Chapter 1: 4/10
Goro Akechi was simply keeping up appearances.
He had rushed over to the site of the subway crash as soon as it was reported, periodically refreshing his homepage for updates on when exactly the incident would occur.
By the time he arrived people were still being ushered out of the wreckage, the occasional still body or presumed corpse only being seen a handful of times. He looked away at the sight of wounded mothers cradling their coughing children out of the smoke and derelict, instead choosing to chat up the reporters and camera-men on the scene that had not yet begun rolling.
He feigned ignorance, asking stupid questions like, “When did this incident occur?” or, “What on earth caused that man to suffer a mental shutdown…?” He was even able to track down one of the reporters from the channel he was set to appear on in a few months time, informing the cameraman that they should include questions on this specific event since he would surely have some working theories by that time.
“Um, sorry to bother you, but may I please use your phone for a quick moment? I need to call my father, you see…”
Akechi was surprised to hear a voice from behind addressing him, but nonetheless turned around to face them with a cheery smile plastered on. He took in the sight of a girl around his age that he surely towered over, looking rather uncomfortable with a large gash across her forehead.
“Ah, yes, of course,” he said, despite originally planning to politely turn the stranger down. He had been surprised by her injury, and it caught him off-guard enough to offer her an unnecessary solace.
“Oh, thank you so much,” she smiled at him warmly, blood leaking from the nasty cut due to the sudden contortion of her face. Akechi’s stare lingered for a second longer before he fumbled around in the pocket of his coat, then extending his arm outwards to offer her his cell phone.
The girl took it with little hesitation, granting him another embarrassed beam before quickly dialing a specific number and pressing the phone to her ear. “Um, hello, Father. It’s Haru.”
Akechi would typically think it rude to eavesdrop on someone else’s phone call, but since the said call was being conducted through his cell phone he easily dismissed this notion.
“I was in the subway train that crashed a little bit ago… I’m at the Shinjuku terminal… I wasn’t going there, it’s just where the train stopped…” She had long auburn hair that cascaded down to her waist in fluffy tufts.
Akechi thought it a little odd her father had not yet questioned whether she was alright or not. In the little experience he had with parental units, he thought that sort of thing would have come up in the conversation by now.
“He will be coming to get me?” the girl asked, her eyes widening as she listened intently. “I’m sorry, Father… Okay, goodbye.” She hung up the phone, handing it back to the boy detective as she offered one more grateful smile.
“Thank you very much. My phone was lost in the crash, you see, so I’m really appreciative.” her voice was soft and feminine, genuinity nearly dripping from every word she spoke.
“Of course, it was no problem,” Akechi smiled back. “Have you gotten that injury checked out yet? There are some medics scattered around, looking at various people. I could bring one to you.”
“Oh, this?” she pointed to the crimson-lined incision sprawled across her forehead as if it was a paper cut. “No, I’m okay, but thank you for your concern. There are a lot of other people that look worse off than me, so I’d rather they get taken care of first.”
Akechi blinked before returning to his habitual expression of pleasantry. “That’s rather charitable of you, erm… What was your name, again?”
“My name is Haru Okumura. And you’re a detective, right? I’ve seen you on TV before, unless I’m mistaken…”
Okumura… That name sounded quite familiar, but he decided to research it later.
“Oh, if you’ve seen those then that’s quite embarrassing,” Akechi laughed, running a hand across his hair in simulated sheepishness.
“No, they’re actually really cool!” Haru exclaimed encouragingly, clearly buying into his act. “A lot of people from my school are really into them.”
“Oh, and what school do you go to?” he actually found himself beginning to enjoy the company of this Haru, at least during instances like this when it was far too easy to grow bored.
“I go to Shujin Academy. It’s over in Aoyome-Itchome.”
“Yes, I believe I’ve passed by it once or twice,” Akechi recalled, an interesting proposal forming inside his own mind. “Say, since I’m going to be investigating this case, would it be alright if you were to answer some questions for me? Not today, of course, but it would really help my investigation…”
“Oh, yes, of course!” she responded eagerly. “But how will I contact - ‘’
“ Haru !” a voice boomed from across the station, startling the girl in question immensely. The boy detective turned to face the direction that the hollering came from, only to see a man adorned within expensive business clothes storming towards the both of them.
If she knew him, Haru certainly wasn’t very happy to see him. She never once moved forward, instead making him walk the full length over to her.
“S-Sugimura-san…” she spoke, her voice hardly louder than a whisper. “Um… my father told me you would pick me up. So can we please - ‘’
“You are in no position to demand anything of me after all this.” the man snarled at her, gripping his hand over her tiny wrist as he roughly pulled her towards him. It seemed they were about to leave when the man shot a fury-filled glare towards Akechi, spitting out, “And you, keep her out of the report. No pictures, no name, no nothing. Got it?”
Akechi found himself mildly ticked off by this guy’s insinuation that he was a measly reporter. His falsified smile still pressed onto his lips, his calm response was, “As a detective, I seek only justice and the wholesome, honest truth.”
The man rolled his eyes. “Follow my orders or you’ll be hearing from my father. C’mon, Haru.” He turned on his heel, hurriedly rushing through the crowd of people and dragging Haru along behind him by the hold on her wrist.
Chapter 2: 4/11
Haru Okumura really hadn’t wanted to go to school the next day, but her father insisted and her father always got what he wanted.
Her forehead was wrapped in an ignominiously large bandage, stretching across its entire length. And she had a huge forehead.
Plenty of stares were shot her way, her delicate form shriveling in on itself more and more from the growing humiliation as she crossed each hallway.
She certainly didn’t have any friends and nobody seemed to realize that she had been involved in the subway accident the previous night. She supposed the reporters had heard Sugimura’s threat and followed his orders accordingly.
Her gaze instinctually traveled down to the dark bruise tracing her wrist in the same place her fiance had pulled on it the night before. She would have complained to him about the pain, but she was already in so much trouble that the last thing she wanted to do was add another felony to the list.
As she sat on the Shujin Academy rooftop, tending to the plant beds very gingerly due to the ache in her wrist, she grimly thought back to the previous night’s occurrences.
It was apparently the absolute worst thing in the world for a high-class girl to be seen on the subway. While it was true that she had only ridden it a handful of times and was used to being driven around privately, she didn’t think herself above boarding the subway. Maybe if Sugimura had never made her run off in the first place, then…
Her father was always pressuring her into spending more and more time with him. Sometimes he would pick her up from school, or randomly show up at her house to take her out to dinner. They had been on that sort of date the night before, to ‘celebrate her new school term’, he said. It was a nice meal at an expensive restaurant, though she left hungry considering Sugimura never let her eat much.
But he always got so pushy when the sun started setting. He wanted her to spend the night at his penthouse, told her that her father surely wouldn’t mind.
His hands were everywhere, crawling up her thighs and gently tugging at the ends of her hair earnestly. Amongst every unwelcome touch and her constant protesting Haru doubted that he hadn’t heard the word no.
So when the stained-white limousine had pulled into his driveway and her fiance was fumbling with the front door amid his bumbling excitement, Haru made her grand escape. She took a few steps back, quietly at first and then converting into a full-on sprint down the street. At first she ran nowhere in particular but gradually as the crowd size increased she settled into a fast-paced walk, huffing and wheezing as if she had just ran a mile.
Of course in time she had found the subway station, and the events from that specific tale was easily accessible from any news station.
She sighed at the sight of her dirt-caked fingernails, making a mental note that she would have to clean them out with a nail clipper later to avoid any comments from Sugimura. No matter how many times she told him it was just from gardening, he continued acting repulsed everytime he caught a look at them.
Haru heard the door to the roof opening, startling her slightly. It wasn’t uncommon for students to come up here while she was working, but she was always a little scared that if another person was caught up here she would somehow end up getting in trouble along with them. She began speaking while dusting the dirt off her hands. “Hello, the roof is only accessible to the gardening club and - ‘’
A light, pleasant chuckle caught her by surprise. Haru blinked, raising her head up in disbelief. “ Akechi-san ?”
He laughed again, bordering on a self-deprecating manner. “Aha, yes… I hope I’m not intruding, but we parted ways before I could receive your contact information so I had no choice but to track you down.”
“How did you know I would be up here?” Haru asked incredulously. He really is a detective …
“I asked a PE teacher who was just roaming the halls, and he said you’d likely be up here.”
“Oh, that must be Kamoshida-sensei,” she said. “He’s rather fond of me though I’m no good at sports. He even offered me a starting spot on the girls volleyball team.”
“That’s very generous of him,” Akechi commented with his ever-present smile. “Is now a good time for you? To help with my investigation, I mean.”
Haru had actually completely forgotten she had ever agreed to that, though made no move to display her lapse of memory. “Oh, yes, of course. Right now is fine.”
Since there was only a lonesome chair shuffled near the back corner of the rooftop, Akechi offered it to her and she gladly accepted. Her knees were always a little sore due to the amount of time she spent tending to her small garden, anyways.
The boy detective brought out a notebook and ballpoint pen from his messenger bag. “For starters, what terminal did you first board the subway?”
“Around what time was that?”
“I believe it was about… seven pm.” Haru answered, frowning slightly. “I’m sorry. I would show you my ticket, but it was lost during the accident…”
“It’s quite alright,” Akechi responded encouragingly. “Any information you can give me is greatly appreciated.”
He’s so charming… Haru thought to herself, mindlessly running her hands down her skirt to smooth it. She nodded, allowing him to continue with his questioning.
“When did the subway start having issues?”
“I wasn’t really paying much attention until people started freaking out about twenty minutes in,” she admitted. “Apparently the train had missed a stop, and the engineer wasn’t responding to anyone.”
“Were you trying to get his attention?”
“No, not me,” she shook her head. “I was in one of the latter cars.”
“Perhaps that’s why you didn’t have any major injuries,” Akechi mused. “I presume you had that cut looked at?”
“Oh, yes,” Haru said, motioning to the bandage wrapped around her forehead. “I’m totally fine, though it’s quite embarrassing…”
The boy detective chuckled as he began tucking his notebook back inside his bag. “Well, it seems that I have no further questions for you, Okumura-san.”
“I hope that I was at least of some use to your investigation.” Haru said earnestly. “And please, call me Haru.”
Akechi’s kind expression never seemed to falter. “Okay then, Haru. I’m sure that this interview will prove convenient in narrowing down the timeline of this harrowing incident. I’ll keep you updated, of course, since you’ve been so helpful to me. Perhaps we could grab a coffee together sometime.”
Haru felt a slight heat rising into her cheeks, but chose to ignore it as she responded. “I would very much like that. But, um, Akechi-san - ‘’
“There’s no need for the san ,” he chided in a cordial manner.
Haru’s face grew even redder. “O-okay, Akechi-kun,” she said, her voice wavering remotely. “Um… it’s fine if you use the information I told you, but I think it would be best if you didn’t mention my name… it might cause some trouble.” She phrased it as delicately as she could, bracing herself for his response.
The boy detective took on an expression of short contemplation before he questioned in an oddly serious tone, “Trouble for me, or for you?”
Haru opened her mouth, then closed it again. “Huh?”
“Nothing, I’m just kidding,” Akechi dismissed his previous comment, despite there being no evidence of it being a joke at all. “Are you taking the subway? I’m heading over there myself.”
“Oh, um…” Haru was still a little distracted. “I’m actually being picked up by a driver. He should be waiting for me near the front of the school.”
“I suppose that makes sense. Your parents probably aren’t eager to let you ride the subway again after last night’s ordeal.” Akechi considered. “I’ll see you to your ride, if that’s alright?”
“Ah, yes, of course,” she agreed, quickly packing up her things as to not waste any more of Akechi’s time. The two made idle chit-chat as she was escorted towards Shujin’s entrance, the boy detective offering a friendly goodbye before he made his departure in the direction of the subway station.
Haru was still a little flustered from her interactions with Akechi, even as she plopped down into the cushiony backseat. That boy was just so charming, so good-looking, so good-natured… was it even possible to dis like him? She was overly flattered that he had taken the time to come find her just to ask a few questions. At this rate, they could even become friends . The very thought brought a smile to her face.
Chapter 3: 5/6
It was a few weeks before they met again.
Haru was still sleeping comfortably in her bed as the morning light just began beaming through the blinds. She was rustled from rest by the small ding coming from her cell phone. She leaned over and eyed the screen, squinting groggily through her tired daze.
AKECHI: Hello, Haru, this is Akechi. Do you have any free time later today?
After rubbing at her eyes and letting out a long yawn, she checked the time on her phone. It’s only eight in the morning…
HARU: Yes, any time after noon is fine.
She bit her lip, hoping he didn’t realize that she simply wanted to sleep in.
HARU: Is this about Kamoshida-sensei?
She didn’t want to get the wrong idea about this sort of gathering. If it was a meeting to cater towards his business with work, she wished to know beforehand so she didn’t accidentally embarrass herself.
Her father had strictly instructed her to not speak with any policemen or reporters about the situation at her school, but did Akechi really count...? He had kept her name private for the news coverage following the subway incident, after all.
AKECHI: Would 5 pm at the diner in Shibuya work?
AKECHI: The one right off Central Street.
She frowned at the slight realization that he had avoided answering her question, but chose not to press the issue. He was probably very busy these days working on the mental shutdown cases and building his profile on television. They had only texted a few times to catch up every now and then, but mostly Haru’s life had slowly transitioned back into normalcy following the subway accident.
HARU: Yes. I’ll meet you there.
She immediately regretted those few keystrokes, bracing herself for his response.
Her eyes opened wide at the notification.
AKECHI: See you then. :)
Haru took a much longer time getting ready than she would like to readily admit.
Maybe it was because Akechi was a little more famous now; there was a greater chance of people taking notice of her sitting there with him. That was the logic she repeated in her own mind as she rubbed a smoothing serum onto the ends of her long hair and continued applying generous amounts of lip gloss even as her driver pulled over to the curb, suggesting that they had already arrived at their destination.
She was just about to text Akechi and inform him of her arrival when through her peripheral she spied a figure seated in a booth near the back, eagerly waving her over.
“I’m so glad you were able to make it,” Akechi said as pleasantly as always, smiling brightly at her. “Please, take a seat.”
She settled into the booth on the opposite side from him, setting her bag down next to her. “Thank you for inviting me, Akechi-kun.”
“Of course. I really did miss your company, though I doubt you feel the same way,” he laughed in that same self-deprecating manner. “I apologize if at any point I’m short with you. It’s been a rough few days.”
“I hope I’m not overstepping any boundaries, but I assume you’re working on the Kamoshida case?” Haru asked timidly, eliciting from him a single nod in response.
Just as Akechi opened his mouth to elaborate further on her question, the server appeared right before them.
“He-llooo! My name is Aiko, and I’ll be your waitress today!” the woman was overly cheery, looking to be somewhere in her late twenties. “Have you two decided on what to order yet?”
“I’ll take a hot coffee and the steak, please,” said Akechi, motioning towards Haru to order next.
“Could I just have a glass of water and a side salad, please?”
The waitress collected their menus, promising to return quickly with their meals as she skipped off into the kitchen.
“You’re eating rather lightly,” the boy detective spoke his thoughts aloud, setting his chin upon the back of his palm. “I’m sorry. Do you not like the food here?”
“Oh, no. I actually really like it here! Thank you for inviting me, Akechi-kun!” she purposefully skirted around the question, plastering a merry grin on her face.
“Are you not hungry then? Have you already eaten?”
“To tell the truth, um…” Haru looked away, feeling a bit ashamed of herself. “I’ve been trying to lose weight, you see.”
Akechi’s eyes broadened at her statement, and she could practically hear the thought racing through his mind: But you’re already so thin, so why…
That’s what she had thought, too. She had even been quite insecure about how slim she was, constantly wishing for a more curvaceous figure and fuller breasts… there were first-years that looked more womanly than she did. But last month, Sugimura had vocally expressed a desire that she lose weight. At first she had been so offended that she was short with him the entire rest of their date, but recently Haru had realized that perhaps if she became more attractive to him then he would be a little bit nicer to her. Maybe he would stop yelling at her, stop trying to force her into things she clearly didn’t want to do...
“...time with you, Haru.”
“Huh?” she brought her eyes back up to meet Akechi’s, realizing she had in fact spaced out and completely missed what he said.
“I was just saying that though I do wish to talk a bit about Shujin, I don’t want you to get the wrong idea,” he repeated himself with a pleasant smile. “I really do want to spend time with you.”
Her cheeks lit up pink, and she almost wished that she hadn’t heard him after all.
“A-ah, yes, of course. I feel the exact same way.” Haru said, ensuring she reciprocated his feelings. Their server began approaching with their meals. “So, what did you want to ask?”
“Just about your experiences with that teacher who confessed. Suguru Kamoshida.” Akechi said as their food and drinks were placed in front of them. “I believe you mentioned his name the last time we met, yes?”
“Oh, yes, I think I did.” Haru recalled, thinking back to that time. She frowned. “I didn’t know him very well, but I was in his gym class as a first-year. He was always very friendly to me when we ran into each other at school, and asked me to join the volleyball team countless times.” She felt a bit sick as her mind wandered into the implications of what she had perceived purely as Kamoshida’s friendliness, her thoughts wary at expanding any further upon that idea.
“Do you know anyone that was a victim of his?” Akechi asked, his focus solely on his plate of food as he spoke.
“Ah… no, not personally.” Probably because I don’t have any friends and nobody talks to me. “But the members of the volleyball team always walk around covered in injuries… I feel so dumb to not have noticed what was happening to them…”
“It’s better to not have known at all than knowing, yet not acting,” Akechi said kindly, sensing her growing discomfort at the subject. “Enough of that. Let’s enjoy our meal, shall we?”
Haru responded with a simple smile.
They were about halfway through their dinner when Haru’s phone began ringing nonstop.
She had silenced it a few times already, plainly trying to just relish in her time with her friend, but found herself growing annoyed at the fourth consistent call and checked the caller ID.
Her expression immediately dropped. “I’m sorry, Akechi-kun, it’s my father. I’ll have to take this…”
He nodded while wiping at his mouth with a napkin, gesturing for her to take as much time as she needed.
Haru hurriedly rushed to the women’s restroom, picking up the phone call as soon as the door closed behind her. “Father, is everything all ri- ‘’
“Haru?! Where the hell are you?”
She jumped at the harshness in his tone. He rarely ever called her, and even then it was only in the case of an emergency.
“I’m out eating with a friend, is something - ‘’
Her father groaned loudly on the other end. “You silly girl. Is this a direct disobeyment, or are you really just incapable of following simple instructions?”
Haru’s head was swimming, searching through her memory to try and pinpoint any specific orders she had been given from him recently. When was the last time she had even seen her father, let alone speak to him…?
“Father, I really don’t know what you’re talking about…” she hated to imagine what was going through his mind right now. Countless thoughts about his stupid daughter, how she was such an inconvenience to him, a nuance in his otherwise perfect life...
Her father sighed in irritation. “I’ll take that as the latter, then,” he said, taking a short pause. “Haru, Sugimura-san is at the house right now looking for you. Remember, you two were supposed to have dinner together tonight to celebrate Golden Week?” He had calmed down now, at the very least using a much more subdued tone of voice.
She couldn’t recall hearing about this date that had been planned for her, but still felt terrible for forgetting about it. “I’m sorry, Father. I didn’t mean to… it really just slipped my mind.”
He didn’t speak for a moment. “Send me your location, Haru,” he commanded. “Sugimura will come to pick you up and you two will go out to dinner just as planned. Do you understand?”
Her father sounded so disappointed… like he hated her very existence. All she wanted to do was appease the situation. “Yes, Father.”
“Sugimura is a powerful man with important connections. Your engagement is absolutely vital for me. He is not going to be in a good mood after having to chase you around all of Tokyo.” he was exaggerating, but Haru listened as obediently as always. “You need to make him happy tonight, Haru. Do whatever he wants. You understand what that means, yes?”
She didn’t respond.
He let out another annoyed sigh. “I don’t have time for this. Be a good daughter and do as you’re told. Send me your location.” With that the call disconnected, leaving Haru staring warily at the plain blue wall of the women’s bathroom for much longer than she had intended.
Of course she understood what he meant, but she didn’t like it at all. Would Sugimura really expect that of her tonight? Would she be able to say no without ruining her father’s dreams…?
Haru washed her hands absentmindedly, cleansing herself of the impure implications her father had planted in her head. Her hands trembled even underneath the warm water.
Akechi was still at the table when she returned, his plate completely empty with the excess time she had taken. He offered a charming smile as he saw her approaching, but his eyes took on a quizzical glint when he eyed the somber expression resting upon her face.
“I’m terribly sorry,” Haru bowed as deeply as she could in front of him. “I have to leave. There was a… prior engagement that slipped my mind.”
“That’s quite alright but…” the boy detective hesitated slightly on his words. “Is something wrong? You look unsettled.”
“A-ah, no, I’m fine,” Haru said, cringing at the lack of conviction in her voice. She mustered out a few forced giggles. “I’ll leave you the money for the meal. I’m so sorry to have cut this visit short, and it’s so rude of me but - ‘’ Her phone dinged, interrupting her distressed rambling.
Her eyes widened. Sugimura can’t be here already, right? I only texted my father just ten minutes ago...
She fumbled with the flap on her wallet, quickly shuffling out nearly twice as much as the bill required and set it down right before Akechi.
“Haru, this is really too much, I can’t - ‘’
“Please take it!” she shot him a pleading glance as she checked her phone notification. Sugimura was in fact outside with his driver, likely growing more and more impatient by the moment. She looked back over at Akechi, contorting her face into an awkward look of an embarrassed smile before quickly making her exit out of the diner.
The white limousine of course sat parked right in the front. The backseat door facing the curb opened slightly as Haru approached, allowing her to easily toss it open and work her way into the car. She gently closed the door behind her, her eyes avoiding Sugimura.
There was a moment of silence before he spoke, his voice silky smooth. “Hello, Haru.”
She blinked, bewildered by the lack of anger his tone expressed. She turned to him only to find that his face revealed no clear intent of malice, instead a sly grin was posing his lips.
“Sugimura-san, I’m really sorry that - ‘’
“ Shhh, ” he shushed her by pressing a finger delicately into his own lips. “I’m not mad. We’re going to forget about it and just go enjoy ourselves now.”
“A-ah, yes,” Haru’s expression couldn’t reveal half of how relieved she was that Sugimura wasn’t angry with her, but a small smile did grace her lips.
Sugimura inched closer to her, eventually growing near enough to lay his palm against her cheek. “You look beautiful. What were you doing out instead of waiting at home for me?”
Haru found herself glad that she had dolled herself up so ridiculously to meet with Akechi to avoid being criticized by her fiance. “I was out eating with a friend.”
“What kind of friend?” his voice was wavering now, as if on the verge of breaking out into a jealous rage. He was scary like that, how quickly his personality could take a complete turn for the worst. Haru marvelled at the fact that their car pulled to a stop in that specific moment, signifying they had arrived at their destination.
Sugimura took her small hand into his own, guiding her outside of the car and into the expensive-looking restaurant. He spoke for the both of them the entire time, bypassing the long line of people waiting patiently and being seated at a table immediately, likely due to their status.
“You’ve eaten already, right?” Sugimura asked flippantly, browsing through his menu.
While it was true that she had ordered a side salad, Haru had barely been able to finish half of it before rushing out with that bothersome phone call. “A little bit, but - ‘’
“Good, then I’ll just treat you to some drinks while I eat my meal.”
“Oh, okay,” Haru agreed despite the aching pit of her stomach. She was still incredibly grateful that he hadn’t been angry with her, and did not want to push his good mood. When their server approached, she opened her mouth to order a simple cup of hot tea only to be interrupted.
“We will have two bottles of sake and a plate of pasta for myself,” Sugimura said, handing over the both of their menus to the waiter. The server bowed deeply to the pair of them before walking off in the direction of the kitchen.
Haru was shocked. Why had not only her fiance ordered her alcohol , but the server turned a complete blind eye to that entire transaction? Not even a glance was thrown in her direction, and she was clearly under the legal drinking age…
Did Sugimura perhaps think she was some kind of party girl, that she liked to drink and do things like that? She had never once tasted alcohol before and absolutely loathed the smell of it. Sometimes she caught a whiff of it from Sugimura’s own breath when they were together and the stench practically triggered her gag reflex.
The waiter returned quickly with their drinks and Sugimura surely took notice of the uncertainty swimming in Haru’s eyes as she stared at the large, intimidating glass in front of her.
“Um… Sugimura-san,” she said quietly, looking over to him. “Perhaps you forgot, but I’m not actually old enough to drink…”
He let out an arrogant laugh, as if her statement was silly. “It’s fine, Haru. Nobody here would dare say a thing to me.”
She glanced around the restaurant, seeing that most of the workers were in fact looking away from their table. See no evil, speak no evil, as they say ...
Sugimura sipped at his own drink, his eyes never leaving her. “Have you ever had sake? It’s quite a taste, but one that takes time to get used to. It would be best for you to start now.”
Haru quietly protested,“I’d really rather not, even just a water would be - ‘’
“ Drink , Haru.” his words became sharp, and his gaze no longer tender. Haru reluctantly obeyed, gingerly bringing the tip of the bottle to her lips and letting it glide down her throat.
She tried to completely avoid the taste, but that proved to be impossible. The liquid dried her mouth and the vile scent wafted into her nostrils. When she put the cup down she had still yet to swallow, frightened that she would perhaps spit it out against her control and embarrass Sugimura.
Her fiance seemed amused by her reaction, watching as she placed her hands over her mouth, struggling to gulp it down. “Well?” he asked expectantly. “Do you like it?”
She shook her head before she began a coughing fit, tears brimming within her eyes from the burning sensation layering her throat.
Sugimura chuckled. “You’re so coy, Haru.”
The server arrived with Sugimura’s entree, putting their conversation on a hiatus as he enjoyed his meal. He advised Haru to keep drinking her sake, saying that it would be a waste of his money if she didn’t finish it. She ignored the flames licking at her esophagus as she did exactly as he ordered her to, eventually consuming the entire glass and turned to massaging her throat gently with her fingers to try and ease the pain.
Haru’s head felt very light now, choosing to close her eyes instead of watching everything slowly blur in front of her. It seemed like time was passing much faster now, and by the time she finally opened up her eyes again Sugimura had already finished his plate. He seemed entirely unaffected by his own bottle of sake, but then again he had drank much less than she did.
“We’ll be leaving soon,” he assured her as soon as he noticed she was staring at him. “I’m just waiting for them to return with the bill.”
Soon she was stumbling out of the restaurant, leaning her head on Sugimura’s shoulder. He had a protective arm wrapped around her, likely rejoicing in their close proximity. Usually she would never be this friendly with him, but at this point she needed his support. She could hardly think straight, let alone walk straight…
Her fiance helped her settle into the backseat of his limousine, buckling her seatbelt as her head lolled to the side. Haru felt a subtle nausea rising in the pit of her stomach, and hoped that her father wasn’t home to see her in this sorry state.
As they began their drive Sugimura started veering out of his own seat to get closer to hers. He placed a hand first on her shoulder, then slyly slid it over to caress her hair. He twirled the ends around his fingertips, whispering into her ear about how he just loved the color of it. Haru was too busy focusing on not vomiting to say anything to him, and figured that she would be home soon anyways and out of his unsettling grasp.
When the car pulled over to the curb, she was at first confused at the distinct feeling that they hadn’t been on the road for very long. But she relaxed as Sugimura began guiding her out of the car, keeping her eyes steadily on the ground to evade tripping over nothing.
He’s being so gentlemanly… Haru thought amongst her haze. He never walks me to the door…
She froze as she heard the lock click open, signifying that her front door had been opened.
While her key still rested in her pocket.
She shot her head up and took in the unfamiliar surroundings. An expensive, glassy front door set in walls of eggshell white. Sugimura’s penthouse.
“S-Sugimura-san…” Haru said slowly. She hadn’t walked inside with him, instead lingering around on the front steps as he stood in the doorway. “W-why are we…”
He cut her off, letting out an irritated sigh as he moved back outside and easily scooped her up into his arms. Apparently, he was no longer in a very patient mood and found it easier to carry her than convince her…
He carried her up a flight of stairs, humming some kind of incorrigible tune as he dropped her onto a soft, cushiony surface. The sudden movement lurched the alcohol splashing around inside her stomach up even further, causing her to turn her head to the side as she nearly expected vomit to begin protruding out.
But her fiance ignored the intention behind that motion, leaning his body against Haru’s as he straddled her. He placed a kiss on her cheek before hastily removing the jacket of his suit, practically tearing it in the process.
“Stop… please…” she mumbled, only opening her mouth wide enough to speak. She put her hands up in a feeble attempt to push him off of her, only for her arms to be swatted away effortlessly.
“I’ve waited long enough for you, haven’t I?” Sugimura sounded so smug, so confident in himself and his actions. “Think of this as payment for almost ruining my night.” He started a trail of kisses down her neck, sending a shiver of disgust grappling through her spine.
Haru was no idiot, even in a drunken state. She knew what was bound to happen if she allowed him to continue any further...
But hadn’t her father already requested this of her? She wondered if her fiance had planned this entire act out beforehand, knowing that she would be desperate to appease the situation after her mishap for her father’s sake. Knowing that her father would order her to do whatever was necessary.
She would have to get this over with sometime… right? If they were to be married, of course Sugimura would expect sex from her.
That’s all she was good for anyways, right?
What’s the point in fighting back…? Haru wondered as tears began pricking at her eyes. What’s the point in delaying the inevitable?
Sugimura leaned back from his assault on her throat, a perverse grin on his face as he began unbuttoning his shirt. He scoffed at her despondent expression, hastily wiping away the tears falling down her cheeks with his own palms.
“Come on, don’t be like that,” he said, a tense edge to his tone. A warning . “We’re just having fun, Haru. This is normal.” Her fiance tried his best to cast a loving look upon his face. “You look beautiful tonight. I truly can’t wait until you’re mine.”
That proved to be enough romantic talk for him as he quickly positioned himself back over her small body and was leaning in to claim her first kiss when Haru’s eyes suddenly widened and she swiftly turned her head to the side. Her stomach had finally gotten the best of her, and a steady stream of vomit erupted from within her mouth.
Sugimura instantly sprung up, backing himself up against the wall to get as far away from her retching as possible. Even after she had finished vomiting, Haru still continued gagging and heaving over the mess she had made on his mattress.
“God damnit!” Sugimura roared, going back on his previous action and rushing over to her, careful to avoid the puke. He grabbed onto Haru’s shoulder, throwing her off his bed. She landed flat on her back with a hard thud, the ringing inside her head growing even more intense.
“Are you fucking kidding me?” he demanded as Haru lay on the floor, groaning from the rough impact her spine had suffered. “Akane, get the fuck in here!”
Haru glanced over at the doorway, seeing an older, female housekeeper appear and wordlessly eye the stained bedsheets. Sugimura switched his glare back to his fiancee. “Akane will clean you up and then escort you outside. My driver will take you home from there.”
He stomped his way outside of the room after that statement, leaving Akane to help Haru off the ground and lead her towards the bathroom where she began gently rinsing the vomit out of her hair and clothes. The housekeeper left for a quick moment and then returned with a spare shirt and pants for her to change into. Haru allowed her mind to briefly wander around the reasoning behind a set of women’s clothing to be lying around in Sugimura’s home, but decided wisely to not expand any further upon that idea.
Akane fetched Haru a glass of water to rinse her mouth with before silently guiding the young girl downstairs. Sugimura’s limousine was already inhabited and waiting for her arrival in front of the expensive penthouse. Haru offered a bow to the housekeeper before making her way into the backseat of the car.
The ride was completely quiet.
Even when Haru arrived at her home the stretch of silence was maintained. Her father’s car wasn’t in their driveway, and there were no shoes resting near the doorway.
She sat down on the loveseat, her shoulders slumping as the night’s awful events replayed in her mind. She thought of Sugimura and bile began rising up in her throat once more. Quickly she made her way to the bathroom, heaving over the toilet as little chunks of vomit slid out in reaction to the vile memories wavering inside her head.
She tried to catch her breath as she remembered his body on top of hers, practically crushing her. His hands on her shoulder, fingers playing with her hair.
Haru’s eyes opened wide. Her hair.
She stood from her kneeling position, gazing at herself in the mirror with a glimmer of loathing coating her eyes, eventually landing on her long, auburn hair that billowed down to her waist. The hair that Sugimura loved so much, loved to compliment and tug on as if it belonged to him.
Haru opened the medicine cabinet rooted into her bathroom wall, taking out a pair of scissors and hastily putting it to her hair. She cut and cut and cut until layers of her luscious locks covered the floor beneath her. Then she took a hairbrush and started scratching at the skin of her shoulders and neck, remembering the feel of his arms wrapped around them, his lips wet against her skin… If only she could scrape the flesh off clean. Then she would truly be rid of everything Sugimura had ever touched.
Haru stared at herself in the mirror, relishing in her new ugliness. Her hair didn’t even brush her shoulders now, instead scratching against her chin as its end furled into curls. She smiled. Sugimura would hate it.
A ding from her cell phone resting on the bathroom counter startled her, causing her to let the scissors fall loose from her grasp and tumble to the floor. She reached over to her phone, reading the screen with a surprised blink.
AKECHI: Are you okay?
AKECHI: I hope you got to wherever you needed to be safely.
Chapter 4: 6/3
Haru was sitting on the school rooftop tending to her garden as she usually did during her after school hours. She waited a few extra minutes hidden in the darkness of the stairwell while a group of second-years chatted, eventually leaving and deciding to meet up at one of their houses instead. She didn’t reveal herself until she was positive their footsteps had faded down the hallway.
Recently she felt a bit strange when she visited the rooftop, ever since that girl had tried committing suicide. There was a melancholia in the air, a drastic shift from the tranquility that used to envelop her senses whenever she came up here. She didn’t like change.
Her phone binged. A small smile lifted the corners of her lips as she checked her notification.
AKECHI: Hello, Haru. I hope you’re doing well today. Sorry I’ve been so preoccupied with work. Would you like to accompany me somewhere later today?
Though she and Akechi had not seen each other since that whole mess with Sugimura - which he had thankfully not pried for information on - they had been texting almost everyday. A giddy feeling arose in Haru’s heart every time she heard the little ding. No one else really messaged her at all and it was nice having someone to talk to for once.
HARU: Yes, of course. What did you have in mind?
She frowned immediately after sending the message, realizing that she hadn’t even checked her calendar before responding. Was she that desperate?
After swiftly sliding her fingers across the screen to check the date, she was glad to find that there was nothing scheduled for her that night.
The last time she had seen Sugimura was the previous week; he wasn’t in as much of a hurry to spend time with her after she had accidentally vomited all over his bed. Her father hadn’t been happy at all but Haru was secretly very glad to sequester herself from him, if only for a short while.
Sugimura was absolutely furious when he saw her newly shortened hair; he said she looked like a boy and she wasn’t as pretty anymore. That was fine by her so long as he would quit bothering her for a while.
AKECHI: The famous painter Madarame has an exhibit in town that I wanted to take a look at. Are you interested in attending?
HARU: Yes! What time?
AKECHI: Is 5 okay?
AKECHI: Oh, I’m so sorry! I assumed we would take the subway, but I realize you might be uncomfortable with that.
Haru scrunched her face up in consideration.
Did she care if she rode the subway with Akechi-kun? No .
Did her father care if she rode the subway with Akechi-kun? Yes .
HARU: That won’t be a problem.
Haru had walked over to the station all by herself after finishing up on the school rooftop around an hour later. She decided not to return home between gardening and meeting with Akechi, because if she were to do so there was a much greater chance of her whereabouts somehow finding their way to her father.
Akechi stood with his back pressed against a pillar rooted inside the subway station, looking as presentable as always with his school briefcase and nicely kept uniform. He met her gaze as she approached.
Haru bounded up to him energetically, a sweet smile on her face as they exchanged greetings.
“You cut your hair,” Akechi noted with a nod.
“Oh, yes,” she tugged mindlessly at the short auburn locks. “Nearly a month ago. I forgot you hadn’t seen it yet.”
“It looks good,” Akechi assured her, quickly paying for the both of their tickets before she could get in a single word of protest. “Did you come straight from school?”
“Ah… yes,” Haru admitted, glancing at the change he tucked into his wallet. She was surprised he had liked her haircut, considering her father had thrown a fit about it. “What about you?”
“No, I had to stop by the police station for some work duties,” he responded coolly. “A partner of mine actually gifted me with two free tickets to this exhibit.”
“Oh, really?” she asked as they boarded the train. “That’s very nice of them.”
“I believe it was a… birthday present of sorts.” Akechi said casually, grabbing a spare seat and offering it to his friend.
Haru sat down, smoothing her skirt as it flared up slightly. “When is your birthday, Akechi-kun?”
“It was yesterday,” he responded complacently, glancing out the window as the surroundings started zooming by.
She blinked, surprised by his apathetic expression. “It was your birthday yesterday?”
“Yes, it was,” Akechi moved his gaze downwards to look at her. “I’m eighteen years old now.”
Haru was speechless. It seems like words wouldn’t form in her mouth for a few long minutes. “Y-you should have told me!” she stuttered. “Oh my gosh. I can’t believe it was your birthday and I didn’t even get you a gift… and now you’re treating me , I…”
Akechi laughed, placing his hands in front of his chest in a playfully defensive position. “I apologize for not notifying you. Since I live alone, I guess I never really thought of my birthday as a... big deal?”
Haru’s face flushed as she thought of what an entitled life she truly lived. Every year on her birthday she was treated to expensive gifts from all of her father’s associates, every estranged family member that wished for a piece of her inheritance. She got to eat whatever she wanted, buy whatever she wanted, travel to wherever she wanted… not much different from her everyday life, but usually her father actually associated himself with her on that one specific day. In recent years her birthday was used as a scouting event for potential suitors, a chance to show off her youth and beauty and receive lavish presents in return. She grimaced.
“But really, you don’t need to get me anything. That cash you left for me at the diner supplied my meals for almost two weeks.” Akechi tried cracking a joke as they pulled up to their stop. He held out his hand to help Haru out of her seat, which she gladly accepted, though still a little flustered.
As they began walking in the direction of the art show the boy detective easily changed the subject. “Are you familiar with any of Madarame’s work?”
Haru shook her head. “Not especially,” she replied honestly. “But I do know of his one painting, the really famous one.”
“Ah, the Sayuri ,” he said with a small grin. His eyes glazed over as he recalled the work of art inside of his own mind. “It’s amazing, isn’t it?”
“Yes, it really is,” Haru agreed. Who didn’t love that painting? It was certainly hard not to. The tender, loving gaze of the mysterious woman always made Haru think of her own mother, though she could never quite place why. Perhaps if Haru was any good at art herself, she could have one day created something of equal beauty.
As they entered the exhibit and browsed along the wide array of alluring paintings, a steady conversation was maintained. Haru couldn’t help but notice the large number of students musing over specific pieces, sketchbooks in their arms as they drew inspiration. The passion-filled smiles that stretched her lips as they gazed upon the various works of art.
Most of them would probably move onwards to study art in college and become famous painters like Madarame. Or, maybe not famous, but at least happy doing what they loved for the rest of their lives. What bright futures lay ahead for them, while in her own field of vision Haru could only see a dim glow.
“Akechi-kun?” Haru said softly, catching her friend’s attention. He turned to her attentively as she continued, “Have you taken an interest in any colleges yet?”
He laughed sheepishly. “My classmates are always asking me about that, actually. To tell you the truth, I haven’t had much time with all the work I’ve been doing on my current case… but I’m confident in my ability to study police and detective work wherever it is I want to go.”
Haru nodded languidly as she listened to him. Of course ... Akechi would be able to do whatever he wanted. He didn’t even really need to go to college if he didn’t want to. His presence in the media and stellar accomplishments as a detective were likely enough requirements to get him through the important years to follow.
“What about you?” he asked, returning the question as a polite gesture.
“Oh, I’m…” Haru looked away in embarrassment. “I’m not going to attend college.”
“Do you have problems in school, Haru? I could tutor you, if you’d like.” Akechi was as helpful as always, not even skipping a single beat as he offered his own resources to her freely.
Haru shook her head. “It’s not that, it’s… well, um…” She felt stupid for not realizing that the question would surely be flipped on her. It was far too mortifying to admit in front of her one friend that her destiny was to become a wealthy housewife, and no greater schooling was really required for that. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to attend college, but simply that Sugimura and her father’s desires outweighed hers by tons.
Even if she were to go to college, what would be the point? She would never have a say in any part of Okumura foods; Sugimura would become the CEO after her father.
“Oh, I apologize, Akechi-kun.” Haru said with a sad sigh. “I kind of spaced out there...”
She raised her gaze to give Akechi an awkward smile, only to see that he was staring intently at something behind her. She flinched at a short tap on her shoulder.
When she turned around, Haru was met with a crisp white suit that she knew all too well. “I - Sugimura-san ? What are you doing here?” She didn’t mean for it to come out so rudely, but the words tumbled out of her mouth practically against her own will.
“I could be asking you the same thing,” Sugimura fired back, a menacing glint in his eyes. He’s angry, Haru noted. “And with another man, no less. Please enlighten me, Haru, because this is really not looking good for you right now.”
She gulped. Her fiance had still yet to entirely forgive her for that incident in his bedroom - as well as her surprise haircut - and this was an unusually compromising situation she now found herself in. Her lips parted, but no sound came out.
Akechi stepped forward. “My name is Goro Akechi,” he introduced himself, his signature pleasant smile and charming aroma practically appearing out of thin air. “I’m a detective, and Haru is my apprentice.” Haru’s eyes virtually bulged out of her head at that broad statement.
“ Apprentice ?” Sugimura scoffed. “I hate to be the one to break it to you, but behind that pretty face there’s not much else. You’d be better off finding someone with a little more substance.”
Akechi shook his head. “Haru has proven herself to be very useful in my investigations concerning the Phantom Thieves and mental shutdown cases.”
Sugimura rose a single eyebrow, looking over to the girl in question. He wasn’t convinced nor skeptical, lingering somewhere in between as his eyes slithered over her expression. “You surround yourself with the strangest hobbies, my dear, you know that? Gardening and detective work, hm?”
My dear. The words burned her ears.
Her fiance stepped forward to move closer to her, placing a cold hand against her cheek in a feigned act of affection. “My father is interested in purchasing one of these paintings as our wedding gift. I was just going to speak with the artist about prices,” he glanced around, as if Ichiryusai Madarame would appear the moment his presence was demanded from him. Sugimura then returned his attention to Haru, a smirk tugging at his lips. “I believe we’ll be going out to dinner sometime later this week. I’ll see you then, Haru. We can talk more then about your new apprenticeship. ”
He left with a certain level of haughtiness, straightening his suit as he walked into a connecting room. As the door closed, Haru let out a breath she had no idea she had been holding.
“Um, thank you, Akechi-kun,” she cleared her throat. “I’m really sorry about that…”
“You have nothing to apologize for,” Akechi brushed off her apology. “You’re... engaged to that man?”
She winced at the sternness lacing his words. Was he mad at her?
“Yes,” Haru responded, evading his gaze. “I know he can be a little… um…” her mouth went dry. What was the word she was looking for? Mean? Terrible? Dreadful?
“I hope I haven’t caused you any trouble. Is he the type to… take his frustrations out on you, if provoked?” Akechi asked carefully.
“Um…” Haru was quiet as she thought about her answer to his thinly veiled question of whether or not Sugimura would beat her later on out of jealousy. If we lived together, then... “You don’t have to worry about me. I’m fine.”
It was hard to tell if the boy detective accepted her response. He placed a gloved hand against his chin in contemplation. “Still, I’m not quite sure that he bought what I said.” Akechi mused. “That could certainly prove to be a problem later on.”
Haru furrowed her eyebrows. “How so?”
“Well, if he were to ever find out about another one of our friendly outings, he probably wouldn’t take it as lightly unless he really became convinced that you’re my apprentice.” Akechi explained.
“So what do we do?”
Akechi gave her the most innocent grin she had ever laid eyes upon. “ Convince him .”
Chapter 5: 7/8
Haru wasn’t sure if Sugimura was convinced of her so-called apprenticeship to Akechi, but as the boy detective’s fame grew and flourished her fiance certainly liked to crack jokes about it.
“Maybe you can go on talk shows too, Haru,” he would say, a thin grin forcing his lips. “I’m sure you could become some sort of idol if you tried hard enough, like that ridiculous Akechi .”
Akechi had been stringing her along to some of his work commitments as of late, just to keep up appearances in the unlikely case that Sugimura was curious to her whereabouts. She would usually just stand in an alleyway, perched against a wall as Akechi disappeared to do… whatever it is he did. She would just play on her phone or watch the clouds while he was gone.
Akechi had recently been interviewed on a popular talk show, and his fame skyrocketed shortly afterwards. Sometimes people at school approached Haru to ask if she knew Akechi, how she knew Akechi, what was he like, was he cute in real life… She always answered their flurry of questions to the best of her ability, but no matter what the fangirls always seemed irritated by the end of their conversation. As if she was holding out on them.
Haru glanced down at her phone just as it vibrated in her hand, snapping her out of her thoughts.
AKECHI : I hope you’re doing well.
AKECHI : Has your fiance given you any more trouble?
Haru felt a swell in her chest. She couldn’t ever remember someone being so concerned about her to ask things like that on a regular basis.
He really cares about me.
HARU : Please don’t worry about me!
HARU : I’m okay.
AKECHI : That’s good to hear.
AKECHI : :)
AKECHI : Do you think he’s convinced yet?
She pondered that question for a moment. To be completely honest, she wasn’t sure if Sugimura even cared anymore… But did she want Akechi to stop taking her to work with him? She decided on a lukewarm response.
HARU : I can’t really say.
AKECHI : Then how about this:
AKECHI : Tonight I’ll be heading to Shinjuku to speak with someone. Would you like to come with me?
AKECHI : We could grab a bite to eat afterwards, of course. It shouldn’t take too long.
Haru hesitated only slightly before responding. She had never actually been to Shinjuku by herself, let alone at night. But in the end she decided was confident enough in her own ability to stay out of trouble. Plus, Akechi wouldn’t be gone for very long, so...
HARU : That sounds great. What time?
As they discussed the details of when and where to meet, Haru felt a fluttering in her chest that wouldn’t go away. This was how she always felt when she was thinking about Akechi, and thinking about seeing him later on that same day… It made her so incredibly happy. He made her so incredibly happy.
It did make her a little sad to think about the fact that while Akechi likely had hundreds of friends that he chatted up and hung out with often, Haru only had him.
“Isn’t it strange how Ichiryusai Madarame was apprehended just a few days after we went to his exhibit?” Haru remarked offhandedly as she and Akechi walked side by side.
It was a little late, around seven-thirty, and it appeared that the nightlife Shinjuku was notorious for was beginning to bloom into its fruition. As a group of gangly-looking men started approaching the pair Akechi quickly ushered Haru over to his other side, shielding her from their view.
“That is rather odd,” he finally responded once the men were out of hearing distance. There was a certain clip to his voice that she couldn’t quite place, and this was probably the fourth or fifth time she had heard it from him. He didn’t expand any further on that statement, and Haru assumed that in that case he must not want to talk about it.
So she expertly switched the topic. “Is the business you have here, um… classified?”
The cinch in Akechi’s voice disapparated as he let out a familiar pleasant chuckle. “Ah, yes. I suppose it is. Sorry about that.”
“Oh, no, I understand,” she looked up at him with a smile. “I know your work is really important, so…”
He stopped rather abruptly in front of a sleazy building lit up haphazardly with neon lights draped over boarded windows. “This is the address, but...” Akechi trailed off, looking a little unnerved by the state of the building. He glanced around. “I’m not sure if you should stay outside by yourself.”
Haru couldn’t help but feel a little frightened at the prospect of being alone in this sort of area, but she really didn’t want to become a burden on Akechi’s work. He had a job to do, after all, and she…
“I’ll be fine,” Haru mustered up the words despite her voice wavering slightly with unease. “You can go in, Akechi-kun.”
The boy detective hesitated, then offered an amiable nod. He waved his cell phone in the air. “If anything happens, notify me immediately, okay?”
Haru smiled back and dipped her head into a nod, allowing Akechi to walk forward and enter the building’s front door, leaving her standing awkwardly on the sidewalk.
She sighed once realizing she was now entirely alone and moved slightly ahead to rest her back against the outside wall. She nestled her phone between her hands and mindlessly scrolled through a little game she had downloaded earlier that day specifically for this event.
She wasn’t very good at video games, and after nearly fifteen minutes had passed Haru couldn’t believe she was still on the first level. As a small noise of frustration escaped her lips, Haru’s ears perked up at the sound of a gruff chuckle coming from a few feet to her right.
Her head raised instinctively and she let out a tiny yelp at the sight of two men in dark jackets radiating ghostly presences that she hadn’t noticed at all. She looked around, wondering if maybe she had been standing so close to the building that these men would think she was somehow affiliated with it, and was about to explain she was simply waiting for a friend when the shorter of the two guys spoke.
“Are you a high school student, sweetheart?” the man asked, not even waiting for a response before continuing. “We have a job where you can make some serious cash fast.”
“Um… no thank you,” Haru mumbled out a response, her clammy hands struggling to firmly grasp her cell phone. She wondered if this was an appropriate time to call Akechi, or... Maybe they’ll just leave once they realize I’m not interested.
The taller man shot her a toothy grin. “Come on, it’s an easy job. You don’t want easy money?”
“No, I don’t.” Haru responded, tracing her gaze downwards and scrolling down with one shaky finger to find Akechi’s phone number.
Both of the men exchanged glances, eyebrows raised. “What, is she saying she already has money?”
“If she doesn’t want any, then she must already have it.”
Haru slowly inched herself backwards, clicking on Akechi’s name and bringing the phone to her ear. Her eyes widened as she heard the staticky tone informing her that Akechi hadn’t picked up her call.
Her mouth opened as the men began closing in on her, yet no words stumbled out. She wasn’t even exactly sure what they were going to do to her… rob her, maybe? She hadn’t meant to brag about her wealth, but it certainly seemed like it came off that way...
They stopped in their tracks as the sound of footsteps approaching from behind drew nearer and nearer. Haru tried leering over their towering shoulders when she heard a voice that, despite being accustomed to, shocked her in this situation.
“What are you pieces of scum doing badgering my fiancee?”
What on earth is he doing here…? Haru wondered, her eyebrows furrowing in confusion.
The two men were shoved roughly to the side as Sugimura came running up to Haru, tucking her underneath his shoulder in a protective manner as if she were a wounded bird. He turned to face the men with a snarl tugging at his lips. “I’ll sue if you don’t leave, vermin!”
They shared a short glance before quickly making their way out through a neighboring alleyway, swiftly disappearing into the darkness.
Sugimura then moved to face Haru, her expression still trapped in a state of shock from the strange series of events that had just occurred before her. “What the hell were you doing out here alone, you stupid girl?”
Her eyes widened at his insult, her face slowly contorting into a grimace as she breathed in the vile scent rafting from his mouth: the distinct smell of alcohol that she now knew almost too well.
“S-Sugimura-san…” she addressed him quietly. She didn’t want to sound too abrasive. “Have you been drinking?”
Sugimura shuffled his fiancee out from beneath his shoulder and shot her a seething glare. “Why would you ask me that?”
“I-I just…” she eyed the tousled hair atop his head that struck her as off. It’s usually slicked back …
Sugimura let out a frustrated groan. “Why do you open your mouth, Haru? Why do you even speak? You would be so much more pleasant as a mute.”
His cruel words almost made her wish that she had taken her chances with those unsettling men. How had he even seen her standing there? Why was he even in Shinjuku in the first place? His shirt had the first few top buttons undone, the pale skin of his chest appearing through his attire. His appearance was ragged, disheveled… She couldn’t help but wonder about the likeliness of Sugimura simply running into her by accident two times now.
“Why are you so mean to me?” Haru couldn’t fight the hurt in her voice, her legs trembling as tears billowed up in her eyes. If he was drunk, then maybe this was how he truly felt about her…? She didn’t want to be a burden for the rest of her life. She wanted to be happy with him and in turn make her father happy, but sometimes he could make it so difficult… She knew she needed to try harder, but it was so nearly impossible when he had such a lack of respect for her…
Sugimura grabbed hold of her wrist, much tighter than he ever had before. “ Mean to you? You ungrateful little…! I apologize for saving you from some good-for-nothing thugs - ”
“Sugimura-san - ” she struggled against his grip.
“For always paying for your meals and expenses - ”
“My wrist, you’re - ”
“For telling you how much I appreciate your beauty, how much I desire you - ”
“It hurts, I - ”
Haru felt a snap inside her wrist as her fiance’s voice rose greatly in volume. “And you’re pestering me, an adult , for going out on my own and having some fun? I know damn well a prissy, uptight bitch like you won’t be putting out for as long as I live, so who are you to judge what I do in my free-time?”
Her eyes were shut tight as the searing pain coursed through her entire arm, numbing the area as a sob spilled out from between her lips. Sugimura didn’t let go, seemingly unaware or uncaring of the discomfort he was causing her until they could hear footsteps approaching quickly. He threw her hand back in one swift motion, eliciting another yelp from his fiancee.
“What’s going on here?”
Haru dimly registered in the back of her mind that Akechi had somehow appeared right in front of her but her focus was still on cradling her throbbing wrist to her chest.
“Just a domestic dispute,” Sugimura responded quickly. “Are you the one that decided to let my fiancee roam around Shinjuku by herself? You’re aware of the danger she was in from some lowlives taunting her?”
“I simply had some business to take care of. Haru often joins me on my work endeavours.”
Sugimura scoffed at the mention of her name. “Yeah, well, next time keep a better eye on her because I will not be keeping my end of the deal if I’m only receiving sloppy seconds from this marriage contract - relay that message back to your father, my dear Haru. ” He aimed those words directly at her instead of Akechi. “I’ll be leaving now. I look forward to the next time we see each other, my fiancee. Hopefully you’ll have learned a thing or two by then.”
Haru’s eyes shot open just in time to watch Sugimura compose himself enough to walk steadily into a neighboring bar across the street from them. She didn’t breathe out until he had disappeared through the doors. Learned a thing or two? What on earth could he possibly...? Why had he done that to her poor wrist… it hurts… She suppressed a groan of pain as Akechi approached her.
“Are you okay, Haru?” Akechi’s voice was gentle compared to the harshness exuding from Sugimura’s.
“Yes, I…” she found herself lying quite easily. “I tried calling you, but…”
Akechi stiffened noticeably. “I’m very sorry. My business associate asked me to turn off my phone as soon as I entered the building, so I…”
Haru shook her head. “It’s okay. I was just being careless, and thankfully Sugimura-san was around to save me, so…” her words trailed off.
The word thankfully had felt bitter on her tongue.
The boy detective’s eyes took in her expression as if he were analyzing it, his gaze eventually drifting to her cradled wrist. “May I see it?”
Hesitantly Haru offered him up her arm, hissing in pain when contact was first made. Akechi took it into his own hand as he shined a light from his cell phone to examine the physical extent of her injury. She winced when she glanced at it; swelled up much larger than her other wrist and bending in places that seemed unnatural.
“Your fiance did this.” Akechi’s words were firm and unwavering.
It wasn’t a question, but still she panicked to find an answer. “Um, no, I just tripped and fell back and - ”
“I watched him do it. You don’t have to lie.” Akechi’s expression looked rather troubled. “Sometimes I fear for your safety and I can’t imagine that you don’t as well. Isn’t there any way you can call off this engagement?”
Haru paused before answering, her voice proving itself to be unsteady. “I-I don’t know… Sugimura-san and I never really dated or anything, you see…” she glanced over a little nervously at her friend before continuing. She had never discussed this aloud with anyone, after all... “The truth is, my father is a CEO that has grown bored of businesses and wishes to delve into politics. Maybe you recognize the name, but the Sugimuras have a lot of influence in the political field…”
She was sure that the boy detective could put things together easily enough, but she ventured further into her spiel anyways. “So my father arranged this coupling between Sugimura-san and myself and in return he will of course gain political favor from their family. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about it before, it’s just kind of… um….” Haru’s words slowly transitioned into mumbles, her head hanging low.
Akechi probably hates me now for keeping this whole stupid thing a secret from him, dreadful thoughts began entering her mind. It’s not that I wanted to lie, it’s just… embarrassing to talk about…
Talk about what ? The reality of her situation? The truth that she was little more than a bargaining chip within her father’s life? A puppet to be played around with and manufactured to his whims?
Haru flinched as she felt a hand settle on her shoulder, then eased into it. The touch was comforting in a way she wasn’t familiar with.
“Why don’t I escort you home?” Akechi said quietly. His voice was warm and friendly again, greatly lacking in the anger that she had expected. “I’ll buy you something to eat on the way.”
Her lips moved in protest. “Akechi-kun, that’s - ”
Akechi took her good hand into his own as he began leading her down the way to the subway station. “That’s alright, Haru. I insist. ”
When Haru returned home nearly an hour later, she was very surprised to see her father lounging leisurely on the sofa.
He didn’t acknowledge her at all when she stood in front of him so Haru cleared her throat loudly. Her wrist was hanging limply by her side, dark bruises tracing the area where it was likely fractured.
He glanced up from his phone to look at her, a little irritated. “Yes?”
“I…” her mouth went dry for a long moment before her courage snuck up again. “I wanted to talk to you about something.”
She had at least captured some of his attention. Her father placed his phone face-down in his lap, allowing her to continue.
Her heart was beating rapidly inside of her chest as the words were spat out, turned desperate by the realization that he was finally listening to her for once. “I-I don’t want to be with Sugimura-san anymore!”
There was complete silence as her father’s mouth went agape, eyes widening, then narrowing into slits as he snapped, “Explain yourself.”
“Father, I’m scared of him.” Tears streamed freely down her cheeks as she voiced her own thoughts for practically the first time in her life. “He’s really mean to me and he even hurt me today - look it, look what he did to my wrist!” Haru gently moved her fractured wrist into view, glancing around frantically to gauge her father’s reaction.
His expression didn’t change. “Did you do something to fall out of his favor?”
Haru hesitated before speaking. “He got so mad at me for just asking him a simple question, and - ”
Her father shot her an icy glare. “So it was your fault, then? Haru, do you have any idea how important this connection is for me? You will single-handedly ruin my - our entire lives if you do one more thing to mess this up.” He stood up from his seat. “You have already agreed to this marriage! Sugimura-san is a good man and whenever you’re not doing your absolute best to pester and provoke him maybe he will be more agreeable towards you. I’m not listening to your stupid little selfish chattering any longer!”
Her father left the room abruptly, slamming the door behind him as he walked upstairs to retire to the master bedroom.
Feeling quite drained after that encounter, Haru monotonously trekked down the hall to her own bedroom. She gently shut the door behind her, becoming slightly startled by a bing from her cell phone.
FATHER : If that wrist is still giving you trouble in the morning, find one of the servants and have them care for it.
FATHER : Don’t bother me again.
Haru collapsed into her comforter and cried.
Chapter 6: 7/18
Haru was absolutely giddy with excitement as a maid tied her mint-colored obi into a tight, secure bow.
Her hair and makeup had already been prepped to perfection in the previous hours. Tonight was the fireworks festival , after all, and she actually had a date whose very presence didn’t make her want to be buried alive.
She was incredibly happy when her father had informed her a week prior that Sugimura would be travelling on a business trip the day of the festival, rendering him unable to escort her. Her father himself was also to be off on one of his many important meetings for the remainder of the night, unlikely to return any time before the following morning.
So Haru was finally beginning her teenage rebellion at age seventeen… she was disobeying her father’s orders to stay home instead of browsing the festival, and it was entirely because of another early-morning text she had received from Akechi.
AKECHI: Sorry if this seems last-minute, but would you be willing to join me at the fireworks festival tonight?
AKECHI: Unless you already have an arrangement with Sugimura, of course. I wouldn’t want to cause any trouble.
She knew her father would be dissatisfied, but Haru truly couldn’t help herself, and happily agreed to Akechi’s proposition. He had even insisted on picking her up in a taxi at her own house!
“Are you excited, Okumura-sama?” her servant asked, adding some finishing touches to Haru’s yukata. It wasn’t the most elaborate one that she owned, but of course since she was being sneaky she didn’t want to stand out too much, right? She had to be sly, especially considering she practically bribed this specific servant into helping her without spilling any mention of this to her father.
“Yes, I am.” Haru answered honestly, her voice raising noticeably in pitch from her eagerness.
“It’s such a shame that Sugimura-sama is off on business,” the servant said with a heavy sigh. “But don’t you fret, a little birdie told me he has a big surprise for you coming up… oh gosh, I shouldn’t have said that!” she burst into a fit of giggles, covering her mouth comically as noises of laughter slipped from between her fingers.
Haru blinked, a little off-put by her maid’s insinuation. Why does it seem like she knows something I don’t…? “Um… what do you mean?”
“Nothing, nothing at all, Okumura-sama. You just go enjoy yourself tonight.”
Haru plastered on a strained smile in response, still moderately perplexed but deciding to save it for a later time. She began her descent down the stairway, which was made somewhat difficult by the lack of flexibility in her clothing. At the front door she hesitated slightly, not wanting to leave before Akechi had announced his arrival in order to evade suspicion from the guards patrolling the outskirts of her home. She brought out her phone to text him only to be surprised by a recent notification she had somehow missed.
AKECHI: Hello, I’m at the address you sent me, but to be frank I’m not sure if it’s the right one…
AKECHI: There’s some sort of gate blocking the entrance to what looks like a museum, or perhaps a government building…
Oh, gosh, that’s so embarrassing… Haru mused as she frantically typed out her response.
HARU: No, that’s right.
HARU: I’m so sorry I forgot to tell you! At the gate, just say you’re here to deliver me some study notes or something. They should let you in as long as you mention my name.
She hadn’t realized that Akechi wasn’t entirely aware of her wealthy status. He might even be off-put by the luxurious appearance of her home… come to think of it, Haru realized that she had absolutely no idea of anything pertaining to Akechi’s home life.
She had heard him mention before that he lived alone. She didn’t really like to pry, but… didn’t it always seem like she was the one blabbering all about herself and her troubles? Did he ever get sick of it? Of her?
Haru opened the front door slightly, her eyes widening as she watched a taxi cab pull forward into her house’s massive driveway. She hobbled out quickly, shutting the door behind her and grabbing at the fabric near her ankles in order to help her move away faster from any prying eyes that worked for her father.
Akechi had only just exited the cab, likely to come around and open the door for her, when Haru breathlessly pulled open the backseat door and threw herself inside all in one swift motion. She ushered him back inside the cab and tried ignoring the quaint look of confusion upon his face as he sat down next to her, closing the door and buckling his seatbelt accordingly.
“I’m so sorry!” Haru blurted out, feeling her face heat up from the utter humiliation. “I didn’t mean to rush you or anything, it’s just that - ”
The boy detective let out a pleasant laugh, waving away his friend’s worrisome chatter. “I’m not upset at all. I was just unsure of if you were in trouble, that’s all.”
“Trouble?” Haru blinked. “Oh, no, I’m okay, but… to be honest, Akechi-kun, I’m not supposed to be going out with you.”
Akechi raised an eyebrow playfully. “Going out with me?”
“Oh, no, um, I didn’t mean…” Haru’s face immediately flushed an even deeper shade of red. Did Akechi-kun just flirt with me?! Or is he just making fun of me...? Ohmygodohmygodohmygod... “I meant that.... Um, my father asked me not to attend the festival tonight! My fiance notified him of the incident in Shinjuku, you see, so he’s been a lot stricter on the places I go recently…”
The boy detective nodded, still grinning from his previous comment. “I guess that makes us partners in crime then. Hm, I never thought I would say that, as a detective…”
Partners in crime? Partners?! All of this was seriously too much for Haru. If her heart starting beating any faster she figured it would just completely shut down altogether.
“Right here is fine, sir,” Akechi said loudly, notifying the driver to pull over to the curb. Haru blinked, glancing around at the surroundings she hadn’t even noticed up to this point. They were in the heart of the city, and things already seemed to be bustling despite it being just past sundown.
Akechi helped her out, taking her hand into his own for a split second as she made the grand movement from the car door to the curb.
She thought about when they were in Shinjuku a little over a week ago, how he had held her hand the entire way from that grimy alleyway to a cute little bakery. He had bought her a sweet roll and waited while she ate it.
He never complained, not even once. Not about how she needed to lose weight, how she needed to be quiet and compliant, how she needed to shut up, get over here, put out…
Akechi made her feel so much different than when she was with Sugimura.
The boy detective glanced around at the rapidly increasing crowd. “I hope I’m not underdressed.”
There was a fair amount of people dressed in yukatas like herself, but Haru still felt a bit silly standing next to Akechi in his normal dress attire. “I have to admit, I do feel somewhat foolish…”
“You look good,” Akechi assured her with a smile. “I forgot to mention, you truly have a lovely house. I’m a little jealous…”
“Oh, please don’t be!” Haru implored, clasping her hands together in front of her chest out of sheer nervousness. “Akechi-kun, may I ask you a question?”
There was a curious glint in his eyes. “Go ahead.”
“Um…” Haru’s voice faltered slightly. “Why is it that you hang out with me?”
It was kind of an embarrassing question, but one that she longed to hear the answer to. She didn’t want to get the wrong idea, after all. Maybe Akechi just felt sorry for her, and was trying to help make the best of her time before she was shipped off into a loveless marriage.
But she couldn’t deny the way he made her feel . She liked him, she really liked him… even knowing he probably didn’t reciprocate those emotions.
“Why?” Akechi sounded a little confused as he prepared to answer. “Because we’re friends, of course.”
Haru nodded slowly as she pondered his response. Her head lifted with a smile.
“Now, why don’t we go get some food? I think I saw a yakitori stand over there…” Akechi began leading the way as Haru followed - not behind him, but right by his side.
The rain had just started to fall when Haru’s phone began ringing.
Akechi had placed his own jacket over her in order to preserve the texture of her yukata to the best of his ability, despite her constant protests. Her heart dropped as she read the caller ID, picking up the phone rather reluctantly. “Hello, Father.”
“Alright, Haru, you’ve had your fun,” her father grumbled. “A car is coming to pick you up.”
“What do you mean? I’m… um, I’m at home, so…” she cringed internally. She was a terrible liar.
“I’ve known the entire time you were out tonight,” her father said with a sigh. “I know you’ve been seeing that boy, too.”
“Um... what boy?”
Her denials were useless. “Don’t play dumb. I gave you your last day sneaking around with that detective kid. Now you are to be either at school, home, or on a date with Sugimura-san at all times. You will not see that boy anymore, you’re to remain intact for your marriage. I’m sure you haven’t noticed the men I’ve sent trailing you ever since that incident in Shinjuku?” her silence only encouraged her father’s spiel. “I figured so. The car will be there soon. I may or may not see you sometime later this week.”
The line cut, indicating that her father had hung up.
“Who was that?” Akechi asked offhandedly, trying to hail a taxi to the best of his ability through the pattering rain.
“It was my father,” Haru’s eyebrows furrowed. Had there really been people following her this whole time, that she had remained oblivious to? Was she that much of an idiot?
Akechi paused, glancing over at her. “You said he was unaware you were attending this festival, right? I hope you aren’t in trouble.”
“I don’t know if he’s angry,” Haru bit down on her lip. “But he knows I’m here. He doesn’t want me to… well, I’ll tell you about it later.”
They had such a nice time together. It was the happiest day she could even remember in recent years.
She didn’t want to ruin it.
When Haru was ushered back into her home through the pattering rain, she was a little taken aback by its appearance: burning candles were set on every flat surface, and a long trail of red roses led down the hallway.
Does Father have a girlfriend…? The embarrassing thought creeped into her mind entirely without her consent. Haru shook her head, slowly moving down the pathway which eventually lead to her bedroom.
She pushed the door open, eyes widening at sight of a lit candle nesting on the corner of her desk. A piece of paper resided against it. When she took it into her own hands, the flap of the paper nicked her on the finger.
My dear Haru,
I hope you appreciate this romantic gesture. I look forward to hearing about your reaction when I return from my trip.
The blood trickled down her finger, pooling into a wet spot on her desk.
Sweat poured down Haru’s face as it contorted with intense strain, her hands trembling in weak attempts to move the incredibly heavy bag of soil in front of her.
Students and teachers alike passed her and simply snickered, none making any moves whatsoever to help her. Haru was about to just give up out of frustration when a quiet voice asked, “Do you need any help with that?”
She turned to see a boy around her age standing a little awkwardly with his messenger bag saddled up at his side. She glanced at the number lining his uniform blazer; he was a second-year, the grade below her own.
“Um…” Haru hesitated on taking him up on his offer, not wanting to inconvenience him. “Yes, please, if it isn’t too much trouble…”
The boy carried the bag of soil up to the school roof with a relative amount of ease, setting it down before her flowerbeds as Haru instructed with an audible grunt.
“Thank you very much,” she said with a kind smile. The boy returned it. He then swiveled on his heel, making his way to the exit when the door swung open only to reveal Akechi standing in the doorway, holding a plastic bag adorned with a bakery logo.
Akechi’s lips stretched into an affable grin. “Ah, Kurusu-san. I wasn’t aware you and Haru knew each other.”
The boy - Akira? - didn’t look as happy. “We just met, actually,” he responded coolly.
“I come up here often to help out Haru with her gardening,” the boy detective explained, motioning to the plant beds shuffled into the corner of the rooftop. That was true; ever since her father had banned Haru from hanging out with Akechi he began assisting her with gardening during the after school hours a few times a week, as to not arouse suspicion from going out.
“That’s nice,” the second-year mumbled, his mood seemingly soured by the boy detective’s sudden appearance. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get going.” he walked past Akechi and began his trek down the flight of stairs, the door closing sharply behind him.
Akechi turned his attention to Haru, shooting her a smile and dropping the bag he had been holding right into her lap.
“I picked up a sweet roll for you,” he said.
“Oh, thank you so much,” Haru responded warmly. “But, how did you find the time? Your classes must have just let out less than an hour ago...”
“I wasn’t able to attend class today,” Akechi admitted. “My detective work has been rather demanding lately, what with the Phantom Thieves becoming so popular…”
Haru mindlessly pulled out the pastry hiding within the bag, biting into it and rolling the delicious taste around on her tongue. Her father had been quite the hot topic among those forums recently... “The Phantom Thieves…”
“What’s your take on them?” the boy detective inquired. “I was persecuted for mine, as you know.”
“Um… I’m not quite sure.” she didn’t want to show any outright support, knowing that Akechi didn’t particularly like them...
“Do you at least believe in their existence?” he asked.
She shrugged, averting her eyes from his piercing, crimson gaze. She had left two requests on the PhanSite, one for her father and the other for Sugimura.
After a long enough pause Akechi wisely decided to shift the topic. “How do you know Kurusu-san?” he questioned her.
“Ah, is that his name…?” Haru began making her rounds watering the plants, offering her friend the seat she had previously been occupying. “I only met him about ten minutes ago. He helped me carry up that bag of soil.”
“Isn’t that nice,” Akechi let out a strained chuckle. “He actually… erm, lives in a cafe that I frequent.”
Haru’s eyebrows furrowed. “He… lives in a cafe?”
“Yes,” the boy detective nodded. “He doesn’t look it, but Kurusu-san has a criminal record. I’m not quite sure of the details, but somehow his probation landed him here.”
Haru was a little unsettled at Akechi’s expression. It seemed like he was almost… happy to be speaking about this discomforting topic. Still, his words struck a chord of familiarity within her.
“Oh, I guess I do know him then,” she spoke with realization. “There used to be a lot of rumors surrounding him, but they seemed to have died down…”
“And why is that?”
Haru put a finger to her lips in contemplation. “Hm… it might be because he started hanging around with the student council president. She wouldn’t be friends with someone who’s a danger to our school, so…”
“Makoto Niijima?” the boy detective didn’t miss a beat.
“Um… yes, that’s her.” Haru responded, blinking slowly. “How did you - ”
“I work with her older sister, you see.” Akechi smiled. “Sae Niijima. She’s a public prosecutor.”
“Oh… yes, of course.” Haru returned the smile, albeit a bit tight.
She couldn’t quite shake the feeling that their interaction today was more of an interrogation, no matter how many light-hearted laughs and grins were thrown her way.
Later that same night, Haru was dutifully escorted to a Big Bang Burger when she offhandedly mentioned to a servant that she had not yet eaten dinner.
It was actually kind of nice to spend some time outside without being accompanied by her fiance. Even though she was eating alone in a fast food restaurant that her father owned, it still made her feel at least a little bit more connected to society.
“I’m just going to go get some fresh air,” she announced to the manager.
The woman blinked, offering a pressed, forced smile. “Of course, Okumura-sama. Please don’t stray too far, your father has already sent a car to come pick you up…”
Haru nodded before quickly exiting the store, withdrawing a deep sigh of relief from within her body as the cold air graced her skin.
She set her back against the colored outside wall of Big Bang Burger, lifting her gaze to look up at the blackness of the sky. She wondered how pretty it would look with stars swimming around in that pool of darkness.
She thought about Akechi and his peculiar behavior earlier that same day. That boy she had met, Kurusu… he seemed nice, but he didn’t like Akechi. Who in the world didn’t like Akechi? Was there a reason to dislike Akechi?
It was true that they hadn’t been able to spend as much time together recently, due to her father’s orders… and it seemed like Father was really serious about things this time. As soon as she graduated, she would be married, after all… it was unbecoming for her to be seen with another man…
These were the thoughts that plagued Haru’s mind as she stood perched in a slough of her own loneliness.
That was, until she heard a croaking meow sound from a few feet to her left.
Haru blinked, her eyes squinting in order to distinguish a small, hunchbacked figure slowly making its way towards the Big Bang Burger.
Is that… a cat?
She absolutely loved animals, she really did, but her father had never once entertained the thought of bringing one into their home. They were too messy, too annoying, too loud, too gross, he didn’t have time to take care of it and she was too lazy…
Haru approached the cat, eliciting a small meow from it as she eyed a collar hanging loosely around its neck.
“Are you lost?” she asked, making a risky move and deciding to pick up the little kitty. “You do have a collar…”
The cat meowed back, almost appearing as if in protest. It wasn’t very chubby for a cat, with pretty black fur that blended seamlessly into the shadows of the night. Strikes of white painted its paws and tail, but the most impressive of its traits were the crystal blue color of its eyes.
“What an adorable kitty…” Haru marvelled, petting the little thing on top of its head. Her face turned as she heard the familiar hum of a company car approaching. The back door opened, as the driver gestured for her to enter.
Haru looked back at the cat. “Don’t worry. I’ll take you back to my house, and we’ll find your real owner, okay? They must really miss you…”
She continued her words of comfort, along with consistent pats on the head as she entered the car, evoking a steady, low hum of purring the entire ride home.
Hey guys, just the bee movie here wanting to express my thanks to everyone who has read, bookmarked, commented, kudos'd, etc etc on this story! It really means a lot to me, and I'm glad you are enjoying! There's still a bit more to this fic, especially as we are charging full speed ahead into canon divergence. See you soon!
Chapter 8: 9/14
The previous night, Haru’s eyes had practically bulged out of her head when she spied the silver tags clinging to the lost cat’s collar.
And on the back:
It was almost enough of a coincidence to laugh, but Haru was too concerned with the poor kitty’s well-being to muster up much of anything. She immediately pulled out her cell phone to text the number, supposedly belonging to the same boy she had met earlier that day.
HARU: Hello, is this Akira Kurusu?
HARU: Do you have a cat named Morgana?
The response was quick.
AKIRA: Yes and yes.
AKIRA: Why? And who is this?
She nibbled on her lower lip while typing out her responding message.
HARU: This is Haru Okumura.
HARU: We actually met earlier today.
AKIRA: Wow. How weird is that?
She wasn’t quite sure if she was supposed to reply to that, but decided to anyways.
HARU: I found your cat and brought him to my house.
HARU: He was wandering around Shibuya.
AKIRA: Thank you for that.
AKIRA: Is he okay?
She glanced over at the kitty sprawled on her bed, looking pretty exhausted. He had only let out a few meek meows throughout their time together, mostly nestling into her loose embrace as well as the comfy cushions adorning her bed.
HARU: I think so.
AKIRA: Could we maybe meet before school tomorrow? And I can get him back?
She furrowed her eyebrows.
HARU: Before school? But then won’t you have to take him to class?
Is that a regular thing for cats? Haru wondered. To go to school with their owners?
AKIRA; Is the rooftop fine?
Haru’s father sneezed as she passed by his mostly still figure sat on the living room sofa the following morning.
“Bless you,” she murmured purely out of politeness, quickly moving past him to get to the front door.
“Wait a minute, Haru,” her father commanded, wiping at his nose wearily with an embroidered ebony-colored handkerchief. “Ugh, my allergies have been acting up all night…”
She stopped in the doorway, a cold trickle of guilt running down her spine as she remembered that her father was allergic to cats.
There was a cat inside her bag.
“Things are still going well with Sugimura-san?” her father asked, not even pausing for a response before continuing. “I’m sure you’ve heard about the media rising up against Okumura foods recently. You needn’t worry. The Sugimuras will help me regain the public’s trust before I begin running for office.”
“That’s… good to hear.” Haru nodded listlessly, her eyes wavering towards the door. She didn’t want to be late for school...
“Anyways,” her father abruptly switched the subject with a light cough. “I just wanted to let you know that I have arranged for you to move into Sugimura’s house in a few weeks time. Don’t trouble yourself with packing, it will all be taken care of.”
Haru’s eyes widened, her mouth becoming slightly disconnected. “I - what ?”
Her father narrowed his gaze. “Is there an issue?”
“I-I, um…” Haru really just needed a moment to think. Her head was swimming, knees trembling and knocking against each other entirely without her consent. “I just thought that, um… wouldn’t we wait until after the wedding? To move in, I mean, because, um…”
“Isn’t that how young people do it nowadays?” her father dismissed her concerns with a single wave of his hand. “Besides, Sugimura-san proposed the idea himself.”
Of course he did… Haru thought grimly, biting her tongue.
“Well, that’s all I had to discuss with you. Go off to school now,” her father sneezed again, dialing a number on his cell phone and holding it up to his ear as Haru slowly walked past him.
Moving in with Sugimura…? The single phrase repeated itself over and over in her mind. If that were to happen, she would really never be able to hang out with Akechi again… her entire life would become more controlled than ever before. What she ate, who she talked to, what time she slept… all those things would likely be monitored and manufactured to her fiance’s liking.
Everytime Haru was with Sugimura she was heavily fortified. There were layers upon layers of defensive armor she had built long ago to withstand his assaults, so that his cruel words and crude remarks never quite reached her heart. But she could only keep that wall up for so long before she was eventually stripped bare, and there would be nothing else to protect her.
If they were to move in together... there would be no excuses of having to go home to study for school, having to tend to the single plant resting on her nightstand, having to boil tea for her father…
One of her few solaces would be completely spoiled: the privacy and security of her own home.
“Thank you so much for this,” Akira Kurusu said kindly as Haru approached him on the school rooftop, Morgana idly resting in her arms. Haru attempted to transfer the cat from herself to Akira, but the kitty simply digged its body further into Haru’s and looked away from Kurusu. The boy let out a deep sigh. “I hope he wasn’t an inconvenience?”
“Oh, it was no problem at all,” her voice lacked the usual bounciness it possessed, still reeling from the unfortunate news she had heard just earlier that morning. “Come on, kitty, don’t you want to see Kurusu-san again?”
Kurusu sighed, extending a hand to caress the top of Morgana’s head. “I know you’re still mad at me, but don’t give Okumura-san any more trouble. We can talk things out, with everyone else, too…”
Haru smiled. It was funny to see him interacting with the cat like it could actually speak.
Morgana meowed back, almost as if in a clear response. The cat startled wriggling out of her grasp. Haru set him gently on the ground and he made a bee-line for Kurusu’s bag, which was promptly opened up. She was surprised to see the kitty hop right inside, making himself comfortable in the space desperately lacking in notebooks or schoolwork of any kind.
“That’s so funny,” she said. “Morgana wanted to sit inside my bag, too.”
Kurusu chuckled. “He does that. You can call him Mona-chan, by the way. It’s kind of a nickname.”
“Mona-chan,” Haru repeated. “That’s so cute.”
Kurusu nodded, glancing around as if he was trying to think of something to say.
“So you’re friends with Akechi-kun?” Haru’s curiosity got the best of her, the end of her question sounding rather eager.
Kurusu only looked half-surprised. “Friends… Did he tell you that we were?”
She thought back to their conversation the previous day, screening it in search of the word. “Um… No, I don’t think he did…”
“He’s charming, isn’t he?” the boy shot her a smirk just as the first warning bell rang, indicating that they should begin making their way to class. “I should warn you, Okumura-san. Be careful around Goro Akechi.”
The cat Morgana let out a soft meow in one last goodbye, swinging around in Akira Kurusu’s messenger bag as he opened and closed the door leading to the school stairwell.
Haru’s head swam.
Chapter 9: 10/11
AKECHI: Good afternoon, Haru. I apologize for not being able to help out with your gardening after school today. I was preoccupied with work.
HARU: There’s no need to apologize. There wasn’t much to do today, anyways.
AKECHI: That’s good to hear.
AKECHI: Your father is holding a press conference today, right?
HARU: Yes, he is.
AKECHI: And will you be in attendance?
HARU: I will. I’m not quite sure why, but he insists I should be there.
HARU: It’s kind of odd behavior. I’m not usually supposed to be affiliated with the business side of things.
AKECHI: Is your father acting off in any other way?
HARU: He’s been really sick lately. He hasn’t been able to go into work very much, or even leave the house...
AKECHI: I would ask you to give him my regards, if only he wasn’t unaware of our continuing friendship.
AKECHI: Have a good evening, Haru.
AKECHI: I wish you and your father the best.
“Are you excited for tomorrow, my dear?”
Haru frowned at the question, looking up from the screen of her cell phone. Sugimura’s tone clearly indicated to her that there was a right and wrong answer, despite the light tone he was trying so hard to apply.
Tomorrow evening she would move in to Sugimura’s penthouse.
“I’m a little scared to leave my father all by himself,” she responded. It wasn’t necessarily a lie, just excluding certain parts of the truth.
The pair of them were unfortunately stuck in pretty severe traffic, cradled in the backseat of Sugimura’s limousine. He had very firmly insisted on escorting Haru home from school that day, and of course she was in no position to refuse his gracious offer.
“And why is that?” Sugimura questioned, a single eyebrow raised dubiously.
“Father has been ill recently,” she replied simply, growing a little annoyed with his inability to remember anything about her. The amount of times she had already informed him of this made her head hurt…
Her fiance chuckled. “You shouldn’t worry about things like that. That’s what you have servants for, after all.”
To take care of my father for me? Haru pondered inwardly. Isn’t that a daughter’s job... she jumped when she suddenly felt Sugimura’s cold fingers graze the bare skin of her shoulders.
“I truly can’t wait until tomorrow night.” Sugimura’s voice attempted a seductive tone, persevering straight through her glass barrier. “You should get some rest before then, Haru.”
“Um…” Haru wriggled her body as far away from him as she could in this terribly cramped position, turning to face the window. “And why is that?”
He chuckled lecherously. “We’ll likely be up all night. I won’t even be bothered if you stay home from school the following morning.”
Her stomach lurched, growling at the unpleasant realization that there wasn’t even any food within to upchuck. “Um…” she hated how uncomfortable Sugimura made her feel. She could sense the hairs of her arms raising, goosebumps ascending from her pale skin.
He smirked. Haru wondered if he enjoyed causing her so much distress.
“In other news, what exactly is this press conference your father suddenly scheduled?” Sugimura asked, changing the subject rather abruptly. “I specifically advised him to avoid any news coverage until we were married, and then my father could help clean up his filthy damn mess…”
Until we were married... Haru repeated in her mind.
Sugimura sighed. “I suppose that time will come soon enough. Have you gotten fitted for a dress yet? I’d like something sexy, but loose enough around the stomach to hide your few extra pounds… Unless, of course, you plan on seriously adjusting your weight sometime before the wedding…”
Haru only half-listened to his degrading spiel, her eyes permanently plastered to the slow-moving world beyond the limousine’s tinted window.
Later that day, Haru sat cross-legged on her bed. Some school books were opened in front of her, the text inside which she was only half-reading. Studying usually helped calm her nerves, but...
Haru had never been to a press conference before, She didn’t even know what to wear, or how to act - would she be asked to say anything?
She shook her head. I’m being ridiculous, of course I won’t… I’ll probably just stand off to the side or something...
A call from far down their long hallway alerted her. “Haru, could you come out here?”
Perpetually playing the part of an obedient daughter, she immediately swung her legs over the high bedframe and ambled over to her bedroom door.
Her father was waiting on their living room sofa, gesturing for Haru to take a seat next to him as soon as she wandered into his view.
“Hi, Haru,” his voice was still a little hoarse from lack of use over the past few days. “How are you?”
She blinked. When was the last time he had ever asked her that question…?
“I’m alright, Father,” she responded timidly. “Are you feeling any better?”
Her father let out a deep sigh that rattled throughout his body, bringing his handkerchief up to chapped lips. “I’ll be relieved of my worries after this conference. Only then will my mind finally be at ease.”
Haru had never quite heard her father sounding so sorrowful before. “What will you be discussing during the press conference?”
He remained silent, as if he were carefully listening to her words. That’s a first… “No matter what happens, I want you to know that… I’m sorry for what I’ve done to you.” Haru’s mouth parted slightly in surprise, but only a measly breath trickled out. Her father continued. “I know that I’ve hurt you, and I understand if you can’t ever forgive me… just know that tonight, after the conference, I’ll be ending things with the Sugimuras. I’m calling off the wedding, the partnership, the politics. Everything .”
She felt like she was dreaming, hearing this heavenly stray of words cascading from between her father’s lips.
“B-but why?” Haru questioned.
This doesn’t make any sense…
Lines of tears trailed down her father’s cheeks as he spoke, his voice cracking, “Because… you are my precious daughter. I won’t let anyone hurt you... I love you, Haru.”
Haru’s heart began beating faster. Her eyes grew damp listening to her father’s rare words of affection. Words that hadn’t graced her presence in years, creating endless strings of tension between them.
“I love you too, Father…”
She was so, so happy… but absolutely perplexed by this turn of events. What exactly had happened to her father? Why was he acting so different? It was as if he had a change of heart, or -
Her eyes widened. A change of heart?
Of course… her father had been at the top of the Phantom Thieves polls for weeks now. People rioted outside of Big Bang Burger daily, threatening hundreds of terrible different things if a change of heart didn’t occur within the CEO of Okumura Foods…
The Phantom Thieves really did listen to my plea, Haru thought back to the request she had sent in online months ago. They’ve saved my life… I can’t thank them enough…
Haru smiled, hastily wiping a few tears from her eyes. I can’t wait to tell Akechi-kun.
“Thank you all for taking time out of your busy schedules to gather here.”
Akechi watched the press conference from his cell phone screen, a knot of unease weighing down his gut.
“How my employees were forced to work under severe conditions, how… lax we were with sanitation…”
Masayoshi Shido called him. The call was declined.
“For all of this, I wholeheartedly apologize.”
He wished Haru wasn’t there.
“I… am solely responsible...”
That just made everything so much worse...
“I have a critical piece of information to announce here today.”
And then of course things happened the way they usually did. Okumura clutched at his chest, an expression of intense pain overtaking his face. He bent forward at the waist, head hanging low parallel to the wooden structure of the podium.
When Okumura rose, a black tar-like liquid was oozing down his face, leaking profusely from every orifice.
Akechi winced at the graphic nature of this broadcast, but was unwilling to turn away. The station immediately began scrambling to cut the cameras, workers running around the screen in a disorganized, chaotic clamber.
The video was eventually cut, but not before a clearly audible, shrill cry was heard just as a small figure began rushing forward.
ANN: Did we… mess up?
AKIRA: We did everything exactly the same.
MAKOTO: And now this has happened…
MAKOTO: I still feel that we made a mistake not confiding in Haru Okumura.
ANN: Yeah, me too...
YUSUKE: It doesn’t seem fair that we all got a say in the change of heart that directly affected us, yet she was entirely unaware.
AKIRA: If we had done that, we would have risked having everything spilled to Akechi.
RYUJI; I gotta side with Akira here. That guy is bad news, and we can’t trust anyone that’s close to him either.
FUTABA: I agree, but still... This feels wrong.
MAKOTO: Don’t forget that my sister is also an acquaintance of Akechi’s.
YUSUKE: I can’t help but wonder if things could have played out much differently…
Akira set his phone down with a sigh.
Where did we go wrong?
Haru’s under-eyes felt raw from all of her excessive crying.
She sat nestled comfortably on the living room sofa, watching with diluted interest as people trailed in and out of her home. Policemen, servants, business associates of her father’s… each of them with a different purpose, but moving along the same path for the time being. As long as it served them, she supposed.
That pathway being her house.
She had already been interviewed by Sae Niijima. The woman was focused and beautiful, much like her younger sister, but she seemed very… stressed out. She constantly held her head between her hands, not once making eye contact with Haru as she interrogated her.
“Did your father ever receive a calling card from the Phantom Thieves?” the woman asked.
“Um…” Haru hesitated. “Not that I know of, but he probably wouldn’t have told me even if he did…”
“You two weren’t close?” Niijima questioned. When met with silence, she glanced over at the crestfallen expression on Haru’s face, blinking a few times before shaking her own head. “Sorry. That’s not an appropriate question. Moving on…”
Haru promptly answered every inquiry to the best of her ability up until the topic of Sugimura inevitably arose.
“So now you’re to be moved in with your fiance, correct?” Niijima queried. “You’re only seventeen, that seems a little young… But this was the arrangement even before your father’s passing, right?”
“Um…” Haru wasn’t quite sure how to handle this subject. It was true that her father had ordered her to move in with Sugimura, and she never once planned on protesting, but… Mere hours before he died, her father had told her so many outrageous things. She wouldn’t have to live with Sugimura, she wouldn’t have to marry him… that little taste of freedom was something entirely foreign to her. It felt close enough to touch, but then for her father to leave before the announcement was made public...
“If there’s something I should know about, then tell me.” Niijima’s tone was not kind, nor patient.
“Right before the conference, um…” Haru’s voice trembled. “My father told me a lot of things that contradicted previous statements. He said that my fiance and I were done, and I wouldn’t have to get married or move in with him.”
Niijima furrowed her eyebrows. “And you were the only witness to those statements?”
“I’ll look into it, but the Sugimuras have been very adamant about keeping their little arrangement despite your father’s passing. They say they have documents, contracts, legally binding statements to retain your engagement. We were able to allow you one extra day before moving in, and even that proved to be difficult…” Niijima sighed. “I have some things to get back to, but before I leave… No, nevermind. Thank you for your time, Okumura-san.”
Haru attempted a polite bow before the woman fled, but Niijima was rather quick on her feet. She was a busy woman, after all.
A stagnant frown stained Haru’s face as slowly she melted back into the soft sofa cushions, watching the activity amongst her former house-turned-crime-scene. A lot of her furniture and necessities were being shuffled out and into the moving trucks parked in her long driveway. Their destination? Sugimura’s home, of course...
Before she was able to simmer long in her little pool of misery, a vibration from her phone alerted her.
That’s strange… Haru remarked internally. I could have sworn I set it on silent…
When she flipped her phone screen over she was surprised to see that she was receiving a phone call - from Akechi, of all people. He had texted her a few times throughout the previous night and early morning, but Haru hadn’t been in much of a mood to reply amongst the hundreds of other messages she’d received; they were mostly from people that she had never talked to before, anyways.
Haru pressed the cell phone to her ear, emitting a meek, “Hello?”
“Yes, hello, Haru,” Akechi sounded just as pleasant as usual, a tinge of sympathy lacing his voice. “I really hope I’m not overstepping any boundaries, but um - I thought you could use a friend, so, erm… I’m here.”
“Here?” she repeated dubiously.
“Yes. Here as in at your house. But of course I can always leave if you - ”
Haru blinked. “Oh, I’m so sorry! You must have messaged me, but I haven’t been on my phone, you see… Just wait out front and I’ll come to escort you in.” She was actually thankful for the distraction, and considerably flattered that Akechi had taken time out of his busy days to come visit her in a time of strife.
“There’s no need to apologize. I’ll wait.”
Flittering down the stairway, Haru had to contort her body out of the way of various workers rambling through her home. Upon exiting the front entrance, she was greeted to the sight of Akechi holding a lovely bouquet of white and yellow chrysanthemums.
He offered them towards her. “Here, Haru, for you. My condolences.”
“Akechi-kun, thank you so much…” her eyes watered disobediently, blinking away tears as she shook her head. She was very aware of how complete a mess she already looked: eyes swollen and puffy from nonstop tears and turnabout emotions the last twelve hours had brung.
Akechi pulled her into a hug.
Once inside, Haru ushered her friend towards the spacious outdoor balcony, far enough away from the eyes and ears of people bustling within the walls of her home.
“It’s quite busy in there,” Akechi remarked.
“Yes, it is. There are my own servants, Sugimura’s workers, business associates, policemen…” she tallied them off one by one, following with a heavy sigh. “I apologize. I haven’t gotten much sleep.”
“Ah, of course. It’s fine.” the young detective nodded. “I’ve been doing some research myself, concerning the Phantom Thieves’ involvement in this situation.”
Haru looked over to the staggering view of skyline that graced her terrace. “I still haven’t been able to wrap my head around that. Why, of all their victims, did they choose to kill only my father…?”
Akechi was silent, then when words spilt they were quiet and sincere. ““I’m sorry that happened. I wish that it hadn’t. I... don’t think it needed to.”
“Me neither.” Haru agreed, another wave of sadness washing over her as she recalled those horrifying events straight from her memory of the press conference. She shuddered.
“By the way, Haru…” Akechi glanced around as if to assure himself that no one else was around. “I saw that there were moving trucks outside your home. Are you relocating?”
Her jaw clenched at the mention of a subject she had been trying desperately to avoid, even inside of her own mind. “Um… yes, I am.”
“I see. I suppose it makes sense, not wanting to live within walls holding memories of your father. Will you just be leaving temporarily, or…?”
Haru couldn’t quite meet Akechi’s eyes as she spoke. “Permanently, as far as I know. It’s actually something I’ve been meaning to tell you for some time now.”
“This was planned beforehand?” there was surprise lacing Akechi’s voice.
“Yes, um…” Haru swallowed her spit. “I’m moving in with Sugimura tomorrow. It was supposed to be today, but he gave me an extra day in light of recent events…” When Haru finally worked up the courage to look over and gauge her friend’s reaction, she was frightened by the absolute stillness of his figure.
“I - ” Akechi partially opened his mouth, then closed it again. “Why didn’t you tell me this?”
Is he angry with me…? Haru thought, silently cursing herself. “I guess I… didn’t want you to worry?”
“Yes, but your father, I - his heart was changed before, wasn’t it? Didn’t he call off the marriage beforehand?” Akechi sputtered out a mess of words, his gaze turned frantic.
Haru furrowed her eyebrows. “He was going to do it after the press conference… how - how could you know that…?”
“I told you I’ve been investigating,” Akechi spat in a much harsher tone than she had ever heard him use with her. “Haru, why didn’t you tell me about this? I could have - I could have - ”
“Could have done what?” she questioned aloud. “This is my fate. I’ve already accepted it; I’ve known all along how my life would turn out. I’m not like you… I’m not intelligent, or charismatic, or destined for any greatness at all… All I’ve ever been is my father’s tool, and that’s all I ever will be. A dainty little instrument in the grand scheme of Okumura Foods. Nothing could have ever changed that, not even my father’s death . ”
“This shouldn’t be happening. He should have done it before the conference. I can’t believe this has happened…” Akechi muttered, shaking his head in clear distress. He then paused, slowly raising his gaze upwards with a look of astonishment on his face. “Haru.”
She nodded at the addressment, though slightly unnerved by her friend’s strange behavior. Akechi ventured further in, moving from his position a few feet away from Haru to standing directly across from her, placing his own hands firmly on her small shoulders.
A blush disobediently rose to her cheeks. “Akechi, I - ”
“Haru, I can fix this.” he spoke endearingly, slowly, as if trying to convince her.
“Fix… what?” she responded dubiously.
“I can make it so Sugimura will never bother you again. Never speak to you, never lay a finger on you. The very thought of forcing your hand into marriage will never again cross his mind.” a growing excitement swelled within Akechi’s voice.
Haru felt uneasy. “How would you do that?”
He avoided answering. “You just have to trust me.”
“How would you do that?” she repeated, this time more firmly.
Akechi suddenly scowled. “What - do you want to marry him? Do you want to spend the rest of your life with that bastard? Pumping out children he’ll never give a shit about? Getting beat up every time you don’t follow orders? You know that’s how he would treat you, right?”
“Stop it!” Haru cried out, pulling herself from his grasp and covering her ears. “How could you say that to me? I thought you were my friend!”
“I am!” Akechi’s voice rose considerably in volume. “That’s why I’m offering to save you from that kind of life!”
Tears were billowing in Haru’s eyes as she turned away. “Save me how?”
There was a slight pause. “I can get rid of him.”
“Oh, my God. ” Haru shook her head, swatting his hands from her shoulders in disgust. “Don’t even joke about that.”
“I’m not joking.” Akechi said firmly. “Haru, look at me. You don’t deserve the trouble that man will bring to you. And there’s only one solution.”
She refused to turn her head.
Akechi sighed. “Please, will you let me help you? All I need is an answer. A yes , and then I’ll do it and we’ll never talk about it again. Things will go back to normal for you, for us. We can still - ”
“No. Get out of my house.”
“Haru, please, you need to reconsider. I’ll - ”
She looked him in the eye one last time, her glare as menacing as it could be with the gloss of tears brimming in her eyes. “I said leave!”
Akechi’s face stiffened, examining her as if to survey her credibility, before his eyes steadily dropped to the ground. He slowly opened the sliding door that led to the inside of Haru’s home before slithering his lithe form through. She watched him walk down the driveway and disappear through the front entrance just a few minutes later.
Haru Okumura felt something pull deep inside of her, a cord she had not known existed being burnt at the edges. She mourned not only the loss of her father but that of her one and only friend.
No, this story has not been abandoned! I had a bit of writer's block for a period of time, but no worries, we're here now. Updates should be more consistent from this point forward. Hopefully you all stick around!
Chapter 11: 12/5 Part One
It was Haru’s eighteenth birthday.
It was a Monday, a school day. Her homework remained unfinished - never even touched actually - buried within the confines of her messenger bag she had thrown into the corner of the master bedroom the previous evening.
Sugimura was already off somewhere by the time she woke up. She was grateful for his absence, though it was rather depressing to go through her entire morning routine without a single birthday greeting from anyone. Though, I’m not sure Sugimura even remembers it’s my birthday, anyway…
Haru dabbed some concealer over the discolored, bruised flesh of her cheekbones. She winced at the touch, her skin still quite sore. They were green now, yellowing at the edges. By Friday they would be gone only if new ones didn’t replace them in time.
Her fiance told her that he didn’t hit her for pleasure, only when she disobeyed. She wondered if that justification comforted him. It would be easier if she was quiet, more pliant, and she knew that well. Sometimes silence burned the inside of her throat all the way through and words slipped out from between her lips, causing him to raise his hand to strike her.
At school, nobody paid very much attention to her. After her father passed away, she had stayed at home for nearly two weeks. Some of her teachers even contacted her asking if she planned on returning to school. She didn’t have a lot of say in the matter, actually. There were a lot of business forms to sign, financial papers she had to look over. She had to settle in to Sugimura’s penthouse. Interviews she had to decline, phone numbers from reporters that she inevitably had to block. It was a very long two weeks, to say the least.
Walking through the hallways, Haru imagined she was a ghost. She wandered aimlessly from class to class, her feet hardly brushing against the ground as they dragged along. There was nobody for her to talk to. Nobody to share smiles with, nobody to eat lunch with, nobody to giggle at during class time. She had always been alone, but now it was different. Now that she had bitten into the fruit of friendship and experienced actual companionship, nothing was the same. Now she was truly lonely.
She hadn’t heard from Akechi since… the incident. She mulled over it many times in her cramped little head, still unable to make sense of his rambling nearly two months later. He had tried contacting her a few times since that day, but she never responded. She wouldn’t know what to say, anyways. She wondered if she would ever see him again at all.
“Okumura-san!” a voice called out from somewhere behind Haru. She turned around and blinked, surveying the area warily. Her unfocused gaze wandered as she tried to determine where the voice had come from. She heard it again. “Okumura-san.”
Haru forced a smile at the sight of the student council president. “Um, hello, Nijiima-san. How can I help you?”
“I need to speak with you, actually,” Makoto Nijiima had a pleasant, pressed expression on her face. “Follow me to the student council room?”
Haru’s eyebrows furrowed, but her head bobbed in a nod nonetheless as she trailed behind her classmate. She followed Makoto down a flight of stairs and into a section of rooms near the Principal’s office, where they walked into the student council room. Makoto flipped the light switch on as she closed the door behind her.
“Please, make yourself comfortable,” said Makoto, motioning to a chair perched at the end of a table. Haru took the seat rather nervously, glancing around the room.
“Um…” Haru heard the waver in her voice, and immediately cursed herself for ever speaking at all. But already Makoto’s intense crimson-colored eyes were on her, so she continued. “I… am I in any trouble?”
“Trouble?” the student council president repeated, shaking her head. “No, nothing like that. I just wanted to speak with you about a few things.” Makoto took the seat across from her, primly smoothing her skirt down as she sat.
“Like... what?” Haru asked.
“Well, it’s your birthday today, isn’t it?” Makoto said, speaking as if it were obvious. She was smiling, though it still looked rather forced. “That’s exciting, isn’t it?”
Truthfully, Haru did not feel any differently than a normal day. “Yes… it is… exciting.” she almost cringed at the lack of enthusiasm evident in her voice.
“Okumura-san, I know that things might be… difficult, with the recent loss of your father,” Makoto looked away as she spoke. “I actually lost my father, too. If you ever need someone to talk to, I mean… I am the student council president for a reason.”
Haru’s heart warmed at the realization that Makoto was simply trying to be kind. She was just trying to be nice to the weird orphaned classmate who spent her eighteenth birthday on mute. Haru’s gaze lifted to the ceiling, willing the tears back into her eyes, trying to keep from from scattering down her cheeks.
“Thank you, Niijima-san. That’s very kind of you to say.” Formalities were all she had when caught off guard.
“Of course. Um, do you happen to live alone, now, or…?”
Haru bit the inside of her cheek as she struggled to find the appropriate words to describe her situation. “No, after my father… I actually moved in with my fiance.”
Makoto’s eyes widened. “Oh! I had no idea you were engaged. It must be nice... to be in love.”
Haru could almost laugh. The bubble rose up in her throat, dangerously close to spilling out until she bit down on her lip. But then the tears came, too. Within seconds Haru could feel the dampness sliding down her cheeks, doubling or tripling in quantity each time she wiped them away with her hands. She could hear Makoto’s concerned voice in the back of her ears, but she was in an entirely different place. I wish I was in love, she thought. Everyone else is free to find the person they want to be with. They’re not trapped in a marriage bed made of contracts and paperwork and promises of wealth and fame, not like me…
“Okumura-san?” Makoto’s voice suddenly rang out loudly, snapping Haru out of her state.
Haru took a deep breath, her eyes closed. She hastily rubbed away some loose tears falling from her eyes. “I’m so sorry, Niijima-san. You were just trying to be nice and all I’ve done is waste your time. I truly - is something the matter?”
Makoto was staring at her with a strange expression upon her face, eyes wide and brows inverted like she was taking a sharp breath. Her gaze raked over the entirety of Haru’s face before meeting her eyes. “Where are those bruises from, Okumura-san?”
Haru’s mouth fell open in a tiny o, mind spinning in frantic circles as she assessed the situation. How did she know? How can she see them? I covered them with… She internally cursed herself. The concealer. The same concealer she had just brushed away with the moist palms of her hands; they had removed the makeup completely.
“I-I… I don’t… I don’t know.” Haru finally admitted, quite lamely. Her head hung low shamefully. She dared not to look up, knowing that one glance at Makoto’s expression would tell her what she didn’t want to know: I don’t believe you.
Haru had never had to lie about the source of her injuries before, quite frankly because nobody had ever asked. There was a horrible guilt in the pit of her stomach, not even wanting to fathom what Sugimura would do if he realized people at her school were questioning his character. Tarnishing his reputation, and all because of her…
“Is someone hurting you?” Makoto asked.
Haru still couldn’t look at her.
“Is it your fiance? Or someone else?”
“I have to leave,” Haru rose, hastily gathering up her things. She turned on her heel, dashing for the exit. “Thank you, Niijima-san, for… this, but I have to go now. Goodbye.”
“Okumura-san, wait - ‘’
But she didn’t. She couldn’t. She was too embarrassed, too humiliated at the tragic, stupid turns her life had taken. Solitude was her only solace, it always had been...
Haru kept her head low as she navigated through the halls at a pace quicker than she’d ever done before. Her fingers flew across her phone screen as she opened different apps, random photos or messages, trying to trick her mind into thinking about anything other than the incident in the student council room.
And of course, just her luck, she bumped right into someone, which sent her flying forward as her bookbag snapped off her shoulder. Stray papers soared through the air as Haru’s chin met the hard pavement, emitting no sound from her but a rather unladylike grunt purely from the rough impact.
“Shit! Are you okay?” a crass voice apparated from somewhere above. Haru rolled over, still in a substantial amount of pain but managing to just barely open her eyes. A vulgar-looking boy with bleached yellow hair offered his hand to help her up. Haru accepted, but was unprepared for the force in which he used to pull her. She stumbled around a bit and he used his arms to steady her - as if their current situation wasn’t already awkward enough.
The boy’s eyebrows furrowed. “Can you talk? Are you okay?”
Haru nodded listlessly, keeping her head down. She didn’t want him to see her bruises. “I - yes, thank you. I’m so sorry. I wasn’t looking where I was going and - ‘’
“No, it was totally my fault,” the boy rubbed at the back of his neck sheepishly. “I’m really sorry. I was on my phone and y’know…”
Haru bobbed her head up and down, not quite paying attention. She felt quite dizzy and was still reeling from Makoto’s confrontation, her hands mindlessly flittering over her pockets whilst searching for her phone. I need to go home. I need the driver to pick me up early. I need… her eyes grazed over the sidewalk, stopping at the shattered cell phone that lay uselessly at her feet.
“Hey, are you looking for something? You need help?” the boy asked obliviously, looking around in confusion before his gaze eventually followed the path hers had taken.
Haru’s breathing hitched. My phone is broken. How am I going to call? Where do I get a new one? Is Sugimura going to be angry? She had felt so… unhinged recently. Too many things were happening at once, and especially on her birthday… Why is this happening to me?
“Shit! Is that yours?” the boy interrupted her frantic thoughts loudly, pointing to the broken cell phone. “God, I’m such a dumbass! Shit. Uh, okay, here… if you give me your number I can let you know when I’ve got enough money to pay you back for it.”
“No, it’s okay. You don’t have to pay for anything.” Haru spoke softly, biting her lip anxiously. “Could I just... use your phone for a minute, please?”
The guy seemed confused that she had refused money from him, but obliged nonetheless. “Oh yeah, sure. Here, lemme get it…”
Haru’s head rose steadily, and she took in the sight of the student’s arm outstretched with his phone in hand, offering it to her. She slowly accepted it, clicking out a certain sequence of numbers on the keypad and waiting as it rang. Somehow she thought back to her first encounter with Akechi, when she had needed to borrow his phone, so similar to now… her eyebrows furrowed at the unwelcome memory.
“Hey, seriously, do you need to go to the nurse or something? I think that the fall might’ve, uh…” the boy hesitated. “Busted your face up, a little.”
Haru simply shook her head, flinching as the phone finally picked up and she heard that familiar voice in her ear. “This is Rin Sugimura.”
“Sugimura-san…” she was quiet, a horrible sense of lingering fear still beating rapidly inside her heart. “It’s Haru. Um, my cell phone broke, and I - ‘’
“You broke your cell phone? How? And how are you calling me right now?”
The boy stood awkwardly off to the side. Haru internally cringed, praying that he couldn’t hear their conversation with all of her fiance’s loud shouting.
“I just… tripped,” she said, which was not an outright lie. “It’s fine. Someone lent me theirs. Can you please send a car?”
“You’re clumsy,” Sugimura accused her. There was a moment of silence, as if he wished for her to defend herself. “When do you need the car by?”
“As soon as possible,” she responded, a little too quickly and a little too eagerly. “Please.”
Sugimura sighed, the sound of his thin fingers tapping across his screen filling Haru’s ears among the static silence. “It’s done. Go wait at the front entrance until they arrive.” the line clicked, signalling that he had hung up.
Haru handed the phone back to the boy, not making eye contact as she released a shallow breath. “Thank you for lending me this. I apologize for getting in your way.”
“Nah, don’t worry about it. You, uh, get home safe,” the boy said, a little awkwardly. “I’m Ryuji, by the way.”
Haru took a few seconds to realize that he expected her to reciprocate the introduction. “I’m Haru Okumura.”
The guy - Ryuji - nodded, as if this was information he was already aware of. “Yeah. Well, see you around.” and with that, he spun around, heading back into the school hallway.
Haru then did exactly as she had been instructed, sitting at the steps of the front entrance with her chin cupped in her hands rather glumly. She had heard Sugimura’s voice over the phone, and he was clearly angry… she didn’t want to go home. She didn’t feel safe there. But then again, school wasn’t any better, especially not after what happened with the Student Council President…
Haru sighed. Sometimes, she just wanted - no, needed - everything to stop . But it wouldn’t. It just kept going, and going, and going. And it was getting worse.
MAKOTO: I’ve gathered some new information on Haru Okumura.
RYUJI: Whoa, you too?!
FUTABA: Her phone went dead. Did she find the bug?
RYUJI: No. It broke, actually.
RYUJI: Kind of a long story. I think we’d better meet up after school today.
ANN: Is it serious?
AKIRA: We need to make sure we’re not wasting our time looking into this when we still have Shido to take care of.
MAKOTO: We’re not wasting our time on anything. That info Mishima picked up from the PhanSite was completely legitimate.
ANN: Crap. Is she okay?
RYUJI: We’ll talk about it at the meeting!
“She’s a nice girl…” Morgana said, a troubled expression coating his furry face as he read the messages. “You think she’s alright?”
Akira sighed, rubbing a hand to his temple. “Better off without Akechi, I’m sure.”
“Yeah, probably, but… you don’t ever think we might have messed up with her?”
It feels like we ruined her life, Akira thought to himself bitterly. But he bit his tongue. “I don’t know, Morgana. Seriously, be quiet down there. I’m still in class, you know…”
Morgana burrowed further into the desk, curling in on himself as his mind flurried nervously around the thought of Haru Okumura.
Haru tensed at her fiance’s voice, still sitting in front of the television as she had been for hours now. She didn’t even know what channel was on.
Her head didn’t turn.
Her breathing stilled.
Sugimura slithered around the couch, eventually entering her view as he stood in front of the TV screen. “What? Not talking to me now?”
Haru’s mouth felt dry. “I - sorry. I’m sorry.” I wasn’t thinking. I wasn’t paying attention. I forgot. I’m sorry...
Sugimura inched closer, either unaware of the way his fiancee recoiled at his movement or uncaring. “It’s alright, my dear,” he purred. He glanced over at the hallway leading into the kitchen where servants still lingered, both cleaning up and preparing for the next day. Haru wondered if he thought to dismiss them, but soon his attention returned to her.
“What happened at school today? Why did you have to leave early?” he questioned, taking a seat next to her on the sofa.
“I… didn’t feel well,” Haru lied.
“Why not?” Sugimura pressed.
Her mind flickered back to the encounter with Makoto Niijima. “I don’t know…”
“What do you mean you don’t know?” Sugimura demanded. Upon realizing his fiancee was remaining silent, he sighed. “I don’t understand why the idiots running that place won’t allow you to just stop attending. You only have, what, a week left?”
Haru’s eyes bore into the television screen. “Exams start next week.”
“There’s no point in you taking exams. It’s not like you’re going to college.” Sugimura said.
Haru’s eyebrows furrowed. She wished she could have taken college entrance exams with her other classmates, but Sugimura just wouldn’t allow it…
She felt lonely. Left behind. It felt like everyone in her entire class was moving forward towards a common goal, yet she was still stuck in place. She was the sun, unmoving, watching everyone rotate around her.
“It’s a challenge, sometimes, having a girlfriend who’s still a high school student.” Sugimura said solemnly, as if he truly pitied himself. “You wouldn’t understand it, Haru, there’s just such a maturity difference… but I have to admit, the benefits far outweigh the negatives.” his hand reached out to gently stroke her on the cheek.
His palm felt like a hot iron rod pressed to her delicate skin. She jerked away, cupping her face like she’d been burnt by his touch.
Her fiance’s expression darkened. “Come on. Don’t be like that.”
Like what? The rebuttal danced on the tip of Haru’s tongue, but she swallowed it whole.
Accepting her lack of response as consent, Sugimura moved towards her again, wrapping an arm around her slim shoulders while planting a kiss just below her ear.
Haru hunched in on herself to avoid granting him access to her body.
Her fiance swore underneath his breath, trying to pry her open as she sat tucked with her knees up to her chest. After a sharp intake of breath, he called out to the staff, “That will be all for tonight. You may retire to your quarters.” He listened to the shuffling of feet padding out of hearing distance before turning his attention back to her.
“Cut the attitude, Haru. I’ve had a long day,” Sugimura issued a warning before leaning into her again. Roughly, he jerked her shoulder to the side, planting both of his hands on either side of her. Sugimura smirked as he stared down at her, closing his eyes as he lowered himself, intending to seal a kiss.
Haru turned her head to the side, shutting her eyes tightly as she did so. Ignoring her defiance, Sugimura planted a trail of wet marks along her jawline. She cringed at the sound.
This was how things usually went, more or less. She would try forcing her spirit to leave her body, as if that made it any less painful. Her eyes pressed together so taut that she never even felt tears slipping out. She would lay limp the entire time and just crumble in on herself when it was over, chest heaving with sobs as Sugimura left afterwards to do… whatever he did. Nothing she cared about.
But tonight, Haru felt like a rubber band. She could feel the events of the day weighing her down, stretching her energy so thin that it felt like she was about to...
“It’s my birthday today.” she heard her voice, but couldn’t quite remember the words ever leaving her lips.
Her fiance actually paused for once, leaning back slightly as his eyebrows furrowed in confusion. “What?”
Haru pushed herself backwards so she was no longer underneath him, hoisting herself up onto her elbows. “It’s my birthday today. I’m eighteen now.” her voice gained power as she continued. “Did you know that?”
Sugimura’s face was flushed, screwed up in perplexity. She hadn’t spoken to him in much above a whisper in weeks. “I don’t - ‘’
“I’m sure you didn’t.” Haru stood up, hands trembling as she straightened out her clothes. “Because you don’t know anything about me! You don’t care about me at all!”
Sugimura rose with her, actually looking a little sheepish. “We’ll go out to dinner tomorrow night. That one European restaurant, with the sake? My treat.”
Haru had difficulty controlling her breathing amongst the fury raging through her. After everything he had done to her, this was what sent the tiniest shiver of guilt down his spine? Her birthday?
Her stupid birthday, that no one even cared about.
Her stupid birthday, that she hardly even cared about. At least, as much as she could care about anything these days.
Haru looked him in the eye, not wasting a single second before she boldly pronounced, “I hate you.”
Her fiance’s eyes bulged, his face reddening from the collar up. “What did you just say?”
“I hate you. I hate you. I hate you! I hate you!” the words felt foreign upon actually leaving Haru’s mouth, as she couldn’t recall ever speaking them before in her entire life. But it was true; she did hate him. More than anything, really, she did…
Sugimura moved towards her in a surge of anger, and for once Haru didn’t just freeze in place. She shuffled over to the side, gaze quickly landing on a stairwell planted on the opposite side of the room. She made a dash in the direction, but Sugimura roughly shoved her forward, pushing Haru right into the wall. She let out a cry, cupping a hand over her nose that was now trickling blood.
“You stupid little slut,” Sugimura growled, practically emanating anger. “You’re a lot more trouble than you’re worth, you know that?” He swung his arm out, grabbing a fistful of her auburn hair and violently yanking it back.
Haru instinctively reached to try and pry his fingers out, only for Sugimura to wrap his free arm around her throat in a chokehold.
“Let go of me!” she hissed. He had done this before, but never so tightly… her head felt light, but Haru’s whole body was still thrashing.
“And what would happen if I didn’t?” Sugimura inquired darkly. “That’s right; nothing. I doubt anyone would even notice your disappearance. You don’t have any friends as far as I’m aware. Everyone in your family has either cut ties due to your father’s temperament or only reach out when they’re in need of money. You’re not allowed any contact with that idiot detective, not that he’s even in the news anymore…”
As Haru’s head got lighter and lighter, she could feel her resolve draining. Sugimura was right: absolutely nobody cared about her.
“And your father, of course, is dead. You belong to nobody but me. So tell me, Haru, who would really care if anything were to happen to you?” Sugimura had down sunk to the floor with his fiance, his grip slightly loosening as he could tell her consciousness was fading. He absentmindedly stroked the side of her face, now tinted blue.
Who would really care if anything were to happen to me…? Haru’s eyes suddenly shot open, realization striking her like a lightning bolt. I would! I would care!
“Gt… ffme…” she grumbled from her position trapped, still within Sugimura’s chokehold.
He loosened his grasp slightly, his guard now lowered, continuing to pet her as he did so. “What was that, my dear?”
Haru then focused all of her might into chomping down onto Sugimura’s upper arm. Even through his collared shirt, she could feel her teeth connecting with his flesh painfully. Sugimura cried out, releasing her from his vice-like grip, and Haru took the opportunity to dart down the stairwell while her adrenaline still allowed it.
“Agh - fucking get back up here, you stupid bitch!” Sugimura roared, beginning his descent down the stairs. His movement was laggy; he had never been on the receiving end of physical punishment, after all.
The doorknob kept slipping against her sweaty palms, but eventually Haru pried it open. She offered not even a glance in Sugimura’s direction as she squeezed herself through the doorway, setting off in a sprint down the street for as far as her legs could carry her.
In her mind, Sugimura wasn’t very far behind. He was completely restless, pursuing her at every street corner, every traffic light. Taunts flew out of his mouth as easily as breaths were drawn in. Realistically, however, Haru knew that her fiance wouldn’t dirty himself with that type of exertion. He likely hadn’t stepped one foot away from his lawn before calling a team to set out and look for his missing bride in his place. He was probably inside, resting, having his wound treated.
As Haru delved into a more urban part of town, she became increasingly concerned with the amount of cars passing by. Any one of them could contain people working for Sugimura, and they all would turn her into him in a heartbeat.
There weren’t as many pedestrians out as she had hoped. Less of a chance for her to actually blend in…
After a silent moment of thought, Haru spun on her heel and began heading towards the subway station at a brisk pace. She knew if she could just make it there before she was spotted, she would be safe - at least for now. Sugimura probably forgot that normal people used it as their transportation every single day, those who didn’t have the luxuries of chauffeurs and personal drivers.
Haru entered a daze as she reached the station, paying for her ticket and boarding the train like a robot. She thought of the last time she had visited the station. She had ridden the subway with Akechi. They had gone to the Madarame exhibit together. It was a date… but not.
She had liked him so much… why did things have to turn out the way they did? Now she was in this horrible situation and she didn’t even have anywhere to go. She had no friends, nobody to turn to, nobody to save her from the awful mess she’d gotten herself stuck in.
Maybe things would have been better if I had just let Akechi… get rid of Sugimura.
Haru wanted to cleanse the evil thought from her mind, but it was persistent. Before she could entertain it much more the train arrived in Shibuya, which seemed like as good of a stop as any. It was far enough away from Sugimura’s house that she could relax for a few hours, at least.
Haru was surprised to see an array of shops inside the station. There was a bookstore, a cosmetics store… her breath caught when she spied a quaint flower arrangement nestled at the far right of the little mall. She bustled over to the area immediately.
There was an adorable flower shop, sitting perfectly amongst all the chaos. Haru gazed at the beautiful bouquets, nimbly stroking their stems between her fingers.
She hadn’t been able to do any gardening since her father died. Sugimura always said tending to plants was for the common folk, not a high-class girl like herself, so once she was moved in all of her plants were immediately thrown out. And her fiance had become much more punctual with her being dropped off and picked up back from school, so she wasn’t able to take care of the rooftop garden behind his back any longer. She had gone up there two weeks ago in between classes, out of some sad, hopeful curiosity. She thought maybe someone had taken over for her, noticed that the plants weren’t getting enough attention and began tending to them in her absence.
But the only sight she was treated to was that of her once-vibrant little garden, all shriveled up and dead.
Completely consumed by her thoughts, Haru hadn’t yet noticed a presence standing behind her.
“O-Okumura-san?” The voice was familiar, but she couldn’t quite place it. Haru slowly turned around, desperately praying that no one affiliated with the Sugimuras had come to hunt her down so quickly after her great escape. To her surprise, it ended up being someone that hadn’t crossed her mind in quite a while. She blinked.
“Ah, Kurusu-san…” Haru addressed him quietly, taking in his state. He was wearing a green apron, complete with a nametag that read Akira. “You… work here?”
“Uh... yeah. I do,” Kurusu nodded, clearing his throat. His expression looked rather sorrowful. “Are you okay, Okumura-san?”
Am I okay? Haru wondered.
Truthfully, no. She hadn’t been for a while now.
Both mentally and physically, she was still reeling from the altercation with Sugimura. She suddenly glanced around, growing paranoid at the thought. “Say, Kurusu-san... do you know of any hotels in this area?”
“I can’t say that I do.” Kurusu was still looking at her in that same way, like she was a wounded bird left for dead on the side of the road. Pity sparkled in his eyes. “Do you… need help ? You’re bleeding.”
“I am?” Haru asked dubiously. She glanced down at the front of her blouse - and sure enough, blood was still streaming down from the damage done to her nose. She immediately moved to cup her hand over her nostrils, trying to hide the source.
“My shift will be over in a few minutes.” Kurusu began, “Why don’t I take you to the hospital, or - ‘’
“No! I can’t go there!” Haru exclaimed, panic spiking within her chest. “I mean, um... I’m so sorry, Kurusu-san. I just - it’s too - I need privacy, okay?” Ever since Haru had noticed her bloody nose, she could practically feel the fluid draining right out from her body. Her head felt lighter with each drop of blood that graced her palm. Her words were coming out more fumbled than she had hoped.
Kurusu was silent for a moment, perhaps a bit shocked at her outburst. His expression looked strained. “I know a sort of… underground doctor. She could examine you.”
“Is she… um, near here?” Haru inquired, leaning slumped against the wall for physical support.
“She’s close enough,” Kurusu answered rather cryptically. “But I’d better take you myself. She knows me there. Just wait, like, five minutes until my shift ends, okay?”
“Where should I, um, wait?” Haru blinked a few times as she spoke. Her vision was blurring a little at the sides.
Kurusu helped guide her down to sit along the eggshell-colored wall. “There, is fine.” he looked down at her pitifully. “You’re gonna be okay, Okumura-san. Just a few minutes, alright? Just let me close up.”
Haru couldn’t remember ever being under the impression that she wouldn’t be okay, but she nodded nonetheless. Kurusu kept talking to her even as he worked around the store, fixing arrangements and packing things away into corners - was he running this place by himself ? The thought kept crossing her mind, like she forgot it halfway through each time.
She couldn’t catch her consciousness before it slipped right out of her hands, made all slick by the blood pouring down from her nose. Haru’s last vision was of the charming bouquet that sat directly across from her, a clear plastic bag filled to the brim with hyacinths of all colors - purples, blues, and whites.
Hey, gang. So I actually have to make a pretty important decision regarding this fic, and I wanted your guys's input.
So with the original outline I had planned for Litost, we would be nearing the last few chapters here. But, as I'm sure all of us Persona fans are aware of, P5R is coming out this week in Japan and this upcoming spring for North America. And the Persona fanbase has all been wondering how Royal will change the canon narrative, and more specifically, if Akechi will possibly play a larger role or even avoid his demise, granting him a redemption arc.
The thing is that, if the Royal makes a major change to Akechi's character or his fate, it would in turn impact the canonical relevance of this story. And if, say, Akechi ends up surviving in P5R, I would most definitely want that to impact this story.
And with my update schedule, I honestly probably wouldn't even finish publishing Litost until right up around Royal's release. So what I'm really wondering is this: Do you guys want me to 1) continue Litost as usual, without taking into account the possibility of the Royal narrative changing canon? And then if something major does happen with Royal's release concerning Akechi's character, perhaps release a sequel or spin-off of Litost that can comply with P5R? Or 2) Put Litost on a hiatus up until Royal's release, and then change my outline to match the new canon, then resume activity for Litost?
Please let me know your thoughts, because this issue really has me at a crossroads here. Both of the options are certainly doable, but I am just stuck on which one is preferable to my audience.
Out of all the work I've written, I am the proudest of Litost, and it truly holds a very special place in my heart. And of course it's all thanks to you guys, my dear readers. We are actually approaching the one year anniversary for this fic - which is such a crazy thing to think about - but one I am very happy and grateful to be able to celebrate with these amazing characters. :)