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Just Promise Me It's Not Appendicitis

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     The black slacks Kazahaya was pulling on while they stood in the drugstore's tiny washroom deserved to be fired, in Rikuou's opinion. His coworker had the hottest legs he'd ever seen not on a catwalk, and while a straight-leg trouser cut made it easy to move, they also made it hard to appreciate the view. He'd gotten into a habit of thinking Kazahaya in costumes was an extra perk of these side jobs Kakei liked to send them on. He knew not every day could be about Kazahaya wearing cupcake skirts, cat ears, and thigh-high stockings. Didn't mean he had to like his partner getting swallowed up in boxy black pants and an even boxier short-sleeve black button-down shirt with the boxiest of pleated pockets any more than he liked putting a matching set on himself.

     "I've never seen a uniform like this," Kazahaya mused, flicking at the nicely pressed collar. "What do you think they're supposed to be?"

     "We'll probably find out when we get where we're going."

     "So the bigger hat is probably yours." Instead of just handing it to him, Kazahaya pulled the ball cap onto Rikuou's head with no regard for personal space -- speaking of things that were turning into habits and maybe shouldn't. How was he supposed to keep his eyes off the pout Kazahaya's lips made when he could feel the man's breath on his skin? "Okay, but seriously, why would your hat have the word, 'KILL,' on it?"

     Rikuou shrugged and turned toward the washroom mirror where he could make sure his clothes were straight instead of giving into the temptation of Kazahaya's ass being in grabbing range. "I'm guessing I'm supposed to be dangerous."

     Not exactly a stretch.

     "And mine says, 'NAIVE'! Why would my hat say I'm naive?!"

     "... Have you met yourself?"


     "Nevermind. Let's go tell Kakei we're ready to go."

     "Wait, Rikuou! Don't forget your knife!"

     Exactly the kind of phrase he didn't want to hear out of the mouth of someone (especially someone ditzy) running up behind him in cramped quarters. Rikuou's heart jumped into his throat at the thought of Kazahaya tripping and ending up with sharp steel slicing through his ribs. Pivoting on his toes, Rikuou got eyes on his partner as fast as he could. He slid to the side so he could trap Kazahaya's arm as the man stepped past, before either of them got hurt.

     The surprise on Kazahaya's face when Rikuou clamped an iron grip on his wrist and stopped two inches short of putting him in a full headlock was exactly what he expected. What he hadn't expected was how Kazahaya was holding the knife. It wasn't pointed forward, edge glinting, with Kazahaya running at a man with a naked blade like an idiot. He had what looked like a tactical knife still in a belt sheath, covered blade pointed at the floor with a finger over the guard to make sure it didn't come out where it could cut somebody. The hilt was what Kazahaya had been holding out to the spot where Rikuou had been standing.

     A matching knife was belted to Kazahaya's waist in just the right position for a quick draw, with the blade hanging the proper way so it wouldn't get damaged when he walked. Somehow, this clueless asshat who'd come to Kakei's drugstore without even knowing how to cook rice knew exactly how to handle a knife.

     More than that, Kazahaya was starting to notice how close Rikuou had come to restraining him with a headlock that'd make it hard to breathe. He turned uncertain eyes up to Rikuou's considering stare.

     "Umm... Rikuou?"

     He let Kazahaya go with a sigh and took the knife. "You need to not run up on me with weapons, got it?"

     "Oh, right! Sorry!"

     "So the hats bother you," he asked, threading the knife belt into his beltloops, "... but carrying a knife, you're fine with?"

     Kazahaya shrugged off the question. "The hats are weird. There's nothing weird about a-- oh..." He looked up as if he were remembering something. "Now that you mention it, I guess most people don't carry knives around here, do they? Is that, like, a Tokyo thing?"

     A handful of stupid answers to what seemed like a really stupid question all died on Rikuou's tongue, just because of how sincere his partner looked. He didn't know anything about where this guy came from. Kazahaya never talked about his past, and Rikuou knew how silence didn't happen by accident. "The place you grew up wasn't that nice, was it?"

     "... U-umm--"

     "None of my business. Forget I asked."

     The knock on the door had to be their boss. "Are you two almost done in here? The clothes weren't the wrong size, were they?"

     "They're fine," Rikuou answered, letting the asshole in. It was tight, but there was technically enough room for another person.

     Kakei was holding his finger out like he was balancing something on it, but whatever it was, Rikuou couldn't see it. "Okay, I didn't want to give you this until right before I sent you out, since it'd be so easy to misplace..." Wiping his finger on Kazahaya's shoulder, seeming to leave nothing behind except maybe dust, he said. "Don't worry, it'll be a lot bigger when you get where you're going. Or I suppose I should say, you'll be a lot smaller and it'll retain its size, so it'll seem bigger. There's a map inside, and a bottle for the elixir I need you to collect. And this tool here will get you where you're going and then bring you back."

     "Where's that?" Kazahaya asked, grabbing the golden orb Kakei had produced out of nowhere. And as if to prove how curiosity killed the cat, he saw how the two halves of the sphere met in a seam and tried to spin the halves in opposite directions.

     Kakei cupped his cheek in his hand. "Oh, before you do that, make sure you're--"

     Well, Kazahaya wasn't stopping, so Rikuou made a wild guess and grabbed Kazahaya's arm so they were touching before the two halves of the orb went click. The next thing he knew, they'd been smushed into even closer quarters than the washroom, but he couldn't tell where. Everything was dark, and figuring that out would have to wait because a knapsack at least as big as a person was falling off Kazahaya's shoulder now, bumping into both their faces, and toppling to the floor. It was going down, Kazahaya was falling down with it; and under the circumstances, Rikuou was falling, too. Not having much choice, he lurched backwards and hit his elbow on some kind of door handle, then rolled ankles over ass out of...

     An office supply closet. Somewhere he still couldn't recognize despite the lights on the ceiling. With Kazahaya and the world's largest backpack on top of him.

     Meanwhile, he was staring up from the floor at two strangers -- a woman in jean shorts wearing a red hat, and a man who was... completely white from head to toe -- who had clearly been in the middle of making out before he and Kazahaya had shown up.

     Seriously, how was it possible for a person to be that white? Not even pale, or caucasian, or albino. Just... white. Was it a costume? Maybe body paint? None of it had rubbed off on the girl, though, and white paint would show on her black shirt and red jacket. If it was body paint, it was the best paint Rikuou had ever seen.

     "Oh my gosh, I'm so sorry!" yelped the woman in red. She started bowing and apologizing, with Kazahaya jumping up to bow and apologize right back. Classic airheads, both of them. What did she have to be sorry for?

     The white man narrowed his eyes at Rikuou. "We didn't realize someone else was, umm... already using this room. We can move if you want privacy."

     What, using it to make out in? What was this place? There wasn't a bed or any tacky decor (or any decor at all, honestly), so it didn't look like any love hotel Rikuou had ever seen. In fact, it looked more like a maintenance hallway in an apartment building where everything was made of closets. Anyway, better to shut down any talk about kissing and the like before Kazahaya starting asking questions that made it clear they didn't belong wherever this was.

     "It's not what you think," Rikuou answered, sitting up on the floor. "We're... working. On a job."

     "A job?" The white one jerked his head back. "You mean, your team got dispatched on a mission? And they sent you here?"

     That got the woman's attention, and Kazahaya's too. Rikuou's personal airhead answered, "I guess you could call it a mission!" like nothing was wrong.

     Both strangers stiffened up straight, eyes wide with panic. "A mission in the appendix?!"

     "I don't think you've got anything to worry about," Rikuou said, while naturally Kazahaya asked, "What's an appendix?"

     If the two strangers had looked shocked before, now they were horrified. Rikuou sighed. "Are you serious right now?" It wasn't like he could give an answer, since this place didn't look like any kind of appendix he knew about, but at least he had the good sense to act like he knew what was going on.

     The white man snapped his fingers. "Ah! I see. Your mission must be taking this Naive T-Cell around for training. That makes sense."

     "Yeah," Rikuou said, pushing himself to his feet. "Training. Got it in one." Off to the side, the woman in the red hat was telling Kazahaya all about how the appendix attached to the colon.

     "I don't really know what it does, since I never see anyone working here... you know, it's low traffic, and there's not many platelets because it so rarely gets cut, and so, well, most cells just stop by here to, well... you know..." She jerked her head at the man she'd been you knowing with a second ago.

     "Know what?"

     "Oh gosh! Ah, maybe you'll find out when you're older? Anyway, all I know for sure is it's somewhere you really don't want an infection! Infections in the appendix can be a catastrophe!"

     Cells? Infections? In the appendix? Near the colon? What the fuck?

     To his left, Kazahaya was gasping, "Oh, that does sound bad! And what did you say your names were again?"

     "You really must be new!" said the girl. "I'm Red Blood Cell, and this is Neutrophil, but most people just call him White Blood Cell! Nice to meet you, Naive! And you're definitely sure this isn't a case of appendicitis?"

     The grin on the... White Blood Cell's... face... looked eerie, like he wasn't used to smiling. "If Killer T-Cell here says it's safe--" the man said, patting Rikuou on the shoulder. His voice stopped dead when an antenna popped up on the back of the man's hat and started buzzing. Or maybe it was a switch flipping, because White Blood Cell pulled a knife out of a hip sheath and his eyes bugged out into a full serial killer frenzy.

     Rikuou pulled his knife, too, expecting to have to defend himself and maybe Kazahaya against a fucking lunatic, but instead of attacking, White Blood Cell took a back to back fighting stance like Rikuou was on his team, then pushed his girlfriend between their bodies for safety. He, the white man, and Kazahaya circled up around her, eyes out for anything dangerous. That was a lead Kazahaya had no trouble following, hand on his own knife and ready to draw.

     "You see anything?" Rikuou prompted. Maybe this White Blood Cell would explain, since he had no fucking clue what was going on.

     "No," the man said. "Not a single invasive bacterium. That's odd. I just got my receptor tuned, too. There ought to be something that doesn't belong for it to go off like that. I'd better make a report to the Dendrites, get another team down here to check this out."

     Before Rikuou could stop him, Kazahaya reached out a hand to the White Blood Cell's arm. One more time, his receptor flipped up and started buzzing. "Oh, crap. I think he's reacting to us!"

     Surprising no one, the two people who appeared to be cells looked to him for an explanation. "We, ah... ran into some trouble on the way here," Rikuou lied. "Maybe we've got something on us from that."

     "Okay..." the White Blood Cell answered, as if he weren't sure that could happen. And maybe it couldn't. Rikuou had no clue. Nobody'd warned him he'd end up microsized inside somebody's guts when he'd woken up this morning.

     "We'll tell the Dendrites!" yelped Kazahaya with a smile so innocent, who could doubt him? "You two can just... keep you knowing! And keep an eye out for... stuff!"

     Before either of the strangers could catch them, Kazahaya grabbed the giant backpack Kakei gave them, and Rikuou grabbed Kazahaya, then they ran for the nearest exit and didn't stop until they were sure they'd gotten away. Biology, Rikuou didn't know much about, but sneaking around where they didn't belong?

     Just another Tuesday at Green Drugstore.