A/N: Hey everyone. :D This is chapter one of my second fanfiction so far. I really hope everyone enjoys it!
I just wanted to remind everyone that this is not a sequel to FANG, lol. A lot of people have been asking about one, but for now I think I'm going to be working on this. I hope you like this one anyway! :D
Extreme thanks goes out to WouldBeSenpai and Leebot who both generously helped me brainstorm future Shiznat. :D WouldBeSenpai is also my amazing new beta, so, if you notice the extreme decrease in punctuation errors, you have her to thank for it! :D
And now... It has begun! *evil laugh*
Thanks for reading!!! I'd really, really appreciate it if you guys would review! :D
Back to Back
Chapter 1: Change of Location
Natsuki Kruger brushed her long navy hair out of her eyes defiantly. She pulled the key out of the ignition, stepping out of her car in one, smooth motion. Quickly, she glanced down at her watch as she started walking toward the large building. It was five forty-nine A.M.
She slowed her pace down a little as she opened the heavy door. The meeting was at six, and if she was getting fired, she didn't exactly want to appear too eager.
Natsuki exhaled slowly, swiping her key card when she got to the inner doors. When the light turned green she pressed her thumb onto the small, electronic pad. "Just stay calm,"she instructed herself, "Why would they fire you?" Performance-wise, she was almost top of her class. She'd broken nearly every record set at the Fuuka District, though—admittedly—her short temper did cause some problems every now and then.
There was a small click as the door unlocked. Natsuki turned the handle, walking into the office.
Still, a meeting with the head of the district was never a good sign. It was rare for an operative, who had made his/her way up to the fourth class, to get fired. However, it was certainly not unheard of. Natsuki walked down the long hallway, her training in body language paying off more than she knew. The mixture of her black dress pants and long stride screamed confidence, though, 'confident' definitely wouldn't have been the word Natsuki would have used to describe herself.
She swallowed slowly, nodding to a third-class agent who looked her way. The man smiled back, his cheeks tinged a light red color.
Someone skipped the training on how to slow down heart rate. Natsuki mentally scoffed as she watched him walk past. She managed to stop herself from rolling her eyes and continued walking past the armory. Natsuki finally came to a stop in front of the elevator, her hand hovering over the 'up' button. She hesitated only for a moment before pressing it and stepping back.
After a few seconds, the door opened.
"You still work here agent Kruger?" a familiar voice ran out.
Natsuki glanced up at the sole occupant of the elevator, grinning. "I still haven't had my meeting yet, Mai," she replied. She glanced at her watch once more. "I guess we'll know in six minutes."
The redhead stepped to the side so Natsuki could get in and leaned against the wall. "Look Natsuki, you're one of the best level-fours this district has. There's no way you're getting fired that easily." Mai looked at the worried look on Natsuki's face, and smiled reassuringly. "Seriously, trust me on this one."
"I've talked to him twice since I've gotten here. Why would he want a meeting with me?" Natsuki exclaimed.
"I don't know," Mai admitted, then grinned at the navy-haired woman, "maybe you're getting bumped up a level." She raised her eyebrows for effect.
Natsuki snorted, giving Mai a look. "No one our age makes it to Eilte, Mai. There's probably a regulation or something." It was true. The youngest Elite she knew was 36, a full 13 years older than herself. As it was, she and Mai were two of the youngest fourth-class agents in the district.
Mai laughed. "I doubt it."
The elevator door opened slowly. Natsuki and Mai peered out, glancing over at the secretary. There was a small waiting room next to the desk.
"Well, this is it," Natsuki said, breathing out slowly. "It was nice working with you."
Mai rolled her eyes. "I'm glad you're so optimistic."
"Hey, this is secret services Mai," Natsuki replied, stepping out of the elevator, "they train you not to be optimistic."
Mai laughed as the doors closed.
Natsuki turned back to the office, eyeing the secretary evenly. She gave the violet-haired woman a small smile before walking over.
"Kruger, Natsuki," she said after a brief pause. She watched as the secretary glanced down at some papers on her desk before nodding. Natsuki glanced over at the waiting area, ready to sit down.
"You can go right in," the woman said after a moment.
Or not. Natsuki thought to herself. "Arigato," she said quietly, turning back to face the large wooden door. She walked quickly over, wondering if she should knock or go right in.
Then again, the man she was going to see had the highest level of operative training possible. It probably wasn't a good idea to barge into his office unannounced. Natsuki paused in front of the door, raising her hand to knock.
"Come in Agent Kruger," a deep voice greeted her before her hand touched the door.
Natsuki lowered her hand abruptly, a little startled. Quickly she turned the handle, stepping into the large office.
The balding man spun to face her in his chair, regarding her with an almost bored expression. He gestured towards the chair in front of his desk, making no motion to get up.
Natsuki walked over and sat down, keeping her breathing steady. The director sat up a little straighter, propping his elbows up on the desk in front of him.
"Arigato for coming Kruger-san," he said after a moment. He watched Natsuki's face for a reaction.
Natsuki nodded, waiting for him to continue. She wasn't sure she liked the serious expression now on his face. That can't be a good sign.
"I presume you're wondering why you're here." He phrased the sentence as more of a statement than a question.
"Yes, sir," Natsuki answered, crossing her right leg over her left. She folded her hands onto her lap.
"I also presume you've heard that Arai Hirohito, Garderobe's Foreign Affairs Minister was found dead three days ago," he replied.
"It's been all over the news," Natsuki confirmed, hiding a confused look. Garderobe was out of their jurisdiction. They had their own special forces unit. The case had nothing to do with her.
The director nodded, clearing his throat before shifting slightly in his chair. "Garderobe's Special Forces Unit has..." He hesitated for a moment, the annoyance flashing briefly across his face. "...Requested our assistance."
Natsuki regarded him curiously. He didn't look too pleased.
"It seems, with a few exceptions, their agents are nowhere near as proficient as our own." He locked eyes with Natsuki. "They have asked me to assign one of our own agents to help them out with the case."
Natsuki nodded wordlessly, her heart racing. Am... am I supposed to help them out on a case? Why couldn't they have gotten her direct superior to fill her in? That was how she was normally assigned cases. What made this one any different?
The director gave a small sigh as he sat back in his chair. "Of course they were quite specific in requesting an elite agent for the task. As I'm sure you know, there are only seven operatives of that ranking at our district."
"Yes, sir," Natsuki replied. What was he getting at?
"Seeing as there are so few they are valued quite greatly," he continued, "I would hate to lose any of them. I'm sure you understand."
"I'm sorry sir, I don't see what this has to do with me," Natsuki said after a moment, "I'm not an elite agent."
"No?" The director smiled, raising his eyebrows, "you weren't until five minutes ago."
Natsuki's mouth fell open slightly. "I...I'm getting promoted?" she asked, shocked, "But... I..I'm only twenty-two sir." She laughed, everything still sinking in.
"I'm quite aware of your age," the man replied, smiling. "You are quite young, even to be a level-four agent." His smiled faded a little. "However, experienced level-four agents are almost as invaluable as elite agents are."
Natsuki's smile faded a little as well. What was he trying to say?
"You were only promoted to level four last year," the director continued, glancing down at the file Natsuki presumed was hers. "That being said, for someone as inexperienced as you are, you have done quite well in your time here."
"A..arigato," Natsuki replied, her stomach clenching. She wasn't sure—all of a sudden—that she liked where this was headed.
"You have had some...personal conflicts while working here, but—overall—your performance has been very satisfactory," he paused for a moment, meeting Natsuki's eyes with his own. "It is for that reason I have chosen to promote you. You will be transferred to Garderobe to assist them in any way possible."
Natsuki's chest tightened even more when she finally realized what was happening. "But... I'll be working there temporarily, right?" she asked, unsure she wanted to hear his response.
The director shook his head, his face neutral. "You are being transferred permanently. Starting Monday, you will no longer be employed by Fuuka."
"What?" Natsuki breathed, unable to conceal the shock in her voice. "You're transferring me!?" She'd worked at Fuuka for the past four years! They couldn't just transfer her to an entirely new sector!
"You should be happy, agent Kruger," he replied calmly. "For someone so young, this is quite an opportunity."
Natsuki held back a gasp when she finally realized what was going on. Everything suddenly made sense. She knew she shouldn't say anything, but her anger at this point was verging on uncontrollable. "You're promoting me so you don't have to give up an Elite," she whispered, the words barely making it out. "Because I'm...what..." she searched for the right word, raising her voice angrily, "...expendable?"
The man raised his eyebrows, a mildly amused look playing across his face. "I didn't catch that agent. Did you have something to say?" His voice stayed calm, but the look in his eyes had suddenly turned threating.
Natsuki opened her mouth to retaliate, but stopped herself. She took a deep, slow breath, lowering her voice once again. "Why me?" she asked, unable to stop herself. "I'm one of the highest ranked level fours."
"That may be true," the man nodded, eyes flicking back to the file on his desk once more. "Do you want me to be honest?" he asked, as if daring Natsuki to say 'yes'.
Natsuki nodded, meeting his eyes. The look of amusement that shone in them was nothing short of infuriating.
"You're a troublemaker," he said bluntly. "I don't care how many records you've broken. You've been in two fights since the start of your career, and judging from the way you've questioned my decision, I don't see that as about to change anytime soon." He gave her a smug smile as he leaned back in his chair once more.
"Have you even read those fight reports?!" Natsuki asked, unable to stop herself from glaring, "I've complained to my direct superiors and nothing has been done."
"I have," he replied evenly, "...and I really don't see what the issue is."
"You could at least try teaching your agents how to respect a female coworker," Natsuki snapped, knuckles white as she gripped the sides of her chair, "that way troublemakers like me wouldn't have to do it for you."
The man's smile widened for a moment before he picked up a large envelope from off of his desk. "This has everything you need to get you in Garderobe's front door," he said, ignoring her statement entirely, "I believe we're finished here, don't you?"
Natsuki's mouth fell open. Had he completely disregarded everything she had said?! She ripped the envelope out of his hands, standing up quickly. She shoved the chair back loudly, as she started to leave.
Her grip tightened on the envelope as she paused by the doorway. She turned around slowly, meeting the man's eyes from across the room.
"It's been an honor working under you, sir," she sneered. The man nodded, a taunting smile on his face as Natsuki walked out of the office.
Natsuki didn't stop at the doorway. Without looking over at the secretary she walked quickly over to the elevator and punched the 'down' button. She got in before the doors fully opened and slammed the 'close' button.
She remained standing until the doors were fully closed before slumping against the wall. The camera in the elevator was the only thing stopping her from punching the wall.
"I can't believe this," Natsuki thought numbly to herself. Sure, she was getting promoted, but it wasn't like she had earned it. Everything—her cases, her friends—was here. She was the one getting promoted: the new opportunity, the new status... so why did it feel like she was getting left behind?
The door opened and Natsuki quickly stepped out. She walked down the hallway, swiping her key card when she got to her office door.
"How did it go?" Mai called out excitedly. She walked down the hallway toward Natsuki, a cup of coffee in her hand.
Natsuki turned to look at her before stepping into her office. She held the door open for her friend.
Mai could tell from the look on her face something was wrong. Surely they hadn't fired her... right? There was no way. "What happened?" Mai asked, the concern evident on her face.
Natsuki turned, brushing her long hair back with her hand, and angrily placing the other hand on her hip. "I got promoted," she replied, her tone of voice not matching the statement at all.
"What!?" Mai laughed, "oh my God, congratulations! You have to be the youngest Elite in Fuuka District's history!" She stepped forward to give the navy-haired woman a hug.
Natsuki stepped back, holding out her arms to stop her. "No, Mai. I got promoted because I'm so young." The anger in her voice was evident.
"What are you talking about?" Mai asked, her grin fading slightly.
"Apparently I'm an inexperienced troublemaker," Natsuki replied, "no one cares about my case records, that's just all they see. My age. My history of violence..." She trailed off, turning to angrily slam the package in her hands on her desk.
"I...I don't understand," Mai said quietly, her smile now completely gone.
"Garderobe asked Fuuka to give them an elite agent. The director isn't too happy about it, but he doesn't have a choice," Natsuki swallowed hard. "Instead of giving them someone valuable, he just decided to promote me."
"W..what?" Mai stuttered, her chest clenching when she realized what Natsuki was implying.
"I'm being transferred," Natsuki said quickly, turning to look away so Mai wouldn't see the look on her face, "effective immediately."
"No...but, Natsuki, they can't just do that!" Mai replied angrily, "you're a great agent Natsuki; you know that!"
"Apparently not," Natsuki replied quietly. She took a deep, slow breath—trying to get her own emotions back under control.
"That bastard," Mai whispered, the realization settling in. She looked over at Natsuki, knowing how upset she must be. "Come here," Mai said gently, walking over to the navy- haired woman.
Natsuki reluctantly allowed Mai to hug her tightly. "I'm... I'll be fine Mai. Don't worry about it," she said quickly as she pulled away, "why would I want to work for that jerk anyway?" She gave a small laugh as if to prove she was alright.
"You know how much I love you Natsuki. I'm going to miss you like crazy," Mai said softly.
Natsuki nodded her head, a genuine smile working it's way onto her face. "Sorry Mai, you know you're not my type."
"Red-headed?" Mai asked, raising her eyebrows.
"Straight," Natsuki replied, grinning, "I try to avoid the whole cliché of falling for someone who can never feel the same way."
Mai pouted. "But... you would fall for me right?" There was a small pause. "...Right?"
"If you were gay?" Natsuki asked, an amused look on her face. She thought about it for a moment. "I don't know."
"Why not?" Mai gasped, a mock offended look on her face, "what's wrong with me?"
Natsuki groaned. "Please can we not have this conversation?" she asked, laughing, "I know there's no right answer to a question like that."
Mai's eyes narrowed in suspicion. "Fine," she sighed after a moment. Then she grinned as a thought suddenly occurred to her. "I bet Garderobe is full of hot women your type. This transfer could really be a blessing in disguise you know."
"Oh, I'm sure," Natsuki replied sarcastically, "how blessed I feel."
"Hey, don't knock it," Mai replied, laughing, "You just got promoted. Who cares why, that's all that matters. And you get to be the hero, helping out some poor district that doesn't have enough funds to train agents of its own."
"How noble of me," Natsuki grinned, rolling her eyes. There was a long pause. Her grin faded to a small smile.
Mai watched as Natsuki turned back to her desk, examining the mess of papers scattered on top of it. "Well, I guess I'd better pack up my things," Natsuki said after a moment.
Mai nodded, her gaze shifting from the desk back to the navy-haired woman across from her. "I'd offer to help, but the police just faxed in the ballistics report. I have to get it to Toshio."
"Yeah, of course," Natsuki replied, glancing down at the folder in Mai's hands, "oh, actually, could you do me a favor?" she asked. She walked around to the other side of the desk, picking up two folders of her own. "These have the latest information on the case I was working on. I guess I can't really take them with me, since it won't be my jurisdiction anymore." Natsuki smiled as Mai took the folders.
"I'll hand them in for you," Mai replied, unable to mask the sadness in her voice.
"Oh well," Natsuki sighed, "I wasn't getting anywhere anyway. At least now it's someone else's problem."
Mai laughed, nodding. "That's the spirit."
"Arigato, Mai," Natsuki said after a moment. Garderobe was only a couple hours away, but she knew she would be seeing her friend a lot less.
"No problem," Mai replied. She smiled once more before turning and walking out.
Natsuki waited for her to leave before leaning back against her desk. "I guess this is it then", she told herself, glancing around her office once more. She grabbed one of the boxes from on the floor and started packing away her things.
Natsuki made it back to her apartment before nine A.M. Still, there was no way she was staying for the rest of the day at the office. It's not like the director would say anything to her about it.
Natsuki dumped the box full of her belongings onto her couch. She started to walk toward the kitchen before pausing. After a moment she walked over to the box and took out the large envelope. She sighed, nudging the box over so she could flop down on the couch.
With a quick swipe of her fingernail, the envelope was open. Natsuki took out the thin booklet, scanning the cover quickly. Garderobe Temp Agency – We'll find the people who can get the job done right. Natsuki rolled her eyes. So this was her cover? "Well, I guess it's better then income tax software designer," she admitted. Try explaining that one to someone who asks about your job when you don't know the first thing about software design.
Natsuki glanced at the picture of the front door on the cover. The building itself looked a little beat up. Then again, it probably wasn't a very good idea to make a top secret organization's head quarters look too inviting. Her eyes scanned down the rest of the cover, stopping at the bottom. All our services accessible on-line or by phone for your convenience. Natsuki grinned, shaking her head. "Of course they are," she thought to herself.
She opened the booklet and a few sheets of paper fell out. She picked up the first, reading it carefully. This one had her name on it, suggesting it definitely wasn't designed for public viewing. After scanning it quickly, Natsuki realized it had her cover-job description. It was quite detailed. She was responsible for on-line temp job management. A client would submit a request and she would search the database for the correct person for the job. Of course, in her real line of work you couldn't always stay in one place. It read on the sheet of paper that she—herself—was also in the database, should her services be needed. That would explain any absences nicely.
Natsuki glanced at the second page. It had instructions on how to get to the building. She put it down after a moment, picking up her new key card. It was, no doubt, magnetically encoded to be irreproducible by anyone other than the special-services private contractor.
She glanced down at the picture, comparing it to the one on her current card. Natsuki knew they had used the same picture from the database, but it had been altered slightly to look like it was different. "It never hurts to be thorough," Natsuki mentally recited, smiling as she quoted the teacher from one of her first training classes. It had been one of his favorite phrases.
Natsuki put the card down on the small table, walking over to grab her phone. She had two calls to make, and she honestly wasn't sure which one she dreaded more. The first was to her landlord. The second was to her mother.
She could already hear her mother's reaction to her moving hours away. The more Natsuki thought about it, the more she really didn't want to call her. "Landlord it is," Natsuki decided, walking over to her fridge. She moved one of the magnets to the side, grabbing the card that had his phone number on it.
She walked over to the small kitchen, sitting down in the closest chair. Natsuki dialed the number quickly, glancing down at the Garderobe booklet as she waited for him to pick up.
"Hello?!" his voice sounded out loudly.
Natsuki winced a little, holding the phone away from her ear. "Yeah, hi Maro. This is Kruger Natsuki calling. I'm one of your tenants."
"Kruger?" the man repeated thoughtfully, "Kruger Natsuki."
Natsuki tapped her foot on the ground impatiently. Shouldn't he have a list or something?
"Oh!" the man exclaimed, "the hot one with the dark blue hair, right?"
Natsuki's grip on the phone tightened. "Moving on," she said firmly. "I'm switching jobs on Monday, and my new job is pretty far away. I'm going to have to find some place closer to live."
"Oh. Uh, okay," the guy replied, "so you won't need the apartment next month?"
"No, in fact, I was wondering if I could get some of the money back for the end of this one," Natsuki said, mentally crossing her fingers. It was the sixth, so it wasn't like most of the month was already over.
"Sorry, I can't do anything about that," Maro said quickly, his voice completely void of any concern.
"You're telling me I have to pay one thousand and seven hundred dollars for the eight days I'll be here?" Natsuki replied angrily, "Look, isn't there some way I can get part of the money back?" She rolled her eyes as she forced herself to speak. "...Please?"
The man chuckled, obviously finding something amusing. Natsuki didn't share his view on the situation.
"Well," he replied, thinking about it, "would you go out to dinner with me?"
Natsuki's jaw dropped open. What a hentai! Once more she forced herself to reply. It was quite a lot of money. You'd think a potentially life-threatening job would pay more than it did. "I... it's certainly possible," she replied, her grip on the phone tightening, "does that mean you'll give me a refund?"
The man laughed once more. "Sure, why not?"
"Arigato," Natsuki replied dryly, "I should be out of here by Sunday night." She started to lower the phone.
"Hey!" Maro yelled. "What about our date?"
Natsuki raised the phone once more to her ear. "Look Maro, I'm not going out with you, okay? But I do appreciate the refund."
"Well... then you're not getting a refund," he replied stubbornly.
"But, you just said..." Natsuki protested.
"I don't care what I just said!" the man replied loudly, "prove it."
Natsuki slowly lowered the phone, her thumb pushing down on the 'end' button a lot harder than necessary. She took a deep breath, calming herself down. Perverted jerk.
"Prove it?" she muttered, crossing her arms. Don't tempt me. She knew for a fact her phone line was tapped. Someone was probably typing up their conversation at that very instant. Then again, it wasn't like she could explain why the government was concerned with her phone conversations. Besides, she didn't think her landlord qualified as a threat to national security.
After a moment she sighed, glancing over at the clock. It wasn't that early, and it wasn't like her mother had a boss to worry about. "It must be nice to be the one giving out orders,"Natsuki thought to herself as she scrolled though the phone menu. She selected Saeko's Travel Agency from the list.
Her mother picked up after the second ring. "Natsuki," she answered, seeing her daughter's number come up on the screen. There was a small pause. "Don't you have work?"
"Not yet," Natsuki replied, trying to sound as happy as possible, "I quit my job, mom."
"You what!?" her mother replied, almost dropping the phone.
"Don't worry mom," Natsuki laughed, "I've been hired at a Temp Agency in Garderobe. It's a bit far, so I'll have to move, but it pays a lot better."
"What are you talking about?" Saeko asked, her worry coming across strongly in her voice, "Natsuki, Garderobe is hours away."
"I know," Natsuki replied, masking the anger in her voice, "But... you know, I really think I'll like my new job." Her voice faltered so slightly only someone with training could have picked it up.
"You're already so far away," her mother said quietly. "Are you sure you can't find something closer?"
"Yeah, I'm sure," Natsuki replied, feeling a little guilty. "Please don't worry mom, you know I'll visit."
"Well," her mother sighed, sensing she had no say in the situation, "...when do you start?"
"Monday," Natsuki replied, wincing slightly.
"What!?" her mother exclaimed. "Where are you going to stay?"
"I'll have to stay in a hotel for the first few days," Natsuki said quickly, "until I can find something else."
"Do you need help moving?" Her mother asked, ready to close up the shop right there.
"Hmm? Oh, no," Natsuki shook her head, though her mother couldn't see her. "All the furniture came with the apartment so it's not like I can take it with me anyway."
"...Are you sure this is wise?" her mother asked, sounding even more worried.
"Yeah," Natsuki laughed, "I already met the manager and she seems really nice."
"Natsuki," her mother scolded, "don't tell me you're doing this for a girl."
"She's forty mom," Natsuki replied quickly, rolling her eyes. On second thought, she should have definitely said the manager was a man. "And I wouldn't switch jobs just for a girl."
"But you haven't met anyone in years," her mother protested.
"So now you want me to change jobs for a girl?" Natsuki asked, raising her eyebrows.
"I never said that," her mother argued.
Natsuki laughed, moving the phone to the left side of her face. "It's okay mom, I know what you meant." She paused for a moment, trying to sound casual. "Well, I have to get packing. I'll call you when I get settled in, okay?"
"Bu.." her mother started to protest.
"Bye mom," Natsuki said quickly, hitting the 'end' button. She breathed out a sigh of relief, putting the phone down on the counter. At least she'd gotten that over with.
She paused for a moment. Years? It hadn't been years... right?
Natsuki glanced around her apartment before leaning back against the counter in exasperation. How was she suppose to pack everything before Sunday? "If we were allowed to take our guns home, I'd just shoot myself now," Natsuki thought bitterly as she walked back over to the couch.
Her Friday hadn't exactly been the ideal way to end the week.
Monday came far too quickly for Natsuki's liking. She rolled over in her bed, her stomach knotting even tighter as she hit the 'off' button on her alarm. Natsuki leaned her back on her pillow, staring up at the hotel-room ceiling.
"Since when am I this nervous about anything?" Natsuki asked herself finally. As if to prove to herself she wasn't afraid, she got up suddenly, walking over to the bathroom. She paused, brushing her long hair back as she looked at her reflection. She didn't actually look that bad... considering the fact that she'd been awake since three AM.
An hour later she was done getting ready. Natsuki quickly grabbed her black suit-jacket and put it on, folding the collar of her light blue dress shirt over the black one. She picked up her new key card and her parking pass, along with the directions on how to get to Garderobe. She'd driven past the establishment the day before to make sure she'd known where it was, but it never hurt to be sure.
Natsuki pulled into the parking lot, picking the first spot she could find. Carefully, she hung her parking pass on the rearview mirror before getting out of the car. She turned around, examining the large building before her.
It was quite a bit smaller than the one at Fuuka. She glanced over at the main doors, her eyes drifting up to the various cameras set in place. There were only two that she could see from where she was. Natsuki knew there would be quite a few more hidden around the building's exterior.
Her gaze was drawn to one of the exits on the side, then to the various tinted windows lining the front wall. It was always good to have alternative escape routes.
"Alternative escape routes?" Natsuki mentally repeated to herself as she started walking, "I have to work here. There is no escape." She reached the outer door, opening it slowly. Natsuki walked into what looked like a reception area.
Natsuki glanced around, slightly confused. There was a row of chairs set out beside her. She glanced over at the empty desk, raising her eyebrows. It was more than a little sloppy to leave the entrance completely unattended. The room had two doors branching off of it. One was marked 'Interviews'and the other had no markings of any kind. There was, however, a fingerprint scanner beside the unmarked door.
Looks good to me. Natsuki walked over, key card in hand. She was about to swipe her card when one of the doors behind her opened suddenly.
Natsuki turned, watching a woman walk out of the 'Interview' room. The woman looked up at her curiously, sweeping her light brown hair out of her eyes.
Natsuki pulled her arm back quickly, startled when the woman's dark red eyes met her own. She studied them carefully, unable to look away as the light glistened off of them—the result a stunning shade of crimson Natsuki was sure she'd never seen before.
The woman's mouth turned up in a small smile as she started to walk over, her high heels managing to hit the floor so softly Natsuki almost couldn't hear her footsteps.
"And who might you be?" she asked, continuing to walk towards Natsuki.
Natsuki felt her face heat up as she lowered her arm the rest of the way. She turned her body to face the woman, swallowing forcefully. She... she's gorgeous. Natsuki studied the woman as well as she could without staring, her movements somehow finding a perfect balance between elegance and strength. Natsuki opened her mouth to respond, silently praying her voice hadn't gone so hoarse she couldn't speak.
The phone on the desk rang suddenly, making Natsuki jump slightly. The red-eyed woman was unable to suppress a smile when she saw Natsuki tense up, making the navy-haired woman blush.
Natsuki crossed her arms, scowling slightly when the woman smiled at her teasingly.
"I'll just be one moment," she told Natsuki, meeting her eyes once more before turning away. She walked over to the desk, picking up the phone before it could ring a third time.
Natsuki nodded, grateful for the distraction. She inhaled slowly, her eyes trailing down the woman's form, despite her attempts to mentally stop herself. Natsuki felt her face heat up even more as her gaze was drawn from the woman's form-fitting, red shirt to her almost knee-length, tan business skirt. Natsuki bit her bottom lip slightly, as if to snap herself out of it. She carefully tried to slow her heart rate—a technique she'd perfected to pass any lie detector test. Natsuki felt her pulse increase dramatically when she wasn't successful.
She gulped, watching the way the woman's soft hair cascaded down the top half of her back. "Great," Natsuki thought bitterly, her heart now pounding loudly, "there goes five years of training." At this rate the whole office would know she was gay before the end of the day. Not everyone was as open to the idea as Mai was. It was definitely not a promising way to start off her career.
The chestnut-haired woman held the phone up to her ear, turning to lean casually against the desk so she was facing Natsuki. "Garderobe Temp Agency, how may I assist you?"
There was a long pause before the woman spoke once more.
"Yes sir, I'm sure we can find a suitable assistant for you." She smiled, glancing up at Natsuki as she spoke.
Natsuki's grip on her key card tightened slightly. Something struck her as odd about the way the woman spoke. Her voice suggested she was from Garderobe, but Natsuki thought something sounded a little off.
She watched curiously as the look on the woman's face changed to one of amusement.
"No sir, I won't be the one assigned to you," she laughed melodically, red eyes sparkling. "I apologize, but I lack the skills necessary to fulfill your needs."
Natsuki raised her eyebrows, meeting the woman's eyes questioningly. The door behind Natsuki opened, making her reflexively turn around.
Another woman, with short dark-gray hair, walked out. The door closed behind her as she stopped to stare at Natsuki for a moment. Natsuki glanced down at the coffee in the woman's hand before looking at her face once more. The gray-haired woman gave a friendly smile before hurrying past her and over to the desk.
The red-eyed woman glanced up, waving slightly to the newcomer. The gray-haired woman gave her a sheepish look as she set her coffee down.
There was a small pause before the brown-haired woman laughed once more, "I'm quite flattered, sir. I like your voice as well."
The gray-haired woman grinned, giving the first woman a look.
"If you'll excuse me, my assistant is here to take down the information," the brown-haired woman said quickly, a small smile on her face, "...yes, you have a wonderful day too, sir." She lowered the phone, covering the mouthpiece.
"Sorry," the gray-haired woman smiled sheepishly, "arigato Viola-san."
"It's quite alright," the woman replied, an amused look on her face. She handed the gray-haired woman the phone and got up off the desk, walking over to Natsuki.
"He said he liked your voice?" Natsuki smirked, attempting to make a smooth recovery.
"It's a shame it wasn't actually my voice," the woman replied—an accent that Natsuki could only describe as 'seductive' suddenly surfacing.
Natsuki looked at her, meeting her eyes questioningly. So that was it. The woman was compensating for an accent. "Go undercover in Kyoto a little too long?" she asked, eyebrows raised.
The woman laughed, stepping a little too close for Natsuki's comfort. "Ara, how perceptive of you. I was born in Kyoto, but I moved here nine years ago."
Natsuki nodded, her face heating up once more. "W..well, why go to all the trouble?" she asked, gesturing to the phone.
"Did you forget your training so soon?" the woman replied teasingly. "Voice recognition is one of the main methods used in identification."
"I..I knew that!" Natsuki replied defensively, her face flushing.
"I'm sure you did," the brown-haired woman smiled, holding out her hand. "Agent Viola Shizuru. I presume today is your first day?" Shizuru, of course, never truly presumed anything. There were 67 agents working at Garderobe, and she knew all of their names and faces by memory.
Natsuki shook her hand reluctantly, her eyes fluttering up to meet Shizuru's as their hands touched.
Shizuru smiled softly, studying Natsuki's eyes with interest. "What a breathtaking shade of green," she thought to herself. Her gaze trailed down to the other woman's lips, which were currently pursed together in a small frown. She let go of Natsuki's hand, allowing her palm and fingertips to graze those of the other woman subtly as she pulled away. She gauged the other woman's reaction carefully, feeling her own heartbeat race faster before she got it back under control.
"Yeah, I just got transferred," Natsuki answered, clearing her suddenly-dry throat. She took a small step back, turning to face the door then back at Shizuru. "It's nice to meet you," she said quickly, trying to sound as if she didn't really care. She really didn't like the effect this woman was having on her.
"The honor is mine," Shizuru replied quickly, startled by Natsuki's sudden change in attitude. She paused for a second, watching an annoyed look flash on the navy-haired woman's face. "Are you here for basic training?" she asked, trying to keep the conversation going.
Natsuki's eyes widened as she crossed her arms. "Excuse me?" she replied, taken back. Did she really just say that?
"I could show you where to go," Shizuru offered. She didn't know why, but she felt oddly off-balance talking to the shorter woman. It was a strange reversal of roles for her. Usually it was her attention that was demanded, not the other way around.
"I'm not in basic," Natsuki replied firmly, glaring at Shizuru, "I'm an Elite." Who the hell does this woman think she is? Do I look eighteen?
Shizuru's eyes would have widened quite dramatically if she hadn't been specifically trained to remain calm at all times. "K...Kruger, Natsuki?" She said quickly, thinking there was no way this woman was their new transferred Elite. Then again, she'd never gotten around to reading her file so it was theoretically possible.
"The one and only," Natsuki replied, raising her eyebrows. "Is there a problem?"
"K..Kanin na, Agent Kruger. I just presumed you were too young to be the new Elite I was informed of," Shizuru met her gaze with a calm smile. A..ara, that was unfortunate. I seem to have offended her. Perhaps, next time, I should make it a point to at least look up a picture beforehand.
"I'm twenty-three," Natsuki informed her, not looking amused in the least.
"Really?" Shizuru replied, smiling. "It seems we're not far apart then, I'm twenty-four."
Natsuki nodded after a moment. "And your ranking, Agent Viola?" she asked, a small smirk on her face. She liked the idea of being higher ranked than Shizuru, and since she was now at the top, it was pretty much guaranteed.
"Elite," Shizuru replied evenly, meeting her smirk with a questioning gaze.
Natsuki's smile faded slightly when she realized they had the same status. But...she's so young. Her stomach clenched when she realized that Shizuru's status probably meant that the older woman was a lot better than she was. Natsuki had been promoted to fill an agenda. Shizuru had gotten there all on her own. Natsuki turned back to the door impatiently, as if talking to Shizuru was now an inconvenience to her. "Well, I'm supposed to meet the director, and right now you're making me late," she said quickly.
Shizuru blinked in surprise, though Natsuki was turned too far to see it. How long had it been since someone had been so blunt to her in a conversation? Her face flushed gently before she could stop it.
Natsuki quickly slid her key card into the notch, waiting for it to be pulled through mechanically. She swiped it herself when she realized their system must not be automated. There was a loud beep after a moment. Natsuki glanced down at the light. It was still red. Being more careful this time, she slid her card through slowly. There was another loud beep. She swiped her card once more in frustration, cursing under her breath. Had she not been programmed into the system?
Shizuru bit back a smile as she quickly walked over. "Here, let me show you," she said quietly. "You're used to the automated ones, correct?"
Natsuki blushed, nodding. "Nice exit," she scolded herself, "Of course it always helps if you can actually open the door!"
Shizuru hid a smile when she saw the younger woman's face turn red. Suddenly everything Natsuki had said to her was forgiven. This woman is just too adorable to stay mad at for long.
Shizuru took Natsuki's hand in her own, guiding the card over to the scanner.
"It's very specific," Shizuru informed her, taking a step closer so she could reach the scanner.
Natsuki tensed up as the older woman brushed against her arm. She breathed in slowly, unintentionally inhaling Shizuru's enticing scent. Natsuki reflexively inhaled deeper, the smell of freshly brewed tea and a trace of lavender wrapping around her gently.
"It has to do with the coding system they use. You need to swipe perfectly parallel to the door." Shizuru slowly slid the card through, only releasing Natsuki's hand when the light had turned green.
Natsuki pulled her hand away quickly, the prolonged contact making her lose her composure. "W..well, maybe you guys should buy a new system," she quickly snapped, pressing her thumb onto the scanner.
"Perhaps we should," Shizuru replied, her eyes shining with amusement. "She's so defensive," Shizuru contemplated to herself. Somehow, it was strangely endearing.
Shizuru studied the blush on the navy-haired woman's cheeks once more. She knew better than to read too much into it. Natsuki was new after all, and the odds of her being physically attracted to women weren't in her favor.
Shizuru took a small step back, studying Natsuki's body language. Her posture suggested she was actually quite relaxed, but Shizuru knew an elite agent would have no problems simulating the stance.
Natsuki opened the door quickly, stepping into the long hallway that lay beyond it. She paused, turning when Shizuru she stepped through after her. Natsuki gave her a questioning look.
"Do you know where to go?" Shizuru asked, wondering if Natsuki had somehow gotten hold of the base schematics.
"I'm sure I can figure it out," Natsuki replied a little too defensively.
"Allow me to assist you," Shizuru said quickly. She took a step into the hallway, holding the door open. "In the interest of saving time," she added casually.
"Oh, Viola-san?!" the gray-haired woman called out, hanging up the phone. She jogged over to them, stopping in front of the door.
Shizuru and Natsuki turned, halfway through the door.
"Marguerite-san is looking for you," the woman informed her, a small smile on her face.
Shizuru let out a soft sigh, though the small smile never left her face. "Ookini. I'm sure she'll find me soon enough."
The charcoal-haired woman grinned, nodding. "Too true." She turned to Natsuki, holding out a hand through the doorway. "Agent Chie Hallard, third class."
"Kruger Natsuki, Elite," Natsuki replied, shaking her hand.
"Y..You're the new Elite?" Chie gaped. "Wow. I..I mean... good for you."
Natsuki smirked. "Arigato."
The phone rang once again. Chie sighed, running a hand through her short hair. "Well, that's my cue to leave. Nice meeting you," she called, jogging back over to the desk.
Natsuki nodded, walking a little down the hallway. She waited for Shizuru, more than a little annoyed that she had no clue where to go. "So, what's with the reception area?" Natsuki asked after a moment.
Shizuru smiled, taking the question as a sign she was being permitted to help. She began to walk slowly down the hallway. Natsuki followed her, waiting for a reply.
"Well, naturally the reception area is mostly for show," Shizuru answered.
Natsuki nodded. They'd had something similar back at Fuuka. "Yeah, but what do you do if someone comes in actually wanting a job? Aren't they going to expect an interview or something?"
"We give them one," Shizuru replied, laughing faintly. "One of our agents, Senoh-san, performs interviews. Hallard-san is responsible for watching the phone lines and managing our website."
"So, you turn everyone down?" Natsuki asked, following Shizuru through a set of double doors. Natsuki inwardly sighed as she stared up the seemingly endless flight of stairs that lay before her. I guess they don't have elevators either.
"Of course not," Shizuru replied. "If we feel their skills will be of use, we hire them." She began walking up stairs, not sensing Natsuki's hesitation.
Natsuki's eyes darted down to Shizuru's form-fitting skirt. She forced herself to look away after a moment, her cheeks heating up as she hurried to catch up.
"Y..You hire people off the street?!" Natsuki replied, Shizuru's words finally sinking in. "You're insane!"
Shizuru laughed, shaking her head. "We hire people for our Temp Agency, not for secret service work Kruger-san."
Natsuki raised her eyebrows as they climbed even more stairs. "I don't understand," she said finally.
"Garderobe Temp Agency does exist," Shizuru replied, taking great joy in the younger woman's confusion. "It would simply be too suspicious to turn down everyone who came to us. If a company calls for a worker, Hallard-san simply subcontracts from another agency to find the workers it needs."
"You're kidding me," Natsuki replied. Talk about a thorough cover.
"I assure you, it works quite well." Shizuru smiled, opening the door at the top of the stairs. "It even brings in some money when everything is said and done. And, as I'm sure you've probably noticed, Garderobe lacks proper government funding. The agency helps fill in the gaps."
Natsuki smiled, shaking her head. This was definitely different from Fuuka's Office.
"On another note," Shizuru began, leading Natsuki down another hallway, "you'd be surprised how useful the agency can prove to be."
"What do you mean?" Natsuki asked, not following.
"We get placement requests from all over Garderobe," Shizuru replied. "We can place agents wherever we want without anyone suspecting. Last week, we received a request for a secretary in the same building where a suspected member of a terrorist organization is working. One of our highest ranking agents is there now in the secretary's place."
"Nice," Natsuki grinned, unable to stop herself. She had to admit, it was pretty well thought out.
Shizuru laughed lightly, pleased with how well their conversation was going. She stopped in front of the director's office, gesturing to the door. "This is it Agent Kruger."
Natsuki nodded. "Arigato," she replied, her voice going a little rough.
Shizuru smiled, nodding. "I'll see you later then. We'll be working on Arai Hirohito's case together."
Natsuki swallowed hard, nodding quickly once more. She was fairly certain working with Shizuru would be a little... distracting. "Okay," she replied, quickly turning to the door and knocking.
"Come in," a man's voice called from inside.
Natsuki turned back to Shizuru once more, their eyes meeting. Shizuru smiled yet again before turning and walking back down the hallway.
Natsuki watched her walk away, temporarily forgetting all about the director.
Shizuru turned to peek over her shoulder, grinning to herself when she saw Natsuki was still watching her.
Natsuki quickly turned back to the door, her face heating up slightly. She turned the handle and stepped inside, wanting to put as much distance between her and Shizuru as possible.
A/N: I really hope you liked it!!! :D Thanks so much for reading! Let me know what you think!
I'll try and have chapter 2 out in a week or so. School is starting up again (*bashes head against wall*) so it'll be harder for me to update as frequently.