"You seem in pretty good spirits for having run into Rena."
Blaze shrugged. "It hurt a lot more than I thought it would."
"Normally you're more mopey. You get to have any fun with Nova, then?"
"No! Will you stop it with that already?"
Yuri grinned. "Just trying to do you a favor, big guy."
"To tell the truth, just having her around is a favor. There's something different about her."
"How about she's not a bitch, for starters?"
"She insisted that I have to accept hugs from her, said I had to get used to physical attention. That's just so..."
"That is pretty interesting. Oh, Blaze. I need to warn you now while I remember. Don's goons came in yesterday. They were talking about how their boss is mad that no one was able to locate Nova. Apparently Nick was punished pretty severely for losing her."
"Good. Whatever he got, he deserved it."
"Blaze, you're not listening to me. Nick was punished because he lost Nova, that means you could be in danger."
Blaze waved his hand dismissively. "We had this discussion before, Yuri. I can handle whoever he send after me. She's not in any danger being with me. I don't see what his problem would be."
"You're not one of his guys. So he wouldn't trust you."
"I don't give a damn whether he trusts me or not. She's not goin' with any of his goons. She doesn't deserve that."
"I'm not saying that you should give her back, just that you should be wary. Nova could also be in danger. If they didn't kill Nick, he'll come back for revenge."
A sudden uneasy feeling knotted Blaze's stomach. "You're right...I'll have to keep a good eye on her."
Yuri winked. "Of course you will."
"You are such a pervert, Yuri."
"It's more fun like that."
Blaze pushed himself to his feet. "I'm gonna go check on her. I just have this most awful feeling."
"Yeah, gut feelings are something to follow."
"I'll be back, hold down the fort for me."
Blaze hurried out of the bar and out into the sun-lit street. For being late morning, there wasn't as many people out as usual.
"Just not sure where..." He was cut off by the sound of a distant ear-splitting scream. "Nova!"
He took off in the direction of the scream, barreling through anyone that dared stand in his way.
He easily found the location he was looking for, a crowd of bystanders had gathered at the entrance of an alley two blocks from the bar. The frightened people scattered when they spotted the Viral charging down the street towards them.
Blaze stopped at the entrance and was horrified by the scene before him.
Nick was on top of Nova, struggling with her to keep his hands about her throat, screaming at her all the while.
The Viral's blood boiled, he hurried up to the struggling pair and gave Nick a hefty kick in the side with his metal-plated boot. "Get offa her!"
The force of the blow sent Nick rolling.
Blaze knelt down beside Nova, who was coughing and clutching at her throat. He checked her over to see if there was anymore damage to her. Seeing that she was otherwise unharmed, he got to his feet.
Nick was laying on his back nursing his side.
Blaze made his way to the fallen man. He could see that the right side of Nick's face was covered in bloody bandaging. "So you get what you deserve. Then you come back to harm her?"
"She cost me my eye and half of my face!" Nick spat then groaned. "You broke one of my ribs, you bastard."
"Good, here's another one." He stomped hard on the man's chest.
Nick coughed, blood dribbled down his cheek.
Blaze placed his foot on the man's chest. "Wonder if I punctured a lung." He grinned.
Blaze looked up at Nova, who had gotten to her feet and was standing against the alley wall. "Are you okay?"
"I-" she coughed. "I'm okay. Please, stop hurting him."
"Why? He was trying to kill you!"
"He's already been through enough."
"He hasn't gone through enough, I say." He started adding pressure to his foot.
Nick wheezed and writhed. "St-stop!"
"Why should I? Ain't so much fun when someone can fight back, now is it?"
"Blaze, please!" She tugged at his elbow.
"Dammit, Nova, just let me kill him."
"No!" She started sobbing softly. "I can't let you kill him."
Blaze removed his foot from the man's chest.
Nick took a deep breath and coughed harshly.
"Okay, Nova. I won't kill him."
She breathed a relieved sigh. "Thank you..."
"I'm just gonna leave him here, though."
"He's too injured to move, anyways. C'mon, we're going home."
He scooped her up in his arms, cutting her off. Without another word, he left the alley.
At the apartment, Blaze examined Nova's neck.
Bruising was starting to show through the red hand prints.
"He would have killed you, Nova."
"Why did you want me to let him live?"
"I couldn't bear to see you do such a horrible thing. He was already punished. He told me so. Don had his men take away part of his face and eye with an acid."
"The greatest punishment he could be given is to live and suffer."
"But he could hurt you again."
She beamed at him. "You'll protect me."
"I won't be there every time. You were lucky I was even there this time...Nova, if he had killed you..." He stopped, a lump forming in his throat. He swallowed hard.
Nova threw her arms about his neck, resting her chin on the fuzzy white collar of his jacket. "He didn't. He won't. I won't leave you."
He loosely wrapped his arms around her. "I know it seems ridiculous that I act as I am, only having known you a week or so but...I don't know what I would do without you."
"I don't think it's ridiculous. I feel the same for you. You've been the kindest to me from what I can remember of my life. I can be myself around you. And you don't even try to bed me, not that I wouldn't mind. But it makes you special."
"Don't feel very special, just feel like a screw-up."
"No one's perfect."
He gave her a gentle squeeze.
She pulled back to look him in the face.
He averted his eyes, unable to bring himself to meet her gaze.
She placed the palm of her hand on his cheek.
He blinked in surprise and looked up at her.
She smiled. "Even if you think you're a screw-up, you're still mine."
He blushed profusely. "What do you mean by that? How am I yours?"
"You're my friend, Blaze. Always."
He closed his eyes. "No matter what?"
"Of course! A friend of mine is a friend forever, no matter what they do."
Rather touched by what she said, he had to swallow another lump that had formed in his throat. He opened his eyes when he felt something press against his helmet. He was startled to see Nova's face so close to his. She had pressed her forehead against where his was located underneath the dark purple metal helmet. Her eyes were closed.
He shivered as her breath brushed against his face. "What are you doing?"
"I'm not doing anything."
"I'll move, sorry." She pulled her head back. "That thing is cold."
"It is metal."
She tapped near his third eye, causing it to blink separate from the other two. "Ooh, that is so weird."
"Your third eye-thing moved."
"Well...it is an eye."
"I thought it was kind of just part of the mask."
"Yes. I know I'm a bit stupid."
"Oh, stop it."
She smiled. "It's pretty neat."
"Ah, thanks, I guess."
"Hey, can I eat something?"
"I already told you, you live here, don't have to ask."
"Oh! Yes, I keep forgetting. Would you like anything?"
"Okay." She got to her feet and went to the kitchen.
Blaze placed his claw-tips against his mask where her face had been. "Even with this here, that felt so weird. I need a shower..."
He got up and went to the bathroom.
Once in the shower, he stood under the water, resting his hands against the wall. He was deep in thought when he heard the door handle. He allowed himself a half-grin. "Door's locked."
He heard her groan. "Oh, that isn't fair!"
"Figured you'd try somethin'."
"Should let me in to keep you company."
"Don't think so."
"Was worth a shot asking."
He heard her footsteps diminish as she left. "Figured she try to walk in on me."
After the shower, he went back to the living-room, jacket over one arm and his gloves and arm-guards in hand.
Nova stuck her tongue at him when she saw him. "Such a meanie."
"Yeah, yeah," He sat down, setting his items on the table. "You're the weird one, trying to walk in on me."
She wrapped her arms around his, pressing her face against his skin. "I thought I'd give you some company."
The warmth of her skin made him shudder. "Nova, you know I don't like any touching."
"And you said you'd let me hug you to get used to it," she retorted, rubbing her cheek against his arm. "Mmm. This feels nice."
"C'mon, you already gave me one today."
She suddenly reached a hand out and grabbed his wrist, lifting it up to better view his hand. "You were right! You do have claws."
"Yes, I was." He pulled his wrist out of her grip.
"Sorry, just never got to see you without your stuff on."
"Not something you'll get used to."
"Oh, but you should." She ran a finger over a set of his muscles.
"Okay, that's quite enough." He managed to pry her off of him.
Nova made a noise of protest, then folded her arms and pulled a pouting face.
He put his jacket back on and started putting on his gloves and arm-guards. He ruffled her hair affectionately. "Pout as much as you want."
She giggled, unable to keep her face straight.
He sat down beside her.
"Maybe one day I'll get you to accept it."
"One day in the distant future, maybe."
Both looked up at the door when they heard a knock.
"Who could that be?"
"I don't know."
Blaze went to the door, pulling the gun from his boot holster. With the weapon partially hidden behind his leg, he eased the door open.
An older man stood on the stoop. He had black hair with streaks of silver in it and a small beard to match. He wore a black business suit and sunglasses. "Is this the residence of Blaze?" He spoke in a curt tone.
Blaze eyed the man warily. "It is."
"I have been informed that a woman by the name of Nova resides here."
"What's it to you?"
"I am her father."
Blaze's eyes widened. "Seriously?"
Nova got to her feet and went to stand behind Blaze. "Dad?"
"Ah, there you are, Nova. Do you know how long I've been looking for you?"
She ducked her head. "I'm sorry. I didn't know you were looking for me."
"What are you doing with this...ah..."
"Digimon." Blaze finished.
"Hm. Creature. Why did you not stay with Nick as I asked you to do?"
"He hurt her." Blaze replied before Nova could speak.
Nova placed a hand on her cheek where the bruise was still evident, though it was now just a shade darker than her normal skin color.
"That doesn't really look like any damage...though I do see a bruise upon her neck."
"He did hurt her before, and then again just earlier. He tried to strangle her to death."
Don smoothed his small beard. "I figured I shouldn't have let him live. Next time I find him, he will not be so fortunate. Now, daughter, it's time to leave."
Nova gasped and clasped Blaze's arm. "No!"
Blaze growled. "She's not leaving."
Don tipped his sunglasses down past his nose so his dark brown eyes were visible. "Is that so? Do you wish yourself a slow death?"
Blaze's eyes hardened. "She isn't going anywhere."
"And why should she stay here, with you?"
"She will not come to any harm."
"And how can I believe that you, a stranger to me, will take better care of my daughter than any of my own men?"
"I don't harm women and don't rape them, either."
"Is that so?"
"It is, Dad," Nova said, slipping her arms around the Viral's arm. "I'm happy here."
Don replaced his sunglasses and stroked his beard again thoughtfully.
"Please, Dad. It won't stop me from doing my job."
"About that." Blaze said suddenly.
Don stopped stroking his beard. "Hm?"
"How much does she owe you every week?"
"Around a thousand dollars."
Blaze re-holstered his gun and pulled out his wallet from under his arm-guard. He thumbed through it for a moment before extracting ten one-hundred dollar bills. "Here."
Don removed his sunglasses, looking Blaze square in the eyes. "What exactly do you think you are doing?"
"Paying off what she owes you. And I'll pay it every week. As long as she lives here, I don't want her to be forced to sell her body for no reason. She isn't living with you and you are not caring for her, I am."
"That is quite noble of you. No one has ever offered their money in place of one of my girls'. The money they owe me is for the care I've given them once they came into my fold. She still owes me such, and on her mother."
Blaze growled. "Stop your bullshit. You just want your daughter out on the streets, being banged by any man that wants his way with her. You don't even care if she's injured or even if she ends up killed, as long as you get your money."
A muscle in Don's cheek twitched. "Hold your tongue-"
"No. What I say is true, and you know it."
"No! Don't you even dare say you'll stick up for this monster. He's the reason you had to stay with that bastard who hit you every day, raped you every night; have to let people fuck you, for no other reason than he wants money. I'll not stand for it. I'll kill him before he takes you anywhere, or die myself."
Don suddenly chuckled. "So you do care for my daughter."
Blaze looked at him in surprise. "Yes, I do."
"I think you've given me all the reason I require to allow her to stay with you. If you will be so willing to sacrifice your money or even your life to protect her, then I believe she will be safe here."
"And what about her...job?"
"As long as I am paid, I do not care how. Frankly, I do not care to know she's out walking the streets, but as she was unable to find another way to acquire the money, that was all she could do."
Blaze handed Don the money he had been holding. "Then take it. And expect it from me every week."
"I will have someone come and retrieve it on Fridays."
Blaze nodded. "Fine with me. I'll leave it in the mailbox." He pointed to the small metal structure on the wall near the door.
"I will be on my way, then. It was nice seeing you again, my dear daughter. Even better to know you are somewhere you will be happy. Know that I will keep tabs on you, though. Just in case this creature goes against his word."
Nova seemed completely stunned, she didn't speak, merely nodding.
Blaze closed the door. "Phew..."
He looked down at her to see she was still staring at the door. He led her over to the couch and gently pushed her until she sat down before sitting beside her.
When she still did not move, he snapped his fingers in front of her face. "Nova, hey Nova."
She did not blink but merely stared.
He was taken aback when he saw tears sliding down her cheeks. "Nova?"
"Why...?" she whispered after a few moments.
"Why did you do that?"
"Because you shouldn't be out there."
The young woman suddenly threw herself on him, clutching the sides of his jacket, her entire body shaking.
Surprised, the Viral could only stare at the top of her head. "Wh-what?"
She looked up at him, her face wet with her tears. "You...I..." She stopped, overtaken by her sobs.
Blaze stroked her hair soothingly. "What is it?"
"What am I going to do?"
"Blaze," Nova started again quietly. "I can't go a day with out it."
"Well...if there's friends or somethin' of yours you want to go with, that's a different story."
"I guess I could sleep more with Yuri."
Blaze rolled his eyes. "Ohh, he'd love that."
"I don't really want him, though."
"Yeah, he's a creep."
Nova leaned up closer. "I would rather just have you."
Blaze's face darkened. "Uh...sorry I-" He was cut off by her pressing her lips to his.
Startled, he placed his hands on her shoulders. Torn between letting her continue and the tightness in his chest, he paused for a moment before pushing her back.
Nova blushed lightly. "Sorry."
"Why did you...?"
She smiled shyly. "I don't normally kiss anyone."
"I kinda feel it should be saved for someone you actually care about. Anyone can just have sex and it be not a big deal. But kisses are different, to me, at least."
Blaze rubbed the back of his neck. "I don't have much to say to that."
"I know you don't like physical affection, but I couldn't help myself. Please forgive me."
"Just try not to do it again."
"I'll try. Blaze..."
"Thank you. For dealing with him like that. I didn't...didn't even expect him to let you keep me here. Even less that you would..."
"Nova. I would do anything to keep you from having to go out there and have to let people screw you."
"I just...just am so used to it, I guess. To know I don't have to...I don't even know what to do with myself."
"Find some hobbies or something. Go visit with Yuri. Uh...sleep in for once."
"That would be nice," A worried look creased her face. "Blaze, can you really pay that much every week?"
Blaze gave her a half-smile. "I believe I can. Just have to make sure to let my boss know that I'll take more jobs on than I am now. I was only taking a couple at a time due to being a bit depressed."
"But won't you be gone more?"
He shrugged. "I don't really think so."
She sighed with relief. "Okay, good."
"Yeah, don't you worry about not seeing me. I'll make sure I have time to spend with you."
She clapped her hands together. "Good!"
Blaze picked up the remote and flipped on the television. "Since all the excitement is done with, time to see what's on."
Later that night, Blaze was laying in bed staring at the ceiling. The events of the day were playing in his mind: Nick's attempt to kill Nova, the encounter with Nova's father, and her reactions to his decision.
"I can't even believe..." he murmured.
He tensed up when he heard the soft click of the door opening. "Must be her."
"Oh, sorry if I woke you."
"No. What do you want?"
"I...had a nightmare."
"So you came in here?"
When she spoke, her voice was tinged with sadness. "I...can leave if you don't want me in here." She started backing out.
Blaze sighed. "You can come in if you want."
He watched as she hurried to the bed and climbed onto it, moving over to make room for her.
She curled up next to him. "Thank you."
"No problem. Just don't-" He was cut off as he felt her arm touch his bare one.
"Are you not wearing your jacket?"
"No, I don't sleep with it on."
She giggled and nestled against his arm.
Once he had forced himself to become adjusted to her, he realized that he could not feel any fabric off-hand. "Er...what are you wearing, exactly?"
"Do you want the truth?" Nova asked in a teasing tone.
"Uh...Only if you tell me you're actually wearing more than just your underwear."
"I am. I made sure to put some shorts on before coming in. But I'm wearing that new nightshirt I bought, the one you said I couldn't."
"I figured...at least you have some shorts on."
"Hey wait. You're not wearing your shirt, are you?"
Blaze tensed up. "Wh-why would you figure that?"
"I can feel the skin of your side."
"Well uh...just keep your hands to yourself."
"I can't keep any promises."
"Just go to sleep."
Nova whimpered. "But I don't want to have that dream again."
"If you think about something else, you shouldn't."
His heart jumped to his throat when he felt Nova's hand slide across his stomach. "I said to keep your hands to yourself."
"Can't help myself." she said, moving her palm in a small circle.
A tremor ran up his spine. "Well, would you kindly..."
"What if I don't?"
"I'll make you leave."
She made a small noise and removed her hand. "Can I still cuddle your arm?"
"If you'll not bother anything else, I guess so."
She nuzzled his shoulder. "Thank you."
"Now go to sleep."
"I will try."
A short while later, he heard her gentle breathing, indicating she had gone to sleep. Having her clinging to his arm made it even harder for him to sleep.