Hanai sighed and returned his attention to the reports in front of him. The beeping of the machines was steady and annoying, but he tried to tune it out. There wasn’t much for him to do now besides trying to finish this report. The girl was still asleep. He hated sitting in this hospital, waiting for her to wake up and tell him what had happened. And why. And when they were already at this topic, who it did. But for now she was still sleeping and he couldn’t ask anything. She couldn’t tell him anything. And he was wasting precious time here, sitting around and waiting.
Kirisawa had told him to watch over her. The injuries she had were severe, but the biggest problem weren’t the recent ones. Some bruises, a cracked rip, a strained wrist, several cuts. What really made Kirisawa suspicious were the older scars. Some of them had a very peculiar shape, a pattern of sorts and he was convinced that it was connected to the condition of the girl. The girl without a name.
Hanai sighed again and got up to get a cup of coffee. He left the room and came back three minutes later with some mediocre coffee and a sandwich. Anything to make him last this night. She was still sleeping when he checked on her so he returned to his reports. He couldn’t neglect his paperwork just because his duties bound him to the bedside of this unknown girl. A victim. She was his duty, she was the current case. Of course he would stay.
It was 4 am when he heard her. Her breathing sped up, the ECG beeped faster now. Hanai looked up and saw that her eyes were open. Wide open. She was going to panic. No wonder, waking up in a strange room, with a tube in her throat and some in her arm was a safe bet to freak her out.
“It’s okay, calm down, it’s okay. I’m a cop, you are in hospital, you are safe here. Please calm down,” he soothingly said while ringing for the nurse. She stared at him, shock in her eyes, but calmed down.
“Good, very good. My name is Hanai and I will protect you.”
Once the nurse came and checked on her they decided to take out the tube from her throat. It was a very unpleasant procedure and Hanai opted to not watch it, but he didn’t leave. She was his responsibility. Kirisawa had made sure that Hanai should stay with her when she woke up.
“I think those are mob signs on her body,” Kirisawa had said and showed Hanai some pictures. It was skin with scars. A leg, someone’s back and stomach. “But I have no idea which one. Nomura requested some help from another detective, but until we know someone has to make sure she’s safe.”
A woman. Someone had carved symbols into a woman. Hanai had clenched his fists. He could tolerate a lot, this job had made him numb to some extends, but this had been really awful. Cruel. Lasting. She would wear these scars for the rest of her life. At least he could make sure that no one got to her while she was in hospital. If she really was the victim of some mob gang they would try to find her and make sure that she couldn’t speak with the police. That’s why Hanai refused to leave the hospital until she was awake and could tell them what had happened to her.
My eyelids were so heavy… so heavy, I could barely lift them. And my throat was dry. Parched. Somehow swallowing hurt. Breathing hurt. Everything hurt. I managed to open my eyes and the lights were so bright, I had to close them again. Something was off. Not only that my body felt heavy, I could hardly move. And there was something wrong with my arm…
I could feel the panic rise inside of me. I had to get away! When they found me here they would kill me. This time I wouldn’t be able to escape and they wouldn’t show me any mercy. Even if their idea of mercy was sick and weird. So I struggled, against the fatigue and the weakness of my body, struggled to stay awake and get up. Somehow I managed to keep my eyes open and that seemed to break the spell. I tried to speak but I couldn’t and there was this beeping and those lights –
I fought so hard to regain control over my body and just when I started to panic there was this face hovering above me. I just wanted to scream and kick and hit it, but I couldn’t. And then the face talked. A cop? Hospital? Did I really make it? Did I escape?
Eventually a nurse came and then a doctor. The cop stayed with me all the time. I forgot his name, but he seems rather strict. I was a bit afraid of him. What if he took me back there? What if he was part of it all? I would die. They would kill me or I would do it myself. I couldn’t go back, never!
They did some tests, took some blood, shone with a flashlight into my eyes. They talked to the cop but not to me. At least they took this tube out of my throat. It was getting really painful and I couldn’t speak at all. Not that I have said much until now. He has asked me for my name, the cop. I told him. I told him my name but he wanted to know my full name and I couldn’t remember. Funny, after all that time I couldn’t remember my own name. I just told him it was Claire, just Claire. He made a note. He always made notes, about everything. Whatever the doctor or the nurses were saying, he took a note. As if it was important. As if someone would care.
Finally the doctor left and the nurse gave me a small smile.
“If you need something, just call for me, okay?”
I nodded. I had no idea when someone really smiled at me the last time. A genuine smile, not one of those calculating, fake smiles.
I heard someone clear their throat and turned to look at them. It was the cop. I had thought he had left, too.
“Claire, do you remember anything? What happened to you? Who did that to you?” He motioned towards me and I flinched reflexively. He seemed strange, almost sad. Why was that? I simply shook my head. I couldn’t tell him.
“Can’t you or don’t you want to tell me?” His voice was soft, not angry like I had expected. I shrugged. Better not risk anything and get into trouble.
“Okay, let’s go back to your personal data. You don’t remember your last name?” I shook my head. I had already told him I couldn’t.
“Then how about your address?” Again I shook my head. I don’t even care.
“How old are you?” He looked at me with a hint of annoyance. Oh, I know that look. I should better be careful now. I shrugged hesitantly. He exhaled deeply and took a note.
There was a knock at the door that startled me. The knock, not the door. Although I can’t even remember when someone bothered knocking since I hadn’t have a door before. A room to myself. This was almost luxury.
“Come in.” The cop didn’t hesitate to answer and I simply turned away from the door on my bed, facing the wall instead. I was safe here, wasn’t I? I could stop being alerted all the time.
I heard someone enter, more than one person.
“Boss, she’s awake but she isn’t saying much. The doctor says it could be partial amnesia. He suggests we let her rest some more.” That was the cop.
“Good. Go home, Hanai, I will stay here and keep watch. Come back tomorrow.”
I tried to hide under my blanket, curled into a tiny ball, hoping they would just ignore me.
“Goodbye, Claire. I will be back for lunch tomorrow.” The cop left but I didn’t move. I heard footsteps. I froze.
“Claire? My name is Detective Hiroshi Kirisawa. I don’t know how much you remember but I want you to know that I will make sure that we find the ones who hurt you. Don’t worry, try to rest now and get better.”
I nodded, almost imperceptibly.
“Okay. Good night.”
He took some steps away and I felt instantly relieved.
“How long will it take for your expert to come and take a look at the symbols?” I thought he was talking to me but he wasn’t.
“I tried to reach him already, but I guess he won’t make it today or tomorrow. Maybe the day after. I see what I can do, okay?” That voice sounded also like a man, but he was a bit smoother. That Kirisawa sounded rough, raspy. Hard to explain.
They kept chatting in low voices and eventually I fell asleep again.
There was a note on his desk when he trudged to work that day. Not that he wanted to be here or that they actually needed him, but he came nonetheless. If he didn’t show up every now and then they would give his desk to someone else and then he was forced to clear up his paperwork and that would be a real pain in the ass. No, it was better to show his face once or twice a month to keep the vultures at bay.
However, that note was definitely new and said: “Deputy Chief Nomura tried to reach you. Call back.”
Mamoru Kishi groaned inwardly. That smelled like trouble. Nomura was a good detective, but eager to climb the ranks. He wasn’t like Kishi who just wanted to investigate this case. And whatever Nomura wanted, it would involve work. Maybe he could ignore that. Pretend he didn’t get the message. He quickly checked his phone. A few missed calls and an e-mail. With some attachment.
He sighed and grabbed a cigarette. Maybe it wouldn’t be as annoying when he at least had some nicotine in his system. And coffee. And maybe a snack. But coffee and a snack weren’t available right now so he settled for a smoke. He inhaled deeply, the bitter smoke biting his lungs, making him feel alive for a moment.
He exhaled again and opened the e-mail. And the pictures Nomura sent.
Never in his life had he called someone back so quickly.
When I woke up it was bright again. But not those cold lights, it was sunlight that roused me from my sleep. My body still hurt, especially breathing wasn’t easy but I had survived worse before. At least I was safe for now. But I was thirsty. And hungry. And I needed to pee. There was still some tube stuck in my arm and connected to this plastic bag on a rack next to the bed.
I cleared my throat and it hurt, but it also prompted someone in the room to move.
“Claire? Are you awake?”
The voice was vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t remember a name or a face. So I turned around and blinked a few times. There was a man, tall, in a suit. His hair was light brown and he looked strict.
I nodded slowly.
“Good. How are you feeling? Can I get you anything?”
“Water,” I croaked, my voice sounded strange to my ears. He quickly poured me a glass and handed it over.
“Slow, small sips,” he instructed me when I choked on the first greedy gulp. I tried to slow down and managed to drink some of the water, but it burned in my throat like acid. I winced and he looked concerned – I guess. I’m not exactly sure how that should look, but he wasn’t angry nor annoyed. That was a good sign, wasn’t it? I couldn’t really tell.
When I had emptied the glass I tried to get up to go to the bathroom but he stopped me.
“Whoa, careful. What do you think you’re doing?”
“Bathroom,” I whispered, afraid to use my voice. He frowned briefly and pressed some button next to my bed. Only some moments later a nurse came in and helped me to the bathroom. She was very nice and chatted with me as if we knew for ages already. But I could only nod or shake my head, my throat was still too tender to talk.
When I came back into the room she promised me food and another visit of a doctor. I sat down on the bed and stared ahead.
My head shot up and I stared at him.
“Do you remember me? I’m Detective Hanai, I was here last night when you woke up.”
Hanai, right. He said something like that. I nodded.
“Good. Are you better already?”
I made a vague gesture with my hand, telling him that I wasn’t so sure yet.
“Does your throat still hurt?” He stood in front of my bed and stared at me from above and I felt a bit intimidated. So I only nodded briefly.
“Okay. How about the rest? Does anything else hurt?”
Again I nodded. Everything hurt.
Some ringing sound made me jump. I had no idea what it was until he pulled one of those things out of his pocket. A phone? Yes, that was the word.
“Sorry, I have to take that.” He held it against his ear and turned away. There was the faint sound of another voice and Hanai only said a few words. “Yes, she is awake… okay… okay… Boss, I don’t think today is… yes, better… okay. I’ll stay here for now.”
He sighed and turned back to face me.
“Looks as if tomorrow someone will come and have a look at you.”
I tilted my head a bit and frowned slightly.
“Not a doctor, another cop. He might be able to help with your – your scars.”
Why should a cop be helping with my scars? And which ones was he talking about? I had a lot of scars.
“Do you have any question?” He seemed slightly annoyed now and I reflexively tried to make myself small. I shook my head, I didn’t want to make him angry.
“Good. If you remember anything or have a question, I am right here, okay?” He pointed towards a chair next to the door. I nodded again and lay back down. My eyes closed before I could fight it.
The afternoon slowly passed, one second after the other. Claire was asleep most of the time and Hanai managed to get some reports done. But he grew frustrated. He had hoped she could tell him about the scars, about the attack, about herself – anything. But all he got was her name. And only her first name. Of course he had arranged that Kyobashi searched for a missing girl with that name in the database but that was a shot in the dark. So far he hadn’t called back.
And whatever he did, whatever Hanai offered her, she simply stared at him. Nodded or shook her head, but never spoke. He understood that she was traumatized, that she needed time to heal, both physically and mentally, but he could only help her if she talked to him! He took a deep breath and sang a short song in his head. That usually helped him to calm down again. Tomorrow that expert Nomura was talking about would come and examine the scars. Hopefully he would be able to tell them which clan did that to Claire.
He stared at her back. She was always curled up like that, as if she wanted to avoid using too much space. She was definitely shy.
He ran his hands through his hair and sighed. Cases like this one were tough. The victim was still young, although the doctor had to guess her age. 17 – 20, he had said. But the scars on her skin were old, five, maybe ten years old. Who would do that to a child? Carve symbols into their skin?
He almost missed the sound due to his musings. It was a faint sob and he needed a moment to realize what was happening. Claire was crying.
They were after me again! I tried to run but my legs didn’t move. I could hear them coming closer and I knew this time they would kill me. There was no escape and I screamed when they grabbed me, I flailed and kicked, trying to break away once more. But they grabbed me tightly and then someone pressed a hand on my mouth and nose. I was suffocating! I struggled even harder but my vision grew hazy and blackness crept in from the edges. I can’t give up yet! I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t move, but I couldn’t give up!
From the distance I heard someone calling my name, but I couldn’t focus, the blackness closing in on me.
I tried to see who it is, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t see at all. What… what was happening to me?!
“CLAIRE!” Someone grabbed my shoulders and I gasped, sweet air filling my lungs. The darkness withered away when I opened my eyes, but my vision was still blurred. I needed a moment to realize that I was crying. And the man in front of me was familiar… Hanai. The cop. He seemed worried and relieved at the same time. I just stared at him, not knowing what else to do.
“You had a nightmare,” he simply said and I nodded. I knew. Why was he telling me that?
“Do you want to talk about it?”
I shook my head. No need to talk about something like that. It wasn’t new and it wouldn’t be the last time. I always had nightmares. Even when I was awake. I was still shaking and crying but I turned my head so I didn’t have to face him. Immediately he let go of me and I slumped down on my bed again, silently crying until I calmed down.
“If – if there’s anything you want to talk about – I will listen. Even if it’s not related to the attack.” He sounded serious and I only nodded. Talking wasn’t something I was good at. There was nothing I was really good at.
I didn’t really understand why he stayed with me all the time. Why me? I wasn’t special, I was nobody. Literally. I couldn’t even remember my own last name. I could remember my parents a bit but whenever I thought about them there was this sharp pain in my chest, the pressure and the restlessness. So I shoved the memories aside again.
Someone brought some food for me but I wasn’t hungry. I didn’t even want to eat. I just wanted to sleep but I was scared, the nightmares kept me awake. Hanai was sitting in a chair, reading a book. The whole time. I had no idea how much time passed but he didn’t leave the room once.
I went to the bathroom once, glad that he didn’t insist on accompanying me. When I came back he was still reading. He read all the time. He must really like books.
I couldn’t remember when I last read a book. Or did anything besides eating, sleeping and working. I glanced at my hands, scrapped and bruised. I would love to say that was because of the attack, but they already looked like this before. They always have.
He caught me looking at him and I quickly dropped my gaze. I always tried to stay out of focus, that way I didn’t get into too much trouble.
“Are you okay?” His voice was gentle and I felt strange that someone actually asked for my feelings. As if I was a person. As if I mattered. I quickly nodded, I didn’t want him to get angry at me. He put his book down and looked at me, I could feel his gaze.
“How about some music?” he suddenly asked and I raised my head slightly. Music? Like the hymns during service? I ever liked those so I shook my head. He seemed a bit disappointed.
“I could read you something,” he offered a moment later. Read me something? Why should he do that? But I didn’t want to disappoint him any more so I nodded.
“Very well…” He cleared his throat and took the book. “After several years of research the amount of…”
I didn’t understand what he was reading to me, but I liked the sound of his voice. It was soothing and I felt at peace. Safe in this room with him as my guard.
Kishi stared at the prints of that picture Nomura had sent him. Some symbols that Nomura took for mob related and since he knew that Kishi had some connection to a good informant – one of the best, considering he was a mobster, too – he wanted to ask for his opinion. But Mamoru doubted it was some gang symbol. He had seen it before and he knew very well where. But he wanted to make sure so he took the photo to the penthouse lounge that evening, planning on asking Soryu Oh, leader of the Ice Dragons, for help. Not really help, Kishi didn’t like to ask for help in general and from Soryu in special. He would simply demand an answer and pester Soryu until he caved in. That usually worked just fine.
Mamoru groaned. Usually he would grumble about the work, how much of a hassle it was, especially asking a favor from Soryu. But after he saw the pictures he knew this was exactly what he was waiting for until now. This was his chance.
When I woke up the next morning Hanai was still there, sleeping in a chair. It looked uncomfortable and I wondered if I should offer him my bed. He needed some decent sleep and I was used to sleep in any position. But I once heard that most people sleep in beds at night. It sounded crazy back then but after some nights in an actual bed I understood why this was so popular. With a sigh I got up and padded over to him. He was fast asleep so I actually needed a few nudges against his shoulder to rouse him enough so he got up and sleepily followed me to the bed. A glance at the clock showed me that it was my usual wakeup time: 4 am. But since there was no breakfast to prepare, no bread to bake, no kitchen to clean I was at a loss. What should I do?
Maybe I could sleep some more. Sleeping felt nice, nothing hurt while I was asleep and no one asked me any questions, no one scared me – as long as the nightmares stayed away. So why shouldn’t I take another nap? So I cuddled close to Hanai and dozed off again.
It was nice sleeping next to someone. I couldn’t remember when I last felt so comfortable. I’ve never shared a bed with someone before – well, I never had a real bed before, or at least not that I remembered. So I was a bit sad when someone barged in and woke us up.
After a conversation over the phone with Nomura Mamoru decided to go to the hospital and take a look at the young woman with those scars.
“The detective with her is Kazusa Hanai, he’s one of the brightest we have. He can be a stickler for rules, so please be at our best behavior, okay?” Nomura sounded slightly amused and that pissed Mamoru off.
“Whatcha take me for, huh? And if it’s some rookie he better is on his best behavior, I’m and old stager after all.”
“I know, I know. But still younger than me. Anyway, I’m grateful that you are helping me out with this one. If it’s really a mafia victim she might tell us something to help fighting those damn mob clans in town,” Nomura said and Mamoru had to hold back a chuckle. Yeah, as if that was possible. The whole town was infested with mob.
“’kay, I’m goin’ now. I call ya when I know more,” he said instead and ended the call. He needed a cigarette.
After he had arrived at the hospital and showed his badge a nurse led him to the room. Claire. They said her name was Claire. Not that he cared, but it was easier to think of her when he had a name. It was better than thinking about “her” or “the victim”. He hated that. Too impersonal.
So Claire it was. Fine, maybe Claire could be the breakthrough he needed. Or just another dead end.
“What the fuck? Put a tie on the doorknob next time, will ya?”
I woke with a start when someone yelled at me. Instinctively I curled up into a ball, afraid to get hit or kicked again. But the one next to me, Hanai, jumped up so that I couldn’t stay in this position any longer.
“Who are you? How did you get into this room?” Hanai reached for the gun in his holster.
“Relax, freshman. I’m Detective Kishi, Nomura sends me. I thought he had told ya that I would come.” The sly grin on his face was startling me. Why did he grin? Was there anything funny?
“Didn’t think I would get here and find you all cozy with the victim,” he said and looked over at me. Oh. I could feel the blood rushing into my face. He looked tired. And driven. Haunted. I knew that look, it was the same I saw in the mirror.
“Cozy? What?” Hanai needed a moment to understand what had happened. He looked at me, puzzled, but I didn’t know what to say to him. What did he want to hear?
“Anyway, Detective, I think you came here for a purpose.” Hanai smoothed down his clothes and looked at me. I blinked a few times, still not sure what exactly was just happening.
“Claire, Detective Kishi will have to look at your back. And your legs. Some of your scars are really – peculiar. We hope they can tell us who did that to you.” Hanai always explained things to me and I was grateful for that, especially since no one ever took the time to explain something to me. They always just ordered me or yelled at me.
I simply sat there on the bed and waited for them to do something. Or should I…? I started undoing my nightgown that the hospital had provided but Hanai’s eyes widened and he quickly stopped me. Why?
“Wait! We better call a nurse and I step outside. You – a bit of privacy would be better.” He seemed to blush a bit but I wasn’t sure why. Was there something wrong with me? Detective Kishi only smirked.
“Kid, you’re pretty eager, huh? Don’t mind me, just go on.” I looked back and forth between both detectives but Hanai insisted on a female. He called a nurse and stayed outside while I turned my back at Detective Kishi and let my nightgown slide down my body. I heard him drawing a sharp breath before he came closer. I still couldn’t understand why they were all so fascinated with my skin. The scars were nothing special. Sure, I had a lot of them, but so did some of the others back – at that place. I just happened to have some more than others.
I could feel his breath on my skin, it tickled but wasn’t unpleasant.
“Is it okay if I touch ya?”
No one had ever asked me that before. I was at a loss for words. Was it really an option to say “no”? I simply shrugged, the nurse giving me a questioning look.
“Do what you have to do, detective.”
The first touch was light, just a brush with his fingertip. Barely felt it at all. He traced some of my scars, some older and some newer ones. I could feel the pattern he drew on my back but I couldn’t say what it looked like. I felt him slide his finger over the welts and cuts until he pulled back again. I can’t say when someone treated me as softly as this for the last time.
He cleared his throat.
“I heard there are more scars.” He sounded weird, as if he was embarrassed. I would never understand why these detectives where so flustered by my scars.
“On my legs and some on my arms. And on my stomach, too.” I already reached for the hem of the nightgown, ready to pull it off completely but he quickly interrupted me.
“I think I saw something on your legs on the picture I got. That should be enough.”
I simply lay down on the bed and pulled the nightgown up until my legs were completely exposed. Again he studied my skin as if it was something interesting and I just waited until he was finished. He didn’t touch me again, though.
“Okay, ya can get dressed again. Lemme get Hanai, I think we have stuff to talk about.”
Detective Kishi turned to the nurse and thanked her for her patience before he opened the door. The nurse left, Hanai came back.
“Well, what is your opinion on this?”
I propped my chin up on my hand and looked at them.
“Uhm, kid, ya might want to button up again,” Kishi said, a hand scratching his neck. I simply did as I was told. It was an old habit after all.
“Well, I think I’m gonna talk with Nomura ‘bout this, but I can say that these ain’t no mob marks.”
I could see Hanai slump down a bit. Had I done something wrong? I didn’t want to disappoint him after all he had done for me. Nervously I watched them.
“So that means she doesn’t need protection anymore.” Hanai said that matter-of-factly and it hurt me somehow. It was so frustrating, I hardly understood what was happening around me. They could have just as well used another language.
“I wouldn’t say that,” Kishi slowly answered. “But I guess she needs other protection. Not from mobsters, but… lemme say, ‘bad people’.” He turned towards me. “Ain’t that right, sweetheart? There are bad people after you.”
I simply nodded. Very bad people.
“I’m gonna talk to your boss and Nomura. Your investigation might end here, but mine only begins.”
Mamoru needed a cigarette after this revelation. He actually had a lead! All he needed now was to convince Nomura to let him handle this case. Since it wasn’t mafia related it shouldn’t be a problem at all.
He took a drag of his cig and kept the smoke in his lungs for a moment before he exhaled again. A small grin played on his lips. This kid could be the key to his success. He just had to make her talk somehow.
“So, the scars… are not what you had expected?” I wasn’t exactly sure what that meant, only that Hanai seemed disappointed.
“Well, we had hoped they were related to a group of crimes, but that seems not to be the case. I’m sorry that I can’t help you after all.” He looked at me, still a bit down.
“What do you mean, you can’t help me?” Hadn’t his boss said Hanai would stay with me now? I liked him, he made me feel safe. That other detective had been nice, too.
“Sorry, I guess we have to wait for now. As long as you’re in this hospital you will be safe, so don’t worry.” He smiled at me, trying to reassure me, but I’m not stupid. I knew he was hiding something. What would happen to me once they released me from the hospital? And when would that be? I still couldn’t remember much, only that I couldn’t go back to where I came from. There were bad people there and they would hurt me more, maybe even kill me. I was worthless after all, no need to keep me around.
My heart started racing. Hanai had been the first person who was genuinely kind to me, the first one who cared for at all. Why would he abandon me now? Was it because of something I did?
“Are you – are you mad at me?” He must have been, I must have done something wrong. What had it been?
“Mad? No. But I’m still wondering – how did I end up in your bed?”
Oh, yes, that. “You seemed tired and uncomfortable and I thought sleeping in a bed would be better for you. I never thought it would make such a huge difference, but since I sleep in a bed I feel much better already.”
He frowned and grabbed a notebook from his pocket. “Does that mean that you don’t sleep in a bed very often?”
I shook my head. “I think I’ve never slept in a bed at all. Not since I can remember.”
He made a note and looked back at me. “So, are you a runaway? Do you live in the streets?”
Was I? A runaway? No, that didn’t feel right. I felt as if I belonged somewhere but I couldn’t go back. Ugh, it was all so complicated and frustrating. When they told me I had amnesia I thought that was a joke, but I really couldn’t remember much. My name. But not my age, my last name, the names of my parents, my address. But I couldn’t be all alone, could I?
“I – I don’t know,” I feebly admitted. All I wanted was to crawl back into bed, to hide under the covers and just stay there. Maybe with Hanai, it was nice being so close to him. And my head hurt so much, I could barely focus.
“At least we know that you’re not a mafia victim,” he said and jotted something down.
“Hanai?” I was almost afraid to ask.
“What will happen to me?” What will happen if I never remember anything? Will he stay with me?
He looked at me but he seemed uncomfortable and sighed before he smiled again.
“We will see.”
“Boss, she acts really strange. She has no problems with physical contact, she acts rather recklessly when it comes to interpersonal contact to be honest. But on the other hand she seems – distant. It’s hard to explain… yes, Kishi was here… no, I don’t really trust him… yes, he already told me it wasn’t mafia related. I’m disappointed, but that doesn’t change anything. I’m still at this case… no, she won’t be part of the investigation… but should I just leave her here?… Yes, I understand… yes. Okay, boss, so when his report is in I will leave here. Okay. Tell Tennoji he better keeps his hands off my coffee this time. Bye.”
Hanai sighed. This wasn’t good. After that nightmare he was sure that she had some kind o traumatic experience and all the scars, the new and old bruises pointed towards some kind of abusive relationship. Maybe with her parents, maybe with a lover. But she couldn’t tell them. What happened to victims who had nowhere to go? He actually knew it, but he didn’t want to think about it. She was so guileless, acted like a child sometimes. But he was sure that she was of legal age at least. So she would either end in some kind of sanitarium or back on the streets. Maybe Hanai could do something, could pull some strings to get her into some kind of program for kids like her.
Mamoru finished his report, for the first time in ages actually enjoying the work. Of course he still grumbled about all the paperwork, but had a real clue now and that was worth spending hours at the desk. He called Nomura as soon as he was finished.
“So definitely no mob symbols, right?” Nomura sounded disappointed. “So, do you know what they mean?”
A cold smile tugged at Mamoru’s lips. “I do. Wasn’t sure at first, but now that I saw them – they are old. Maybe eight or ten years old. Back then they had no relevance, not for the cops at least. But for me – they are what I needed for another case. So, can I have her?”
Nomura chuckled. “Have her? That sounds a bit inappropriate. She’s not a thing after all.”
“I know, I know. But the one on her back? That’s some fancy, bumptious kanji for a name. ‘s hard to decipher, but I know it. Shin Aida.”
With some satisfaction he heard how Nomura drew a sharp breath.
“That’s – unfortunate. For her. So you say he – what, he marked her? Around ten years ago?”
“Nah, he didn’t just mark her. He branded her. He burned his fuckin’ name into her skin, that cocky bastard. Bet he didn’t think anyone else would ever see her. Bet he’s already out there, lookin’ for her everywhere. I’d say that rookie stays with her for now, but once you call off your investigation I will take over. Can’t let her slip away now.” Not when he was so close. Not when he could already taste the revenge he chased for years now.
Things changed so suddenly. Hanai still came to visit me, but he didn’t stay as he used to. I spent a lot of time on my own, thinking, trying to remember. Sometimes I caught myself doing things without thinking about them, my hands moving on their own. Cleaning mostly. I couldn’t imagine that I should really be a runaway. They usually didn’t have places to clean and that really felt strangely familiar to me. Maybe I was a housekeeper? A maid somewhere?
Every day Detective Kishi dropped in to ask me some questions, but I never had answers for him. I could feel the frustration rolling off him in waves but I couldn’t do anything against it. I couldn’t lie to him, could I? I just wished Hanai would come more often. It was easier with him. He seemed strict but there was something, some hidden kindness that drew me in. Maybe because no one had ever been kind to me. It was funny that I knew things like that but couldn’t remember my own last name. But I definitely liked Hanai better than the grumpy Kishi. Although Hanai had scolded me harshly for that “sleeping in one bed” incident. I’m still not sure why he was so angry at me because of that. He had been tired, I had been tired, we only had one bed – I don’t understand what the problem should be. But he had been flustered and mad so I promised to never do that again.
I slowly healed. The bruises on the surface faded and the cuts and the cracked rip were almost gone, too. But my memories didn’t come back. Since Hanai knew that the symbols on my skin weren’t mafia related he spent less and less time with me. After all I was just part of his job. That hurt me a bit, but I was happy that he came to check on me at all.
I wasn’t interesting and I knew it. I had no clue when it came to films or books or music. I had nothing to say, no opinion on anything. I was empty. Who should like to spend time with me like that? Kishi definitely didn’t enjoy his time with me. He was annoyed and frustrated and that feeling slowly got hold of me, too. I couldn’t remember and I couldn’t think about my future. I felt strange in this world and all the possibilities were scaring me. As if I never had to make a choice in my life before.
Kishi kept asking me about that “Shin Aida” person, but I couldn’t remember that name. I felt uncomfortable, being pressed for answers that just weren’t there. Sometimes he just came and told me about his former partner, Minami. He sounded tired and burdened with guilt whenever he mentioned that name. He told me stories about their cases, some were funny, some sad and terrifying. It felt awkward knowing so much more about him and Minami than about myself.
The inevitable day finally came. The doctor said I had fully healed and that they could discharge me. The only question left was, where should I go? I couldn’t go back – not even knowing where “back” was – and I had no other place to go. What should I do?
Mamoru had talked to her every day. When he realized that practically interrogating her didn’t work he started telling her things. About Minami, about AID, about police work in general. Anything to trigger her memories. And in the meantime she healed so that he now was arguing with Hanai outside of Claire’s room.
“But when they discharge her, where will she go, huh?” He was annoyed by Hanai’s indifference.
“I don’t know. I tried to get her into a program for runaways and minors on the street, but since I can’t prove she’s either they won’t take her in.” Hanai sighed. “There’s nothing else I can do for her. 2nd unit isn’t in charge of her case anymore. Actually there isn’t even a case anymore in the first place. She can’t remember what happened and we can’t prove that she had been the victim of an actual attack. What if she simply had an accident? The higher ups closed the case since she’s fit again.”
Mamoru ran his hand through his hair. It didn’t change his messy appearance so why bother?
“But the scars? What about those?”
Hanai slightly shook his head. “They are old. We can’t prove that Aida did it and we can’t prove that someone did it against her will at all.”
Mamoru grabbed Hanai’s vest. “Some fuckin’ asshole BURNED a name into her skin, do ya really think that was with her permission?!”
He glared at Hanai. Not only his revenge was at stake here. Sometimes he really hated the whole system, the paperwork, the rules, the whole shebang. What’s the use if they had to send someone who definitely had suffered away in the end? He wasn’t the best detective out there, he was aware of that, but turning his back on this kid? He couldn’t just do that. But Hanai could. He had just told Kishi that the MPD would withdraw from this case.
Hanai understood why Kishi was angry, he really did. God, he was angry himself! But what could he do? He couldn’t ignore a direct order. Even Kirisawa had been moody because of the decision of the higher ups and Nomura tried to use his influence, but to no avail. After spending so much time with Claire Hanai did feel responsible a bit. He had promised her to help her, to find whoever did that to her. And now he had to step back and watch her leaving? But he had to. Those were his orders.
“Listen, Kishi, I can’t keep working on that case because there is no case anymore. I’m sorry, but I can’t do anything.”
“Damned coward! Foolin’ around with her was fine, but now ya gonna bail on her?” Mamoru was ready to punch Hanai, he barely held back.
“F-Fooling around? Are you drunk?!” Somehow Hanai managed to get out of Kishi’s grip. “She was just a case, okay? Nothing more! A case! I never did anything inappropriate to her at all!”
“Just a case?”
Both men were glaring at each other.
Someone softly cleared their throat. They both turned to see a shy Claire standing in the door.
I just wanted the floor to open up and swallow me whole. Of course. I was just a case. How could I forget that? They didn’t care about me at all, just as much as their job required. And not that job was done and I had to figure things out on my own. Why did that feel so familiar? Being cast away, being abandoned? I had been stupid to ever think there was something special going on between me and Hanai. Looking back even I realize that I was just clutching at straws. So he had been nice to me, no big deal, right? Why did my stupid heart instantly thought it was more than just his devotion towards his job? Because he read stuff to me? Held me after my nightmares and stroked my hair? Because he didn’t try to kill me?
Stupid, stupid, stupid!
God, this was so embarrassing. And now they were both staring at me, visibly flustered and uncomfortable.
“The – the doctor said… he will come in a couple of minutes… to give me the final results…” My voice was so feeble, I felt so pathetic. Without another word I turned around and went back into the room, sat down on the bed and hung my head.
The first man that was nice to me and I fell for him like some inexperienced school girl. Although I never even went to High School! Wait, I never went to High School? Was that – relevant?
I raised my head when I heard the door open again, just to see both detectives with apologetic expressions.
Hanai cleared his throat. “Uhm, Claire, I don’t know how much you heard-“ he began but I shook my head.
“Don’t worry, it’s fine. More important, I think I remembered something. I never attended High School. I can read, but I think I wasn’t in school for long. Could that be a clue?”
Hanai fixed his tie, his eyes darted around. So I turned to Detective Kishi.
“Dunno, kid. Might be somethin’. I mean, maybe ya were homeschooled. Or ya just don’t remember high school. Honestly, I wish I could forget about that time…” But he didn’t seem convinced.
The door opened again and the doctor came inside.
“Well, Claire, your rib and wrist have healed very nicely so I think there’s no reason for you to stay longer. I would like to talk to Detective Hanai for a moment, if possible.” The doctor smiled at me and Hanai hurried outside with him.
“Hey, kid, you okay?” Detective Kishi looked at me, peered deeply into my eyes.
“I – I’m fine, I think… I have no idea where to go and what to do now, but other than that I’m okay.” I gave him a crooked smile and he ruffled my hair.
“I was worried ‘cause of what ya might have heard earlier…”
My smile vanished. “I heard enough. Enough to see how foolish I was acting. Sorry, a grown up should be more – I don’t know…”
He sat down next to me, not touching me but close enough so I could feel the bed dip under his weight.
“Thing is, I’m not even sure ya really are a grown up. We have no clue how old ya really are, but I would say yer still a kid. And kids are allowed to do foolish stuff.”
This was actually the closest to comforting anyone had ever did for me and I smiled shyly at him.
“And just for the record: I thought you had a thing goin’ on, too. But that rookie has a stick so far up his ass that it could hold his hat if he was wearin’ one.”
Okay, that made me laugh, but my laughter died when Hanai came back into the room, his expression grim.
“What’s wrong?” Kishi asked, noticing something was off. Well, it didn’t take a detective to figure so much, even I realized that. He was uncomfortable but tried not to show it.
“Claire, could I take a quick look at your ankle?”
I frowned, this was a surprise. I hadn’t even hurt my ankle as far as I knew. But still I nodded.
“The left one.” Hanai knelt down in front of me and I simply pushed my pants up a bit, my sock down.
“Detective Kishi, would you care to take a look?”
Now both men were kneeling on front of me, an almost surreal situation.
“What’s that?” Kishi asked. “That chafing. What’s that?”
“Exactly that’s the question. The doctor said it looks almost like a dent. As if there had been something for a very long time.” Hanai let go of my foot and I fixed my clothes again.
“So, whaddya think it is?” They both got up again and Hanai shot me glance before he sighed.
“This looks like something you get when you wear shackles for a long time. I think she had been locked up somewhere.” He gave me another short look before he turned to Kishi again.
“I should call Nomura. There is definitely still a case here.”
After some calls Hanai had what he wanted. This new piece of information gave them a bit more time, but it didn’t answer the question what to do with Claire. She couldn’t stay in the hospital but the only other option was to take her to the PD and keep an eye on her there. Kirisawa wouldn’t say anything against it, after all he felt bad enough that he couldn’t keep his promise to find the ones who did that to Claire. But that would basically mean locking her up again and somehow Hanai felt bad about that. He sighed, knowing that there wasn’t another option at all.
“Hey, rookie,” Kishi snapped Hanai back to reality. “Say, since your mafia case is off the table for now, mind if I take over and take care of Claire?”
He was leaning against a wall, still waiting for Claire to get the rest of her stuff – which wasn’t much – when Kishi approached him.
“What do you mean, taking over?” Hanai was skeptic. Just because he had no obvious solution at hand didn’t mean that there was no other solution at all.
“Like I said. I talked with yer boss ‘bout it and he says it’s fine for me to take this case. Doesn’t fit in your profile anyway.” Kishi shrugged and ran a hand through his messy hair. He was the polar opposite of the proper Hanai, but he didn’t care. This wasn’t a beauty pageant after all.
“You talked with Kirisawa about this?!” Hanai was actually conflicted. Did he want someone like Kishi keeping an eye on Claire? He had heard rumors about that joke of a detective, that he once was actually pretty good in his job but lately… not so much.
“Nah, with Nomura. He gave me the green light. And I still think she’s related to a case of mine, so I will be the better pick for her. I actually care, ya know?” Mamoru played with his box of smokes. He knew he wasn’t allowed to smoke inside of the hospital – or inside of any other building. Stupid non-smoking policy. But feeling that they were there was actually a bit soothing.
“You do? Well, I care for her, too.” Hanai’s tone was harsher that he had intended. And he did. But caring and ‘caring’ were two different things.
“Sure ‘bout that? ‘Cause I remember ya sayin’ that she’s just a case, nothin’ more.” Kishi’s smug grin made Hanai angry, but he held back.
“Well, some of us try to play by the rules. And the rules say: ‘Don’t get too close to victims, it makes you biased.’” Hanai shrugged, trying to sound nonchalant.
“I give a damn ‘bout the rules. I thought there was somethin’ between you and so did she apparently, but don’t sweat it. I take her off yer hands. I’m sure she will forget ‘bout ya once she can remember her past.” Kishi gave Hanai a short nod before he turned towards her door again.
“Do us both a favor: just don’t stick yer nose where it doesn’t belong, ‘kay? I’m sure it will be easier for her this way, too.” And for Kishi. He couldn’t risk that Claire got distracted by her crush for that rookie. Mamoru sighed. Sometimes he felt really old. Old and tired. But at least he had a lead and a witness – even though she couldn’t remember anything. Yet.
I stared it awe. This room – it was splendid. I’m sure I never saw something like this before. And the view from the windows…
“That’s the lounge. My suite is over there, ya can sleep in my spare bed.” Kishi just plopped down on a couch while I was still stunned by the events since I was released from hospital.
He had told me he would take care of me for now. That I needed more time to regain my memories and that I could live with him until then.
“No funny business, I swear. Just a bed where you can sleep. No ulterior motives.”
I wasn’t even sure what he was talking about but after I had glanced over to Hanai who stared at his shoes and didn’t offer anything else I had accepted. Not that I had many other options anyway. And now I was in this huge hotel – “Security is top notch” Detective Kishi had assured me – staring down at the city from the penthouse.
“I – I’m sorry, I don’t even have money that I could offer in return…” I was ashamed that I had to rely on someone else, but Detective Kishi simply waved a hand.
“Don’t care about money, kid. Money ain’t everythin’,” he stated and yawned.
“Who says that? Only people without money, I’d say.”
The voice came out of nowhere and I turned around to see a man coming down the stairs in the middle of the room. He was – cold. And scary. Tall, dark hair, a dark suit and a lavender shirt. He was followed by two other men, one was even scarier looking, with slicked back black hair and a light grey suit. The other man was blond and wore a blue jacket with stripes. He looked at me, then at Detective Kishi and grinned.
“Since when do you bring strays, Mamoru?”
Detective Kishi groaned and got up.
“She ain’t a stray, brat. She’s my – guest.”
I didn’t miss the brief pause but I was too stunned by the word “guest” to bother. His guest. Not his case. That was somehow – nice. I liked it. Made me feel like an actual person.
The man in the lavender shirt gave me a disapproving glance and turned to Detective Kishi once more.
“I hope you remember that this isn’t your personal playground, Kishi.”
Detective Kishi frowned. “What’s the problem? Baba and Ota always bring women up here. Heck, even you take some up ‘ere every once in a while – not as often as you used, though.”
I had no idea what was happening between them but the last part of his sentence seemed to make the other man mad.
“You’re lucky that you’re useful or I would get rid of your lazy ass faster than Sor can whip his gun out.”
The tension between them scared me, but Detective Kishi simply shrugged. “Fair enough. Well, we will only stay until Luke comes over – I need his advice on somethin’, so don’t get your panties in a bunch.”
The blond man laughed, but he was the only one.
“Get out here before I come back tonight.” With that the man in the lavender shirt and the other scary looking one left, the blond man stayed.
“Mamo, you know that he gets super pissed when you bring that up.”
Detective Kishi shrugged and plopped down on the couch again.
“His own fault.”
I was confused. What was going on?
“Uhm, Detective Kishi, I’m sorry if you got trouble because of me…” I shyly said but he only waved it off.
“Nah, not your fault. He’s a pain in the ass since his woman ran away with one of his employees… can’t blame her, he wasn’t exactly nice to her.”
“Yeah, but trading one of the richest men in Japan against some – what was he? A bellboy?” The blond man snorted deprecatorily.
“Still better than getting’ treated like a damned slave,” Detective Kishi shot back. He sounded rather agitated. A slave?
Suddenly I got dizzy, the whole world started spinning and I felt as if I was falling – what I was, but it felt like a much longer way than just to the floor. I was lucky that the carpet was so soft… and then everything went black.
My eyelids felt so heavy, but I heard voices so I strained myself to open my eyes.
“Maybe she should have stayed in hospital longer.” That was Detective Kishi, I was sure.
“Well, the injuries she had were healed so it was only logical that the doctor discharged her. This isn’t related to her physical state.” I didn’t recognize this voice but he sounded – posh. Spoke with an accent. I’ve never heard anything like that before.
“And about the other thing?” Detective Kishi sounded tired. Well, I was tired, too.
“Her amnesia? That’s rather difficult. I would say it’s a dissociative amnesia, induced by some traumatic event. Since she didn’t suffer from any head injury her memories should return in due time. You can only wait and maybe try to stimulate her memory by showing her familiar surroundings and faces. But don’t press the matter when you notice that she doesn’t respond to it.”
The unfamiliar voice sounded rather clinical, completely void of emotion.
“But I can tell that whatever she suppresses, it’s not pleasant. She’s underweight, and it doesn’t seem like a fashion statement. Although it makes her collarbones stand out nicely. She has a great bone structure.”
I heard a groan and for a moment I thought that I made it, but I didn’t.
“Stop being such a creep, would ya? So, anythin’ else?”
“Hm, with all the scars, her general physical condition and those marks from what we assume was a shackle… and I think she had broken a finger once but it wasn’t treated medically… I would say she is better off without remembering. Mamoru, this girl had a very rough past. Her mind is trying to protect her from that and I think that’s actually good for her.”
There was a moment of silence and I wondered if that was really true. Well, my index finger on the left hand did look somehow crooked. I still remember that a pan dropped on it when I wasn’t paying attention… wait, what? A pan? When did that happen? And where?
My head hurt and I winced. The voices stopped and I managed to open my eyes. Next to Detective Kishi there was a blond man, tall, slender, with dark circles under his eyes.
“Hey kid, ya gave me quite a fright back there… how are ya feelin’?” Detective Kishi leaned down and peered into my face.
“M-my head hurts… and I feel weird…”
A cool hand landed on my forehead. “I can give you something against the pain.”
I blinked a few times before Detective Kishi reassured me. “He’s a doctor, don’t worry. His name is Luke, we’re kinda… friends.”
I simply nodded. Should I tell them that I started to remember things? Detective Kishi seemed to hell-bent on helping me getting my memory back. But why? There was something that he didn’t tell me and I didn’t like that at all. People never told me anything, always expected me just to do as they said. I was sick of it.
“Here, take those against the pain and try to sleep some more. If anything happens, call me.” The doctor – Luke was it? – handed me a pill and a glass of water. I was hesitating, but figured he wouldn’t want to harm me. Why should he? There was nothing for him to gain from that, at least I hoped that. But the throbbing in my head quickly convinced me to take the pill so I swallowed it with some water and took a deep breath.
“If you excuse me now, I still have an operation today. Oh, and congratulations on your great bone structure. Not many people are that lucky.” With a last, almost longing look at my neckline he nodded and left. What a weird guy.
“Sorry kid, I know ya have a headache, but we better leave here before King Asshole comes back. Seriously, without that kiddo at his side he’s really – unbearable. I don’t wanna piss him off even more. Let’s go to my place.” Detective Kishi helped me up.
“But I thought this was your place?” I was a bit confused, but that seemed to be the norm in these days.
“Nah, this is just the – nevermind. I have an apartment in the city. Not as fancy as this, but better than nothin’.”
It was a lie and he knew it. His apartment was a pigsty, the floor littered with beer cans and take out boxes. He remembered that one time Eisuke’s woman came over for a visit and forced him to clean the whole place. Since then a long time had passed and everything was dirty again. He would be ashamed if he would care, but he didn’t.
Mamoru sat behind the wheel of his car, Claire on the passenger’s seat. His thoughts were racing. Could he really speed up her recovery? Could he help her remember? Would that take him to Minami’s killer?
Claire was looking out of the window, her eyes seemed empty as if she wasn’t really seeing anything. But Mamoru couldn’t afford to back down now. He was sure that whatever she was trying to forget must have been horrible, but this was not about her. It wasn’t even about him or Minami. He knew that there were others like Claire, kids that got lured in by Aida and his henchmen, searching for help and safety but ending up as thieves and even worse. How many of them had to work the streets? How many of them vanished without a trace once they have served their purpose?
He had no idea what Claire actually had to suffer until now, but he knew that he had to stop Aida. What began as a regular investigation back then had led to the death of his partner and his own obsession with solving this case – no matter what. He still hoped he could help Claire with this investigation, too, but that would be more like a bonus. Not the main objective.
His eyes flitted back to her briefly before looked back on the road. God, she was still a kid! The doctor wasn’t sure how old she actually was, around 18, 20 at most. Maybe she wasn’t even legal yet. That thought suddenly shocked him. There was no reason why he should think about that now, but living with a minor in his place – that could be a very big mistake. But she seemed mature enough to not be stupid. Well, she did develop a crush on Hanai and suddenly Mamoru admired that uptight detective for being able to handle the situation like he did. If she really was still a child… the implications alone made him uncomfortable. It didn’t help the doctor with determining her age that she was so skinny. When Mamoru had taken a look at her back at the first time he saw her he was shocked, not only because of the scars and the branding, but the fact that all her bones were practically visible. He made a sudden decision to stop at a grocery store. Her time in hospital had actually helped a bit already, she had gained a bit of weight, but all Mamoru had at home was instant soba and beer. He needed to stock up.
The huge store was amazing. They had everything there and I felt like in a whole new world. I instantly started planning dinner, calculated the necessary ingredients for the whole organization when I realized that I had no idea what I was just doing.
“Detective Kishi?” My head hurt again and I blinked a few times. “I – I don’t feel well…”
I managed to hold it together so we could actually buy some food. I had insisted on vegetables even though my head felt like it would burst any second now and Detective Kishi grumbled the whole time. Back in the car I gradually relaxed a bit. I was glad that it didn’t took us long to get to his place, but I wasn’t that glad anymore when I walked through his door into a complete mess. I’ve never seen a room that dirty before. Detective Kishi simply pushed some beer bottles and cans out of the way with his foot and made a makeshift path for me to the couch that was covered with old newspapers and laundry. What a contrasts to the suite earlier! But I didn’t care, all I wanted was to get rid of this headache.
“Might want to try and sleep it off,” he suggested and motioned towards a door. “The bedroom’s over there. Lemme change the sheets real quick and then off to slumberland with ya!” He disappeared and came back quickly, a crumbled sheet in his hands. I just didn’t care and as soon as I lay in bed I was already asleep.
When I woke up it was dark outside and I needed a moment to remember where I was. I turned on the lights and slowly made my way back into the living room. I definitely needed a glass of water, but I already felt much better. Detective Kishi was sitting near the window, a cigarette between his lips.
“Hey kid, feelin’ better?”
I nodded slowly and smiled shyly at him.
“Good. Wanna eat somethin’?”
I wasn’t hungry. I knew that I should better eat, but I couldn’t bring myself to do so. But I noticed that the floor was now actually visible. He followed my gaze and shifted uncomfortably.
“Sorry for earlier, I didn’t expect any visitor. Hope you like it better now.”
“It’s okay. It’s your place and you can keep it like you want. As long as you are comfortable with it it’s not my place to say anything.” I shrugged.
“Ha, I like ya, kid. I don’t like naggin’, so yeah…” He trailed off and watched the smoke rising from his cigarette. “Oh sorry, does it bother you?”
I shook my head. Not really. Maybe I was actually a smoker, too. I walked over to him and took the cigarette from him, his shocked expression made me smile. I mimicked him and took drag only to cough and sputter.
Nope, not a smoker. But a cook. I was sure that I could cook. Not only that, obviously I was used to cook for a lot of people. So I was a chef and I liked to clean. Maybe a housekeeper somewhere?
He laughed and patted my back and I sheepishly handed him the cigarette back.
“What time is it?” I looked around but couldn’t see a clock.
“9:30 pm. Ya didn’t sleep very long.” He sounded tired but so was I. Maybe cleaning this place was really exhausting – I supposed it had taken him at least one or two hours.
“Since we have already bought everything, how about I cook something for us? Curry?” I wanted to do something for him as thank you, after all he let me stay for free and even tried to find out what had happened to me, the least I could do was to cook for him.
“Ya don’t have to, but be my guest. Kitchen’s over there.” He pointed towards another door and I simply nodded and opened it. At least the kitchen was – clean-ish. Not really sparkling, but nothing was sticky. That was a good thing and I immediately went to work, washed and cut vegetables, searched for pans and spices in the cabinets. The movements came easy, as if I already did this a hundreds of times before. At some point I just turned around to see Detective Kishi standing in the door and I jumped slightly in surprise.
“Sorry, kid, didn’t want to scare ya. Figured ya might need a hand, but I see you’re doin’ just fine.”
“I think I have done this before. Often. Detective Kishi, I think I was a housekeeper somewhere.” I looked at him, almost afraid that he would laugh at me. He didn’t.
“’kay, first of all, drop that ‘Detective Kishi’ stuff. Call me Mamoru, Kishi if you must. And tomorrow I will go the PD and get some pics of people. Maybe ya will recognize some of ‘em.” He came over and opened a cabinet, took some plates out and left again.
“I’m settin’ the table and then I’ll nap a bit. Wake me up when dinner’s ready.”
It didn’t take me long to finish the curry and the rice, but when I entered the living room and set everything down on the table I couldn’t just wake him up. For the first time since I knew him Detective Kishi seemed at peace. Whatever it was that burdened him so much, I wouldn’t be able to cure it with curry. But sleep seemed to help so I decided to put the curry in the fridge and get back to bed myself.
The next day Mamoru woke up to the faint smell of curry and the sun shining in his face. He grumbled and turned around, almost fell from his couch because he had forgotten that he wasn’t in bed. He stumbled into the kitchen and started making coffee. He wouldn’t be coherent before he had a cup, so he didn’t even wonder why his floor was so clean and his kitchen obviously used in the last few hours. He only ever made coffee in it or instant soba, hardly used any of his appliances or kitchenware. What he couldn’t ignore was the girl that suddenly stood in the doorway, smiling shyly at him.
“God dammit, kid! Don’t gimme sucha fright early in the mornin’,” he grumbled and Claire immediately stopped smiling. She bit her lip and looked down, making him feel guilty.
“Don’t pout, ‘s just that I’m a bit jumpy in the mornin’.”
She nodded, still looking down. Mamoru sighed. This wouldn’t be exactly easy.
“Listen, I’ve gotta swing by the office today, grab some stuff. It won’t take long and it would be better if ya stayed here. Is that okay? Ya can call me whenever somethin’s wrong.” She nodded and he felt like a stupid jerk, yelling at her first thing in the morning.
“Uhm, so if ya need anythin’, just tell me. I’m gonna wash up real quick and be back for lunch.” Again she nodded, but she finally looked up again. He reached out and ruffled her hair.
They shared a small smile before he dropped his hand and padded over to the bathroom.
The office was noisy as always, people running around like headless chicken. But Mamoru managed to get what he came for and avoid nosy questions. He simply referred everyone to Deputy Chief Nomura and that opened some doors for him – not without some teasing or even cutting comments of course. He couldn’t care less, finally he had a lead after all those years. He wouldn’t let anyone get between him and his revenge.
Detective Kishi – no, Mamoru, hadn’t anything interesting in his book shelves. That was the first important thing I noticed. Since I lacked entertainment I started cleaning his place in earnest – not simply shoving stuff out of the way like he did yesterday. Still, it was nice that the actually tried to make it comfortable for me. I scrubbed his kitchen until it was spotless, cleaned the windows and the floor in the living room. I just wanted to start with the bedroom when he came back, a bag in his hands and a smile on his lips. He seemed happy. Somehow that made me happy, too.
“Welcome back, De- Mamoru,” I said and bowed my head slightly. When I looked up again I saw him staring at me, his cigarette hanging in the corner of his mouth. And then he chuckled. I think it was the first time I heard him laughing at all and I could feel the sudden heat in my face.
“It’s like havin’ a personal maid. Don’t be so stiff with me, kid. Relax. I’m not gonna bite you.” He looked around and noticed the changes in his home. At least I hoped he did. Then he looked at me.
“I think we should get ya some spare clothes, huh?”
I was still wearing the clothes I got when I was released from hospital. I didn’t have anything else after all. My own clothes were evidence in the investigation and I didn’t have any luggage when they found me.
“I’m fine, thank you for your concern.” I didn’t want to trouble him more than necessary. Mamoru scratched his neck and stared at me. Was he blushing?
“Nah, at least ya need some more undies… can’t wear the same pair all the time, can ya?”
I frowned. But I had washed them yesterday!
“Uhm, it’s okay, I washed them in the sink yesterday. They should be dry soon.”
He coughed and his blush seemed to get worse. Was he getting a fever?
“Ya did what? And, uhm… what are ya wearin’ now?”
I looked down at my clothes. Some leggings and a shirt, the generous present from one of the nurses. I wasn’t sure what I should answer.
“Yeah, but… aren’t ya wearing undies?” He seemed very uncomfortable now.
“Is that… bad?” I couldn’t imagine why he was so interested in my state of dress or undress. No one cared about my underwear. Why should they?!
“We better go and get you some, can’t have you runnin’ around like that,” he decided and looked longingly at the couch before he sighed and turned towards the door.
“C’mon, we don’t have all day.”
I blinked a few times and then hurried after him.
One hour later I had several pairs of panties, some leggings and simple shirts, socks, even two bras – although I didn’t really need them. We were on our way back from the store – it had been huge! – and I noticed that Mamoru seemed to be in a good mood. He didn’t really smile, but he didn’t grumble like he often did.
“What’s for dinner tonight?” He looked at me and casually took the bags that I was wearing.
“We still have the curry from yesterday.” I wasn’t sure if he maybe wanted something else. It was only curry after all. Maybe he didn’t like curry? Maybe I should have made something else? What if he didn’t like my cooking at all? And what if he got tired of me living in his place? What should I do then?
Suddenly the whole weight of my situation hit me. I was a stranger in a world full of strangers. I knew nobody, not even my full name. All I knew was that I needed this man next to me to find out who I was and why I ended up like this.
“Boss? Can I talk to you for a minute?” Hanai stood in the door to Kirisawa’s office, obviously troubled.
“Is it about the vacation schedule? I already told you, I’m only the messenger, I can’t change it just like that.” Kirisawa looked up and frowned. “Okay, that’s not it obviously. Tell me what bothers you.”
Hanai walked into the office and sat down in a chair.
“It’s Claire. Boss, I have a bad feeling when we let Kishi take care of her and this case.”
Kirisawa sighed. “Hanai, I understand how you must feel, after all you spent days at her bed, making sure she was safe. But she’s not our case anymore.” When he noticed how Hanai’s expression darkened Kirisawa pondered their options for a moment.
“Of course you can still check on her, as a friend. I mean, nobody says you can’t be friends now that she’s not in your care anymore.” He grabbed a cigarette and held it between his fingers, not lighting it yet.
“Hm, yes, that’s not against the rules, you are right. But I still don’t like Kishi to be her guardian. I asked around a bit and his reputation is less than stellar.”
Kirisawa stared at Hanai for a second before he nodded.
“I agree, Kishi used to be really good but now… he has lost his drive. But I think this case can give it back to him. And no matter if you like it or not, Claire is his responsibility now. All I can say is that you can meet her in private and make sure she’s fine.” He scribbled something on a piece of paper and handed it to Hanai. “This is his number. Call him, ask for her and for a meeting. Make sure to tell him that’s it’s private and that you’re not interfering with his investigation. He won’t take it well if he gets the impression that you’re rather checking on him than on her.”
Hanai nodded and got up. “Thanks, boss. That – I will try that.”
When he was gone Kirisawa called Nomura.
Since three days Mamoru showed me pictures of people I didn’t knew, again and again. At some point I started recognizing the faces, but only because he had showed me the same pictures the day before. I was tired and felt bad that I couldn’t give him the answers he needed.
And then it happened. I came back from the bathroom and knew he wouldn’t like what I was about to say.
“Mamoru, I have a problem.” I hadn’t had my period for a long time, at least not regularly. Funny that I knew stuff like that but not who usually got me my tampons and pads, because I knew that I never bought them myself.
“What’s wrong, kid?” He was smoking again. I had noticed that he didn’t smoke that much anymore, but still plenty.
“I need you to get me something.” I tried not to sound too whiny, but I felt miserable. Not only because of the cramps, but because I was about to cause him even more trouble. I did my best not to cry.
“Doesn’t that have time ‘til tomorrow?” He was a bit grumpy, but I was already used to this.
“No, not really…” I had to gather all my courage to say it, but still my voice was feeble, my bottom lip trembled.
“I need some – uhm, some feminine care products…” It was barely audible and my cheeks were heating up quickly, I couldn’t even look at him. I would go out and get them myself but I couldn’t – not without a pad or a tampon. It was so frustrating. This stupid body only caused me problems. Me and everyone around me. First I had to stay in hospital, the amnesia, this stupid urge to be physically close to people and now that. When I finally managed to look up I saw him gaping at me.
“Well, that’s… is it urgent?”
I only nodded, wanted to spare him the bloody details. I’m sure he didn’t want to know after all.
“’kay, lemme grab my keys and I’m off. Uhm, what exactly should I get?” He stared at me and I stared back. I wasn’t sure what he meant.
“Tampons and pads.” I was practically whispering.
“Yeah, I get that, but what kind?”
What did he mean? Was there more than one kind? Back home they were in these baskets in the restrooms and – whoa, wait! I grabbed the wall for support while the wave of dizziness raged through my head. This was happening more and more now.
“’kay, you know what? Go and nap, I’ll manage. Can’t be that hard, can it?” He scratched his head and grabbed his coat and the keys before he left.
Mamoru stood in the aisle of the drugstore that he normally avoided. He had no idea that there were so many different kinds and sizes, colorful boxes from different brands, pads, tampons, smaller pads. What was all this stuff? And why was it so damn expensive? This wasn’t some fancy accessory, but a necessity for half of the population. He just didn’t get it.
With a sigh he grabbed a box and studied the text on it. Protection for hours. Lactobacilli for the vaginal flora. He shuddered. This was really a stupid idea, coming here and expecting things to just work out.
“Do you need some help, sir?” A young sale assistant came up to him and smiled.
“Uh, yeah, I guess… I need some of this stuff. Well, not me, but my… uhm, I’m here shoppin’ for someone else.”
She still smiled through his embarrassed ramblings. “Your wife? Didn’t she tell you what brand she usually gets?”
“No, not my wife. It’s my… she’s still a kid…”
“Oh, so your daughter? Don’t worry, sir, I know this might be awkward for you but we often have dads shopping for their daughters. I think it’s a very nice way of showing that you care. Modern men shouldn’t be oblivious about female biology after all.”
He winced but let her think it was his daughter he was shopping for. Did he really look that old?
“So, if she’s still young you better get a smaller size. Here, those should be good. And maybe some pads? For the night? Here. And some pantiliner? Anything else?” She handed him different boxes, the smile still in place and annoying the hell out of him.
“Uh, dunno. What else could she need?”
And with that question he opened Pandora’s drugstore.
Once the door closed behind him I started crying, the feeling of shame was overwhelming. I felt so pathetic, unclean and useless, a burden to Mamoru, not only now but my whole existence. This was officially the new low-point since I woke up in hospital. I tried not to move too much, the couple of layers of toilet paper that I stuffed into my panties wouldn’t last long. But sitting felt wrong now and I was afraid to stain anything so I stood in the hallway and waited for Mamoru to return. That was something I was good at, simply standing somewhere and waiting, while the tears trickled down my cheeks.
I was a bit startled when the doorbell rang. Mamoru had taken his keys with him, he wouldn’t ring. So it had to be someone else. I pushed the intercom button and asked who it was.
“It’s Hanai. Can I come up?”
Hanai. Hanai! I hadn’t seen him since I had left the hospital and I thought he didn’t even think of me anymore. The way we parted back then wasn’t exactly friendly. I hesitated for a second but Mamoru hadn’t said I couldn’t get visitors. The topic never came up and I never expected it to be important, but I still liked Hanai even if he didn’t like me back. That was okay. I opened the door and when he reached Mamoru’s apartment I was already smiling again.
But Hanai still frowned when he saw me, immediately scanning the hallway.
“Were you crying? What did he do to you?”
I was baffled. Who should have done what? Hanai simply brushed past me and searched the apartment, calling for Mamoru but of course he didn’t get an answer.
“He – he’s not here,” I finally piped up.
“Then where is he? And what did he do?” Hanai seemed angry and I instinctively made myself smaller.
“He did nothing. What should he have done?”
He stopped and looked at me. “You have been crying. Why have you been crying?” His voice was softer now, but he still looked furious.
“I – I was just … wallowing in self-pity…” Another sob escaped me. God, I was so pathetic. I wanted to appear strong, at least in front of Hanai. He shouldn’t think I was a burden, too.
“Self-pity?” He raised an eyebrow and studied my face. “So Kishi’s been treating you good? Took care of you? Or does he only focus on the case?”
“No, no, he’s been really great,” I blurted out. “He tries really hard to help me get my memories back. He even took me to see another doctor. And bought me new underwear – I mean, clothes. He bought me new clothes.”
The sharp gaze he shot me made me tremble a bit. Obviously I said something wrong, something to make him angry. But then his expression softened and he smiled faintly.
“Okay. Okay, but if he should ever cause you any trouble, call me. Here’s my card. And if it’s okay with you I’d like to visit you from time to time. Just to make sure you don’t need anything.”
My fingers trembled as I took his card. My heart felt like bursting.
“Thank you.” I think I never felt so grateful before. He might not like me, not like I like him, but he really cared and that was new for me. Into this fragile moment of emotional completeness ripped the sound of a key turning in the lock. I jumped a bit and regretted it immediately when I felt my lower back and belly clenching. These cramps were going to kill me.
“Hey kid, I didn’t know what ya need, but I brought some additional stuff…” Mamoru stepped through the door and froze when he saw Hanai, still standing close enough so I could touch him.
“Oh, Mamoru! Look who came to visit me!” I was excited and he noticed immediately, his eyes narrowing a bit but then he smiled.
“Peachy. Why didn’t ya call ahead. I could have gotten us some cake or stuff.” There was an edge to his voice that was new to me.
“Sorry, maybe next time, ‘Mamoru’.” Hanai also sounded weird. Did I miss something? They stared at each other for a moment, leaving puzzled in the middle.
“Well, I think I have to go now. Take care, Claire.” Hanai smiled and gave me a short nod before he turned towards the door. “Kishi.” Another short nod, without smile this time, and he was gone.
“That rookie’s goin’ too far…”
I almost missed it, but only almost.
“Here, kid. For ya.” Mamoru handed me a paper bag, unable to look at me. I could feel the blood rushing into my face again.
“Oh, yes. Thank you very much. I know it’s a hassle…” I took the back and bowed my head.
“Nah, it’s fine. It’s natural, isn’t it? Not yer fault. I’d say ya go and take care of – things, and I go to the kitchen. Got ya some ice cream ‘n chocolate. Heard that might help.”
Ice cream? Chocolate? Why should that help? But I didn’t dwell on that any longer, instead I hurried towards the bathroom to ‘take care of things’, how Mamoru so eloquently suggested. When I came back he was in the kitchen, cursing under his breath. I wasn’t sure how to face him now. First I send him off with the most embarrassing errant a man could get – I knew that much from a couple of articles I read – and when he came back Hanai was here. I got the impression that they didn’t like each other much although they both were cops. Shouldn’t they get along?
“Hey kid, why are ya standin’ there, all dressed up with nowhere to go?” Mamoru had a cup in his hand and looked at me. I looked down at me, unsure what to say. I wasn’t dressed up at all, but he was right, I had nowhere to go.
“It’s just a sayin’. C’mon, we get on the couch.”
Much to my surprise – and delight, I had to admit – he snuggled up with me under a blanket.
“I got ya some chick flick, here’s hot chocolate and ice cream. I’ve got a heatin’ pad and some painkillers for ya. Did I forget anythin’?”
I wasn’t sure what to say. Again. Or still, I wasn’t sure. Only one word ran through my head.
“Why are you doing this?” I made a gesture including us and the couch and he scratched his neck.
“Someone told me that would help, with you bein’ – uncomfortable.” He was clearly the uncomfortable one so I couldn’t help but smile.
“Thank you. Really, I think no one has ever done something like this for me before. I mean, I’m gross and unclean, usually people would stay away until it’s over.” The laughter that escaped me was almost a sob and he stared at me.
“Why are ya sain’ this?”
I shrugged. “That’s what I’ve been told.”
I blinked a few times. “By everyone?” I was raised in the knowledge. I wasn’t pretty, I wasn’t smart. I was gross half of the month.
“Oh, kid…” he sighed. “I swear, when I find those bastards I will make sure ya get your revenge.”
Revenge? I did never thought about that. Was that what I wanted? Revenge? No. I was sure that even with my memories revenge wasn’t my goal. All I wanted was just this here. Someone who was kind. Someone who snuggled with me when I was sick or in pain. Someone who cared for me.
I really enjoyed the contact. Cuddling on the couch, my head resting on his shoulder, his arm around me – I felt so safe and comfortable. I already enjoyed it when he simply ruffled my hair or patted my back like he sometimes did, but this was even better. I tried to remember how it felt sleeping close to Hanai and that had been nice, too, but this was different. Maybe because Mamoru was actually awake. Hanai had given me long lecture about how inappropriate it had been to get close to him like that without asking first. But Mamoru didn’t seem to mind, he even dozed off for some part of the movie.
“I don’t understand why he didn’t just tell her that he liked her,” I wondered when the movie was over.
“’Cause there wouldn’t have been a film at all if he had just said so in the beginnin’,” Mamoru answered, rubbing his eyes.
“But it would have saved them much anger and pain. Why can’t people just say what they are feeling? It’s not that hard, is it?” I had noticed that even Hanai and Mamoru did this, hiding their true feelings and intentions. Why was it complicated like this? In my books it never was like that. People found each other. Loved each other. Love should be easy, shouldn’t it?
“Love should be easy…” I only noticed that I said that out loud when Mamoru stared at me.
“A kid like ya shouldn’t think about love so much,” he said, but his voice and eyes were kind.
“Don’t worry, I don’t think about it for me. I know that no one will ever love me. It’s okay.” I smiled at him and again noticed how his eyes narrowed when he heard something he didn’t like.
“Why are ya sayin’ all this stuff? Why do you make yourself small like this?”
I was confused and a bit scared at the anger in his voice.
“But – it’s the truth! Real love is only for beautiful people, kind people. Not for someone like me. I mean, look at me! I’m ugly! Broken! My skin is littered with scars and my face is – well, if you are generous and kind you would say dull. I know that! I know all of it! And it’s okay. It’s okay…”
I flinched when his hand suddenly came closer and he let it sink a bit before he raised it again towards my cheek. His thumb brushed the tears from my eye and I was surprised. When did I start crying?
“Whatever they did to ya, it must have been horrible. Not only for yer body, but yer heart, huh?”
“It’s okay…” I whispered again. Crying in front of him wouldn’t make anything better. The scars would still be there and he would only think I’m pathetic. But he only kept stroking my cheek with his thumb.
“Nah, it’s not okay. I will find them and make sure they’ll never hurt you again, kid. Not you, not anyone.”
It was strange how much my life changed after that day on the couch with Mamoru. And everything happened so fast that I had trouble keeping up. Mamoru had to work a lot, he didn’t tell me what kind of case he was investigating but I also didn’t ask. I made sure that dinner was ready when he came home and kept the place clean. Hanai called me once or twice but there wasn’t much for us to chat about so those calls were rather short. Still, I was glad he actually stayed in touch.
“You can’t keep her locked up like this forever!” Hanai was unusually agitated while he spoke to Kishi. They would never get along and that was fine, he was used to work with all kind of people, but this also involved Claire and that was where Hanai had to draw a line.
“I’m not keepin’ her locked up, I’m keepin’ her safe. But sure, if you want it so badly, rookie, I will take her out tomorrow.” Kishi simply lit a cigarette and exhaled the smoke after a deep drag, directly into Hanai’s direction.
“That’s not what I’m talking about and you know it. She needs a place to stay, maybe even some psychological help, but you didn’t even apply for a place for her! In any program possible!” Hanai was furious. Whenever he saw or called Claire she was cheerful but he knew she was lonely, and the loss of her memories still weighed heavy on her.
“But ya did and look where it ended! She’s still with me ‘cause there’s no other place for her. I take care of her and once I solved this goddam case and she gets her memories back, we’ll figure things out. Until then stay away from her!” Kishi flicked his cigarette away and simply turned away.
“I’m gonna talk with Nomura now. You better go back to your desk and do some homework, boy.”
Nomura stared at him. “This plan is risky. I don’t like it.”
“Me neither, but it’s all I got.” Mamoru was tired and the short fight with Hanai left him annoyed and cranky.
“What if it fails? You have no idea how they will react. How Claire will react. What if she breaks down? What if you find out she’s part of a scheme?” With his tie loosened up a bit and his jacket over the backrest of his chair Nomura looked like a man who had spent too many hours at his desk and too little home in bed.
“Showin’ her pictures didn’t help. I could kill two birds with one stone here. All I need is emergency backup. I could manage without ya, could find someone else to help me, but I’d rather not. Too much of a hassle. And we ARE the police after all.”
“You only remember that when it’s convenient for you.” With a tired smile Nomura studied Mamoru’s face. “How are you holding up?”
“’m okay. Bit tired. Nightmares ‘n stuff, but I’ll live. Are ya done with playin’ concerned uncle Nomura now?”
They stared at each other in silence.
“You know that Minami was my friend, too. I really want to know what had happened to him, but not if that means you get yourself killed, too.”
“I won’t,” Mamoru assured him.
Nomura took a deep breath. “Okay. Three detectives: Hanai, Kirisawa and Tennoji. A couple of officers. There’s nothing more I can do for you. Just to keep you safe. If you start something reckless I won’t order them to get into the line of fire for you.”
“That’s all I’m askin’ for.” Mamoru gave Nomura a short nod as ‘thank you’.
“Fine. Tomorrow evening then. And I still don’t like it.”
Mamoru didn’t care. Hopefully tomorrows events would act as a catalyst for his investigation.
“We are going out?” I was overjoyed. He was going to take me out? Wait, was that a date?
“Yeah, there’s a party at this hotel and they expect me to be there. So, waddaya say, wanna come?”
Of course I wanted! Party! I liked the sound of that word and although I was sure that I’ve never been on a party before I couldn’t wait to see it! Parties in books were always described as fun, with music and dancing and food. Well, I couldn’t dance, but I could eat.
“Are you sure it’s okay to bring me? I – I don’t want you to get trouble…” I suddenly remembered that being at a party also meant being among people. Would they be offended by my presence?
You’re so ugly, I can’t stand the sight of you.
My head spun again and I closed my eyes tightly, screwed them shut, hoping to get a grip on myself that way.
“Kid? You okay?”
I nodded weakly. “Yes, sure… just give me a second.”
He sighed. I disappointed him again. I could kick myself, why did I have to be so weak?
“Here, lemme help you to the couch.” I could feel his hand on my arm, the other in the small of my back, leading me towards the living room.
“Sit down, I get ya some water.” I heard him padding into the kitchen and lay down, finally able to open my eyes again.
“I’m sorry,” I murmured when he came back and handed me the water.
“Nah, it’s fine. ‘s just water. C’mon, drink up. We have to go shoppin’ tomorrow, ya will need a dress.”
I smiled, grateful that the still liked me. A dress. That didn’t even come to mind when he asked me to come with him to the party. I wondered how it felt to wear a dress. That thought didn’t leave all evening.
It turned out that wearing a dress wasn’t that different from wearing anything else. Mamoru picked one for me, a long but not too tight navy blue dress. It covered me almost completely and it was hard to find something like that, something that could hide my scars. The woman in the shop that showed us some dresses was clearly annoyed when I shook my head over and over at what she pulled off the rack, but in the end she found something with sleeves in a material that was partly see-through. The rest was slightly shimmering but I was disappointed that the material wasn’t soft. I always read about dresses that felt like silk – whatever that might be – and made the wearer feel beautiful. Well, I didn’t feel as ugly as usual, so that was a plus. Mamoru also got me shoes, pretty and sparkly flats that I could walk with without stumbling. I liked them.
Once we got back home I changed into the dress and since I had no idea what to do with my hair I just brushed it and thought I was done. I stepped out of the bedroom – my room since Mamoru slept on the couch every night – and was ready to go.
“Look at ya, kid, lookin’ all grown up ‘n pretty.” Mamoru grinned at me and I smiled back. He was wearing a black suit, his tie close to his neck for a change.
“But we should drop by a salon or somethin’ so someone can take care of your hair and makeup for ya.”
I hesitated. Did that mean I wasn’t looking good after all? I knew it…
“Stop lookin’ like a kicked puppy. I’m just sayin’ that at parties like this the ladies all get dolled up. Lemme bring you somewhere , get ya all pampered and then show ya off at this party. Ya will see, ya will fit right in. No need to be shy or insecure. I bet ya will be the prettiest sweetheart in the whole room.”
“O-Okay…” I smiled shyly and nodded. The next hour was a miracle. A man took care of my hair, gushing the whole time how natural it was, not dyed, not straightened, nothing. I didn’t know that it was something special but he definitely seemed to think so.
The woman who was doing my makeup was very nice. She asked me what I would usually wear and when I said “Leggins and a shirt” she laughed happily and said she would keep my makeup natural so I would still be comfortable. And once they were done – it was a miracle. I was definitely not looking like myself anymore. I still wasn’t sure if I liked it, but even I could see that it was a huge improvement. Mamoru paid them generously – he must have been very relieved that they managed to make me look presentable after all – and offered me his arm when we were outside. I wasn’t sure what I should do but he took my hand and linked arms with me, my hand resting on top of his arm. Okay, that was nice.
We walked only a short distance until we reached the hotel.
“Okay, listen now. There’s no need to be nervous. Ya lookin’ stunnin’. But try not to talk too much with strangers, okay? I will introduce ya to some people but don’t tell them about your amnesia and don’t tell them you’re livin’ with me. I want ya to be a friggin’ mystery to them, okay? Ever read Cinderella?”
I nodded. I knew that story.
“Just like that. If anyone wants to know anythin’ ‘bout ya, they will have to come and ask me first.”
“Does that mean you’re my Prince Charming?” If I was Cinderella that was the only option, right? Or maybe my fairy godmother?
He only chuckled. “Nah, kid. I’m the glass slipper.”
I have never seen so many people in one room. Mamoru stayed close to me all the time, told me to smile every once in a while. He introduced me to some friends, Baba and Ota. I remembered him, he was the one who called me a stray last time Mamoru took me here. And I remembered the scary Eisuke-guy that was now all smiles, greeting people and chatting with them. The other scary man was also here, he came over to Mamoru and glared at me.
“Kishi, dammit! There are cops all over the place. What the fuck are you doing?” He practically hissed and I flinched a bit, but Mamoru kept me in place, his hand suddenly on top of mine.
“Relax, Sor. They ain’t here for ya. Or the auctions. They’ll leave once I’m done with my business here and they will be discreet. Now tell me if Aida is here already.”
Aida. I remembered that name. Mamoru talked about him a lot and had showed me some pictures, but that didn’t ring a bell so I didn’t pay that much mind. Instead I was looking around, drinking in the sights of beautifully dressed men and women. Mamoru handed me a glass of what he called champagne and started walking with me around to show me everything. But he seemed on edge and that made me nervous. He was checking the crowd all the time until I felt him stiffen for a second. I followed his gaze but didn’t see anything to justify his reaction.
“You still good?”
He peered at me and I smiled.
“Sure. I’m getting hungry, but except for that I’m fine. Thank you for taking me here.”
He frowned for a split second but then dragged me with him again.
“C’mon, let’s grab a bite.”
The food was great. A lot of small appetizers, everything delicious and so pretty. Mamoru still seemed absent mindedly but I was distracted by the food. I caught a glimpse of Hanai and was surprised. Why was he here, too? Before I could ask Mamoru about it he turned to me and asked if I was done. I put my plate down and got another glass of champagne, happily took his arm and followed him around again.
We stopped somewhere in the middle of the crowd and I was a bit confused when Mamoru muttered: “Sorry, kid” and gave me a light push so I bumped into another guest.
“Oh, I’m so-“ I started to apologize but the other guest already turned around to face me.
“No harm done. I hope you are-“
He didn’t even have to finish the sentence for me to start trembling. I almost spilled my champagne, my hands and knees were shaking like crazy.
“- okay.” He stared at you before he smiled.
“Sorry, my girl here is a bit clumsy sometimes,” Mamoru chimed in. I would have protested but I couldn’t. I couldn’t talk, I couldn’t move, all I could was staring at Shin Aida. And he stared back at me. He knew. Oh god, he knew!
“No,” Shin objected. “She is perfectly lovely. Reminds me of my cousin.”
My breath hitched in my throat and I had to fight the whimper that threatened to escape. Mamoru seemed to finally notice my distress and took my arm again.
“Well, I think she’s a bit tipsy. I better get her some water. You comin’, sweetheart?” He nodded towards Shin and led me away. Instead of going to the bar he ushered me out of the hall and towards the elevator.
“You still with me, kid?”
Finally I could sob like I wanted back there with Shin. I started crying hysterically, unable to stop, unable to breathe. All I could do was clinging to Mamoru who held me tightly and silently.
Mamoru felt like a bastard. He knew his plan was risky, he knew she would be confused and emotionally wrecked if it worked. The whole evening he was stressed, observing the hall and keeping an eye on the other cops. They should only step in if anything went wrong and once Mamoru took Claire away again they would leave, too. He knew Eisuke and Soryu would freak out once they noticed but he had no time to convince them. He would deal with their anger afterwards. He would deal with everything afterwards. But what he hadn’t expected was Claire breaking down like that. He thought she might get angry, maybe a bit scared, but not like that.
Making her cry wasn’t his plan, but he had put up with that option to reach his goal. But now, since she clung to him, sobbing, struggling for breath, basically having a panic attack, he felt like an asshole. An egoistic, selfish, manipulating asshole. Did Eisuke feel like that every day? God, that was exhausting.
He wanted to take her back home but in the state she was this would be difficult. So he decided to take her to his penthouse suite. After he had led her to the bed and helped her lying down he called Kirisawa and told him that they could leave now. No need to stick around after his plan had worked out. And without much drama.
“Claire? Kid, wanna talk?” He handed her a glass of water but she stayed curled up like a ball on the bed.
“Listen, I’m sorry, but I figured ya need a li’l push…”
She still didn’t react. Mamoru sighed. This would haunt him for a long time, he was sure of that.
I must have fallen asleep at some point and when I woke up I felt like crap. My throat was dry and sore, my eyes puffy and hot from crying, my chest felt tight. I needed water. It was dark in this room and I had trouble to see where I was, but the sheets on the bed told me that I wasn’t in Mamoru’s bedroom. I searched for a lamp and found one on the bedside table, switched it on and blinked against the lights. This definitively wasn’t the room I had lived in for so long now.
I got up and stumbled through the next door just to find myself in a huge bathroom. I was so thirsty that I just padded over to the sink and scooped water with my hands to my mouth until my throat wasn’t that parched anymore. When I straightened up again I noticed my reflection in the mirror and almost screamed in shock. Black trails ran over my cheeks and I needed a second to realize that it was just makeup. My hair looked horrible, too, as if birds had tried to nest in it. I quickly took out all the pins and elastics and stepped into the huge shower. The tiny shampoo and bodywash bottles came in handy and I was clean and bare faced again in no time. When I stepped out of the shower I did something I usually would never do. I stood naked in front of a huge mirror, looked at my body in all seriousness I could muster.
The scars were there and they were really ugly. I had gained some weight and apparently some curves, too. I could still see my ribs and collarbones, my hip bones and, when I turned around, every single vertebra of my spine.
Still ugly. No matter what I did, I was still ugly and I would always be. I could still feel his eyes on me, the fear that stunned me. The last few weeks had been like a dream and Shin Aida was the bucket of ice cold water to wake me up again. I knew what I had to do. Mamoru had been so nice to me, kind and generous. There was just one way to repay him for this.
I quickly got dressed again. Since I had only the dress that I wore earlier here I browsed through his closet and found a clean shirt and a belt. I wouldn’t need much more. I dreaded the next step but I knew I wouldn’t be able to avoid it so I called Hanai, hoping he was willing to help me after all.
“Claire? What’s wrong?” He sounded breathless but it was so good to hear his voice.
“Hanai? I – I remember. Everything. I want to make a statement. Can you come and get me? I’m still at Tres Spade. I’ll wait in the lobby.”
“Okay. I’ll be right there.”
There was no stuff for me to gather, no last checking glance through the room in case I forgot something. There wasn’t anything I could forget. I had to suppress a chuckle. Me and forgetting something. Too funny.
The door to the living room of the suite was opening silently and I peeked out from behind it. Mamoru was sleeping on the couch and my heart made a small jump. I tried to be as quiet as possible as I sneaked out of the bedroom, my shoes in my hands. But I couldn’t just leave him like this, like a thief in the night. I wouldn’t leave a note, that was tacky and unnecessary. I was sure he wouldn’t appreciate it. No, this wasn’t for him but for me. A last present I made myself. I scurried over to the couch and looked at him. The rare peaceful expression. The slow raising and falling of his chest. How long his lashes were. I leaned in closer. He smelled faintly of beer and cigarettes, and something sweet I couldn’t exactly put my finger on.
This wasn’t the romantic setting I dreamed of for my first kiss when I was younger, but I didn’t mind. I already knew that live wasn’t all roses and rainbows, so I tried to appreciate every little wonder I came across.
His lips were soft and dry and I was afraid to wake him up so I kept the pressure light. But it was perfect. I only wished I could get more of that. Reluctantly I finally left his suite, sneaked through the lounge and took the elevator into the lobby.
When Mamoru woke up the room was brightly lit. He had forgotten to close the blinds before he fell asleep last night but he didn’t wonder how he could sleep right through the night until – what was it? Around noon? – after the events at the party. He had expected Claire to react badly to his plan and she did, but it was much worse than he had thought. She hadn’t spoken a word since she met Aida. Still, he was sure that her memory came back or otherwise she wouldn’t have been frightened and shocked like that.
Mamoru groaned when he sat up, stretched a bit and turned his head from left to right. No matter how much he slept he still was tired. Maybe he wasn’t tired physically, but mentally. At least he didn’t dream of Minami last night. Must have been because he made actual progress with the investigation. He decided to order some breakfast for Claire and some coffee for himself before he shuffled over to the bedroom door to wake Claire. Maybe she was feeling better now, maybe she was ready to talk.
Two minutes later he stormed out of his suite into the lounge and yelled at the first person he got hold of: Baba.
Baba looked up from the book he was reading and blinked a few times.
“Claire! Where is she?”
“Your lady friend wasn’t here in the last -“ he checked his watch, “- 2 hours. Call the front desk, maybe she got a cab or something like that.”
Mamoru snorted but grabbed the phone, only to learn that the receptionists couldn’t help him.
“In case of emergency people tend to call the cops,” Baba casually said and turned a page of his book.
“I AM the- oh, whatever .You’re enjoyin’ this, ain’t ya, Lupin?”
Baba only grinned but kept reading. Mamoru made another call.
“Nomura? Listen, shit’s hittin’ the- what? She’s where?! Dammit, why didn’t ya tell me earlier?! I’m on the way.”
All this adrenalin in the early morning wasn’t good for his mood. Well, mornings weren’t good for his mood, even if the morning was actually noon. Mamoru rushed to the PD, not entirely sure how he should feel about all this.
When he arrived he was told that Claire was still in the middle of her statement. Hanai and Tennoji were recording it and Mamoru was offered to wait in the room next door. He could see her through the fake mirror, sitting on a chair in only his shirt that looked like a mini dress on her.
“… and he usually hides the money and the drugs in an old underground bunker on his compound. I have no idea where exactly it is or how to open it, though. He has a few very loyal henchmen, Nanao is his right hand. The whole cover as a church – or better: cult – doesn’t only get the cops from his heels but also provides a steady stream of fresh followers. He brainwashes them more or less and afterwards… well, they steal for him, work the streets for him, sell his drugs. Take his drugs. He’s got them completely under control after some time.” She took a sip from her glass of water and closed her eyes. The hardest part seemed to be over. Mamoru’s heart clenched at her tired, pained expression. He never wanted her to feel like this, but sometimes sacrifices were necessary.
“What about you?” Hanai asked, his tone gentle and kind. Mamoru hated him.
“Me? Oh, I am – special. I’m not a follower, I’m not a henchman. I-“ Claire blinked, obviously fighting with her tears. “I’m the cook. I’m the maid. I’m a slave, a belonging. I exclusively belong to Shin.” She wiped her face and cleared her throat.
“Are we – are we done? I think I told you everything I know. Can I go now?” Her voice was feeble and pleading and Mamoru had to hold back not to storm into that room and get her out. She was safe here after all and he still had no idea how he should face her now. He had caused her a lot of pain.
“Sure. I have arranged everything else. You don’t have to worry anymore, we take care of the rest.”
Hanai reached over the table and touched her hand and Claire seemed relieved, flashed him a small smile. Inside of Mamoru something roared, an odd feeling, primal and raw. Jealousy. He was jealous of Hanai. This revelation sunk in only slowly but once it did it anchored itself deep into his heart. He almost missed how they all got up and started to leave the interrogation room.
“Kid!” He stumbled out of the room into the hallway, catching Claire just as she left the room. The confused expression on her face, mixed with a hint of fear, threw him off for a moment. He didn’t want her to think he was angry.
“Hey, I was lookin’ for ya in the suite. Got up early today, huh?” He smiled awkwardly. Claire’s gaze flitted between him and Hanai back and forth.
“It’s okay. Let him take you Nomura’s office, he will take care of the rest. Relax. You did good, Claire.” Hanai patted her back briefly and turned towards Mamoru.
“She called me and I brought her here. She was never in danger. Be nice to her.”
Mamoru just managed to hold back the harsh reply that sat on the tip of his tongue, but one glance at Claire and he only nodded.
“I will.” Taking advice from some rookie. He hated it.
Hanai and Tennoji left, Claire couldn’t d meet his gaze. Mamoru had no idea how to start but it turned out he didn’t have to. Claire spoke first.
“I’m sorry… for last night and this… I thought it was the best way to make sure we’re all safe.”
He stared at her, trying to figure out what she was saying.
“Sweetheart, I know it must have been scary for ya, but I swear, you’ve never been in danger. And nothin’ happened anyway. I bet he didn’t even recognize ya.”
“Was that why you put me in that dress and had my hair and makeup done? Some kind of disguise?”
She clenched her fists and took a deep breath.
“Yeah, kinda. Plus he didn’t react to ya, I’m sure we’re good. I just thought meetin’ him in person could trigger yer memories. And look what happened. Memory’s back.” He was almost smug, his plan had worked after all.
“Oh… you really did that on purpose. I wasn’t sure until now. Well, sorry to be the one to tell you that, but he DID recognize me. Hell, how could he now? Just because you changed my appearance a bit? Please.” She rolled her eyes, something he had never seen her do before.
“Shin isn’t an idiot. There’s no way he could mistake me for someone else. Hell, he literally told us that he knew!”
Mamoru tried to think back too Aida’s exact words. And paled.
“Yes. My name is Clairese Aida. I’m his cousin.”
Mamoru stared at her, unmoving. He couldn’t even think, the sudden revelation effectively shutting his brain down.
“I’m his cousin and I’m his belonging. You’ve seen his name on my body. He is completely crazy, ice cold, heartless, twisted. A psychotic, narcissist criminal. And thanks to you he now knows that I’m still alive. And he knows where I am. With you.”
She made a frustrated sound. “He’s going to get me, one way or another. So I made a deal. Nomura gets me in some witness-protection program and hopefully that will throw Shin off the loop for some time. At least long enough so you can bust his whole business. And afterwards… we’ll see.” The sad look on her face was like a punch to his stomach.
“Fuck, kid… I never… this ain’t what I had planned.”
Claire raised a hand and gently let her fingertips run down his cheek.
“I know.” She cleared her throat again, obviously swallowing down the urge to cry. “Anyway, you got your statement now. Drugs, prostitution, violence. Some murders…”
He looked at her. “He’s got some skeletons in his cupboard after all, huh?” It was meant as a joke, something to cheer her up, but she only turned her head a bit.
“No, not in the cupboard. But I’ve seen the bodies. Dug a grave or two even. Literally.” She took another deep breath but before she could ask him to take her to Nomura a voice boomed behind them.
“Kishi! Long time no see! Finally back at work again, huh?”
Mamoru turned around and a relived smile appeared on his face.
“Detective Kuroshima, good to see ya. ‘M a bit busy right now…”
“No, it’s fine.” Claire smiled at the other man.
“Huh? You got a girlfriend? And a pretty one to boot.” The detective searched her face and smiled.
“Uh, that’s not… anyway, we’re in the middle of somethin’…” Mamoru groaned when his phone rang. Soryu.
“Shitty timing,” he muttered and looked at Claire briefly.
“It’s okay, take it. I’m sure the detective can show me the way. Come and see me later, will you?” She encouraged him to step back into the room and take the call, not accepting his offers to simply cut it short. Mamoru could see his former boss guiding Claire down the hall. Well, he would catch up with them soon.
“Soryu? What’s wrong?”
I knew I was done for the moment Mamoru greeted that other cop, calling him ‘Kuroshima’. So it didn’t surprise me that I never made it to Nomura’s office. Instead I ended up in a car, Kuroshima behind the wheel.
“I don’t really want to do this, you know?” His voice cut through the silence.
“I know. It’s fine, uncle.” I didn’t even look at him, stared out of the window instead.
“You remember me?” He sounded surprised and I shook my head.
“Not really. My mother talked about you sometimes, the cop that had been married to her sister. Funny that I know, but Shin doesn’t, huh?” Not that it changed anything.
“I understand that you want to protect your son.” I didn’t want to hear him justifying his decision to take me back to Shin, it was my death sentence and nothing he said could make it okay.
“Have you ever heard about my mother? Anything in the last few years?” I tried to change the topic, not that I cared much about her. It’s been too long already. He hesitated.
“You – you wouldn’t like it…”
That was all I needed to know. I only nodded. If I hadn’t betrayed Shin I might have gotten away with getting shackled at both ankles. Last time I had escaped he had locked me up afterwards. This time he would simply kill me. No key witness, no trial. Simple as that. Of course I had already told the police details they could easily check, but now that I knew that Detective Kuroshima was working there, too, I was sure he would find some way make sure the police wouldn’t find anything against Shin.
Everything was lost now. And I simply stared out of the window.
I wasn’t sure how Kuroshima would deliver me to Shin, if he would simply drop me off somewhere, tied to a lamppost and sending an anonymous tip to Shin or maybe just openly calling him, offering me as some kind of olive branch? Would he tell Shin that he was his biological father? Would that even matter for me? Not really. Shin would still be mad at me and I had already seen him mad. It was nothing to look forward to.
Kuroshima chose another option. He took me to one of the places where very shady guys hang around. Somewhere they sold drugs. I was already shivering, afraid of what might happen to me, but he said I would be safe – for now – and that he would hand me over to someone who would make sure that I ended up with Shin. And then he was gone.
No one touched me. No one looked at me. But around one hour later a car stopped and Nanao opened the door, grabbed my arm rather roughly and showed me inside. Another 30 minutes later we arrived at the compound and honestly, I have never seen it before from this side. I usually was either inside or trying to escape through half forgotten paths. But the driveway? Never.
Shin waited for me in his office. My heart was racing now, my hands sweaty, my legs like jelly. I felt like fainting. I wanted to run but I knew there was no escape. Not this time. At least I had a few nice memories. I was curious to see how long they would last.
Nanao dragged me into the office, slammed the door shut behind me and shoved me towards the desk. I stumbled a bit but managed to stay on my feet. I didn’t want to kneel in front of Shin, I wanted to stand up to him – even though I had no means to actually defend myself.
I could see the rage in him, in his eyes, his stance, the way he clenched his fists. But it was still hidden, or better barely masked under his ‘Reverend Aida’ veneer. I was already trembling, I had seen and also felt what it was like when his rage was unleashed. I had the proofs of that all over my body.
“Clairese! So nice of you to come and visit me? Did you like the party?” He smiled at me but there was no love in that.
“It was – very lovely,” I answered, my voice trembling but still my own.
“Really? I thought it was a bit dull. And the people they invited – pffft. Like you. It’s a wonder that they even let you inside the way you looked.”
I knew this was only the preamble, verbal strikes at first. He would switch to actual attacks soon enough.
“Funny, I thought the same about you.”
The first slap was unexpected, I had thought I had more time to prepare but taunting him like that must have flipped a switch. He didn’t hit me with his palm, what would have been painful but tolerable; no, he used the back of his hand, his knuckles connecting with my cheekbone, making my head spin. I stumbled but caught myself.
“Don’t talk to me like that, you filthy little whore! You think you’re funny? Witty? You’re not. You’re nothing. Just an ugly, dumb piece of shit!” The next blow was almost predictable, his fist against my temple, sending me to the ground.
“Ungrateful bitch! I took you in, cared for you for YEARS, and how do you thank me my generosity? Fucking around with cops?!”
I only whimpered when he kicked me in the ribs, I could feel something crack and breathing got very painful very fast.
“Should have killed you myself last time! That’s what I get for delegating tasks like that.” He kept kicking me over and over. I was already curled into a little ball, trying to give him as little contact surface as possible. Not that it would really help me. If he wanted he could break every bone in my body, cut open every inch of my skin. But for now I could try and maybe prevent him from beating me to death right there and then. He knelt next to me, grabbed my hair and yanked my head up.
“I have always protected you, no one was allowed to lay a finger on you. Maybe I should change that now. Maybe I should let every single man in my organization come and play with you – however they like.”
He spat into my face and let me head drop back on the floor again. He was right, no one had ever touched me without his permission and only to fetch me or take me away somewhere. One guy once tried it, hugged me, wanted to kiss me. Shin broke every finger of both his hands and the wrists. And he did it himself. With a hammer.
I’ve always wondered why it was like that, why he didn’t sell me off like he did with so many other girls. I had figured it must have been because I was so ugly, at least that was what he always told me. But I guess there was another reason: I was his after all. I was his belonging, wore his name on my body. He was the only one who could touch me, even if it was only to beat the living hell out of me.
I could hear him walk around his desk and open a drawer. I didn’t even need to look to know that he was getting his gun. This was it. I would die now. I closed my eyes and tried not to panic. Of course I failed. How should I stay calm in a situation like this? But I focused on something else, on the memory of this TV show Mamoru let me watch. Hanai while he talked about music. The taste of ice cream. I really liked ice cream. The sun that shone on me when I lay on the couch in the afternoon. Cooking with Mamoru. Cuddling with Mamoru. Mamoru. I cried, hot and bitter tears for this life I got a taste of but still couldn’t have. For the hope it gave me just to take it away again. For the girl I once was, young and untainted, free and happy.
I heard Nanao shuffle around and Shin coming closer again.
“Clairese, my dove, I think it was wrong to keep you encaged for so long. Maybe it’s time to let you free. Well, not you of course, but your soul.”
I heard a click and froze. Mamoru eating what I had cooked. Mamoru smoking by the window. Mamoru sleeping on the couch. Mamoru when I left him in the suite, after I kissed him. Mamoru.
The ringing of a phone saved me – for now.
“What?!” Shin was furious, yelled at Nanao but grabbed his phone and took the call.
“Yes?! What? Since when?… How many?… Fuck!” He threw his phone against the wall, it shattered into a thousand little pieces.
“Bring her to the cell! Make sure no one gets to her, understood?” Shin was already on his way out when Nanao grabbed my arm again and yanked me up, ignoring my cry of pain.
“Your own fault for pissing him off,” he pressed out between gritted teeth and dragged me away.
Mamoru ended the call with Soryu and sighed. Just now that things were good on his end Soryu had to come and give him more trouble. Whatever.
He made his way over to Nomura’s office and knocked, only to get greeted with an confused look from the Deputy Chief.
“Where’s Clair? Wasn’t she with you?”
Mamoru’s blood turned to ice. His stomach sank. No. NO!
“Didn’t Kuroshima bring her here?” He was panicking and he knew it, but goddammit! Kuroshima of all people?!
“No. You think…?” Nomura’s eyes widened.
“Yeah. Guess he’s corrupt after all. Probably sold her to Aida… fuck!” Mamoru ran his hands through his hair. “Gimme as many as you can get!”
Nomura stared at him. He knew what Mamoru wanted. Backup. A task force. But Nomura couldn’t give him that, even he was bound to some rules.
“Even if I called for an emergency mission it would take at least 6 hours before everything is ready. And we don’t even know for sure where she is, if Kuroshima really took her to Aida. We can issue a manhunt immediately, but that’s all we can do now. When did you last see her?”
Mamoru swore and kicked the wall. “FUCK! Dunno, maybe 20 minutes ago… enough time for him to drag her across half the city already!”
“Kishi, calm down! We don’t know that yet! We’re going to search for her and we will find her-“
“What if it’s too late then?! What if he killed her already?!” What good was it being a cop and not being able to help? This was a fucking emergency!
Nomura pursed his lips and stared for a moment. “All I can give you is 2nd unit. And only if they swear secrecy. Go, check out his headquarter. If you find her, call me and I send you backup. As many as I can get.”
Mamoru exhaled. “Better than nothin’. Call them, I’ll arrange for something else. Tell them to meet me in 5 at the entrance.”
He grabbed his phone and ran through the hallways. Once in the staircase he called Soryu.
“Kishi, didn’t we just talk? What do you want now? Didn’t you understand what I told you earlier?”
“Shut up and listen. This is an emergency. How many of your men can you gather right now?” Mamoru was desperate. He knew he had to get her back, alive and well, or he would never be able to survive this loss. He just knew it.
“Is that how you ask for a favor?” He could practically hear Soryu’s frown.
“C’mon, Oh, I don’t have time for that! How many?”
“30. 40 maybe, depends on what it’s about.”
“Stormin’ Aida’s headquarter.”
There was silence for a moment. “What’s in there for me?”
Mamoru growled in frustration. Stupid bastard, always trying to get out of everything on top!
“Aida holds around 30% of all drug deals in the city. You could get rid of an influential opponent.”
Soryu immediately answered. “Not good enough. It’s about your woman, right? So that’s in for you, I get it. But I need more.”
Mamoru was ready to punch the wall, pretending it was Soryu’s face. “He’s making kids work the streets. Girls. Boys. Teenager mostly.”
Mamoru could hear Soryu breathing and really hoped this would be enough to call on Soryu’s strange sense of honor.
“40 men, in one hour. I send you the address. Be on time.” With that Soryu ended the call and Mamoru rushed towards the entrance area of the PD.
I woke up in a familiar room. Cell, actually. Lying on the ground, my face already swollen, my breathing ragged. Everything hurt. I crawled over to the wall, trying to get up but only managed to plop down painfully when I had almost made it. I winced at the pain that shot through my body. I just wanted to die. Shin got more and more violent with every time he beat me up. I remembered the first time he had hit me. I was 14, I think, and he just slapped me out of the blue. I had no idea what was happening. He had never been very kind to me, but that had been new. He had started to work for his father at that time, or better the man he considered his father. The Yakuza member.
How did I end up with Shin? Why had my mom left me with him? I knew she had had some issues. Drugs mostly. And the strange men, a new man almost each month. Some were nice, but most of them weren’t. Made her cry a lot. Made me cry. And then she took me to Shin and simply left me there. Didn’t she know that this wouldn’t end well for me? Didn’t she care at all?
That was all in the past now. No use in dwelling on that. She was probably dead by now I would join her soon. Maybe there was an afterlife, and maybe it wouldn’t suck as much as the actual life. I shifted and winced again. Another broken rib. Hadn’t it just healed? I pressed my hand on my ribcage but it didn’t ease the pain. If there was an afterlife I just hoped to meet Mamoru again. And apologize for kissing him without permission. He probably wouldn’t even miss me. Another burden gone. Nothing to be sad about.
I lost track about the time. Waiting for my own death was nerve-wrecking and exhausting. I managed to fall asleep despite the pain that was still surging through my body every time I moved.
Mamoru knew he needed to come up with a plan and he needed to do so fast. He couldn’t risk letting 2nd unit and Soryu’s mob meet each other, so he needed to get rid of the detectives but still make good use of them.
When they arrived Mamoru immediately beckoned Kirisawa over.
“Did Nomura fill you in?”
“Briefly, but we get the gist of it.” Kirisawa lit a cigarette and offered Mamoru one who took and lit it, inhaled the smoke deeply before he spoke again.
“I’m goin’ into their headquarters and bail her out. I need ya to set up a distraction.”
Kirisawa looked at him intently.
“What kind of distraction?”
Another drag, another pause.
“Ya go and bust one of his drug dealer joints. Should shake him up enough to buy me some time.”
Kirisawa nodded. “Who of us?”
“All of ya.” Mamoru flicked the cigarette away, looking determined.
“No. You can’t do that. I can’t let you go alone.” It was Hanai who spoke up, drawing all eyes on him. “If you fail Claire will be stuck there. I can’t let that happen. I will come with you.”
“No, ya won’t! I can manage on my own, I’m not some damned rookie!” Mamoru had a plan and he wouldn’t let some green boy get in the way now. The time was running after all.
“I’m with Hanai. You need some backup. At least one other detective.” Kirisawa didn’t left room for an argument.
“Hanai, you go with him. Keep a low profile and call if anything goes wrong. The rest comes with me. Let’s go and arrest some drug dealers.”
Mamoru was baffled. Kirisawa had something about him that made it hard to argue. Some natural leadership skills.
“Fine. Rookie, ya can come.” He briskly turned around and walked over to his car. Once Hanai was inside he faced him again.
“Listen, I’m gonna do somethin’ that better stays between you ‘n me. No report, ya hear me? I don’t like it either but if it helps me getting’ her outta there I’ll go with it.”
“Should I know something about this?” Hanai didn’t even bat an eyelash.
“The less ya know the better. Just don’t look into any faces and don’t pay attention to any names. This doesn’t happen at all, ‘kay?”
“And we can get Claire out of there with your plan?”
Mamoru grabbed the wheel tightly. “I really hope so.”
I woke up from a very unpleasant dream, eyes flying open, breath hitching in my throat, heart hammering away. It took me some moments to understand where I was and why I was here. No one was in sight, I was completely alone in a dark, humid, smelly and most of all cold cell. I had troubles getting up and noticed my right eye was swollen shut, my ribs were hurting like crazy and I could hardly move my left arm. But somehow I managed to stand after several tries and hobbled over to the bars of my cell.
I was hungry and thirsty, had no idea what time it was and the pain I was in was excruciating. But I was still alive. I heard footsteps and froze. Whoever that was, it couldn’t be good. Probably Shin finishing what he had started earlier. I only hoped he would make it quick and spare me another beating. I wouldn’t be able to take much more anyway.
It was Nanao who appeared in front of the bars, studied me intently.
“I see you’re up. Good. Saves me the time to wake you.”
I stared at him, waiting until he told me what would be next. Waiting was nerve-wrecking. My legs were trembling already and I just felt weak and awful. I didn’t want to show weakness, though.
“Reverend Aida has to take care of something, but he will come back for you, don’t worry.” Nanao paced in front of the cell and that made me nervous, I had to keep moving my eyes and head to follow his movements and it made me dizzy.
“You know, I never understood why he kept you around. Just because you’re related?”
I kept standing still, I didn’t know the answer either. I often racked my brain about this. Why did Shin keep me alive? Keep me around? Just so I could cook and clean for him? A cheap slave? Someone he could beat up if he felt like it? Certainly not because he liked me so much. Who would treat anyone they like this way?
“I always thought he would be fucking you. That maybe you did all the kinky stuff he wants.” Nanao kept talking although I didn’t want to listen. I didn’t want to see him. All I wanted was this to be over soon. But for now I stayed silent. There was nothing for me to say anyway.
“But now you really screwed up and he will kill you, and I was thinking: Maybe I can get a taste of you now, too.” He grabbed the bars and leaned close.
“Would you like that? Me fucking you like the dirty whore you are?”
I knew it was a stupid idea, I knew I would only get more trouble, but when I saw how his face hovered between the bars I took a deep breath and slammed my head forwards, hitting his nose with my forehead, making him scream in pain while my own vision went blank. I crumbled to the ground but had the momentarily satisfaction of breaking his nose. Blood gushed out of his nose, he cursed me loudly but the daze in my head muffled everything. Still, I felt how he grabbed me through the bars and shook me, hard, banged me against the bars over and over. I could barely stay conscious, it was all getting too much for me. He released me eventually, spat at me like Shin had done earlier. I could hardly move anymore, felt like throwing up and choking at the same time. What had I done to deserve this?
I expected him to open the cell and drag me out by my hair but he didn’t. He didn’t do anything. Instead I heard footsteps hurrying closer. I still felt numb, unable to even lift my head and look my future in the eyes. I didn’t even try.
If I had the next events wouldn’t have surprised me that much. I heard Nanao grunt and thought it was still because of his nose – inwardly I chuckled at this thought – but then there was another voice. It wasn’t Shin and it wasn’t Nanao’s.
“Claire? Claire, don’t worry. I get you out of there.”
For a delirious moment I thought it was Mamoru, hoped it was Mamoru. But it wasn’t.
“It’s me, Hanai. Hang on, I’ll open the door now. Get to the side of the cell, can you?”
I dragged myself into a corner and heard a shot before the door swung open and Hanai rushed inside.
“I’m so glad I found you, so glad…” he mumbled and scooped me up into his arms. It was too much, the exhaustion, the fear and confusion and now the relief – I passed out before he had even lifted me from the ground.
The beeping of the machines was steady and annoying – again. But this time Hanai wasn’t reading reports. He stared at Claire who was sleeping in the hospital bed. Like the first time he had seen her. Only this time he knew her name. And he wasn’t alone at her side. Mamoru sat at her other side, his head buried in his hand. He looked tired but that was no surprise. Hanai was tired, too, but both men refused to go home. To leave her.
He thought back to the rescue mission, how they met with those men Hanai shouldn’t think or talk about, how they stormed the compound, invaded the main building and found Shin Aida in his office, shouting into his phone. The men had effectively taken down every single henchmen of Aida on the way inside – they were obviously trained in this. Hanai didn’t even want to ask.
He remembered rushing in and following Kishi’s orders.
“Find her! I’ll take care of Aida!”
Hanai had wanted to remind him not to do anything hasty, they needed Aida alive. But there was no use in that – he would do what he wanted anyway. Of course it would be easier for Hanai to keep things out of the report as long as Aida survived this raid. But finding Claire was their top priority now so Hanai didn’t hesitate but stormed off, his gun in hands.
He was glad that he didn’t have to shot someone. One hard blow with the handle of his gun against the head of that man in front of the cell – Aida’s second in command how Hanai found out later – and the way to Claire was free. He shot the lock open, no time to search for the key, and was with her the second after.
Mamoru had kept Aida occupied but when Hanai came back with Claire in his arms Kishi had made a rookie mistake and took his attention from Aida for a moment. Although that leader of their backup – Hanai was long enough a detective to recognize him as Soryu Oh, leader of a mob group – was there, too, Aida had managed to grab a hidden gun and point it at Kishi. The surprised detective had been keeping his cool until Aida repositioned and now threatened Claire and Hanai. A short glance between Hanai and Kishi and everything happened really fast. Hanai swirled around, shielding Claire with his body wile Kishi lunged at Aida.
Hanai heard a shot, then another. Only when Kishi called for him Hanai turned back around, the unconscious Claire still tightly pressed against his chest. He saw Kishi, heaving a breath, even more disheveled than usual, but definitely alive. He held his arm but more importantly was the fact that Aida lay on the floor, bleeding.
This was the moment Hanai called for backup and some paramedics, telling Oh to leave now.
“Next time I’ll see you I won’t show any mercy because if this here,” Hanai had said and Oh had only nodded.
“Wouldn’t expect you to.”
It was a huge pain to get this sorted out and come up with a halfway believable explanation, but at least they managed to get Claire into hospital.
“I would take her from ya but I think I have dislocated my shoulder,” Kishi had said while they waited for the backup to arrive.
Hanai had wanted to give him a snarky remark but then he remembered whose name Claire had called before passing out.
“Then I will keep her for now.”
They shared a glance and with that everything was said.
And now they were sitting here, Kishi patched up but refusing to rest, Hanai knowing that once she was awake he wouldn’t get another chance to be close to her again.
Breathing hurt. Everything hurt. But hurting was good, right? Pain meant I was still alive. I struggled to open my eyes, fought for every little millimeter. Finally I managed to blink once, twice. The lights were low but the beeping was loud. I was in hospital. Again. I let my eyes wander but couldn’t see much. So I made an effort and turned my head. And smiled.
“Hey.” It was Hanai. Like the first time I woke up in a hospital bed the first person I saw was Hanai.
“We have to stop meeting like this,” I whispered, my voice hoarse and hurting my throat. He smiled back at me.
“Yes, we have. Do you want something to drink?”
I nodded weakly and he got up to fetch a glass. I closed my eyes again.
“Hey kid, won’t ya say ‘hello’ to me, too?”
That voice. Instantly I opened my eyes again and jerked my head into the direction of that voice.
He smiled at me, reached one hand out to touch my face.
“Shhh, kid. Don’t cry. It’s over now. Everythin’s fine.”
“You – you are hurt…” I was shocked to see this, the sling around his arm. What had happened?
“Nah, just a scratch. Don’t ya worry ‘bout that.”
A glass of water with a straw appeared in front of me. Hanai gave me an encouraging nod and I took a sip. It was cool and good and soothing my throat.
I noticed the gaze between Hanai and Mamoru but I didn’t know what it should mean.
“I better go now. You still need to rest. I’ll come and visit you again.” Hanai put the glass away and stared at me for a moment. “I’m glad you’re back with us.”
“Me, too. Thanks for getting me back.”
He nodded once and left the room. I felt incredibly sad. But then Mamoru took my hand my heart soared.
“What – what happened to Shin?” I knew I shouldn’t ask, but he was the only family I had after all.
“He’s – geez, listen kid. He tried to shoot you and I had to prevent that. He’s… he’s badly injured but still alive. We arrested his henchmen and have enough against him to send him to prison for the rest of his damned life. But he will never be able to use his right arm again. I made sure of that.”
A very dark joy flashed over his face and for a moment I was speechless. But then I squeezed his hand.
“Okay. I understand. But he’s alive, yes? I – I still have some questions… for him…”
Mamoru only nodded. “I see. Well, for now you hafta get better .Ya don’t wanna stay in hospital forever, do ya?”
I gently shook my head. “No, I don’t want that.” I couldn’t help but fear the answer to my next question so I struggled to get it out.
“What – what happens then? What should I do once they release me from here?”
He smiled at me and I just wanted to cry.
“Then I will take ya home with me.” He gave me a sheepish grin. “If ya wanna, that is.”
I wanted. Oh, how I wanted. Preferably right now. But I knew I would have to wait, the fact that I could only see with one eye reminded me of that.
“Oh, yeah, forgot to ask ya somethin’. Say, now that ya know who ya are… how old are ya?”
I blinked. “What month do we have?”
“September.” He stared at me, half afraid and half hopeful.
“Then I’m 22.”
I could hear him mutter a quick “thank god” before he suddenly leaned closer and kissed me.
Three weeks later Mamoru could finally take me back home. He had gotten rid of his sling a week before and at least my face was healed completely. My ribs were still a bit sore and I had some bruises that only slowly faded. But all in all I felt good.
Police had been there to record my statement about my disappearance from the PD and the role Detective Kuroshima had played in it. Mamoru had been there when he got arrested. Finally he had found out what had happened to his partner all these years ago. I didn’t feel any pity for Kuroshima. He might have been my uncle but I had no ties to him. But Shin… I still felt conflicted when I thought of him. One of these days I would get a chance to talk to him. Really talk to him, not simply to listen to his ramblings, too afraid of what he might do to me to ask him anything.
But for now I could finally leave the hospital and Mamoru was just as excited as I was. I knew our situation was unusual, people didn’t meet like this. The psychologist that visited me in hospital had told me that my feelings for Mamoru were most likely just temporary, born from the confusion and my lacking experience with interpersonal relationships. I had looked her directly in the eye and explained her that I had never been in love with Shin or Nanao, that I didn’t suffer from Stockholm syndrome or projected feelings or anything like that. Yes, he was the first man I ever felt that strongly for, but I had spent a lot of time with him, talked a lot with him. I knew him and he knew me better than anyone else. Even when I still had no idea who I actually was.
“So please stop trying to talk me out of this. I need help to cope with my nightmares, not with the only good thing that came from all of this.”
She had nodded slowly and changed the topic.
I knew that Mamoru wasn’t completely comfortable with the situation, either. He gave me every chance to change my mind, always made sure I still wanted to be with him. But with every gentle kiss, every light touch I gained more and more certainty. I loved him and I wanted to be with him. I wanted to go home with him, make his place to ‘our’ place. I knew I didn’t have much to offer and I even told him that, but he had only shaken his head and kissed me.
“You’ve given me more than ya can even imagine.” His gaze was warm and lovingly. “Most of all peace.”
Back home another surprise awaited me. It was actually clean. Well, clean-ish, but still. No beer bottles on the floor, no overflowing ashtrays. There was food in the fridge instead of only beer and ice cream in the freezer. It felt strange coming back here, familiar and new at the same time. Especially when Mamoru pulled me into the first real embrace we ever shared in private. My heart raced and my legs trembled. I’ve read enough romance novels to know what would happen next. There hadn’t been much choice in reading material when I was with Shin, but the books I could get I read over and over.
“Relax, sweetheart. I thought we could get somethin’ nice for dinner. What would ya like to?”
I smiled at him. “Soba sounds good to me.”
He raised an eyebrow and laughed. “Soba, huh? I knew ya would get a taste for it.”
When we sat at the table, each with a bowl of soba, I felt the need to confess something.
“What’s up, sweetheart? Soba too hot?”
“Mamoru, do you remember our first kiss in the hospital?”
“Uh-huh.” He slurped some soba and nodded.
“Well, that wasn’t really our first kiss.” I wasn’t sure how he would take this but the look he shot me was full of surprise and a hint of uneasiness.
“Okay…” He put his chopsticks down and seemed to brace for what I had to tell him. Oh god, this made me incredible nervous!
“You see, after that party, where we met Shin… you were asleep on the couch when I sneaked out…” I fidgeted and stammered, but finally blurted out: “I’m sorry, but I kissed you while you were sleeping.”
He sighed and ran a hand through his hair before he grinned at me.
“Ya did, huh?”
I nodded. “I know I shouldn’t have, not without your permission. I’m sorry.”
“Nah, don’t be. Lemme tell you a secret now.”
I looked up at him, relieved that he wasn’t mad at me.
“Truth is, I kissed ya way before that night.”
I blinked. What did he say? When? Why hadn’t he told me?
“One night when ya fell asleep watchin’ TV on the couch. I carried ya over to the bed and – uh – well, ya snuggled close to me and I just – went for it.” Now he seemed a bit shy, a slight blush on his cheeks.
“Oh…” I couldn’t say anything else, couldn’t think of anything else. I remembered that night. I don’t remember him carrying me or even kissing me, but I remember that I fell asleep, cuddled close to him, feeling safe like never before. I smiled.
“So, we’re even, huh?”
Mamoru picked up his chopsticks again and grinned. “Yeah, seems like it.”
After dinner we decided to watch a movie but I had a hard time focusing. This was the first time we were cuddling on the couch since we were actually dating. I was nervous and tense and exhausted, couldn’t find a good position at all. I shifted for the umpteenth time again, this time I lifted my head from his chest and sat up again, prompting him to do the same. Mamoru put an arm around me and pulled me close against his side. I could only stay like this for five minutes before I shifted again.
“Dammit, kid! Can’t ya just sit still for moment! What’s wrong with ya?!”
He grumbled and I blushed. I couldn’t tell him I was too nervous being close to him like this. After everything that had happened I now was scared. Back with Shin I wasn’t even scared anymore, just waited for the inevitable to happen. But now? I was nervous. Scared. And excited. What would he do? How would it feel? What should I do?
Turned out he didn’t try anything. Eventually the movie was over and I trudged into the bathroom to get ready for bed. There was a new toothbrush for me and some beauty products. Tampons in the bathroom cabinet. I realized that there was nothing for me to fear. This man wanted me here, not as some toy, but actually me. With a smile I brushed my teeth and washed my face.
When I came into the bedroom there was a new pajama for me. So far I had slept in an old t-shirt of Mamoru. Now I had my own pjs. I wanted to cry. Even more so when I noticed that Mamoru was still in the living room. On the couch. With a blanket.
I was a bit confused but went over to say good night. A soft kiss later I was in the bed, tossing and turning for over an hour before I gave up. Barefooted I padded into the living room and watched Mamoru sleep. At least that was the plan but he wasn’t sleeping when I arrived there.
“What’s up, kid? Had a nightmare?” I couldn’t really see him in the darkness but his voice was kind.
“No, just – feeling lonely.”
I didn’t know what to say but he understood immediately, lifted the blanket so I could snuggle close to him. He was so warm and firm, his arms wrapped around me, my head rested against his chest. I could hear his heart beat and it almost lulled me sleep. I sighed in contentment and shifted a bit, but froze when I felt something – uhm… SOMETHING pressing against me. I wasn’t stupid, I knew what it was. My nerves were back in full force.
But again nothing else happened. Mamoru just lightly ran a hand up and down my back, and if it wasn’t for that I would have thought he was asleep.
“Still can’t sleep, sweetheart? Should I sing ya a lullaby?”
I smiled against his chest but shook my head. That wasn’t what I wanted. To be honest, I wasn’t even sure what I wanted, but I knew that something was still missing and I wanted to find out what that was.
He looked down at me and I was looking up at him. It was still dark, my eyes had got used to it so I could see the silhouette of his face. Without thinking I kissed him, just like I had kissed him back then. Soft and careful. Afraid to break this moment if I was too greedy, too forceful. I pulled back again and heard him chuckle.
“Another good night kiss, huh? Could have just asked, I would have given ya one.” His hand still stroked my back, it was comforting and irritating at the same time.
“Mamoru?” I only noticed that I had whispered his name when he hummed as answer. I blinked and gathered my courage, my heard pounding furiously in my chest.
“Mamoru, don’t – don’t you want me?” Men wanted women, I knew that much. I knew for what they wanted them. I knew about the mechanics and all, but I really felt like a kid now that I had asked him this. A ridiculous question. Why should he want me? Me of all people? I was damaged, I was ugly. I wasn’t worth it. Nothing of this.
He sighed. And shifted some more.
“God…” he groaned. I had annoyed him with my stupid question and I just wanted to flee his embrace when he pulled me even closer.
“’Course I want ya. But I can’t rush things, ya know? Wanna give you time and all…”
I felt tears prickling in my eyes and quickly closed them.
“That kiss, ya know, the one ya told me about, back in the suite – that was your first one, right?”
I nodded, eyes still closed.
“So I guess ya haven’t done anythin’ else yet either, am I right?”
This was so embarrassing. Of course I hadn’t. I nodded again.
“See? So I figured I better give ya some time ‘n space to find out what ya want. Be a damned gentleman for once in my life.” His hand stopped in the small of my back, pressed me closer against him, making him groan and me blush.
“Yer not makin’ this easy for me here, sweetheart. I’m not the waitin’ kind…”
I noticed what he meant.
“W-well, it’s pretty hard for me, too.” I whispered, afraid to use my voice, afraid to make him laugh at me.
“Ugh… not as hard as for me, sweetheart.”
Yes, it seemed pretty hard for him. I swallowed. My throat was tight and dry.
“Then stop waiting.”
We froze for a moment before he sighed and ran a hand though his hair. A useless gesture since he was lying and the hair only fell back into its former place.
“You sure? Like, really sure?”
I closed my eyes again and breathed evenly. Pushed a hand between our bodies and put it on his boxers , directly on his hard cock. Even I could feel the trembling of my hand, there was no way he wouldn’t notice.
“I – I am… but… I need you – to guide me… please…” My whole body was in panic, the butterflies in my belly like planes. I was shy and bold at the same time, wanting and hesitating.
“Kid…” He breathed the word before he added in harsher tone: “Get up.”
I had done something wrong. I must have done something wrong and now he didn’t even want me near him anymore. Oh god, I screwed up somewhere and I didn’t even have a clue where!
“C’mon, I won’t pop yer cherry on the couch.”
I didn’t even understand what he meant but I let him lead me to the bedroom, a trembling mess, so close to crying again. God, he must have really been annoyed by now. We stopped in front of the bed and he turned me so I faced him.
“Sweetheart. Look at me.” His hands caressed my cheeks and I opened my eyes, tears still clinging to my lashes. He smiled at me and leaned in, kissed me softly, just brushing his lips against mine.
“It’s okay… I’ll take care of ya.” Mamoru nudged my cheek with his nose, his lips following the trails o my tears up to my eyes.
“Just tell me if ya change yer mind, okay?”
I nodded weakly. I was so confused, so afraid, so in love with him. I just didn’t want to disappoint him. Mamoru took his time to kiss me, my lip, my eyes, my cheeks, my nose. Light kisses and gentle touches until I had calmed down a bit.
“I wanna see ya, but if ya prefer the dark, that’s fine with me, too.”
I thought of all the scars and bruises on my body and was grateful that he gave me this choice.
“Darkness is better.”
He hummed against my lips to tell me understood and slowly started to take off my pajama top. Every brush of his fingertips against my naked skin made me shiver and jump, it was nerve-wrecking and exhilarating. My tank top followed suit and was covered in goose bumps when he was done. Mamoru trailed his fingertips up my arms to my shoulders and pulled me close, against his naked chest. I was shivering. This all felt so unreal, like some dream. How could he want me, love me after all I had been through? Wasn’t I broken, damaged? But he made me feel whole. He made me feel cherished and perfect.
“Still good, sweetheart?” His lips travelled down my neck and I moaned lowly. Better than good. This was thrilling, every nerve ending in my body tingled with anticipation, with the promise of something completely new. Something I yearned for.
His hands found the waistband of my pajama pants and he slowly slid them under the fabric to touch my bare skin. Some moments later the pants slid down my legs and pooled around my ankles.
My clumsy hands tried to mimic him, curled into the fabric of his boxers but he put his hand on top of mine and stopped me.
“One step at a time, sweetheart. Ya go first, everythin’ else can wait for now.”
He helped me onto the bed and lay down next to me, kissing and touching me. At first only my face, my neck and my shoulders, but then his hands started to roam my body while he kept kissing my lips, over and over. We had kissed before, even with tongue, but this was a whole new level. As he wanted to devour me. As if I wanted that, too.
The moment he first touched my scars had me flinch. It didn’t hurt, they were old after all, but I still felt ashamed, didn’t want him to see or feel my flaws. He paused for a moment and I took a deep breath.
“Sweetheart, it’s okay. Don’t worry, I don’t care ‘bout yer scars.”
“I know, it’s just – they are so ugly and they make me ugly, too.” I was at the verge of tears again.
“Ya know what I see when I see you? A fighter. My lil’ fighter. And those scars? Are proof of that. Ya survived some mean shit and ya should be proud of that. Ya ain’t ugly, sweetheart, you’re strong and pretty and amazin’.”
With that he slid down my body and started tracing every scar he found with his fingertips, lips and tongue. My stomach, my arms, my legs, my back. It drove me crazy. I shivered and squirmed, shifted under his touch and giggled when he tickled me, gasped when he grazed my skin with his teeth. So many sensations, everything was new and exciting. When he finally came up again to kiss me I wrapped my arms around him and held him close. There were no words to tell him how I felt, so I simply squeezed him as much as I could.
“I – I love you…” It was the first time I said it, the first time I really felt it.
“Me, too, sweetheart.” His voice was low and I could hear the smile more than I could actually see it, but it made my heart race even more. I kissed him. Long and passionate. He shifted, lying half on top and half next to me. His hand wandered from cupping my cheek down, skimming my breast and making me gasp when he brushed the nipple.
“Tell me if I have to stop, okay?”
I nodded, but honestly I didn’t think I would ever stop him. He kissed my neck and collarbone, mumbling something about “freakin’ Luke was right” and then his tongue suddenly circled my nipple, making me moan and gasp at the strange sensation. While I was still getting used to it his hand slid even lower until he simply rested it lightly on my pubic area. Not moving it yet, just letting me feel the warmth and the weight of it. Giving me time to stop him. As if I would do that. Instead I started rolling my hips a bit, only rocking ever so slightly against his hands, indicating that he could go on.
Although my heart was beating almost painfully fast I was too curious to stop. I wanted to know. I wanted to feel. I wanted him to show me.
I could feel his gaze on me, gauging, checking, while he started to move his fingers against my skin, light touches before he finally put pressure into it, swiped two fingers through my folds. Only now I realized how wet I was and I was a bit embarrassed. Was that normal? Too much? Not enough?
Mamoru groaned lowly so I figured it was okay. And then he touched a spot that made me gaps, as if he had touched a live wire. He kissed me and did that again and again, circled it until I felt dizzy.
“Ever touched yourself?”
His breathy question made me whine in response while I shook my head. Why should I have? I never thought my body could bring me anything else than pain. How should I have known I could feel something like this?
“Really? Never?” The movement of his fingers sped up, some strange pressure built up in my lower belly and I shifted my hips impatiently.
“No, never…” I was whispering so low that I wasn’t even sure if he had heard me. But he had.
“So this is all new, huh?” He nuzzled my neck and I could only whimper. So new. With every touch I felt the pressure grow, my restlessness increased every second.
“M-Mamoru… I… there’s something… wrong… I think…” Was this normal? The heat, the pressure? The fact that my hips were rocking against him on their own will?
“Nothin’ wrong… just take a deep breath and let go.” He nipped at the skin of my neck, kissed my throat and growled into my ear.
And I took a deep breath. There was pressure and warmth, my muscles were tensing, my breath hitched in my throat and suddenly I felt like breathing in liquid fire, as if it rolled through me like a wave, from head to toe, just to pool in my lower belly and explode there.
I knew I screamed something but I wasn’t sure what it was or if it only was in my head. I clung to Mamoru, my nails digging into his skin, my eyes closed. He held me tight with one arm while his other hand was still between my legs. Trapped. Because I had pressed my thighs together, was now rocking against his fingers because every movement sent ripples of this sensation through me, like sparks flying away from the fire.
I sobbed and Mamoru made soothing sounds, kissed my temple and my cheek, held me until I gave his hand free again and curled up a bit against his chest.
“Was that okay?” He kissed me again but I was still too breathless and too blissed out to answer, but I snuggled closer, more kisses, more touches, more intimacy. I needed him closer. This time he didn’t stop me when I started tugging down his boxers. I was glad that it was still dark in the bedroom, that I couldn’t really see him and he couldn’t see my blush. When I tentatively wrapped my hand around his hard cock he hissed and I pulled my hand away immediately. Had I done that wrong?
“It’s fine, sweetheart, don’t worry. Do that again.” He encouraged me, not being pushy, just prompting another try. This time he didn’t hiss but moaned, much to my delight. He put his own hand on top of mine, showing me how much pressure I could add and how I should move my hand. He felt strange, a bit wet at the tip, but almost silky. I liked it very much. And he seemed to like it, too, so I was a bit confused when he stopped me again.
“Gimme a second… I need a break…” He panted and I waited patiently.
“You wanna – uhm, end it this way? Or do you wanna… ya know, go all the way?”
I was puzzled. Where should I go at this time? Didn’t he want me to stay here?
“We can stop now or we could go further. Actually have sex.”
“Oh…” I blinked a few times. I knew that what we had done so far wasn’t actual sex. But I hadn’t even considered stopping.
“I… I want… I want to go on.” I bit my lip after muttering this and to my surprise he nodded and got up. Where was he going? Would he go all the way now? But he only stumbled over to his drawers, rummaged in them in the darkness, cursing because of the lack of sight. When he came back he had something in his hand, it sounded like foil. He ripped something open, cursed some more under his breath and came back into bed.
This time he lay down on top of me, spreading my thighs open to settle between them.
More kisses, this time with growing urgency. He slowly slid a finger into me, moved it a bit before he added another. It wasn’t unpleasant, but I wasn’t sure what exactly he was doing. When he seemed satisfied with this he shifted a bit, positioned himself so I could feel his cock nudging me.
“If it hurts ya too much, tell me, okay?”
He kissed me once more and moved, pushed into me. The pressure was overwhelming. Unpleasant but bearable. I hissed a bit, as if there wasn’t enough space in my body for both my breath and him.
“Should I stop?” I heard the concern in his voice, it made me smile.
“N-no… it’s okay…”
I was used to pain, I was used to discomfort. What I wasn’t used to was feeling connected like I did now. Connected to another person. We shared our breath, shared my body right now. It was indescribable. I couldn’t hold back the tears, not because it hurt, but because I felt as if it was healing me. From the loneliness I had felt for so long.
Mamoru finally paused, kissed me gently and dropped his head on my shoulder.
“’m gonna move now.” And he did. Slowly at first, one roll of his hips after the other. I could feel him push and pull in and out of me, could feel the drag of him inside of me. I had my arms wrapped around him tightly, one leg over his waist. As close as I could get.
He groaned and grunted, I moaned and sobbed. It was messy, sweaty, my tears, the wetness between my thighs, the sounds, the kisses, the touches – it was a blur and all I could do was clinging to him like I was drowning and he was my lifesaver. And he was.
At some point Mamoru grabbed my hand and laced our fingers together. The other hand grabbed my thigh and I tilted my hips, took him in deeper that way. He was breathing heavily, moved faster. My head spun, my body ached, my muscles screamed at me, the unfamiliar strain too much after I had only recovered from Shin’s attack.
I loved every second of this feeling. Every thrust made me moan now, only a dull soreness left from the earlier pain. But this closeness, this feeling of being part of something as wonderful as this was better than anything else, made me forget the discomfort completely.
Mamoru lost his rhythm, the thrusts now sloppy and erratic. I was wondering what was wrong but then he buried his face in the crook of my neck, growled loudly and squeezed my hand hard. I blinked a few times, he kept grinding against me before he tensed and then relaxed again. And stopped moving completely. I wished I could freeze this moment in time. We were so close, so happy, so full of love. I didn’t want it to end.
But of course it had to. Mamoru kissed me a last time before he pulled back and rolled off me. He padded into the bathroom, I could see the light shining through the gap of the door. When he came back he grabbed his boxers and put them back on before he came into bed again, pulled me close and took a deep breath.
“Very much. Are you, too?” I wasn’t sure. Had I done everything right?
“Hmm… better than okay. Did it hurt much?” He sounded sleepy already and so was I.
“Not much, no.” I thought about something and decided to ask him.
“Will you stop calling me a kid now?”
He chuckled. “Only if ya stop actin’ like one. So I’d say, no.”
I smiled. I hadn’t expected anything else.
“It’s way past bedtime now. Try to sleep, ya hear me? And wake me up if ya get nightmares, okay?”
I inhaled deeply and let the air out of my lungs slowly. I was tired, parts of my body still hurt, I was sweaty and sticky. But I was also in Mamoru’s arms and I couldn’t think of a better place to be.