Half an hour later, in a bistro…
"Wow, this is… the biggest amount of food in the same room I've ever seen in my life! … Without getting thrown out in an instant, at least."
Mistya was happily jumping up and down and admiring the foods on display on the counters with the same excitation of a starving orphan who had just been told they could just choose what to eat at their heart's content, until they were full. Description which fit her quite well, come to think of it.
At the end, since Yuuka didn't have any money of her own, except for a few suspicious 1000 yen bills, which, she had jokingly remarked, would have been better employed by dressing a salad rather than paying for a meal (whatever that meant), Mistya had to rein herself in and limit herself to a still quite gargantuan meal composed of: a 1-kg hamburger sandwiched between two slices of bread with grains of something vaguely resembling wheat embedded on it (much to Mistya's excitement), enough French fries to make a shower carpet (and they were indeed spongy enough to be able to serve that purpose, but Mistya was just so hungry that she didn't care about eating gummy fries) and a bowl of probably radioactive but tasty smelling soup. Yuuka grimaced at the sparrow's choice in food, but forced herself to ignore it and excuse her: she hadn't been eating for quite some time, after all, and she had all rights of not being picky.
After they had found a free table (or, more accurately, Yuuka had freed a table by kicking out the two passed out from who-knows-what boys who were sitting at it), Mistya started to munch on the hamburger with the voracity of a lion who hadn't eaten for two days. Or an orphan who hadn't eaten for two days. Prof Nakagawa always talked about hungry orphans during his English courses, so Mistya was left believing that not having a mom and a dad automatically made a child need more food. When she had exposed her theory to the prof, he had replied something about cause-effect relationship, and that her reasoning had something wrong with it.
Well, now, in front of the food, she didn't quite care if prof Nakagawa was right or not, and if she wouldn't be as hungry if she had a mom.
She even caught herself thinking: though maybe the loony- I mean, Yuuka, could… Wait, what?
Her rational side, which had been only intermittently present in the last days, peeked back once again to remind her that she had known the green-haired woman for only a few hours now, and her first impression of her was of a crazy (even if crazy strong), violent loony, and now she was starting to see her as some sort of replacement mother just because she had blown off a couple of orcops who just felt like bugging her and looked her deeply in the eyes?
Dear rationality, sorry but right now I'd very much rather eat. If you have any other useless things to tell me, please come later. And with that, Mistya just stopped thinking and mauled her hamburger with the ferocity of a tiger.
The meeting had been surprisingly fast, taking barely a quarter of an hour. Yet, it was nonetheless emotionally tiring on Kanako, as the damn detective had managed to completely ruin the relative state of calm she had managed to achieve before. She almost felt like treating herself and making Nagoya squirm, but it was too late, and she was simply too tired to act out her part. So, she simply stepped to his office and took his pen. She'd think of what to do with it the next day. Actually, she remembered a joke she'd heard last year when she went on her trip to Russia which involved disappeared pens… or was it pipes? Oh well, it would be quite funny to pull out anyway. And she had been neglecting Nagoya recently. Time to remind him why he feared her…
Ah well, I'll think about it tomorrow. I've had work, pleasure and other stuff to do. I should really get some rest.
She almost felt like checking her face in her hand mirror, but she brushed it off – she already knew that she probably looked horrible anyway. She picked up her jacket and her laptop, put back on her trench coat and left the office. As soon as she stepped out, her secretary chimed in: "Ah, Madam Yasaka! A certain… Yakumo left a message for you. Is she an acquaintance of yours?"
Kanako tried to remember that name. And indeed, she felt like she had heard it somewhere, but she couldn't remember who…
Discomfort. Anxiety. A false smile... concealed aggression. What… does she want?
Taken aback, Kanako staggered for a second as she felt her body violently jerk. A whistle went off in her head, like a pressure pot kept on the fire for too long, only more… electric. Did she have a… flashback? She distinctly remembered something, but her memory was playing pranks on her. And she didn't like when someone else played pranks on her. Especially if it was a very important function of her brain.
Still, if that "Yakumo" was someone she knew, her message might be worth listening to, provided he, or she, wasn't asking for money.
"Are you ok, Madam Yasaka?" miss Fukui, concerned, asked her.
"Yes, you don't have to worry. Just tell me what this Yakumo said."
"Well – the secretary answered – she said that she had some information you may find vital, that it's in your best interest to listen to what she says and if you're interested you can call her at this number". With that, she handed Kanako a small piece of paper with a phone number written on it.
"That's it? Nothing else?" she asked disdainfully.
Miss Fukui's eyes perked up before she answered "She… said that you would have changed idea when you'd have heard her name or something. If you want my personal opinion, she was just bullshitting you, but it's your call. If you wanna hear what she has to say…"
Kanako cut her off: "I'll see. Tomorrow." Then, she added: "…and, Ume?"
The secretary seemed slightly surprised at being called by her first name, and asked: "Yes, Madam Yasaka?"
Kanako just answered: "…Thank you."
And she closed the door behind her.
Mistya had finished wolfing down her abundant meal, and was currently resting her head in Yuuka's lap, while lying back-first on her chair, while Yuuka scratched her belly in a way that almost made her want to purr. While she still had doubts about considering Yuuka some sort of foster mother sent by the heavens to mollycoddle her, as she undoubtedly deserved, the current situation, and especially the warm fuzziness that was coursing through her, made her a lot more open to the idea.
"Mmmmhhh… so, tell me: how did you end up running a fried fish booth in the streets? I would have an idea as to why, but I'd much rather hear it from you…"
At the question, Mistya shook off the approaching drowsiness and collected her thoughts to answer: "I just… I dunno, it's been such a mess lately that I didn't have time to think about that…"
Yuuka didn't say anything, and simply hummed softly in her hair, waiting for the sparrow to pick herself up and continue her sentence.
And, after a few minutes of waiting, she did.
"Well, aaahungggg… I guess you really wanna know, don't you? Well, lessee… I never knew who my mom or my dad were, they told me later that they died when I was four but I think it's bull, I would at least remember something about them, wouldn't I? Anyway, back to the orphanage. Right. I grew up in a damn orphanage, not the best in the town, either, at least that's what I was told by a girl who lived at Byakuren-Ie, that was really something, she told me, or at least the director treated them like human beings…"
Yuuka couldn't help but snicker at the involuntary irony of that statement. If only this girl knew…
"Anyway, that's not important for my story. Now, I grew up in a damn orphanage, and life wasn't the best. The owners just didn't care about us kids: there never was enough money to keep it open, but they did it anyway and were so understaffed that two days out of three we kids were the only ones there. Oh, and of course, when nobody was there they'd just shut the doors and lock us in. If they found out someone had escaped, everyone would have been left without eating for that evening, and we already ate only one time a day, only half the days 'cause the damn bastards didn't have the money or time to care about us. Which means, if someone got out and didn't come back when they returned, he or she was permanently out even if they had welcomed them back… 'cause all of the other kids would have been mad at them for letting them all go without dinner for another two days."
Mistya was starting to breath quite fast. Reliving those memories wasn't probably something she liked. Yuuka could feel the girl cringing inside, and an aura of pain coming from her.
After pausing for half a minute, Mistya suddenly spoke again, with a feverish tone in her voice: "But, of course, we had to sneak off every now and then to get some actual food, 'cause that blob they gave us couldn't be called food. Some thought that they actually put some grass in the pot and told us that it was soup. Maybe they were even right, who knows. That stuff tasted awful and didn't fill you at all, after you ate it you were even hungrier than before. So, we had to go around the city and nag something to eat. Most of the time it was bread and, when we were lucky, some half-eaten steaks that I'm pretty sure came from some dog's plate. Still, it was that or starvation."
Now Mistya was speaking with an almost unnatural speed, her face was pale and glistening with sweat, making her look sick. She was so engrossed in narrating her life, and her gaze, at first firmly planted on Yuuka's face, was now distant and unfocused, that it made her look like she was talking to herself, and not to Yuuka.
"Of course, someone had to risk getting thrown out for good to get the food. And so, the bigger kids formed a circle, and started bossing around everyone else. They took the biggest bites out of the food the scavengers brought, but never left the security of the orphanage. Of course, I wasn't one of them. Still, there wasn't all this solidarity between the scavengers, either, 'cause the bastards doled out prizes for the ones who gathered the most food and punishments for the ones they decided were "lazy". If you objected, they'd pummel you while the other scavengers watched, and generally laughed at you. Once one of the older guys even suggested doing… bad things to a friend of mine when she didn't bring anything back. I think I should be grateful they only settled for making her dance on one foot, without shoes. On the sharp concrete floor. Her right foot was hurting like hell after that."
Yuuka would've sworn she had seen Mistya stifle a laugh at that. But maybe she was wrong, and she had just smothered a sigh.
"Anyway, that went on for a year and a half since I got there, but one morning we found one of the older kids hung to one of the ceiling's planks, and his eyes had been plucked out. I was the one to find him first, so I warned the others. Everyone came: some were scared, others were angry. But for most of the scavengers this meant one thing…"
Her eyes, a second before almost closed, immediately shut open.
"…We could have our revenge."
Mistya's voice was growing wearier as she went on, but that last sentence was spoken with an ice-cold tone. She was almost unnaturally calm.
Then, she continued, with her old annoyed tone: "We didn't act immediately: many were scared and simply wanted to let things go on, but the majority was certain that what happened showed that the circle wasn't unbeatable. There were talks of repeating what happened, hanging them all to the ceiling, but only a few kids, the craziest ones, were supporting that idea. Besides, we didn't want the owners to find out and while we could easily make that one body disappear and simply tell them that that boy had snuck out in the middle of the night and never come back, it wasn't so easy hiding a dozen of corpses. Most of us just wanted to beat them senseless and then force them to go out looking for food…"
She paused for a second to take a long breath. Even if she didn't show it or mention it, reliving those memories certainly took a lot out of her, so Yuuka waited patiently until Mistya had found the strength to continue. But, instead of starting to speak again, Mistya simply closed her eyes and let out a loud snore.
Poor girl, she must be feeling tired… or maybe it's some post-prandial bout of sleepiness. I heard humans have those.
Yuuka simply grabbed Mistya's sleeping form, slumped her over her shoulder and walked out of the restaurant.
Leaving the office, Kanako got aboard her usual, unassuming sporty car with reinforced, one-way glass panes designed to shatter into flat, harmless shards only on impact from the inside. A little prototype she thought would be fun or at least useful to have some years ago, and, for once, she hadn't had to regret her choice: it had served her well so far, even probably saving her from potential death when she almost crashed into a tree. If it had been a normal glass pane, she'd have probably been reduced to Swiss cheese by the shards.
The drive to home was generally quite uneventful and boring. Despite her tiredness, she still managed to navigate the streets of Gensokyo City with ease and without causing unnecessary incidents that would have required her to summon her platoon of lawyers. A domino effect that would have piled on her pains on pains in the ass.
Of course, as the ride back home was uneventful, considerations of that kind were completely useless. She parked the car in her garage, then whipped out the keys, slammed the door open and walked inside. She didn't even bother putting her jacket back on the clothes hanger, and simply threw it on the floor.
She found Sanae on the living room's sofa, half asleep, reading a book.
Sanae jumped up like a spring, quickly hiding the book she was reading under the cushion.
"O-oh, you're back! Heh, welcome home…", Sanae sputtered.
"Thanks" Kanako replied.
Clearly embarrassed, Sanae tried awkwardly the old formula of "How's your day been?", to which Kanako answered with the almost-as-old and formulaic, as well as blatantly false "Fine, thanks".
She wasn't fine, even a deaf mole would have noticed it, but Sanae knew better than to comment on that, so she tried swaying the conversation in another direction: "W-why are you wearing sunglasses? It's already night!"
Kanako's face was taken over by a dark scowl. Her voice dropped a few tones, and became deadly serious when she simply spat back: "It's. None. Of. Your. Business."
Sanae fidgeted worriedly. She knew what it meant when Kanako used that particular voice: it was her "irate mother" tone, the one she used when she stopped kidding around and wanted to give an order, of the kind you just don't ignore.
Still, while her foster mother still scared her a bit, over the more than ten years she had spent with her, Sanae had learned to read Kanako quite easily. And right now, she felt that the cranky woman in front of her really needed to be cheered up a bit. And she was pretty sure there was still some leftover from dinner in the fridge.
"W-well, why don't you sit down? I can make you din-"
But before she could even finish the sentence, Kanako cut her off: "No."
"Mom, are you sure? It's not a problem for me, and, I mean, I know you love-"
Kanako growled "I said no. And don't… call me… mom. Understood?"
Sanae quivered a little at the aggressive tone in Kanako's voice. Maybe it wasn't such a good idea, after all…
"O…k… if- if you say so…"
Kanako shot a sideway glance at the couch.
"What were you reading?"
Taken by surprise, Sanae only managed to answer "W-what?"
Kanako replied, with a completely deadpan voice: "You heard me."
Sanae tried to put on a forced smile, but she was already sweating inside. "Ah, n-nothing, just… some light stuff to kill time."
"Well, then you shouldn't have problems in telling me. Like, the title."
Sanae tried to appear as calm and unafraid as possible: "Well… why do you want to know?"
But Kanako only insisted: "Well, I might be interested in reading it. You're almost twenty, I think you should be perfectly fine with telling me what the hell you were reading. I mean, it's not like you're still at the age where you hide… inappropriate… books or something from your mother, right? So, what harm would there be in telling me?"
Sanae was actually scared now. It wasn't like Kanako to act this friendly, especially when she had made it clear before that she wasn't in a good mood. That had to be an act… she had heard that at work she was even much nastier than at home… did this mean that she was going to show her her worst side? She tried her best to stay calm while she replied "Well… and if I didn't want to?"
Kanako didn't answer. She had lowered her eyelids, and was staring at Sanae with a disdainful gaze.
Neither of them said a word. They stayed perfectly still and silent for what felt like an hour, even though they probably only stood there for a minute. Then, Kanako spoke with a soft, low tone: "As if I didn't already know what it is. It's probably one of your messed-up books. Right?"
Sanae didn't know how to answer. She tried, but she only ended up blurting out gibberish: "Well, I- it's, I mean… I-"
Kanako broke her out of her tension-induced hysteria by snagging the book from under the cushion. The cover read The 120 days of Sodom, or the School of Libertinism, by Alphonse Donatien François de Sade.
Kanako just smirked. "Again with this sick shit, Sanae? You know what I think of it…"
Sanae felt like disappearing right then and there. She shrinked in the couch, and started whimpering: "You… you knew… I- I'm not… I know what you m-must be t-thinking, but I'm not… I- … M-mother, please… h-hear me out-"
She was cut short by Kanako, who simply flung the book over her shoulder and scowled.
Sanae feared that a lecture was incoming, yet Kanako simply turned back and walked towards her room. When she had reached the door, she simply said: "… Disgusting. But it's your business. Good night, Sanae". She almost spat the last three words.
"I was… just…" Sanae whimpered, but her foster mother had already shut the door of her room behind her. She felt like crying. Yes, she knew that those books were messed up. Mom – yes, she still thought of the purple haired woman as Mom, even though she knew she wasn't her real mother, and certainly didn't act like one – was right in getting mad at her. Still, it's not like she actually even wanted to try the messed up things they did in there… she just… felt fascinated by the dark corners of the human mind. OF COURSE she understood that every single thing that happened in that book was nothing short of monstrous. She was not a child that needed to be taught right from wrong, so what was wrong with a little escapism? Everyone had their way of escaping from their usual lives for some time. Psychologically messed up stuff was hers.
Then, pray tell, asked a voice inside her, why do you keep imagining that your mother wouldn't look out of place in one of your… "hobbies"?
Sanae groaned. Kanako made no mistery to her of what her job consisted of. In some ways, she would have been the perfect candidate to end up in one of De Sade's books, and not in the role of the victim. After all, she was rich, powerful and very aggressive. Yet, Sanae was convinced to the day that her foster mother was a good person deep down, and no matter where her money came from, she'd never crush someone else's dignity just for her own amusement. After all, even if she sold weapons, she never owned any for herself, and was always averse to the idea, with the only exception of her prized katana, which she often practiced with.
Normally, even after the last government reshuffle brought about the famous loosening on gun laws, owning an actual sharp war blade would have gotten anyone arrested… but she was Kanako Yasaka. Regardless, her ability with it was a sight to behold. In fact, one of the many rumors that went on about her said that she practiced kendo using that very sword, instead of the regular shinai.
But then again, those rumors claimed that she also dyed her office's carpet in the blood of unfortunate employees, so she was at least pretty sure that her mother didn't go around decapitating people. Still, there were times when she really looked like the kind of person who could decapitate someone else just because they looked at her in a way that she didn't like.
Sigh… whatever I may think of her… she's still the one who took me in when I had nobody left. I just wish… she would also act like a mother… I know she has lots of stuff to deal with, but…
While Sanae was thinking that, Kanako was lying on her bed, after having reduced one of the practice mannequins to sawdust with the aforementioned katana, which was now resting amid the debris. Normally, she would never have left her precious blade on the ground, but she couldn't care less about that piece of scrap at the moment.
Because right now, she was doing something she would never admit to doing, and wouldn't even have imagined herself doing: she was crying.
Yet, even the stress from her extremely tiring and irritating day wasn't enough to explain how she could be doing something normally so unlike her.
No, what she was crying over at the moment was how ridiculously parent-like she was about to act with Sanae, before managing to restrain herself. Definitely, just that. That day had been shitty for her, and finding Sanae reading that crap was just the last straw. She had simply broken down, and thank the heavens she was able to stop herself before slapping the girl.
For the first time in quite a while, she had thought again about her relationship with the green haired girl; while she was still adamant about the fact that Sanae wasn't her daughter, and that she never wanted a daughter, she couldn't help but think that maybe that girl really needs a bit more of you than your wallet, and you ought to spend some time with her and SHUT THE FUCK UP brain.
It's… this day sucks… I just want to sleep…
This was probably the worst she had ever felt in her whole life. Ok, maybe that wasn't true. But still, that day still ranked pretty high in her suckiness of workdays ranking. Vacation days had a separate ranking of their own, of course. Not that it mattered anyway.
She tried to dry her tears, and ended up letting out another sob. This isn't right… I'm well past my forties. I'm a grown woman. Why am I… crying like a little girl?
In other circumstances, Kanako would have felt humiliated, or angry at herself. But for some reason, now it was difficult for her to summon the old fire. Maybe the little blond girl was to blame? Maybe… that child seemed to stir in her emotions that she hadn't felt for quite some time…
She got up groggily, trying to reach her wardrobe and draw out her pajamas, but the tiring workday and the shower of emotions had left her drained of energy, and very, very sleepy.
She fell again on her bed, almost asleep. Yet, she felt like she was forgetting something. Something important. Something her secretary told her…
Screw it. I'll think about it tomorrow… It's not like it matters anyway… nothing matters anyway…
And, after having accidentally let that forbidden truthful thought, she slipped into unconsciousness. If only she had imagined that on the following day, everything in her life would have taken a turn for the unexpected…
Author's Notes: Soooo… (in Norwegian accent) Thought I was dead, did not you?
(Drops the accent) Well, uhm. Now. I can't blame you for thinking that, in the unlikely case that there's anyone actually caring about this. It's just that I actually had this chapter already written, and I could have easily put it up, except that… except that I chickened out.
Let me explain: what I was chickening about was having Sanae read De Sade. Now, don't get me wrong, but I found the idea of Sanae secretly liking some pretty messed-up stuff quite funny. That said, it was especially having her read De Sade that I was dubious about… I mean, it's not like I had already taken my liberties with some characters, but this… I mean, I find it a little bit disturbing. In the end, I decided to leave it in. I had no idea what to substitute it with, so I guess I just had to go along with the crazy idea my mind popped out. Just hope you don't hate me for it.
On an unrelated (partially unrelated, at least) note, the next chapter probably won't take ALL this time, though my own writing instinct comes and goes, and since I'm graduating this year, I'm not sure I will have much time to write. But what I can promise is that I'll try my best at doing it, especially since in all this time I have thought up a few ideas so that the story may proceed. Let's see how it goes, shall we?