It's a cold morning in Tokyo. As the sun peeks over the horizon, painting the sky a soft blue, the busy Japanese society awakens.
A synth plays low tunes, mixed with a vocalist whispering unintelligible and hypnotic words, while a trash beat picks up the tempo. Itachi keeps her pace in synch to the music blasting in her ears as she finishes her morning jog around the local park.
Itachi feels a tap on her shoulder and half turns to her jogging partner, Touma, trying to get her attention. She shrugs off her headphones, "Need something?" she asks.
He looks bashful, scratching the back of his head. "Sorry, but the construction just called. Nagasa-san called in sick just this morning, and they want me to fill in for him in the meanwhile. I have to go."
"Oh, ok then. Tell Geppetto I said hey." she waves with a half smile.
Strangely, he winces and his smile drops. His eyes turn to stone "Tai was hurt yesterday and has hardly been in the mood to talk since then. Some crazy girl sprayed pepper on his face during his date with Futaba, when they passed by Hachiko's Plaza."
Itachi's own smile disappears and fury boils on her stomach. "Is he alright now!? Why did nobody tell me!?"
"After he came back he insisted us not to tell you, 'don't bother her, she has a big exam tomorrow'. He even called Mami, who was also there, just so she wouldn't tell you, just in case. He didn't want you to mama bear him so late in the night." he smiles just a little, even if it's a grim one.
"That dumb little gremlin. And I don't 'mama bear' anyone. Why are you telling me now then?"
"It's already morning, and I figured now that you have a deadline over your head you wouldn't go out in a wild hunt to maul someone. And I think you also deserved to know."
" Yes, thank you. I'll pass by after classes.
"That would be great, actually. I'm sure he'll love the surprise. Aaaaand, crap, I really need to leave. I'd hug you, but uh, sweat." he says as the frown in his face lessens and leaves.
She says nothing before she turns and continues the last stretch of her jog. Another song is playing now, drums (or some bongos) thundering in the forefront while an orchestra of violins sings a powerful melody. She idly wonders where does Taichi even find this stuff. His playlists are so full of random stuff, from serenades to metal, or progressive rock as he called it.
She gets to the front step of her student dorm as she checks her phone for the time. The common room is empty, thank goodness. She reaches her room without encountering none of the other tenants.
Her room, for her alone, is barren. She still hasn't gotten around to unpack most her stuff, even a year after moving. She just... hasn't got the need to. The only sign somebody lives there are the four frames sitting on her desk. The first three are of her and her cats, Coco, Kiki, and Chocolate, who she couldn't bring with to the dorm. Futaba appears in the photo with Coco, carrying him like a baby.
The last one is of her, Futaba, Tai, and Touma during New Years. Futaba is in the middle and Touma is behind them all, both of them hugging her and Taichi. She smiles as she sees the picture, even as her eyebrows frown.
She hurries to get her shower toiletries and her change of clothes.
The baths are not empty as she hoped.
"Oh, it's you, Masumi-chan. How did your morning jog go?" says a chestnut-haired woman when she sees Itachi from the wall mirror where she is applying some makeup.
It could be worse, Itachi supposes as she gives a noncommittal grunt. Natsumi Natsuki; Itachi has nothing against her, but interacts so little with her that they are acquaintances at best, strangers at worst. She isn't in a particular hurry to change that.
It could be worse, she decides.
It gets worse.
Itachi is rinsing when the door to the bathroom practically slams opens, followed by the holder of the title of 'Bitch Buoy Voice', Jessica Yamada loudly chatting with her "lackey" Chihiro Hamada, dubbed as such by Tai.
"-and then I tell the bitchass boy to fuck off. And the poor girl is just standing there, holding back tears and runs off before I could console her!" she rants, occasionally slipping back and forth between English and Japanese.
Jessica's a biracial foreigner basically, came from America, but was first born in Japan. She's loud and crass, and that plus her two-toned blue-pink hair makes her a very difficult person to miss. Still, Itachi hasn't written her off yet; she was wrong with Mami, once, but she isn't sure she willing to put the effort to know Jessica.
"Poor girl, she musta bin traumatized." replies Chihiro with thick Kansai accent. Both girls apparently clicked together. Even if Chihiro follows her around, one rarely sees one without the other. She painted her hair electric red a week after the first meeting.
"That little male gremlin was probably planning to rape her. It's good I came to her rescue. She was sooo cute, too. Too bad I couldn't take her there and then with me."
"Mayhaps I ought to get a pepper spray myself, too."
Itachi was already bothered by the conversation, but the last sentence made her blood run cold. It had to be a coincidence, right?
"What do you think, Natsu-chan? Would you be swept off your feet if a beautiful lady like me came to your rescue?"
"Ah! Uhhh, I-I wasn't really paying attention and I need to go so-" Natsumi says as she takes some steps, trying to escape away.
"Aaaww, don't be like that. It's okay, it's only us here, no need to lie to ourselves. By chance, I happened to see you that other day, maybe a month ago? When you fought with that blonde girl? You were so sad...
"But she's the one that's missing it. You're so beautiful ~! You have such nice breasts, and really cute face too."
"Eeek! P-p-please, s-sto- Unn!" Natsumi stutters.
"J-Jessie, that's so naughty~!" purrs Chihiro.
"Aaaah~ you like that, don't you. It's okay, I know you like it, I'll make it feel good."
"N-no, please, just stop! Stop!" she begs.
"I told you, don't lie to me." Jessica's voice suddenly becomes icy cold.
"Ah!" Natsumi screams in pain and terror.
"I hate liars, you know? Especially the ones that lie to themselves, like males that honestly believe they aren't all rapists inside. Just be honest to yourself and give in, let me take care of you."
Everyone freezes and turns to look back at Itachi, hair, and legs still wet and clad only in her shirt and underwear, holding her phone in her hand. Shampoo still clung to her hair.
"You will leave her alone right this instant." she growls at the scene she comes to. Jessica, on hand under Natsumi's shirt tightly groping her breast and the other around her captive's stomach, hand clasped firmly on both of her wrists. Chihiro is just standing there, red on her face.
"Itachi-chan...?" Jessica asks, befuddled, not even embarrassed, as if she wasn't doing a heinous act.
Natsumi gets over her surprise first and struggles as hard as she can. She manages to get her hands free and elbows her captor in the stomach, escaping from her trap. She runs to hide behind Itachi.
"You're okay? Good, then get out and call the police." then quietly, she whispers to her ear. "I'm sorry, but you can't delete the evidence. You'll need it later." realization comes to Natsumi, and she blushes even harder, but nods and escapes throughout the door.
"Y-you bitch! How fucking dare-!"
"And you!" Itachi interrupts, cold disgust on her face. "I will ask you just once, and I want you to answer immediately."
"I'll sue you! I'll sue you for everything you have!"
"Were you yesterday night at Hachiko's Plaza?" she continues, as if she hadn't heard her.
"You'll regret-- huh?" Miraculously, Jessica stops spouting nonsense. "What?"
Itachi slams her hand against the mirror, just missing Jessica's face by a few inches. She narrows her eyes, using her stature to intimidate the girl. The two-tone girl seems to finally realize what's happening and her whole attitude changes, closing on herself.
"Y-yeah, I-I was there."
"Was there where you sprayed the boy?"
"Y-yeah, w-w-what does it-?" Jessica cowers under Itachi's scowl.
"I am one reason away from mauling you, so you better sit here, say nothing, and wait for the police to arrive. Same goes to you." She warns Chihiro, who is trembling like a leaf in the wind.
"H-hey now, I don't get why are you mad. Was that boy your boyfriend or something?" Jessica challenges, regaining a bit of her persona. Itachi refuses to answer and set her face in a cold stone mask, glaring tightly.
Jessica, however, misses the hint, or disregards it completely, and keeps pushing, "He is!? Why are you getting mad at me if he was obviously cheating on you with the small girl! Did he tell you through the tears that the crazy bitch assaulted him, huh? Typical. Truly, all males are scu-!"
She falls to the ground, a red hand-shaped imprint on her face and looks at Itachi, shocked. It takes all of Itachi's patience not to follow up and stay true to her promise of a mauling, but she restrains herself.
Jessica looks like she wants to say something, whine probably, but Itachi's glare swiftly shuts her up.
A male officer takes both of them away. Jessica keeps howling about assault and rape as she's taken inside the police car. His partner, a woman that introduced herself as "Officer Robagi", takes Natsumi's and Itachi's statements once she is properly dressed.
"And the video you took?" asks the officer.
"Oh, I have it" intercedes Natsumi as she hands out Itachi's phone. "She asked me to take it with me."
"I see. With photographic evidence like that and your statements, it'll be easy to get them a guilty in court. You will have to testify, of course."
"If it's okay, can we move it to another phone? Or at least take out the memory card" requests Itachi.
"We can take the card, make a copy for the archives and send it back to you."
"Oiii, are you done?" suddenly comes the voice of her partner, Officer Zurui-Tsune, through the radio. "They are getting restless there in the back."
"Almost." She answers back. She places a hand on their shoulders and she gives them a soft rub. "You both were very brave, now we'll take care of the rest." the words made Itachi feel something soft in her chest and smiles, but Natsumi looks downcast, ashamed.
"I... I wasn't... I just ran away while she stayed in my place." mutters Natsumi as she pushes some tears in her eyes trying to escape.
"Sometimes the bravest thing you can do is run away, it's okay." she reassures the girl softly. After making sure they're both alright and they don't need to call for emergencies, the officer leaves the two girls alone in their silence.
"You don't give yourself enough credit." Itachi says eventually. "I only created the opportunity, but you freed from her on your own. So... try to keep your chin up...?" she winces, feeling like she's a b-grade manga protagonist and she's failing magnifically at it. "Just... don't-" she freezes when she feels Natsumi hugging her from the side.
"Thanks, Masumi-chan." she muffles from her spot between her side and her arm.
Slightly awkward, Itachi returns the hug. "Yeah..."
It's late in the afternoon when Itachi falls flat on her bed, utterly exhausted. The exam had been like a kick in the ass, which she only barely managed to finish, followed by a three-hour long lecture.
She was done with everything-
Knock Knock Knock Knock Knock
For the love of…!
She only barely opened the door before someone pushes it's way inside and rams against her.
"Itachi! Are you alright!? You're not hurt, are you? I've been so worried!" Futaba Kuze says as she hugs her, tears starting to break from her eyes.
"Huh? Futaba, what are you doing here?" she asks the petite girl as she returns the hug.
"I, well, we were very worried."
That's when she looks up to see Touma, a concerned frown on his face, and Taichi Ichinose, his face sporting a bright red rash.
"Yo," salutes Taichi, "why didn't you call?"
"Tai-!" Touma scolds.
"Why didn't you?" Itachi retorts, glaring slightly.
"Touche" he winces, already expecting that answer. "I'm sorry, I should have told you myself. Can you forgive me?"
"Mhm, you should have. And I'll forgive you only if you promise not to do it ever again."
"Promised. Never again."
"Then come over here give me hug as well." she smiles warmly as he does so, even more when Touma joins in and surrounds them all with his long arms.
"Although, to be fair, I did end... ugh, mauling the bitch."
Several things pass then, Futaba gives her a slight slap saying "Language!" with a cute pout on her lips, Touma snorts against his will and better judgment, and Taichi looks at her with a mix between surprise and admiration.
"No way. Pink hair, side buzz, bit of a bitch?" ("Taaaaaaiiiiii!!!" scolds Futaba.)
"Pink hair, side buzz, and a monumental bitch." ("And you kiss me with that mouth? Both of you, unbelievable.")
"Yup." Itachi nods as she kisses Futaba on her forehead, who more or less thought she was being ignored. They all chuckle as a comfortable feeling fills them.
Then, a thought passes by Itachi's head. "Wait, why did you all come here anyway?"
"We were worried? I thought we made that clear?" said Tai as he leaned on her arm.
"No, like, how did you know something had happened."
"Oh," says Futaba as she borrows her head in the space between her armpit and her breast, "that's because I tried calling you today, and imagine my surprise when a girl, Natsuki-san I think? Answers and tells me you're holding up against a girl that tried to... rape her..." fresh tears threaten to fall, but she holds them back and instead she tightens her grip.
"She told us immediately, but all of us were busy, until now that is." says Touma, his head resting on top of the petite woman's head.
"Enough about that. I say we go to Touma's and find some corny movie to watch. Cuddles, nachos and ice cream, what do you think?" interjects Taichi.
"Fine by me, you all should just move in already."
"In that tiny apartment? Maybe these two short stuffs can fit in a closet, but between us, we'd be tight like this" Itachi jokes as she closes her fingers. Futaba glows, treasuring this moment as one of the few that Itachi has ever said a joke, but Taichi scoffs.
"Taking pot shots at our height now? Talk about cheap."
Itachi chuckles, feeling warm and grateful.
It's late in the night when Itachi finds herself staring up at the ceiling, the movie over since some time ago. She lays in a mess of futons and covers, Futaba pressed against her, who is, in turn, being spooned by Taichi and Touma both; their usual positions.
She feels content, cuddling with her girlfriend and her two other best friends, yet sleeps escapes her. Carefully, she slides out of the sheets and gets up to help herself a glass of water.
The room is cold, even with all windows closed. A soft glow from the streetlights filters through the window blinds. She tries to make out the details in the room, but her eyes have been getting worse the last few months, and it's getting harder to see far away without proper light. She growls in frustration at her eyesight, before she takes a deep breath and tries to relax.
Today has been intense, she thinks, still wide awake as something nags at her from the back of her mind, maybe I'm still a bit high-strung about it.
She needs to go back to the cuddle pile, she decides.
Even in the low light she sees Touma's eyes wide open. He's slowly caressing Tai's head before he notices her. "Are you alright?" he whispers.
"I'm fine. Did I wake you up? Sorry." she replies.
Instead of saying anything else, Touma separates himself from Taichi, creating a space between them.
She raises an eyebrow, clearly getting the idea. He gives her a short nod and a gentle smile.
Carefully again, she slides back in as Touma covers her with his arm. She sighs as she rests against his chest, feeling that she will be protected from any harm.
Really, it's sometimes a bit of a shame that neither of them can even feel attracted to each other. But what they are and what they have is wonderful too, even if it took them a while to feel this comfortable with each other, after getting rid of their insecurities and the nuances of normality.
"Are you really alright?" He asks again.
"Me? Yeah, but there's something... not wrong, exactly, but I have a feeling like... Doubt, worry?" she answers as she tries to parser her feelings.
"Worry, huh...? Maybe you're worried about the girl Natsuki?"
Something seems to click inside her head, and she sighs again, relieved for figuring out the emotion she felt. But then...
"I knew you were a mama bear. No, wait, you're too aloof to be a bear. Maybe a mama cat?" he chuckles.
"I don't hit you because then I would be waking them." She glares, even if he can't see her face. "But I suppose I am worried about her. I hope she has someone to talk to and care for her. I just don't know if today will affect her in the future. I've read a bit and maybe she could still PTDS, even if I managed to intervene in time. She seemed fine but... "
"Maybe you worry too much? Or, it's more like, worrying about it now won't help you." suddenly says Taichi, who had apparently been awake during her rant.
"Ah, shit, did I wake you too?"
"Nah- I mean, yeah, but don't worry about it." he says as he twists to face her
"Yep, me too, sorry. Also, language!" complains Futaba from her spot. Then, she props herself on her elbow to look at Itachi properly. "Tai's right, it isn't good to worry yourself to death. You can check up on her in the morning, right?"
She looks at them and she nods, relaxing further into the pile. She feels Futaba moving around until she's on top of her, and Taichi wriggling closer to hug them both. Touma adjusts the covers over them to keep the cold away
And that's how Itachi finds herself surrounded by her most precious people in the world, and how she finally falls asleep, feeling happy.