A/N: Eh, I'm not so sure about this chapter (I'm never completely happy with my stories), but it's here and finally done. (Chapter two is mostly Miyuki being a Debbie Downer). Enjoy!
Disclaimer: This story is based on the Crows Zero movies, as well as the characters as they are portrayed therein. All recognizable characters are owned by Hiroshi Takahashi.
Everything—sound, sight, smell—was back to normal—thuds of bass, flashing of lights, miasma of stale alcohol pervading the air—by the time Miyuki had lost herself in the routine of the nightclub. One order, yes, coming up! Another table to clean, another shattered glass to throw away, another unruly client to be thrown out.
It was comforting. And that wasn't a lie.
With her head upraised, her usual armour polished and prepared for every blow that would be directed to her self-esteem, Miyuki felt herself slip into the cold and numb existence that was her new life. Her new—or becoming old?—routine. No, she quickly berated herself and shook her head, don't think. Just move.
And she did.
Nod, smile, order. Clean, move, wait. Dodge, spin, frown. Order, table, lights. Ruka, song, clapping. Glasses, order, glasses. Tray, walk, wait. Relax, speak, sigh. Walk, drinks, smile. And over. And over, until—the silence in the empty nightclub seemed to pulse against her skin, tremble into her feet, and create a pressure behind her eyes that reminded her to sleep, god, just sleep for hours.
"Hai?" Miyuki snapped up and spun toward a frowning Ushiyama. Her boss had a broom in one hand, and a conflicted look clouding his face. After a beat, she followed the direction of his gaze and was wholly confused when she was met by the sight of Kyoko still seated at a table.
The girl was the only client in the now-closed nightclub, a vision of neatness surrounded by crude graffiti.
"I'll—I'll get rid of her," Miyuki stammered, then snatched the broom from Ushiyama's grasp, "I'll talk …" to her. A mistake, oh such a stupid mistake to make. But she took a seat, crossed her legs, and pressed the broom against her side. "Kyoko-san?"
Kyoko blinked, her eyelashes fluttering. Glossy lips parted and relaxed, a breath of air hitching in her throat before fluttering to freedom, then a full-body shudder began in her legs and ceased with a sudden jerk of her head. "Yes?" was the breathless, slightly bewildered response. "Yes?"
It was like witnessing a delicate flower responding to dawn, to the first rays of light and the slowly changing hues of the sky.
"Shop's closed," Miyuki gently pointed out, still staring unashamedly at her companion, still leaning most of her weight onto the broom. With her lips curved into a playful grimace, she offered Kyoko a nonchalant shrug, which—she would soon realize—was mistaken for the act of offering to hear the girl's every trial and tribulation.
Every thought. In great detail.
"Oh, oh," Kyoko breathed, slowly shaking her head. She pressed the tips of two fingers on the edge of their table, then followed the curve from one direction to the other. "I was hoping, you see. One date, one night. A good experience. For once!" With a sudden incomprehensible exclamation, she slapped the table with force, her face twisting into a disappointed sneer. "Why? Why are men such pigs?"
"Eh?" Miyuki hastily reared back on her seat and held the broom across her chest. Frowning, she cast a significant glance in Ushiyama's direction (the oblivious man was behind the counter, slapping together one of his favourite drinks as an obvious job-well-done) but quickly turned back when Kyoko released a particularly shrill sound. "It couldn't have been that bad?"
Oh, but apparently it had been. And worse. So awful, so disappointing, that Miyuki received a detailed synopsis of the evening, starting from the not-to-be couple's first dance to the drinks that had been bought, the outfit the boy had worn, and his nonexistent manners. It was only after Ushiyama had locked the club's doors behind them, and sent them on their way, that a ranting Kyoko realised that she had been following Miyuki down the street.
"Oh," Kyoko sighed, and abruptly deflated. "I'm so sorry … so sorry." She winced, then began slapping her forehead. "I'm so embarrassed … truly embarrassed."
Casting a glance behind her, then toward the path ahead of them, Miyuki considered a few carefully worded responses, but ultimately found herself tongue-tied and confused. Shuddering, she drew in a shaky breath and wetted her lips with her tongue. "Maybe …" she offered, but comforting another truly felt strange, so foreign, in that moment, "maybe you have high expectations."
But Kyoko merely shrugged. "Maybe I'm attracted to nut-jobs," then plodded forward, arms swinging, as if they hadn't stopped walking.
Miyuki echoed the girl's shrug. "That as well," she agreed, just for the sake of agreeing, and a slow smile tugged at Kyoko's lips before blooming into a full-fledged grin. Miyuki just had to look away.
"What are you doing with that broom?" The question was completely unexpected and strange, but that calm and almost wistful tone in Kyoko's voice reminded Miyuki of warm nights, arms wrapped securely around her shoulders, and the full moon glowing brightly above her. (Isn't it beautiful? Mother Dearest had whispered against her cheek).
Eventually the true meaning of the question pieced the fog clouding her thoughts, and Miyuki stared dumbly at her companion for several heartbeats. Until said girl gestured to the ground, then repeated the question before falling silent, inhaling deeply as though the lingering scents of the day was an ambrosia.
It finally dawned upon Miyuki that she had been dragging the broom behind her, allowing the bristles to scrape across tar and cement and wrappers of any kind. She groaned at herself, exasperated, and thought: first Ushiyama's fan, now his broom. Her boss would eventually ask Keiji-san to arrest her.
"Thank you for listening," Kyoko eventually broke the silence and bowed her head at Miyuki as a sign of sincerity. "We should … do this again."
"Uh," she shifted the broom from one hand to the other as a familiar discomfort appeared and intensified at an alarming rate. The words maybe not and I think I have to leave again, continue my life as a drifter came close to being spoken, but she managed to stop herself. "What do you mean?"
"Talk," Kyoko said quite simply.
Swallowing was difficult, but when she could speak, Miyuki gestured to their right (Yu and Ruka just rounded the corner at that moment) and announced, "There's Ruka-san." Head bowed, she scurried away as quickly as she could, leaving behind the quiet of the streets, the dark of the night, and a bewildered Kyoko who would eventually notice her absence.
Scurrying became jogging, became running, and her movement only ceased once she had clambered up the stairs and reached her apartment. There, Miyuki bent over, panting, and closed her eyes to shut out a suddenly whirling world. It took a while, but when she finally straightened up and glanced around at her surroundings, she leaned against the railing with her arms up in the air, stretching.
Lights were still on here and there. The concrete courtyard down below looked eerie, like a strange graveyard. Goosebumps flecked her flesh as the wind picked up, sending her hair into a disarray, so she turned on her heel and pulled out her keys.
Miyuki had her door open, her hand on the handle, when she noticed a figure that was sitting a distance down the walkway connecting the apartments. The lights above flickered once, twice, then she knew who she was looking at and knew that she had to make a move: speak up or leave.
The Monster of Suzuran was on the floor with his back against the door of his apartment. A hand rested on his head, his fingers making slow circles across his mane. Dried blood was smeared along his brow. His eyes were closed.
The instinct to flee—the same instinct that had awoken after her home life had collapsed into many, irreparable shards—emerged out of the blue. Hastily looking away, Miyuki threw herself into her apartment and locked her door as quietly as she could; then she stood still, heart racing, blood pumping frantically to her reddening ears. Her hand slowly slid down the length of the doorframe.
Thank you, the words formed silently on her lips. And, as she forced her eyes shut, the image of the boy sitting outside burned into her memory. Never to be forgotten.
As a young girl, Miyuki had been frequently nervous and had fretted about this and that. Now, older and scarred by events some would deem as trivial, she discovered that certain aspects of her personality couldn't be altered, no matter how many months came and went.
It was the simple idea of Serizawa suffering because of her—of not voicing an appreciation that frequently crawled into the forefront of her mind—that plagued her every minute she worked at the supermarket. It didn't matter that it was an unusually busy day, that Sanada-san (her boss, as she was now calling him) had actually removed himself from his office long enough to snap at her. That a certain Suzuran student just wouldn't leave her thoughts.
So it was only after cleaning the floors, checking her teeth, rechecking the shelves, brushing her hair with her fingers, checking out for the day, and neatening her uniform (she tutted at herself after realising that she had been straightening her appearance), that she headed out to deal with her emotions.
But she became more and more anxious the closer she came to the infamous school. Thoughts like did the Yakuza get him, is he all right, and I should thank him again, must thank him again ran rampant in her head. One moment she was walking, then she was jogging like a poorly handled puppet—limbs flying everywhere, no coordination in sight—and finally, finally she was running like her life depended on it.
Runner she was not, so by the time she came close to the school, she was panting and leaning heavily against a wall. Eventually leaning-against-a-wall became sitting-on-a-bench, then that became slithering-from-seat-to-seat, or seat-to-sidewalk, until she was facing the entrance of Suzuran Boys High School.
It was rather anticlimactic. The graffiti, the gates, the bleakness that seemed to be everywhere in the city, but what had she been expecting? A juvenile prison? Perhaps that was where they all were heading—prison. With that sobering thought, Miyuki rose to her feet and decided to go home.
An embarrassing squeak erupted from her lips when she swung around and nearly collided with two rather bruised boys—twins, she noted a second later when she was muttering one apology after the other. Her hair hid her face from view as she ducked her head and watched the two muttering Crows from beneath her eyelashes.
"Watcha saying?" left asked right as they swaggered away, both walking quite like ducks. Or some other form of animal. "We're joining the jailbird?" He looked toward the school, then tugged at his copper-stained mask—someone had clearly punched him.
Miyuki remained frozen until the duo disappeared from sight, until a much larger crowd of Crows appeared, rowdy and puffing on cigarettes, until she caught the familiar head of hair belonging to Serizawa. She scurried away, running straight to the nightclub instead of returning to bed.
Ushiyama was nowhere to be seen at first glance, but when a hand waved from behind a counter, then a voice warned her to "leave them alone," it dawned upon Miyuki that a Crow and a strangely confident man were conferring around a table. Suzuran politics, she realised as she grabbed a bucket and headed to the nearest tap.
"Truth is," the one in the white jacket spoke with a flourish, "I'm a Suzuran graduate. They called me Jarhead Ken. Came close to ruling it too."
Miyuki flicked her hair out of her way with a toss of her head. Tentatively, she glanced behind her to watch as Ken reminisced about his golden years, his face gaining a dreamlike quality as he (obviously) remembered beating the crap out of other blockheads (like him). She joined Ushiyama behind the bar.
"Am I supposed to believe that?" Miyuki didn't know what made her speak up, but the words simply fell from her lips in a breathless rush. With her eyes widening to an impossible size, she hastily dipped a rag into the bucket and started to wipe the floor.
"It takes more than a good punch to consolidate a place like Suzuran. For example: it takes leadership and heroic virtues. Let's see, what else? Diplomacy. And keen perception."
Ushiyama reached over to tug on her sleeve. "Perhaps not," he whispered, winking, then returned to perusing a number of till slips and coupon cards.
The anxiety of the day abruptly slipped away, forgotten. Miyuki attempted in vain to smoother a smile, but when she noticed how Ken leapt away from the now-irritated Crow, she couldn't help how she smiled and snorted all at once. "Hmm," she replied noncommittally as she looked away, wetting her rag yet again.
Miyuki happened to see Jarhead Ken a few days later; when he was holding hands with two girls who were absolutely too young for him, and later, when she was delivering a package to Aizawa-san, Ruka's mother. Even from a distance she could see how he attempted to cheer himself on, and that almost comical display had distracted her to the point of being oblivious to Ruka's presence.
Head snapping to the left, eyes wide, Miyuki turned back to the little store to see Ruka attacking a head of cabbage. "Konnichiwa," she hesitatingly called out, just for the sake of politeness. Licking her lips, she glanced around to see what else was available to be purchased. Hadn't had ramen in a while, Miyuki thought.
"Kyoko," Ruka announced after returning her greeting. She hastily wiped her hair out of her way, then sent Miyuki a swift look out of the corner of her eye, "she likes you." Slam. "She's going to ask you to hang out with her. Say yes … please."
"I'm busy," Miyuki always was, "work."
A nonchalant shrug, so much like her own. "Then," Ruka quickly answered, as if a quick response would somehow yield a positive result, "tell her you'll meet up with her another day." She lowered her knife. "She's a sweet girl. A little naïve but sweet."
And why did that feel like a warning? Miyuki shifted her weight from foot to foot, then watched as Aizawa-san closed the paper bag she had brought from the supermarket. Miyuki sent the older woman a strained smile before turning back to Ruka, who was suddenly standing upright and—was that a blush?
Striding toward the shop like a man on a mission, Takiya Genji had his head bowed and his black blazer flapping behind him, his hands clenched into fists as though he was about to enter a brawl. It was that sight, of the Crow heading toward her, that prompted Miyuki to glance behind her, eyes wide with alarm.
But there wasn't some mad-eyed thug or a rival gang member standing nearby—then she remembered seeing Ruka hovering around Takiya, sending him coquettish smiles, and Miyuki's shoulders slumped in relief. When it became clear that the singer's attention had narrowed in on the Crow, quite like tunnel vision, Miyuki drew in a quick breath and fled.
It almost intrinsic: the need to be left alone, to flee upon the first signs of familiarity. And she had succeeded so far; everyone gave her space and eventually acknowledged her unvoiced request of, please, just leave me alone. Let me live my life in isolation.
Miyuki halted for a moment. But, she glanced over her shoulder as a cabbage-carrying Takiya returned to his companions, perhaps her luck was running out. Ruka was staring at her, eyes narrowed; a wave of dread washed over her, for the singer was one of the most persistent girls Miyuki knew, plain and simple.
Yet Miyuki looked away, steeling herself, and headed back to work.
Sometimes she dreamt of her old high school, sometimes of old friends. Or the old home: small with small windows, perfect exterior and immaculate interior. A mother cooking their meals, kissing them goodbye or goodnight. A father ruling the household with a firm but gentle hand, frequently urging them to always try their best. Then there were the dreams—no, nightmares of the moment of change.
The true reality was always distorted in her dreams; shadows were longer, furniture had a strange colour, and everything else was so, so dark. Home had never been dark, but there she was—dream-her—and she was walking down the corridor, the shadows obtaining a life of their own as they reached out, inches from caressing her shoulder.
Dream-her would call out, asking for Oka-san or Oto-san, but her questions would always echo, return to her like a faithful dog. (Hadn't there been a dog? Didn't they have a dog? Oh, yes. She had sent it away the day she had left). But no one responded. There was never a response. Home remained silent. And that was when the dream would become a nightmare.
That was when Miyuki would awake with a start, her heart racing, her skin damp with sweat. Chest heaving, she would stare at the ceiling and wait for her dreams to manifest in her surroundings. But they never did, and she was so very thankful for that.
Otherwise she would be going crazy.
Some days were light and carefree, like the soft caress of a breeze across her brow. Other days her smile didn't feel like her own; strained and stretched taut, like the stitches of a wound were pulling at the skin, trying to pull it back together. On those days she hoped that at some point life would stop pissing on her and pretending it was rain.
Those days drained her the most.
Today was such a day, and Miyuki found herself facing the newest bartender Ushiyama had hired. Seated at the bar, the pulse of the music hammering against her temples, she watched as the nameless woman made drink after drink, the bartender reminding her of Ushiyama who was always smiling, always welcoming. It made her eyes tear.
Sighing, Miyuki cradled her head in her hands. She wasn't supposed to be there. It was her night-off, and her world was so very lonely, and wasn't that a pretty drink? She watched her glass, the sides coated with condensation. It was alcohol, and she was so very pathetic to be there on her night-off, and she needed something.
So she ordered a drink.
Until a familiar voice spoke from her left, stopping her in her quest to find something. Miyuki slapped a hand against her forehead, then slowly sat upright. Oh, she knew that person. Wait, who? No, wait, long hair, glossy lips, jeans-and-t-shirt combination. Aizawa Ruka.
And Ruka was talking to her, but only her lips were moving, pressing together then parting. Slowly, the singer's speech became louder and louder until, with a pop—"I can't believe … wait," Ruka hesitated, eyes narrowed and arms akimbo, "Miyuki, how long have you been here? Isn't it your night-off?"
Miyuki shrugged because talking was way too difficult at that moment. So she settled with a jovial wave of the hand. Ruka had to grab her arm to prevent her from flopping over onto the floor. And Miyuki knew how dirty that floor could be. "Bad floor," she muttered as she found herself back in her seat, "huh?"
"How many of those have you drunk?" Ruka was obviously repeating herself. Poor Ruka. The girl's hair looked glossy and fascinating under the winking lights; Miyuki wondered if it would be weird to reach out and touch—"Miyuki, concentrate on me. How long have you been drinking?"
"Oto-san was always drinking," Miyuki blurted, her head rolling back and forth, or maybe it was the world that was out of alignment. "Especially right before everything changed." She rubbed a hand across her brow as an overwhelming surge of grief rushed through her veins. "Why didn't I notice?"
"Miyuki?" There was a scrape of wood over wood as the singer pulled up a stool and sat down. Ruka leaned in, her long hair nearly swiping Miyuki in her face. "I think you should stop drinking—"
"Isn't this drink amazing?" she squealed while holding up her half-empty (or was it half-full, she wasn't certain at that moment) glass to her lips. The liquid splashed across her cheek. "Boss Ushi-Ushi-yimi makes the best drinks, though. Right, Ruka-chan?"
But the object of her fascination suddenly vanished. Miyuki had to blink a few times, and only then did it become clear that Ruka had taken the glass, placing it on the counter for her. "You shouldn't poison yourself," the singer sighed.
"No," Miyuki agreed as she draped her arms across the counter. "Don't poison yourself, Ruka. Poison is." She closed her eyes, rubbing the tip of her nose across her wrist. "Bad."
"Hey, look at me. Hey."
"Huh?" Why was it so difficult to look up? Why was her head so heavy? Why did she even have a head? "What is it? What—what? What did I eat?" Well, Miyuki had to think very hard, and thinking was really difficult at that moment. (Everything was). Why was she even thinking? Couldn't she just sleep? When was the last time that she had had a full eight hours of sleep? Miyuki truly wanted those eight hours. Like now. And she was in the nightclub. Wasn't she? "I'm in the nightclub!"
"Yes, you are, but look—" a plate of chicken wings appeared before Miyuki's arms, brown and crispy and juicy, "chicken wings. You love them!"
Miyuki found herself sitting up, suddenly awake and excited and brimming with energy, because chicken wings! "I do!" She did love them. And she loved Ruka. "I do," she whispered while snatching a wing from the plate and tearing it apart.
After the wallowing, then the drinking, came the silent state of reflection; the cherry on top of the shitty day. As faithfully as always, the third stage—the horrendous self-reflection—appeared as Miyuki finished her last chicken wing and then cleaned the plate with exaggerated care.
"There," she sighed, pushing the plate aside while pressing her brow onto the sticky surface of the bar. Behind her, Ruka sang, most probably writhing across the stage as the backup dancers circled her. The music swelled and the lyrics were lost under the roar of cheering and clapping, but Miyuki shut her eyes and didn't—didn't—care.
Ordinary thoughts, dark thoughts, twisted and turned in the forefront of her mind, becoming so entangled that one thought abruptly continued into another. Slowly, she raised her arms, wrapping them around her waist, as if she were about to split at the seams.
Perhaps she was, or perhaps she was thinking too much. Then, like frozen water rushing through her veins, her mind cleared and blood suddenly pumped with haste toward her head, her skin flaring with heat. Miyuki, in response, threw her hands onto the bar and pushed herself up, heading to the exit.
Dogs barked, sirens wailed in the distance, and she tipped her head back, staring up at the pinpricks of twinkling jewels scattered across the darkened sky. Pinpricks of twinkling jewels, Miyuki? she thought, brushing a hand across her messy ponytail, then down her face. What are you? Sixteen again?
Miyuki walked on.
The apartment complex was highlighted, here and there, with an assortment of whites, numerous lights like a pale Christmas tree: the window on the first floor, displaying the scene of a couple watching television; the open door on the third, where a man stood in the doorway, raising a beer bottle to his lips; and dotted along the walkways, making the path easier to see.
It should have been easier, the path was right there, but Miyuki couldn't lift her leg and ascend the stairs; could only lean against the wall, sliding down until she was an inelegant heap on the ground. Oh, she should get up.
Eyes blinking dazedly, Miyuki stared at the courtyard until her vision blurred and she had to look away, pressing her face into the wood of the stairs. Her stomach started to churn, sweat beaded across her skin. "Oh," she moaned, "oh-wah!"
Arms wrapped around her waist, pulling her up. Miyuki could only flail her arms and stare at the stairs as she was cradled against a rather—hmm!—fascinating chest. A hand reached for the back of her knees, then like a newly wed bride, she was carried up the stairs, flight after flight, then down the walkway until—her apartment door.
With a bang, it opened.
It was only after the man had paused in the doorway, then made a beeline toward the pitiful mattress that was her bed, that it dawned upon Miyuki that her door had been kicked open. Kicked open—oh, her stomach hurt.
Eyes screwed shut, Miyuki remained silent as she was placed on cool sheets and a fluffy pillow. She sagged into the bed, sighing, and eventually inhaled a long calming breath. Finally, she opened her eyes.
A black blazer, a brown-and-black striped shirt, hair slicked back from a round face. Oh, it was him: Serizawa Tamao. And Miyuki wasn't sure if she had to scream or run, or do both at once. Instead, she turned her face away and burped into her pillow.
The Crow sighed. "You're troublesome."
What? Miyuki shifted, and the world was tipping and turning, left to right, right to left continuously. She pressed a hand onto her belly. "No …" Miyuki murmured, then shook her head. What were they talking about? Oh, yes. "No. No, no, n-no, I'm not."
"You are," the deep voice responded, and a finger brushed her hair out of her face, gently. "Troublesome." Serizawa was silent for a beat, then added, like an army captain giving his soldiers an order, "Go to sleep."
And she did.
A/N: Thank you to everyone for reviewing!