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Another Puzzle Piece

By Mikari

Action / Romance

Chapter 1

My life has always been surrounded by pretense and lies. Now for the first time, I want to unravel those lies... to get my revenge. (ShizuoxReader)

Another Puzzle Piece

Chapter 1: Pretence

I log into the Dollars website as I always do when I have nothing else to occupy me in the evening. Today it seems only Kanra is online. I chat with her often; she seems to be in on all the gossip about the headless rider and the like. Of course, all of that takes place in Ikebukuro, not in my home town. As always, Kanra tells me I should move there, as always, I tell her I'll think about it. The other Dollars also encourage me to move to the city, especially when I tell them I'm tired of my life here. I assume they must think I'm bored, but in truth, what I'm tired of is my brother's gang, which seems to get into worse trouble everyday.

My life is surrounded by pretense and lies. When I was eleven and my brother fourteen, he started getting involved with gangs. Two years later, he left the house and only came by every now and then. My parents were always angry at him, but he always smiled at me, treated me kindly and gave me gifts. I knew the gifts were stolen, but I still appreciated that he thought of me. I would always pack a meal for him, so that I could at least have something to give him. My brother was always very cool and I admired him a lot.

One day when I was fifteen, I locked myself in my room after an argument with my parents. My brother had not come to visit for a while and I missed him terribly. He was the only one who understood me. Then I heard screams, but I didn't go see what it was about. I locked myself in my room fearing for my life, until once again, there was silence.

The minutes dragged on eternally and I heard my brother's voice at my door. I opened it and hugged him, so relieved to see him, even if he was covered in blood. He told me that the slasher killed our parents. I knew it was a lie, but I pretended to believe it. I had to; my kind brother was all I had in the world. Thanks to my testimony, the police believe that he had arrived just on time to save me, causing the slasher to run away. This wasn't his usual area and the slasher was only starting to become famous, but they believed it.

One thing that stands out in my mind from that night was when I naively asked my brother if everything would be alright. He smiled and said "of course everything will be alright, everything turned out to be just like he said." He never told me who his informant was and I never dared to press the subject.

That was five years ago, I'm twenty now. Here I am living a peaceful life. My brother became my legal guardian for three years until I was eighteen. He wasn't around much, but I could look after myself. I've always known he's in deep with the gangs, but I always pretend to believe his merciful lies. He's only trying to protect me, he doesn't wish his life upon me. However, he's been coming home injured too often lately and I'm worried that my pretend peaceful life will fall apart.

Maybe I should take Kanra's advice and move to Ikebukuro; maybe I can talk my brother into coming with me. Even if he doesn't agree to come at first, maybe I can go and have him visit, then perhaps the city itself will charm him with her mysteries into staying. Even if he gets into another gang, it can't be as bad as it is now...

xoxox xox xoxox

It has been a week since I moved to Ikebukuro. Secretly, I seek the feeling of safety of being in the city that is rumored to be the headquarters of the Dollars and home of their leader. My brother didn't come, but he promised to visit every week. I had been worried because my brother had not called me at all during the week. When the time came for him to visit, he asked me to meet him at a park. I thought it was odd that he wouldn't just come to my apartment, but I went to meet him anyway.

The park was desolated and dark as it was very late. I saw a man and he noticed my approach. He smiled with my brother's face, but something was off in his expression. I approached him and felt wrong. "Good to see you, little sister." He never called me that before. I hated being treated like a child; one thing that I've always liked about my brother was how he treated me as an equal, even when he was being protective of me.

I was confused, this man had my brother's face, but his voice, expression and the way he carried himself was different. I suppose someone who didn't care for the details would miss it. Someone who wasn't close to him wouldn't know, but I knew. "Who are you? Where's my brother?"

He laughed cruelly, "a sharp one... It's just like he said, you do know too much. Everything is like he said, and just as he advised, I'll have to kill you!"

I had no idea what this man, who had my brother's face but wasn't my brother, was talking about, yet I knew he wouldn't believe me if I denied it. I also knew I couldn't run away, he would shoot me in an instant. I saw my life flash before my eyes. What fate had befallen my brother? I wasn't able to protect him like he protected me. Was I to die so young, with so many doubts?

Then something unexpected happened. It was something that was perhaps destined to occur, yet I never would have guessed. A loud voice called out in anger, "Izaya!" The man with my brother's face was startled, he aimed his gun ready to shoot me and make his escape. A knife flew out of nowhere and stabbed into his chest, piercing his heart and making him drop the weapon. The man who stole my brother's face and threatened to kill me fell dead, with a growing puddle of blood around him.

I tried to get away, but in my haste I stumbled and fell backwards as the dead man fell forward, his heavy torso trapping my legs under its weight and soaking my jeans in blood. I pushed him away, noticing his vital signs were completely gone. As I finally freed myself, a vending machine flew out of nowhere accompanied by that same echoing voice that sounded closer, "Izaya!" The vending machine crushed the fresh corpse, covering it completely and making his blood further shoot out of the wound that perforated his chest. If I had taken a moment longer, it would be my legs under the vending machine.

I wasn't injured beyond a few scratches from falling on the ground. It was nothing serious, but my legs were covered in blood, my jeans becoming a deep crimson. I was frightened out of my mind by the time the blond man made his arrival on the scene still screaming in anger, "Izaya! Where did you go?" Apparently he had lost track of the cause of his anger. I thought I should run, That man seemed dangerous, but I was so shocked I couldn't move, then he saw me.

I looked at his face contorted in absolute terror. "No..." he gasped as if his lungs were left without air. "No!" He was so strong and not long ago he was so angry. Now he looked panicked and sad. He didn't see the corpse under the vending machine, he only saw me. To him it must have looked as if I had been trapped under the machine and just now managed to crawl out half crushed. His eyes met mine, how could he have carried such anger before and such agony now? I couldn't speak; I only looked at him in shock.

He picked me up gently and told me over and over to hold on. He told me not to die; he said he was taking me to the hospital and that I would be alright. He kept apologizing, but I was too shocked to speak. I realized that he must have believe he was the cause of all this. He must have thought he hurt me and knew nothing of the real events that had transpired.

My legs might be a little bruised, but I could walk just fine, the blood all over my jeans wasn't my own. As for my would-be murderer, it was that knife that killed him. Did this man throw that knife too or was it someone else? Maybe the person he was chasing? I didn't see that Izaya.

Then the realization hit me. He was taking me to a hospital, where it wouldn't take too long for the doctors to figure out that I had no bleeding wounds. Then the next question would be where all this blood came from, they might involve the police! I've always been afraid of the police; I always worried that they would take my brother away, if not both of us as criminal and accomplice. I couldn't let him take me to the hospital! "No! Stop! Put me down!" I screamed and scratched at him, but he didn't let me go.

"Shizuo!" The voice of another man called. He was a tall dark skinned man with a peculiar accent. "Why do you carry bloody screaming girl in your arms?"

Before Shizuo could reply, I screeched, "I don't want to go to the hospital!"

"Maybe she's afraid of doctor," the man with the Russian accent theorized.

Then a person riding a black motorcycle stopped near us. I could tell it was a woman given the tight outfit she was wearing, but her face was hidden under a yellow and blue helmet with cat ears. She held up a high tech cell phone with a message on its screen. "What's going on? I heard screaming and came to see."

"I have no time for this, she's dying!" Shizuo shouted through the pounding of my fist on his face. What was he, indestructible?

"Let me go! I don't want to go to the hospital!" I insisted.

"She's afraid of doctor," the dark skinned man repeated.

"Enough!" The biker girl held up her written message. Then moved to type in another one, "Simon, get the first aid kit, Shizuo, give her to me, we can't wait any longer to give her first aid!" Though it was just a written message, I could tell that if she spoke her tone would be exasperated and commanding. Then another realization hit me, could this really be the legendary headless rider?

The supposedly headless woman carried me inside the restaurant on the street next to our location and Simon brought over a first aid kit, setting it on a table in the closed restaurant. She shook her helmet at the men, as if telling them to go away. Simon got the message and dragged a protesting Shizuo to the kitchen. "You take care of wounds, Shizuo and I make sushi for fast recovery!"

I breathed seeing as they were no longer taking me to the hospital against my will. "I'm not injured, see?" I hopped to my feet to prove it. "The blood's not even mine."

The woman tilted her helmet to the side in a sign of curiosity and I realized I had said too much. "Um... I guess you want an explanation." Honestly, I would rather be explaining things to these people then to the cops, regardless of how unusual they might seem. "Can I get cleaned up first?"

The mysterious biker girl nodded her helmet and produced another suit much like hers out of thin air, holding it out to me. I stared in shock, while she tilted her helmet to the side again as if asking why I was so surprised. Perhaps she assumed that I knew more than I did, or that I was more extraordinary than I am. Finally getting my body to respond I took the black suit she offered. "Thank you," then I dashed to the door in the corner of the restaurant labeled as being the bathroom. Hopefully, by the time I'm cleaned up and changed, my mind will stop spinning.

To be Continued

xoxox xox xoxox

Another Puzzle Piece

Chapter 2: Lies

I emerged from the bathroom of the Russian sushi restaurant dressed in a black suit much like that which the mysterious woman wore. The fabric looked like black leather, but it was far more comfortable and it somehow felt strong and durable beyond any material I have seen. Simon and Shizuo were still in the kitchen. I could hear Shizuo's complaints about not wanting to make sushi while Simon insisted that he paid attention. The unusual woman in the black suit was waiting for me expectantly. I don't know how I knew she was curious about my story, I just knew... I suppose it would be a logical reaction.

She motioned for me to sit at the table where she was at and I did. I took a deep breath and rather than give her any answers, I gave her questions. "Are you the headless rider?"

She answered me via her cell phone, "I thought you already knew that."

"I'm new around here so I wasn't certain," I replied and shifted uncomfortably. She was certainly unusual, that was proven by her ability to materialize clothing out of nowhere. "Can I?"

Her shoulders slightly rose and slumped as her helmet was slightly tilted forward. It looked like she was sighing at a question that she heard far too often, or maybe a request that was far too predictable. She then removed her helmet and I had to stop myself from screaming. It was true! She really was headless!

She put the helmet back on and I finally found my voice, "that's amazing!" In seconds the shock melted away and the initial hint of fear disappeared. I was in awe; somehow I knew she was a very cool person. She began to type something but I interrupted, "are you with the Dollars? I am too!" She paused her typing and listened. "That's why I came here, my friends from the Dollars always suggested it. Who knows, maybe we have even chatted online sometime."

Perhaps she felt like it was time to get back into topic, or didn't want to reveal her nickname if I asked her. She quickly finished typing a new message and held up the screen for me to read. "What happened to you?"

"Well... I'm not sure of that myself..." My reply was interrupted by loud knocking on the door.

"Open the door! It's the police!" A loud voice resounded along with the pounding on the establishment's front door.

The headless rider sprung to her feet and made a mad dash for the kitchen where her fright was question but not explained. I should have been the one running in fear, but I froze. Then Simon emerged from the kitchen and opened the door while Shizuo, somewhat calmer but still upset, stood a few feet behind him wondering what the police wanted.

"Aha, so you are here!" At first I considered dashing for the nearest window and making a run for it, or hoping that the headless rider's magic suit had the power to turn me invisible, though it didn't seem to actually do anything. Then I realized that the officer was talking to Shizuo, not me.

"Let me guess, more property damage," Shizuo growled in annoyance, he had clearly used up his short supply of patience for the night.

"The charge this time is murder," the officer elaborated, glaring along with his group of officers behind him.

My jaw dropped and Shizuo seemed just as shocked, "what?"

"A man was flattened by a vending machine that witnesses say you threw. That man is now dead," the police officer explained. "The autopsy has not yet determined if-"

"That's not true!" I interrupted, walking over to the door and revealing that I was indeed capable of doing so. "That man didn't die because of the machine, he died because..." because a knife came out of nowhere and stabbed him? I didn't know if Shizuo was the one who threw the knife. More importantly, I didn't know why in the world I was defending him against the scary cops. I keep thinking of his face when he thought he hurt me and how he kept apologizing. He's temperamental, but I don't think he's a bad person. "He committed suicide." My life is surrounded by pretence and lies. Sometimes a believable lie is more useful than a truth that cannot be proven.

"Oh?" The leader officer raised an eyebrow, his attention now focused on me. "Care to elaborate?"

"He stabbed himself with a knife," I rambled. I had to add some background to make it believable. I had to consider every aspect, including an explanation for my presence at the park. He was an acquaintance of mine, when he asked me to meet him; I never thought it would be to give me a final farewell. He stabbed himself through the heart with a knife and died. I ran to him but it was too late. I checked his vitals and he was gone. I was shaken by the entire thing and kind of froze up at the scene. Then a vending machine came flying and crushed him, but he was already dead by then."

"I see," my breath was caught in my throat and I was clearly nervous. I guess they attributed it to me still being frightened by what I witnessed, rather than being frightened by the police. "The fact that you knew about the knife before I mentioned it proves that you indeed witnessed the scene. As I was saying, the autopsy was working to determine that. I'll need to ask you a few question miss..."

"No," Simon finally spoke, after the shock of the situation wore off. "This girl has bad time tonight, she tired I'm sure. She stay and have sushi, you not ask more questions."

"Yes, please!" I squeaked.

The officer sighed in tired vexation. "I suppose this testimony will suffice. If you could provide your name, that will be all."

I gave him my real name without thinking, it didn't mean anything anyway. My brother and I didn't even have the same lastname anymore. He insisted that I changed it, probably to keep me out of trouble and I did as soon as I was old enough. I watched as the police officer scribbled my name on a notepad followed by 'witnessed suicide of' and my brother's name. That man had his face so why not his ID?

I wondered if my real brother really was dead? Just what was going on with the Orange Avengers? I didn't know what this was about, but I would get revenge somehow. I would uncover the mystery and find my brother, or punish his killer if he wasn't already dead. I have a feeling that whatever happened couldn't have been done by that now dead man alone. My instinct tells me there is much more to be discovered.

After the police finally left, Simon called out, "Celty, it's safe now, they gone!" So she had a name despite not having a head. I suppose it's logical that she has a name, it's just that being nameless seemed so much more mysterious. As Simon walked towards the kitchen in case Celty needed additional reassuring, he placed his hand on Shizuo's shoulder commenting, "don't stare too much."

"What?" Shizuo growled, embarrassed? "I just wanted to know if she really wasn't hurt. He then ignored the chuckling Russian who disappeared into the kitchen and addressed me. "How are you still standing after losing all that blood?"

"This question is coming from a man who can make vending machines fly?" I laughed; it just seemed odd that he would wonder about how illogical my apparent instant recovery is given the oddity of his own nature.

He blinks and gives me a curious look, "adrenaline?"

"No," I confess, "the vending machine didn't actually hit me. What I told the police about the murder not being because of the vending machine was true." I decide its best not to elaborate further about the knife. He could have been the one who threw it and if it really was an accident, I don't want him feeling bad about it. Then again, given the scum that died tonight, whoever threw that knife did society a favor. The only downside to it is that I couldn't question him. I wonder why the police didn't mention the gun? Did someone take it before they arrived? They couldn't have simply missed it... I decide not to overanalyze it. It could have been taken by some random punk that had nothing to do with this anyway.

"Oh... too bad about your friend." Shizuo is clearly feeling awkward as if he doesn't know what to say in this situation and I certainly can't blame him for that.

"It's okay, he was only an acquaintance. I'm more shocked than sad." I wonder if it's wise to reveal more than I already have. Maybe the Dollars can help, but even if the headless rider is part of the Dollars, it doesn't feel like an official request to the Dollars without the veil of anonymity. I know it seems strange, but that's just how the Dollars are, transparent, invisible. Maybe I should stick with the story I told the police for the time being, at least until I know more.

Simon and Celty then emerged from the kitchen with a sushi feast. They set the table as Simon cheerfully declared, "everyone eat sushi and I pay bill this time. You all eat and feel better!"

While we ate sushi some formal introductions were exchanged. Though by indirect means I had already learned their names, Simon suggested a proper introduction. I stuck to my story which I told the police, albeit the entire time Simon gave me a puzzled look. I feel as if he were looking into my very soul, as if he could tell I was troubled and surrounded by lies. Maybe he's perceptive, or maybe I was obvious, but the other two were too caught up in their own worries to notice. Celty was trying to get over her fear of the police and Shizuo was relieved he had not hurt me.

By the time we were done, getting caught up eating and talking, the sun was already coming up and we each had some business to tend to. We parted ways not knowing when our paths would cross again, but I had a feeling it would be soon, or maybe that was just wishful thinking.

xoxox xox xoxox

Despite being tired, I wasted no time and spent the day gathering information. I didn't find much; no one seemed to know about the Orange Avengers. They were more interested in the Yellow Scarves and the Blue Squares. I learned many stories about them, some I had heard before and some were new. There was one interesting thing I found out though, so the day wasn't a total waste. There's an information broker in the city called Izaya whom people claim knows everything. He might hold the answer to finding out what happened to my brother. I know that going back to investigate the Orange Avengers on my own is suicide, even more so if I don't know what exactly I'm dealing with.

That piece of information brought up a question. Just who was Izaya and who was Izaya to Shizuo, a mortal enemy maybe? If it was someone who could survive that man's wrath, the mysterious Izaya must be strong and possibly dangerous. But if he held the answers to what I needed to know, I would have to seek him out regardless of what kind of person he is. The difficult part is that even if I've gotten location information from several people, I can't seem to find Izaya. A few times I was told I just missed him. It's almost as if he wants to keep me running around the city. But that's silly, what benefit would he get from avoiding a potential customer?

After a long day, night once again falls and I'm exhausted from being awake for so long. In a half asleep daze I head for my little apartment. It's not the best part of town, but I can't afford anything better right now. Maybe the Dollars will cheer me up, but I'll chat tomorrow, right now, I want to sleep. I'm almost to my building, when I'm suddenly pulled into an alley, a rough hand covering my mouth. I struggle, but I cannot free myself.

The man is wearing an orange band around his arm, I've seen him before, he was part of my brother's gang! "You betrayed your own brother you spoiled sheltered brat! You're going to pay for killing our leader! I'm gonna cut you up till you bleed to death, I'll make you suffer!"

As I struggled helplessly, he attempted to make truth on his threat and stab a knife into my arm. However, the strangely strong black material I was still wearing was not torn. He tried again and again, stabbing the knife into different parts of my body, but it didn't work. I took advantage of his confusion to deliver a solid kick where it would hurt and dashed out of the alley to the building where my apartment was. I knew that the location wasn't a secret, but I just wanted to lock myself in, I didn't know where to run if I tried to run away.

I shut the door and locked it, but I knew I couldn't stay there. I didn't know who to call. My brother couldn't come to my rescue and his gang apparently thought I killed him. Who framed me? Was it the real killer? Clearly, if such false news reached the gang, the mastermind behind these events is still alive out there. What should I do? I have a knife proof suit but I don't want to try my luck on its resistance against bullets if I end up facing another gun in the near future. Besides, my head is unprotected.

As I look around my small apartment hoping that the answer would come to me, my eyes land on my laptop and an idea comes to mind. Though I wasn't there at the time, I remember when the forum was filled with messages about the gang helping a girl who was in danger. Would they come for me if I asked for their help? There was some loud banging on my door. I should have known that lowlife in the alley wasn't alone. There's no time for doubts, the Dollars are my only hope.

To be Continued

xoxox xox xoxox

Another Puzzle Piece

Chapter 3: Transparent

There was no time to waste; the Dollars were my only hope. I logged into the chat and was quite direct. "Help me!" I posted in the name of my alias. This would technically mean revealing myself to the Dollars, no longer being invisible among their kind, but it didn't matter.

"What's wrong?" Taro Tanaka replied on the screen. His answer came quickly, interrupting whatever conversation he and Bakyura might have been having at the time.

"Someone is trying to break into my apartment. I was already in as deep as I could get, but I wasn't about to post my address on the Internet for the world to see. I opened a private chat window with Taro, who was supposed to be the leader of the Dollars and sent him my address.

"I'll send a friend over right away," he assured me before logging off.

A loud bang was heard and the window behind me shattered. I realized that the bullet had pierced the door and with it the lock before flying across the room narrowly missing me. There was nowhere to hide in my tiny apartment, I wasn't even done unpacking. I rushed to the broken window as the man made it inside. I threw it open but I knew it wasn't an option, I lived on the seventh floor, a drop like that could kill me, but staying also could.

"Don't kill yourself before we can kill you," a cruel voice spoke, followed by the cold chuckles of his companions. There were four of them. One was the lowlife from the alley; the other three were also from the Orange Avengers judging by the presence of the color in various forms, a shirt, a headband, a cap. I had only ever seen two of then from afar, hanging out with my brother.

Just when I thought my life was about to end, my thoughts drifted away from revenged and into that night eating sushi and talking. I wouldn't be able to do that again, I would never see my new friends again, I would never see Shizuo. I barely knew him, why was he to be my final thought?

Then suddenly, Celty burst through the very window I was near seconds before. I have no idea how she got up there, but she saved my life, shadows extending from her arms to grab the gun one of my attackers was holding. Another tried to use the same knife against her that had not worked on me, while one of his companions fought with a bat and the last with a crowbar. She disarmed them all easily, wrapping her shadows around them and squeezing the air from their lungs until they passed out.

She then turned to face me as I stood there astonished and held up her cell phone. "You know more than what you told us..." This was a statement rather than a question and the three dots at the end symbolized that she had more thoughts on the matter that she chouse not to reveal.

"I'm sorry," I vowed my head in apology. I didn't know exactly what was going on, but I had hidden what I knew.

She typed something into her phone and I waited to read it, but instead the screen in my still open laptop changed, she was posting at the Dollars website. "She's safe now," Setton informed.

"Why did you?" Why would she reveal her online alias? I wasn't going to tell anyone but, why did she? Was it because she already knew mine that she thought it was only fair? No, there was more to it than that. I typed into the website "thank you," then logged off. "I understand, you're trying to show me trust. I'll tell you the truth, as far as I'm aware of it."

"Not here," Celty communicated.

I nodded and started to pack up what I had unpacked. I glanced at Celty from the corner of my eyes, her posture was slightly tilted to the side, one arm stretched down and the other crossed touching her opposite elbow. "If you're wondering why I'm packing, it's because I know they'll be back so regardless of where you ask me to go, where I go afterwards will not be here."

She nods her helmet and picks up some of my luggage, I only packed what I truly needed, leaving my collection of stolen gifts from my brother behind. I have my laptop, cell phone, clothes, shoes and personal use items such as a toothbrush, hairbrush and so on. I didn't even bring my car. I guess that in a sense I wanted to leave as many crimes as possible behind.

I finished packing up the few things that were unpacked and noticed that Celty is out the window, holding my luggage with her shadowy powers. She extends her hand as if telling me to climb out the window and join her on her gravity defying silent black motorcycle. I summon my courage and do, I know she's not going to save me then let me fall. As the motorcycle climbs down from the building wall into the street below, I remember to thank her for the suit without which I'm sure I would have died.

xoxox xox xoxox

Celty took me back to the Russian sushi restaurant where I once again was allowed in past closing time. Shizuo was to my surprise also there, complaining about how he kept looking for Izaya to try to kill him all day and couldn't find him. That makes two of us who couldn't find Izaya, though for different reasons, not that I'm about to mention I was looking for him.

I giggle as I watch Shizuo devour the sushi while Simon, who is returning from opening the door, encourages him to "get all off chest and feel better. You tell Simon everything." With a smile on his face he continues, "but first, say hello to visitors."

Shizuo looks up from his food, swallows and speaks a casual, "hello." I find that I'm greatly relieved that he's not feeling odd around me. We were all talking just fine the night before, but I didn't know if that would last. Taking another mouth full of sushi and downing it with his drink he leans back on his chair with a satisfied stomach. "So, what brings you here?" He inquires of both Celty and I as he casually lights a cigarette which Simon takes away. "Hey!"

"No smoking inside restaurant, you go smoke outside after talking to visitors," Simon insisted and puts out the cigarette.

"It's not even business hours," Shizuo protests, but he doesn't light up another cigarette, instead inviting us to sit down. "So, what's up?"

Celty turns her helmet towards me, "I guess I did say that, didn't I?" I'm referring to my promise to tell her the truth.

"That's interesting," Shizuo comments. "You can read Celty's expressions pretty well. I've known her longer and I can't even do that."

"Really?" I blink, allowing the small distraction. Celty placed her hands on her hips on the chair next to me and I find that I do understand what she's communicating. "Oh I get it, don't change the subject."

Celty places her right hand on the chin of her helmet then bring up her index finger.

"I remind you of someone?" I inquire, guessing at the expression.

She crosses her arms, hands on her shoulders with a small shivering motion.

"You think it's scary that I can read your expressions after only knowing you a short time? Surely I'm not the only one."

Her shoulders relax.

"See? I knew I wasn't."

She leans a little towards me her neck rotating slightly towards Shizuo.

"Yeah, that's how it is."

"What?" Shizuo interrupts.

"Oh, Celty was jus telling me there's this girl who also catches on to what she's saying pretty quickly."

Celty nods her helmet at my interpretation.

"Generally, women tend to be more observant then men, though there are some exceptions," I elaborate.

Celty makes another sighing motion her right hand lightly touching her chest.

"Such as a man who is in love," I finish.

Celty jumps in her seat and shakes her index finger at me.

"Okay, okay, I won't speak of everything I see." I laugh, the tension of the night already fading in the company of my friends.

Shizuo looks confused and a little pissed off. "Can we switch to speaking a language that can be also understood by single men?"

"Sure," I agree with a light pink tint in my cheeks at the discovery that he's single and in theory available.

Celty elbows me lightly, noticing my reaction.

I give her a quick glance and a discreet silly grin. I acknowledge her power of observation and call for a truce which she silently agrees to.

Shizuo is still impatient and by now Simon is back from the kitchen after having gone off to take care of the dishes left by his late customer. His hands are not empty upon his return, "this time you come as customer, yes?"

The sushi does look good and if I'm going to stay awake long enough to confess the truth, I better eat something. "Yes," I agree to buy some sushi, which clearly pleases Simon.

"Very good!" He sets the plates down with the dish I had declared was my favorite the night before.

"You remembered, thank you," I smile and try the sushi, enjoy its taste, "this is great!" But I've done enough stalling. "The reason I'm here isn't just for sushi..." I told them the truth, the whole truth about my life, about my brother, about that man who looked like him, about his demise and even about my quest for information. "So I've heard the information broker Izaya could probably clarify all of this. I tried to find him yesterday but couldn't."

By that time, Shizuo was boiling with rage, "Izaya!" He bellowed at the top of his lungs. "It must have been his stupid knife, not that he'd care."

"But that was pretty lucky, I mean, I was at gunpoint!" I tried to calm Shizuo's anger, but I knew my argument would fail.

"That idiot!" Shizuo growled; his fist slammed hard into the table and broke it in half, propelling my unfinished meal into the air and by the laws of gravity causing it to land on Shizuo's head. His anger boiled further and both Simon and Celty took defensive poses before Shizuo tore down the entire restaurant.

I slowly picked up a napkin from the debris of the table and walked over to Shizuo. "If you say he's that bad, then I won't go to him." I started to clean off the sushi while he was still shaking in anger. "Simon, could you get me a moist towel, please?"

"Yes, yes, right away!" In a split second, the Russian sushi chef was back with the towel which I employed in cleaning Shizuo.

His fists were clenched at his side, his teeth were tightly pressed against each other and he was still twitching in anger. However, he was making quite the effort to not blow up and eventually the twitching faded away and he relaxed. "That's dangerous," he seriously warned. "Don't come near me when I'm angry, I might accidentally hurt you, even if I don't want to."

He was so serious that it made me laugh. "Don't be silly, if you don't want to hurt me than you won't." I gave him a friendly pat on the back and went to give Simon a hand in picking up the mess.

"No no, this not your mess to clean, it goes on Shizou's bill along with your meal he wasted. I make him buy you another," Simon offers.

"That's okay, don't worry about it," before we can further discuss the subject of the broken table, Celty scoops up the mess into a shadowy ball and carries it away to throw in the dumpster behind the restaurant, much to Simon's gratitude.

"You know what I really need?" I voice without giving it too much thought. "A hot shower and a nice soft bed, preferably in a place where no one will try to kill me."

Shizuo glanced at the restaurant's front; my luggage is still there next to the closed door. "If Izaya's involved there's always trouble. I wouldn't be surprise if he did have the answers you're looking for, only because he arranged the whole thing."

"Why would he?" I questioned without anger. "It wouldn't benefit him. The Orange Avengers had nothing to do with Izaya or even Ikebukuro. This has to be a problem from back home, some traitor trying to take control of the gang." The one who the dead man alluded to receiving instructions from back at the park. "The mastermind is definitely in the gang and probably thinks I know much more than I do, or maybe I'm just a scapegoat for his betrayal. All I know is that the Orange Avengers have chased me to Ikebukuro and they want me dead. But I can't die before I uncover the whole truth. There's so much about my brother I never knew, I just pretended and ran away, I'm not going to do that anymore. It might be too late for him, but it's better late than never. It also has to be done fast, if I don't unravel this mystery soon, the Orange Avengers might get so involved in this city that they'll probably add to the gang conflicts, add to the war." No one could possibly want that, right?

"I see, then it's settled, you can come to my place," Shizuo's offer left me in shock.

"What?" I forced my jaw to move, rather than hang open like Simon's. As for Celty, her hands where at her sides, palms open facing down, body slightly tilted forward, if she had a jaw, it would have dropped too.

Shizuo's face turned almost as red as mine, "er... that is... so that you don't get killed! It's just that you need a bodyguard and if Izaya's messing with you that's enough of a reason for me to take your side, because it's the side that stands against him. I don't know how exactly he's involved, but he's always causing trouble. It wouldn't be the first time he causes a gang to come to this city, or reemerge, just for the sake of making trouble. He's an insane bastard and that's all there is to it." He looked away as he gave his explanation, an expression of anger once again on his face.

I didn't understand his conclusions and I wondered why his anger towards Izaya ran so deep. I knew I was in no position to ask, I didn't know him well enough yet... yet... I pushed all impure thoughts away and simply said, "thank you." So that was it, it was decided, from that day, until an undetermined future, I would be living with Shizuo.

To be Continued

xoxox xox xoxox

Another Puzzle Piece

Chapter 4: Life

I was just about ready to fall asleep on my feet by the time Shizuo and I got to his apartment. I wasn't fully aware of what he was saying, but I vaguely understood that he was pointing out where things were. I dug out something to wear from my luggage, took my toothbrush along and dragged myself to the shower.

I nearly fell asleep under the warm water, but managed to stumble out of the bathroom with the black suit folded in my arms. I yawned as I randomly asked, "do you think it's dry clean only?"

"Celty made that suit for you, didn't she?" Shizuo half asked and half concluded, to which I nodded sleepily. "It's the same material as my gloves; it'll be fine if you toss it in the wash, that's some pretty good armor."

"That's... good..." I was clearly only half listening to him as he showed me to a bed. "Nice guestroom..."

I was just about ready to collapse into the bed when his words made me pause; it was just a casual comment really, but still. "This is my room, you can use it for now, I'll sleep on the couch." That I could not allow.

"No way, this is your apartment, you should sleep on your own bed, I'll take the couch." I insisted.

"It's fine, I could sleep anywhere, you obviously need the rest," Shizuo argued.

"No..." Maybe if I wasn't so tired, my refusal wouldn't sound so weak.

"Go on, get some sleep," with that said Shizuo walked away to get ready to get some sleep himself.

My stubbornness refused to let go of the argument and I waited for him to finish getting ready. I woke up a little seeing him emerge from the bathroom. The loose comfortable pants were no surprise; they were something anyone would wear to sleep. I wasn't wearing any fancy pajamas myself, just a long tshirt that went to my knees. The loose tshirt he was wearing, now that was funny. It had a bartender vest and bowtie painted on it which for some reason made me giggle.

"What?" Shizuo inquired not sure why I was laughing. He must have thought I was delirious from lack of sleep. "I thought you would be asleep by now."

"The argument wasn't over. I'll sleep on the couch," I was about to stride over to that comfy looking black couch, much like someone you'd expect to see in a fancy bar rather than someone's apartment.

Then Shizuo stood in my way, "bed."




As the repetition continued, our voices became louder as we tried to best the other in volume. Then some knocking on the ceiling, which was the floor for the above apartment, sounded off followed by a tired sounding upset voice, "it doesn't matter where you do it, just do it quietly!"

My face turned scarlet as I realized what Shizuo's upstairs neighbor was assuming. "Stay out of this, Tom!" Shizuo yelled back at the ceiling before clearing his throat and pretending that did not happen. Then he eyed the couch as did I.

We both made a dive for the piece of furniture like children fighting over a toy in the playground. He was faster, thus landed face first on the couch before I did. I had already made a jump for it and I couldn't possibly stop on time, thus I ended up landing on his back. My face turned even redder, if that was even possible, and I scrambled to my feet. "Sorry!" Needless to say it took every ounce of willpower I had to get off him as swiftly as I did.

"It's okay, you're not heavy," Shizuo's voice was slightly muffled as he spoke into the couch. He looked up a little, was that a hint of red on his face? "Now go, get some sleep. I shook my head stubbornly and stood there. Shizuo sighed in exasperation and stood. He was saying something about me getting some rest, I don't know, I was too sleepy to listen. I was falling I think, falling into him, but he caught me, I think, I'm not sure, it was blurry. Then everything faded away.

xoxox xox xoxox

I woke up, to the sound of an alarm clock. Being the spoiled little sister of the Orange Avengers leader, I never had to get up at a certain time for anything, not since I finished high school. Without thinking or realizing where I was I grabbed that noisy alarm clock and threw it against the wall opposite to the bed. Then I noticed this wasn't my usual room, nor was it my new little apartment. I was in Shizuo's bed and Shizuo was standing opposite to it, leaning against the wall, a piece of the alarm clock stuck to his hair from when it shattered against his forehead.

"Shizuo! I'm so sorry!" I hurried to his side, lifting my hand to remove the pieces of broken alarm clock from his hair.

His previously closed eyes opened with a pissed off look on his face. The look softened when he noticed my presence. I guess he must have remembered just why I was there. "Morning," he greeted nonchalant.

"The alarm clock," I didn't know what to say about that. Here I was, a guest in his home and I threw an alarm clock at his face. He didn't seem to be hurt though and I remembered just how indestructible he seemed to be. Unfortunately, the alarm clock was not indestructible.

"Oh? Did it go off?" He looked towards the night stand where the clock should have been, then to the floor at its shattered remains as I apologized again. "Never mind, I break my alarm clocks all the time anyway."

I was forgiven easily enough, though I insisted on getting him a new alarm clock later. I logically concluded that I must have fallen asleep while arguing and he must have put me in bed. But why was he standing there when he could have slept on the couch or... next to me? I wouldn't have minded, but I tried to keep such thoughts away. For crying out loud, I barely knew him! I guess it was all the effect of my past life. The good guys stayed away from me because I was the sister of a dangerous criminal and the bad guys stayed away from me because my brother beat them to a bloody pulp. So basically my dating pool was nonexistent back home. "Why were you standing there?"

"I must have fallen asleep..." Shizuo confessed. "I was standing guard. Last night after you fell asleep, some guys wearing orange tried to sneak in through the window." It was only a second floor, so it wasn't too hard to get up there. "I punched them into the next block, but I thought they might be back so I stood guard."

"You guarded me all night?" The thought made me blush. "Thank you, I didn't think those guys would be this troublesome."

"Don't worry about it, they'll get the message soon enough," Shizuo assured. "Since it's pretty clear they're still after you, you better hang out with me today at work. I'm sure Tom won't mind if you tag along."

"Thank you, I'm such a bother..." I sighed.

"Not at all, it's good to have some punks to let out my tensions with," Shizuo grinned. Then his phone rang and he answered it. "Now, yeah, that sounds pretty good, yeah she's still here. Okay, I'll tell her." I looked curiously at Shizuo, intrigued by the short conversation I heard one side of. "Tom said he ordered a big breakfast from that restaurant down the street and asked if we would join him. I guess that means it might be a long day at work today. Do you like pancakes?"

"I love pancakes!" I squealed in delight and also curiosity. It seemed that Shizuo's upstairs neighbor was not only a friend of his, but also a coworker. "So who is Tom? A coworker?"

"Actually he hired me," Shizuo revealed.

"Oh, so he owns a bar?" I was curious about where the bar he worked at was located. I was pretty close to twenty-one so maybe he could get me in, I could get my hands on a false ID, but I had decided to leave that life behind. Besides, my birthday wasn't so far away anyway.

"Bar?" Shizuo seemed confused by my assumption. "He's a debt collector and I'm his bodyguard. I've never worked at a bar, why does everyone keep assuming I do?"

"Ah..." I opened my mouth and closed it again, unable to find what to say. "Um... we shouldn't keep Tom waiting." I maneuvered out of the subject."

"Yeah, I'm hungry," Shizuo was quick to agree with the thought of a nice breakfast waiting for him.

We quickly got ready for the day, me with normal clothes since my unbreakable leather suit was in the wash and he with another of his um... bodyguard uniforms? I still say it's a bartender uniform, but I'm not complaining, he certainly looks good.

xoxox xox xoxox

In the third floor apartment I was introduced to Tom Tanaka, Shizuo's boss and a good friend. As we took our seats at the table he voiced, "I really am sorry about last night's interruption I was feeling a bit cranky being woken up, but it's okay, don't mind me. I'm glad Shizuo found a girlfriend."

My face turned scarlet yet again, and I remained silent while Shizuo growled, "she's not my girlfriend," between his teeth, a red tint invading his handsome face... which I really need to stop staring at.

"Right," Tom smiled, ignoring what Shizuo said completely. "Take good care of Shizuo for me." I nodded automatically unable to say anything, much to Tom's amusement.

Shizuo decided not to argue further and started devouring a stack of pancakes, pausing only to mention that I would be hanging out with them today so he could keep on eye on me so I wouldn't be killed. Shizuo's casual tone at the explanation didn't seem odd to Tom, but he didn't appear to doubt the story either and assured that he didn't mind the extra company.

xoxox xox xoxox

That day we went to many places so that Tom could collect some debts. Along the way, members of the Orange Avengers attacked, but they seemed to be worried about the idea of attracting attention by using guns in broad daylight, so they used other less effective methods such as punches, kicks and a variety of blunt and pointy objects which didn't even make Shizuo flinch. He dispatched them all with ease and we continued on our way as if the obstacles were never there.

In the end of the day, I offered to buy them dinner and asked what they wanted to eat. Tom was in the mood for sushi, which Shizuo claimed he had a lot of lately, but didn't mind either way. As we talked during dinner, I was asked about my plans for the near future. Tom was unaware of my story and I didn't know if it was wise to get him involved but I didn't want to lie. Instead I leaned towards the more casual side of my life. "I guess I should get a job," my savings wouldn't last forever no matter how much I tried to stretch them and I could no longer count on my brother for everything like I used to.

Shizuo's expression hinted that he was about to protest and I guessed what his point would be. He had a job to tend to and if I was busy working elsewhere, how would he serve as my body guard and Tom's bodyguard at the same time? Just in time to hear my earlier statement about needing a job, Simon had approached with dessert and offered, "Russia Sushi need waitress, you work here if want."

My eyes lit up, I would miss hanging out with Shizuo all day, but I didn't want to sponge off him and my new friends to survive. I did at least buy him that new alarm clock I promised when we passed a store while running errands with Tom today. "Can I, really?" Simon nodded and my smile grew even more as I looked at Shizuo.

"I guess that could work," Shizuo agreed. "Make sure she's okay, Simon."

"Do not worry," Simon assured and thus it was settled. I now had a job. I would work at Russia Sushi and continue living with Shizuo from now until an unknown future.

To be Continued

xoxox xox xoxox

Another Puzzle Piece

Chapter 5: Sushi

After having some dinner at Russia Sushi, where I would be working starting tomorrow, Shizuo and I went back to his apartment. He was clearly very tired since he hardly slept last night guarding me. As we walked down the street past an alley, a pair of glowing eyes watched us and with a high pitched, "meow!" A cat darted out of the darkness.

Shizuo acted on instinct unable to control himself. He clenched his teeth with an involuntary growl, ready to kick the creature that took him by surprise. "Stop!"

To my astonishment, he stopped his posture somewhat odd from being ready to kick. The cat remained oblivious to the doom that almost befell her as she rubbed against Shizuo's leg, purring. He straightened and let out a breath of relief. "Thank you for stopping me."

"No problem," I watched as the cat placed her front paws on Shizuo's leg, lifting herself on her hind legs and meowing. Her stomach was chubby for a street cat, but her limbs were thin, which made her look mismatched. She still had a cute gray face and blue eyes; although she might have been white, turned gray by the dust of the city.

"This?" Shizuo held up the bag he got from Russia Sushi. Simon packed up some sushi for us insisting that we take it in case we needed a midnight snack. The cat rose one of her front paws, still using the other for support, as if reaching for the bag. "I guess the scent of sushi must have attracted her."

"Aw poor kitty," I picked her up gently, "are you hungry? Want to come home with me?" Then I realized that I didn't really have a home to go to, I was currently living with Shizuo. Both the cat and I gave him sad looks.

"No way..." Shizuo refused.

"You don't seem to be allergic to cats..." I observed, "are they not allowed in the building?"

"That's not the problem." He was quiet for a moment before finally replying. "You saw what almost happened. If she jumps on me suddenly trying to play, I might kill her."

"You worry too much Mr. I'm Deadly Dangerous," I laughed, trying to lighten the mood. "It'll be okay! I'll take care of her and teach her not to take you by surprise. Besides, you want to learn more self control, don't you? I can tell you do. This is a perfect opportunity! Please!" The cat added her own soft meows to my plea until Shizuo couldn't resist.

"Alright, alright! But she's your responsibility!" He grumbled and kept walking.

"Awesome!" I cheered victoriously. "Hear that kitty cat? You have a new home! So Shizuo, what should we name her?"

He paused for a moment, as if wondering why I was asking him to name her if it was just established that she was my cat. Then he answered to my request and though his suggested name wasn't particularly creative, he insisted that was her name. It was actually simply the first syllable of my name with a chan attached to it.

xoxox xox xoxox

When we got home, the apartment was thankfully untouched. "Here, go feed the cat." Shizuo gave me the bag of sushi, which the cat in my arms kept pawing at.

I set her down and opened up the sushi takeout for her. She could eat out of the cardboard container for tonight, until I get her a cat dish tomorrow. "Can I take some milk for the kitty?" I asked, trying to be polite and not invade Shizuo's refrigerator without permission, I was his house guest after all.

"Sure, take what you need; there should be some plastic bowls somewhere in there too." Shizuo replied with a yawn. It wasn't all that late, but I knew he was ready for some rest.

After setting down the cat's milk, and let me say that cat could certainly eat and drink, I observed Shizuo. "I'll have to bathe her tomorrow," I commented.

"I suppose," Shizuo yawned again.

"You should get some sleep," I stated, my eyes still on his sleepy expression.

"I have to stand guard," he stated as a matter of fact.

"No you don't," I insisted taking his hand, "you're going to get some sleep." I pulled him towards the bed room and he walked along with me, but I knew he wouldn't actually lie down, he was too stubborn. "C'mon, get some rest, you need it!"

Shizuo shook his head, perhaps more then needed for a simple no. He was trying to keep himself awake and I knew it. Then a moment of silence passed and the seconds ticked away in stillness. As he stood there looking at his nice soft bed, I knew he was tempted to get some sleep, and he did... but he was still standing.

I sighed hopelessly. "You're going to be all stiff if you sleep on your feet, how restful can that be?" I knew my words were lost to the man journeying through slumber land. I gave him a little push, trying to make him fall on the bed. I knew he was a heavy sleeper judging by my past experience involving the demise of an alarm clock on his face, though I did replace the clock not long ago. The problem was that he wasn't moving no matter how hard I pushed. "You're still indestructible even in your sleep..." I backed away and took a deep breath, going as far as the room's space would allow. Then I dashed towards him and tackled him with all my strength.

I finally got him to move and drop onto the bed. Feeling accomplished I rolled off his back into the space beside him. I was tempted to stay there; he was such a heavy sleeper he wouldn't even notice if I cuddled him. But that would be taking advantage, furthermore what if I fell asleep and didn't wake up until after he did tomorrow? He might be upset by the invasion. As I contemplated these things he suddenly rolled over in his sleep and trapped me in place.

"Owff..." The air was knocked out of my lungs by the sudden weight on top of me. I shifted with very limited movement and took in a deep breath. "Shizuo?" His head rested on my chest as he remained oblivious to my proximity. He muttered something and shifted slightly as if adjusting himself unconsciously for comfort, he must have thought I was a pillow. "Shizuo?" I ran my fingers through his hair, I was comfortable now, but I really shouldn't... "C'mon Shizuo, you have to wake up so I can get up." I whispered, certainly not loud enough to wake him. "If you don't answer me, I'm going to assumed you're okay with this sleeping arrangement for tonight." Of course, no answer came and before I knew it, I was drifting off to sleep.

xoxox xox xoxox

When the alarm clock went off as programmed the next morning, I wish I had not bought it. Shizuo woke up pissed off, as did I, neither of us were morning people. However, the dreadful noisy alarm clock wasn't within my reach to destroy this time. Shizuo grumbled half asleep as if a dream he was having was interrupted, probably a dream about a fight. His fist reached out over my head and collided with the bed's wooden headboard before Shizuo woke up completely and looked down to see I was there.

His face grew increasingly red, as did mine. It looked like he was searching his memories to figure out what had happened. He finally let out a confused, "what?"

"Nothing," I squeaked in embarrassment. "I was just trying to get you to rest. You fell asleep on your feet and I thought it was uncomfortable so I tried to push you into bed. I managed to do it but I kind of fell along with you and before I could get out of the way you rolled over. I was trapped, so... yeah."

He slid a hand over his face as he sat next to me on the bed, freeing me from my previous entrapment. "I'm such a heavy sleeper it's no wonder you couldn't wake me. I just trained myself to wake up when the alarm goes off and most other sounds I unconsciously ignore." He looked away as he explained this, "sorry."

"It's alright, you don't have to apologize, I mean, it was an accident and besides, everything's okay," and I enjoyed it, but I'm not about to say that out loud.

Shizuo's eyes examine the broken headboard. "That could have been you..."

"Don't start with that!" I scolded. "It wasn't me so don't guilt trip yourself! You're not as deadly as you think, not scary at all," I smiled trying to lighten the situation.

"You take too many risks," Shizuo knew by now that I was simply too stubborn to argue with, so he left it at that and got up. We both had a busy day ahead of us.

xoxox xox xoxox

It's my first day working at Russia Sushi. I was given a tour of the kitchen before opening and told where everything was kept. I was going to be a waitress, but it would be good if I knew my way around the kitchen. The refrigerator was huge; the plates neatly stashed away ready for use and the knife collection looked sharp and shiny. I also learned that the sushi ice-cream that sounded so odd didn't actually have any sushi in it.

I was told about a super secret spice. It wasn't revealed what was in it, I was simply told to be careful with it. In Simon's words, "if you have small cut in hand and spice fall there, it will feel like a terrible fire. If spice falls in eyes, it will feel like pepper spray, so you be vary careful with special spice." I promised to be careful and as the final preparation I was given a uniform to change into.

The blue yukata felt a bit silly at first because of all its decorations that felt out of place since I wasn't in some kind of festival where everyone was wearing stuff like this. It's similar to Simon's uniform so it's not like I'm the only one dressed like this and it is part of the job. My opinion of the uniform improved when I realized how comfortable and easy to move in it was.

The restaurant was open for business and the customers started to arrive. Simon was outside advertising. He told me to call him right away if I was having trouble with anything. I don't think I'll have to do that though, this job is pretty easy. All I need to do is greet the customers, help them find a table and right down their orders. That information goes to the kitchen and once they have the meals ready, I'll take them to the proper tables.

Around mid day a peculiar couple arrived. They seemed to be in high school judging by their uniforms. Since it was the lunch break for students, there were many walking around the streets of Ikebukuro, some for the sake of taking a breather and other seeking something different from the cafeteria food and packed lunches.

The boy had a somewhat serious nonchalant look on his face, while the girl clung to his arm happily. "Romantic table for two!" She cheerfully requested as I went to greet them.

While I led the couple to their table I thought I saw three suspicious men enter the restaurant and I caught a hint of orange in their attire. Could it be that the Orange Avengers followed me to my job thinking that they could attack me since Shizuo wasn't around? There's such a big crowd outside; that must be how they snuck past Simon unnoticed. I hurried to show the couple to their table, the Orange Avengers are my problem and I don't want to involve the Russia Sushi customers in this. Maybe if I'm lucky they're just hungry and have not actually noticed me. If that's the case, let the other waitress serve them. For now, I'll focus on serving the couple their meal and keeping a low profile.

To be Continued

Another Puzzle Piece

Chapter 6: Fight

I brought my customers their meal and watched as the hyper girl began to feed the serious boy. They're kind of funny those two. I kept an eye on the three thugs whose faces are now hidden behind menus. Maybe I was just being paranoid, maybe I can keep a low profile through their visit until they leave. Perhaps they really were just hungry and not out to kill me. With such thoughts in mind, I continued my work.

I had just set down the plate of an older businessman in a suit receiving a polite and proper response of gratitude, when the stillness of the restaurant was pierced by a scream. I turned my head in the direction of the loud sound's source and found one of the punks in orange had yanked the hyper girl away from her boyfriend and held her menacingly by the arm.

"Let her go!" The boy growled with a feral expression. "Let Mika go!" He would have launched at her captive if not because the other two thugs held him back.

"Seiji!" The girl gasped as a smile strangely formed on her face. "My name..." she sighed as if despite her bad situation witnessing her boyfriend's bravado was enough to make it all worth it.

I had to call Simon... no, I wouldn't do that, it felt too predictable. They must have seen Simon on the way in. If I had been guarded before, they must have concluded that I would be guarded even now. That's why they didn't attack me directly. Then what did they want? A hostage? Or maybe they intended to get Simon involved in a fight and try to grab me in the confusion? Either way, they were going to ruin the restaurant and possibly get me fired. I wouldn't allow this, I wouldn't allow the Orange Avengers to ruin my new life in Ikebukuro!

That's when I realized that if I was going to live in this city, I would have to learn to protect myself. Even if they told me I could rely on them, I shouldn't rely on Shizuo, Celty and Simon all the time. As these thoughts ran through my head in a split second, I dashed to the kitchen. The chef was focused on his cooking and didn't notice me. I took two long knives and hid them in the yukata's wide sleeve. I also took a handful of that special spice, holding it in my closed fist, seemingly clenched from anger.

"Stop!" I approached the troublemakers and the couple. "Let them go," I commanded sounding as menacing as I could, though I knew it wouldn't be that easy. "I... I'll take her place as your hostage."

The offer pleased them. The thug holding Mika captive didn't release her until his companion had a firm grip on the back of my neck. Since there were three of them, while the exchange was happening, only one was left to hold Seiji back and he took the opportunity to break free of his captor. Simultaneously, I threw the spice at my captor's face and he yelled in pain feeling its effect like pepper spray in the eyes.

Then I revealed the two concealed knifes. Mika seemed all too willing to join the fight. I let her have one of the knives and in a split second we were back to back facing off against our opponents. We slashed away at the two men, watching each other's backs, while Seiji had his hands full pounding the third thug into a bloody puddle. Injured and weak, the three men in orange desperately fled out of the restaurant.

"Are you both okay?" I asked the couple.

Mika was intently examining her boyfriend, as if taking in every single detail of his appearance before concluding, "we're fine," and lashing onto his arm again.

"Yes," Seiji agreed, gently prying the knife away from Mika's hand and giving it back to me. "Why did you offer yourself? I mean, why would you take her place as a hostage?"

Mika looked intrigued as well; she stopped snuggling against Seiji for a moment to direct a curious gaze at me. "I'm certain either of us have met you before," she commented in puzzlement. The way she said it was as if she knew everyone he knew? Had she known him her whole life or were they just that close?

I couldn't possibly tell them the truth about the Orange Avengers. I wasn't going to lie to my friends, but a few merciful white lies to innocent bystanders might be required. "It's because you two make such a cute couple that I didn't want those guys to come between you!"

It was a lame excuse that made me sound like some kind of OTP obsessed stalker, but Mika was pleased with it. "Really?" She squealed. "Did you hear that Seiji? Our love is so strong that even people we've just met support it!" She's certainly an oddball.

"In any case... thank you for protecting Mika." Seiji quietly voiced, which caused Mika to squeal happily at the mention of her name and cuddle him. Maybe despite his composed exterior this guy has a fetish for oddities.

"No problem," what can I say? Ikebukuro is full of strange happenings. "To make up for the interruption, why don't I get you some dessert, sushi ice-cream on me." Seiji scrunches up his nose in discomfort and Mika frowns. Wasn't he supposed to like oddities? "Just so you know, sushi ice-cream doesn't actually have any sushi in it," I clarify.

"Why is it called sushi ice-cream then?" Mika curiously inquires.

"It has some chocolate covered marshmallows that are shaped like sushi rolls," I explain. If more customers knew that, I'm sure the dessert would sell better. "The main part of the ice-cream comes in chocolate, vanilla, strawberry or mint."

"Strawberry!" Mika squeaks. "I like strawberry and so does Seiji, that's his favorite!" She sounds so sure of her words and he doesn't protest at all.

"Strawberry it is!" I go off to get the dessert, wondering if their background story is just as strange as their current relationship seems to be.

xoxox xox xoxox

At the end of the day, while Simon and I were cleaning the restaurant along with the rest of the crew, he brought up the day's main happening. "I saw three beaten and bloody men flee from restaurant. They not pay bill?"

I could tell he was only kidding and actually knew what that was really about. Was he upset that I didn't call him? "Sorry about that."

"It's okay, if you need help, you call me, if you need to let your tensions loose, you beat them up. Just don't get hurt or Shizuo will be very angry at me," he laughed teasingly at the end of his statement.

"It's not like he has to be my bodyguard, but I'm thankful that he is, and of course I'm thankful to you too and Celty," I rambled. Just why did Shizuo protect me? Was his grudge against Izaya truly that deep? I would have to talk to him about it tonight.

Before the conversation could get any further, Shizuo arrived, entering the restaurant despite the closed sign on the door. "Ready to go?" He asked me as natural as can be.

I looked at Simon who nodded and cheerfully chirped, "yup! Just let me go change." I was so caught up in the day's event I almost forgot I was wearing my uniform.

"No offense Simon, but I don't feel like having sushi another night in a row," Shizuo stated as I went to change.

I caught a few more words of the conversation, Simon saying it was okay, before the rest was lost to me behind the bathroom's closed door. When I emerged after having changed, Shizuo looked a bit flustered, but I didn't know why. Just what did Simon say to him? Did he mention the incident with the Orange Avengers?

Shizuo and I said our goodbyes and left the restaurant in silence. I didn't let the quietude last too long, I didn't want it to become awkward, so I asked Shizuo, "how was your day?"

"It was okay, just the usual," the next part he grumbled in a low tone, "still no sign of Izaya." Had he gone out to hunt his mortal enemy between errands and not found him? "We finished work early so I had time to pick up a few things. I'll show you when we get home. Do you like pizza? I was thinking about stopping to get some. Since I've been having nothing but sushi lately, it'll be a nice change."

"I love pizza!" I happily agreed, glad that we were talking so naturally. From then on we got caught up discussing pizza toppings and the next thing we knew were having pizza and talking some more.

The topic of my first day at work was destined to come up and it did. That's when I inquired about what Simon had said. "Did Simon tell you anything about today?"

Shizuo shifted uncomfortably and shook his head. "nah, he was just trying to talk me into eating sushi again today." I knew he was lying, but didn't press the issue. Maybe he was discussing something personal with his friend that I shouldn't be prying into. I already live in his apartment, so I really don't want him to feel invaded... though after this morning it might have already been too late. "Tell me about it, about your day." He requested casually to get the conversation going again and avoid whatever it was he discussed with Simon.

I wondered if I should tell him about the Orange Avengers and soon resolved that it was best if I did, while ascertaining that nothing bad actually came out of the fight, save for maybe a few frightened customers. Yet it seemed that the vast majority was already used to this sort of thing happening in Ikebukuro.

Shizuo was quite surprised to learn about what happened, but at the same time not. I suppose it was the resolution of the problem which he considered unexpected. Yet ultimately, Simon wasn't too far away and he did see what was going on, it was easy to tell he was watching if I read between the lines of his words when he addressed what happened. I suppose I wasn't in any real danger this time, or at least not in any out of the ordinary level of danger, given that this is Ikebukuro. Life is ironic like that, I moved here for peace and I got more adventure. Yet somehow, even if I still want revenge for my brother, I find that I can appreciate the adventure along the way.

xoxox xox xoxox

After we were done eating our pizza, Shizuo and I went back home. It's funny how I've started to think of his apartment as home, despite how it's supposed to be temporary, even if the length of time for which I'll be there still remains undetermined.

I found the cat eating some cat food from a new Hello Kitty dish, she was all cleaned up. "You gave her a bath and got her supplies? Thank you," I smiled, petting the feline. She did indeed have white fur, with a few light gray patches, the dark gray dirt now completely gone. "Did she put up a fight?"

"Not for me," Shizuo admitted, "but that's just because I didn't bathe her. I told Tom about the cat and he wanted to see her. Since we finished work early I had time to buy some things, like the cat's dishes. Tom gave her a bath and she tried to scratch him, but he managed to tame her. I also got some new furniture."

"Furniture?" I asked curiously following him to the bedroom. I admit I'm a little disappointed in seeing two small beds occupying the room, yet if I seek out a silver lining it might be like an invitation to take my time living here. Even so, it's evident he didn't think too much about this.

"That hit to the headboard wasn't the old bed's only damage. I've actually broken it a few times before and patched it up. When I came over so Tom could see the cat it was collapsed into a heap of useless debris," Shizuo explained. "I break furniture all the time so I'm a regular customer for that big furniture store in the main shopping district of the city. Since I buy furniture there so often, they give me some pretty big discounts, I got these two for practically nothing. Buy one; get one free, pretty convenient, isn't it?"

"Wow, for discounts like that in furniture you really must be a regular customer," I laughed.

"Yeah," silence invaded as Shizuo's focus inevitably shifted to the fact that most people wouldn't break their furniture this often.

I was trying to think of what to say to restore the comfortable atmosphere that we had while eating pizza, then a sudden pained meow pierced the sound waves.

To be Continued

xoxox xox xoxox

Another Puzzle Piece

Chapter 7: Revelations

The cat bolted past Shizuo and I, then stopped on the other side of the room, shaking wildly. She let out another ear splitting meow before hopping on to one of the small beds and walking around it, pawing and clawing at the sheets. "Don't ruin Shizuo's new furniture!" I scolded, but the cat paid no attention to me and instead collapsed twitching in the center of the bed. "What's wrong with her?" I questioned as I rushed to the cat's side, she was hissy and tense then I noticed what was going on. "She's having kittens!"

"She's what?!" Shizuo shouted as the fact sunk in that instead of having a cat there were now several felines entering the picture.

"She needs a doctor!" That explained why the cat's abdomen was so chubby, despite her limbs being thin. She wasn't oddly disproportioned, she was actually thin, the size of her belly being due to the kittens.

"I'm on it!" Shizuo was texting at light speed, I don't know who he was texting, but hopefully it's someone who can help us. "I let them know it's urgent. What do we do until the doctor is here?"

"I don't know, I've never taken care of a newborn anything," I admitted, clueless as to how we could help the cat.

The next few minutes transpired with Shizuo and I completely helpless about the situation, until suddenly there was a knock on the door. Shizuo went to open it and soon reentered the bedroom followed by Celty and a young man in a white coat and glasses.

Celty held up her cell phone at me with the question, "how do you feel?" Before I could replied she typed something else with amazing speed, probably due to all the practice she got.

Celty shoved the screen at Shizuo's face and he read aloud with a confused tone, "you better be ready to take care of your child."

Then she guided me to sit down on the unoccupied bed while the man in the white coat tried to hide his giggles. "Um... Celty," he chuckled, "I think there's been a misunderstanding. When humans are about to give birth, it's kind of obvious." He extended his hands in a round motion over his abdomen to signal what he meant.

Celty only tilted her helmet to the side in confusion, "but Shizuo said she was giving birth!" She held up her phone, the visor of her helmet turned towards Shizuo accusingly.

"Wait? What? Her?" Shizuo dramatized, his voice raising in volume with each interrogative. The cat's name was the first syllable of my name with a chan attached to it. "I meant the cat!" He shouted with a scarlet face.

"Really Celty," her white coated companion laughed. "You seem like such an expert in human anatomy sometimes that I thought you already knew this."

Though Celty had no face, I knew that if she did it would be as red as mine. That comment about anatomy was clearly a reference to something personal. She smacked the man with glasses upside the head and shoved her cell phone at his face, shaking it for emphasis, shut up!"

"Are you a people doctor or a vet?" I inquired urgently as the cat meowed loudly.

"I usually work on humans, but not exclusively," he let the statement up to interpretation and began to assist the cat. "Don't worry, even if I'm not a veterinarian, I can do this."

Celty turned to Shizuo and I, her hands on her hips and her right foot tapping lightly. The posture spoke volumes, even for Shizuo, who was quick to excuse himself. "Like I said, I was talking about the cat and I don't know any veterinarians, so a doctor seemed like the next logical choice!"

The argument was halted as the man in the coat began giving instructions, warm water, towels and what not, were requested, which we rushed to get.

xoxox xox xoxox

Several hours later, the ordeal had ended and our cat was resting with her kittens. By then the doctor had been introduced as Shinra, Celty's fiance, according to his words. By this time we were all quite tired. After sharing a quick snack with our guests and receiving instructions on how to help care for the kittens, Shinra and Celty returned home, leaving Shizuo and I alone with the felines.

"Everything turned out alright in the end," I yawned.

"Yeah... except..." Shizuo looked at the cat that obviously had no intentions of moving. "That was supposed to be my bed. I guess she needs it more."

"Yeah, you can use the other one," I resolved.

"Are we going to have the same argument again?" Shizuo inquired, clearly too tired to further elaborate.

"We could just solve it like last time," meaning sleeping together.

"The first one to fall asleep loses?" Shizuo interpreted my suggestion differently.

"Right..." I play along, "so we should both get ready for bed and start the competition. We can sit here on the bed and the one who's awake the longest will move later.

Shizuo paused, considering the option, "fine," he accepted.

xoxox xox xoxox

Said and done, we were ready to get some sleep and sat down on the unoccupied bed next to each other in total silence. We shifted around a little every now and then, half sitting and half laying. Then we were both lying down, glaring defiantly at each other with an odd instant rivalry. In the end, I was victorious as Shizuo's eyes closed first. His previously tense body relaxed as he dropped his defenses and fell in a deep sleep. I grinned victoriously but didn't move, I didn't feel like it. If he asked about it in the morning, I would simply say I fell asleep and we could call it a draw.

xoxox xox xoxox

When the next day came, Shizuo smashed the alarm clock with his fist, killing the device and breaking the nightstand along with it. He yawned and rubbed the sleep out of his eyes. I couldn't help it but to giggle, though I tried to stay quiet so my presence wouldn't stand out too much. He looked at me as if wondering where I came from until sleepy amnesia faded when he caught sight of the felines in the neighboring bed. "Um... good morning?" I voiced to end the silence.

"Morning..." it seemed that by one twist of fate or another, we always ended up sharing a bed in some way and that was maybe starting to weird him out? I don't know, I couldn't tell what he was thinking. I liked it when we weren't feeling awkward, talking and laughing as if we've known each other for years.

We got ready for our respective days of work, put out sufficient food and milk near the cat where she could easily reach it while caring for her kittens and left.

xoxox xox xoxox

The day rolled by without incident, save for the not so normal, normal happenings of Ikebukuro. While on break at Russia Sushi, I checked the internet through my cell phone and replied to a few messages from the Dollars. Other than Kanra, Taro and the Dollar chat regulars, I've been exchanging messages with a few other members as well. I took the opportunity to write a message to one of my online pen pals. "Hey what's up? Ready for your bro's visit?"

My pen pal claims to be the brother of a celebrity. I didn't really believe him at first, but I played along for amusement as one often does when finding such people on the Internet. His brother is apparently going to be in his city for a special event involving ice-cream. I've been meaning to figure out what that's about, since he didn't give me many details. I take some time to search the net and find that Yuhei, a well known actor, will be participating in a campaign to promote ice-cream. I didn't have time to finish my research before Simon announced that Shizuo was there. Since it was still my break he encouraged me to eat with him.

After being reminded of ice-cream, I was certainly in the mood for it. I insisted to Shizuo that the sushi ice-cream didn't actually have sushi in it and we got some chocolate sushi ice-cream. After the enjoyable break, which went by much faster than I would have liked, Shizuo had to head out to work again and I had to switch from customer to waitress again.

xoxox xox xoxox

After work, Shizuo didn't come by, instead Celty did, saying, or rather typing that she needed to talk to me. She mentioned having told Shizuo we were hanging out, so that explains why he didn't come. I had a feeling that Celty had something important to say. We left Russia Sushi on her motorcycle and went to her apartment to talk.

Shinra was already waiting there; it seemed that he too knew what this was about. He sighed as the two of us arrived. "Celty, you're so evil with your persuasive powers."

She shoved her cell phone's screen at him with a big bold, all caps, underlined, "shut up!" Then she went from embarrassed to serious, her fingers moving quickly and purposefully along her communication device's keyboard. "Let's get to the matter on hand. This is about your brother." She cut to the chase.

I gasped in obvious interest, "did you find out anything?"

"Not much except that Izaya is involved," Celty revealed. Again with this Izaya, I stopped seeking him out for information, but it sounds like Shizuo might have been right about him.

"The information broker? What does he want?" It didn't make any sense to me, what benefit could he draw from a situation that, as far as I knew, was entirely alien to him? Unless he had some sort of hidden connection with the Orange Avengers that I was completely unaware of.

"Conflict," Celty replied via typing. "I know it sounds odd and I don't know his reasons, but he really does cause trouble for seemingly no purpose, or rather, an obscure purpose. His goal was most likely to bring the Orange Avengers to Ikebukuro."

As to why that would cause a conflict, the answer was obvious. "The gang would then be exposed to getting involved with the other gangs in this city and that would cause a battle. Gangs always end up picking fights with each other, so the Orange Avengers being in someone else's turf would be enough to bring forth a conflict."

"It's already begun," Celty confirmed. "The Orange Avengers have been fighting with the Blue Squares over their presence in Ikebukuro. Even if your situation is resolved, it's very likely that the Orange Avengers will continue seeking revenge against the Blue Squares for the attacks they made in defense of their territory. They might decide that for the sake of defeating the gang that challenged them, though technically they were the challengers, they'll stay in Ikebukuro, maybe even try to make this their turf."

"It started as vengeance but it's turning into a matter of pride," I concluded, then eyed Shinra, whom I had a feeling had something to add. "What's the background story on this information, how did you find out? There's more to say, isn't there?"

Shinra nodded, "my jobs are a secret, but Celty has her ways of getting information from me..." He wisely decided not to elaborate on that. "I was called to a neighboring city to perform a surgery. It was basically, to change the appearance of one man into that of another. The man whom I was to copy from was already dead. I didn't know who either of them were, their story or the reasons behind their request. I overheard one of them mention Izaya's name, but he seemed to be disagreeing."

I listened with full attention as Shinra continued. "Apparently their leader wanted to go to Ikebukuro and Izaya encourage them to do so, but several of the higher ranked gang members didn't want to leave their territory. However, most of the gang was loyal to the leader and commended his courage in fights. Albeit the high ranks kept pushing him to the front lines in hopes he would fall, his victories only further established him as the leader. Eventually, the high ranks killed him and took his place."

This was my brother's story, then it was actually the high ranking members of his own gang that killed him. Izaya wanted him to go to Ikebukuro, just as I did, albeit for completely different reasons.

Taking a deep breath, Shinra proceeded with his revelations. "The gang was planning to stay in their territory and continue their normal operations. Those traitors didn't stop talking all the while I was performing the surgery on their soon to be new leader. I do have a reputation for keeping my mouth shut, so I guess that made it easy for them to ignore the fact that I could hear them. That's all I know."

I can put the rest together myself. "The man who stole my brother's face came here thinking that I knew too much. If Izaya wanted the Orange Avengers in Ikebukuro, he must have been the one who told them that. He must have told them I was at risk of discovering the false leader, which is true, since I would know my own brother." He's dead, my brother is dead beyond a doubt and that fills me with anger.

I finish putting the pieces of the mystery together, "Even if the false leader didn't mean to move the gang's operations to Ikebukuro, a quick trip to get rid of me would seem like no trouble to him. Then he conveniently died in this city, away from his gang, leaving Izaya to frame me for my brother's murder, though his real body must have been previously disposed of after the surgery. Then he would accomplish his purpose of bringing the Orange Avengers to Ikebukuro, he knew they wouldn't forgive this and would come after me."

With one final sharp breath, I finished my conclusions. "All along, I was the bait, another piece of the puzzle. As things stand now, even if they do manage to kill me, because of their fights with the Blue Squares, they'll still have a reason to stay in Ikebukuro. Then Shizuo was right, that night, it must have been Izaya who threw the knife. Shizuo must have found him by coincidence and chased him, but that didn't stop him from accomplishing his mission."

To be Continued

xoxox xox xoxox

Another Puzzle Piece

Chapter 8: Bait

As I sat there in Celty and Shinra's apartment, a million thoughts ran through my head, about my brother, about the Orange Avengers, about revenge. I thought that by the time this all ended, there would be no more pretense, no lies, but I have a feeling that's only the beginning of all that and I'll be forever stuck in the middle of it, completing a puzzle that no one knows what it looks like.

"There's more," Celty lifted the small screen before I could voice any further thoughts. I paused and waited for her to continue. I realized that she must have had time to look around in the past days since I told her my story that night at Russia Sushi. "Because of the slow progress of the vengeance and their involvement against the Blue Squares, an internal conflict seems to have been going on within the Orange Avengers. I investigated and found that they were not so difficult to be made to talk. Apparently the members of the Orange Avengers that arranged your brother's death have been killed in a mixture of internal conflict and battles against the Blue Squares."

"In other words... My revenge, has already escaped me." I'm not sure if I should be happy or sad, relieved or angry. "I suppose to Izaya all of this are minor details. All he wants is for the Orange Avengers to be at Ikebukuro. There's one thing that still puzzles me. Why did you do it?" I look at Celty, seeking an answer. "Why did you go so far to investigate? Are you that much of a vigilante, or are you further involved in another way?" I think Shinra's coincidental connection to the case may not be the only connection.

Celty paused unsure, one hand rested on her lap holding the small screen she used to communicate, while the other hovered above it. She finally typed, "I'm looking for my head. I suspect Izaya knows where it is, but I know there's no way he'll tell me, even if I threaten to force the information out of him."

"I see," it all came together now. "Since Izaya was involved in this, you thought maybe investigating would lead you to find a clue." As Celty nods her helmet at me in admittance of my conclusion, another realization hits me. "You have a head... I mean, it's not attached to your neck, but it exists. I didn't know that." I simply assumed that if she didn't have a head on her shoulders it didn't exist, but it does... This makes me curious, though I believe this might be a matter to discuss another time. Back to the current subject on hand I inquire, "by telling me all of this, do you expect me to stop seeking revenge?" Which I had not been actively seeking anyway.

Celty nods again and adds a written message, "it's likely they'll come after you for a while still, but maybe that priority will be bumped down on their list if they have gang fights to think about. Maybe there's a way to make them stop coming after you, in any case, Shizuo would be able to keep you safe."

I sigh, feeling as if I'm using him. "I want to end this. It might be too late for vengeance, but I'll call it karma and accept it, there's nothing more I can do. I still want to cut my ties with the Orange Avengers. I'll try to think of a way to make them stop chasing me."

Our conversation is interrupted by a loud voice from outside calling out, "Izaya!" We all rush to the window to witness as vending machines and street signs fly by, missing their fast moving target by a hair.

Without thinking twice I rush out to the street, taking the elevator. Celty and Shinra tried to stop me but I managed to close the elevator door on time. By the time I'm out on the street, Celty's already there first, she probably rode down the wall of the building. She seems to be standing to the side at the moment witnessing the fight, unsure of if she should intervene, but on stand by just in case.

"Shizuo!" I call out to him without thinking of the possible consequences as I run to meet him. Celty is caught off guard by my action; I guess she didn't expect me to be stupid enough to rush into a war zone like that.

Shizuo notices my presence and warns me to, "stay back, go inside!"

I stop cold, my eyes searching for Shizuo's rival as I stand in the middle of the street. "Izaya," I voice his name. "You arranged it for the Orange Avengers to come to Ikebukuro."

"Indeed I did," Izaya grins from his position several feet away on the street. "It was a pity that so many twists and turns had to happen along the way. It would have served my purposes just as well, possibly even better, if your brother had come out of it alive. He was such an excellent pawn, even better than you. It's too bad that such a puzzle piece was lost, but that's okay, the picture can still be completed without him and even without you."

"I see," I growled, "then your intention was simply to bring the Orange Avengers to Ikebukuro. The part about killing my brother was something that just happened; something arranged by others, those others are, ironically, already dead."

"Celty provided you with this information, didn't she? I don't know what she hoped to find," he lied, Izaya knew exactly what Celty was looking for, "but it looks like she found a few things you wanted to know. I apologize for not providing you with that information myself; my business hours have been busy lately."

"So you were avoiding me!" I concluded, putting more anger into my voice than what I felt. I was numb realizing the fact that everything had already played out basically without my knowledge, very much less any willing participation.

"I thought you were avoiding your demise," Shizuo stated, obviously referring to Izaya having stayed away from him for a while.

"The bait," Izaya glanced at me when he spoke that word, "had to stay alive for a while. She couldn't die immediately, not before the Orange Avengers had a different reason to stay in Ikebukuro. That has already been established, so it doesn't matter if the bait is consumed." He grinned proud of his reasoning, as if we were all too easy to read and manipulate. "When you took her away that night I knew she would give you the broken pieces of her story that not even she fully understood. I knew you would jump to conclusions and think that for some reason I was after her, that she was part of my plan, and for a fleeting moment, she was."

Izaya chuckled annoyingly and continued. "You would keep the bait safe until her purpose was accomplished, so I wouldn't have to go through that trouble. I thank you so much for your assistance. I know you were only keeping her near by to lure me out so you could try to kill me again. My encounter with you this night is my way of saying you don't have to try so hard anymore. I no longer require your assistance in preserving her life, as she is no longer necessary for the master puzzle to be completed. You can stop copying me now Shizu-chan, you can stop using this girl as bait. Hasn't she been used enough already?"

The strange thing was that at that moment, I felt more anger towards myself than anyone else. Inaction has always been my kind of reaction to most things. I overlooked my brother's deeds and let him sink deeper as long as I lived a comfortable life. I was prone to be used because I always let the current of life carry me, rather than moving on my own.

Shizuo's eyes were downcast, his teeth and fists were clenched and he twitched in anger. "Bastard," he growled under his breath as Izaya finalized his speech, "shut up!" Shizuo lifted a car that was parked on the side of the street in front of the apartment building and flung it at Izaya with an amazing force.

The manipulative information broker had trouble dodging, but managed to do so and with a sly smile he retreated into the night. It was as is this was enough, he had pissed off enough people for now and would leave us to deliberate on what we learned.

Shizuo didn't chase after Izaya; he seemed tired of his antics for the time being. "I wasn't using you," his voice is quieter now as he stares at the paved road. "Or maybe I was..." he confesses.

Was he using me as bait? Was I using him as a bodyguard, taking advantage of his kindness? Or was he taking advantage of my peril? Maybe we were taking advantage of each other for a mutual benefit. Is that all there is to it? Just business? No, I can't believe that. I won't allow Izaya to make me doubt, yet I have to admit I need time to think and clear my head. That won't happen if I'm distracted by Shizuo or try to solve the sudden tension between us before I resolve my own inner turmoil that if left unattended will eventually burst. "I'm going to move out," I announce to Shizuo, my voice serious. "It's not that I'm angry at you or anything, I just need to be by myself and think for a while."

Shizuo nods, accepting my choice, "maybe that's what's best."

A moment of silence passes until Shinra joins our little group on the street and grimaces, "that car you threw was mine."

Ignoring the young doctor's agony, Shizuo and I walked home together for what I fear may be the last time from now, until an undetermined future that I am yet unable to imagine.

xoxox xox xoxox

I gathered a few things in a backpack, sufficient to spend the night elsewhere. Maybe I could ask Celty to let me stay at her apartment, or talk Simon into allowing me to sleep at the restaurant. I didn't know where exactly I was going, but I left Shizuo's apartment and wondered the streets, by some miracle not being found and killed by the Orange Avengers. Those that I found were entirely different.

As I walked across the park, the fountain's water reflecting the moon on its stillness, I noticed a couple probably out on a romantic evening stroll. I recognized them as Mika and Seiji, the peculiar couple from the restaurant. "Look Seiji, it's our fan!" The girl greeted me, convinced that I supported them like a fan girl to an OTP. "You seem sad... did you have a fight with Shizuo?"

Just where does she get off asking me that. How would she know? "Not exactly," I stuttered, taken aback. "I just need some time alone, that's all. I can't stay at his place right now."

"If you don't have a key I can lend you mine," Mika offers with a friendly smile.

"You have a key to Shizuo's apartment?" I question, raising my voice unconsciously.

Mika giggles, "my key works on all doors," is she talking about lock picking equipment. "I use it to unlock Seiji's room when he locks me out." She really is a stalker, and to all her openness about it, Seiji says absolutely nothing, just standing there as if it's all perfectly natural. Maybe he's flattered by it.

"No thanks," I laugh nervously. "I think I really should be on my own for a while. I just need to decide where to go for tonight."

"I can help with that." Mika takes a key from her pocket and hands it to me, explaining some directions to a building that I believe is a student dorm for the main high school in the city. "You can stay in my room for tonight. Since I have a friend over occupying my room... I'll have to stay with Seiji!" She cheers loudly, clutching her boyfriend's arm. Did she just use me as a flimsy excuse to spend the night at his place?

"Alright..." Seiji surprisingly agrees. With matters settled from their perspective, the couple starts to walk away, leaving me in open mouthed, wide eyed shock. Then Seiji pauses and turns to look at me, with Mika still strongly clinging to his arm. "If you love someone, you must never give up." With those words spoken, the pair once again continued on their way.

I suppose that strangeness aside; I at least found a place to stay and for that I'm thankful, especially because for some unknown reason, my confusion has suddenly increased tenfold.

To be Continued

xoxox xox xoxox

Another Puzzle Piece

Chapter 9: Acting

I made my way to Mika's dorm room and let myself in with the key she lent me. I expected to find something extravagant inside, like pictures of her beloved Seiji all over the walls, but instead I found a relatively normal room, save for the abundance of pink. It's the typical girly-girl room of someone who might be catalogued as harmless, despite her stalker skills rivaling the tenacity of a spy fit to be the protagonist of an epic movie. There's a small framed picture of Seiji on the night stand next to the bed, which I assume she falls asleep looking at. The decor is full of hearts and has nothing else that stands out from it.

I toss my hastily packed bag on the floor and sit on the bed letting out a deep breath. I want to sort out my thoughts, but don't know where to start. I look around the room once more and my eyes pause on a stereo, maybe some music will help me relax. I turn on the device, hearing some strange sounds like static. I turn the radio's dial looking for a good station, wondering if it's broken.

Hearing a voice, I adjust the dial until it becomes clear. The man who is singing has an odd accent that reminds me of Simon. There's no background music and occasional noises are heard along with the singing. What kind of radio station dares to promote this stuff? Maybe they're playing a joke on the listeners. Then there's a pause in the singing and another noise, like a door being opened. "Tom, Shizuo, what brings you here so late?" The man has stopped singing and has instead greeted some very familiar names with that same Russian accent.

"Maybe you can talk to Shizuo before he tares the entire building apart," tom's voice explains. What is this? This is no radio station... Did Mika plant a microphone at Russia Sushi? Simon must have been doing some late cleaning; he can be a neat freak at times.

There's a growl, that I assume came from Shizuo, "I knew it; there was no debt to collect here!"

"It was the only way to get you over here," Tom admits. "Now Simon and I will gang up on you and make you talk," I can imagine him having a sly grin, combined with a concern look as he spoke.

"Sit down, talk, confess all, then have sushi and feel better!" Simon's voice is followed by the shuffling of chairs. Maybe he's pushing Shizuo into sitting down.

"There's nothing to talk about, I'm just pissed off at Izaya, nothing new there!" Shizuo growls, shouting his words.

"You've never been angry this way before, there's more to it than what you're saying," Tom insists.

"It doesn't matter, keeping her at my apartment was a bad idea anyway," Shizuo is no doubt talking about me and my heart sinks. "She could have gotten hurt."

"Enough of that," Tom interrupts, somewhat scolding. "That's just an excuse and you know it. You always worry that you'll end up causing accidental pain if you get close to anyone so you don't take any chances. You use the fact that she needed a bodyguard as an excuse to overcome that fear by focusing on that she was in more danger without you. But you don't need excuses; you don't need to worry so much. I'm sure she'll be more hurt if you just push her out of your life."

There's more noises as if Shizuo is trying to get up but Simon is preventing him, "you not run away, sit and face the truth. You like her."

My breath catches in my throat as I wait Shizuo's answer. "She didn't recognize me," what does he mean by that? The following silence makes me believe that Tom and Simon are also confused by Shizuo's ambiguous statement. "I mentioned her before, or more like you guys stupidly thought I was in love and managed to annoy me until I talked. That girl I met at the Dollars chat, we exchanged emails and wrote to each other often. Since my identity was hidden I guess I told her things I wouldn't normally tell people face to face."

Shizuo continued sounding pissed off, yet with a somewhat sad undertone. "I told her whatever I was thinking; it didn't feel like I was saying too much because she didn't know me. I even talked to her about my brother. She told me about her life too, with no names or locations. The story fits so perfectly, but it was such a big coincidence that I had my doubts at first, until Celty told me her Dollars username. It's her, but she doesn't know it's me. She even sent me a message asking about what I mentioned about my brother not realizing that she could just ask me in person."

I've received many shocks since I came to Ikebukuro, but this by far is the biggest. Shizuo and my pen pal are the same person. He knew right away but I didn't. That familiarity and trust I felt towards him, it was all full of deja vu, but I didn't realize that. When we talked about what we liked, entertainment and such topics, I've had those conversations before online, it's all the same. I can't believe all of this flew over my head, my subconscious knew, but my mind didn't. He's the reason I was okay, he's the reason I accepted the fact that my brother's gang scared away all my possible friends, because I had the Dollars and I had him. My platonic crush that I never dared to allow myself to think of too much because I didn't know him in person, and yet, I know him so well. I really have known him for a long time.

A long silence fills the sound waves perceived by the spy radio, but either way, I can't listen to this anymore. I turn the dial in frustration and it accidentally tunes in to something else. There is a voice I heard before criticizing someone and speaking of death and suicide. Is that Izaya? Where is he? "See that stain down there? Do you know how many people had jumped from here?"

The Dollars, I have to tell the Dollars. I dig out my small laptop from my bag, which I packed in case I needed the Dollars and my pen pal to cheer me up. I log in and type, asking about a place were people jump to commit suicide.

"Don't do it!" Taro immediately replies, then proceeds to try to persuade me not to jump.

"I'm not the one jumping," I clarify. "It's someone else."

Setton, aka Celty, opens up a private chat window. "What's going on?"

"I heard Izaya is talking someone into jumping." I suppose this can be interpreted as me having heard a rumor, albeit I am in fact literally hearing the event.

"I'll take care of it!" Celty posts in the public chat for both Taro and I to see, then logs off. I log off to and leave the dorm.

xoxox xox xoxox

I didn't know where exactly I was going, just towards the general area of the city that was more desolated at this hour. I log in again from my cell phone and asked the Dollars if they had seen the headless rider recently. I got a reply and followed the clues to Celty, which led me to the scene of the suicide. It was an old building; there was no one there except for Celty now.

Celty holds up her phone to me as she stands on the edge of the building. "It's already too late."

I peek past the edge and see the body of a girl around my age dead at the bottom. "I didn't know her," I admit. "I just heard about this and thought I should tell the Dollars."

"You did the right thing," Celty encourages, even if it was too late for the girl. I can only guess that Izaya was already gone when Celty got here, so I don't even bother to bring him up.

A strange plan starts to form in my mind as I think about the recent events. The Orange Avengers, the dead girl, Mika's stalker ways. "Hey Celty... do you think Shinra would be willing to help out with something?"

xoxox xox xoxox

I run through the streets of Ikebukuro as the sun threatens to rise. I'm wearing the same suit as Celty and a matching helmet too. I have already allowed the Orange Avengers to see my face. Then I duck into an alleyway and the one that comes out at the other side is Celty without her motorcycle, running away on foot, at the speed of a normal human.

The Orange Avengers chase her to the building where people go to end their lives. She stops at the edge seemingly trapped; she takes off her helmet and jumps desperately. I've been following the chase in secret, ready to play the next part of the plan. Celty disappears into the shadows, the mannequin's head still on her shoulders. They couldn't tell the difference due to the speed and darkness, that's why we had to do this before the sun went up, while it was still dark and the corpse was fresh. It's a bit morbid, but it worked.

The Orange Avengers think I'm dead. They check the corpse, just in case, and they see my face in a carefully arranged scene thanks to some quick plastic surgery from Shinra. This is technically disrespecting the dead, but who cares, it's nothing personal and the Orange Avengers will be off my back now. Of course, they might still see me around the city and wonder why there's a look alike that's still alive. That might confuse them unless a proper explanation is given, enter Shizuo.

Shizuo runs into the scene dramatically screaming my name. Maybe acting talent really does run in the family. He sees the corpse and expresses his agony, now it's my turn. "Shizuo!"

"You!" Shizuo growls enraged, while the confused Orange Avengers stare. "Even if you copy her face you'll never be her!"

"Shizuo please!" I add some soap opera style melodrama to my performance. "She was destined to be killed by the Orange Avengers, but I'm still alive, I'm here for you!"

"Get away from me, stalker!" Shizuo screams in agony, "it's all meaningless now..."

"She's a fake," one of the Orange Avengers reasons.

"Yeah, the real one is dead, forget the fake, we have no business with her." The gang is probably more worried about running away from Shizuo right now. In fear of his vengeance and believing that killing his beloved was punishment enough for his past interference, the Orange Avengers will leave him alone.

As the members of the Orange Avengers who witnessed these events run away off to spread their misinterpretation through the gang, I know I'm free of them. Shizuo flees the scene, pretending to chase after them and purposely lets them run away. I chase after Shizuo for good show and when we're far enough we turn another way and head to Shinra's apartment.

xoxox xox xoxox

Celty, Shinra, Shizuo and I meet at Shinra's apartment as planned. Our little play was a success. It involved even more pretence and lies, but this time it worked to my favor. There is still a veil of awkwardness and confusion between Shizuo and I, even if he agreed to help with my crazy plan without question. I'm determined to work things out with him somehow. "Shizuo... I have the day off from work tomorrow."

"So do I but I'll be busy..." Shizuo admits.

"I want to talk to you, so please meet me at the park in the afternoon; you're going to be there anyway, aren't you? We can talk after it's over." His brother will be there as part of his ice-cream promotion, the one that I didn't quite finish reading up on. Whatever it's about, I know Shizuo will be near by.

Shizuo seems to wonder how I know he'll be there, but disregards it, anyone could have told me. "Alright," he agrees.

Shizuo heads home to his apartment and for tonight, I stay at Mika's place. Tomorrow I'll fix everything, tomorrow Shizuo and I can start anew without the interference of the Orange Avengers. It's technically already today, since the sun is raising, but I'll get a few hours of sleep in the morning and let Shizuo do the same. This afternoon... it makes me uneasy, yet at the same time, I can't wait.

To be Continued

xoxox xox xoxox

Another Puzzle Piece

Chapter 10: Love

After resting in the morning I felt more anticipation for the afternoon. However, when Shizuo and I met we didn't really talk much. Instead he was busy trying to keep his brother safe from rabid fan girls. Mika and Seiji were there and I took the opportunity to return Mika's key. I had dropped off my things at Shizuo's apartment, though I told him I would be moving out fully tonight. I'm not sure where I'll go, but I can't stay in Mika's place, her spying equipment is simply too tempting and it just begs to be used in the most inappropriate ways involving Shizuo.

"I knew you would be here," Mika accepts the key with a smile, coming to her own conclusion to explain the action of having it returned to her. She pauses to cuddle Seiji and comments, "I think I'll still stay at your place so you don't get lonely." Then she turns her attention back to our conversation as she puts away the key. "I guess this means that you and Shizuo are back together." She looks around discretely, "I won't tell anyone about you being you."

I laugh not knowing how else to react, "thanks for... everything." She knows about what happened, she knows about my fake death, she probably knows as much about what goes on in this city as Izaya does.

"You're welcome, it was in thanks for today's event," Mika happily responds and her answer puzzles me.

"Today's event?" What event? How does it involve her? How am I related to it?

"The ice-cream, I mean," Mika grins from ear to ear as my confusion grows.

"She doesn't know," Seiji correctly interprets, speaking for the first time since I saw them this afternoon.

"Really?" Mika stares at the blank look of cluelessness on my face and shakes her head. "You need to be better informed, after all, you won the prize too."

"Prize?" I have no idea what in the world she's talking about.

"The ice-cream company that hired Yuhei for this promotion has been secretly going through the city looking for couples that will represent the image of their ice-cream flavors. They kept it a secret so not even I knew about it until after the fact," Mika explains, then proceeds to elaborate on the vital fact that she referred to. "One of their agents was searching at Russia Sushi, the agents would seek out couples that were eating certain flavors of ice-cream and take pictures of them without telling them so that it's all spontaneous. Then they would select the cutest couples and send them some letters inviting them to come here for the final section of the contest for the couples who would represent each flavor of ice-cream!" It's clear that Mika is excited about this.

I'm still a bit confused, then I suddenly manage to put two and two together and it all adds up. "That day at Russia Sushi, the strawberry sushi ice-cream..."

"Exactly!" Mika cheers. "If not because of you explaining that there was no sushi in sushi ice-cream, Seiji and I wouldn't have tried it. Then when the secret agent came in we wouldn't have been caught eating it. I'm so glad we were entered in the contest; I just know we'll be chosen to represent the sweet flavor of strawberry of love!"

"Congratulations," talk about confident, but I smile and sincerely hope for the best none the less. Then more of the situation sinks in and I continue analyzing the information I've received. There are more than one ice-cream flavors included in this promotion and Mika said I was getting the same prize. "Chocolate!" I suddenly exclaimed.

"Yes!" Mika cheered, "I'm sure you'll be the winner for your favorite flavor too!"

At this point I tune out everything else because a peculiar announcement catches my attention as well as the attention of all those present. Yuhei has exited the large ice-cream monument that had been hastily made in the center of the park. Holding a microphone he started to talk about the contest. Apparently, the contestants had to confirm their entries and show up today. I'm here and so is Shizuo, but I didn't confirm anything and somehow I doubt he did. Yet Mika seems so certain that we'll win...

"I hope we win, I hope we win, I hope we win," the quiet chanting catches my attention despite being drowned out by the noise of the crowd. Shinra is near by with Celty.

She smacks him on the back of the head and holds up her cell phone which has a messaged spelled out on its screen, "I hope we don't win!"

"Aw, c'mon Celty," Shinra pleads. "It was destiny!"

"No, you just felt like getting ice-cream and stupidly bought one for me when the guy in the ice-cream truck asked if you were getting one for your girlfriend, even if you knew I couldn't actually eat it," Celty argued via writing.

"I know he just wanted an extra sale, but I would have looked like a bad fiance," he emphasized the word as if correcting her like he must have done to the ice-cream guy, "if I didn't share," Shinra retorted, his pleading look still present. "Then we were lucky enough to be caught on camera. That made it the most delicious mint ice-cream I've ever tasted!"

Before I can say hello to them, some cheering of "cookies and cream! Cookies and cream!" Catches my attention from the crowd. A blond boy and brown haired girl are laughing together; it looks like their having fun and it sounds like they're a part of the contest too. "C'mon Mikado, you have to cheer too, say stuff like classic vanilla or something!" I can tell he's enjoying teasing his friend. Another boy with dark hair blushes and shifts in embarrassment as does the girl with glasses next to him.

Then the winners are announced for each flavor. The vanilla couple turns out to be the flustered boy and girl, who are pushed to the front of the crowd by their teasing friends. Then the victors of cookies and cream are revealed to be those same teasing friends. The strawberry winners are of course Mika and Seiji. Then the mint winners are revealed to be Shinra and Celty. He's certainly excited about it and he happily drags her along to the front of the crowd.

Surprisingly, the representatives of chocolate are Shizuo and I. It was at this point that Shizuo had finished patrolling the area and came back to check on me so I wouldn't think he's purposely ignoring me. Just as he arrived, Yuhei called our names, much to his shock. I have a feeling that he wasn't consulted on this, perhaps it was all arranged because of his brother, or maybe even by his brother. Caught unprepared we're practically pushed to the front of the crowd were Shizuo growls a low and threatening, "Kasuka..."

At this point I take his hand to try to get his attention and hopefully calm him down before the giant plastic and cardboard four flavored ice-cream cone next to the actor is sent flying across the city. Shizuo stiffens and stays perfectly still while we receive our prices and Yuhei announces that the chosen couples' pictures will be printed on the ice-cream packages of their respective flavors for the following few months.

I held his hand through the entire thing, keeping him calm until it was all over and the crowds dispersed. Then Shizuo looked at Yuhei, or Kasuka by his birth name, and asked, "did you?"

Kasuka just smiled and excused himself. "I need to take care of a few things now; I have a photo section to attend to."

Shizuo growled in response and let him go. "I had no idea about this." I confessed as I finally let go of his hand, since it was no longer necessary to stop him from committing a random act of property damage. Instead I occupied myself in examining the contents of the envelope I had been given as our prize. It contained tickets to the opening night of the Ikebukuro amusement park, which were very expensive, practically impossible to obtain. We also got passes for all the rides so that standing in line wasn't required, all you can eat passes for the food places and a pair of generous gift cards to buy souvenirs.

It seems that the contest winners I didn't know already knew the ones I did. After some introductions we agree, with Shizuo remaining quiet through it all, that we should all attend the amusement park's grand opening tonight. It was already evening and it was only an hour away so we headed there immediately.

xoxox xox xoxox

Our group of eight hang out together for a while before we all dispersed to our rides of choice. Shizuo relaxed after several runs on the roller coaster. It's awesome being able to ride it over and over without having to wait. After some time, we decided to take a break for food and by then Shizuo seemed to have forgotten the awkwardness from being put in the spotlight this afternoon. After eating, we hit the shops and had an amusing time poking fun at the odd little souvenirs, hats, cups, figurines and what not that they sold.

We were walking around the park, caught in the moment and very much enjoying it, when we saw the ferris wheel and went to ride it. Everything proceeded well until it stopped with our little cart on top. Looking out from the window I saw some familiar figures below suspiciously near the base of the wheel, where the controls were.

Shizuo noticed them too, "looks like they're playing a joke on us."

Or maybe giving us some privacy. "Shizuo..." I took the opportunity to say something I've been meaning to say. "I'm sorry it took me so long to figure it out, I guess I was just caught up in everything. It was only a matter of time, but I should have known right away, my dearest pen pal."

"You noticed..." He looks away for a moment as if I were able to read his thoughts when our eyes meet. I suppose he must be thinking of all the things I know about him that I didn't realize I knew. The things he told me so easily because he was protected by the shield of distance.

"Thank you," I continue, "you always listened to me and cheered me up. It was because of you that I looked forward to everyday. I know I never told you this before, I thought you might think I'm silly or weird, getting attached to someone I don't know in person, but even if I tried not to, I did. Then we ended up meeting... the Dollars started it all in a way."

Shizuo nods and finally looks at me, "it's true, the Dollars have changed the lives of a lot of people, many times without even trying." There's a long silent pause, his look is so intense, then he speaks again, "the cats miss you..."

"They do?" What is he getting at? Should I take the cats with me when I leave or... My breath catches in my throat at the prospect of the other possibility.

"Come home," his intense eyes stay on mine as he speaks those words I longed to hear. My expression is all the answer he needs and I can see it in his face that he knows I will. Then like magnetism we're suddenly closer and the next thing my mind is able to register is that he's kissing me and that I'm kissing him back.

The ferris wheel begins to move again, but we don't part from each other. The cart is open for several minutes before we have to pause for breath. Then we notice that we're back on the ground and there are people staring at us, some of them familiar to us. We both turn scarlet and acting on impulse, Shizuo picks me up and flees the scene at an inhuman speed, carrying me in his arms.

Shizuo doesn't stop until he's at the door to his apartment where I'm invaded by joyous laughter. He sets me on my feet, wondering what's so funny. I manage to stop laughing and just smile before we kiss again, this time for much longer than before and with more passion. I can feel it; this is the start of something great. Regardless of how uncertain the future may be, from now until forever, I'll be in love with Shizuo and I know it in my heart that he'll love me back.


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