I've combined the original chapters 5-7, so don't be alarmed by the sudden shortening of the piece! The next chapter (what would originally have been chapter 8) is coming soon! I have to say, I'm extremely glad that Christmas break has come around, because I set up a demon of a schedule for Junior year. But, I've got a little time now, so I'm paying attention to my poor, neglected story! Criticism and comments are appreciated, but hate mail is not!
"We're leaving," said Natsuo, opening the door to leave for work. Ritsuka nodded, stroking the large stuffed rabbit the older boys had given him after he had woken up in their small apartment a week ago. Ritsuka strongly suspected it was stolen, as they lived a very hand-to-mouth existence. They were crammed into a 1K apartment, and the only jobs they could hold without being discovered were night jobs in the entertainment district. Even so, sometimes they still had to steal food.
Natsuo pulled his cap over his ears, spared one last glance at Ritsuka, then followed Youji out the door. He was uncharacteristically worried about the younger demon, especially since he'd gotten to know him a bit. Ritsuka didn't talk unless it was absolutely necessary, and when he did it was in a quiet, non-confrontational voice. He could be found staring out the window for hours at a time, taking in the view past the balcony rail. The kid had long since retreated deep within himself, saving whatever fragments of his sanity he had left.
He'd adjusted to his life in the small apartment fairly quickly though, and the past two nights Natsuo and Youji had come home to a still-warm meal, a heated bath, and their futon already laid out. Natsuo liked to think that they had slipped past his defenses, even if just a little.
As they entered the entertainment district, the two demons checked their caps to make sure they wouldn't be given away by their ears. Demons without collars faced severe punishment, and the way they were living was dangerous. The pair hurried into an alley, slipping into the side door of Seven Moons, an izakaya popular with university students and the younger crowd of office workers. Once in the small staff room, they shrugged off their coats, double-checking that tails and ears really were sufficiently hidden. However, before they could enter the shop they were ambushed by a short woman with two sets of clothing in her hands.
"These are for you," Nagisa said, thrusting the hangers at them. "You can't be wearing the same thing to work all the time, and I know you can't afford new clothes right now, so I snagged you these." Nagisa worked as a stylist, and as the owner's fiancee, she made it her duty to make sure the staff at Seven Moons were properly dressed. The clothes she had given Natsuo and Youji were trendy and probably expensive, acquired from a shoot she had worked on recently.
Youji thanked her for the clothes as Natsuo stowed them in their lockers, then they made their way to the front. "You're late!" called Minami Ritsu from behind the bar.
"Your girlfriend ambushed us," said Natsuo, heading towards an incoming couple's table. He and Youji weren't allowed to work behind the bar, because they obviously weren't of age, so they tended the tables instead. The work wasn't bad, but when large groups came in, it made things busy for the two demons.
Just after eleven, one such group burst in, university students celebrating the completion of a project. They quickly became very loud, downing alcohol like water and keeping Natuso and Youji running back and forth between them and the other customers.
As they neared closing, Youji overheard a conversation that had nothing to do with the rest of the drunken party. He was bringing a couple non-alcoholic drinks to the only two sober people in the party - a bored, indifferent-looking blonde man who had his hair pulled into a low ponytail over his shoulder, and his green-haired friend that had far too much metal in his ears. There had to have been seven rings in each ear.
"...all that different. Structurally, they're the same, save the ears and tails. I'm sure one could easily pass for a human." Youji snorted a little. Ain't that the truth.
"I dunno, Soubi. They're happy, you know?"
Soubi looked sideways at his green-haired friend. "Kio, how happy can you possibly be when you're forced to wear a collar and be tied up all the time?"
Kio licked his lips, leaning in close to the blonde, a small smile forming. "You can chain me up any time you like, Sou-chan. We can go pick out the collar now, if that's what you want."
Soubi pushed Kio away, disregarding the last comment. "You're drunk."
"We're home!" called Natsuo and Youji softly called as they slipped off their shoes in the genkan, aligning them against the step up into the room. Ritsuka was already asleep in his futon, curled into a tight little ball, the tip of his tail brushing his nose. Near the foot of his futon was their small dining table, set with two meals, covered to keep the heat in.
The boys sat at the chabudai, taking the lids off of their miso soup and rice bowls. Steam rose off the simple meal, carrying the delicious scent with it.
"Itadakimasu," they said, pressing their palms together in front of them. They'd picked up a few habits from the Japanese, and their speech regularly switched back and forth between languages. Since Ritsuka had come to live with them, they'd found themselves speaking more consistently in their native tongue.
Quickly, the demons ate their meal, then sat in the small bath together for a few minutes, relaxing before bed.
Settling into the futon beside Youji, Natsuo glanced at the younger demon huddled in the futon. He always slept that way, as if he was used to sleeping in small spaces, or needed to conserve warmth. He reached over to tug the kakebuton a little higher over Ritsuka's shoulders and lay down, putting his arm around Youji.
Ritsuka folded up his futon and quietly stowed it in the small closet in the corner, trying no to wake Natsuo and Youji. Along the wall next to the closet, stood three baskets. Inside each were carefully folded clothes and the few personal items they could afford to have. Hats, combs, what little jewelry they had managed to save from their homeland, Natsuo and Youji's books, Ritsuka's stuffed rabbit. Ritsuka grabbed the rabbit and went into the unit bath. There he collected a fourth basket of dirty clothes from under the sink.
Unable to read and write, Ritsuka set a piece of paper prepared by Youji on the table. It said, "Gone to do the washing. Ritsuka." At the bottom was a drawing of a washing machine and a basket of clothes. Having done that, Ritsuka pulled on a cadet cap, slipped into his shoes, and left the apartment, basket and rabbit in hand.
In the three weeks that he'd been living with the other demons, his body had almost fully healed. There were still a few bandages on his arm and torso, but even the largest bruises were almost faded. Under Youji's watchful eye, he was healing with few new scars.
The laundromat was a five minute walk from the apartment, one he made once a week, usually while Natsuo and Youji were still asleep. They got off work at one in the morning, so they didn't usually get to sleep until around two.
Ritsuka adjusted his grip on the basket and pushed open the door to the laundromat, his presence announced by the chiming of a bell. He was the only one there, but Ritsuka preferred it that way. After starting his wash, he shifted his tail to the side inside his baggy jeans so that he wouldn't sit on it. Someone had left several different manga magazines on the table, and he idly flipped through them while he waited, looking at the drawings whose words he couldn't read.
After a while, the door chimed, and in walked a beautiful man with blonde hair that was pulled into a ponytail that almost reached his shoulders. Ritsuka's ears twitched slightly under his cap as the man shoved his own clothes into a machine, but he didn't look up when the man sat across from him. Instead, he scooted a little farther down the bench.
Soubi watched the boy for a moment. Normally, he wouldn't have cared about the kid, he was just another random kid in a laundromat, but his eyes had caught his attention. They looked...lifeless.
"Is that manga good?" Soubi asked, surprising himself a little.
"...The pictures are." The kid's voice was quiet, and he didn't look up.
"Well, what about the story?"
"Ritsuka doesn't know. Ritsuka can't read." This answer startled Soubi.
"What about school?"
"...Ritsuka's not allowed to go." The boy seemed to not want to answer, taking a moment to respond to each question.
Soubi didn't press the issue, instead deciding to introduce himself. "I'm Soubi, a uni student at the art school nearby. I'm nineteen, what about you?"
In human years? "...Thirteen." For some reason, the quietness of Ritsuka's voice and his hesitation was starting to bother Soubi. Normally, he would have left this kid alone a long time ago, but this kid...
In one last attempt to draw Ritsuka into a real conversation, Soubi reached out to point at his hat, somewhat stymied by the way Ritsuka flinched away from him. "I like your hat. It looks good on you. But, what are those two little bumps?" He indicated two spots on either side of the top of his own head. "It kind of bulges here, and here."
Just then, Ritsuka's machines beeped, and he unloaded the clothes from them into his basket. As he turned to the door, Soubi said, "You're not going to dry them?"
"...Ritsuka will hang them in the sun. They smell better that way." He pushed the door open, and Soubi called out to him once more.
"I'll be here in a week. Can we talk some more?" Ritsuka glanced back at him, and then he was gone.
Soubi looked up from the large canvas on the floor and set down his paintbrush. "Funnily enough, I don't remember this being your home."
Kio set a bag of drinks on the chabudai, pouting a little. "Oh, don't be like that. Who's this? Is it a girl or a boy?" He indicated a sketch next to the bag of a melancholy kid wearing a newsboy cap and too-large clothes.
Soubi sat down at the low table with Kio and popped open his drink. "It's a boy named Ritsuka that I met in the laundromat this morning."
"This morning? Shouldn't he have been in school?"
"Says he's not allowed to go. Can't read, either, apparently."
Kio stared at Soubi. "You actually cared enough to ask? You? Mr. Cold Indifference himself? Shock! Kio's shocked!" He looked down at the sketch again. "You didn't get the eyes right. They're kinda lifeless."
Soubi shook his head. "They're right. I just wonder why, though...You know, the way he talked was weird, too. He talked in third person, like some cutesy girl, but his voice was really quiet and hesitant."
Kio blinked. "This Ritsuka kid's really gettin' to you, huh?"
Soubi shrugged. "Maybe..."
Soubi sat in the laundromat, flipping through his sketchbook as he waited, looking at the sketches of Ritsuka. The week before, he had waited for Ritsuka to come and do his laundry, even though he hadn't said anything to indicate that he would come see him again. To his surprise, the boy had arrived just as Soubi was deciding to give up. Ritsuka had not spoken much, but he had listened to Soubi talk as he'd sketched. Although, he always sat as far away as the table allowed.
The door chimed, and Ritsuka walked in, inclining his head to Soubi before loading his clothes into a machine. Soubi smiled to himself, flipping to a fresh page in his sketchbook.
"The subject for today's sketch is a demon," said the instructor, walking behind her students. They were lined up in front of a demon sitting on a mattress in the middle of the room. "I want you to look at him closely. He may look very much like a human, but there are small structural differences that differentiates him from us - the humans. I don't want any half-baked sketches here, people!" She double-checked her model's pose, then left her students to their artwork.
As his drawing took form on the paper, Soubi marveled at the vaguely feline beauty of the figure before him. Demons were very attractive, at least to humans - Soubi had no idea how demons viewed each other. They were thin, which for a human would mean less strength, but they were a good deal stronger than most humans. The model, at first glance, seemed almost too skinny, but his muscles rippled subtly under his skin when he moved. His jeans seemed too large for him, riding low on his hips so his tail could move freely.
The demon's hair was pulled into a long, loose braid that hung over one shoulder. He turned his head slightly, allowing Soubi a better view of the other side of his face. Soubi's brow furrowed as he remembered something from his meeting with Ritsuka that morning. Ritsuka had brushed his hair back from his face and had paused to scratch where his ear should have been. Soubi hadn't actually seen an ear there, just hair. But he'd seen it from the corner of his eye, so he'd dismissed the thought. But, seeing the demon before him now, the only ears being the cat-like pair on top of his head, he began to rethink the dismissal.
"Huuungryyyyy..."whined Natsuo, who had flopped onto the table, his outstretched arms hanging over the edge. He and Youji were taking a day off, and so they were eating dinner with Ritsuka rather than following their normal, delayed meal schedule.
"Oh, be quiet," said Youji, pouring green tea over three bowls of rice and tsukemono. "We need to go grocery shopping after the meal - we've basically got rice and green tea left."
"It's a little late to go grocery shopping," said Ritsuka. "All the vegetables will be picked over."
"It'll be fine," said Youji, nudging Natsuo out of the way to set the food on the table. "Besides, we'll have a discount."
Ritsuka carried two bags of rice to the counter, and waited for the shopkeeper to come. Youji had split up what money they had into rice, meat, and vegetables, though it seemed to him that there was next to nothing for vegetables. The older demons had assured him that it would be okay, and sent him into the rice shop before continuing down the street. Ritsuka had a sneaking suspicion that it wouldn't be okay, but he let it alone. They would figure something out.
"Can you handle that okay?" asked the shopkeeper once he finished tallying the price, and handed back the change.
Ritsuka easily lifted the bags and tucked them under one arm, nodding to the shopkeeper as he pushed out the door. He was supposed to wait outside the rice shop for Natsuo and Youji, so he leaned against the wall and watched a few people walking down the street. After a minute, he was startled by an angry shout a few buildings down. When he turned to look, Natsuo and Youji were running full speed down the street towards him, their arms full of bags of meat and vegetables.
The older boys nearly ran past him, only stopping for a moment. "Run," said Natsuo, then took off again. Ritsuka adjusted the rice bags under his arm and turned to follow them, when something caught his eye. Their pursuer was none other than Soubi, from the laundromat.
"Stop!" the man called. "How did I get roped into this?" he grumbled to himself, then noticed Ritsuka, who bolted.
Catching up with the others, Ritsuka said quietly, "I know him, from the laundry. Run faster."
The demons ducked around the corner, weaving through the streets in an attempt to lose Soubi. When they were sure he was gone, they turned towards home. Still slightly jumpy, Youji unlocked the door and ushered the other two inside. He was just about to close the door when a foot slipped in, blocking its path.
"Crap! This guy is persistent! Why couldn't he just have left it alone!" Youji said, trying to push the door closed through Soubi's foot, but the man managed to force himself through.
"Crap, you guys are fast...You're demons?" The question surprised the boys, and they looked at one another questioningly. Natsuo's stomach sank, and he pointed at Ritsuka's head - his hat had fallen off at some point during the chase, revealing the cat-like ears beneath.
Youji pinched the bridge of his nose. "...What do we do now? We can't just let him leave." Soubi strained to hear the words, but very little of the strange tongue was audible to him.
"For now, let's just see what he has to say about this." Natsuo motioned for Soubi to sit, and locked the door. "What do you want?" he said, turning to Soubi, and removing his own hat. Youji did likewise, and all three freed their tails from the confines of their jeans. It was fairly uncomfortable hiding them underneath their clothing, so it was always a relief to come home, where they didn't have to hide them.
"...Nothing," said Soubi, watching with interest. "Well...hearing your story might be nice, I guess. I'm a little shell-shocked at the moment." He certainly didn't look it; Soubi appeared to be completely unruffled by the unveiling of three ownerless demons.
Natsuo and Youji sat down at the chabudai with Soubi, but Ritsuka stayed back, putting the food that had been dropped on the floor away. "Ritsuka, why don't you join us?" Soubi held up his hands in a peaceful gesture, but the boy pulled back even farther, watching him from the corner of his eye.
"He's afraid of humans, stupid. I'm amazed you managed to get anything out of him. You've only met him, what? Once, twice?" Natsuo said matter-of-factly, not bothering to disguise his automatic dislike for the man.
"We don't exactly trust you, either. We haven't got the best of memories of you people," said Youji.
Soubi was quiet for a moment, unsure what to say. He looked around the apartment, amazed that the three of them had enough space to live. "Why don't you come stay with me?" he said, to everyone's surprise.
Natsuo narrowed his eyes. "What're you playing at?"
Soubi shrugged. "Nothing. It just looks like you guys could use a hand, especially if you have to steal food." Still suspicious, Natsuo and Youji looked at each other, and then at Ritsuka, who gave a tiny shrug.
"...We could try," he said. "We can always leave. Right?"
"...Fine," said Youji, turning back to Soubi. "We'll go. But, if you try anything, you're going to regret it."
When Natsuo and Youji say "We're leaving" and "We're home" normally it would demand a reply, but because of Ritsuka's personality and situation, I guess it's okay. When you leave the house, you say "Ittekimasu" which means "I'm going and will come back," the reply being "Itterasshai" meaning "Yes, go and come back." When you return home, you say "Tadaima" which means "I've returned," the reply being "Okaeri" meaning "You've returned." That's the literal translation. Basically, it's "I'm leaving," "Have a good day," "I'm home" and "Welcome home."
1K apartment - It's a really small apartment. Basically, one room with a kitchen and a small bathroom. Not all 1K's have a tub, so there are variations on how people living there bathe - public baths, usually, but I believe there are some apartment buildings that have a communal bath for itself that all the tenants use.
izakaya - comes from the word sakaya, meaning sake shop. Izakaya serve not only alcohol, but food as well. They generally cater to business people going drinking with coworkers.
genkan - the entryway to a home, where shoes are slipped off and either put on a shelf called a getabako (shoe shelf) or aligned near the step up into the house, pointing toward the door so you can just slip into them when you leave. And yes, there is a step up, so that when you leave, you're basically stepping down into your shoes.
chabudai - a traditional table, low to the ground. You either sit on the floor (tatami - woven reed mats) or zabutan (a cushion you sit on instead of a chair).
Itadakimasu - Thank you for the food. Said before you eat. After you eat, you say "Gochisousama" which also means "Thank you for the food." 'Tis polite, and people generally say it whether others are around or not.
Taking a bath before bed is a cultural thing. When you get in the bath, it's for relaxation and warming oneself, and you wash before you get in, next to the ofuro (bathtub, basically). Everyone in the house bathes in the same water, so you're completely clean before you even think of stepping into the water. Also, it's common to bathe with family members and those close to you as a bonding experience. Sento are communal baths, and are very common. Everyone bathes together in one giant bath (segregated by sex of course). Also, furo are deep-you sit neck-deep in the water and just soak.
Miso soup and rice are staples in Japanese cuisine, and can be found at almost every meal.
Just as a reminder, kakebuton is the thick quilted cover you sleep under when on a futon.
Drinking parties are common, a social thing. Coworkers at a company might go drinking together, classmates in college (legal drinking age is 20, when you're legally an adult).
Unit bath- normally, the bath and toilet area are separate in Japanese houses and apartments. But in some small, cheap apartments, the bath and toilet are combined. In the bathroom, there's a tub and an open shower area next to the tub, so you get into the tub already clean. In unit baths, the toilet and sink are there too.
Uni student - university student
Tadaima - means "I'm home" usually demands the reply "Okaeri" which means "Welcome home" but since it's not actually Kio's home...
chabudai - low table traditionally used in Japanese homes. One sits on either a small cushion or just the tatami when sitting at one.
Talking in third person - Talking in third person is usually used by little kids or girls who want to appear cute/cutesy
tsukemono - literally "pickled things"; can be a variety of foods for example - daikon (radish), ginger, cucumber, eggplant, fish, cabbage, plum
Ochazuke - (I didn't name this one in the story) simple dish made by pouring tea, dashi (Japanese soup stock), or hot water over rice in the same proportion as milk to cereal. Common toppings include tsukemono, umeboshi (pickled plums), nori (seaweed), salted salmon, wasabi, and sesame seeds. Also known as cha-cha gohan. Cha/ocha means tea (usually green, and never black); zuke = tsuke (submerge); gohan (rice).