Another Puzzle Piece

Chapter 6: Fight

I brought my customers their meal and watched as the hyper girl began to feed the serious boy. They're kind of funny those two. I kept an eye on the three thugs whose faces are now hidden behind menus. Maybe I was just being paranoid, maybe I can keep a low profile through their visit until they leave. Perhaps they really were just hungry and not out to kill me. With such thoughts in mind, I continued my work.

I had just set down the plate of an older businessman in a suit receiving a polite and proper response of gratitude, when the stillness of the restaurant was pierced by a scream. I turned my head in the direction of the loud sound's source and found one of the punks in orange had yanked the hyper girl away from her boyfriend and held her menacingly by the arm.

"Let her go!" The boy growled with a feral expression. "Let Mika go!" He would have launched at her captive if not because the other two thugs held him back.

"Seiji!" The girl gasped as a smile strangely formed on her face. "My name..." she sighed as if despite her bad situation witnessing her boyfriend's bravado was enough to make it all worth it.

I had to call Simon... no, I wouldn't do that, it felt too predictable. They must have seen Simon on the way in. If I had been guarded before, they must have concluded that I would be guarded even now. That's why they didn't attack me directly. Then what did they want? A hostage? Or maybe they intended to get Simon involved in a fight and try to grab me in the confusion? Either way, they were going to ruin the restaurant and possibly get me fired. I wouldn't allow this, I wouldn't allow the Orange Avengers to ruin my new life in Ikebukuro!

That's when I realized that if I was going to live in this city, I would have to learn to protect myself. Even if they told me I could rely on them, I shouldn't rely on Shizuo, Celty and Simon all the time. As these thoughts ran through my head in a split second, I dashed to the kitchen. The chef was focused on his cooking and didn't notice me. I took two long knives and hid them in the yukata's wide sleeve. I also took a handful of that special spice, holding it in my closed fist, seemingly clenched from anger.

"Stop!" I approached the troublemakers and the couple. "Let them go," I commanded sounding as menacing as I could, though I knew it wouldn't be that easy. "I... I'll take her place as your hostage."

The offer pleased them. The thug holding Mika captive didn't release her until his companion had a firm grip on the back of my neck. Since there were three of them, while the exchange was happening, only one was left to hold Seiji back and he took the opportunity to break free of his captor. Simultaneously, I threw the spice at my captor's face and he yelled in pain feeling its effect like pepper spray in the eyes.

Then I revealed the two concealed knifes. Mika seemed all too willing to join the fight. I let her have one of the knives and in a split second we were back to back facing off against our opponents. We slashed away at the two men, watching each other's backs, while Seiji had his hands full pounding the third thug into a bloody puddle. Injured and weak, the three men in orange desperately fled out of the restaurant.

"Are you both okay?" I asked the couple.

Mika was intently examining her boyfriend, as if taking in every single detail of his appearance before concluding, "we're fine," and lashing onto his arm again.

"Yes," Seiji agreed, gently prying the knife away from Mika's hand and giving it back to me. "Why did you offer yourself? I mean, why would you take her place as a hostage?"

Mika looked intrigued as well; she stopped snuggling against Seiji for a moment to direct a curious gaze at me. "I'm certain either of us have met you before," she commented in puzzlement. The way she said it was as if she knew everyone he knew? Had she known him her whole life or were they just that close?

I couldn't possibly tell them the truth about the Orange Avengers. I wasn't going to lie to my friends, but a few merciful white lies to innocent bystanders might be required. "It's because you two make such a cute couple that I didn't want those guys to come between you!"

It was a lame excuse that made me sound like some kind of OTP obsessed stalker, but Mika was pleased with it. "Really?" She squealed. "Did you hear that Seiji? Our love is so strong that even people we've just met support it!" She's certainly an oddball.

"In any case... thank you for protecting Mika." Seiji quietly voiced, which caused Mika to squeal happily at the mention of her name and cuddle him. Maybe despite his composed exterior this guy has a fetish for oddities.

"No problem," what can I say? Ikebukuro is full of strange happenings. "To make up for the interruption, why don't I get you some dessert, sushi ice-cream on me." Seiji scrunches up his nose in discomfort and Mika frowns. Wasn't he supposed to like oddities? "Just so you know, sushi ice-cream doesn't actually have any sushi in it," I clarify.

"Why is it called sushi ice-cream then?" Mika curiously inquires.

"It has some chocolate covered marshmallows that are shaped like sushi rolls," I explain. If more customers knew that, I'm sure the dessert would sell better. "The main part of the ice-cream comes in chocolate, vanilla, strawberry or mint."

"Strawberry!" Mika squeaks. "I like strawberry and so does Seiji, that's his favorite!" She sounds so sure of her words and he doesn't protest at all.

"Strawberry it is!" I go off to get the dessert, wondering if their background story is just as strange as their current relationship seems to be.

xoxox xox xoxox

At the end of the day, while Simon and I were cleaning the restaurant along with the rest of the crew, he brought up the day's main happening. "I saw three beaten and bloody men flee from restaurant. They not pay bill?"

I could tell he was only kidding and actually knew what that was really about. Was he upset that I didn't call him? "Sorry about that."

"It's okay, if you need help, you call me, if you need to let your tensions loose, you beat them up. Just don't get hurt or Shizuo will be very angry at me," he laughed teasingly at the end of his statement.

"It's not like he has to be my bodyguard, but I'm thankful that he is, and of course I'm thankful to you too and Celty," I rambled. Just why did Shizuo protect me? Was his grudge against Izaya truly that deep? I would have to talk to him about it tonight.

Before the conversation could get any further, Shizuo arrived, entering the restaurant despite the closed sign on the door. "Ready to go?" He asked me as natural as can be.

I looked at Simon who nodded and cheerfully chirped, "yup! Just let me go change." I was so caught up in the day's event I almost forgot I was wearing my uniform.

"No offense Simon, but I don't feel like having sushi another night in a row," Shizuo stated as I went to change.

I caught a few more words of the conversation, Simon saying it was okay, before the rest was lost to me behind the bathroom's closed door. When I emerged after having changed, Shizuo looked a bit flustered, but I didn't know why. Just what did Simon say to him? Did he mention the incident with the Orange Avengers?

Shizuo and I said our goodbyes and left the restaurant in silence. I didn't let the quietude last too long, I didn't want it to become awkward, so I asked Shizuo, "how was your day?"

"It was okay, just the usual," the next part he grumbled in a low tone, "still no sign of Izaya." Had he gone out to hunt his mortal enemy between errands and not found him? "We finished work early so I had time to pick up a few things. I'll show you when we get home. Do you like pizza? I was thinking about stopping to get some. Since I've been having nothing but sushi lately, it'll be a nice change."

"I love pizza!" I happily agreed, glad that we were talking so naturally. From then on we got caught up discussing pizza toppings and the next thing we knew were having pizza and talking some more.

The topic of my first day at work was destined to come up and it did. That's when I inquired about what Simon had said. "Did Simon tell you anything about today?"

Shizuo shifted uncomfortably and shook his head. "nah, he was just trying to talk me into eating sushi again today." I knew he was lying, but didn't press the issue. Maybe he was discussing something personal with his friend that I shouldn't be prying into. I already live in his apartment, so I really don't want him to feel invaded... though after this morning it might have already been too late. "Tell me about it, about your day." He requested casually to get the conversation going again and avoid whatever it was he discussed with Simon.

I wondered if I should tell him about the Orange Avengers and soon resolved that it was best if I did, while ascertaining that nothing bad actually came out of the fight, save for maybe a few frightened customers. Yet it seemed that the vast majority was already used to this sort of thing happening in Ikebukuro.

Shizuo was quite surprised to learn about what happened, but at the same time not. I suppose it was the resolution of the problem which he considered unexpected. Yet ultimately, Simon wasn't too far away and he did see what was going on, it was easy to tell he was watching if I read between the lines of his words when he addressed what happened. I suppose I wasn't in any real danger this time, or at least not in any out of the ordinary level of danger, given that this is Ikebukuro. Life is ironic like that, I moved here for peace and I got more adventure. Yet somehow, even if I still want revenge for my brother, I find that I can appreciate the adventure along the way.

xoxox xox xoxox

After we were done eating our pizza, Shizuo and I went back home. It's funny how I've started to think of his apartment as home, despite how it's supposed to be temporary, even if the length of time for which I'll be there still remains undetermined.

I found the cat eating some cat food from a new Hello Kitty dish, she was all cleaned up. "You gave her a bath and got her supplies? Thank you," I smiled, petting the feline. She did indeed have white fur, with a few light gray patches, the dark gray dirt now completely gone. "Did she put up fight?"

"Not for me," Shizuo admitted, "but that's just because I didn't bathe her. I told Tom about the cat and he wanted to see her. Since we finished work early I had time to buy some things like the cat's dishes. Tom gave her a bath and she tried to scratch him, but he managed to tame her. I also got some new furniture."

"Furniture?" I asked curiously following him to the bedroom. I admit I'm a little disappointed in seeing two small beds occupying the room, yet if I seek out a silver lining it might be like an invitation to take my time living here. Even so, it's evident he didn't think too much about this.

"That hit to the headboard wasn't the old bed's only damage. I've actually broken it a few times before and patched it up. When I came over so Tom could see the cat it was collapsed into a heap of useless debris," Shizuo explained. "I break furniture all the time so I'm a regular customer for that big furniture in the main shopping district of the city. Since I buy furniture there so often, they give me some pretty big discounts, I got these two for practically nothing. Buy one; get one free, pretty convenient, isn't it?"

"Wow, for discounts like that in furniture you really must be a regular customer," I laughed.

"Yeah," silence invaded as Shizuo's focus inevitably shifted to the fact that most people wouldn't break their furniture this often.

I was trying to think of what to say to restore the comfortable atmosphere that we had while eating pizza, then a sudden pained meow pierced the sound waves.

To be Continued

xoxox xox xoxox

Another Puzzle Piece

Chapter 7: Revelations

The cat bolted past Shizuo and I, then stopped on the other side of the room, shaking wildly. She let out another ear splitting meow before hopping on to one of the small beds and walking around it, pawing and clawing at the sheets. "Don't ruin Shizuo's new furniture!" I scolded, but the cat paid no attention to me and instead collapsed twitching in the center of the bed. "What's wrong with her?" I questioned as I rushed to the cat's side, she was hissy and tense then I noticed what was going on. "She's having kittens!"

"She's what?" Shizuo shouted as the fact sunk in that instead of having a cat there were now several felines entering the picture.

"She needs a doctor!" That explained why the cat's abdomen was so chubby, despite her limbs being thin. She wasn't oddly disproportioned, she was actually thin, the size of her belly being due to the kittens.

"I'm on it!" Shizuo was texting at light speed, I don't know who he was texting, but hopefully it's someone who can help us. "I let them know it's urgent. What do we do until the doctor is here?"

"I don't know, I've never taken care of a newborn anything," I admitted, clueless as to how we could help the cat.

The next few minutes transpired with Shizuo and I completely helpless about the situation, until suddenly there was a knock on the door. Shizuo went to open it and soon reentered the bedroom followed by Celty and a young man in a white coat and glasses.

Celty held up her cell phone at me with the question, "how do you feel?" Before I could replied she typed something else with amazing speed, probably due to all the practice she got.

Celty shoved the screen at Shizuo's face and he read aloud with a confused tone, "you better be ready to take care of your child."

Then she guided me to sit down on the unoccupied bed while the man in the white coat tried to hide his giggles. "Um... Celty," he chuckled, "I think there's been a misunderstanding. When humans are about to give birth, it's kind of obvious." He extended his hands in a round motion over his abdomen to signal what he meant.

Celty only tilted her helmet to the side in confusion, "but Shizuo said she was giving birth!" She held up her phone, the visor of her helmet turned towards Shizuo accusingly.

"Wait? What? Her?" Shizuo dramatized, his voice raising in volume with each interrogative. The cat's name was the first syllable of my name with a chan attached to it. "I meant the cat!" He shouted with a scarlet face.

"Really Celty," her white coated companion laughed. "You seem like such an expert in human anatomy sometimes that I thought you already knew this."

Though Celty had no face, I knew that if she did it would be as red as mine. That comment about anatomy was clearly a reference to something personal. She smacked the man with glasses upside the head and shoved her cell phone at his face, shaking it for emphasis, shut up!"

"Are you a people doctor or a vet?" I inquired urgently as the cat meowed loudly.

"I usually work on humans, but not exclusively," he let the statement up to interpretation and began to assist the cat. "Don't worry, even if I'm not a veterinarian, I can do this."

Celty turned to Shizuo and I, her hands on her hips and her right foot tapping lightly. The posture spoke volumes, even for Shizuo, who was quick to excuse himself. "Like I said, I was talking about the cat and I don't know any veterinarians, so a doctor seemed like the next logical choice!"

The argument was halted as the man in the coat began giving instructions, warm water, towels and what not, were requested, which we rushed to get.

xoxox xox xoxox

Several hours later, the ordeal had ended and our cat was resting with her kittens. By then the doctor had been introduced as Shinra, Celty's fiance, according to his words. By this time we were all quite tired. After sharing a quick snack with our guests and receiving instructions on how to help care for the kittens, Shinra and Celty returned home, leaving Shizuo and I alone with the felines.

"Everything turned out alright in the end," I yawned.

"Yeah... except..." Shizuo looked at the cat that obviously had no intentions of moving. "That was supposed to be my bed. I guess she needs it more."

"Yeah, you can use the other one," I resolved.

"Are we going to have the same argument again?" Shizuo inquired, clearly too tired to further elaborate.

"We could just solve it like last time," meaning sleeping together.

"The first one to fall asleep loses?" Shizuo interpreted my suggestion differently.

"Right..." I play along, "so we should both get ready for bed and start the competition. We can sit here on the bed and the one who's awake the longest will move later.

Shizuo paused, considering the option, "fine," he accepted.

xoxox xox xoxox

Said and done, we were ready to get some sleep and sat down on the unoccupied bed next to each other in total silence. We shifted around a little every now and then, half sitting and half laying. Then we were both lying down, glaring defiantly at each other with an odd instant rivalry. In the end, I was victorious as Shizuo's eyes closed first. His previously tense body relaxed as he dropped his defenses and fell in a deep sleep. I grinned victoriously but didn't move, I didn't feel like it. If he asked about it in the morning, I would simply say I fell asleep and we could call it a draw.

xoxox xox xoxox

When the next day came, Shizuo smashed the alarm clock with his first, killing the device and breaking the nightstand along with it. He yawned and rubbed the sleep out of his eyes. I couldn't help it but to giggle, though I tried to stay quiet so my presence wouldn't stand out too much. He looked at me as if wondering where I came from until sleepy amnesia faded when he caught sight of the felines in the neighboring bed. "Um... good morning?" I voiced to end the silence.

"Morning..." it seemed that by one twist of fate or another, we always ended up sharing a room in some way and that was maybe starting to weird him out? I don't know, I couldn't tell what he was thinking. I liked it when we weren't feeling awkward, talking and laughing as if we've known each other for years.

We got ready for our respective days of work, put out sufficient food and milk near the cat where she could easily reach it while caring for her kittens and left.

xoxox xox xoxox

The day rolled by without incident, save for the not so normal, normal happenings of Ikebukuro. While on break at Russia Sushi, I checked the internet through my cell phone and replied to a few messages from the Dollars. Other than Kanra, Taro and the Dollar chat regulars, I've been exchanging messages with a few other members as well. I took the opportunity to write a message to one of my online pen pals. "Hey what's up? Ready for your bro's visit?"

My pen pal claims to be the brother of a celebrity. I didn't really believe him at first, but I played along for amusement as one often does when finding such people on the Internet. His brother is apparently going to be in his city for a special event involving ice-cream. I've been meaning to figure out what that's about, since he didn't give me many details. I take some time to search the net and find that Yuhei, a well known actor, will be participating in a campaign to promote ice-cream. I didn't have time to finish my research before Simon announced that Shizuo was there. Since it was still my break he encouraged me to eat with him.

After being reminded of ice-cream, I was certainly in the mood for it. I insisted to Shizuo that the sushi ice-cream didn't actually have sushi in it and we got some chocolate sushi ice-cream. After the enjoyable break, which went by much faster than I would have liked, Shizuo had to head out to work again and I had to switch from customer to waitress again.

xoxox xox xoxox

After work, Shizuo didn't come by, instead Celty did, saying, or rather typing that she needed to talk to me. She mentioned having told Shizuo we were hanging out, so that explains why he didn't come. I had a feeling that Celty had something important to say. We left Russia Sushi on her motorcycle and went to her apartment to talk.

Shinra was already waiting there; it seemed that he too knew what this was about. He sighed as the two of us arrived. "Celty, you're so evil with your persuasive powers."

She shoved her cell phone's screen at him with a big bold, all caps, underlined, "shut up!" Then she went from embarrassed to serious, her fingers moving quickly and purposefully along her communication device's keyboard. "Let's get to the matter on hand. This is about your brother." She cut to the chase.

I gasped in obvious interest, "did you find out anything?"

"Not much except that Izaya is involved," Celty revealed. Again with this Izaya, I stopped seeking him out for information, but it sounds like Shizuo might have been right about him.

"The information broker? What does he want?" It didn't make any sense to me, what benefit could he draw from a situation that, as far as I knew, was entirely alien to him? Unless he had some sort of hidden connection with the Orange Avengers that I was completely unaware of.

"Conflict," Celty replied via typing. "I know it sounds odd and I don't know his reasons, but he really does cause trouble for seemingly no purpose, or rather, an obscure purpose. His goal was most likely to bring the Orange Avengers to Ikebukuro."

As to why that would cause a conflict, the answer was obvious. "The gang would then be exposed to getting involved with the other gangs in this city and that would cause a battle. Gangs always end up picking fights with each other, so the Orange Avengers being in someone else's turf would be enough to bring forth a conflict."

"It's already begun," Celty confirmed. "The Orange Avengers have been fighting with the Blue Squares over their presence in Ikebukuro. Even if your situation is resolved, it's very likely that the Orange Avengers will continue seeking revenge against the Blue Squares for the attacks they made in defense of their territory. They might decide that for the sake of defeating the gang that challenged them, though technically they were the challengers, they'll stay in Ikebukuro, maybe even try to make this their turf."

"It started as vengeance but it's turning into a matter of pride," I concluded, then eyed Shinra, whom I had a feeling had something to add. "What's the background story on this information, how did you find out? There's more to say, isn't there?"

Shinra nodded, "my jobs are a secret, but Celty has her ways of getting information from me..." He wisely decided not to elaborate on that. "I was called to a neighboring city to perform a surgery. It was basically, to change the appearance of one man into that of another. The man whom I was to copy from was already dead. I didn't know who either of them were, their story or the reasons behind their request. I overheard one of them mention Izaya's name, but he seemed to be disagreeing."

I listened with full attention as Shinra continued. "Apparently their leader wanted to go to Ikebukuro and Izaya encourage them to do so, but several of the higher ranked gang members didn't want to leave their territory. However, most of the gang was loyal to the leader and commended his courage in fights. Albeit the high ranks kept pushing him to the front lines in hopes he would fall, his victories only further established him as the leader. Eventually, the high ranks killed him and took his place."

This was my brother's story, then it was actually the high ranking members of his own gang that killed him. Izaya wanted him to go to Ikebukuro, just as I did, albeit for completely different reasons.

Taking a deep breath, Shinra proceeded with his revelations. "The gang was planning to stay in their territory and continue their normal operations. Those traitors didn't stop talking all the while I was performing the surgery on their soon to be new leader. I do have a reputation for keeping my mouth shut, so I guess that made it easy for them to ignore the fact that I could hear them. That's all I know."

I can put the rest together myself. "The man who stole my brother's face came here thinking that I knew too much. If Izaya wanted the Orange Avengers in Ikebukuro, he must have been the one who told them that. He must have told them I was at risk of discovering the false leader, which is true, since I would know my own brother." He's dead, my brother is dead beyond a doubt and that fills me with anger.

I finish putting the pieces of the mystery together, "Even if the false leader didn't mean to move the gang's operations to Ikebukuro, a quick trip to get rid of me would seem like no trouble to him. Then he conveniently died in this city, away from his gang, leaving Izaya to frame me for my brother's murder, though his real body must have been previously disposed of after the surgery. Then he would accomplish his purpose of bringing the Orange Avengers to Ikebukuro, he knew they wouldn't forgive this and would come after me."

With one final sharp breath, I finished my conclusions. "All along, I was the bait, another piece of the puzzle. As things stand now, even if they do manage to kill me, because of their fights with the Blue Square, they'll still have a reason to stay in Ikebukuro. Then Shizuo was right, that night, it must have been Izaya who threw the knife. Shizuo must have found him by coincidence and chased him, but that didn't stop him from accomplishing his mission."

To be Continued

xoxox xox xoxox

Another Puzzle Piece

Chapter 8: Bait

As I sat there in Celty and Shinra's apartment, a million thoughts ran through my head, about my brother, about the Orange Avengers, about revenge. I thought that by the time this all ended, there would be no more pretense, no lies, but I have a feeling that's only the beginning of all that and I'll be forever stuck in the middle of it, completing a puzzle that no one knows what it looks like.

"There's more," Celty lifted the small screen before I could voice any further thoughts. I paused and waited for her to continue. I realized that she must have had time to look around in the past days since I told her my story that night at Russia Sushi. "Because of the slow progress of the vengeance and their involvement against the Blue Square, an internal conflict seems to have been going on within the Orange Avengers. I investigated and found that they were not so difficult to be made to talk. Apparently the members of the Orange Avengers that arranged your brother's death have been killed in a mixture of internal conflict and battles against the Blue Square."

"In other words... My revenge, has already escaped me." I'm not sure if I should be happy or sad, relieved or angry. "I suppose to Izaya all of this are minor details. All he wants is for the Orange Avengers to be at Ikebukuro. There's one thing that still puzzles me. Why did you do it?" I look at Celty, seeking an answer. "Why did you go so far to investigate? Are you that much of a vigilante, or are you further involved in another way?" I think Shinra's coincidental connection to the case may not be the only connection.

Celty paused unsure, one hand rested on her lap holding the small screen she used to communicate, while the other hovered above it. She finally typed, "I'm looking for my head. I suspect Izaya knows where it is, but I know there's no way he'll tell me, even if I threaten to force the information out of him."

"I see," it all came together now. "Since Izaya was involved in this, you thought maybe investigating would lead you to find a clue." As Celty nods her helmet at me in admittance of my conclusion, another realization hits me. "You have a head... I mean, it's not attached to your neck, but it exists. I didn't know that." I simply assumed that if she didn't have a head on her shoulders it didn't exist, but it does... This makes me curious, though I believe this might be a matter to discuss another time. Back to the current subject on hand I inquire, "by telling me all of this, do you expect me to stop seeking revenge?" Which I had not been actively seeking anyway.

Celty nods again and adds a written message, "it's likely they'll come after you for a while still, but maybe that priority will be bumped down on their list if they have gang fights to think about. Maybe there's a way to make them stop coming after you, in any case, Shizuo would be able to keep you safe."

I sigh, feeling as if I'm using him. "I want to end this. It might be too late for vengeance, but I'll call it karma and accept it, there's nothing more I can do. I still want to cut my ties with the Orange Avengers. I'll try to think of a way to make them stop chasing me."

Our conversation is interrupted by a loud voice from outside calling out, "Izaya!" We all rush to the window to witness as vending machines and street signs fly by, missing their fast moving target by a hair.

Without thinking twice I rush out to the street, taking the elevator. Celty and Shinra tried to stop me but I managed to close the elevator door on time. By the time I'm out on the street, Celty's already there first, she probably rode down the wall of the building. She seems to be standing to the side at the moment witnessing the fight, unsure of if she should intervene, but on stand by just in case.

"Shizuo!" I call out to him without thinking of the possible consequences as I run to meet him. Celty is caught off guard by my action; I guess she didn't expect me to be stupid enough to rush into a war zone like that.

Shizuo notices my presence and warns me to, "stay back, go inside!"

I stop cold, my eyes searching for Shizuo's rival as I stand in the middle of the street. "Izaya," I voice his name. "You arranged it for the Orange Avengers to come to Ikebukuro."

"Indeed I did," Izaya grins from his position several feet away on the street. "It was a pity that so many twists and turns had to happen along the way. It would have served my purposes just as well, possibly even better, if your brother had come out of it alive. He was such an excellent pawn, even better than you. It's too bad that such a puzzle piece was lost, but that's okay, the picture can still be completed without him and even without you."

"I see," I growled, "then your intention was simply to bring the Orange Avengers to Ikebukuro. The part about killing my brother was something that just happened; something arranged by others, those others are, ironically, already dead."

"Celty provided you with this information, didn't she? I don't know what she hoped to find," he lied, Izaya knew exactly what Celty was looking for, "but it looks like she found a few things you wanted to know. I apologize for not providing you with that information myself; my business hours have been busy lately."

"So you were avoiding me!" I concluded, putting more anger into my voice than what I felt. I was numb realizing the fact that everything had already played out basically without my knowledge, very much less any willing participation.

"I thought you were avoiding your demise," Shizuo stated, obviously referring to Izaya having stayed away from him for a while.

"The bait," Izaya glanced at me when he spoke that word, "had to stay alive for a while. She couldn't die immediately, not before the Orange Avengers had a different reason to stay in Ikebukuro. That has already been established, so it doesn't matter if the bait is consumed." He grinned proud of his reasoning, as if we were all too easy to read and manipulate. "When you took her away that night I knew she would give you the broken pieces of her story that not even she fully understood. I knew you would jump to conclusions and think that for some reason I was after her, that she was part of my plan, and for a fleeting moment, she was."

Izaya chuckled annoyingly and continued. "You would keep the bait safe until her purpose was accomplished, so I wouldn't have to go through that trouble. I thank you so much for your assistance. I know you were only keeping her near by to lure me out so you could try to kill me again. My encounter with you this night is my way of saying you don't have to try so hard anymore. I no longer require your assistance in preserving her life, as she is no longer necessary for the master puzzle to be completed. You can stop copying me now Shizu-chan, you can stop using this girl as bait. Hasn't she been used enough already?"

The strange thing was that at that moment, I felt more anger towards myself than anyone else. Inaction has always been my kind of reaction to most things. I overlooked my brother's deeds and let him sink deeper as long as I lived a comfortable life. I was prone to be used because I always let the current of life carry me, rather than moving on my own.

Shizuo's eyes were downcast, his teeth and fists were clenched and he twitched in anger. "Bastard," he growled under his breath as Izaya finalized his speech, "shut up!" Shizuo lifted a car that was parked on the side of the street in front of the apartment building and flung it at Izaya with an amazing force.

The manipulative information broker had trouble dodging, but managed to do so and with a sly smile he retreated into the night. It was as is this was enough, he had pissed off enough people for now and would leave us to deliberate on what we learned.

Shizuo didn't chase after Izaya; he seemed tired of his antics for the time being. "I wasn't using you," his voice is quieter now as he stares at the paved road. "Or maybe I was..." he confesses.

Was he using me as bait? Was I using him as a bodyguard, taking advantage of his kindness? Or was he taking advantage of my peril? Maybe we were taking advantage of each other for a mutual benefit. Is that all there is to it? Just business? No, I can't believe that. I won't allow Izaya to make me doubt, yet I have to admit I need time to think and clear my head. That won't happen if I'm distracted by Shizuo or try to solve the sudden tension between us before I resolve my own inner turmoil that if left unattended will eventually burst. "I'm going to move out," I announce to Shizuo, my voice serious. "It's not that I'm angry at you or anything, I just need to be by myself and think for a while."

Shizuo nods, accepting my choice, "maybe that's what's best."

A moment of silence passes until Shinra joins our little group on the street and grimaces, "that car you threw was mine."

Ignoring the young doctor's agony, Shizuo and I walked home together for what I fear may be the last time from now, until an undetermined future that I am yet unable to imagine.

xoxox xox xoxox

I gathered a few things in a backpack, sufficient to spend the night elsewhere. Maybe I could ask Celty to let me stay at her apartment, or talk Simon into allowing me to sleep at the restaurant. I didn't know where exactly I was going, but I left Shizuo's apartment and wondered the streets, by some miracle not being found and killed by the Orange Avengers. Those that I found were entirely different.

As I walked across the park, the fountain's water reflecting the moon on its stillness, I noticed a couple probably out on a romantic evening stroll. I recognized them as Mika and Seiji, the peculiar couple from the restaurant. "Look Seiji, it's our fan!" The girl greeted me, convinced that I supported them like a fan girl to an OTP. "You seem sad... did you have a fight with Shizuo?"

Just where does she get off asking me that. How would she know? "Not exactly," I stuttered, taken aback. "I just need some time alone, that's all. I can't stay at his place right now."

"If you don't have a key I can lend you mine," Mika offers with a friendly smile.

"You have a key to Shizuo's apartment?" I question, raising my voice unconsciously.

Mika giggles, "my key works on all doors," is she talking about lock picking equipment. "I use it to unlock Seiji's room when he locks me out." She really is a stalker, and to all her openness about it, Seiji says absolutely nothing, just standing there as if it's all perfectly natural. Maybe he's flattered by it.

"No thanks," I laugh nervously. "I think I really should be on my own for a while. I just need to decide where to go for tonight."

"I can help with that." Mika takes a key from her pocket and hands it to me, explaining some directions to a building that I believe is a student dorm for the main high school in the city. "You can stay in my room for tonight. Since I have a friend over occupying my room... I'll have to stay with Seiji!" She cheers loudly, clutching her boyfriend's arm. Did she just use me as a flimsy excuse to spend the night at his place?

"Alright..." Seiji surprisingly agrees. With matters settled from their perspective, the couple starts to walk away, leaving me in open mouthed, wide eyed shock. Then Seiji pauses and turns to look at me, with Mika still strongly clinging to his arm. "If you love someone, you must never give up." With those words spoken, the pair once again continued on their way.

I suppose that strangeness aside; I at least found a place to stay and for that I'm thankful, especially because for some unknown reason, my confusion has suddenly increased tenfold.

To be Continued

xoxox xox xoxox

Another Puzzle Piece

Chapter 9: Acting

I made my way to Mika's dorm room and let myself in with the key she lent me. I expected to find something extravagant inside, like pictures of her beloved Seiji all over the walls, but instead I found a relatively normal room, save for the abundance of pink. It's the typical girly-girl room of someone who might be catalogued as harmless, despite her stalker skills rivaling the tenacity of a spy fit to be the protagonist of an epic movie. There's a small framed picture of Seiji on the night stand next to the bed, which I assume she falls asleep looking at. The decor is full of hearts and has nothing else that stands out from it.

I toss my hastily packed bag on the floor and sit on the bed letting out a deep breath. I want to sort out my thoughts, but don't know where to start. I look around the room once more and my eyes pause on a stereo, maybe some music will help me relax. I turn on the device, hearing some strange sounds like static. I turn the radio's dial looking for a good station, wondering if it's broken.

Hearing a voice, I adjust the dial until it becomes clear. The man who is singing has an odd accent that reminds me of Simon. There's no background music and occasional noises are heard along with the singing. What kind of radio station dares to promote this stuff? Maybe they're playing a joke on the listeners. Then there's a pause in the singing and another noise, like a door being opened. "Tom, Shizuo, what brings you here so late?" The man has stopped singing and has instead greeted some very familiar names with that same Russian accent.

"Maybe you can talk to Shizuo before he tares the entire building apart," tom's voice explains. What is this? This is no radio station... Did Mika plant a microphone at Russia Sushi? Simon must have been doing some late cleaning; he can be a neat freak at times.

There's a growl, that I assume came from Shizuo, "I knew it; there was no debt to collect here!"

"It was the only way to get you over here," Tom admits. "Now Simon and I will gang up on you and make you talk," I can imagine him having a sly grin, combined with a concern look as he spoke.

"Sit down, talk, confess all, then have sushi and feel better!" Simon's voice is followed by the shuffling of chairs. Maybe he's pushing Shizuo into sitting down.

"There's nothing to talk about, I'm just pissed off at Izaya, nothing new there!" Shizuo growls, shouting his words.

"You've never been angry this way before, there's more to it than what you're saying," Tom insists.

"It doesn't matter, keeping her at my apartment was a bad idea anyway," Shizuo is no doubt talking about me and my heart sinks. "She could have gotten hurt."

"Enough of that," Tom interrupts, somewhat scolding. "That's just an excuse and you know it. You always worry that you'll end up causing accidental pain if you get close to anyone so you don't take any chances. You use the fact that she needed a bodyguard as an excuse to overcome that fear by focusing on that she was in more danger without you. But you don't need excuses; you don't need to worry so much. I'm sure she'll be more hurt if you just push her out of your life."

There's more noises as if Shizuo is trying to get up but Simon is preventing him, "you not run away, sit and face the truth. You like her."

My breath catches in my throat as I wait Shizuo's answer. "She didn't recognize me," what does he mean by that? The following silence makes me believe that Tom and Simon are also confused by Shizuo's ambiguous statement. "I mentioned her before, or more like you guys stupidly thought I was in love and managed to annoy me until I talked. That girl I met at the Dollars chat, we exchanged emails and wrote to each other often. Since my identity was hidden I guess I told her things I wouldn't normally tell people face to face."

Shizuo continued sounding pissed up yet with a somewhat sad undertone. "I told her whatever I was thinking; it didn't feel like I was saying too much because she didn't know me. I even talked to her about my brother. She told me about her life too, with no names or locations. The story fits so perfectly, but it was such a big coincidence that I had my doubts at first, until Celty told me her Dollars username. It's her, but she doesn't know it's me. She even sent me a message asking about what I mentioned about my brother not realizing that she could just ask me in person."

I've received many shocks since I came to Ikebukuro, but this by far is the biggest. Shizuo and my pen pal are the same person. He knew right away but I didn't. That familiarity and trust I felt towards him, it was all full of deja vu, but I didn't realize that. When we talked about what we liked, entertainment and such topics, I've had those conversations before online, it's all the same. I can't believe all of this flew over my head, my subconscious knew, but my mind didn't. He's the reason I was okay, he's the reason I accepted the fact that my brother's gang scared away all my possible friends, because I had the Dollars and I had him. My platonic crush that I never dared to allow myself to think of too much because I didn't know him in person, and yet, I know him so well. I really have known him for a long time.

A long silence fills the sound waves perceived by the spy radio, but either way, I can't listen to this anymore. I turn the dial in frustration and it accidentally tunes in to something else. There is a voice I heard before criticizing someone and speaking of death and suicide. Is that Izaya? Where is he? "See that stain down there? Do you know how many people had jumped from here?"

The Dollars, I have to tell the Dollars. I dig out my small laptop from my bag, which I packed in case I needed the Dollars and my pen pal to cheer me up. I log in and type, asking about a place were people jump to commit suicide.

"Don't do it!" Taro immediately replies, then proceeds to try to persuade me not to jump.

"I'm not the one jumping," I clarify. "It's someone else."

Setton, aka Celty, opens up a private chat window. "What's going on?"

"I heard Izaya is talking someone into jumping." I suppose this can be interpreted as me having heard a rumor, albeit I am in fact literally hearing the event.

"I'll take care of it!" Celty posts in the public chat for both Taro and I to see, then logs off. I log off to and leave the dorm.

xoxox xox xoxox

I didn't know where exactly I was going, just towards the general area of the city that was more desolated at this hour. I log in again from my cell phone and asked the Dollars if they had seen the headless rider recently. I got a reply and followed the clues to Celty, which led me to the scene of the suicide. It was an old building; there was no one there except for Celty now.

Celty holds up her phone to me as she stands on the edge of the building. "It's already too late."

I peek past the edge and see the body of a girl around my age dead at the bottom. "I didn't know her," I admit. "I just heard about this and thought I should tell the Dollars."

"You did the right thing," Celty encourages, even if it was too late for the girl. I can only guess that Izaya was already gone when Celty got here, so I don't even bother to bring him up.

A strange plan starts to form in my mind as I think about the recent events. The Orange Avengers, the dead girl, Mika's stalker ways. "Hey Celty... do you think Shinra would be willing to help out with something?"

xoxox xox xoxox

I run through the streets of Ikebukuro as the sun threatens to rise. I'm wearing the same suit as Celty and a matching helmet too. I have already allowed the Orange Avengers to see my face. Then I duck into an alleyway and the one that comes out at the other side is Celty without her motorcycle, running away on foot, at the speed of a normal human.

The Orange Avengers chase her to the building where people go to end their lives. She stops at the edge seemingly trapped; she takes off her helmet and jumps desperately. I've been following the chase in secret, ready to play the next part of the plan. Celty disappears into the shadows, the mannequin's head still on her shoulders. They couldn't tell the difference due to the speed and darkness, that's why we had to do this before the sun went up, while it was still dark and the corpse was fresh. It's a bit morbid, but it worked.

The Orange Avengers think I'm dead. They check the corpse, just in case, and they see my face in a carefully arranged scene thanks to some quick plastic surgery from Shinra. This is technically disrespecting the dead, but who cares, it's nothing personal and the Orange Avengers will be off my back now. Of course, they might still see me around the city and wonder why there's a look alike that's still alive. That might confuse them unless a proper explanation is given, enter Shizuo.

Shizuo runs into the scene dramatically screaming my name. Maybe acting talent really does run in the family. He sees the corpse and expresses his agony, now it's my turn. "Shizuo!"

"You!" Shizuo growls enraged, while the confused Orange Avengers stare. "Even if you copy her face you'll never be her!"

"Shizuo please!" I add some soap opera style melodrama to my performance. "She was destined to be killed by the Orange Avengers, but I'm still alive, I'm here for you!"

"Get away from me, stalker!" Shizuo screams in agony, "it's all meaningless now..."

"She's a fake," one of the Orange Avengers reasons.

"Yeah, the real one is dead, forget the fake, we have no business with her." The gang is probably more worried about running away from Shizuo right now. In fear of his vengeance and believing that killing his beloved was punishment enough for his past interference, the Orange Avengers will leave him alone.

As the members of the Orange Avengers who witnessed these events run away off to spread their misinterpretation through the gang, I know I'm free of them. Shizuo flees the scene, pretending to chase after them and purposely lets them run away. I chase after Shizuo for good show and when we're far enough we turn another way and head to Shinra's apartment.

xoxox xox xoxox

Celty, Shinra, Shizuo and I meet at Shinra's apartment as planned. Our little play was a success. It involved even more pretence and lies, but this time it worked to my favor. There is still a veil of awkwardness and confusion between Shizuo and I, even if he agreed to help with my crazy plan without question. I'm determined to work things out with him somehow. "Shizuo... I have the day off from work tomorrow."

"So do I but I'll be busy..." Shizuo admits.

"I want to talk to you, so please meet me at the park in the afternoon; you're going to be there anyway, aren't you? We can talk after it's over." His brother will be there as part of his ice-cream promotion, the one that I didn't quite finish reading up on. Whatever it's about, I know Shizuo will be near by.

Shizuo seems to wonder how I know he'll be there, but disregards it, anyone could have told me. "Alright," he agrees.

Shizuo heads home to his apartment and for tonight, I stay at Mika's place. Tomorrow I'll fix everything, tomorrow Shizuo and I can start anew without the interference of the Orange Avengers. It's technically already today, since the sun is raising, but I'll get a few hours of sleep in the morning and let Shizuo do the same. This afternoon... it makes me uneasy, yet at the same time, I can't wait.

To be Continued

xoxox xox xoxox

Another Puzzle Piece

Chapter 10: Love

After resting in the morning I felt more anticipation for the afternoon. However, when Shizuo and I met we didn't really talk much. Instead he was busy trying to keep his brother safe from rabid fan girls. Mika and Seiji were there and I took the opportunity to return Mika's key. I had dropped off my things at Shizuo's apartment, though I told him I would be moving out fully tonight. I'm not sure where I'll go, but I can't stay in Mika's place, her spying equipment is simply too tempting and it just begs to be used in the most inappropriate ways involving Shizuo.

"I knew you would be here," Mika accepts the key with a smile, coming to her own conclusion to explain the action of having it returned to her. She pauses to cuddle Seiji and comments, "I think I'll still stay at your place so you don't get lonely." Then she turns her attention back to our conversation as she puts away the key. "I guess this means that you and Shizuo are back together." She looks around discretely, "I won't tell anyone about you being you."

I laugh not knowing how else to react, "thanks for... everything." She knows about what happened, she knows about my fake death, she probably knows as much about what goes on in this city as Izaya does.

"You're welcome, it was in thanks for today's event," Mika happily responds and her answer puzzles me.

"Today's event?" What event? How does it involve her? How am I related to it?

"The ice-cream, I mean," Mika grins from ear to ear as my confusion grows.

"She doesn't know," Seiji correctly interprets, speaking for the first time since I saw them this afternoon.

"Really?" Mika stares at the blank look of cluelessness on my face and shakes her head. "You need to be better informed, after all, you won the prize too."

"Prize?" I have no idea what in the world she's talking about.

"The ice-cream company that hired Yuhei for this promotion has been secretly going through the city looking for couples that will represent the image of their ice-cream flavors. They kept it a secret so not even I knew about it until after the fact," Mika explains, then proceeds to elaborate on the vital fact that she referred to. "One of their agents was searching at Russia Sushi, the agents would seek out couples that were eating certain flavors of ice-cream and take pictures of them without telling them so that it's all spontaneous. Then they would select the cutest couples and send them some letters inviting them to come here for the final section of the contest for the couples who would represent each flavor of ice-cream!" It's clear that Mika is excited about this.

I'm still a bit confused, then I suddenly manage to put two and two together and it all adds up. "That day at Russia Sushi, the strawberry sushi ice-cream..."

"Exactly!" Mika cheers. "If not because of you explaining that there was no sushi in sushi ice-cream, Seiji and I wouldn't have tried it. Then when the secret agent came in we wouldn't have been caught eating it. I'm so glad we were entered in the contest; I just know we'll be chosen to represent the sweet flavor of strawberry of love!"

"Congratulations," talk about confident, but I smile and sincerely hope for the best none the less. Then more of the situation sinks in and I continue analyzing the information I've received. There are more than one ice-cream flavors included in this promotion and Mika said I was getting the same prize. "Chocolate!" I suddenly exclaimed.

"Yes!" Mika cheered, "I'm sure you'll be the winner for your favorite flavor too!"

At this point I tune out everything else because a peculiar announcement catches my attention as well as the attention of all those present. Yuhei has exited the large ice-cream monument that had been hastily made in the center of the park. Holding a microphone he started to talk about the contest. Apparently, the contestants had to confirm their entries and show up today. I'm here and so is Shizuo, but I didn't confirm anything and somehow I doubt he did. Yet Mika seems so certain that we'll win...

"I hope we win, I hope we win, I hope we win," the quiet chanting catches my attention despite being drowned out by the noise of the crowd. Shinra is near by with Celty.

She smacks him on the back of the head and holds up her cell phone which has a messaged spelled out on its screen, "I hope we don't win!"

"Aw, c'mon Celty," Shinra pleads. "It was destiny!"

"No, you just felt like getting ice-cream and stupidly bought one for me when the guy in the ice-cream truck asked if you were getting one for your girlfriend, even if you knew I couldn't actually eat it," Celty argued via writing.

"I know he just wanted an extra sale, but I would have looked like a bad fiance," he emphasized the word as if correcting her like he must have done to the ice-cream guy, "if I didn't share," Shinra retorted, his pleading look still present. "Then we were lucky enough to be caught on camera. That made it the most delicious mint ice-cream I've ever tasted!"

Before I can say hello to them, some cheering of "cookies and cream! Cookies and cream!" Catches my attention from the crowd. A blond boy and brown haired girl are laughing together; it looks like their having fun and it sounds like they're a part of the contest too. "C'mon Mikado, you have to cheer too, say stuff like classic vanilla or something!" I can tell he's enjoying teasing his friend. Another boy with dark hair blushes and shifts in embarrassment as does the girl with glasses next to him.

Then the winners are announced for each flavor. The vanilla couple turns out to be the flustered boy and girl, who are pushed to the front of the crowd by their teasing friends. Then the victors of cookies and cream are revealed to be those same teasing friends. The strawberry winners are of course Mika and Seiji. Then the mint winners are revealed to be Shinra and Celty. He's certainly excited about it and he happily drags her along to the front of the crowd.

Surprisingly, the representatives of chocolate are Shizuo and I. It was at this point that Shizuo had finished patrolling the area and came back to check on me so I wouldn't think he's purposely ignoring me. Just as he arrived, Yuhei called our names, much to his shock. I have a feeling that he wasn't consulted on this, perhaps it was all arranged because of his brother, or maybe even by his brother. Caught unprepared we're practically pushed to the front of the crowd were Shizuo growls a low and threatening, "Kasuka..."

At this point I take his hand to try to get his attention and hopefully calm him down before the giant plastic and cardboard four flavored ice-cream cone next to the actor is sent flying across the city. Shizuo stiffens and stays perfectly still while we receive our prices and Yuhei announces that the chosen couples' pictures will be printed on the ice-cream packages of their respective flavors for the following few months.

I held his hand through the entire thing, keeping him calm until it was all over and the crowds dispersed. Then Shizuo looked at Yuhei, or Kasuka by his birth name, and asked, "did you?"

Kasuka just smiled and excused himself. "I need to take care of a few things now; I have a photo section to attend to."

Shizuo growled in response and let him go. "I had no idea about this." I confessed as I finally let go of his hand, since it was no longer necessary to stop him from committing a random act of property damage. Instead I occupied myself in examining the contents of the envelope I had been given as our prize. It contained tickets to the opening night of the Ikebukuro amusement park, which were very expensive, practically impossible to obtain. We also got passes for all the rides so that standing in like wasn't required, all you can eat passes for the food places and a pair of generous gift cards to buy souvenirs.

It seems that the contest winners I didn't know already knew the ones I did. After some introductions we agree, with Shizuo remaining quiet through it all, that we should all attend the amusement park's grand opening tonight. It was already evening and it was only an hour away so we headed there immediately.

xoxox xox xoxox

Our group of eight hang out together for a while before we all dispersed to our rides of choice. Shizuo relaxed after several runs on the roller coaster. It's awesome being able to ride it over and over without having to wait. After some time, we decided to take a break for food and by then Shizuo seemed to have forgotten the awkwardness from being put in the spotlight this afternoon. After eating, we hit the shops and had an amusing time poking fun at the odd little souvenirs, hats, cups, figurines and what not that they sold.

We were walking around the park, caught in the moment and very much enjoying it, when we saw the ferris wheel and went to ride it. Everything proceeded well until it stopped with our little cart on top. Looking out from the window I saw some familiar figures below suspiciously near the base of the wheel, where the controls were.

Shizuo noticed them too, "looks like they're playing a joke on us."

Or maybe giving us some privacy. "Shizuo..." I took the opportunity to say something I've been meaning to say. "I'm sorry it took me so long to figure it out, I guess I was just caught up in everything. It was only a matter of time, but I should have known right away, my dearest pen pal."

"You noticed..." He looks away for a moment as if I were able to read his thoughts when our eyes meet. I suppose he must be thinking of all the things I know about him that I didn't realize I knew. The things he told me so easily because he was protected by the shield of distance.

"Thank you," I continue, "you always listened to me and cheered me up. It was because of you that I looked forward to everyday. I know I never told you this before, I thought you might think I'm silly or weird, getting attached to someone I don't know in person, but even if I tried not to, I did. Then we ended up meeting... the Dollars started it all in a way."

Shizuo nods and finally looks at me, "it's true, the Dollars have changed the lives of a lot of people, many times without even trying." There's a long silent pause, his look is so intense, then he speaks again, "the cats miss you..."

"They do?" What is he getting at? Should I take the cats with me when I leave or... My breath catches in my throat at the prospect of the other possibility.

"Come home," his intense eyes stay on mine as he speaks those words I longed to hear. My expression is all the answer he needs and I can see it in his face that he knows I will. Then like magnetism we're suddenly closer and the next thing my mind is able to register is that he's kissing me and that I'm kissing him back.

The ferris wheel begins to move again, but we don't part from each other. The cart is open for several minutes before we have to pause for breath. Then we notice that we're back on the ground and there are people staring at us, some of them familiar to us. We both turn scarlet and acting on impulse, Shizuo picks me up and flees the scene at an inhuman speed, carrying me in his arms.

Shizuo doesn't stop until he's at the door to his apartment where I'm invaded by joyous laughter. He sets me on my feet, wondering what's so funny. I manage to stop laughing and just smile before we kiss again, this time for much longer than before and with more passion. I can feel it; this is the start of something great. Regardless of how uncertain the future may be, from now until forever, I'll be in love with Shizuo and I know it in my heart that he'll love me back.

End

Disclaimer, I don't own DRRR!