve. She took his arm, barely holding it but touching it all the same, "Hmph, so chivalry still exists, after all."
Ryo beamed. He didn't know what chivalry was but she had smiled and that was all that mattered.
Machi sipped tea quietly from her cup. They were sitting outside, sharing a table similar to the one she had shared once with Nobunaga when they had gone on their "date". But the company, she felt, was much better this time. Ryo didn't have any qualms about buying her anything she liked on the menu nor did he get irritated when she didn't reply to his questions.
The only thing she wished she could cut out of the picture was Ryo's constant chatter. But when he started rambling on and on about his family and how much he loved someone or another, she simply shifted her attention to the sky. The rain from last night had given away to sunshine. There were no clouds anywhere, only a wide, expanse of blue and a brilliant sun.
It was so different from the sky that hung over Shooting Star Street, which had been a purple and gray painting of gloom, misery, and suffering. No yellow sun there, only bleak horizons and a cold wind.
And yet, she had had a light…
A small voice cut through before she could begin to reminisce on memories long buried. With hidden gratitude that he had distracted her from unpleasant thoughts, she turned toward him and said not harshly, "What?"
"Well, I was just wondering if one day… you would like to come over for dinner? Okaa-san makes a wonderful broccoli soup and you could meet my little sister…"
"You have a little sister?" she couldn't help but murmur.
He grinned, "Her name's Hana. Very cute."
"No thank you," she decided and then, at his crestfallen demeanor, she couldn't help but add, "Your generosity is already too much as it is, boy. I'm a stranger, not someone you should treat kindly."
"But I want to!" he protested, "You don't have to pay me back… I just wanted…" He abruptly began stuttering, turning red, "I-I… just w-wanted…"
"What did you want?" she demanded, ready to scowl. Money? Favors? Money AND favors??
"…to be with you," he finished, ducking his head in embarrassment.
And suddenly, she saw him as he was without her characteristic suspicion of people. He was lonely, that was all. She had not seen any other children around the Mafia building and she doubted highly that Ryo was enrolled in any school. Ultimately, he was just a kid without friends, reaching out to whoever he thought would be willing to befriend him.
Well, he sure reached out to the wrong person, she thought grimly but somewhere inside her, she thought she could understand how loneliness could hurt.
"Gomen nasai," he said miserably, obviously disheartened by her silence, "I shouldn't have said that. Now, you're just going to think I'm some stupid little kid with nothing better to do."
Her lips twitched, on the verge of forming a smile. Clueless as he was, he was still awfully amusing. "You're too kind," she said again and she told herself that it wasn't meant as a compliment. Kind people were weak.
But for some reason, she couldn't bring herself to wipe that cheered smile off his face. So instead, she motioned toward the counter in the inside, "Let's go pay."
"Hai!" he nodded, withdrawing his wallet with alacrity and running toward the glass door that led inside to the cafe.
She stood behind him patiently with arms crossed as the cashier, a cheerful-looking blonde girl, counted up the total. With a practiced grin, she announced perkily, "That'll be—"
Machi suddenly narrowed her eyes, her instinct blaring that something was going to happen.
A sudden gunshot rang out. The display glass shattered and fell in a sharp, crystal shower of fragments. Somebody screamed. Then, a couple more shots in rapid succession.
She reacted quickly to the unexpected attack, leaping over the counter after the second bullet and ducking for safety before more could be fired. Briefly, she contemplated retaliated but then decided to wait until the shooting stopped. Beside her, the cashier dropped, her forehead spouting blood, her eyes wide in shock.
Passing over the corpse casually, Machi searched for a adequate place to wait and spotted one just a few meters apart from the end of the counter. A table, nearby and empty. She moved swiftly and silently. The bullets were too slow to hit her and in the commotion that reigned, she doubted she had been spotted.
Screams echoed loudly in the air, products of those who had not been as fortunate. From her spot under the table, she allowed her fingers to touch lightly the front of her dress. They came away crimson. Not her blood but someone's. It could've been the cashier but she had been stained before the girl had been hit.
The shots had stopped. She waited for the perpetrators to appear.
"…Is he alive??"
"Yes, wounded in the shoulder and leg, but still breathing."
Four men, clothed in black. One carried a machine gun, the others regular pistols.
They were staring at the body of a child. They were talking about Ryo, who rested now in a pool of red that was growing by the minute.
"Sir, there was a maid waiting with him but I didn't see where she went. Should we—"
"Forget her. She's not the target."
"Take him," the one with the machine gun said, who was obviously the leader, "He can sleep now. But I want him conscious by the time we reach headquarters so that we can tort—"
Machi slid out from her hiding place and was behind him in a second. She snapped his neck before he could finish his sentence. It made a satisfying cracking sound. She let his motionless body drop to the floor.
The remaining three gaped. One gaped too wide for her liking so she killed him, too.
Of the two left, one regained enough of his wits to fire at her.
"Useless," she said as she evaded the shot easily and wrapped a Nen thread around his neck. He let out a final, gasping noise before she willed the thread to weigh a ton and crush the bone connecting his brain and body.
The last survivor let his weapon fall with a clatter to the floor. He stared at his dead companions, who had been standing and talking and breathing only seconds ago. Then his eyes flickered to her, crazed with panic and disbelief, "W-who are you??"
"It'll be a waste of breath to tell you. You're not going to live long enough anyways."
"W-wait!" he backed away, putting up his hands in a cowardly defense and pleading, "I could give you information. Don't you want to know who sent me?"
"Was it someone that uses chains?" she returned.
Her hand shot out and broke his skull. "Didn't think so," she muttered disdainfully.
The café was a mess. Blood lined the walls in gruesome splashes and the customers had left corpses in their stead. All were dead… except one.
She walked to where Ryo was lying and picked him up. His body was light in her arms and he shuddered in pain when she carried him toward the exit. She strode purposefully, crushing the glass shards on the ground unmercifully on her way out. The area outside the café was deserted. People had run when the guns had begun singing. In the distance, she could hear the police making their way towards the murder scene.
And then, she remembered another time that she had clutched a small child to her body like this with their blood staining her clothes.
Too late, she thought resentfully, as the sirens grew ever louder, You're always too late.
I'm basing some of Machi's reactions on the idea that the Genei Ryodan aren't completely inhuman and the possibility that they were normal, feeling people before they joined the Spider. I mean, the anime's already given some proof with Nobunaga and Pakunoda so it wouldn't be too much of a stretch to apply this to other members, right?
Anyways, comments and suggestions appreciated as always! Review, review, review!