I don't own these characters; Sunrise does.
Just to let you folks know, this is an AU. I hope you enjoy it. Thanks to the following folks for betaing this story: SweetPixieSmile, HuggyBear6D9, Kruger, and Judamacaby. You guys all rock.
1: Howling mad
"I can't believe we got the jobs!" Mai shouted with a grin, hugging her brother so fiercely it looked like she might snap him in half. Well, at least he had grown some recently, so he was not in danger of being smothered by her breasts, which had been something he worried about when he was smaller.
The short, thin young man, Takumi, did not seem to mind. In fact, he was hugging his redheaded sister back with equal intensity. They both looked overjoyed, their sapphire eyes shining with happiness as they bounced around with delight. They were practically beaming, so some might wonder why their girlfriends did not look the same. Mai and Takumi were with their girlfriends in a small, scarcely decorated living room, trying to celebrate their new jobs, but their girlfriends were not in the mood and had not been in the mood since they found out about the jobs earlier that evening.
The girlfriends' expressions were the exact opposite of the siblings. Akira and Mikoto were sitting on the tiny, beat-up sofa against the wall with deep frowns marring their smooth faces. Akira's frown cut much deeper than Mikoto's as she had a more complex understanding of things. For Akira, she felt like she knew what went on at the siblings' new job and it was enough for her to want to scream…and maybe punch a lot of stuff. Making her all the more frustrated, Takumi did not seem to take her simmering rage into consideration when he accepted the job.
"Mai, why do you have to get this job? I don't like it cuz I won't see Mai as much anymore!" Mikoto whined, pouting with big tears already forming in her amber eyes.
Mai's expression dropped a bit and she pulled away from her brother. Going to Mikoto, she pulled the shorter girl off the couch and to her. Mikoto shamelessly buried her face in Mai's chest while the blue-eyed woman rubbed Mikoto's head, loving the feel of the soft, short ebony hair on her fingertips. Mikoto continued to mutter about not liking Mai's job and not getting to see her as much. Mai smiled a bit, despite her girlfriend's attitude.
"It'll be fine, Mikoto. You'll see. This job is going to make things so much better for us," the redhead promised in a low, very gentle voice, resting her head on top of Mikoto's head to add to the comfort. Orange red hairs tickled Mikoto's cheeks and eased her nerves—for the moment anyway.
"Are you sure you want to take this job?" Akira asked Takumi, who settled down and turned to focus on her. She had her head tilted to the side a little, hoping that the pleading look in her eyes was enough to change his mind. He did not even seem to notice. The usually perceptive young man was totally oblivious to her expression, mostly because of his own mood.
"Of course! This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance!" the young man answered with a grin. He and his sister started jumping up and down again. They grinned at each other and went so far as to squeal with excitement.
The noise was starting to get to the other member in the living room that everyone else seemed to have forgotten about. A thin, ebony eyebrow twitched with each bounce from the siblings and when they squealed again, that was the breaking point. A loud, vexed snort escaped the ignored figure sitting in the corner, but that was not enough to get the feuding couples' attention, upsetting the forgotten person even more.
"Why are we having this meeting at my house? I don't have anything to do with this," Natsuki huffed from her space in the corner on a beanbag chair. She could care less what people thought of her taste in furniture; she loved her beanbag chair. It was the most comfortable thing in the whole apartment.
Four pairs of eyes turned to the apartment-owner to see that she was scowling. Natsuki hated when the two couples had meetings in her house because they always had loud fights along with the meetings, using her home as if it were their own. She just wanted them to go home, so she could pretend to study for her calculus test tomorrow and then play video games well into the night. She did not think that it was too much to ask for, but first she had to work on getting them out of her apartment, which she knew would be a difficult task.
"Your house is neutral ground," Akira pointed out, as if it was obvious. She then turned her attention back to Takumi, dismissing Natsuki and her attitude as trivial.
"So is a damn park or café," Natsuki countered in an annoyed tone, but a look from Mai kept her from saying anything further. Her forehead was wrinkled, her green eyes darkened, and her frown got deeper as her irritation grew. Usually, she would not mind them; they were her friends, after all. It was when they decided to use her apartment for couples' counseling that she wanted to throw them all out on their asses…yet she never did.
"What about the fact that you're being helpful? How about that?" Akira asked, only to get on the biker's nerves further, going so far as to smile while asking the question. She knew that there was nothing that she could say that would get Natsuki to drop the attitude.
"To hell with helping. What're you guys so bent out of shape for anyway? You have two employed mates that are gonna make good money. The hell is the problem?" Natsuki countered, rubbing her cream-colored forehead in confusion. She would have thought that everyone would be happy with having employed partners. What the hell is wrong with my friends?
"Exactly!" the siblings chimed, smiling because they had someone else on their side now. Well, they thought that they had someone on their side anyway.
"Oh, you must not know where they have jobs at," Akira grated, glaring at the pair.
"Yeah, you don't know!" Mikoto concurred, even though she was not sure what about the jobs made them really bad. Her main concern was as she said; she would not be able to see Mai as often if she was working a full-time job.
"Why don't you ask them where they'll be working?" Akira suggested with a smirk. "You're bound to find it quite interesting."
Natsuki let loose a long, irked sigh and threw her hands up in defeat. "Fine. Where are you working?" she asked the brother and sister pair.
"The Obsidian Den!" the siblings grinned proudly.
The biker, not one to leave her house unless it was for school, food, or new video games, had no freaking clue what they were talking about. She scratched her eyebrow while going through a mental map of the city to see if she could figure it out. Her eyes went wide as she came across the location they meant on her mental map.
"You guys are working in a strip club?" Natsuki screamed in disbelief, jumping out of her chair. She speculated that it might make Mai a lot of money considering how well endowed the redhead was, but she did not see how Takumi was going to make anything with that scrawny body of his.
"Exactly!" Akira jumped up too, glad that someone understood her position on the matter.
"It's not a strip club!" the siblings objected at the same time, throwing their hands up in frustration, having said those words more times than they liked. This was just the latest installment of a very old argument. They had been fighting about it ever since the siblings found out about the jobs at the Obsidian Den. It was weeks of on and off debating and barking with each other. They frowned; their expressions made it very clear that they were related to each other.
"No? I could've sworn it was," Natsuki muttered. Her mouth twisted up in bewilderment. She considered that she might have made a mistake. She had only seen it in passing when she was on her way to nearby video game stores and arcades.
"Been in there before, have you?" Mai teased, a crooked smile adorning her face.
"What? NO!" Natsuki shook her head while a blush burned her face. She would never go in a place like that! Never in a million years!
"Then what makes you think it's a strip club?" Mai asked with an arched eyebrow. Natsuki puffed out her cheeks and decided to bow out of the conversation for a moment. It was none of her business anyway, she told herself.
"That's exactly what it is and you know it," Akira retorted with a sneer, folding her arms tightly across her chest.
"It's not a strip club, Akira. We were in there for our interviews. It's nothing like that. It's a very high-class club with the best equipment in the kitchen and serious cooks there too. The fact that we got the open chefs' positions should be a reason to celebrate instead of argue," Takumi declared.
"It's not high-class! Just because it calls itself a 'gentlemen's club' doesn't mean that there are any gentlemen there!" Akira hollered, surprising everyone with the fact that she raised her voice. She walked over to Takumi and held his hands tightly with hers, as if trying to get him to feel her anxiety since her words did not seem to be getting through to him.
"Please, Akira, don't feel bad about this. It's nothing like how you think it is," Takumi promised, his voice and eyes laced with tender emotions.
"What's a strip club?" Mikoto asked curiously, almost adorably. She was naïve to most things in the world since she grew up with her grandfather in the mountains until three years ago when she was sent to live with her brother, so that she could get a good high school education. She enjoyed living with her brother and liked high school because that was where she met Mai. She was now on her last year of high school, working with much better grades than when she started thanks to being tutored by her girlfriend Mai, who was now on her first year of college.
"It's a place where—" Natsuki was about to explain, but Mai launched herself at Natsuki and covered her mouth with her hand.
"It's nothing!" Mai grinned at her girlfriend and then glared at Natsuki. She then leaned over to whisper in the taller woman's ear. "If you get Mikoto anymore worked up over this than she already is, I'm going to your English professor to tell her that you plagiarized your final paper," she threatened the biker.
Natsuki gulped and nodded to show that she understood. If anybody found out about that paper, she would be thrown out of the university, never get a decent job, and have to move back in with her parents! She would never stay up playing Resident Evil all night again if Mai was going to go around throwing such heavy threats!
"Glad we understand each other," Mai said sweetly, patting Natsuki on the head as if she was good puppy and then the redhead eased away from her friend. Again, Natsuki reminded herself that what was going on was none of her business and decided to stay out of it.
Mikoto growled at Natsuki. "Mine!" she hissed at the older woman.
The emerald-eyed woman scowled and shot Mikoto a glare, feeling it was safer than getting into things with Mai again. Mikoto shot her a glare back, but they did not go any further than that when they noticed Mai glaring at both of them. Understanding the silent order to cut it out, they ignored each other. Mai kept a close eye on them, making sure her girlfriend and best friend did not attack each other, which they had done a few times in the past. Mai wished that they would one day learn to get along.
"Listen, the place really isn't as bad as you guys think it is. Like I said, we went in there and everything. It was very classy, like being at a four-star restaurant with a decent stage show," Takumi insisted.
"A stage show that involves S & M," Akira snapped, making a cutting motion with her hand. She glared at her boyfriend, causing Takumi to gulp.
"There's M & M's?" Mikoto asked with hope in her voice. She loved candy!
"No, Mikoto, it's not the same thing," Mai said with a sigh. She was so glad that Mikoto was so innocent because she was not sure what she would do if Mikoto said the things that Akira was saying.
"Sounds like a strip club to me," Natsuki muttered, but quickly shut up when her best friend shot her another glare. Turning her head, she found that the floor was very interesting all of a sudden.
"It's really not a strip club," Mai asserted, for what felt like the millionth time.
"That's all a 'gentlemen's club' is! I don't see why you guys would even want to work in a place like that!" Akira riposted, folding her arms across her chest again. She turned her nose up while clenching her teeth to the point that it seemed like she would shatter them all.
"Because it's one of the top paying places in the whole city for chefs. The Obsidian Den's actually considered a four-star restaurant on it's own without all that other stuff associated with it. We didn't even see anything going when we went in there. There was no hardcore shows or anything. I think a lot of what you're thinking about just comes from bad rumors going about that are probably made up by rival businesses and people that could not gain membership for whatever reason. The Obsidian Den has a very good reputation," Takumi said. He could not figure out why his girlfriend did not understand that. Of course, they did not know that they did not see any of the true shows that the club put on.
"For being a strip club!" Akira huffed. Yes, it was an exclusive strip club that required membership, but it was still a strip club! She could not figure out what the siblings did not get about that.
Takumi sighed and rubbed his face with his hands, feeling like they were getting nowhere. Mai had the same feelings. Natsuki was just plain annoyed with the nonsense and the fact that it was taking place in the middle of her living room.
"Why don't you guys just go in and see what the place looks like?" Natsuki suggested, speaking to Akira and Mikoto. She thought that would settle everything since they would see if it was just a strip club or the high-class place that the siblings claimed it was. It would also get them out of her house and she could move on with her day. Everyone would win as far as she was concerned.
"We can't," Akira snarled, turning her back to everyone as she started shaking with rage. Mikoto's reaction was only mildly better, her hands balling into tight fists with her blunt nails digging into her palms.
Natsuki's brow wrinkled again, confused once more. "Why can't you? You just walk in there and check things out. Basically, case the joint and then go home."
"It's not that simple, Natsuki. Significant others of any employees are not allowed into the club, not even behind-the-scenes people like chefs," Mai explained.
The biker scratched her forehead, still baffled. "Uh…why not?" she asked. She was starting to not like the sound of this.
"It's a company policy. It was explained to us that they've had some trouble in the past with significant others coming in and trying to do the bouncers' jobs if they see their boyfriend or girlfriend getting harassed," Mai explained.
"What? Nobody better harass Mai or I'll tear them apart!" Mikoto declared, pointing to herself proudly using her thumb.
Natsuki nodded. "I'm starting to see how that might be a good business policy, but it does make the place sound a little creepy. Like the place could be worse than a strip club. I mean, kinda crazy junk goes on there for a no girlfriend/boyfriend policy?" she wondered aloud.
"Exactly!" Akira shouted, turning around. "I'm glad someone around here understands my position!" Akira looked at Natsuki, who nodded in complete agreement.
"Natsuki, really, it isn't that bad. I'm telling you. It's very posh. There are these thick, cushy chairs for all of the tables and the booths are all leather. There's a lounge area and everything. There are beautiful paintings around the place and I was told all of the members are highly respected individuals. It's very classy and I promise you all there weren't any strippers!" Mai vowed, holding her hand up as if she was being sworn in at court.
Akira did not appear to be moved; honestly, Natsuki did not either. Mikoto was not sure what was going on since she did not know what strippers were, but she did know that she was not allowed to visit Mai at work, which bothered her. She was even more troubled now, hearing that Mai might be pestered at work. Mai and Takumi sighed and rubbed their foreheads, unsure what they should do to change the group's mind. It was a stalemate.
The tense silence that filled the room was broken by a familiar noise—Mikoto's stomach growing. Natsuki's stomach followed suit; she rivaled Mikoto when it came to eating. Mai and Takumi smiled; they had an excuse to leave the room and regroup. The siblings walked into the kitchen to make dinner.
Natsuki, even though she did not cook, kept a well-stocked kitchen. Whenever Mai came by, she would cook for everyone there, mostly because Mikoto and Natsuki were always hungry and Mai loved to cook. Although her visits had declined in the past year since she started dating Mikoto, old habits died hard. Also, Natsuki could throw together a pretty good sandwich if her stomach was screaming loud enough, so it paid to have food around to shut her greedy tummy up.
The siblings thought that feeding Mikoto and Natsuki might help get those two on their side. They would show exactly what they were going to be doing at their new jobs and everything would be smoothed over. Mikoto and Natsuki looked happy enough while they were eating; it was the only time they ever seemed to get along. Akira was not so pleasant, glaring at the siblings through out the meal. Despite the glare, Akira's eyes glistened with sorrowful tears that she refused to release.
"I really don't think this is a good idea," Akira said after quietly finishing her dinner and dessert.
"Akira, it'll be fine. Onee-san and I are just going to be doing exactly what we did here. We'll be in the kitchen and cooking. That's it," Takumi replied, hoping that would ease his girlfriend's nerves. No such luck.
Akira hit the table with her palm, shaking the empty bowl in front of her. Mikoto and Natsuki looked up from their meals; they were on their second helping of ramen. Akira started quivering with anger again.
"It's the principle of working some place like that! Surrounding yourself with that sort of scum and acting like it's fine! Coming home with the smell of sweat, shame, and dirt on you and just labeling it work-related! Pretending that the depravity around you doesn't exist and condoning such behavior with your silence!" Akira roared, blinking back the hot tears welling up in her eyes.
"Akira…" Takumi muttered, not sure what to say in response to that. She already had it in her head what she thought of the place and he knew that none of his words would ever change that. "…It's really not that bad. Nothing happened when we were there earlier. It was just a regular place with regular people," he gently insisted.
Akira was unmoved by the words and just turned her attention to the other upset girlfriend in the room. "Mikoto, do you know what type of place this is they're going to work at? Women are paid to take their clothes off in front of fat, sweaty, balding men! These men pay for the women to sleep with them too!" she shouted.
"Mai's not taking her clothes off for anyone…right?" Mikoto asked, big amber eyes locked onto her girlfriend.
Mai smiled softly and lovingly rubbed the top of Mikoto's head. "That's right. I'm not and nobody at the club did that, Akira. You're working yourself up over nothing," she stated calmly. She leaned over and kissed Mikoto on the cheek, earning a smile from the younger woman.
"I'm not!" Akira roared. She was so pissed off that her face was turning bright red and a vein was throbbing from the center of her forehead.
"Akira, do you think I'm going to do something with someone that works there or something?" Takumi asked shyly. He could not even look his girlfriend in the eye while asking that. Instead, he focused his eyes on his nearly empty bowl of ramen.
"No! That's not it at all! I do trust you, but I don't like that place! I just don't think you or Mai-san should working in a place like that! You're both respectable and mature people. You should be able to get a job that suits you," Akira answered strongly. Her expression begged that he believed her words.
Mai and Takumi both sighed and looked away for a moment. Mai opened her mouth to speak, but Takumi put his hand on her shoulder. He stepped forward, figuring that he should be the one to explain since his girlfriend was the more vocal protester.
"Akira, you know we've had a few little jobs in the past and, as respectable as they were, they never paid much. A couple of jobs didn't even want to pay us minimum wage. We can't live like that now and definitely not in the future. Next year when we have to go to college, we wouldn't be able to live off of that kind of money. I wouldn't even be able to afford books, let alone tuition! Life is hard enough, but worse when you're working hard and still a level above begging. This job at the Obsidian Den means that Onee-san and I won't have to live hand-to-mouth like we used to and it's means I'd be able to take care of you and Onee-san could take care of Mikoto," Takumi pointed out and Mai came in.
"The last job I had barely wanted to pay enough for me to buy gum and they wouldn't let me in the kitchen to save my life. I don't think you guys know what it's like to work at a restaurant that you know has bad food and they won't let you in the kitchen to help and they barely want to pay you anything at all. It doesn't help when most of the customers are rude and nasty to you too, not wanting to leave tips no matter how hard you work to please them. Now, I have tuition to worry about and rent too and, believe me, minimum wage isn't going to cut it. I can't even afford to take Mikoto out on a date, so I know Takumi can't afford to take you out, Akira. We'd like to be able to, though. We need real jobs and these are real jobs," Mai explained.
"This is a way to live life without having to worry so much about money and I get to do what I love. I get to bake," Takumi added, just in case that point was missed. He had his dream job, but now he had to hope it did not ruin his relationship.
Akira did not look too moved by the words, continuing to frown. She did shift a little, barely noticeable. She silently conceded that she knew about some of the jobs that the siblings had and she would not wish them on her worst enemy, but she still did not want them anywhere near the Obsidian Den.
"I know you guys would get a lot of money working there, but really, what about when you want to move on? It's not like you can put this on your resume or anything. It is still a strip club where a lot of unsavory things happen," Akira stated, pointing down at the floor as she made her argument.
"Actually…we can and would put this on our resumes. That's how good the kitchen's reputation is. Working as a chef there would be seen as a highlight if we wanted to apply for work at any other restaurant," Mai explained, trying not to sound pushy because she did not want to set Akira off anymore. She also did not want to chance Natsuki chiming in with her opinion.
Yes, the siblings knew that the place had a reputation for being a strip club or whatever, but it also had a reputation for drawing out wealthy people looking to conduct business deals or relax. Because of the clientele, the place was upscale and held things that people would find in normal establishments, including high quality and delicious food. People ate their meals there like it was a real restaurant and very experienced and talented chefs worked there. Mai and Takumi felt themselves lucky to receive jobs there, especially since they did not see anything shady going on. They tried telling Akira that, even before they got to Natsuki's home, but she was not listening then and she obviously was not listening now. It was not that she did not believe them, but that she felt they did not see the whole place.
"Akira, I wish we could put you at ease, but I don't think we can. We need these jobs. The pay is almost double what we've been making at the other odd jobs we've held. And that's just to start off with. With this, we'll be able to afford an apartment of our own when we graduate and go to college," Takumi said. "I know you want out from where you are now. I'm still at home with Dad, but I'd rather be with you. This job can make that happen."
"We don't need to live together so soon if it means you have to work some place like that," Akira replied, eyes cast downward to hide her own disappointment.
Takumi knew that she was lying and he was going to try to get her to admit it. "I want to live with you as soon as possible, though. I would love nothing more than for us to share a home together and I know you want that too. I would love to be able to give that you, to give that to us," he soothed her in a sweet, gentle tone.
"Okay, yes, it would be great to live together, but not at this cost. We can hold off and save. I know it might take a while, but we'll get there," she insisted in a low voice.
"We'll see each other even less than we do now if we do that. I'd have to get a real job no matter what in order to go to college, so that's less time. You'd still be at home and you know your parents would kill me if I showed up at your house. Not to mention, we both want to go to different colleges anyway, so we wouldn't even see each other in school anymore," Takumi pointed out.
"This isn't fair," Akira muttered, putting her head down. Takumi embraced her, cradling her head against his shoulder while resting his head on top of hers. They both looked sorrowful and pitiful.
Natsuki snorted and rolled her eyes to display, but kept any opinion to herself when Mai glared at her. The redhead sniffled a little, keeping tears at bay because she hated to see the younger couple look so pathetic. She turned her attention to her girlfriend, who did not look so happy either. Mikoto was so disheartened that she was no longer eating. The only one at the table that was not troubled was Natsuki, who was quietly eating her food and avoiding her best friend's wrath.
The redhead pulled Mikoto to her and held her close, hoping that it would pull Mikoto out of her depressed state. The golden-eyed teen sniffled a bit when she felt herself pressed against her favorite place in the whole world. She thought about how soon she would not be able to cuddle against Mai whenever she wanted because Mai would be at work, working at some place very bad if she understood correctly.
"I don't want Mai to go some place she could get hurt," Mikoto whispered, sounding on the verge of tears.
"I know. I wish you could just go in there and see that it's not a bad place. We didn't see anything bad or nasty going on. I wish you and Akira could see, so you know it's not what you think," Mai replied in a low, soothing voice.
And then a brilliant idea clicked in Mai's brain, causing her face lit up so brightly that it could have put the sun out of business. No one noticed her expression; they were all still wrapped up in their own situations. She gently pulled away from Mikoto, earning a whimper from the younger woman, but that did not stop her. Then she grabbed her brother, easing him away from his distraught girlfriend.
"I need to see Takumi in the kitchen for a moment," Mai explained hastily and yanked her brother away before anyone could object.
"Onee-san, what're you doing?" Takumi asked with a perplexed expression on his face. "I might have been able to get through to Akira if you would've given me a few more minutes."
"I think I have a solution to our problem, Takumi. I've got an idea that might be able to satisfy both Mikoto's and Akira's curiosity. All you have to do is follow my lead," Mai explained.
"I'm willing to try just about anything at this point," he conceded, rubbing the back of his neck a little. He was unused to dealing with such an emotional girlfriend and after having this argument for the whole day, he just wanted it to be over.
Mai grinned, looking like she was about to win the whole debate. Takumi could only hope that she was right. They marched back into the tiny dining room, seeing the others just as they left them. Mikoto and Akira looking like the world was going to end and Natsuki was still face deep in her giant bowl of ramen.
"All right, the problem here is that Akira and Mikoto can't go in to see that the Obsidian Den isn't a horrible, evil strip club or a whorehouse or something like that where Takumi and I would be exposed to something terrible, right?" Mai asked.
"Yes…?" Akira hesitated, wondering where Mai was going.
"And you both can't go in since you're dating me and Takumi. We had to sign a contract and everything and put your names on a list, so you can't even try to get in or we'll get fired," Mai explained.
"I'd never purposely jeopardize your jobs," Akira agreed. "I'd never hurt Takumi like that, just because I don't think this is a good idea."
"I wouldn't do that either! I don't want Mai to get fired because of me!" Mikoto chimed in.
Mai nodded. "I know." She paused to caress Mikoto's head before continuing. "But, there's nothing wrong with friends going in," she declared with a raised index finger and a clever smile on her face.
They stared at her with blank faces, eyes laced with confusion, wondering where she was going with her words. Mai continued smiling and stroked Mikoto's head again while turning to look at Natsuki, who was still buried face deep in her bowl. Suddenly, Akira's and Takumi's eyes widened as light bulbs went off in their heads as they finally got what Mai was talking about. They began to smile too. In that moment, Natsuki looked up from her meal.
"What? What's everybody looking at me for?" the biker inquired curiously. From past experiences, she knew that whenever she was the center of attention, it was never for a good reason. It usually had to do with something embarrassing. "No, no, no! I don't even want to know! Just the answer is no!" she declared.
"Come on, Natsuki, you're the only one that can do this! All you have to do is go in and sit down for a little while!" Mai insisted.
Akira frowned, but she did not say anything. She would talk to Natsuki later about doing a little more than "go in and sit down for a little while." First, they had to talk Natsuki into agreeing to doing the simple act of going in. Sitting down might take a great deal longer.
"Go in and sit down where?" Natsuki asked.
"In the Obsidian Den, of course," Mai answered, having the nerve to smile at her friend while she said it.
"Oh, HELL NO!" Natsuki answered, screaming it to make sure her stance on the matter was understood. As final as it sounded, Mai continued smiling at her.
Never a good sign.
Next time: Natsuki finds herself going in and sitting down in the Obsidian Den, only to catch the attention of a bored, friendly, crimson-eyed woman.