A/N: Thank you so much for your patience!
Standard disclaimers apply.
I stared at my phone, wanting to laugh and cry at the same time. This was such a cliché, straight out of a movie, or a comic book.
With shaking fingers, I answered the call.
Why did this voice sound familiar?
"You're two weeks late on your RENT."
I laughed out loud I couldn't help myself.
"This isn't a laughing matter! This is going to be the last time I'll accept your rent late! I'll kick you out next time this happens!"
I stopped smiling. He never threatened to kick me out before. Sure, he cursed at me, threatened me with death…but not kicking me out.
"I'm so sorry, I'll give it to you right now," I said quickly, rushing to the floor by the window where I hid my money under a floorboard. I pulled out a couple of hundreds and ended the conversation.
"Shit," I muttered to myself as I straightened myself out to go outside and down the hall to give my rent.
Until I felt another mind in my apartment, someone I didn't recognize. But I couldn't read into it since it was very murky, but I could definitely deduce that this person was extremely dangerous.
I held my breath and pocketed my phone before slowly walking out of my bedroom, bracing myself for anything.
He was sitting on my worn couch, staring at the blank TV. A lit cigarette was between his fingers, and I immediately smelt it. I hated the smell, and it was probably going to take days, possibly weeks, to get it out.
I shut my bedroom door behind me rather loudly, but he still didn't look over at me.
"Hello, I don't believe I left my apartment door open, but even that wouldn't excuse the fact that you clearly broke in," I said, not moving from my spot.
He took a drag of his cigarette and my nose twitched. This guy was a total douche – it was written all over him. "You're Shikku's tag along?"
This had to be Saito.
Well, Enishi did nail his personality perfectly.
I tried reading his mind again, but it was still shadowy. What the hell? I was able to read Kaoru's mind better than this, and her mind was kind of hazy to me.
"Who are you?" I asked, deciding to play along. I doubted he knew my ability, and he really didn't have to know.
I wondered what his ability was. Was it physical? Somehow I doubted it. But he did look like he could kick ass regardless if he had an ability or not, kind of like Hiko.
I couldn't hide my annoyed expression, but I figured he would take it as annoyance for his taking so long to answer my question.
"Saito." He took another drag.
"Could you not smoke in my apartment? It's already shitty enough as it is, I don't need it smelling like shit also."
He smirked and stood up, walking past me to my kitchen where he dropped the cigarette there. What a dick.
"Has Shikku mentioned me? He doesn't have a high opinion of me, I bet," he asked, slowly looking around my apartment. "But I'm pretty sure you're developing a similar one of me as well."
"At least we're on the same page there," I stated plainly.
He smirked again. "You haven't answered my question."
"Once. You're the leader of some Justice League copycat," I answered, throwing that reference in there just to see if it would piss him off.
It did. His eyes flashed with annoyance, but it went as fast as it had come. This guy was very good at controlling himself.
"Well he would compare it to the Justice League – he acts like a petulant child whenever I see him."
And how did that turn around to make it seem like I totally failed?
I crossed my arms over my chest. "Okay. What's the point of all this then?"
His eyes locked with mine. It seemed as if he was searching for something in me, but he couldn't seem to find whatever he was looking for; it was very unsettling.
"The League knows that you were the one to defeat Shishio."
I shrugged. It was still kind of uncomfortable to think about that, especially since it technically should've been Enishi who defeated Shishio. But I did feel a little pride – who wouldn't?
"Your presence is required at the next meeting of The League."
My eyebrows rose. "What?"
"The meeting is in two weeks, we're pushing it up just for you."
This guy was so unnerving. I wondered if he had any sort of social life. But then again, I really didn't have one beyond Enishi and Kaoru, so really I wasn't that much better.
"Sure…where is it?"
"Shikku will bring you. Sidekicks aren't authorized to know the location."
"Wait…are you serious?" I blurted.
He pulled out a box of cigarettes and picked one out, but thankfully he didn't light it. "We'll see each other again." And he walked out, but before he did, he lit his cigarette and let out a large breath of smoke in the apartment.
I gave him the finger to his back as he shut the door.
Taking a deep breath, I pulled out my cell and called Enishi.
"Hey, what's up?"
"You're little friend Saito gave me a visit."
"NO WAY. What did he want?"
"He invited me to one of your pow-wows."
"A meeting with The League? Really? Huh. Well that's expected. But I can't believe he found out where you live. He's good."
"But he doesn't seem to know my name. He called me your tag along. What the hell is that?"
"He definitely knows your name, he was probably just trying to piss you of; he likes doing that."
"Yeah. But I don't think he knows my ability. What can he do?"
"He can remove people's abilities. But it's only when he's near you, and it's temporary."
My eyes widened. "Oh my God. That was why I couldn't read his mind."
"Well, it only works when he knows your ability. Did you tell him you could do that?"
Silence. I thought he was thinking out as to why his ability didn't work on me automatically.
"Maybe…he wasn't doing it intentionally. Perhaps your powers sort of malfunction when he's around…but once he actually pinpoints your ability he'll make sure your power doesn't work. Does that make sense?"
"I guess…since I was able to know that someone else was in my apartment. I sensed him."
I was right – this guy was extremely dangerous. I wondered what other powers people had, and if they were as bad as Saito's
"What a mess," I said, running a hand through my hair.
"Relax, everything will be okay. We'll go in, I'll be kicked out of The League, and you may be barred from fighting crime."
"What? That's not happening! I gave up everything to do this!" I exclaimed, getting extremely angry. I was half-ready to run after Saito and kick his ass.
"We'll fight this, I'm sure I can convince a lot of the members to our side."
I bristled at the use of "I" in that sentence. "Sure, you can try and do it alone, but I think you're going to need my help."
"Of course, that's what I mean. Listen, I have to go, I have a meeting with the board in two minutes."
And he hung up.
I looked at the cash in my hand and muttered a curse before running out of my apartment to give it to my landlord.
I stared at the door in front of me, feeling extremely nervous. I wish I were going to a said-board meeting; this was just too scary.
Holding my breath, I knocked on her apartment door.
"Coming!" she said, but I knew her cheerful mood would probably come to a screeching halt as soon as she realized who was knocking.
I was right; I heard her come up to the door, and then freeze when she must've seen that I was there.
She opened the door before I was really ready to see her.
"Hi, Natsumi," I said, feeling like my heart was just going to break out of my chest.
She was looking at me, and I actually felt like she was holding my heart in her perfectly manicured hands, squeezing, squeezing…
"I need to tell you something," I continued.
I thought I sounded really desperate, because her eyes softened and she let me in.
She was dressed very casually, as if we were one of those rare days when she would stay the day after. In fact, the man's dress shirt would've been mine from the day before…except the one she was wearing wasn't mine from a left over night – it wasn't the usual brand I bought. And that thought made my throat close up. Whose was it?
"What is it?" she asked, not impolite, but she clearly didn't want to me to stay very long.
She looked at the dainty watch on her wrist and I was suddenly reminded of a time not so long ago, where I was in her position, waiting for a certain red-haired guy to leave my apartment so I could go on with my selfish endeavors.
This role reversal was very humbling, and extremely painful. I had to make sure to apologize to Kenshin for the way I had treated him.
She looked up at me with emotionless eyes and I could feel myself cracking. This was heartache.
I told her everything. I told her that I was Shikku, and that I had to hide this from every person in my life. That it was the hardest thing to do, especially with being Enishi Yukishiro, one of the richest men in the country.
I also told her about Kenshin, and what I made him do for me, and my deepest regret and guilt that kept me up at night nowadays. But that he managed to find someone to share his life with, so he wasn't alone anymore, and that I was really happy for him.
She was a good listener, never said a word. But she couldn't keep her emotions to herself for very long; as soon as I mentioned that I was Shikku (showing my mask and all) she nearly stopped breathing. After the idea slowly sunk in, she tried her best to retreat into a mask of carelessness.
My throat was getting really dry by the end, but I didn't want to ask for water, because I was afraid that if I asked, she was going to rip me apart. So I just kept my mouth shut and tried to swallow properly.
After a few minutes of silence, she said, "I guess it's kind of pointless for me to ask why you didn't say anything."
"You could've trusted me."
"Really? I thought until recently we were playing under the assumption that we were casual."
She looked down at her hands. "But it wasn't, really."
"Was I going to be the first one to break that?" I inquired, curious.
She raised her eyes to glare at me. "You should've! Guys are always so afraid of commitment and something serious, so I never pushed anything."
"Oh, come on, Natsumi, that's not fair."
"No, what's not fair is keeping up this casual thing, really wondering whether or not you were fucking other women besides me."
"I wasn't and you know it," I retorted angrily, feeling very offended that she would consider that. "I never had time for you with the whole Shikku business, let alone multiple others."
"Are you trying to make Shikku an excuse as to why you disregarded me and pushed me away?" she asked, and I could tell she was getting angry at the very thought.
"You try and save the city without people knowing your true identity and see how well you can juggle your life."
"Well it's a good thing that I'm not a part of your life, is it?" she said with a somewhat malicious glint in her eye.
"Please, Natsumi, I don't want that," I admitted quietly.
"It's too late. I'm done being shafted by you. Call me selfish, but I want to be cared for and loved. I don't want to compete for your affections."
"What do you mean by that? I told you –"
"I mean," she overrode me, "Your clear passion for being a hero. I can't do that. I won't."
"So…what you're suggesting is…I'd have to completely abandon Shikku in order to be with you."
She took a few seconds before she nodded. "Yeah."
I sighed, running a hand through my hair. This was difficult – I knew that I needed to be Shikku now more than ever, given that I felt like I had a new competitor: my former sidekick. How messed up was that? "I can't do that. Not now."
She nodded again. "Okay. Then you have no business here. You know the way out."
I bit the inside of my cheek hard, trying not to get down on my knees and plead with her. I had more pride than that, and also, I should've wanted her to be as happy and as safe as she could be, and while I was also Shikku, she wouldn't be either one.
So I stood up and walked out of her apartment, and out of her life, at least temporarily.
Temporarily. A mantra for the entire way back to my apartment, and to lull myself to sleep, and to function day after day…
A few days after Kamatari's funeral, I was immersed with work again, every now and again struck with sadness at the lack of his bubbly presence.
As I was researching for an article, my work line rang.
I answered it and said, "The Daily Word, Kaoru Kamiya speaking."
"Hello Kaoru, I'm Natsumi Nakamura…well. This is certainly more awkward than I thought it was going to be, but…I used to see Enishi Yukishiro."
Wow. It was a good thing we weren't face-to-face because my jaw was practically touching the ground. "Oh. Okay. I never knew –" I started to babble, but thankfully she stopped me.
"It's okay. Listen…do you think we could meet in person? I think we have a lot in common…given our similar situations. I won't say anything more about it until we talk face-to-face."
"Um, call me thick…but what do you mean?"
"I know of Kenshin…if that causes any light bulbs to flicker on."
Did she know? Because other than that, what would we have in common? And why else would she mention Kenshin…
"Alright. Do you have a particular place in mind?"
"How about my apartment? You could stay for lunch."
"Sure, where do you live?"
"Hey," she greeted cheerfully, holding out a hand.
I smiled and took it before she stepped aside and let me enter her large apartment. She must've been considerably wealthy.
She was dressed fashionably I assumed, I was never really up to date on what was considered "in" or "out," but she did dress like a celebrity, so I felt a little inferior with my plain skirt and blouse.
But she didn't try and make me feel uncomfortable, at least not willingly or knowingly. She already had a table and a large selection of food.
"I'm sorry, I just ordered everything – I kind of wanted to get right to the point," she apologized, offering a sheepish smile.
"It's okay. I'm not picky."
And everything there looked delicious. We quietly filled our plates before finally giving each other our full attentions.
"So…you know Kenshin?" I inquired.
"Well, we haven't met personally, but Enishi has mentioned him. Once. That function he had a while back when he was planning it, he mentioned Kenshin, saying he was an old friend."
I nodded. "I didn't know Enishi Yukishiro was Kenshin's friend until around that time."
"Well…I suppose they had a good reason why they kept it a secret."
I eyed her. "Do you know?" I blatantly asked.
Did she know Enishi was Shikku? That Kenshin was directly involved with Shikku's business? I wanted her to say it out loud.
"Yes. Enishi told me over a week ago about his status as the city hero."
I bit my bottom lip. "And you know about Kenshin."
"Yeah." She gave me a look of sympathy, her eyes filling up with tears, surprisingly enough. "I'm so sorry. It must've been so hard."
I tried to smile. "Well, I only found out before his last fight, but yeah. It was really difficult seeing that and knowing it was Kenshin. Putting a face to a masked hero makes him seem more human…more vulnerable."
She clenched her jaw and looked out toward the windows. "I wouldn't know how to deal with that." A tear gracefully rolled down her cheek.
I sighed, hoping I wouldn't sound harsh because I didn't want that at all. "Well the next time Shikku gets into a fight…you're going to know it's Enishi standing on that building, throwing that punch, taking that hit. It doesn't matter if you're going to ignore him from now on, or if you decide you want him in your life."
Her gaze fell to me. "But…isn't Kenshin always going to just abandon you in order to be the hero?"
"Yeah, he will. But…it's his job. It's his responsibility – he's helping this city and the people need him. And Enishi. I have to share Kenshin, yes, but in the end I'm the only one he'll let in completely, and it's worth it."
Natsumi smiled, but it was actually more of a grimace. "Maybe I'm not as strong as you." And then she laughed, a few more tears falling down her face. "He came here the other day and told me everything. He let me in…and I slammed the door in his face." She wiped the tears off her face and looked at me in the eye. "We handled the same situation a little differently."
I shrugged. "Look, I can't judge you. Your history with Enishi probably doesn't match my history with Kenshin. Maybe you have reason not to put your faith in Enishi. Maybe I'm just the tiniest bit masochistic and I get a secret pleasure out of worrying to death about Kenshin. It doesn't matter. It's your choice, and if you think you can live with it, then so be it."
I looked down at my barely-touched food and began to eat some of it, mostly because I would've felt rude if I didn't; I wasn't hungry anymore.
"And…you thought you could live with staying beside Kenshin?" she asked quietly.
"I know that I can't live without him," I answered matter-of-factly, looking at her dead in the eye to show how serious I was.
"I'm not that certain," she admitted, barely above a whisper.
I stopped bothering to pick at my food. "If he really loves you…he'll understand."
I had to admit, I was really disappointed in Natsumi. Of course, I wasn't Enishi Yukishiro's biggest fan at all, but I understood that even he needed someone in his life who knew who he really was, someone he could come to at the end of the day, wanting nothing more than to rest after fighting and saving everyone. Someone whom he could be himself around.
An outlet to be human.
Because that was the downside to being a hero: you weren't allowed to be human; your powers made you superhuman, and you were above, or could handle "petty" emotions such as loneliness, heartache, despair, disappointment.
The truth of the matter was Kenshin was still a human being, and while when I first met him he was doing fine on his own, eventually it all would've drove him mad.
But Enishi was human also, and this was probably hurting him more than he would ever admit.
I supposed that Natsumi had to look beyond her own feelings and perspective in order to understand that.
"It's okay, you can leave. This was kind of…forced upon you. The conversation, I mean. But it was…good. For me at least," Natsumi said kindly, standing up, to show she meant it.
I tried not to seem too eager to leave.
"Do you mind…if you maybe gave me a few updates on Enishi? Call me once in a while?" she asked hesitantly.
I sighed, but smiled. She really cared about Enishi. I supposed it was their prides getting in the way of their happiness together. "Yeah, no problem."
When Kenshin came to my apartment, I threw myself into his arms, squeezing as tightly as I could.
"Hey, are you okay?" he asked, holding me back just as tightly.
"Yeah. I…" I turned my face into his shirt, smelling sandalwood and detergent (he must've recently washed that shirt) and Kenshin.
He rested his chin on top of my head for a few moments before I pulled away and put my hands on either side of his head, forcing him to look at me. "I'll always be here, okay?"
I thought he was skimming over the contents of my mind, so I brought forward my talk with Natsumi early that day.
His eyes widened, but then I couldn't see his face anymore because he pulled me into a gentler hug. "Thank you," he whispered.
This was my responsibility, my duty to help the people of this city: to be the hero's support. I was the person that nobody ever considered when he or she thought about the hero. I was the person who saw the hero at his lowest point, who saw his true weaknesses.
I was beginning to understand the true pain and accomplishment of being unidentified.
A/N: I hope the wait was worth it. Again, I'm sorry about that awful writer's block. Next chapter will be interesting – more superheroes!