He knocked on the door with the metal-plates on his glove. "Nova, Nova are you there?"
After a few moments, the door slowly opened.
Blaze gasped when Nova appeared, her left eye was blackened and her cheek swollen with a dark bruise, a handprint on the other.
Her eyes, fixated on the floor, were red and misted over from crying. She was dressed in an oversized t-shirt. "Hi..."
Blaze reached a hand up towards her face, stopping short of it. "What did he..." He clenched his lifted hand, bringing it down forcefully. "How dare he! I'll kill that son of a bitch!"
"It's okay. I get beat up a lot anyway."
Blaze's expression changed to surprise. "Why? What did you do?"
"I break rules, or he is just angry. Last night I broke his number one rule. So he disciplined me more. Would...you like to come inside?"
She looked up at him. "He won't be home for a couple hours."
"I guess I could hang out for a few minutes. I mainly came to check on you."
"That's so kind of you..." She sniffled.
"Yes, I'm all right." She stepped back away from the doorway to allow Blaze inside.
He went to stand by the couch, but did not sit down. His keen eyes spotted small crimson splatters on the white carpet, leading up onto the coffee table. Anger bubbled up inside of him, he knew for certain it was Nova's blood.
Nova picked a wine glass that was half-full off the coffee table. "Would you like anything?"
Blaze kept his gaze on the table, trying his best not to look at Nova. "No thanks."
She pressed the glass to her bruised cheek, sighing softly.
"Should probably get some ice for that."
"I should. Didn't think about it." She started off towards the kitchen.
He noted by her feet that she was walking stiffly. He clenched his jaw, having a good idea why she was.
When she reappeared from the kitchen, he spoke, "He shouldn't hit you, even if you break his rules."
Nova shrugged one shoulder. "I don't see why not. I deserve to be punished. That's just how he deals it out."
"By hitting you around?"
"What else is he supposed to do?"
"Tell you off. Something other than physically harming you. Especially not..."
"Come over here."
He gestured her towards him. "Just come here."
Nova timidly walked towards him. She stopped an arm's length from the Viral and looked quizzically up at him.
He took the ice pack from her hand and pressed it gently against her bruised cheek. "What else did he do last night?" he asked in a quiet tone.
"Just the usual."
"What is that, exactly?"
"Well. He's my last client of the day, I guess you could say. In return, I get to stay here."
"Why are you staying here?"
"I have no where else to stay except on the streets. My 'father' doesn't house the women that work for him. Nick is one of his right hand men, so I was offered a place to stay. Since I can't really pay Nick with the money I earn, he accepted the alternative."
"That's just..." He trailed off, unable to think of anything else to say.
"It's a good trade-off. I have a roof over my head and food to eat, he has a housekeeper and someone to keep him company."
A sudden thought came to Blaze's mind. Before he gave himself time to analyze it, he found himself speaking, "Hey, Nova."
"I have an idea where you can stay. Without having to sleep with someone or worry about being hit."
The young woman's eyes lit up. "Really?"
A small smile tugged at the corners of his lips. "If you think you can deal with a grouchy Digimon, that is."
Nova's jaw dropped slightly. "Y-you mean...stay with you?"
She gasped and started bouncing on her toes. "Oh that would be...!" She halted suddenly and bit her lip. "But I don’t want to be a burden-"
Blaze held his free hand up to silence her. "Nonsense. Now scoot, pack your stuff. And put some pants on."
She hurriedly set her glass on the table and left the room.
Blaze could hear her giggle as she disappeared. He rubbed the back of his neck. "What have I done to myself? Least she'll be safer this way. I would feel guilty leaving her with a guy like that."
Blaze's home was a small one-story house near the edge of the city. To anyone passing by, it would appear to be uninhabited.
The side paneling of the house was a dingy white color, the yard was overgrown and littered with various debris and the chain-link fence was rusted and broken in several places.
The inside was hardly better off. Rooms that Blaze did not visit as part of his daily routine were unkempt and layered with dust.
The living room was also rather dusty with beer cans and trash littering the coffee table and the floor around it.
"It's a little-achoo!-dusty." Nova commented, wiping her nose with her shirt-sleeve.
"I've not really been in a cleaning mood, lately. I'll work on it in a few."
"You're absolutely sure I won't be a bother?"
"Yes, of course."
He went to the kitchen to fetch cleaning materials from under the sink.
"I can help-"
He handed her an ice pack. "You sit and relax."
"O-okay..." She tentatively sat down on the couch, pressing the ice pack to her cheek.
Blaze set himself to work cleaning the living room, kitchen and bedroom; what he felt would be used the most while Nova was living with him. It took an hour and a half of work before he felt satisfied enough to take a break.
"I hope you're not doing all this cleaning just because I'm here." Nova said as Blaze sat down on the couch near her.
"Nah. Just gave me the motivation I needed to clean like I needed to."
"It does look better in here."
Blaze rested the back of his head against the top of the couch, draping one arm across it. "Thanks." He crossed one leg over the other and closed his eyes.
Nova watched him curiously. "Uhm...?"
"Sorry just resting my eyes for a sec."
"What made you want to be a Bounty Hunter?"
"There's a few reasons for it."
"Is one because you like killing?"
Blaze tilted his head to look at her. "I can't rightly say no to that, Nova."
"I thought Bounty Hunters brought people in?"
"But you kill people?"
"If they resist."
"Oh. Do you bring in people or Digimon?"
"That depends. Sometimes I bring in Partners. Sometimes rogue humans. Mostly it is other Digimon. Since I came here, I just bring back humans and Digimon that have come through to the Real World and are causing problems."
"So...so you don't really kill that often?"
He shook his head. "Why do you keep asking?"
"I...was just thinking was all."
"Are you frightened of me?"
"N-no! I just couldn't think of how you could be a killer."
Blaze chuckled dryly. "You ain't seen the worst of me. I get my nickname for my bad temperament."
"Really? You've been very kind to me."
"Let's just hope you don't see my bad mood."
Nova looked down at her hands. "That's okay. Nick was in a bad mood a lot. I'm used to it."
Blaze gave her a sympathetic look.
"So what were the other reasons you became a Bounty Hunter?"
"Years of being bullied, I guess."
"How were you bullied? You're so strong."
"I wasn't always. Digimon go through growth stages. Each stronger than the last. I am currently at the peak of my growth, called Mega. When I was bullied I was a weakling, a Rookie. I was slow to Digivolve, so I was bullied. I took revenge upon my tormenters later. A human who was a Bounty Hunter found me and recruited me. Once I moved to the Real World, I was paid in human currency, since I actually needed it. I was initially given food and a place to stay."
Nova set the ice pack beside her on the couch cushion.
Blaze closed his eyes again. A sudden spell of exhaustion had come over him.
"You look tired."
"Hrm? No, I'm fine. You need to keep that pack on your face."
"But it's so cold."
"It'll keep the swelling down."
She placed her fingertips on her bruise. "...I know. Could I...take a bath?"
"Sure, you live here now. Don't have to ask to do much."
"Of course. You are now an official resident of Blaze's Hellhole."
Nova giggled. "You're silly."
"Ah, off with you."
Nova got up and turned and wagged a finger at him, her tone teasing, "No walking in on me, now."
Blaze shook his head. "I ain't a perv."
"Well with the enticing thought a naked woman in your home, I would think you'd eventually try something like walking in when she was bathing."
Nova twiddled her fingers. "Okay..."
Blaze allowed himself a bemused half-smile. "I'll just catch ya changing."
Nova giggled and went off down the hallway.
Blaze resettled himself. "Goofy thing. I should probably think of some rules to set up...don't want her snoopin' in the wrong places," He stifled a yawn. "I'll do that after she's done with her bath."
When Nova returned from her bath nearly an hour later, she found Blaze with his legs propped on the coffee table and his chin resting on his chest, asleep.
She quietly made her way to the couch and settled herself as gingerly as she could at the opposite end. She pulled her legs up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them.
Blaze yawned suddenly and lifted his head. "Meh...I dozed off."
"Hehe. It was cute."
He looked over at her and nearly fell over the arm of the couch, his pale face a dark pink. "Wh-What...are you not wearing any pants?!"
Nova cocked her head to one side. "Is there something wrong?"
Blaze straightened himself up, putting his face in his hand. "Are you even wearing any bottoms?"
Nova giggled, smiling slyly. "Just my underwear."
"Okay, that's gonna have to be added as a rule..." Blaze muttered.
"Yeah, I have a few rules to give you."
Nova's head dropped slightly. "Oh."
"Go get some bottoms on first."
"Oh, fiiiine." Nova said huffily.
Blaze made sure to keep his eyes off of her as she went around the table towards the hallway.
She returned a few minutes later.
Blaze eyed her suspiciously. He could not tell from the length of her shirt if she had put on any bottoms. "You do what I asked?"
Nova rolled her eyes and lifted the bottom of her shirt to reveal a pair of jean shorts. "Is that better?"
Blaze nodded approvingly. "Yes."
The young woman settled herself back on the couch. "So, what rules do you have for me?"
"Rules...ah, yes. The first and most important I have is this: there is a room near the bedroom. That door stays locked at all times and you are not to go in there, got that?"
"Good. Secondly, since you seem to like waltzing around half naked, you've got to at least wear some kind of pants. I am not a perv."
"So does that mean I'm allowed to not wear a shirt?" she asked teasingly.
Blaze went full red in the face at her question. "N-no! You have to wear clothes!"
Nova giggled like a child having done something they knew they should not. "You're absolutely adorable when you blush."
The Viral was completely taken aback. "I...I am not! Now stop distracting me."
Nova rested her chin on her knees, smiling innocently. "Okay."
Blaze cleared his throat. "All right then. Ah...I don't figure you bring anyone home with you, do you?"
"No. But Yuri sometimes sends guys to me."
"I'll have a talk with him about that."
"I don't really want anyone else here. You can go out with them if he does, I guess."
Nova suddenly lifted her head. "I can go out?!"
She clapped her hands together. "Yay!"
Blaze stared at her, bewildered. "I thought you already went out."
"Oh, if it wasn't for my job, I wasn't allowed out. I'd sneak off to visit Yuri at the bar sometimes when Nick left for a while. He'd keep an eye on me otherwise."
"Weird...Well. I am not your caretaker or anything, so you can do as you please-"
"Except not wear pants."
She looked down at the table. "Blaze?"
"Why are you so insistent that I not be around in my underwear? Do you think there's something...wrong with me?"
"What? No, no! Nothing like that! You're very..." He stopped himself, biting his lower lip with a sharp fang.
Nova looked up at him, sadness evident in her eyes. "You don't think I'm pretty. You can just say it."
Blaze heaved a sigh. "Please don't say that. I do think you're pretty. I just...it's a pet peeve. I even made Rena wear all her clothes when she stayed over."
Blaze's eyes widened slightly. "Did I say that?"
He put his face in his hands. "Ugh...She's nobody..."
"Don't worry about it. Just a past issue."
"Did you have any other rules for me?"
"I think that was about it, really."
"Truly? That's so few."
"Hrm? What kind of rules did Nick have for you?"
"Never leave the apartment unattended, never have guys over, keep the house neat and tidy at all times, never tell on him if he injured me. Things like that."
Blaze made a wry face. "That's terrible. He made you a prisoner."
Nova smiled. "But I'm here now. So...I won't be, right?"
"I'd never do that to you."
"That's very kind of you."
"Nah. No one should be made a prisoner in their own home."
"Is...is there anything to eat?" She placed a hand on her stomach.
"Not much at the moment, I gotta head to the store tomorrow. I haven't had anyone else to feed for awhile."
"Can I go with you?" she asked excitedly.
"Uh...sure, why not?"
"Yay! I've not been inside a grocery store in years."
"Because of Nick?"
Nova looked down at her hands, fiddling her fingers. "I try to stay out of anywhere, for the most part. I grew up with some of the women who taught me...how to survive, I guess you could say."
"I ah..." She hung her head shamefully.
Blaze gave her a hard glare. "I don't tolerate anything like that."
Nova squeaked in fear, drawing back from him. "N-no! I would never-!"
"You better not. Not from me and not from any place or other person while you're living here."
"I...I won't. I promise. I only did it if I actually needed something and couldn't afford it."
"At least you've told me."
"I did...I just wanted to let you know..."
"I really appreciate it, Nova. It lets me know I can trust you."
"Y-you really think so? I mean...I'm just a prostitute."
Blaze suddenly reached out and took hold of one of Nova's hands.
She looked up at him in surprise.
"Do not and I mean do not use what you've grown up doing as an excuse. Being a prostitute does not change how I see you and you should not let it change how you see yourself."
"I..." She placed the back of her free hand to her mouth, her eyes were shimmering with unshed tears.
"Nova-" Blaze started gently.
"You're wrong! Everyone judges you by what you do...and I'm just a slut." She pulled her hand from Blaze to hide her face with it.
"I am!" she said with a sob. "Just stop lying, it doesn't make me feel better."
Blaze frowned with determination. He pulled Nova's hands from her face.
She kept her gaze down, sniffling.
Using his forefinger and thumb, the Viral tilted Nova's head up by her chin. He spoke in the most soothing voice he could muster with his gruff voice, "Now, now. There's no reason to marr that pretty face of yours with tears."
She sniffled more, wiping at her eye with her finger. "D-do you really think I'm pretty?"
"I honestly do."
"I am sorry...I spent most of my life being ridiculed for what I do...and Nick spent most of his time complaining that I wasn't pretty enough to take anywhere. I just...it just gets to me sometimes."
"Well, you're living here, now. And I don't judge you by what you do. And I find you rather...beautiful." He blushed slightly.
Nova blushed and smiled shyly. "Thank you..."
Blaze got to his feet. "Okay, you hungry? I'm gonna make something."
"Do you want any help?"
"Nah! I'm just makin' canned soup. Isn't that hard."
Nova smiled. "It can be if you don't follow directions."
"Shhh. You know men don't read these things called 'directions'."
Nova giggled. "But you're a Digimon, not a human."
"Well ain't you Miss Observant. I'm still a male, so it was supposed to count towards the joke."
"Oh, I ruined the joke, didn't I?"
"Nah, it still made you giggle."
"Good." He disappeared into the kitchen.
Later in the evening, the pair were watching television and eating chicken noodle soup, trying to decide where Nova was going to sleep.
"I can sleep here on the couch."
"It ain't that comfortable to sleep on."
"Then I could just make a pallet on the floor."
"I don't want you on the floor. It's not exactly that clean."
"The bedding I would use would be."
"True...I just don't want you to sleep on the floor."
"Then it's the couch."
Blaze tapped the side of his helmet thoughtfully. "I guess...isn't any other place. I never cleaned out..." He sighed. "I should do that soon."
Nova tilted her head in confusion but didn't say anything.
"Oh, it's nothing. Ah...I guess I can get you a sheet. It isn't too cold out or anything."
"That would be fine," She set the empty bowl on the table and stretched her arms above her head. "Thanks for the food."
"I don't think I've been this happy for a long time."
"We didn't really do much, though."
Nova smiled. "Just having your company has made me happy."
Blaze found himself blushing. He took another mouthful of his soup instead of replying.
Nova scooted closer to him.
He eyed her warily, his mouth still full of the spoon.
"Are you certain there isn't any way I can repay you for your hospitality?"
Blaze's pale face darkened considerably and he yanked the spoon out of his mouth, nearly throwing it as he did so. "N-no!" he rasped.
"Absolutely certain? It doesn't even have to be repayment..." She placed a hand on his knee-pad.
"No!" he said forcefully.
Nova shied back, pulling her hands to her chest. "I...I'm sorry."
Blaze set his bowl and spoon down. "Forgive my outburst. But..."
The young woman lowered her gaze. "No, I deserved that. I ah...couldn't resist at least asking."
"Would you like the truth?"
"I find you rather attractive."
"I find you moreso because I come on to you, and you say no. Anyone else would jump at the prospect at getting to sleep with me."
"I just have more dignity, I guess."
"A good amount of self-control."
"That, too. It's not that I don't find you equally attractive, Nova. But I'm not the type of guy to just sleep with whoever. I hardly slept with..." He halted. "Er...I just ain't that kinda guy."
"I'll try to keep that in mind. If I get like that again, please tell me. With what I do, I don't think about it beforehand. I'm easy to excite. Even moreso with people I find attractive."
Blaze gulped audibly. "I will keep that in mind."
"Could you get me a sheet, please? I'm rather tired."
"Sure." Blaze stood up and left the room.
When he returned, Nova was curled up in the corner of the couch, seemingly asleep. He carefully covered her up before retiring to his bed.