Saturday, January 14, 2017

Akuma No Imouto Chapter One

You wake up at noon.  It’s not a pleasant way to wake up, though, because your awakening consists of your little sister kicking you in your exposed ribs.  By exposed, of course that means that your ribs are completely visible.  No skin, or flesh, or anything.  You’re a skeleton.  At least, you are when you’re asleep.  Just like when she’s asleep, your younger sister is a giant spider.

Nagito Masaomi
Just another day in the life of you, the gashadokuro Nagito Masaomi.

“Come on, lazybones, get your ass up already,” Her voice is awful loud, but only because you’ve just woken up.  She’s speaking at a normal volume, which hurts your ears in this half-asleep state, as alarm clocks are also known to do, “It’s noon.”

“Noon…?” You groan, laying an arm over your forehead, “Dammit, Ryo, I hate noon…”

“Onii-chan…” She trills in a high cadence, then kicks you even harder with a grimace, “The bar’s opening in one hour and I’m not about to do all the work myself just because you’re hungover!”

“I’ve told you a thousand times, Ryo, I don’t get hungover, I’m just nocturnal,” You complain, but sit up and look around as you let the disguise fall over your head, neck, and hands.  The rest of your body will be covered in clothes all day, so there isn’t really any reason to disguise the rest of yourself and waste precious magic.

“You look fucking ridiculous,” She shakes her head and looks away, “Put a shirt on so I can stop looking at that shit.  Flesh hands to bone arms?  Why?  Why are you this lazy?”

“I only have a certain number of forks to use each day and disguising the rest of my body uses up too many of them to let me be at all useful during the day,” You explain, rolling off the futon to reach towards one of the many piles of clothes strewn around your apartment, but she taps your wrist with her foot and you groan to actually get some clean clothes from the dresser.

“I believe the term is spoons,” She rolls her eyes, “And you’ve never had executive function problems before.  You, Nagi, are just lazy,” She walks away from you, “Get dressed and meet me downstairs, okay?”

Ryoji Masaomi
Your sister is named Ryoji Masaomi, and she’s a pain in the neck.  But you guess that’s fine, because you’re an even bigger pain in the ass.  Yesterday, you arrived here, down on your luck and looking for a place to stay.  You were evicted from your last apartment after one too many noise complaints; the first twelve a result of you and your boyfriend being a bit too, well, rowdy, and the thirteenth being the argument in which aforementioned boyfriend dumped you.  He was also your manager at the gas station where you worked graveyard shifts so, you were kind of fired by default.  So you turn up, broke and single, at the bar your little sister owns and ask for a place to stay.  As luck would have it, she just fired her last roommate, so she was in need of some assistance at the bar.

She agreed to let you stay if you agreed to help out, and that’s not the worst deal.  Hence, she has a right to be annoyed with your complaints, but you have a right to complain too.  You never wake up at noon.  Eight AM to Eight PM, that’s your sleeping schedule!  Equal amounts of the day spent awake and asleep, working graveyard shifts, having no hobbies, free time spent only on dates and/or eating… Just about the best life you could work out for yourself, here in the human world!  Until it went down the drain, and now you’re up at noon.

After getting dressed, making a haphazard attempt at combing your hair, and throwing on sunglasses to hide your eyes, you make your way downstairs only to see that Ryo, wiping down the bar, isn’t wearing shades or contact lenses of any sort.  You have to ask her about it, “Ryo?  Aren’t you worried about humans seeing your eyes?  I’ve worked a customer service job…”

“Oh, not particularly,” She shrugs, balling up the rag then tossing it to you, “You worked at a gas station, right?  So I can leave the cleaning to you, you know how to clean a counter, a floor, and a bathroom?  I’ll do all the complicated stuff, like inventory and bartending.  When we’re open you can be a waiter… If we see enough business to even use the tables out on the floor, that usually only happens Fridays and Saturdays.”

“Ryo,” You don’t move, holding the rag in your hand with your brow furrowed, “Why?  Why aren’t you worried about your eyes?”

“It’s nothing to be concerned about, really,” She pulls some paperwork from under the bar and starts scribbling away, “Most of the patrons here are demons anyway, and I don’t much care if I intimidate the humans who come through here, the other demons grabbing a drink’ll do that more than me anyway.  I mean, one of our regulars is an okaburo, you think humans are used to seeing one of those order a drink?”

“Yeah, they wouldn’t,” You scoff, “Aren’t we supposed to be keeping a low profile?”

“Look, my bar is just a nice place for demons stuck in the human world to hang out at without needing to go all the way to Ura town, and if humans want to come here then they’ll just have to handle what they see!” She’s very carefree on the matter, “That ‘what to do if an idiot summons you’ video they showed us in school is seriously outdated, Nagi-nii.  Besides, it’s not like we were even summoned.”

“I’m pretty sure all the same principles apply for those of us who just end up here for inexplicable reasons and can’t seem to return,” You groan, but start using the rag that was tossed at you, “Any of your patrons so fucked they can’t even get into Ura town like us?”

“Not as far as I’ve heard, but I’m sure they’re out there.  Maybe in different parts of the world,” She bites the inside of her cheek and sighs, “Look, summoned yokai without contracts eventually get the ability to go home again.  I’m sure we will too.”

You’re not so sure of that, but your sister always was a little bit less cynical than you, so you aren’t about to rain on her parade.  Strangely enough, you’ve never actually been to this bar of hers before; you’ve visited of course, but only the apartment upstairs, which has a staircase on the outside of the building as well as in.  It’s barricaded off to customers, but you can’t imagine that a particularly rowdy drunk hasn’t climbed over the staff door and gone up to your sister’s apartment at least once a week.

Speaking of employee only areas, you look back behind the bar to the kitchen window. So she serves food here, too, “Who’s your chef, sis?”
“Huh?  Oh, she’ll be here soon enough, she’s very talented!  She just runs a little bit late, from time to time,” She gives you a knowing look, “After all, it can be very hard to disguise yourself when you’re a lamia.  Turning a tail into legs, that takes up a whole lot more forks than adding flesh and blood over bones or reducing the number of legs, so she usually tries to get here by sneaking about undisguised.

“Wait, your chef’s a lamia?” You question, “Aren’t lamias known for having massive sex appeal?  Wouldn’t she make better floor staff, or, I dunno, bartender?”

“You only say that because you’ve never tasted her food, or a drink that I’ve mixed!” She tosses her hair over her shoulder and gives you a grin, “There’s a reason we’ve stayed in business in Tokyo for this long, Onii-chan.  There’s so many bars, and Izakayas, and all sorts of places to get a drink in the city, you have to be good to stick around.  If either me or Koren would do better in another role, we’d know it by now!  Just because you’ve spent all your time since we got here bumming around doesn’t mean I have…”

“I wasn’t just bumming around…” You run a hand back through your hair, tucking a strand behind your ear, “I was working!  And I've had boyfriends!  When’s the last time you got laid?”

“Last week,” She shrugs, sticking her tongue out, “One night stand with a patron.  Happens all the time.  Way better than getting a girlfriend. I mean, come on, girls are almost as high maintenance as you are, Nagi.  That’s why I have the real bed, and you have the futon in the kitchen.”

“Why is the futon in the kitchen anyway?  And what am I supposed to do if I get another boyfriend?  Or if I get back together with Shin-kun?” You’re being whiny.  You know this.  You also know there is absolutely no way that Shin will so much as friend you on facebook after the argument which ended in him dumping you, nor do you really want him to, but Ryo doesn’t need to know that.

“There is another room, but before I fired Neptune she kept the futon by the minifridge in case she needed a midnight snack.  You can move the futon back in there.  If you have any savings with which to buy a bed for that room, by all means, do.  If not, then I guess you’ll just have to start saving your tips,” She raises a finger to her chin, “It’s a doublewide futon, anyway.  If you don’t mind letting your future boy-toys know you’re pathetic, it’s still suitable.”

“I’d rather not deceive them into thinking that I’m not cool,” You push your shades up your nose.  Like cool guys do.

“Sure,” She gives you the most obnoxious ‘yeah right’ look, as she often did when you were kids.  Nice to see that your sister’s still the same as ever.  One year younger yet so much smarter than you, though you’d never admit it.

Koren Costello
“Ryooooo!” You turn to the door to see, indeed, a non-disguised Lamia slither into the building.  You can’t see any reason not to assume this Lamia is the chef, Koren, “Sorry that I’m late, darl’, but there were just so many people looking out windows today!  Did we go back to the twentieth century when nobody had anything better to do?”

“Nice to meet you, Koren,” You greet her with a halfhearted wave of your hand then get back to wiping down the tables.

“Oh!” Koren approaches you, the end of her tail pooling around your feet as her upper body invades your personal space, looking behind the arms of your sunglasses to see your eyes, “I see you replaced Neptune, Ryo!  And he’s a demon too!” She holds her hand out directly in front of you, beaming from ear to ear, “Nice to meet you too!  What’s your name, sir?”

“Nagito Masaomi,” You introduce yourself and shake her hand, stepping out of her tail.

“I see!  So you’re Ryo’s big brother!” She moves away from you then goes into the bar’s kitchen through the window with grace, then turns and leans back over it to talk to you and your sister, end of her tail still hanging on this end beside her, “I’ve heard a few things about you!  Mostly embarrassing things.  Like the time your dad walked in on you-”

“I don’t need to hear those stories again, I lived them,” You cut her off, then stand up straight and face her, “So why’s my sister telling you stories like that, huh?”

“What do you mean?” She tilts her entire body to look at you upside-down, blinking innocently.

“Did you date or something, is what I mean,” Ryo’s not reacting to what you’re saying, returned to her paperwork which seems to be an order for one metric tonne of chicken wings.  Must be a popular item.

“Oh no, absolutely not!” She rights herself and waves you off, “I’m aroace, actually!  I’m sure you know what that means, being LGBT-plus yourself, right?  Or well I guess, it would be better to just call you GT, yeah?  Since those are the ones which apply to you, so I’ve heard… Just like Ryo is LT!  Aren’t acronyms fun?  Anyway, me and Ryo are just good friends!  We met only a little while after you both got trapped out here with all these mortals.”

“Yeah, I know what that means,” You nod, then look away from her, “I see she really told you a lot about me.  You’re not this big a blabbermouth to everybody, right?”

“No way, dollie!” She shakes her head, quick enough that her hair hits her in the face, “I’m good at keeping secrets!  But it’s not like I need to keep what I know about you a secret from you!  Seriously, sir, if I was going to blab about things then I would not still be living in the human world!”

“Why do you keep calling me sir?” The pet names she’s using make sense, she seems like a very friendly person, but you can’t wrap your head around why she’d call you sir.  She’s clearly older than you, and you’ve always looked young for your age to boot.

“Hm?” She opens her eyes even wider, somehow, “Well, it’s because you’re a guy, and I respect you!  Simple as can be!” She folds her hands next to her cheek, “I don’t believe respect has anything to do with age or workplace superiority!  It’s all to do with the quality of people.”

You look around for a few seconds to make sure that Koren isn’t talking to anybody else, seeing as you aren’t exactly a high-quality person, but there’s nobody else around.  You just give her a confused look and point at yourself.

“Yes, you!  Sweetpea, if the things your sister’s told me are true, then you’re a spectacular yokai!” She reaches over and pats your head, “Not every story she told me was embarrassing, and I pass judgment that you are in fact, a top-quality being, worthy of my respect!”

“Funny, I didn’t think I’d done a single thing worthy of respect my whole life…” You fix your hair, seeing as she messed it up by patting you, then lean back against the counter, “But if you say so, then I’m not one to disagree for no reason.”

“So, why are you working here, anyway?” She questions, puffing her cheeks out, “Last I heard, you were forging your own way through this brave new world?”

“Well you see, I was, but I suddenly got,” You count on your fingers, “Evicted, dumped, and fired, all last night.  So Ryo was nice enough to let me stay with her, if I worked here.  As rent.  So here I am,” You shrug, “These things happen.”

“Oh, that’s a shame…” She shakes her head and mimes deflating against the wall, “Forgive me if I’m out of line, honeybee, but I’m of the opinion that you just keep dating all the wrong types of men!  I’m guessing, based on your track record,” She glances at Ryo again.  Your sister sure does like giving your life story away to her friends… “This was another guy much too old for you, who dumped you as soon as you made it clear you wouldn’t tolerate him being an ~asshole~?”

“Wow, I do have a type, don’t I?” You groan, “It wasn’t quite like that with Shin-kun, I mean…” It was like that with Shin.  You’ve kind of grown numb to it by now, hence why (unlike when you were fifteen) you didn’t spend eight hours nursing a gallon of ice cream.  Human food like that doesn’t even give you energy, but there’s something about ice cream that just works for bad breakups, which constitute all of your breakups.  Ever.

“The issue here,” She points at you as if she’s got the most sage advice in the world, “Is that you keep on dating chasers, don’t you?  Even if they don’t seem that way at first, it’s what they all end up being, right?  You need to stop dating people who already know that you’re trans from the get-go!  You pass so good.  Nobody could even tell.  Date a normal gay guy and then let him know that you don’t have a dick, yeah?”  That advice doesn’t seem sage to you.

“Well, what am I supposed to do?  It seems kind of misleading to not let somebody who might be getting in my pants, know what’s in my pants…  Besides, Shin was my manager at work, so he had to know.  Guess that explains why he hired me anyway,” You look up at the ceiling, “I mean, you’re right about them ending up as chasers.  Guess there’s something irresistible about a dude with a snatch, but y’know I’d rather go with them than get fucked over by somebody expecting me to be something that I’m not…” You’re starting to understand why Ryo told Koren so much about you.  She’s strangely easy to talk to.  Easier than Ryo, for you, anyway.

“Fucked over?” She questions, and when she blinks it’s terrifying.  She has those double eyelids like some fish or frogs do, “You’re a gashadokuro, cupcake, what’s somebody gonna do to you?  Just eat them. Hell, just transform and scare them off.”

“She makes a really good point there, Nagi-nii,” Ryo throws in her two cents.  You find it unnecessary, as most people’s two cents tend to be. There are reasons that you don't do those things.

“I can’t just go around eating anybody I want to!” You protest, giving the technical excuses and not the real ones, “There are very specific circumstances for me to catch somebody…  And it isn’t like I can just go ahead and grow to my full size at any time.”

“Right, you’re one of those ‘new moon only’ yokai for your true potential, huh…”  Koren sighs, “Good grief, why be a demon at all if you’ve got restrictions like that?”

“It’s not like I had any say in the matter,” You roll your eyes, “When’s the bar opening again?”

“One o clock,” Ryo answers, walking past you and giving you something that’s not quite a stink eye, “Look, I can eat your shitty exes.  Hell, I’d probably eat them even if you hadn’t dated them, just send your nasty dudes my way. I can give you the bones when I'm finished, like when we were little and you couldn't get prey on your own for shit.”

“You’re not getting fed enough off creeps running a bar? This kind of seems like the perfect human career for you,” You question, and she shakes her head, “Then I mean, yeah, sure thing.  You can go ahead and start with Shin Orihara.”

“Can I now?” Ryo leans closer to you, “Thought you were just saying there was a chance at you getting back together?”

“Yeah, I just didn’t feel like admitting that this was yet another case of me yelling at a guy two decades older than me to get out of my apartment,” You tilt your head, biting your bottom lip, “Go ahead.”

“Told you so,” She taps your shoulder, “I mean, the pattern’s obvious enough that Koren noticed it secondhand.  You’re stuck in a cycle of bad men, Nii-chan.”

“Why do you only call me that when you’re being mean to me?” You question, watching her as her only response is another shrug.  You check the clock, and the time’s getting close, so you stand up straight and watch the door.  If you’re going to be a waiter, the least you can do is do it… somewhat right.  You were never the best with people at the gas station, but did you have to be?  No, because nobody is good with people at midnight, your customers were either too tired to care or more rude than you in the first place.  Nonetheless, it isn’t like you’ll try to be a bad employee.

“Cause it’s fun,” She wanders back over to her post behind the bar and waves at Koren, “Koren, get your tail back in the kitchen, will you?  It’s a little much for the mortals, even with my lax policies on the matter…”

“Right!  Sorry, didn’t even notice,” Koren pulls herself back into the kitchen in full, then gives you a friendly wink, “All right, honeys!  Have fun working the front~!”  With Koren gone, your sister puts the paperwork away and puts on a friendly face, so you do the same.  It is a Saturday night, so you’re bound to have something to do once things pick up in the evening, though you find it unlikely it will get that way during the afternoon.

Within the first ten minutes the bar is open, nobody comes in, so you lean against the bar and look to Ryo, “Oi, Lil sis.  You were right about me not having tried a drink mixed by you before, so why don’t you mix me one?” This isn’t unprecedented, seeing as she’s already drinking herself.  Looks like wine.

“Fine, but no hard liquor till sunset,” She mumbles, “What’s a disaster like you drink, anyway?  Excluding the obvious whiskey… Rogue IPA?”

“If I have to drink beer I sort of just prefer Asahi…” You chuckle sheepishly, rubbing the back of your neck, “Never tried whiskey but it smells like ass so I’m not about to.  Mostly fruity cocktails.  Wine coolers, if we wanna go for acceptable day drinking.”

“That’s the opposite of what I was expecting, but not exactly a shock.  Guess there were two ways it was gonna go with you.  Hyper-masculine, or gay as hell,” She sighs as she pulls a short bottle from her cabinet and tosses it to you, “I’m not about to give you a glass for a wine cooler, Nii-chan.”

You catch it and start to drink, but put it down immediately after when you hear the bell on the door.  There’s a welcome mat right there, for those varieties of demon who need to be invited into buildings to be allowed in.  Somehow, welcome mats count.  The person who walks in, however, is not a vampire.  She’s a short girl, dressed in victorian clothing.  Trotting beside her heels is a small dog, and she looks as if it’s been a million years since she last slept.  You greet her, then turn back to Ryo and mouth ‘okaburo?’ silently.  She shakes her head.

“Welcome to Akuma Sake and Spirits!” Ryo’s voice is friendly, but not chipper, it’s genuine, “How can I help you, kouhai?”

Gwyn (And Rover!)
“...I just turned twenty, and I heard this was a good place to go.  I’m an earthly demon, so I can’t go to the demon world, and places like San Nikolai and Ura Town are just so touristy…” Her voice is small, and she doesn’t make eye contact, but her dog won’t stop staring at you, “So Rover and I walked across the Pacific Ocean.  I hope you don’t mind that I’m not of drinking age yet where I come from, but it’s fine in Japan, yes?”

“Oh!” Ryo claps her hands together, then leans forward on the bar and gives the girl a smile, “Now that you say that, I think I’ve heard of you before.  You’re the San Francisco Shriek, right?” She raises a finger in the air, and you suppose she hears a lot of stories working here.  Looks like you will too, “I met your friend, Umi, the Shiro Uneri?”

“Oh yes, Umi’s very nice…” The girl nods, and her pup hops onto a bar stool.  She follows suit momentarily, “And I suppose that most people call me by that name, but… That’s just a workplace title, really.  My name’s Gwyn,” She reaches out across the bar, and Ryo shakes her hand, then she turns to you and you do the same, “So… My work’s even reached you here in Japan?  I suppose that makes sense, given my hometown…”

“Oh, absolutely,” Ryo nods, “I heard from Umi while she was visiting, but I’ve heard a few whispers too… So tell me, in case I got the butchered telephone version, what exactly is it that you do?”

“Well, I don’t do a lot myself,” She grabs her dog and holds him up, “Since I can’t stand in streetlights, but he can, and we share our energy sources,” She sets him down on the bar and pets his head, crooning, “Isn’t that right, Rover?” She addresses Ryo again, “We eat harassers.  Of all sorts, really.  Doesn’t matter much as long as they’re being rude… Especially if they’re rude to me.  Mostly, we get people who start kicking the homeless and things like that, nothing interesting.  I also like to scare people by hiding in dark corners, but that doesn’t serve any purpose but, uh, entertainment.”

“Nothing wrong with that!” Ryo chuckles, then holds her scarf closer to her own face, “So, Gwyn, would you like to try the Akuma specialty cocktail, first off?  On the house?  It’s very smooth, not a lot of alcohol in it, great to start off with!”

“Really?” She holds her hands to her mouth, eyes wide, “No, I can pay!  I brought a few different forms of payment, even, because I didn’t know what you’d prefer!”

“Maybe later,” Your sister is scheming.  You can see the look in her eyes, like when you were children.  You’re probably the only person who can pick up on it.  She’s already mixing the drink.

“Aren’t you going to at least card her?” You question, “I mean, she looks ten years old.”

“There’s no need for that,” Ryo shakes her head, “There’s a lot of magic in this building, Nagi-nii.  Won’t let anybody under twenty through the doors.  You should meet my contractor sometime!  Maybe you’d get along with him,” She’s finished the drink now, and holds it out to Gwyn.  She grabs the glass by the stem and takes a small sip, then Rover steps over and laps at it too.  She’s unfazed by this fact.

“Get that mangy mutt out of here, bitch”

The words are faint, barely there, and don’t seem to have a source.  They’re somehow… Static.  As soon as you finish noticing the noise, however, you notice that Gwyn has fallen to the floor, skirts pooling around her legs, dog just as unconscious on top of the counter.  Ryo, unmoved, grabs the sleeping corgi and places it onto Gwyn’s chest.  You stare at her, then finally speak, “Ryo, what is happening?”

“Did I forget to explain?” She asks, then sighs, “I knew I was forgetting something.  Okay, Nagi, there’s nothing to worry about here, okay?” She crosses her arms, “My contractor I mentioned, he’s a warlock named Arthur, and his magic is fueled by secrets.  The spell which can collect the secrets uses less energy than the secrets produce, but he’s shy and doesn’t meet a lot of people.  So we barter.  He casts spells for me, and I collect secrets.  I’m like an information broker, but only for one person.”

“That’s seriously unethical, Ryo!  Way worse than just killing humans!” You protest, and grab her arm, “And why did you need to knock her out?”

“Because I can’t just tell Arthur the secrets, we have to go in her mind and get the item which represents the secret!” Ryo rolls her eyes as if you should know this, “Normally I wouldn’t do this right away, but I mean… She’s an earthly demon.  Her secret will be worth a ton.  It’ll be freaky, though, if you’d rather stay here while I retrieve the item?”

“What’s the deal with earthly demons again?” You question, squinting.  You don’t know a whole lot about your own species, probably because you almost never paid attention in class.

“Good grief,” Ryo holds a hand to her forehead, “Earthly demons aren’t children of other demons, they’re creations of the world.  Humans who lived a life so awful up to and including their death that their souls filled with darkness and warped them into evil beings,” Oh yeah, that sounds somewhat familiar.  Just a bit, “Look, if I get the secret item, then I forget what I learned anyway.  If I don’t get it, I remember.  It’s just another part of the job.  Nobody but Arthur will ever know.”

“Sounds like a fun time.  Let’s go,” She seems surprised that you offer to accompany her, but it doesn’t sound too bad.  You know the kind of things humans can go through, Hell, you’ve hit human rock bottom since you’ve been here, though it was less of an emotional rock bottom than just a ‘literally anyone would say you’ve failed at succeeding’ rock bottom.  Nonetheless, you’re sure there’s nothing in this ex-child’s head that would cause problems for you.

“Well, all right, but you might get nightmares.  Subconscious memory is still, well something,” She shrugs, then crouches down next to Gwyn, “Time won’t even pass while we’re there.  Take my hand if you’re sure,” You grab her shoulder and she shakes her head in annoyed disbelief, but then presses her palm against Gwyn’s forehead, and suddenly you’re gone.  You aren’t in the bar anymore, but instead a run-down apartment.  It’s styled in a western way, but you can only assume that’s because Gwyn’s from the United States.  Sitting in a ratty armchair in the corner is a man with pale skin stretched over bones, the kind that only comes from drug abuse.  He seems too pale to be related to Gwyn, he doesn’t look a thing like her, but she’s sitting on the floor in the other end of the room, facing the door.

You look at the book he’s reading and attempt to make out the title, but it’s blurred out.  You take another look around, only to see that Gwyn isn’t looking at the door, but at the carpet beneath her knees.  The scene is frozen, still, like a painting you can walk through, and lying on that carpet in front of her when you approach is the body of a dog.  A corgi.  The collar reads ‘Rover’.  It has a wound, but there’s no blood on the carpet.  Beside the man’s armchair is a shotgun, frozen in time with the barrel still smoking, hanging in the air.  It’s only now that you realize Ryo’s already left the room; you follow her to the apartment’s kitchen.

“Gwyneira Bartrop.  Her birth certificate’s in the junk drawer,” Ryo mumbles, then continues scanning the room.  You just stare at a fixed point and listen to her, “It’s crumpled up,” She notes as she continues on, searching for hints, “I’m no detective… I can’t figure out anything else.”

“We’re not going to figure anything out just by looking at objects, we aren’t smart enough for that,” You grumble, “Isn’t there any way to just talk to the memories?  Find out what we need to know?”

“If we could do that, then the secrets we’re collecting wouldn’t be very good secrets at all, now would they?” She smirks.  How can she be smirking at a time like this, acting as if the moment in time is a mere game, “We’ll learn what we need to learn, and all will be revealed.  We have all the time in the world.  No need to rush things.  Everything we need is somewhere in this world.”

You suppose that she’s the one who knows all the details of how the spell works, so you don’t argue with her, but instead turn to explore more of the apartment.  This was not the only door off of the living room.  The bathroom is just as you would expect; a mess, with drug paraphenalia scattered about.  It doesn’t seem like this man cares about sheltering the child in his home at all; shooting the dog was just one part of his evidently awful parenting.

“Nagi, get out of there,” Ryo calls you, and you approach to find her standing in a doorway, “This is the only other room here.  Did you see a futon, a fold-out couch, an air mattress anywhere…?” You immediately understand her confusion.  There’s only one bedroom, and it’s decorated all in pink and frills.  The closet is full of similar clothing, like Gwyn’s wearing out in the living room, a pastel version of what she wears today.  A king-size bed in the same decor dots the center of the room, but the cuteness is ruined by the mess.  Piles of clothing which must belong to the man fill the corners, and there are questionable stains.

“No, nowhere,” You manage to answer as you look the room over.  Did you really think that you’d seen it all?  Why would you think that?  Why would you convince yourself that humanity could stoop no lower than the depths you’d already witnessed?  It’s always seemed as if demons ought to be worse, but humans are capable of so much more hatred and malice.  Demons are the ones who are fine with consuming a lesser species, even if that species is sentient, but you realize now that for every demon who does something terrible there’s a human who’ll do the same, but worse, and another five who’ll come close.

“It’s a princess’s room gone wrong,” Ryo mumbles, stepping up to the bed to pull the decorative comforter down.  The sheets are filthy.  I watch as the anger sets into her face, and she punches the bed, shoulders slumped as she walks back towards me.  It’s not a show of defeat, but one of instability, and she grabs the front of my shirt, “I shouldn’t have brought you here, Nagi-nii…  I’m sorry… I’m sorry-”

“Ryo,” You grab her shoulder and push her away, looking her in the eyes, “It’s fine.  It’s okay.  I won’t remember this.  You won’t remember this.  It doesn’t matter.  I can handle it.  Okay?” You offer her a weak smile.  She’s only this upset because she’s worried about you, but you’re managing for the exact reason you told her.  Nothing seems to upset you the moment it happens, not that you’ll admit, the memory does, and you won’t remember this.

Maybe some part of you is screaming out in anguish at this scene, but you’ve buried that part so long ago that it may as well be silent.

“I need to know how this happened…” Ryo mutters and turns away, back to the living room.  She’s always been motive-driven, needing to find reason behind everything.  Needing to feel like nothing happened just… because.  You tail her to the living room and watch as she rips the book out of the man’s hands.  The title isn’t obscured anymore; it reads Lolita.  Ryo opens it, and immediately gasps, “These aren’t the words.”

“What?” You question, trying to look over her shoulder.  You’ve never read the book so you wouldn’t know, though.

“These sentences, this isn’t Lolita.  This is a different story entirely,” She starts to read it aloud, “Once, there was an idiot who loved a woman.  When the woman got pregnant, she didn’t want to keep the baby.  She wanted to get rid of it, because she was too young to have a baby.  That would have been better.  The idiot threw a fit.  A temper tantrum.  The woman said, okay.  I will have the baby.  But you will raise it.  I’ll pay child support, but that is it.  This will be your baby.  The idiot agreed.  The idiot agreed until the first time he heard the baby cry.  He begged the woman to return, and she would not.  When the baby was not a baby anymore, but was four years old, the idiot wondered, will any of my friends take this terrible child away?”

“One friend would,” She continues, “He was not reliable, but the idiot didn’t care.  The unreliable friend had a lot of money.  Most of it he threw away, but he promised he would give the child a lovely room.  The room was not a lovely room; it was a lovely set.  A set to put a doll in.  Doll clothes to dress the child up in.  The unreliable man had been waiting for this.  He was just too cowardly to kidnap a child on his own.  So he took this girl.  For six years, he took her, until her dog destroyed one of her pretty little mary janes.  The unreliable man killed the dog.  He would have kept on taking her, but he knew that she would not be his princess again after he did something so cruel, and she would be too old soon anyhow.  The unreliable man kissed her goodbye and snapped her neck.  If found, please return to the most unwanted child in history.”

You can’t move.  Ryo looks at you, then closes the book.  That’s the secret item.  She’s found the secret item.  Wake up.  Forget.  Wake up.

You’re back in the bar.  Ryo holds the book, Gwyn is stirring, and your head is reeling.  You woke up, but you remember.

Why do you remember?

Why didn’t you forget?  

You don’t want to know these things.

“...Nagi, are you okay?” Ryo questions as she stashes the book to give to Arthur at a later date, “You look a bit dazed…”

“I’m…” Do you tell her that the spell went wrong?  That you remember what you saw in Gwyn’s mind?  No, you can’t, not right now anyway.  Not with Gwyn waking up, not until she’s gone, if you talk about it at all, “Fine, yeah.  I’ll be just fine,” You pick up your wine cooler again and down it.  It’s not going to do much for you, but it’s better than staying sober and dealing with the panic attacks that are already approaching.  Better to do your best to ignore and power through.

When Gwyn awakens, so does Rover, and he hops up onto the counter again far too quickly for his owner to even comprehend that she was on the floor before she gets up to try and rein him in, then sits down again, none the wiser, “Huh, that was pretty tasteless,” She notes about the cocktail, “What was it supposed to taste like?”

“Strawberry shortcake,” Ryo answers, brushing the book under the bar with her fingertips, and Gwyn nods.

“Now that you mention it, yeah…” She folds her hands, “It did taste like a strawberry shortcake, just… A little bit…” She looks up at the ceiling, “I love shortcake.  I have since I was a kid, but I could never find a good cafe to order it at...” She was never allowed to get it, you think to yourself.  An intrusive thought.  You banish it.

“In that case,” Ryo offers, “If you decide to order any food, we’ll give you a shortcake dessert for free, too.  You’re here so early, it’s nice to be able to converse with the customers, so I’d love to make you feel welcome.  Especially since you came all this way.”

“You’re being very hospitable!” Gwyn smiles with a small giggle, “I guess while I’m here I should splurge on something to eat, too?  It does nothing for me, in terms of sustenance, but it’s nice as a treat every so often!  Could I see a menu?” She’s so polite, so sweet.  Did he teach her to be that way?  Did he make her behave that way?

“Come on, Nagito-kun.  What do you say when somebody gives you a meal?”

You drop the cooler that you were, for some reason, still holding onto.  It’s empty, and the plastic bottle just bounces on the ground, but Gwyn and Ryo both look at you with concern.  You can see on Gwyn’s face, that the concern is rooted in experience.  Of course she’d know how it felt, to have flashbacks like that.  Short ones.  One line.  One line and you can lose control of yourself.  You know the disguise is fading away along with your grip on the situation and the cooler.

At least there aren’t any humans here.

Next thing you know, Koren’s carried you into the kitchen.  Somewhere in the blur of those two wondering why you were falling apart, stunned, Ryo must have told her to get you out of there. When you actually start to become aware of your surroundings again and feel your heartrate slow, your head is in Koren’s lap.  Her scaley, reptillian lap.  She gives you a warm chuckle, “It’s almost a shame that you’re too gay to appreciate this fantasy come true, sir.”

“...Almost,” You mutter, staring at the far wall, “More of a shame that I completely humiliate myself in front of a customer my first day on the job.  I can’t believe-”

“Shhhhhhhhhhhhh,” She shooses you and pats your face.  Well, your cheekbones.  It seems your disguise has entirely dissipated by now, “No need to worry about that, sweetpea.  Miss Ryoji isn’t mad at all, she understands.  It was only one customer, not a human one either… These things do happen.  She won’t even ask you about it, she knows you’ll tell her when you’re ready…” She lifts you up and hugs you, “And I’ll always be here for you too, sir!”

It finally strikes you that Koren is motherly.  That’s what she is, that’s what you couldn’t place.  She’s the mom friend.  You’ve never had a mom friend before, so one as absolutely matriarchal as this one must be a good place to start.  You decide, on impulse, to ask her, “Do you have any adopted children, Koren-san?”

“No,” She shakes her head with a shrug, “I wouldn’t pass background checks… It’s a shame.  And I can’t adopt a demon child to live in the human world, that’s considered neglectful parenting, to raise yokai among mortals…” With this she releases you to hold her hands to her cheeks, “But that’s okay!  I’m happy enough just mothering my friends… Especially since you seem to really need it, Mister Nagito!”

“...Call me Nagi,” You lie back down and cross your hands over your stomach, “Please.”

You chose the name.

You chose the name Nagito.

And then he ruined it.

“Okay, Nagi,” Koren nods, then presses a kiss to your forehead, “I need to get back to work, darl’, but you just feel free to stay here until you can muster up another disguise illusion.  Nobody’s going to rush you,” She gently places you onto the floor, then slithers back to work on her prep, and it seems she had the ticket for Gwyn’s food order too.  You lie there for a while, and clear your head.  Chase the thoughts away.

By the time the bar has another customer, you’re back on your feet.  Ready to help.  Ryo asks if you need to just go to sleep, she says she can handle it, but you assure her that you’re fine now.  You assure yourself that you’re fine now.

Because what can anybody do to fuck you over?

You’re a gashadokuro, after all.

Next Chapter ->

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