This wasn’t so bad, Kronii thought. The room she stood in was small but furnished; a small table with sitting chairs surrounding it in the corner, an old fridge next to a dusty microwave and stained oven. Upon opening a closet, Kronii found a dishwasher next to a washing machine and dryer, a rickety old broom propped against the wall.
Its a fixer-upper, yes, Kronii admitted to herself, closing the closet door. But as long as my roommate doesn’t make a terrible joke involving a film about ice we should be fine. She chuckled to herself, the sound ringing out in the small space as she dropped her bags on the worn couch. The cushions made a wheezing sound before deflating, her suitcase now nestled in the frankly cavernous gap between cushions. Kronii heaved a sigh and rethought all of the decisions she had made before coming here.
- - -
“I hate you both, with all of my heart.” Kronii deadpanned, coffee sitting forgotten in front of her. Fauna and Sana shared looks, the two always in sync despite, well, everything about the couple.
Sana leaned forward, her signature devious grin on her face. “You say this buuut-”
“You love us,” Fauna smiled sweetly, and Kronii’s glare melted a little.
“We’re just trying to help, Kronini!” Sana continued their sales pitch, fingers tapping the patio table in a frantic, jittery beat. “We know your job requires a stable living situation-”
“And we got one for you!” Fauna finished her girlfriend’s sentence again. And again, Kronii wondered how a simple meet up for coffee turned into a realtor visit.
“But would she be okay with, you know,” She gestured to herself; tall and intimidating, with an almost permanent glare, her broad shoulders filling out a simple white tee and jacket. She had caught more than a few stares when she had arrived for their meetup, but a simple scowl in the offenders direction had them quickly looking away.
“I’m sure she would be very happy with what you have to offer,” Sana wiggled her eyebrows, and before Kronii could smack her Fauna did it for her.
“That’s not the point of this conversation, Sana,” Her sweet smile came back, but Kronii saw the glimpse of terrifying promise in her eyes; almost everyone in the coffee shop's vicinity shivering and shifting away from their table slightly.
“And there’s the Faufau I know and love,” The self-proclaimed master astrologist (astronomer? Honestly Kronii was sure she changed her title every few days just to mess with her) shot heart eyes at ‘Faufau’, who looked like she was going to commit another act of domestic violence.
Kronii interjected before this escalated to another KFP incident (they still weren’t allowed at that particular restaurant). “So who’s the roommate again?”
Fauna blinked, the murderous glint replaced with warm care once more. “She’s a friend of a friend-”
“Her name’s Mumei, very cute from how Bae described her, has a nice a-” Sana’s head was almost smashed into the table as Fauna’s fist made contact with the back of her skull. Fauna smiled sweetly, Kronii far too used to the two’s antics to do anything more than take a sip of her lukewarm coffee and grimacing at the strong flavor. They never got her order right here.
“We can schedule a meetup if you would wish?” Kronii shook her head, a rare smile escaping her.
“It’ll be okay, my new job starts in a few days, and this is one of the only options I have.” She stood, downing the rest of her coffee, and patting a groaning Sana on the back as she headed towards the parking lot. “Send me the details, and don’t kill Sana please!”
- - -
The cupboard doors creaked as she pulled them open, the white paint peeling off along with clumps of dust. Kronii wrinkled her nose, shutting them with a thunk and inspecting the dim apartment, the lights in the ceiling flickering every few minutes. Kronii felt the overwhelming urge to sigh, but with the amount of dust still floating around she instead rubbed her temples tiredly, trying to sooth the burgeoning headache that began its beat inside her skull.
“This is what I get for doing this on such short notice,” Kronii mumbled, before heading down the hallway to check out the room situation.
The two bedrooms were tiny, with a small bathroom connecting them. Kronii wrinkled her nose when she entered, the washroom smelling strongly of chemically fragrant cleaner. Fortunately, both the sink and the shower were relatively clean, only a little mildew sticking to where the tile met the flowery wallpaper, and the water ran clean when Kronii turned the faucet, the knob a clean silver. The smell was beginning to worsen her headache, so she picked a room at random and collapsed on the creaky single bed.
Wonder when Bae’s friend will get here, Kronii thought, before she fell asleep, limbs strewn over the gray comforter. When she woke up, the blanket was pulled over her shoulders and the blinds were shut along with the bedroom door. Kronii narrowed her eyes, sleep still pulling like weights on her lids, before getting up as silently as she could. She opened the door, wincing at the creaking noise and making a mental note to oil all of the hinges in the apartment. The smell of eggs wafted down the hall, the carpet a rough dirty brown under her socks.
There was a woman standing at the stained stove, humming a tune as she stirred a pan with eggs, onions, and tomatoes. Her long brown hair was pulled up in a ponytail, a headband with two feathers embroidered on it. The worn wood of the table heaved under the weight of plates, bread, and two glasses of water. Kronii blinked, standing stock still in the hallway entrance.
“I feel like I forgot something…” The woman muttered, searching a few bags piled up on the countertop next to her. Wordlessly, Kronii moved forward, picking up the two shakers marked salt and pepper and handing them to the woman.
“Thanks,” Was the absentminded response, and Kronii still couldn’t find the words to describe the surreal situation, let alone address it. The woman’s hand stilled mid shake, before her head snapped to Kronii, her face a comical picture of surprise. “Ehh? You’re already here?”
Kronii fought the urge to laugh. She didn’t do that with people she had only just met. “Yes,” She replied levelly, an eyebrow arched and pointedly looking her new roommate up and down. “I have just been taking a short nap.” She reached out to shift the pan off of the flame, as smoke had begun to rise.
“Oh dear, sorry, wasn’t paying attention,” Her roommate, Mumei, maneuvered around her, splitting the pseudo-omelette mixture onto the two prepared plates. “You just surprised me, and you’re also uh,” She gestured at her with the pan.
“Rather scary?” She offered.
“No,” Kronii started, genuine surprise flickering over her face. “You’re just really pretty.” For the third time that day, Kronii did not know what to say.
“Ah-” The girl flushed and looked away, quickly sitting down and picking up a fork. “Sorry, that came out of nowhere.”
“No, it’s okay,” And it somehow was, contrary to how Kronii normally felt when being complimented. “Just rather… new.”
Mumei frowned, a forkful of egg pausing on its way to her mouth. “People don’t tell you that often?”
“People don’t tell me that often without getting hurt.” Kronii said wryly, managing to get a chuckle out of her roommate. This girl was really defying all expectations, huh? “So your name’s Mumei right? Rather not have a stranger living with me for the next few months.” That garnered her a sweet, tittering laugh.
They settled into a sort of rhythm over the next few days, the two of them leaving in the mornings to their respective jobs and returning in the evening at varying times. Mumei usually came home first (it was a new word to Kronii, home, and it rolled off the tongue easier than expected) and so began making dinner for the two of them. She enjoyed the feeling, the domesticity of their situation, the smell of food erasing all traces of the gross cleaner the previous tenants had used.
On the few days that they had off, they set to repairing the few things that needed it; Kronii’s job as a mechanic giving her the necessary knowledge to oil and tighten up the few hinges that threatened immediate disintegration if you opened the door too quickly. Mumei took care of repainting the cupboards and replacing the wallpapers, the garish flowers on the inside of the bathroom making Kronii’s eyes hurt whenever she was trying to get ready for bed.
“You don’t need to do that,” Kronii had protested, hair pulled back into a ponytail, a loose belt filled with various tools slung around her waist.
“It’s okay, I just want you to be able to sleep well,” Mumei tore down another piece of the paper with a grunt, shirt sticking to her sweaty frame, making Kronii’s eyes trace the outline of her body before she tore them away from the tantalizing view. She’s not that type of friend, Kronii scolded herself. And they were friends, against all odds of it being so. Mumei turned to her, forehead shiny with moisture and a smile more radiant than a freshly polished car grill. “We’re in this together, yeah?”
It should have been worrying how quickly Mumei grew on her, it had taken Sana more than a few months to get Kronii to even tolerate her. But Kronii liked the sound of her laugh, the silly ways she would misplace her things and the frantic searches the duo embarked on trying to find them. They were friends, and it was easy to be so, and Kronii had never had this sort of easygoingness before with anyone.
She should have known the heater was going to break; they were in the last dredges of winter, and the season was still trying its best to make everyone miserable. Kronii woke up to a shivering Mumei, worn white t-shirt hanging loose on her frame and making her look like a ghost in the shards of moonlight that made it past the blinds.
“Wh-whas up?” Kronii mumbled, rubbing her eyes and sitting up. She immediately got her answer, as soon as her upper body escaped the warmth of her blanket her arms prickled with the familiar feeling of goosebumps.
“The-the heater broke,” Mumei’s teeth were chattering, slim body shaking pathetically. Something in Kronii’s chest twisted cruelly. She slung her comforter to the side, scooting over and patting the space she left wordlessly.
“I’ll fix it in the morning, but for now let’s get you warm.” She didn’t overthink it, thank god, otherwise she would have immediately punched herself in the face for even daring to offer. And when Mumei accepted, climbing in beside her and curling up into her warmth, she probably would have punched herself twice.
Kronii woke up a few hours later, her body pleasantly warm and heavy. She yawned, shifting and holding on a little tighter to the body in her arms. The form nuzzled closer into her neck, breath puffing hot onto Kronii’s collarbone, sunlight streaming through the blinds and illuminating their face.
The dark haired mechanic practically fell off the bed, body landing on the carpeted floor with a muted thump. She lay there with bated breath, waiting for the telltale noises of Mumei waking. When no noises were heard, Kronii stood, tiptoe-ing off to the other room to change.
When Mumei woke up a few hours later, bedhead adorably messy and face scrunched up at the cricks in her back, she walked into the living room and was met face first with a wall of heat.
“I managed to get one of those room warmers out while I’m fixing the heater.” Kronii was hunched over the stove, sausages merrily sizzling away. “Don’t trust those crappy technicians the landlord would send.” She muttered to herself.
Mumei smiled brightly and sat down at the table, smile bright and burning, and even when Kronii went to turn off the room warmer after fixing the heater, the warmth lingered.
- - -
Mumei thought her new roommate was rather cool, even after the cryptic warning Sana had given her while explaining everything.
“She’s a flighty one,” She nodded sagely, not noticing that Fauna was behind her with her head buried in her hands for over a minute. The two of them were practically attached at the hip, but to be honest it was more like a leash. Sana had gotten banned from some restaurants more than a few times.
Mumei shook herself out of her mental tangent, checking back in with what Sana was saying. “She’s rather standoffish, mean, cruel, tempting, terrible, rude-”
“That’s until you get to know her,” Fauna interrupted, finally coming out of her practically comatose state. “She’s really caring and dependable with friends. She’s just…” Mumei cocked her head to the side, confused.
“Shy?” She offered. Fauna made a noncommittal noise and shrugged.
“Something like that.”
Shy turned out to be something more along the lines of wary, careful. Kronii didn’t seem to trust easily, making jokes at her own expense and gauging one’s reactions, choosing to listen during a conversation instead of speaking much. But Mumei still managed to learn some things about her; like how she enjoyed fixing things, returning things to their original set states. She enjoyed cars, had a motorcycle, and occasionally waxed poetic about how she kept it running smooth like a dream even though it was ten years old.
Her outfits were composed of mainly tees and jeans, jackets pulled tight over broad shoulders, worn sneakers with crude caricatures of clocks drawn on them. Mumei wouldn’t lie and say that she didn’t find herself checking her out once or twice, eyes drawn towards cold blue eyes and silky black hair. Whenever Kronii was repairing the various things that broke around the apartment, and the sink was its own separate hellscape, one could clearly see well defined back and biceps under her tank top.
Kronii was unexpected, and maybe Mumei wanted more of that in her life.
What was also unexpected was losing the shirt that she was going to wear on her outing with Bae.
“You sure it isn’t in the washing machine?” Kronii asked, looking at her curiously from the couch. She was lounging with her computer in her lap, glasses perched on her nose and making Mumei curiously unable to look at her for more than ten seconds without blushing.
“No, we're washing colors today, remember?” Mumei tossed another couch cushion to the side, squinting at a blob of an unidentified substance and then shrieking as it twitched.
Kronii sighed, putting down her laptop to stand and pick up the lump to throw it away. “Can you wear something else?”
“I could, it’s just that,” Mumei fidgeted, hands removing her headband and worriedly rubbing the material. Kronii wanted to touch her hands. “I had set it aside somewhere but then I forgot. And I don’t like that I forget so easily.” I don’t want to forget you, if we ever move somewhere else. Was the little truth that whispered in the back of Mumei’s skull.
Kronii nodded, understanding the worry one could have about forgetting easily. But then she blinked, What had I just thought?. She found her gaze once again locked on to Mumei’s fiddling fingers, thinking about how the random urge to hold them came out of nowhere.
“I’ll just wear something else,” Mumei sighed, before stepping forward for what seemed like was going to be set up as a hug before it morphed into an awkward shoulder pat. “See you in a bit!”
When Mumei left, Kronii found her mind wandering away from the paperwork she was supposed to do for her job, the details of a tuneup a few days prior. She sighed, standing for the second time in ten minutes and heading to her room to take a nap.
She threw off the shirt she was wearing, searching her closet for any clothes to wear to sleep. It seemed that the majority of her closet was in her hamper however, some articles strewn about the closet floor. Kronii groaned, wondering if she should just sleep in the shirt she was wearing. She stumbled over to her bed, a horrible headache threatening to burst into being just behind her temples before she saw a shirt draped over her bed comforter.
Kronii frowned, picking up shaking out the loose white shirt. It had no symbol and even though she didn’t recognize it, it had no defining features that she could remember Mumei wearing. Was it hers? She bit her lip, shooting a look at her overflowing hamper. Just until the rest of my clothes are clean. Kronii thought.
“I’m not drunk, I swear!” Mumei giggled, hands fending off a clingy Bae.
“Your eyes say otherwise!” The short girl glomped onto Mumei’s back, nuzzling into her shoulder blades.
“That doesn’t even make sense!” The two of them laughed, Mumei almost falling over as Bae stumbled and placed all her weight on her.
“The eyes are the windows to the soul,” Bae said dramatically, hands fluttering in the air and bell jingling on her collar. “And yours,” She leaned over, giving Mumei a sharp toothed grin and winking. “Show much.”
Mumei’s cheeks flushed, hand pushing on Bae’s shoulder to make sure she didn’t fall over again. “What’s that supposed to mean?” Her friend wiggled her eyebrows, eyes flicking to the entrance to Mumei’s apartment.
“I’m talking about the crush you have on your hot roommate.” Mumei spluttered, hand fumbling with the door to the building.
“What are you talking about? We’re just friends!” Bae stared at her, before reaching behind her to open the door.
“Suuuure.” The shorter girl patted her on the shoulder and smiled softly. “In any case, drink some water! And grab some Tylenol, you’re going to need it.” Mumei returned the smile, and drew Bae up in a hug.
“You too, get home safe.”
Bae laughed in her arms, patting her back. “I don’t need to worry, the world needs to worry with me on the loose!” Mumei couldn’t disagree with that.
She waved goodbye to Bae’s disappearing form, making the mental note to message her the next morning to see if she got home safe before turning around to face the entrance to the apartment stairwell. It’s just Kronii, Mumei thought to herself as she stilled by the first step. Your roommate whom you’ve been staying with for a bit, your friend.
Your very cool, tall, muscular, friend.
She stopped in front of the door to their apartment, body suddenly incredibly tired. She leaned her head against the door, the chipped paint probably flaking off into her hair. Mumei took a breath, the faint smell of the scented candles in their apartment that they used to cover up the smell of all the cleaner they had to use when they first moved in wafting through the hallway and soothing Mumei’s nerves slightly. She opened the door, hand rubbing at her eyes before being struck still by the sight in front of her, alcohol not the reason for her burning cheeks.
Kronii lay upon the couch, body curled into the cushions and wearing the shirt that Mumei had been looking for. It looked good on her, was a thought that flashed through her mind for a second, before being tamped down as she tried her best to move as silently as she could through the room. Unfortunately being tipsy leads to one usually having a terrible sense of balance, and Mumei cursed the two extra shots Bae had dared her to take as she stumbled over their tattered rug and collapsed on the ground with a thump.
Kronii jerked up, body beautifully tense underneath the form fitting shirt, something that Mumei shouldn’t have really noticed but she did. Her glacial blue eyes went to Mumei’s prone form and for a second Mumei thought she was going to smile. But it flickered away like fog under sunlight, too ethereal to be seen by mortal eyes, and instead Kronii was now in front of her with her hand outstretched.
“Come on,” Her eyes were piercing, and Mumei felt like a bug pinned to a board; examined, but also admired, the thought sending blood rushing to her cheeks as she reached up to take Kronii’s hand.
It was the paradoxical sensation of rough and smooth, hand calloused and strong, muscles and tendons working in mechanical tandem to pull her up. Mumei found herself running her thumb over the smooth plane that was the back of Kronii’s hand. She found herself wanting to learn it better than her own.
But she pulled away, the looming menace of a headache beginning to peek out at the corners of her mind and so she stumbled towards her room with nary a word.
Mumei found her shirt washed and dried, folded on the stand next to her bed along with a glass of water and a Tylenol. Her heart beat a little bit faster when she spotted Kronii as she walked into the kitchen to make breakfast.
- - -
The arrangement seemed to be going on well, in Kronii’s opinion.
As well as it could go when your roommate was so adorable it was almost to the point of irritating. And yet Kronii didn’t react to her as she did most irritating things; with stony silence or thorn-covered comments. She let herself be late to work when Mumei misplaced her notebook, they ended up finding it in her bag and laughing about it. She let herself sit at their small kitchen table, as Mumei stirred her third bowl of instant ramen that week and Kronii tried to convince her to let her try cooking again. (The answer was no, as they definitely didn’t have enough money to replace the stove when Kronii inevitably lit water on fire again.)
She let herself open up for the first time in who knows how long, let herself sit in that uncomfortable chair and laugh at a story Mumei tells animatedly, hands describing how one time Bae managed to almost fall out of the bed of a moving truck because she spotted a funny looking tree. Kronii liked Mumei’s hands, how whenever she held a pencil to doodle on a pad of paper it looked like they fluttered across the page, like birds. Kronii wanted to hold them, but she didn’t want to stop the fluid motions of Mumei’s storytelling and have it be replaced by stiff discomfort, that the sheer choice of holding her hand would mean the birds would never fly again, not for her.
So she let herself be open, but closed, like a flower that only bloomed at certain times, certain moments.
Whenever she bloomed and let the thoughts of what could happen if she acted upon the whims that fluttered in her chest, like Mumei’s hands, like birds wishing to alight, when she pushed them all to the side and focused only on the wonder that was Nanashi Mumei, it was like taking a breath of fresh air for the first time.
It was like when Kronii was driving on her motorcycle, with the wind racing past her, body balanced on a machine of metal that balanced precariously and sent shivers of excitement down her spine; Mumei was like her favorite things combined into a person.
And Mumei scared her, because the thought of caring for someone when she had tried to make herself not care for so long made her lie awake more often than the nightmares about the possibility of time moving on without her.
It’s why she liked machines; cars, motorcycles, mechanical things that moved in a set way with a set purpose. It’s why when Kronii felt the feeling of too many feelings begin to weigh upon her like a long day she set off on her motorcycle to drive around. To run after the time that threatened to pass her by, of being alone.
Lights blurred behind her, theory of relativity not much more than a theory as the dark streets of the city melded into one long road. Kronii was balanced, on a machine that was set to move forward when told to, and her shoulders lightened as she leaned forward into the turn, motorcycle thrumming with a steady beat mirrored by Kronii’s own heart.
When she passed by a street with no street lights and darkened windows, she could almost convince herself that she was a ghost, just one with a heartbeat.
She arrived back home late, shoulders light and mind calmer as Kronii opened the door to their apartment. The room was dark, surface of their table clean and sink empty of any detrius caused by a Mumei Meal. Kronii didn’t change out of her riding clothes, instead slinging her jacket over her chair and sitting. She tapped the rough surface of the table at a jittery beat, eyes glancing to the clock every so often and back to the door. The room felt dark and oppressive, the only sign of time passing being the change in the neon green numbers on the microwave.
But Mumei wasn’t back yet. Mumei wasn’t back yet and it made a strange, terrifying feeling loom in Kronii’s chest; like the thought of missing Mumei’s simple meals or the thought of having to live on her own again. The thought of not seeing Mumei’s hands fly for her was what made the feeling wrap itself heavy around Kronii’s shoulders, made her stand to grab her coat and the keys to her motorcycle as she headed out the door.
- - -
It was three in the morning and Mumei was wandering around the grocery store. It was rather strange that it was still open; deserted, yes, but the lights still illuminated the freezers and aisles, and a single cashier looking like they were about to walk over to the toliet paper section to fall asleep.
Mumei had a list in her hand, that she and Kronii had made that morning of groceries they urgently needed if they were to survive the week without starving. Milk, bread, general things, and yet the nagging feeling that they had forgotten something curled up in Mumei’s head and stayed there, forcing her to stay and wander the aisles in hopes that seeing the needed item would jog her memory. She felt like a ghost, wandering the store alone, her shadow weak and flickery from the strong industrial lights.
Mumei glanced at her watch and started, almost running towards the cashier as she realized how damn late (early?) it was. The man looked almost relieved to see her, began scanning Mumei’s items with a vigour of someone who saw the finish line and managed one last spurt of energy, the finish line being the chance to take a nap without someone noticing. Mumei’s leg jittered, the feeling of not remembering heavy in her chest, of having to go to Kronii and say that she hadn’t gotten what they had needed because, once again, Mumei had forgotten.
There was a pot of wilted flowers by the door, probably meant to be there as an impulse buy for anyone about to leave and it worked, Mumei dashing and grabbing a wilted rose and panting as she jogged back to the register.
“This too.” The cashier looked at her with the eyes of one who’s soul had been lost to the retail industry and wordlessly scanned it, waiting for Mumei as she fumbled with her card. There was a barely discernable sigh of reliefe when she managed to pay, Mumei picking up the bag and rose with a quick ‘thanks’and stumbling out into the cold morning.
It was raining, drizzling more like, but still enough to get Mumei damp and shivering. The light she stood by flickered as she cast her gaze down the road. Mumei cursed herself for the nth time, having forgotten the way to get home. She stood there, a bag slowly darkening with water and a wilted rose in hand, at the side of the road in the darkness.
Mumei found the bus stop bench, with enough overhang to keep relatively dry as she fumbled with her phone for a map back home. She managed to find a route, but during her search the drizzle set into a real storm. WIth a sigh and a shake of her damp hair she set off, skirting around puddles with her phone’s flashlight and the dim light provided by the streetlights.
It was strange, walking the streets in darkness. The shadows turned the once familiar city into an unfamiliar one, draping the walls in ink and blunting the shapes. Mumei’s steps echoed, the path she had taken to the store warped from a few hours before.
There was a sound behind her, a low rumble that set Mumei on edge and had her gripping the edges of her now soaked jacket tighter around her. She looked behind her, bag held close, rose almost crushed, before breathing a sigh of relief at the familiar sight of Kronii’s motorcycle.
Her roommate slowed as she got closer, stopping and Kronii got off, body language tense and strange, different from all the times Mumei had seen her before.
“You’re late.” Kronii said, body all sharp angles in the darkness, leather jacket collecting drops of rainwater. Her dark hair was mussed from her helmet, which was propped against her hip. Behind her was another helmet, presumably meant to be Mumei’s
“And wet.” Mumei added, a bit late, but their strange banter was already coming together even now. Kronii nodded, the planes of her face shadowed, leaving her expression up to Mumei’s imagination, and Mumei’s braincells were frayed from the mentally taxing journey in the dark.
“Then let’s go home, dry you off.”
It clicked, the feeling of having forgotten faded away like mist in sunlight, dispersed like a flock of birds. From all of the stories that Sana had told her, the underlying meaning of “Kronii usually doesn’t care” stuck out like a sore thumb, simple for Mumei to understand and take as a warning of her roommate’s standoffish nature. Kronii did care, and it seemed Mumei was an exception to the rule of her usually not caring. So Mumei took a step forward, pressed the rose into Kroniil’s hand as she leaned up to kiss her on the cheek.
Kronii’s form was stiff, and as Mumei drew back the feeling of having done something wrong pulled on her even more than the heavy bag she carried.
But Kronii leaned down to kiss her on the mouth, carefully, like she was going to fly away if she pressed too hard, got too close. Mumei let her have her distance, even as every part of her begged for the sensation of Kronii’s form to be pressed against her own. Her hands fluttered in the air, before resting on the sides of Kronii’s jacket, pulling her infintesimally closer. It was enough, it probably would never be, so Mumei took of it as she usually did with Kronii; her unexpectedness to be treasured, held close.
Mumei pulled back, finally close enough to see the fondness that was painted so clearly over Kronii’s face. She smiled, face streaked with rainwater.
“Let’s go home, Kronii.”