Scene III: Determination
Chiba, Japan. 2014, April
The following day was no different than the last. Katsubo lugged yet another mop of dirtied water and hurried his chores in the bathhouse, though no-one had actually been in there this time.
Over the months, his weak arms had begun to fill out and curve since he had worked for Hokori. The first few nights were the most restless with having to spend his slumber huddled upon a heap of blankets, sharing the spare room with several other members of the circus as the building was being redecorated. Everyone had snored, spoken in their sleep and made the most horrendous smells during the night. So improper.
Katsubo was slacking in appearance now, convinced the effects of Hokori’s Coven was influencing him. His hair was the biggest mess, curly and long enough to hit the nape of his neck and cheeks. Once upon a time he had worn only the cleanest suits and swept his well-trimmed hair back with wax. Now he wore a black jumper and faded jeans with messy hair and a blotchy face. Messy, messy, messy!
Sore shoulders eased after he set the bucket of water down beside the kitchen counter. It had taken two hours – perhaps more – just to get the kitchen tidied and spotless. Everything from cutlery in clean drawers and ingredients lined alphabetically, to grime scrapped off the grill and utensils bleached. No corner was left untouched and just as he had set the bucket and mop aside, the door opened behind him.
Katsubo had become accustomed to the members of Hokori’s Coven by now, which meant he knew who to confront and who to avoid. The young man who walked in now was to be avoided. Everyone called him Nara and he was a huge douche.
He left dirt-clotted footsteps across the floor as he moved, tracking it all around the room as he went for the fridge. He opened the door with a filthy hand and snatched a piece of cake from the shelf, leaving more on the floor than in his mouth. He made sure to muddy new spots as he turned to leave and close the door without a word to spare.
Katsubo stared at the door in disbelief. He was close to stalking Nara out into the hallway and tipping the bucket over his head for revenge. But even he knew that would be asking for more trouble and would definitely leave an even bigger mess to clean up.
Clearing Nara’s mess meant no time for breaks and Katsubo changed the bucket’s water and carried the heavy load in one hand while managing the mop with the other. The journey back to the main entrance seemed to take forever thanks to his stiff muscles and aching knees from the countless times he had knelt down to reach every bit of fluff and grit from beneath the kitchen counters and fridge.
Stepping into the hallway, he found two of his fellow circus members sitting in the corner, exchanging cards, and flicking coins between them. The plainer looking lad with blue eyes and soft, brown hair was Muchina, the newest member of the Coven. He and Katsubo had joined within a week of each other and had probably bonded the most since working for Hokori.
He played cards with a more daring member of the circus. She was known as Hari and had a reputation of gambling and greed. Her green hair was shaved to the point only a thick tuft ran down the centre of her head. Her lip, ears and eyebrows were pierced with silver and both arms were covered in sleeved tattoos, mostly snakes, and coils. Katsubo had never been comfortable in her presence and had often wondered whether she ate – she was a stick! She never even wore a bra because there was nothing to support!
“Hey, you were a long time in the kitchen,” Muchina was the first to raise his head as Katsubo walked over. “Was it really that dirty?”
“No,” Katsubo lied. Sort of. He paused to drop his bucket and mop, just so he could rub the stiff muscles from his neck. “I finished up and then Nara walked mud everywhere, so I had to go over it again.”
“Wow,” Hari muttered around a toothpick in her mouth. She had an odd accent, similar to a Brooklyn-Italian style. Her eyes never left her cards as she smirked. “What an assho-”
“Anyway!” Katsubo chirped. “Do either of you have the time? The kitchen clock has been broken for a while, so I’ve sent it for repairs. I'm also looking for Kin.”
Hari raised a brow at the mention of sending the clock off for something simple as repairs, but she stayed silent. Instead, her attention remained on Muchina as she flashed her cards and finally turned her head up, grinning around the toothpick in her mouth enough to show off a gold tooth.
“Damn.” Muchina sighed, showing his own cards. The losing hand.
“Hand me the coins, rookie.” Hari flexed a bony hand, practically skeletal. “I ain’t got all day.”
Muchina was a kind soul. Katsubo had noticed this since day one. He had an innocence which shone through his fellow circus members and he always kept clear of trouble. There was no surprise when he thanked Hari for a good game and hand over his coins before standing. He even helped to pack away the cards before Hari slunk off with a cackle.
“I don’t have a clock, but there’s that giant one hanging upon the stage in the Ring. I'm pretty sure Kin's there, too. Come on, I could use the walk.” Muchina smiled. He reached out and gently took the heavy bucket of water from Katsubo’s feet. “Let me take that for you.”
Hokori had been strict on rules and had never allowed anyone to go straight through the reception to the stage. That was for the guests. Everyone else had to take the long way around and use the back doors and corridors before they could come out of the doorway beside the stage. Muchina was struggling by the time they came to the final door; his arms were shaking against the bucket’s handle and Katsubo was kind enough to trade him the mop.
They stepped out towards the Ring ahead where a hooded figure sat on the edge of the stage. An odd character who said very little, Chishiki. Behind him was a blonde, petite girl dancing in the centre of stage; Katsubo thought she was a tad ditzy and reminded him of Hikari at times. But she had no homicidal intentions, and her name was Kobi.
Muchina paused to look up at Kobi. He sighed audibly, dazzled by the way she moved. Katsubo had to pause too, only to look over Muchina’s face and smirk at his reaction. It was no secret he had a huge crush on her. Katsubo supposed she was attractive, what with her sandy blonde hair tied back into twin braids and a doll face with rosy cheeks and perked lips. Katsubo would even go so far as to say he would have had a small crush on her as well, if not for her inappropriate attire. Her skirt was far too short, flashing her frilly knickers whenever she kicked up a leg and span. It was enough to make Katsubo look away and turn to the hooded figure sitting on the edge of the stage.
Chishiki raised his head. Dim eyes peered from the darkness of his hood and he nodded. Katsubo swallowed the tension in his throat, finally setting his bucket down as he came to the bottom of the stage and looked up. Chishiki was Hari’s partner. Together they were a Match and the thought made Katsubo uneasy. Why? He could not put his finger on it.
“Good evening, Chishiki,” Katsubo pursed his lips together. “Where’s Kin? I need my next chore.”
Chishiki’s eyes flittered upward, following the mast beside him and all the way to the top where the tightrope would usually be tied during a show. Katsubo swallowed thickly glancing up to see the familiar outlines of Kin standing at the top of the mast. His back was to the rest of the group down below and he was stretched out, typing ropes to hold the curtains close together around the set.
“How do I get to him?” Katsubo asked slowly, his eyes never leaving Kin’s back.
Chishiki sighed and lowered his head back to the ground. “You can wait for him to come down, or just climb. It’s really not that hard to figure out.”
A small sound escaped Katsubo’s lips at the thought of climbing. He had never considered himself to be afraid of heights but he had never forced himself to climb as high as this before either. By now, Muchina’s gaze was on him and he could feel the smug aura coming from Chishiki. They were waiting for him to move, to make his choice.
Hands balled to fists at his sides and Katsubo swallowed the gradually forming fear rising from his core. He took a step forward, climbing the staircase to the open stage and found the rope ladder that latched onto the top of the mast. His hands were sweating already as he grasped ahold of the first hoist and pulled himself up. A shaky sigh left his mouth before he moved his feet and began to climb the creaking, unsteady ladder.
Muchina was soon cheering him on and Kobi even paused her dancing to watch him climb. With the cheers and awes coming from below, Kin finally turned from his task and looked down to see Katsubo weakly making his way up. A short laugh carried from Kin’s lips in approval and he crossed his arms, watching as Katsubo managed the final hoists before he crawled onto the mast’s smooth surface and lay there as he panted for air.
“I was ’bout to come down, ya know?” Kin commented lightly, kneeling to run his long fingers through Katsubo’s scruffy hair and pat his shoulder with praise. “What did’ya need?”
Katsubo raised his head to peer at Kin’s face. His arms were shaking from carrying buckets all day, not to mention his latest climb of glory! With a groan of exhaustion, he set his head back down and replied quietly; “What should I do next?”
“That all, eh?” Kin snickered, standing up. He extended a hand for Katsubo to take and was quick to hoist him onto his feet once he accepted the offer. “Dinner’ll need cooking soon.”
Katsubo rolled his eyes at that. The thought of making a mess in the same room he had spent hours cleaning made him determined to leave the stove pristine and all the dishes washed before he even laid the table!
“Come ’ere,” Kin laced an arm around Katsubo’s narrow waist and pulled him close. He reached out with his other arm to grab a hanging rope nearby and he tugged on it, checking its resistance. He asked Katsubo to hold on, offering the simple warning before he hopped off of the edge, taking Katsubo with him.
Katsubo was close to screaming outright but was able to bit back the boiling urge to release his alarm. He had no choice but to cling desperately to Kin’s sleek body and wrap both arms and legs around his tanned shoulders and waist. While Kin certainly weighed less than Katsubo, he was still taller and had way more muscle than Katsubo could ever hope to gain. The ground came closer in a flash and Katsubo hid his eyes in Kin’s neck, afraid of what would happen should he continue to look. A sharp snap echoed in the base of Kin’s left leg as he landed.
“You should be careful with that leg of yours, Kin.”
All eyes drifted to where Hokori stood in the dim light behind the curtains. No-one seemed alarmed, especially Kin as he released the rope he had slid down with and stood straight, arm still holding Katsubo to his chest. “Aye, boss.”
Katsubo felt his cheeks turn red and he clumsily hopped out of Kin’s grasp. Dizziness filled his head and he tripped, landing flat on his face from the day’s fatigue. He was sure that stunt of Kin’s had given him vertigo! Everyone else seemed ready to burst into laughter, but Hokori’s careful eyes were watching and no-one made any snarky comment.
Kin caught everyone’s attention with a loud clap. “Aight, everyone! Get on down and wash yerselves up. Dinner’ll be ready soon and I ain’t havin’ anymore food fights, got that?!”
As the orders were given, Katsubo peeled himself off the floor and made his way back to his mop and bucket. He slipped away to tip the dirtied water down the drains in the bathhouse before he could walk in on anyone again and then made his way through the kitchen to begin preparing food.
Had he stuck around on stage, he would have heard Hokori announce the news that Muzai Aibori, their new musician, would be visiting within three days.