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Phantom Stardust

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A few months ago…

Night had fallen over the meager small-town street.  The empty sidewalks, vacant cars, and cozy buildings all blanketed in shadow with only a few lights emanating through the darkness.  A touch brisk for a spring night, but the young boy meandering along the lonely path didn’t seem to mind it the temperature or the dark.  All his life he had lived here.  A quiet and unassuming town that had kept to its own.  Emphasis on the quiet.  The young boy sometimes found it maddening how isolated and silent this place was.  Even the distance sound of a barking dog was enough to stir some sense of adventure within him.  Of course, it was always some sort of cat or squirrel that got the local canines barking.  Or their shadows.  Dogs were rather gullible like that. 

It was rare to see activity in such a hamlet of a town, especially during a school night.  Soon, he’d be at home with his parents, who hopefully would do the cooking this time around.  Just once he’d like to arrive back to a home-cooked meal.  One he didn’t have to prepare for a change.  Not that he disliked cooking, far from it.  It was one of the boy’s favorite pastimes.  But his parents were picky eaters.  Not at all the adventurous types that dared to venture outside the comfort zone of their taste buds.  Which perhaps explained why their cooking was often bland.  He would often put so much salt on, his mother lectured him about the dangers of high blood pressure.  At his age, such a thing seemed silly to worry about.  He was a teenager still, after all.  To many others, that would have been fine enough.  But not Akira Kurusu.

School, girls, video games, extracurricular activities, masturbation, stress, and anxiety caused by the various tests, homework, and societal expectations.  Maybe the monotony of a part-time job to spice things up.  The average teenage youth lineup.  But very little seemed to get Akira enraptured.  Video games, movies, and books were all fun.  And swimming was great exercise as well as excellent stress relief.  The cool water lapping at his skin, rushing through his hair.  The shimmering of his skin combined with the toned body he had managed to craft had certainly been a plus to his confidence.  But the pool was currently closed.  And all the dishes he wanted to cook required far too much money for a high school student with no job to reasonably afford.  Such is life, wanting more than what is available. 

Not that Akira really asked for much.  Matter of fact, he asked for relatively little.  Though, maybe some glasses to add some definition to the blurs that made reading the teachers' notes on the chalkboard a chore.  Aside from that, he was somewhat content.  Grades were higher than average, he was physically fit, and his parents were readily available.  Albeit, somewhat distant.  Akira had never been the victim of misfortune, having lived an easy life because of where he lived and his parental upbringing.  Yet, he just craved something more.  Something he couldn’t quite describe.  A sense of adventure, a break from the monotony.  He didn’t mean to sound selfish with his desires.  Just living such a quiet and sheltered upbringing instilled the urge to spread his wings.  A new trail to blaze through life was all he wanted.  Just a taste of something new.  His very own adventure.

“Just get in the car!”

Akira blinked in surprise.  He didn’t expect anyone to be out and about this late in the evening.  He was headed home a touch earlier than usual, but anything other than dead silence in this part of town was different.  It sounded like an older man, and he wasn’t too thrilled if his tone indicated anything.  Probably struggling to get his dog in the car or something.

“Stop it!”

The young boy felt his eyes widen and stomach sink.  That was no dog.  It was a woman.  And she sounded scared.  Very scared.

“How dare you cross me!” the man retorted with great bitterness.  The two seemed to be arguing over something.  Being so quiet out, it was quite easy to pick up.  Though, Akira had a bad feeling about the situation as he walked farther up the street.  It technically was the way home so he had an excuse to be nosy.  He just hoped this was just an argument.

“Stop it!” the woman cried again.  “Let me go!”  Akira felt the breath seize in his chest from her words, clear as day in the silent night.  A man forcibly holding onto a frightened woman.  That rarely turned out to be a good thing.  He came to a stop and glanced over her shoulder back down the way he came.  It wasn’t too late to turn back and take the long way around.  But the creeping heat on his neck and the squirming of his stomach kept cluing him in that something was up.  That combined with his natural cat-like curiosity had the boy pressing forward.  For good or for ill.  “No!”

As he rounded the street corner, he held his forearm up to obscure his eyes from the high beams of a car.  A fancy black model with a chrome grille.  The type of car made for and owned by someone with money.  Big money.  It was parked in front of a small building where the lights swiftly began to shut out, one by one.  No doubt the inhabitants wanted to stay out of whatever situation was brewing outside.  They were either smarter or more selfish than Akira was.  Perhaps both. 

“Don’t give me that shit…”  A man in a business suit had his grip firmly locked around the wrist of a younger woman in a white shirt and black skirt.  He was bald and stumbled all over.  With no sense of balance, it was easy to see the man was drunk.  Drunk and angry.  There couldn’t be a worse combination for a woman in stress.

“Ow!” the woman cried once more as the older man took hold of her shoulder.  “P-please, stop!”  She dragged her high heels as he attempted to lug her towards his vehicle.  The worst-case scenario reared its ugly head in Akira’s mind were she to enter that car.  The man scoffed and stitched gears, wrapping his arm around her waist and tried dragging her over.

“What a waste of time.  You think you’re worth causing me trouble?  Huh?”  Akira clenched his fist as he heard the utter slime and dreck roll of the man’s tongue. 

“I-I’ll call the police!” the woman replied.  She knew it was an empty threat but had hoped his drunken state would be enough to convince him.  But it was a hollow effort, only causing him to laugh in her face and go on another megalomaniacal rant.

“Heh, call them if you want!  Hell, I’ll call them for you.  The police are my bitches.  They’re not gonna take you seriously.”  His patience was swiftly running thin, and he took a fistful of her hair in one hand.  The other grabbed her blouse and forcefully tugged.  A button flew off and caused her shirt to open slightly, tantalizing the older man with a view of her bra.  A sinister chuckle filled the air as he took notice of her cleavage.  His grip became tighter, restricting her arms to behind her back.  Though, his ogling was cut short by the sudden echo of police sirens in the air.  Akira breathed a sigh of relief from his obscured position behind the fencing.  Maybe he wouldn’t have to get involved after all.  “Someone called the cops, huh?  Get in the car!  Incompetent fools like you just need to shut your mouths and follow where I steer this country!”

Not only made of money but a politician as well.  It did explain the ego.  Akira frantically searched for any sign of the police lights.  But from the sound of the sirens, they were still too far away.  And the woman didn’t look like she could put up any more of a fight.

Where the hell are they? Akira thought to himself.  He hadn’t been noticed yet.  It wasn’t too late to turn back and act like he had witnessed nothing.  But at the expense of that innocent woman?  It wasn’t right.  All his life, his parents, teachers, and television had told him to speak up and say something.  Granted, these lectures and seminars were all about bullies and suspicious adults.  Nothing about attempted rape.  The woman let out another cry as he ended up snaring part of her blouse sleeve.  She looked to be on the verge of tears.

“Hey!”  Akira shouted before sprinting towards the man.  Before he could turn, Akira had placed himself between the woman and the drunk.  His swift movements caused the politician to stagger backward.  He stared at the teenage boy through orange-tinted glasses with half rims.  A small black goatee consisted of the only hair present on his lower face.  The man attempted to speak but stumbled in place, pointing a solitary finger threateningly at Akira.  “Are you okay?”  The woman nodded meekly at him.

“What’re you looking at?  Get outta my face!”

“Piss off, old man!” Akira fired back. 

“This ain’t a show!  Get lost, kid!  I’m not gonna tell you again…”As the older man stepped forward, he lost balance and slipped on his heel.  With a pained groan, he fell face first upon the ground. 

“Oh, shit!”  Akira cried out in surprise.  The woman behind him cupped her mouth in shock as the man rose with blood on his face.  A fine red cut on his forehead that complimented the flushing of his cheeks.

“Damn brat!” he hissed through his teeth, pressing his hand to the gash to stop the bleeding.  “I’ll sue!”

“S-sue?!” Akira retorted in both anger and worry.  “For what?  I didn’t do anything!  You fell over, you drunk dickhead!”

“Leave him alone!” the woman cried, taking a step in front of the boy.  He looked to be nothing more than a teenager to her.  Sixteen, at the very least.  She was the older one between the two.  It should be her protecting him.  “Don’t get him involved!  He doesn’t know what he’s doing.”  Akira furrowed his brow and glanced back and forth between the two.

“Do you two know each other?”

“Shut your mouth, bitch!” the older man said, taking a step towards the woman.  “And you!”  He pointed towards Akira once more, teeth bared.  “Your ass is grass, kid!”

“If you keep this up, then I’ll…”  She chewed feverishly on her lip for some sort of leverage to get him to back down.  But he was near untouchable, especially for someone at her low level.  “I’ll report about the money!  Is that fine with you!?”  Akira darted his head over to her, blinking in surprise.  So there was more to this than just drunken attempts at sexual assault.  Money was involved as well.  Akira slowly began to reconsider what he had just gotten himself involved in.

“All I have to say is that you did it on your own, and it’s all over,” the older man retorted, completely unphased by her bluff.  He was far too irritated by her resistance and the teenager’s interruption to garner any satisfaction from her stumbling for a rebuttal.  His head was pounding from the injury and lack of alcohol in his system, and the police would be here any moment.  He wanted this inconvenience squared away and dealt with as neatly as possible.  “Hey.  Make this statement to the cops.  “This kid suddenly attacked me.”  Got it?  If you even try to say anything else, you know what’ll happen to you, right?”

“No way!” Akira interrupted.  The woman looked beyond distraught at her ultimatum.  Submit to him and sell this young boy out, or risk her neck standing against him.  “You fell on your own!  You can’t do this to me!”

“Shut up!” the older man barked, cupping his head.  “You’re done for.”

“We’ll see about that,” Akira said, glancing over his shoulder at the approaching police vehicle.  Better late than never.  However, the old man seemed nonplussed by their arrival.  Another inconvenience for him to deal with.

 “You’re gonna learn what happens when you cross me…”

“Excuse me, folks.”  Two policemen exited the car, a burlier one taking the lead.  “We received a complaint about an argument here.  Is something the matter-oh!  It’s you, sir.”  The man’s inquisitive and calm tone immediately took on a different direction.  Much more nervous and alert. 

This doesn’t look good…

“So, what happened?” the older man asked coyly.  His eyes narrowed at his female companion with great disdain and smugness.  His lips curled into a wary sneer.  “Explain it to the good officer.”  The woman seized up, feeling her throat close in on itself from all their eyes fixated on her.  The man’s, the officers’, and the boy’s.  With the police in his pocket, it was evenly split.  Him and the police versus her and a lone teenager.   It didn't take much to see how this would end.

“That young man suddenly attacked him.  He shoved this gentleman to the ground.  And this man… got injured…”  Akira felt his vision flash over white, the breath leaving his body.  His limbs locked up, skin growing cold, and the world around him went deathly silent.  Like he had been punched right in the gut or shot through the heart.  Now rendered completely delirious and on the verge of nausea. 

“It’s as she says,” the older man said.  More a warning than a statement.  “Also, make sure you deal with this so my name isn’t mentioned at all.  You understand what that means, correct?”

“Y-yes, sir!” the burly officer barked.  Like a dog on a leash.  “Hey, cuff him!”  Akira was far too stunned to process the police dragging him away.  Their firm grip around his wrist as they clamped the tight metal bonds around his wrists.  Each officer put the squeeze on each arm while he was escorted into the vehicle.  The woman watched with great shame at his pale dumbstruck face.  The utter betrayal in his face was too much to bear.  Even from a stranger.  Though, her attention was diluted elsewhere from the feeling of a firm hand upon her shoulder.

“Now get in the car…”  With her betrayal had all the resistance left her, and she resigned herself to her fate.  The man shoved her into the car and slid right in afterward.  While he poured himself another glass of scotch, the woman burst into tears.  Pitiful sobs resonated within the black vehicle as it drove away from the scene of the crime.  “Oh, stop the waterworks already.  You’re lucky my head hurts too much.”

“How could you do that?!” she shouted, balling her fists.  The man merely glowered at her meager attempt at defiance.

“I didn’t do anything.  You made your choice all on your own.”

“You set me up!  You had the police in your pocket and blackmailed me!  This is all your fault!”  As the man downed his glass, he merely huffed.  His breath fogged up the interior of his now emptied drink.

“And you made your choice to side with me over some brat.  You could’ve tried to fight the system and stick up for the kid.  Instead, you looked out for your own self-interests.”  To swiftly end the argument, the man delivered a harsh swat to the side of her face with the back of his palm.  “There are two types of people in this world, and you better learn that fast if you want to become anything more than a secretary.  There are leaders, and there are stepping stones.  And you’d best adjust your attitude before I’m standing on your neck instead of your back, you understand?”  The woman cradled her face in her palms and leaned towards the opposite car window.  Her soft muffled sobs irritated him, but the booze was putting enough of a buzz on to make it more tolerable. 

“He was just a kid…” she breathed.  Barely above a whisper.

“Everyone has to grow up sooner or later.  Some people just need to learn the hard way about how the world works.  And he’s gonna learn harder than anyone…”  The man licked his thumb and ran it along the cut as he eyed his reflection in the glass.  It would heal relatively easy.  If not, he’d pull some strings and double down on the kid’s punishment.  “He’ll learn to never cross me again...”

The boy and the inconvenience he caused became a forgotten memory in the man’s mind.  But Akira himself was not so lucky.  Everything seemed like a complete blur the second the woman had sold him out.  The inside of the jail cell, the argument with his parents, the tears shed in frustration, fear, and pain, the court date.  It was sometimes hard to process it had all occurred in the span of two months.  Some things were hard to recall exactly, and others he remembered vividly.  But one thing had been made abundantly clear for him that night.

Be careful what you wish for.


4/9/17 – Saturday

Akira stood before the entrance to the café Leblanc, sulking to himself.  The past few months had felt like two years with the immense turmoil and distress.  All his life, he had been told to do the right thing.  Don’t be a bully, stick up for people.  See something, say something.  His parents, the school, the law enforcement.  And what did he get for his good deed?

Expulsion.  Kicked out of school, alienated by all his friends, and his attempts at reason with his parents fell upon deaf ears.  He had been positively steamrolled in the courtroom.  The lawyer selected for them had practically handed the case over.  Being his first and only offense, they were at least somewhat lenient on him.  Expulsion and put under the watchful eye of a probation officer.  A man named Sojiro Sakura, apparently.  Some sort of friend of his parents.  That was the extent he was told.

Pain in the ass…

Tokyo was way different than his hometown.  Much more alive and colorful.  Had the circumstances for his arrival been different, he might have garnered some joy out of the sights.  But this was no pleasure cruise.  He had been exiled to reside in the city until March.  Next year.  The only actual good out of everything was that his parents finally bought him a pair of glasses.  Now he could read what was on the board when he returned to school.

Out of all things, Akira never thought he’d miss school.  Learning, reading textbooks, writing notes, hanging out with friends, and swimming.  Most of all, the swimming.  He had been positively heartbroken to know that Shujin Academy lacked a swim team.  All the trophies on his shelf back home felt like dead weight.  Things that had once instilled a sense of belonging in the boy.  Now reduced to mere trifles.  But at least it beat juvenile detention.

What a crock of shit.

He finally mustered the resolve to enter the coffee shop and was greeted by a warm and cozy atmosphere accompanied by the pleasant aroma of foam and coffee beans.  Booths lined the left side of the chop while an eloquently maintained wooden bar stocked with various beans in jars behind it sat to the right.  A television droned on behind the bar, with the station set to the local news.  With his luck, Akira wouldn’t be surprised if the fake story of him assaulting that man was broadcast to the world.  Instead, it reported on some sort of mental shutdown.  Akira had caught a glimpse of earlier coverage on his train ride into Shibuya.  He wasn’t quite sure what it was and quite frankly didn’t care. 

Sitting at the bar was an older looking gentleman with a receding hairline and a beard that curled up at the end.  Beneath his black apron, he sported a pink collared shirt and khakis.  He seemed woefully disinterested in everything going on around him as he read the paper in his hands.  Perhaps this was the Sojiro Sakura he had been placed under the care of.

“Um, excuse me, sir?”  His exploitation might have made him a touch more bitter and jaded, but by no means did he forget his manners.  The older man looked up from his paper, and the already ever-present frown upon his face deepened further.

“Oh.  Right.  They did say that was today.”

Good to see I’m not wanted here either, Akira thought dryly to himself.  The only two other people present within the shop were an elderly couple, who departed with some kind worse to Sojiro and a hearty payment.  As the elders departed, the man groaned in the privacy of Akira about their presence.  Having remained at the shop for four hours only to purchase a single cup of coffee had put the proprietor in a sore spot.

“So you’re the guy?  Akira Kurusu, right?”

“Yes, sir,” he responded kindly.  “Would you happen to know where Sojiro Sakura is?  I was told to meet him.”  Perhaps he would be more lenient on him if he appeared more naïve.

“You’re looking at him.  You’ll be in my custody over the next year.  I was wondering what kind of unruly kid would show up, but you’re the one, huh?” 

Sojiro had to admit that Akira was not at all what he expected.  For a student with a criminal record, he looked quite studious.  The Shujin uniform fit him quite well.  Black plaid pants with red, a blazer, and a white turtleneck beneath.  And a pair of thick-rimmed glasses upon his face.  If he took care of his shaggy hair, he’d clean up nicely.  Sojiro rambled to himself before leading the youth upstairs.

“This is your room.”  Akira couldn’t mask the shock on his face to find his living space.  It boasted plenty of room but required some cleaning.  Lots of cleaning.  Trash bags, tarp, gas canisters, cardboard boxes, a ladder, a houseplant, and dozens upon dozens of books.  Of course, the ramshackle room wasn’t complete without a fine layer of dust coating it all.  His box of clothes sat in the center of the room, although it could have easily blended in with the rest of the refuse inside.  Nobody had tended to this meager space in years.  He felt like he was a vagrant squatting in some abandoned shed.  “I’ll at least give you sheets for your bed.”  His bed was nestled in the far right corner of the room beneath the windows.  A mattress and a thick orange comforter sheet consisted of his sleeping arrangements.  Very meager arrangements, but they looked comfortable enough.  Akira wouldn’t need much.  Not that he had any bargaining room to ask for more.  “You look like you wanna say something.”

“Oh, it’s just bigger than I thought it would be.  Thank you.  I’ll just need to do a bit of cleaning.”  He deemed it wise to watch his wording, lest he offend Sojiro and make his stay in Tokyo even more of a chore.

“I’ll be leaving after I lock up each day.  You’ll be alone at night, but don’t do anything stupid.  I’ll throw you out if you cause any trouble.”  Akira gulped nervously before tugging at his sweater collar.  The prospect of homelessness had never really occurred to him at his age.  But Sojiro looked like he meant business.  As though his stay in Tokyo wouldn’t make him anxious enough.

“Y-yes, sir.”  At this point, all he wanted to do was sleep.  The trip and the mental anguish he put himself through by constantly reflecting over the past two months had worn him out.  Though there was no way he’d sleep in this mess.  “So how much did they tell you?  About me?”

“I got the gist of your situation,” Sojiro stated.  “You protected some woman from a man forcing himself on her, he got injured, then sued you.  Right?  That’s what you get for sticking your nose in a matter between two adults.  You did injure him, yeah?”

Unbelievable…

All the stuff he had been raised to believe in now seemed like a complete lie.  Valuing honesty, trusting the law, sticking up for and defending others.  Now he was being told to keep his mouth shut and look the other way.  It felt utterly demoralizing.  As though his soul were drained.  Sojiro certainly didn’t help by reciting him his entire backstory back to him.  Less for informative purposes but more to listen to himself talk and to rub salt into the wounds of his newfound burden.

“The courts ordered you to transfer and move out here, which your parents also approved.”

Yeah, yeah, I get it, Akira thought to himself.  I was there myself.  Can we get to the point already?

“In other words, they got rid of you for being a pain in the ass.” 

Akira felt all the wind and vigor – what little there was – out of his body.  The mocking smirk plastered on Sojiro’s made the verbal gutting he had received even worse.  This complete stranger had cut him where his pride ached the most.  Granted, he had told himself the same thing constantly when the transfer was announced.  But it hurt even greater coming from the outside.  The coffee shop owner continued on about keeping out of trouble, heading to Shujin tomorrow, and other subjects Akira was only half listening to.  All he wanted was to clean up and be alone for a while.  After making the room somewhat presentable and being grilled by Sojiro some more, he was finally granted such a courtesy.  The bed and the prospect of sleep felt the closest to serendipity he had tasted in months. 

Akira had never been sure of what direction his life would take, but this was certainly not at all how he envisioned it.  Sleeping in the attic of a coffee shop owned by a cynical old man while his parents were miles away outside of Tokyo without him.  He was stuck here for an entire year, with the eyes of the law on him.  One slip up, and it’s straight to a juvenile correctional facility.  All his years of being raised to be respectful and a good attentive student, and this was his just reward. 

The monkey’s paw had curled hard and left only the middle finger at full mast.


Author's Note: Finally made my way over to AO3 with this little beauty. Some of you might've read/seen this on fanfiction.net so I'm letting you know it's being slightly rewritten/overhauled on both platforms. AO3 will get the updates first, and I'll eventually overhaul the fanfic.net version to have the same content as this. That one will take a bit longer because of the difference in website fanfic formatting, but it will happen. 

For first time viewers, I hope you like what you read and look forward to feedback, any and all.