It's a slow, quiet Saturday afternoon for Sojiro Sakura. His 'lunchtime rush' (and isn't that a joke) had just left and it's just a salaryman on his day off nursing the same cup of coffee. The news is quiet in the background as Sojiro mindlessly tries to clean off a lipstick stain, and he glances up with a smile at one of the tiny cameras Futaba left a week or two ago. The salaryman takes off his glasses and places them on the counter, sweeping his hands through his hair as he exhales, heavily. Sojiro might not be the best at customer service, but he knows this much. He drains the French press and tops off the customer, a quiet thank you coming from pursed lips.
"What's wrong?" Sojiro leans back against the counter, eyes quick to spot any latent messes.
"It's my niece," the man puts back on his glasses and smiles. It's a very fake smile, but Sojiro doesn't bring it up. "Something happened and she's being sent here to Tokyo. Thing is, she doesn't have a place to stay."
"What about you?"
The man laughs, but it's bitter and heart-rending. It reminds Sojiro of when - never mind. No use going down that road. "Sharing a one-bed apartment with a sixteen-year-old? One who has a record? What would people think?"
"What's she like?" Sojiro nods lightly, trying a taste of a new brew he's been trying. It's bitter near the end, and he's over-extracted it. He jots down some notes in a crisp hand as the customer takes another sip.
"Quiet. A classic country good girl. I don't know what happened, it's wrapped up so tightly no one can tell what's happened. Just...now she has a record."
Something...clicks in Sojiro's heart. He doesn't think about Wakaba (damnit) or Futaba's closed door with only a text message that he needed to pick up a different processor -
If there's one thing that can be used to describe Sojiro Sakura, it's that he has a bleeding heart. Yeah, he can try and hide it, but it doesn't last long. He scowls as he tries to remember when the last time he cleaned the attic was.
"She can stay here. I've got an attic she can use."
"Really?" The customer jumps to his feet, pulling out his wallet and starting to thumb out some bills. "Please, we'll pay you - "
"I'm not taking your money," Sojiro raises his hands complacently. Goodness knows he could use it, though. "Besides, we're close to the Yongen stop and if she's got a school that'll take her - "
"Shujin is willing to accept her. No clue why." The man turns downcast and Sojiro grimaces. He can see the headlines already - 'prestigious school reforms criminal'. Give him a break.
"Fair enough. Tell her parents that I'll have her for the year."
"Thank you, sir," The man bows, deeply. "I'm going to leave some bills here, but you're not going to notice them until I'm gone, all right?"
"Fine. But what's your name? And the girl's?"
"I'm Takuto Maruki. And her name is Akira Kurusu."
KA: yo did you hear about kurusu
PT: yeah she got arrested or some shit
MG: Watch your language. This is technically on a school server.
PT: i heard from tachibana that she assaulted a dude
KA: I thought it was compensated dating?
MG: Regardless, it is not our place as the student council to discuss this. She was always a good girl, but I guess this is her true self.
KA: you said it, prez.
KA: i heard tennis club's already kicked her out
PT: Tennis? the whole school kciked her out bro
PT: I hate you but yeah she's gone
MG: Good riddance. Still, I have trouble wrapping around my head the fact that the treasurer for the student council would involve herself in such activities.
KA: shows you cant trust everything you hear
MG: Also if you two keep texting in class...
Akira Kurusu knows that her cell is two meters wide by two meters deep and four meters tall. There are no windows. Just concrete. There's a slab of a bed in the corner and a 'toilet' if one could call it that. Every now and then the door will open and food will be 'placed' on the ground. Usually, the guard throws the food on the ground and it spills. She still has enough pride not to eat off the floor.
She takes off her glasses to peer through them, and they're still broken. The right lens has a long crack through the side and the bridge is at an unfortunate angle. Akira wonders what her mother would think of her. Or her father. Or, her grandmother. That would be awful. She rubs her eyes and instead of sitting she's on the bed, but everything's hazy. She goes to startle, but can't. She sees cobwebs everywhere, and hears whispers. A young woman's voice, begging her to wake up.
She shakes her head violently, and she's back to sitting up. How long has she been in this cell? No company except for the person who drops her food, no one since the first beating when she arrived at juvie.
Two days, a voice whispers in the back of her mind. Akira ignores it. Like she should have ignored that woman.
(That's a lie. She does not regret helping that woman or pushing that man. She regrets nothing.
This must be rock bottom.)
Hana Kurusu is pacing relentlessly in her house as she holds the phone to her ear, her husband Tendo sitting down and looking at his phone.
"Takuto, pick up!"
"He'll answer when he answers," Tendo consoles, but she ignores him. "He's had it rough ever since R - "
"Hey, sis. I have news." Takuto's voice carries over loudly as Hana puts the phone on speaker and almost slams it onto the table. Tendo does not look away.
"Please tell me you found someone. Why can't you do it?"
"You know I can't," Hana can almost imagine how her younger brother is slumping as he says this. "I'm not in the best mental space to care for her. But I found someone who can."
"Who?" Hana barks, impatient.
"It's a café owner in Yongen called LeBlanc. The man's name is Sojiro Sakura. I - "
"That's great, Taki," Hana drums her fingers on the table. "Can you pick up my daughter tomorrow and drop her at the train station? Tendo and I are too busy." She does not hear her younger brother grumble over the phone.
"Fine. I'll pick her up tomorrow morning. What about her things?"
"Like clothes, toiletries. All that."
"Oh, that," Hana waves a hand flippantly and Tendo snorts. "I packed up all her things after we got word of what happened."
"What was that?" Tendo finally gets up and stands next to his wife, resting a hand on her waist.
"Nothing," Comes Takuto's tinny voice. "Have a nice night. Anything you want me to pass along to Akira?"
"Tell her not to disappoint us again." Hana's voice is hard, but Takuto had already hung up after he asked the question.
Neither Tendo nor Hana notice.
"Ugh, Sumi, why's your stuff all over my stuff," Kasumi Yoshizawa is very tired this morning. Very tired. "You couldn't have packed up last night?"
"After we binged all of Super Robot - " Comes Sumire Yoshizawa's voice before Kasumi runs over and shushes her. It's still dark outside, and their father is still sleeping.
"Whatever. Don't want you to be late on your first day at Kosei." Kasumi tries to sound hopeful, but there's a dark shadow in Sumire's eyes. "I'm gonna miss you, you know."
"Yeah, yeah," Sumire nudges her out of the way as they head to the bathroom, elbows and knees knocking as they jockey for position at the sink. "Is it my turn or yours to cook breakfast?"
Kasumi scrunches her nose. "I think it's mine. Hope you're okay with my runny eggs. On your first day."
"Kasumi..." Sumire sighs around a mouth of toothpaste, but Kasumi winks and hip-checks her, resulting in a squawk. They laugh, briefly.
"Go get packed up. I'll get breakfast ready, and then..." Kasumi trails off, and pulls her hair into her usual ponytail. She sighs.
A new day awaits.
Half an hour later, they're at the door to their place, their father waking himself up.
"Well, Sumi," Kasumi trails off and Sumire pulls her into a fierce hug. They have different commutes now, and they split here. "Have a good time at Kosei. I'll see you at dinner and we'll talk all about it, okay?"
"I'm more worried about you. Without me, Kamoshida..." Sumire holds her hand over her arm where a conspicuous bruise lies. Not caused by gymnastics, but by a man.
"I'm tough enough!" Kasumi puts her hands on her hips, but it's hollow. She's scared.
"I know you're scared, Kasumi." Sumire looks up, and smiles, and Kasumi pulls her into another hug.
"I just have to have faith. That's what you're always telling me, right?" Kasumi laughs, and there's the smell of rain on the horizon. Sumire smiles, and Kasumi straightens her jacket. "Well, Sumi, I'm off!" She makes her way down the road, her identical twin heading the other way. Their father likes to joke that there's no older or younger twin, they practically popped out at the same time.
But because of one man, the twin terrors of gymnastics are split. Kasumi feels her lips split in a snarl, hands clenching her bag firmly. Damn Kamoshida. So what if Sumire was gay? Because of him, Sumire was essentially bullied out of Shujin and her reputation is in the pits, even with her stellar gymnastic record.
Takuto straightens his jacket and checks his watch idly. Just a few more minutes before Akira's train arrives. So far, since picking up his niece she's hardly spoken. She's only asked for her replacement pair of glasses, and it saddens him. He remembers when she'd come over to spend time with him and - . Well. Akira would always be so jovial and light-hearted. She's a good kid. Diligent, hardworking. Student council and prospective captain of the tennis team. And then...he sighs.
"Well, Aki-aki," He calls her by her old nickname, but she doesn't notice. Damn them. Who puts a kid in solitary for two days? "Just a few more minutes, and you'll be on your way to Tokyo."
"I'll try to visit when I'm in the city. The man you'll be staying with is nice, and very considerate. Here." He passes her a ziplock back and he notices her take it in. "It's got a burner phone, another pair of glasses, a subway card and a credit card. Your parents said they'll give you some money for supplies, but..." he trails off. They both know Hana Kurusu well enough that she'd hand over pocket change. "I'd recommend finding a job while there. Lots of part time gigs hiring!" He laughs. "That's how I got through school, after all."
"Hey, Akira. Look at me?" She turns to look at him and it breaks his heart. He pulls her into a tight hug. "Don't let the city get you down. You've just got to stay strong. Don't be the person your parents or even I want you to be. Forge your own path out there, Akira. Believe in the me who is believing in you." He pulls back, frowning. "Is that anime too old for you to recognize?"
She chuckles, and it's a sad and broken sound. They're interrupted as the train pulls up, automated message playing as the door opens.
"Well, Aki-aki, your train's here." He gestures as she shoulders her bag, stuffing the ziplock into her backpack. "Love you, kid."
She nods, and steps onto the train, and the doors close.
It didn't slip his attention how she didn't talk at all.
Takuto checks his watch. Plenty of time to get to his next appointment. But he watches as the train leaves, wind rustling through his hair. Spring was a good time for new beginnings, after all.
Akira shudders to consciousness as the automated message says they've reached Yongen-Jaya. She had that dream again - the cozy bed, the cobwebs, the desperation of someone asking her to wake up...
She frowns as she gathers her belongings, in her 160 centimeter height.
Tokyo daylight greets her.