Chapter 16:


VISUAL SHOCK - sometimes you have to promise not to fall in love~

The tension between us, like a thickening smog - cloying and uncuttable - takes the air from our lungs, robbing us of speech.

Every hot heaving breath, holding back a flood of violent emotion.

My frustration, turned to anxiety and criticism, then determination, and now wrath.

But still, questions…

Do we need to go to the Police? Can they actually do anything? Isn’t the dark figure in Japan super high because they only bother convicting with irrefutable evidence? Is there even a point in trying? What can I do to help?

Averting her gaze, Kaori catches her appearance in the hallway mirror.

Realisation sets in; she stammers...

“I… I fell over.”

Waving her court shoes at me, one heel missing. Urgency, embarrassment, and reassurance in her tone.

“They broke.”

My mind, a fog of war, reluctant to be quelled. I stand, unmoving, uncertain about what to do with the volatile mixture of bio-chemicals inside of me.


Kaori starts laughing, nervous, almost defeated…

“I couldn’t save the shirt.”

I feel my eye twitch.

“The shirt?”

“Yes… I know how beautiful you found it. How disappointed you were you couldn’t wear it yourself. When I fell I…”


Kaori flinches.

“ARE YOU OK?” Why are you shouting?

She stiffens.

“THAT’S ALL THAT MATTERS!!!” Don’t take your unused adrenaline out on her.

Shrinking away.

I’m shaking from the pent-up battery acid coursing through my blood…

I take a step forward, but Kaori withdraws without moving.

“I’ve been so worried… I thought…”

You’re such an asshole.

“I thought something terrible happened to you. It threw me that…”

That it wasn’t something worse?

“…I’m so r-relieved. I d-don’t know what to do with everything I’m f-feeling right n-now.”

A tittering teeters into my consciousness.

I glance about, unable to actually register where it’s coming from, while it totters into full on laughter.

Quickly becoming hysterics.

Kaori bends double.

Then the crying kicks in, and I’m still stood there like a golem. Blank and awaiting command, no ability to react of my own volition.

I want to step over there and give her a hug. That’s my instinct, but…

I’ve only known this girl two weeks. Half that time I thought she was a he. Now all I want to do is solve her every problem, so she never has to feel like this… and I can’t even give her a hug?!.

I’m frozen to the spot from insecure inaction.

Her crying gets worse, and she squats down, like she’s trying to avoid falling over into the fetal position.

The lightest impact taps against my chest and I find what appears to be a rain drop.

Is there a leak from the room above?

Inspecting the ceiling reveals nothing.

Another drip lands on my top and I feel something cold on my cheek.

Raising my hand, I grasp for the source… am I crying?!.

I wipe and wipe and cannot make myself dry.

“Stop it.”

I only intended to say it to myself, as quietly as possible, but I think Kaori heard me.

Her sobbing slows.

I can’t let her think that was aimed at her.

I wasn’t being cruel. I was just trying to will myself into action. To stop the anxious ramblings in my head. To stop my tears.

I manage to stumble forward and fall to my knees in front of her. One hand excruciatingly reaches out.

Her own tears and sniffling continue their slackened pace, confusion creeping across her expression.

The words “Can I hold you?” keep crashing against my clenched teeth, my jaw straining to set them free… to no avail.

I shuffle alongside her and… rub her back.

It’s the most I can manage.

I’m really not used to this; too uncertain about how to comfort someone.

Kaori weeps for a fair while longer.

My limbs eventually tire.

The kitchenette is within reach, so I crack open the fridge, and grab the big bottle of Peaky Sweat. Her head raises enquiringly.

“To rehydrate.”

She blinks through the melted mascara and her eyes take a moment to focus.


Understanding filters into her features and her shoulders start shaking. Her whole form vibrates…

What is goin- oh!


She howls and wheezes and snorts the ugliest laugh I’ve ever seen.

It’s beautiful.

The relief is infectious.

I snicker and giggle away by her side, still rubbing her back with one hand, holding the sports drink in the other.

The absurdity...

We stay like this for a little while, until Kaori breathes a long sigh of relief, still riddled with notes of laughter, then sits sideways into the crook of my arm.

I freeze in panic.

She doesn’t rest her head on my shoulder - thank god, my heart couldn’t take that - but reaches across for the proffered bottle.

I restrain myself from the ache of proximity and sensory overload.

After a long draught, she hands the bottle back, and seems an order of magnitude calmer.

“Thank you.”

Her hand reaches out toward me and my pulse races, only to slam on the brakes as she uses my shoulder to help balance while standing.

“I’m going to get changed. I just want to forget about work and hang out for a bit, if that’s ok?”

Kaori smiles down at me, everything forgiven.

“How could I refuse...”

We spend the rest of the night feasting on lukewarm fried chicken, a myriad of bento combinations, and fresh fruit with cream sandwiches.

It’s a terrible mess of flavours, but works simply by being enjoyed with good company.

“I cannot believe you thought Toshi attacked me.”

Kaori, now casually attired in sweats and a lynched branded vest, leans against the side of my bed.

“I told you he was dumb, not dangerous.”

“I know, but…”

“…and you?!”

At first stern, but then stifles a giggle out of politeness.

“Getting upset with yourself for getting upset over me being upset over the shirt and not myself.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare y-”

“Stop apologising. I just did not expect you to be so emotional.”

She chugs the last of the Peaky Sweat.

“Thanks for this…”

Indicating our junk food banquet.

“…I have been skipping meals to get through revision and make it to work on time. I really needed this. My blood sugar has been so low I have done nothing but stress all week.”

She sighs with satisfaction and stretches against the bedpost.

“I have not even had time to do laundry. I hated having to wear that shirt for work, but I had nothing else clean. It killed me not wearing it for something special first, and now…”

Kaori eyes the tear in the armpit from when she fell.

So that was it.

I was being a jealous about laundry.

It still stings that someone else got to see her in it before me, but that’s how things go.

“Hey, if you’re that busy…”

She leans her head back against the edge of my duvet.

“…I can do some of your laundry with mine. Nothing intimate…”

Her face had begun to twist with suspicion until I put those thoughts to rest.

“…but, your work wear can go in on regular, right? I handwash all my VK stuff, so I could do some of your week day clothes too.”

Kaori seems to relax even more than I thought she could… at this rate she’ll disolve.

“I’m happy to sort dinner for after you get back from whatever it is you do. We don’t have to talk about it. I know you’re uncomfortable with me knowing, but I still wanna hang out.”

She looks like she might cry again… did I go too far?

I need to explain myself.

“I just want to help. To take some of the weight off your shoulders. I’ve been sat around waiting for when you’re next free anyway, so doing a few extra chores will help fill my time. Then you’ll be more free for… well, this, rather than having to fit housework in as well as everythin-”

“Thanks Tai.”

Hair covering her face, head bowed slightly, a quaver in her voice.

“That would really help a lot. I…”

She chokes, a lump in her throat, but pushes through.

“I would really appreciate it right now. I am not doing anything weird, but we are very understaffed at the moment. I keep suggesting new recruits, but until we have more clients, they cannot afford it… fuuuuuuuuu…”

Kaori tilts her head back to blink away some tears threatening to break loose.

“…things should hopefully calm down soon. I promise I will only be imposing on you for another week, two at most.”

“Hey, don’t mention it. What’re friends for?”

She smiles and nods and pops a piece of fire-chicky in her mouth.

“Ho-! Ho-! Atsu-!”

I chuckle.

She glares at me for mocking her pain, but it quickly morphs into a pout, then a smile…

…simply beautiful.

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