Words of Love

Chapter Five

'Shopping'


Yawning, Neru stretched, arching her back like a cat's. Her spine cracked unpleasantly; an ominous-sounding noise that made the blonde wince.

Her early-morning shot of caffeine had already been drained. The cup was sat in the sink, alongside dirty dishes and glasses in a pool of grimy water.

Neru would clean them later.

Maybe.

Unless Miku got to them first.

Even now, at eight in the morning, the turquoise-headed girl was eyeing up the overflowing sink. Her lower lip was stuck out, and her eyes were narrowed. Unknowingly, her fingers began to tap a discordant melody on the table-top.

It was quite amusing, really.

Over the past few days, Neru had come to realise that Miku did not like mess. The vocaloid felt strangely obliged to tidy and dust and clean every chance she got. Yesterday, she went so far as to rearrange Neru's sock drawer by order of size and color.

It was no so much that Miku liked cleaning. Rather, she felt duty-bound to help Neru; probably because she saw it as her 'duty'.

Well, Neru sure wasn't complaining.

"So," said the blonde, yawning again. She stifled it with her hand. "I was thinking, we should go somewhere today-"

Neru did not get a chance to finish, before Miku interrupted enthusiastically. Her disdain over the dishes evaporated on the spot, like a watery puddle on a sunny day.

"You're taking me out?" she squealed. "Yay! I get to go out with Neru!"

Miku had not been outside of Neru's house since the moment she arrived. The only memories she had of the outside world were vague, blurry and unpleasant. She could recall the alley, and the snow, and that was about it.

"Don't get so excited," said Neru. She waved her hands, in a shushing gesture. "It's not really that great. I hate snow."

"I think it's exciting!"

"Yes, well, when you've lived in the same part of the world for a few years you soon get bored," said Neru. Her tone was exasperated, but she could not help smiling. "Mainly, it's just the same stupid people, bad weather, and a bunch of ugly buildings."

"But I'm sure, if I experience these things with Neru-chan, it will be fun. I like being with Neru~"

"Haha, yeah… Well." Neru coughed. She tried to dispel the strange fluttering sensation in her stomach. "I thought I should take you clothes shopping. You can't keep wearing my old stuff."

"Really? Neru-chan is so kind! But I don't want to spend too much on me…"

"It doesn't matter. I'm rich."

Miku's eyes widened. She leant forward. "Ooh… Really?"

"Nope! But let's~ just~ pretend I am."

At the word 'pretend', Neru moved forwards across the table, and – stealthily – reached out, flicking Miku on the nose with her thumb and index finger.

Miku recoiled, giving Neru an affronted look.

"What was that for?"

"I'm threatening you." Neru narrowed her eyes, affixing Miku with a super-stern, 'no nonsense' look, that could send a grown man running away in tears. "If you don't shut up and stop worrying, there'll be plenty more of that coming."

"Neru-chan is so mean sometimes! You shouldn't resolve your problems with violence!"

"Aww, c'mon, I hardly touched you."

"But the pain you have left in my heart will last a lifetime!"

Neru stuck out her tongue in reply.

Stretching once more, spine popping, she got up from her seat. She paused by Miku's chair to ruffle the vocaloid's hair (Miku let out a small, indignant 'hey!', and began patting it down again), and then continued on her way to the bathroom.

"Where are you going?" Miku asked inquisitively, turning in her chair.

"To get a shower, duhhh. What'd you think?" A thought occurred to Neru. "You need to shower too, right? Or would exposure to water make you, I dunno, melt or something?"

Neru had never paid much attention in physics, but she did remember one valuable life lesson; water plus electricity equalled general unpleasantness and/or death.

What was Miku made out of, anyway?

Miku frowned. She began tracing random patterns on the table top. "Shower? Is that the human activity whereupon you stand naked and hose yourself down with water?" She wrinkled her nose. "It sounds disgusting."

"Urgh." Neru slapped a palm to her face, and shook her head. It was another 'anime sweatdrop' moment, which were annoyingly commonplace around Miku. For a being who possessed an 'infinite capacity knowledge', she sure said some stupid things.

"Keeping yourself clean is pretty important, Miku," Neru explained, with the patience of someone teaching a child that one plus one is two. "If you don't, you'll get all dirty."

"I guess that… makes sense…" said Miku reluctantly. She still seemed unhappy with the concept of 'the shower'. "Your human methods are weird."

Neru rolled her eyes.

She had better things to do than stand around discussing this.

"Well, I'm going now-"

"No, wait!" Miku, who had gotten to her feet at this point, took Neru's arm. "I just had an idea! If I have to do this stupid, uhh, 'shower thing', then why don't I do it with you?"

Neru recoiled from the smiling girl in abject horror.

"What."

It was not a question. It was a statement of shock and disbelief and unease. A lot of emotion went into that one single 'what'. Neru liked to believe she had made a powerful statement.

"Well~" Miku pressed her index fingers together, and pouted. "I thought it sounded sensible. It'll save time, and you won't have to waste any more water! Plus…" Miku quickly glanced Neru up and down. The blonde took another step back. "You have quite long hair, Neru-chan. It must take ages to wash it by yourself."

A haze of red sprouted on Neru's cheeks.

"I-I've always managed okay before!" Neru stuttered. "Besides, people-"

Miku pointed at herself. "Not a person. Vocaloid."

Neru threw her arms up in despair. "You look pretty human-shaped to me, so forgive me if I count you as an honorary human for this one!"

"But I don't want to be human! Your processing powers are so slowww."

"And I don't want to share a shower with anything that looks human!"

"Oh." Realisation slowly dawned upon the vocaloid. Her lips pulled into a frown, and she folded her arms. "Is this another of those weird 'human things' that make no sense, but I'm not allowed to question? Like eating? And eight hours sleep?" Miku shook her head. "Eight hours! I mean, seriously. I need to recharge, but not for that long! That's, like, half your life, doing nothing. Isn't that pointless?"

"Miku, if I don't sleep, I'll die."

"Then you are too weak and frail." A new type of frown came upon Miku. This one was full of concern. She bridged between herself and Neru with a few steps, and placed her hands on Neru's shoulders. "I worry about that, Neru-chan. That you could die so easily- from, I don't know, even falling down the stairs. Everything around you is trying to kill you! How have you survived for so long!"

"By not falling down the stairs?"

Neru felt quite perturbed by this closeness. She tried, however, to effect a lofty, unconcerned air.

"Maybe I should come into the bathroom with you anyway, Neru-chan. You might slip and break your neck or-"

Neru pushed Miku away from her at this, and grasped the door handle firmly.

"NO, you pervert!"

Neru slammed the door behind her.

Miku stood on the other side, feeling very alone.

Had she done something wrong?


"Wow, it's so pretty~" Miku breathed, eyes wide with awe, head turning this way and that to take everything in.

It had been snowing the night before, and the thick, heavy, white coating on the ground did look rather pretty, Neru begrudgingly admitted. Like a scene from a Christmas card.

"Look, Neru-chan, look!" Miku cried excitedly. She giggled, and exhaled, watching the puff of cold air dance, waif-like, in front of her face.

"Yeah. That happens when it gets cold," said Neru, matter-of-factly. She raised an eyebrow. "It's not that amazing."

"But it is~"

"Weirdo."

Miku stuck out her tongue, and gave Neru a little shove. "Don't be mean! You just can't appreciate the, uhn…" Miku paused, searching for a word. "Ah! The beauty of nature!"

"Beauty?" Neru glance about her; at the over flowing trashcans, the litter on the roads, and the ugly houses scrawled with graffiti. "Yep. Uh huhh. City life sure is beautiful, alright."

"You're too cynical."

"You're too optimistic."

"Then I guess we balance each other out! Aren't you happy you found me?" Miku giggled, linking arms with Neru.

The blonde tried to pull away, but Miku's grip was strong as iron (so she had super-strength now? Oh, sure, like that was playing fair). Neru flailed her arm limply, like a gently dying fish, but Miku's grip did not waver.

Eventually, Neru gave in. She stared resolutely at her shoes.

They were nice shoes, with smiley-face laces Teto had given her ("because you really don't smile enough, Neru-chan! They'll remind you to be happy! Like me! Kyah!")

Neru had always meant to take out those stupid shoelaces and put some nicer ones in, but she never did.

…Ah, that was better.

Thinking of banal subjects such as shoelaces was making her blush go down.

Hopefully, it would stay dead; although, that did not appear to be very likely, with Miku so close to her.

"W-what are you doing?" Neru asked, trying to sound angry.

"Making sure I don't lose you."

"I-idiot…"


"Neru-chan, I like this one! I like this one!" Miku was jumping up and down excitedly, pigtails bouncing. She was pointing eagerly at a white dress, ruffled at the bottom.

"I like it, too," Neru agreed, inspecting the dress. She checked the price tag. Her eyes widened.

Oh my God, what do they think I am? A princess? Not everyone can afford stuff like this with crappy local-newspaper-journalist wages.

Hnghh.

I spend hours of my precious life writing about cats in trees and that one faulty traffic light by the park, and for what?

Nothing!

Neru was beginning to feel acutely aware that she was much, much too cheap for this shop.

Most of her clothes had been given to her second-hand, or had been bought in charity stores and jumble sales.

The prettily made-up girl behind the counter, with blonde hair and pursed lips and a little nametag that said 'Hello! My name is Luna and I am happy to help!' stared at Neru in disdain (at least, in the paranoid Neru's brain, it looked like disdain).

Luna's weird rabbit-ear headband probably cost more than Neru's whole wardrobe- including both clothes and the actual, wooden wardrobe they came in.

"You know what," said Neru, rubbing the back of her head. She felt embarrassed; which, at the moment, seemed to be her normal frame of mind, right next to 'curiously flattered' and 'angry'. "I don't think this dress is really that good after all…"

"But I like it!"

"I know, but something else might suit you more."

"Is this about money?"

"N-no, of course not!" Pulling Miku closer to her, Neru hissed "don't talk about my financial problems in front of that." Neru jerked her head in Luna's direction. "She's already laughing at me."

Miku craned her neck in the Luna-wards direction.

"Actually, Neru-chan, I think she's reading a magazine."

"But inside she's judging me, I'm sure of it…"

"Neru-chan, you're paranoid."

Neru looked affronted. "A-am not!"

"And in denial."

"Arrghhh!"

Neru had not known until that moment that it was possible to scream quietly, but – somehow – she managed it.

Perhaps this was what a mental breakdown felt like.

"And, Neru-chan, if you really don't have that much money, I don't mind…" Miku began toying with her pigtails, as she was wont to do from time to time- usually when she feeling uneasy, Neru noted. "You really don't need to buy me expensive things. I don't want to be a burden."

"No, you're not a burden! Look, see, I'll prove it. I'll get you the dress."

"Neru-chan, you don't need to-"

But Neru had already seized the dress, and was marching, determinedly, to the counter.

Luna looked up from a particularly engaging article about shoes. At the sight of the frazzled-looking Neru, clutching the dress to her chest as though it were a lifeline, Luna raised an eyebrow, and wondered whether to call for security.

At the sight of the purse in Neru's hands, she thought otherwise.


"Neru-chan, you shouldn't have bought it for me," said Miku.

"Don't say that, or I might be tempted to take it back," Neru replied, with a grimace. "Oh my God, what was I thinking? No- why wasn't I thinking? Urgh…" The blonde rounded on Miku, eyes narrowed. "You better take damn good care of that dress, 'cause if you don't I'll make you wish you were never born."

"Created. Not born."

"Whatever!"

"But I am very happy you did get it for me," Miku smiled, and hugged her shopping bag to her chest. "Neru-chan is too kind!"

"Hey, wait a sec…"

Neru turned, and fixed Miku with a Glare to End All Glares. Those narrowed eyes and pursed lips would've been enough to make Jack the Ripper run away, crying for his mother; so imagine the effect it had on the distinctly non-English-mass-murderer Miku.

The turquoise-haired girl took a few steps back. Worry flitted across her eyes. She was, no doubt, in fear for her life.

"Miku," said Neru in a low, dangerous voice. "You didn't just guilt-trip me into buying this, did you?"

"I-I don't know what you mean…"

"Really?" Neru folded her arms. Oh, if looks could kill…

If only.

"I didn't, Neru-chan!"

"Then what was with that 'I don't want to be a burden' crap you pulled? You were trying to make me feel bad so I bought you this, weren't you? It doesn't matter how innocent you look, I can see right through you!"

Miku scuffed her shoes on the snowy floor. "U-um… Maybe I did just a little?" Her voice faltered.

"I knew it."

"Neru-chan?"

"I won't let you get away with this!" Neru declared, in the manner of one announcing war on a neighbouring country. A neighbouring country (i.e. Miku) which was now absolutely terrified. "You can't manipulate me like this anymore!"

"Kyahhh! Neru-chan's trying to kill me!"

Miku whirled about on the spot and began to run, still clutching her beloved dress.

"Get back here!" Neru called after her, as she began to run, likewise. The blonde was not too worried about making a scene- there was hardly anybody there, anyway. Neru had deliberately gone shopping as early as possible, in order to avoid people she may have known. It would have been… awkward trying to explain Miku's origins to them.

'Oh yeah, this girl? I found her in the middle of the street, naked, and did what any sane person would do and took her home! W-what do you mean, I'm a pervert? She's only tried to shower with me once – h-hey, where are you going?"

Hmn, yes.

That would go down well.

About as well as a tonne of bricks.

"Miku, you're going to be very sorry for taking advantage of me!" cried Neru, tearing after the rouge vocaloid at a record-breaking pace. Neru had been on the track team back at school, and was very, very good at it.

But, alas, Miku was just that one tiny bit better.

Being a robot, without the limitations humans had, was a big advantage.

Miku probably could have kept running for hours on end, without any signs of slowing down, because she did not feel fatigue like normal people; something the vocaloid was immensely glad of, because if Neru caught her she had a vague feeling the blonde would turn her into spare parts and screws.

"Neru-chan, we should try and talk about our feelings! Violence is not the answer!"

"No, but it'll make me feel better!"

"That's a terrible excuse! You're a terrible human being!"

"Says you to the girl that just bought you a dress more expensive than a small country!"

"La la la I'm not listening!"

"Oh, real mature. Trying to ignore me isn't the answer, either!"

"La la la, I don't care, I don't- ouch!"

During her hasty escape, Miku had taken a second to look over her shoulder- and the few seconds of running blind had cost her dearly.

The turquoise-headed girl, charging onwards, had failed to notice the man in her way.

Now, the same man was no longer in her way.

He was sprawled on the floor, lying on top of the petite vocaloid in a rather incriminating manner. Miku's prized shopping bag had landed on the floor some three feet away but – luckily – the dress had not spilled onto the damp, wet ground.

"Miku-chan!" Neru cried out in alarm. The sudden collision had startled her almost as much as it had Miku- so much so, the honorific of endearment slipped out without her meaning it too.

The blonde ran forwards, faster than before, and pushed the man off Miku.

"Get off her!" Neru spat, resisting the urge to give this stupid guy a good kick as he lay on the floor.

For whatever reason, Neru did not like seeing Miku trapped underneath somebody else in such a way.

It made her blood boil.

Although…

It wasn't as though Miku couldn't take care of herself. She was stronger, and faster, and generally more hard-wearing than any other normal human on the planet. She would have been fine.

So why did Neru care so much…?

Just thinking about it was making the blonde's head hurt.

The blonde extended a hand for the vocaloid, and Miku took it. Neru hauled the girl to her feet.

"Thank you, Neru-chan," said Miku happily, giving the blonde a quick hug.

Neru's face went red, and she pushed the vocaloid away from her.

She didn't want to act so, um… friendly in the street. Especially not with that weirdo creepy guy still hanging around. He was up on his feet.

"Sorry about that," apologised the man. He held the bag out to Neru, who snatched it without so much as a thank you.

She still felt pissed about the whole 'lying on top of my vocaloid' scenario.

Wait a minute.

Since when did I refer to Miku as my vocaloid?

I mean, I know she is, technically, but this is a little too master-servant ecchi manga-esque for my liking.

In an attempt to distract herself from such errant, unwanted thoughts (and to curb the blush threatening to devour her face), Neru gave the peculiar man a quick glance up and down.

He was quite tall, was Neru's first thought. He was dressed in very expensive-looking clothes, too. The quality of them was obvious, despite the grey snow-slush that was splattered across the white shirt and tight pants. Neru supposed, begrudgingly, that the man was what many girls would consider attractive- not that Neru wanted to be complimentary to Miku's attacker. His eyes were lined with eyeliner, that made them stand out. His hair was long, silky and purple, tied at the back in a ponytail. It seemed to dance about the wind most gracefully when he moved.

Neru felt very, very jealous of that hair.

This guy was prettier than most girls Neru had ever seen!

Neru glowered.

Even though he was (indisputably) handsome, he was probably a jerk.

That thought made her feel slightly better about herself, and her own appearance, which was nothing short of haggard compared to this shining example of radiance, beauty, etc, etc.

He didn't even look human.

More like a living, breathing, airbrushed photograph.

"What do you want?" Neru asked the photograph harshly, hands on hips. The look she gave him was withering.

Neru had a lot of angry faces at her disposal. Many were so scary the poor, unfortunate person to be affixed with such a look would need to take pills and see a doctor before they were able to life their lives normally again.

To Neru's disgust, the purple-haired guy just laughed.

It was a perfect, laugh, too, to match his white, white teeth.

Neru had never felt more like punching someone in the face.

Miku did not seem to like him either. She had half-hidden herself behind Neru (a laughable idea, considering Neru was so short), and her fingers entwined themselves with Neru's.

Miku was shaking.

"I'm Kamui Gakupo," the Miku-molesting pervert said, with a smile and wink, "but you can call me Gakupo. What's your name?"

"Why should I tell you?" said Neru harshly. Her hand gripped Miku's a little tighter, waiting for the vocaloid to stop shivering.

She didn't.

Neru knew it was cold, but Miku was unaffected by external temperatures like she was.

The only viable reason for her shaking had to be fear.

But, why was she afraid of Mr. Pin-Up Model? He was a tool, yeah, but didn't look dangerous.

Maybe Miku just felt uncomfortable with people that weren't Neru?

That thought made Neru feel very warm.

Gakupo laughed again. "Indeed. Why should you tell me? You've never met me before."

"Exactly. So get lost and leave us alone."

"Oh~" he sighed theatrically, placing his hand on his forehead. "And here I was, hoping maybe I could treat you two girls for a meal? Considering I so rudely bumped into you. I just want to apologise…"

He had turned the charm dial up a level. Neru knew a lesser girl would have given into that pretty face and disarming smile already, but the blonde was resolute.

She would rather date Rin than this guy.

"I see, however, that the meal is not an option," said Gakupo. "No matter. But I'm sure we'll see each other again. Bon voyage."

Neru watched his retreating back with a frown.

"Urgh. I hate people like that," said Neru.

She waited for Miku to agree with her, but it did not come. Miku still held onto Neru's hand, trembling, looking nothing short of petrified. Even more so than when Neru had threatened her about the clothes.

"Miku," said Neru softly. She peered up into the vocaloid's face, which was hidden by turquoise bangs. "Miku, are you okay? That guy's gone now. He won't hurt you."

"I know…" said Miku softly. "I-I know that."

"He won't hurt you," Neru continued, giving her hand a squeeze, "because I'm here! I'll protect you! Don't worry."

Miku looked up at this, her eyes wide and starry. Her eyebrows shot upwards in surprise, almost meeting her hair-line.

"Really, Neru-chan? You would really do that? For me?"

"I promise."

"Neru-chan…" A smile broke out on the vocaloid's face. "Thank you. You really are so very kind."

"Y-yeah, well…" That blush had begun to spread again- like some disease. Neru released Miku's hand, and began to put some distance between them. She coughed. "Don't get all sentimental about it. It's nothing, really."

"Of course," said Miku, but she was still smiling. "It's nothing."

Neru looked away, and flushed red.


"Yay, Neru-chan, Neru-chan!~ It looks so cute on you," Miku beamed. Miku had long since gotten over her Gakupo-related worries- trying on and buying so many clothes had driven the thought almost clean out of her mind.

"Ah? Really?" Neru asked, folding her arms. She felt very self-conscious, being praised by Miku.

She was wearing some weird outfit Miku had picked out for her. It comprised of a silver shirt, yellow tie, and black-and-yellow miniskirt.

"I look like a bee," said Neru, voice deadpan. She tugged at the hem of her skirt, which was a little too short for her liking. If she ever wore this outfit, she'd definitely need some shorts underneath…

"I think Neru-chan makes a very cute bee."

"Shut up!" Neru whined. She took hold of Miku's pigtails, and began to tug at them. "I still haven't forgiven you for making me buy that dress, you know?"

"Argh! Neru-chan is so violent!"

"I'll punish you later," Neru said softly, whispering in Miku's ear. She let go of the pigtails, and gave Miku a poke in the side for good measure.

Miku squealed accordingly.

"Anyway…" Neru frowned, and looked at her reflection in the fitting mirrors. She tugged at the skirt a few more times, willing it to cover more flesh. "We were meant to be shopping for you, not me."

"But I already have a load of stuff!" Miku protested. "Neru-chan, you should buy yourself something, too."

"Even so, it's not as though you'd be treating me," sighed the blonde. "I'm still the one who has to pay for this."

"It'll make you feel better."

"In other words: it will make me feel better if you buy something, too, so then I won't feel as greedy."

Miku gasped. "Neru-chan, how did you know? Are you psychic?"

"Nooo," drawled the blonde. She gave Miku another prod in the side. "Just better at reading people's emotions than you, you ditz."

"Humph. That's not true. I know some things."

"Like what?" Neru raised an eyebrow. Her arms were folded.

"Like, I know Neru-chan will blush if I do this."

And, quick as a flash, Miku moved forwards, gave Neru a quick kiss on the cheek, and then scampered off.

"I'm just going to find more clothes for you to try on kaythanksbye!"

Neru could only stand there, rooted to the spot. Without her realising it, her fingers had come to rest upon the cheek Miku had kissed. At the memory, Neru's stomach twisted into knots, and her hearts jumped into her mouth. A funny feeling spread through her body; she felt very, very embarrassed and stuttering and maybe, even, just a tiny bit touched.

Neru's cheeks burned red.

At the flood of warmth in her face, Neru was snapped back into reality. She even remembered to be angry.

"Hey!" she shouted, after the hastily retreating lvocaloid. "What the hell was that for? Come back, you coward! I demand an explanation!"


Some four hours after the pair had arrived in town, they were now ready to go home. Both of them were weighed down with shopping bags upon shopping bags. Miku was holding most of them. The lion's share of the clothes was, after all, hers. Plus, Miku was stronger than Neru. Neru did not like admitting people were stronger than her, and had spent several years learning kickboxing so she could defend herself if anything untoward was to happen. But it was true- Miku was far more powerful.

Not that it was immediately obvious.

"We sure bought a lot, didn't we, Neru-chan?"

"Yeah. And I sure spent a lot," moaned Neru. The thought of her monetary crisis was beginning to give her a headache. "It's a good job you don't eat, Miku, or we'd be living off baked beans for a week."

"It was fun though, wasn't it," Miku smiled dreamily. "I like going out with you, Neru-chan."

Neru tried to remain cool and aloof; "It's not like we did anything too special. Don't get so excited." Contrary to her words, however, Neru was secretly happy.

Neru was rarely happy, so this was quite the achievement.

Somehow, Miku saw through the harsh words, and found the joy hidden in between the sarcasm.

Slowly, it was becoming easier for the vocaloid to understand Neru's bizarre, up-and-down mood swings.

"Do you think we could go out like this again some time?"

Neru shrugged.

"I would enjoy that. And I think you would, too, Neru-chan."

Neru had to think about this statement for a little while.

How long had it been since she had gone out with friends and enjoyed herself- truly been cheerful?

…She couldn't remember.

But it wasn't like she was going to admit this to Miku.

"I don't really care," said Neru coolly. "It doesn't make any difference to me."

Miku smiled devilishly. Neru did not like that look. It did not suit the cute, innocent Miku. The blonde decided maybe Miku was not quite as sweet as the looked.

"Hehehe," Miku giggled. "Then why did you go all fluttery and blush-y when I kissed you, Neru-chan?"

At these words, Neru halted.

She turned, and glared at Miku.

Inside, her heart was thumping.

"Yes, why did you do that?" Neru exclaimed. Her hands balled into fists. "I only blushed because I was surprised, okay!"

"You're blushing right now."

"No I'm not!" Neru lied; though it was futile. Miku had already seen. She wiped her sleeve against her face, as though this would wipe the tell-tale pink stains off. Of course, it didn't. "And anyway, it was really weird! You don't just kiss people out of the blue like that, and you can only kiss them if you know for sure they like you!"

Miku's eyes widened. A hurt look spread across her face.

"You don't like me, Neru-chan?"

"I do like you, but that doesn't mean I want to kiss you!"

"Who don't you want to kiss, Neru-san?"

The blonde jumped.

The voice which had just injected was certainly not Miku- not unless she was a very good ventriloquist, because her mouth had been closed at the time. But the voice had not belonged to a girl. It had been a boy's.

Neru would know that voice anywhere.

She turned about 180 degrees, feeling more self-conscious than she had done trying on clothes with Miku.

There, standing right in front of her, was the smiling, if slightly confused looking, Kagamine Len.

Neru felt her heartbeat speed up, and her cheeks, which had been pink before, were positively scarlet by now.

"A-ah," she said, voice cracking. "Um… Hello, Len-kun." She waved, then felt stupid, and stopped. Her arm flailed around in the air indecisively, not sure what to with it. Eventually, she shoved it into her pockets.

"Hello, Neru-san," said Len. "What were you talking about?" He grinned playfully. "Have you been kissing anyone lately, Neru?"

"N-no!" Neru exclaimed, shaking her head. "God no! We – um, me and my friend - were just having a discussion about, um… Something. That's all."

"I was wondering about this, also. Who is your friend?" asked Len inquisitively. He glanced over Neru's shoulder at Miku.

Miku was pouting, arms folded. She didn't look very happy; probably because her teasing of Neru had been derailed by this newcomer. She looked untrustingly at Len, and crept a little closer to Neru.

Neru stepped away quickly.

She did not want to appear too close to this random girl whom Len had never met.

"She's my friend," said Neru, willing her voice to stop shaking and her face to stop blushing.

God- this always happened when she was with Len.

It was so humiliating!

Why couldn't she act like a normal person?

"That's weird. I've never seen her before."

"M-my pen-friend!" Neru gabbled. She floundered about hopelessly, trying to make her lie seem credible. "We were talking to each other online, and she decided to come and visit me."

"Cool," said Len. "I didn't know you had a pen friend. Although, I guess you use your cell phone all the time… Maybe this is who you've been talking to?"

Neru gave a nervous laugh. "Haha… Yeah."

"Aww. I'm jealous," Len laughed. "So, what's your name? I'm Kagamine Len, by the way- Neru-san's friend."

"Hatsune Miku," replied Miku. Her face was still thunderous. The girl had decided she did not like this Len person very much at all.

It felt like he was trying to take Neru away from her. And, the worst part of it was, Neru seemed more than willing to dump Miku for this guy!

What was so special about him, anyway?

He was just another boring human life form, with two arms and two legs and a head, nose, eyes, ears and mouth.

Oh, and some pretty crazy, spiked-up blond hair.

But Miku's hair was long and turquoise and even awesome-er!

Why was Neru getting so emotional over this stupid guy, who didn't even know her well enough to use the honorific '-chan'?

It sucked.

"Neru-chan," said Miku, tugging at Neru's sleeve. To Miku's disdain, Neru batted her hands away. Miku was sure she would not have done this if Len wasn't there. "Neru-chan, we have to go home. We need to put this shopping away."

"Really?" Len looked upset. "That's a shame. I haven't spoken to you in ages, Neru-san. I thought we could go and bite to eat, catch up on what's been happening…"

"No." Miku said it harshly. Neru had never heard her sound so adamant, or so angry. "Neru-chan, let's go."

"Geez, Miku-san, don't get so worked up!" Neru scolded, trying to push the clingy vocaloid away. "Len-kun's a nice person."

Miku frowned. "Really…"

The fact that Neru had downgraded her to 'Miku-san' in this boy's presence had hurt.

"Len-kun, we would love to go out with you," said Neru, smiling.

"Great," Len beamed back. "We'll just have to wait here for Rin, and then-"

At the name 'Rin', Neru's face went white. She looked pale as a sheet. Miku wondered, with concern, if she was sick.

"What." Neru sounded confused. "Wait a minute, I didn't know Rin was coming too?"

"Yeah. I forgot to mention it. Sorry," Len looked apologetic. "I just didn't know it was that important?"

"N-no, I don't mind…" Neru's voice trailed off. It was obvious, from the crestfallen look on her face, and the barely-audible upset tone to her voice, that Neru did care. Tremendously.

Len hadn't noticed, but Miku had.

Miku had been living with Neru for almost a whole week; of course she knew the blonde better than him.

Miku frowned.

She did not like the thought of sharing her master with anyone, least of all this spiky-haired boy who knew nothing of Neru's personality, called her 'Neru-san' and was completely ignorant to Neru's feelings!

"So, about Rin-san…" said Neru, trying to keep the hatred out her voice. Len knew Neru disliked Rin, but he did not know just how vast and expansive her dislike really was. Neru wanted to keep it that way. "Where is she? Did you come here together?"

"Yeah. She dragged me here a few minutes ago. I think she wants to go shopping." Len scratched his nose idly. "She said something about needing an outfit for some performance thing- but then she saw Teto or Gumi or someone and went off to talk to them."

At the word 'performance', Neru's mind went back a couple of weeks. She remembered Meiko saying something about it- something like 'I want all of you to make a singing/dancing routine and show it to me, to help me judge how well you're all doing.'

Didn't Meiko say there would be a group of people from Yamaha Corporation would be there, looking for the most talented girls?

Oh shit!

Fuckfuckfuck!

Neru had forgotten about that completely.

This was going to be her big chance- to show everyone what she could do- and she only had a few weeks left to perfect a routine and she hadn't even done anything yet!

Neru supposed the danger threatening her future as an idol, plus the sudden arrival of Miku, had driven it out of her head.

But she remembered now.

God, I'm so stupid.

Neru began to tremble; not from the cold (she was warmly wrapped up in her coat and scarf) but from dread- pure, undiluted dread.

Her dream of being a famous singer was on the lines, and she was letting that dream slip away, because she was so useless.

Neru felt sick.

"Neru-chan!" Miku said in alarm. She appeared at the blonde's side instantly, and glanced up at her face; rigid with worry. "Neru-chan, are you okay? What's wrong?"

"I would have thought it is obvious what's wrong," said Kagamine Rin coldly. "She is upset because she has no talent, and is going to fail."

Miku whipped her head around. Her green eyes met the icy blue of Kagamine Rin's.

Rin was another rather pretty person- though not quite as beautiful as Gakupo. She was reasonably short (though still taller than Neru. In fact, Miku had yet to see another person shorter than Neru).

Rin's blonde hair did not even brush her shoulders, and was adorned with red ribbons. She wore earmuffs and a scarf; yet, for some reason, had coupled this winter wear with a yellow plaid skirt and knee high socks.

Miku wondered briefly if she was cold at all, because Neru had been complaining bitterly about the weather and she was wearing pants, with two pairs of leggings underneath.

Then, Miku remembered Rin's words, and decided she did not very much care if she was cold or not.

Miku would have been happier if Rin had been frozen into a Popsicle.

Despite Rin's pretty face, there was something very unsettling about it… Her eyes were narrowed, lined with thick lashes, and her lips were pulled into a smirk.

She looked nothing short of cruel.

Miku had not particularly liked Len, but he was nothing compared to this girl, and the cold aura that surrounded her.

At that moment, Rin was looking Miku up and down; in the same manner Miku was studying her.

"Who are you?" asked Rin. Her arms were folded.

"Hatsune Miku," replied Miku. "I'm Neru-chan's pen-friend."

"Oh really?" Rin adopted a look of false astonishment. "Neru-chan has friends? I never would have guessed! Although…" She smirked. "It makes sense you would only be a pen-friend; you must never have met our lovely little Neru-chan in person before." Rin flipped strands of honey-blonde hair over her shoulder. "After spending more than one hour with her, you'll realise she has such a short temper, and is in general very unlikable. Then you'll think of Neru-chan the same way I do. And everyone else does. Hehehe~"

At these cruel words, Neru felt her face getting pinker and pinker.

Anger coursed through her body; that uncontrollable rage that made her want to hurt people, to get them to stop and leave her alone.

But the shame and humiliation and misery far outweighed the rage.

Neru bowed her head, meshed her fingers together, and said nothing.

In front of Len and Miku – two people Neru actually liked - the goading felt worse than normal.

If Len had not been there, Neru would probably have attacked Rin. But how could she now, at this moment, with Len standing right there? Rin was Len's twin sister, and Len loved her; it would not make Neru look very good, losing control and punching Rin in the face.

"Rin," said Len, softly. Even he seemed a little surprised at the severity of his sister's words. "Don't be so mean to Neru-san. She's my friend!"

"Yeah!" cried Miku. She seemed to be warming to Len just a little, now. At least he had stood up for Neru. "Neru-chan is my friend, too, and if you stand around insulting her like that you'll be sorry!"

"That's quite doubtful," said Rin scornfully. She turned to Len, and took hold of his sleeve. "Come on, Len-kun. We don't want to waste time talking them."

"Actually," said Len, "I asked Neru-san and Hatsune-san if they would like to join us. I thought we could get something to eat from that café."

Rin seemed to ponder this for a while.

After a few seconds, her eyes lit up, like Christmas tree lights. They sparkled, though not with joy.

It was malice.

Her lips curled upwards into a nasty smile.

"Oh you did? Well, I suppose I'll have to tag along." Rin directed her gaze at Miku. "Won't this be fun? I can you alllll sorts of interesting things about Neru-chan~ Hehehe~"

Neru felt very, very sick.

She didn't want to go anywhere with Rin. The girl was vitriolic, and manipulative.

But the hopeful look on Len's face, as he turned and said "Are you coming, Neru-san?" made the blonde's heart clench, then spasm, and her body fill with love.

She couldn't say no now.


"U-um, w-what would you l-l-like?" asked the jittery, nervous waitress. Her crimson eyes glanced about the café in desperation, as though hoping somebody else would come and take the order for her.

She seemed to very shy, for some reason, and Miku sympathised with her.

"I'll think I will have… Hmn…" Rin surveyed the menu in her hands. Her yellow fingernail polish seemed to glow under the harsh lighting. "I think I'll have a slice of carrot cake and some orange juice."

"Banana ice-cream and banana milk shake, thanks~!"

"Tehe, Len~" giggled Rin. "Ice-cream? You're such a kid."

"Kaito-kun likes ice-cream, too," said Len, folding his arms.

"Exactly," said Rin, rolling her eyes. "And look howww super-adult he is."

"I'm not a kid! Everyone says I'm the mature one!"

"Yes, but I'm five minutes older than youuu~ That means you're my tiny little brother, and you have to listen to everything I say."

"Nuh-uh!"

"Uh-huh!"

Neru frowned at the warring siblings, jealous. She wished she were that close to Len. It seemed hardly fair, that someone like Rin should have such a nice young brother.

"E-excuse me, m-miss?"

Neru jumped, and turned about. It was the shy-looking waitress; shuffling from one foot to the other, obviously unsure what to do. She almost looked as though she were going to cry.

Or maybe she was just one of those people that always looked miserable.

People told Neru she looked unhappy a lot.

Miku was one of them.

"Miss, are you ready to order?"

"I'll just have a green salad and some water," said Neru. Her stomach was churning too much to eat anything more substantial; she didn't want to throw up.

That would not look good.

"Okay, and you?" the waitress turned to Miku.

The turquoise-haired girl wrinkled her nose.

Already, the smell of food was making her feel queasy- and the sight of other people eating so enthusiastically, mouths open, teeth and tongue stained interesting colors, only made it ten times worse.

Add to that mix concern over Neru, a middling-lukewarm dislike of Len and even stronger dislike for his sister, and Miku's innards had tied themselves into a knot.

Neru was not the only one who felt sick.

"I don't want anything," said Miku, shaking her head.

When the nervous-looking waitress had left, Rin asked Miku, quizzically; "What, you don't eat? Are you watching your figure or something?"

"I'm not hungry."

"It's not like you need to go on a diet or anything," said Rin. "I was thinking this for a while, but you're kinda pretty."

"R-really?" Miku smiled, against her will.

Perhaps Rin was not quite so bad after all…

"Yeah," the beribboned girl continued. "It's odd, though. Because Neru-chan is so, um…" She made a pantomime show of searching for a word– tapping her lower lip and looking around, as though the proper adjective was written on the wall. "Well, Neru-chan is not pretty." Rin said bluntly. "She's very plain and common. So it's strange that such a pretty person is hanging out with someone so ugly."

Neru sank down low in her chair, fixated on her shoes.

Those stupid, smiley-face laces grinned back inanaley.

To the paranoid Neru, they almost seemed to be laughing at her.

Laughing at her inability to defend herself.

Miku was more verbal about her feelings.

Any positive emotion she had been feeling towards Rin dissipated, like the evaporation of water in a puddle.

"Don't say bad things about Neru-chan," said Miku. Her voice was fairly cordial; but there was an element of real anger hidden in there, that Rin seemed to notice. "I don't think she's ugly. The people who say cruel things are the ones who are really ugly, on the inside."

"Then it is a good job people take you for face value, instead of looking at your intestines," said Rin.

"I wish you wouldn't say these things to Neru-san," said Len softly. He was playing with a napkin; folding it over and over, then tearing it into neat squares. "I didn't bring her here so you could be insulting. It's childish, and I don't like it."

"I was only stating the truth," said Rin haughtily. "Lying is worse."

Rin stared at Neru whilst she said this, head propped up in her hands. Her eyes looked very big and blue and suspicious. Almost accusatory.

Neru felt her heart beat slowly, then grind to a halt with a painful thud.

Surely Rin hadn't figured out Miku's true identity?

How could she?

"O-okay, I have your orders…"

The miserable waitress shuffled towards their table, head lolling like a marionette's with cut strings. Unbeknownst to her, her arrival had brought to an end a rather sinister atmosphere.

"Who wanted the carrot cake?"

"Me!~" said Rin cheerily. In an instant- as though some switch had been flicked on in her brain- Rin's mien had altered completely. She was now bright and polite and cheerful; a complete 180 from the cold, cruel, suspicious girl she had been moments before.

Watching Rin's transformation was quite unsettling.

Once all the food and drink had been given to the right person, the gloomy waitress shuffled off again.

Miku turned, and watched her take an order from a group of rowdy boys; a funny-looking pink haired boy, a redhead and a blond.

The vocaloid thought that there seemed to be some kind of constant raincloud around the waitress; a mark of how depressing she was.

At least the three boys seemed to like her.

Probably because of her ample chest.

Miku could not help but feel a little jealous over the waitress' good physique.

Such people did not have a right to look so upset! It only made other girls feel worse about their own appearances!

Suddenly, Miku caught a flash of green from her peripheral vision.

It was Neru's salad. And, unlike most human food, it smelt wonderful.

"Neru-chan!" exclaimed Miku, her voice filled with awe. She pointed at the salad Neru had been dejectedly picking at; there was a piece of something green and crunchy speared on the end of her fork. "Neru-chan, what's that?"

Rin looked amused by this over-excitable behaviour.

"It's a salad, Miku-chan. Don't they have salad from where you come from?" she said, smirking.

Miku did not like being addressed in such an overly-familiar way by somebody she did not like very much. It was insulting, and made her feel uncharacteristically angry.

The vocaloid decided to do the sensible thing and ignore Rin.

That tasty looking (and smelling) salad was more important, anyway.

"Neru-chan, what is the name of this vegetable here?" asked Miku, peering at the funny green thing speared on Neru's fork.

"Oh, this?" Neru's voice was quieter than normal when she spoke; probably because she had not been speaking for quite some time now. Her vocal chords must've been getting dusty, Miku speculated. "It's only a bit of… leek, I think. It's not too special."

"It looks nice~ Can I have some?"

"You won't like it."

Neru remembered Miku's unfortunate encounter with the banana ice-cream. If she didn't like ice-cream (which was something everyone, apart from lactose-intolerant people, simply had to love. It was one of the rules of the universe) the chances were slim-to-none that she would like vegetables.

But Miku was adamant.

"Can I have some, please, please, please?" Miku whined childishly.

Neru sighed. She did not want to make a scene in front of Rin. The blonde was already smiling deviously- she obviously found the situation very amusing.

"Fine, alright then," said Neru, holding out her fork to Miku. "Though I don't know why you care so much."

"Yay~ Thank you, Neru-chan," sang Miku, placated. The prospect of sampling these so-called 'leeks' had taken precedence over her intense dislike of Rin.

The vocaloid leant forward, and – instead of simply taking the proffered fork like a normal person – slid the food off the prongs with her teeth.

As soon as the leek hit her tongue, Miku felt an inexplicable feeling of calm descend upon her.

It was the most delicious thing she had ever tasted! Far, far better than that disgusting ice-cream slop, which had made her retch and turned her stomach.

Miku felt almost sorry for Len, sat there eating his own half-melted ice-cream when there was food like this in the world.

Miku could understand the worth of food now, and why humans were so inexplicably attached it to- asides from the basic, common sense reason that without it, they would die.

The vocaloid chewed a couple of times, then swallowed.

She smiled brightly.

"Delicious! Neru-chan, it's really nice!"

"Really?" Neru looked perplexed at this strange revelation. "You like it? But it's a vegetable." The ponytail'd blonde shook her head, and crossed her arms. "You're so strange."

"Can I have the rest, Neru-chan? It's too good~ Uwahh~"

"Sure." Neru slid her plate over.

She wasn't feeling hungry.

The calculating look on Rin's face had put her right off food- even if it was only a few limp lettuce leaves, tomato, cucumber and, Miku's new favourite food, leeks.

Neru watched with a small, barely visible smile, as Miku picked about the salad, pushing the lettuce to one side and hunting through the leaves for any more leek.

It was cute.

"Hey, Neru-chan~" said Rin, holding her own fork in one hand. It glistened, like Rin's eyes.

The sound of Rin's voice made Neru turn about. Her smile dissolved like snow in water. Most people would never have noticed its existence at all.

"You two seem awfully close," said Rin. "How long have you been together?"

"A few days," said Neru stiffly. She looked at her lap, cheeks red and hot. Neru was well aware of what Rin was insinuating, even if Miku was happily oblivious, eating her leek without a care in the world.

"How cute. I just think it's incredibly nice you've gotten along so well." Rin stabbed her fork into the remainder of her cake. "It must be nice that you finally have somebody who appreciates you, Neru-chan."

"What? Why?" Miku frowned. Her fork, laden with leek and nothing else, hovered a few inches away from her mouth; but Rin's words made her pause. She put it back down. "What do you mean?"

Neru shifted around in her seat, and said nothing.

She could feel the bombshell coming, and didn't how to stop it- save from jumping across the table, grabbing Rin in a headlock and smashing her face into the floor.

The three boys at the back of the café had begun catcalling and whistling at the shy waitress.

It was giving Neru a headache.

"Well~" sang Rin. "Where do I start, hmn? Well… Miku-chan, did you know Neru-san's dream is to become a famous idol?"

"No, I didn't… She never told me." Miku looked shocked. Her Neru, a famous idol? For some reason, Miku could not see it- Neru seemed far too shy to willingly thrust herself into the limelight like that.

"That's odd. It's she ever thinks about lately. I'm surprise she never mentioned it to you. If, indeed, you really are her pen-friend." Rin let her gaze flicker over Miku- but the turquoise-haired girl did not flinch.

Neru was still looking at her shoes, listening to the catcalls;

"Hey, baby, get back here! We ain't finished yet!"

"Yeah, you tell her, Luki!"

"C'mon, honey- you obviously weren't given a job for your waitressing talents!"

"Nahh, it's all about your boobs!"

"So come back and let us get a good look!~"

Such talk only made Neru feel sicker than before. The depravity of mankind never ceased to amaze her. Just when you thought it couldn't slip any lower, it did.

She wondered if the boys would get thrown out.

The waitress did look pretty flustered now- shaking and biting her lower lip, the plates she carried trembling in her unsteady grip.

"Neru-chan goes to the same dance academy I do," said Rin, "where – I guess – she hopes to learn how to sing and dance properly. It's all kind of futile though, because Neru-chan sucks at it."

At the sound of her dream being trashed, Neru felt her heart constrict painfully, as though it were in a vice.

Rin's words wouldn't have hurt so much if they were not true; but they were, and Neru knew it- she had always known it- but she did not want to admit it.

She had no talent.

"Rin," said Len, sounding a tad alarmed. He took of hold of his sister's shoulder. "Calm down-"

"No wayyy~" said Rin playfully, wriggling out from under Len's grip. She stuck out her tongue. "Just thought Miku-chan should know some simple facts about Neru-chan! It's common knowledge that she's completely useless everywhere else- it wouldn't be fair if Miku didn't know."

Neru clenched her fists. The knuckles turned white.

She sat there, very still, barely even blinking.

She tried to focus on her shoelaces, the giant smiley faces, but every single word Rin said hit home.

The ponytail'd girl flinched.

"So, how are you doing with the big performance thing?" asked Rin. The question was innocent enough, but there was a poisonous look about her pretty face. "Have you been rehearsing hard? We only have three weeks left."

"Mmn…" Neru let out a small, non-committal noise. Her head was bowed, cheeks flushed.

She hadn't even started it yet.

"Me and Len were getting some stuff for my dance. What are you going to wear, Neru-chan? Urgh- hopefully not those ugly, charity shop clothes you normally wear. They're so hideous!"

"Rin!" Len scolded.

The blond looked across the table at Neru, who had sunk lower and lower in her seat. Her face was white and pasty. Her fingers curled and uncurled in her lap. She was actually shaking.

"Maybe we should go," Len suggested. His banana ice-cream was not even finished yet, and normally Len would die before let perfectly good banana go to waste, but Neru looked terrible. In fact, there seemed to be a very real possibility that she would die, if Rin didn't leave her alone at once.

But Rin wasn't done yet.

"Don't be silly, Len-Len, I was only giving Neru-chan some fashion tips!" protested Rin. "Friendly advice, right?"

"Friendly?" exclaimed Len. He looked incredulous.

If that's her when she's being friendly, I'd hate to see what she's like when she's being mean.

As it transpired, Len did not have to wait very long to find out.

"Although, don't worry if you haven't got a costume or routine worked out yet," said Rin, in a mock-sympathetic voice. "You're so bad at dancing, Meiko will probably kick you out before then. Unless, of course, we wants somebody really awful hanging around, to make everyone else look better… Hehehe~"

Rin giggled at her own joke.

Nobody else did.

Neru felt as though the bottom had dropped out of her stomach.

Her eyes began prickling- oh God, she couldn't cry, not now- and she blinked, took a deep breath in, tried to compose herself.

…The composure did not last for very long.

"Hey, babe, where are you going?"

"Come back!"

"Take your shirt off- you'll get more customers that way!"

"Hahaha, yeah- you know it, Sora!"

"Take it off! Take it off!"

"Kyah!"

The poor, clumsy waitress- distracted by the disgusting boys, and already hampered by the food-laden plates that weighed down her arms- managed to trip, rather spectacularly, on thin air.

Luckily, she did not dirty.

Instead, Neru did.

A plate landed near the blonde. The ceramic shattered, but the spaghetti flew through the air, and landed all over Neru's hair and clothes.

The blonde could only sit and stare in horror, as the tomato sauce seeped through her bangs and ran down her face.

There was a moment of silence.

Then, the boys at the back began to snigger- and Rin did, too- and pretty soon, most of the people assembled were laughing at the sorry sight of Akita Neru.

Neru had never wished to fall into a black hole more than she did at that moment.

"Neru-chan!" cried Miku, reaching out to take Neru's arm.

At the contact, Neru jumped.

She looked around, at the laughing faces and the apologetic, near-sobbing waitress; the worried Miku and the undeniably amused Len (though he tried to stifle his errant snorts with his hand).

It was all too much.

With teary eyes- her vision swimming with water- Neru jumped to her feet, and ran.

It felt like her heart was breaking.

And Len hadn't even cared.


a.n: holy hell this is a long chapter XD i never normally do chapters this long- they're usually, like, a quarter of this size XD

rin's outfit in this chapter is based on the artwork in a video by putin-p, for anyone who cares c:

writing this took about a week-ish. mainly because i had really bad writer's block and after i did the first 7 pages i decided i didn't like them and scrapped them ;A;

i hope you like it!

it may seem that not a lot happened here, but important plot points have been established XD whoot!

~renahhchen xoxox