Warning: Beware of spoilers! I think they're only up to volume 10 or so, but just to be safe. :D

A Hard Knock Life

(OR, Five People Shinichi Okazaki Will Never Take Money From)

i.

There are few things more painful in life than heartaches and nicotine cravings, but the heel of Nana's boots digging into his back has definitely got to be somewhere on that brief list. Shin wriggles on the floor in the vain hope that she will stop, but she keeps her foot planted on his back, pressing down with all the weight in her skinny legs. After a moment he holds still and looks over his shoulder with the most appealing, innocent eyes he can muster, allowing the tears to trail down his cheeks in a way that he hopes will evoke some degree of sympathy (if not guilt, or rampant adoration).

A pause. Then -

"What the hell are you giving me that look for, kid?"

ii.

He slices the lemon in half and squeezes it over a glass of drink, staring out of the hotel window into the darkening sky. In his head he can hear the sound of her glass rod tinkling, and see her outline against the kitchen tiles, her hair cascading down her back in a fountain of waves that he has learned to love on two different women. He remembers the crook of her lips and the way her eyes always lit up when he came by for another lesson, or even just for a warm bed – she looks like Reira, but in many ways she is more like Hachi.

Sometimes he can still taste the smoke filtering into his mouth from that first cigarette she pushed between his lips; sometimes he recalls the terror of that first night he spent sleeping with a strange woman so many years older than him. Sometimes he wonders what kind of life he would have led, otherwise – but most of the time he just wonders if she's doing all right. No matter what vices she has introduced him to, and no matter how often she claims she has turned him into a demon, he still owes everything to her.

iii.

Shin doesn't know much about Japanese folklore, but the first time he lays eyes on Trapnest's bassist, he knows that he's seen a real-life demon. Takumi's hair is long and slick and falls in flirty wisps around his handsome face, and his eyes are cold and glassy. Shin doesn't need to hear any tales to know that this man doesn't have a heart – all he can do is devour hearts, chew them up and spit them out like fruit seeds. Worse still, the women can't seem to resent him for that. It happens to Reira. It happens to Hachi – Hachi, who obviously loves Nobu more than anything in the world, and who still chooses this man, for reasons that Shin can't (maybe doesn't want to?) understand. It's probably happened to a hundred other girls, too, whether they've appeared in the tabloids or not.

There are times when Shinichi hates Takumi even more than he hates his father, and that's certainly saying something.

iv.

He gets a call one day, and the woman on the other side of the line is trembling, her voice gone creaky with age. She rattles off his number like a dying record, and he confirms it is the right one, although goosebumps have started trailing up his arm. "I was told, young man, that if I called this number –" There's a pause, and he hopes that she'll hang up out of shame, or propriety, or both. "-well, if I could please request your, er, s-services. My address is..."

He shows up at her doorstep in a suit and tie, acoustic guitar in hand. He's fifteen, she's a grandma, and despite his job being what it is, there are certain boundaries he still can't overlook. But as she opens the door, skeletal hands raised to her mouth in surprise, he smiles up cheerily. He hasn't forgotten allhis manners. After all, music may well be the best medicine, especially when money can't afford to buy love.

v.

Hachi falls asleep on his lap snoring like a little baby, with her fists curled and her mouth puckered into a dainty little o. He strokes her hair, gently, carefully, pulling back the bangs that have fallen into her face. She looks so much like a child; it is difficult for him to imagine that in a few months time she will have a child of her own. He wonders, briefly, what the kid will be like, and if it (he? she?) will ever make Hachi cry, the same way he must have made his mother cry, writhing in pain as she delivered him weeping into this world.

Then again, he probably doesn't have to worry, because Hachi is this kid's mother, and Hachi, with her gentle smile, her fluffy egg rolls, her unwavering support and her infinite tenderness, is the best mother anyone could ever ask for.

He leans over her for a moment, studying her lips, and then he plants a chaste kiss on her forehead, closing his eyes slowly. There is nothing wrong with going to sleep with one's mommy. Especially if both of you have your clothes on.

(And One Person Whom He Will Reimburse, In Full. Eventually.)

vi.

Dearest Layla,

I don't think I'll ever be so bold as to pay that full amount in cash, like you did. But in any case, you are always welcome to withdraw from my bank account. The number is enclosed below. I heard the latest single yesterday. It's beautiful.

Wishing you all the best,

Shinichi


1/1/08 – I'm not sure about numbers iv and vi, which were pretty unplanned to begin with. D: But I hope you enjoyed reading anyway. Comments would be greatly appreciated. By the way, that last one is pure speculation. :D