I stretched my arms behind me before leaning over my desk to look out the window. Sunlight shone brightly into the common room of our apartment, creating ribbons that seemed to paint the air. Demetri yawned and shifted slightly where he lay in a patch of warm light. “You know, when you look like that, it makes my fingers twitch to pet your belly,” I told him.
He looked at me through barely silted eyes. “Try it and see how sharp my claws really are.”
“Well you’re certainly cranky when your only job is being snarky and bossing me around,” I grumbled to my sketches.
“My job. I also now boss Yuki around,” he said, a hint of triumph in his voice.
I rolled my eyes and picked my pencil back up. As I started to lay more detail into my main character’s clothing, Demetri jumped up to sit on my desk. “I thought your brother was the artist,” he remarked, lazily surveying my work, “but you seem equally skilled.”
“I used to do all my own sketch work, but Nate enjoyed it and wanted something to do together with me. I told him that if he wanted to help, my readers shouldn’t be able to tell our panels apart.” I added shading into a corner of a night scene.
“How far along are you?”
“Much to my editor’s joy, I am ahead of schedule. I’m used to doing this while working a full time, busy job. Having the time to really devote to it has given me a chance to get ahead on my work.” I couldn’t help but smile when I remembered the reaction of my editor as I handed in my full manuscript so early.
Suddenly I heard the sound of my tablet ringing from across the room. I started to get up, but Demetri jumped off the desk and beelined for it. “It’s for me!”
“Hey, when did I give you permission to use my stuff?” I barked after him, pushing out of the chair to see what sort of calls a talking cat received.
Demetri tapped at the screen with his paw until it glowed to life. A woman with hair so dark it almost looked blue stared back at us. Her commanding tone matched her no-nonsense expression. “Agent Demetri, status report.”
“Training is moving along nicely. I think the Guardians will be ready for a field mission by the end of the month, Commander.”
“We received intel that Jordan faced off with a Romeo class. Her injuries were minor. How is her recovery?” I reached up and touched the now faded bruise on my neck.
Before Demetri could answer, I cut in. “Uh, hi… Commander? I’m just fine. The creature was a Romeo class? I would have guessed it to be much bigger and scarier than that.” I laughed uncomfortably.
The Commander eyed me before clearing her throat. “Yes, well, any creature can seem bigger or more dangerous when it is in the process of preparing to eat you.”
“Thank you for allowing Yuki to come and train with me. He was a huge help that night. I’m not sure what I would have done without him,” I continued.
The commander and Demetri exchanged looks before she addressed me again. “Train hard, Jordan. Missions are only going to get harder.”
“Yes ma’am,” I answered with a nod.
She and Demetri continued to talk about a number of things I didn’t entirely understand, so I gave up listening and returned to my work. At the end of their conversation, Demetri made his way back over to me and jumped into my lap. He glared up at me with angry eyes. “And who gave you permission to take over my call with the Commander?”
“Who gave you permission to use my stuff?”
Demetri grumbled under his breath. “Next time wait for me to give the okay.”
“Fine,” I said with a sigh, pushing him off my lap. The sounds of beeping on the front door caught my attention just before it swung open and Yuki stepped in. “Hey stranger, how was work?” I asked.
He kicked off his shoes as he stepped into the apartment. “It went. The boss tried very hard to convince me to go out drinking tonight.”
“How did you get out of it?” I asked, turning back to my desk.
Yuki waltzed over to me and leaned on the desk, swinging my chair so I would face him. “That’s easy. I insisted the little lady waiting at home for me would be opposed since I had ignored her all week long.”
I processed what he was saying and without a single warning, gave him a hard shove. He slid sideways off the desk and landed on the floor with a loud thud. “You idiot! They’ll all think we’re together now.”
He shrugged and shifted on the floor to rub his hip. “So?”
“So?!?” I took a deep breath and pinched the bridge of my nose. “That’s how rumors spread! Besides, Casanova, if everyone thinks we are together, then how are you going to fill your quota of girls to flirt with?”
Yuki gave me a horrified look. “Just how much of a womanizer do you think I am?”
“Your mother is constantly showing my mother pictures of you with a new girlfriend.”
Yuki laughed. “Are you jealous?”
“No, but it is going to cause trouble for me if jaded lovers, jealous girls, and lecherous old women start showing up to save you from me, or steal you away… or whatever they do.”
“Jordan, you watch entirely too many dramas. If the girls at the office think I am in a relationship and live with a girl, they will leave me alone. Most of those photos on social media are things I have been tagged in. Girls think I am hot and are all over me all the time.” His tone was a little too casual.
“You don’t seem broken up about it,” I pointed out.
“I mean, I love hearing that girls find me hot and want to do stuff with me, but a lot of times it gets out of hand and makes it hard to get anything done.”
“Aww, poor Yuki. He’s so hot that girls throw themselves at him all the time,” I teased.
Yuki’s face turned serious. “If I was a girl was telling you about this, you would be supportive and comforting and rant with her about men. When it happens to a guy, you write it off as something we enjoy. You don’t think I have never been touched in a way that makes me uncomfortable? Sure, I can fight a girl off a lot easier than a girl can fight off a guy, but if I do, then what? I get accused of hurting her because I said no?”
His words were sobering and I was quiet for a long moment.
I sorted through my assumptions and misconceptions. “I’m sorry I made light of your pain. You’re right, it isn’t okay either way. I think girls are just so used to hearing the catcalls and the harassment they assume guys must be doing it because they would like it done to them.”
“Don’t get me wrong. I like hearing that I am hot, funny, etc. I’m not saying I always turn it down when a girl makes advances on me. I like an assertive woman. I just think it’s shitty that because I happen to have what I do in my pants, it’s assumed I am always looking for action.”
I held out my hand to help him up. “I guess I can be your cover story, but if I can’t keep track of all the girls and have to find other places to sleep because a sock is constantly on the door handle, I swear you will get your ‘player’ title back. Got it?”
“You can use me as your cover.”
“I don’t need a cover.”
“If you say so. Hey, so dinner tonight? What’s the plan? Conveyor belt sushi, ramen, noodles, the late night place across the street, or maybe a convenience store snack feast?”
I shook my head. “Actually, I made chicken noodle soup. It’s in the fridge. Help yourself.” I looked back to my desk and pondered if I wanted to do more work.
Yuki looped his arm around my waist and started walking me towards the door. “I am flattered you cooked for me, but we need to go out. It’s our first weekend alone together in Tokyo.”
“We went out last Sunday,” I said, digging my heels in.
“Pleeeeeeease?” He begged, flashing me his puppy eyes.
I sighed heavily. “Fine, but you’re paying.”
Demetri came bounding across the floor as we were about to leave. “Wait!” We both turned to look back at the bossy feline. “There has been an increase in activity from more powerful creatures. Be prepared and take your pens.”
I darted into my room and grabbed my pen off my nightstand and pushed it into my bun. “I’m ready,” I told Yuki, and we slipped out of the apartment.
Sitting beside each other at a conveyor sushi place, we didn’t talk much. It was only after I took my seventh plate that Yuki cracked the silence. “Dear lord Jordan, how much fish and rice can you actually eat?”
“Well, since you’re paying, I plan to find out.”
“No wonder you can’t keep a boyfriend. They can’t afford to keep feeding you.”
I turned just enough to glare at him. “Maybe I don’t want a boyfriend,” I started to argue, when I saw a shadowy figure sitting in a booth not far away. All I could see was his build because he had the hood of his jacket pulled up, but it felt like he was watching us. I lowered my voice to a whisper. “Yuki, that guy over there gives me a weird vibe. I think he’s watching us.”
“He’s probably just in shock at how much you can eat,” he continued to joke.
“No, seriously. When I see him it makes all the hair on my arms stand up.” I lowered my eyes and went back to eating.
Yuki tried to casually glance in the direction I had indicated. “Okay, so what do you want to do?” he asked.
I took another plate of sushi and began eating it. “I want to see if he leaves soon since he is alone. Maybe it’s nothing?”
“You gotta trust your instincts,” he told me, before tapping the screen in front of us to begin closing out our ticket. After he finished paying he stood to wait for me, then protectively draped an arm around my shoulders as we left.
“What are you doing?” I asked him once we were about a block away.
“Well, if he is a creep I thought I would send the signal not to mess with you.”
I glanced up at him. “That wasn’t the feeling I got.”
“Oh.” He lowered his arm so his hand just rested at the small of my back. He was very quiet. I started to ask him why he was being clingy, but instead, he pulled me closer. “I think we are being followed,” he whispered before he nudged me along at a quicker pace.
When I noticed a park nearby, I pointed and we headed for it. As we stepped into the light from an overhead streetlamp, we turned to face the sound of approaching footsteps. Muscles tensed, ready to pounce, we met the beast head-on.
Instead of a monster, we faced two little boys. One was holding a ball while the other used the back of his sleeve to wipe his runny nose. I let out a breath of relief. With kind eyes, Yuki looked at the boys and spoke to them in Japanese. “You boys should hurry home. It’s dark out. Your mothers must be worried.”
The boys exchanged looks before looking back at us. The one with the snotty sleeve answered. “Our mothers never worry about us. In fact, right now they are out looking for dinner.”
I smiled at them both and did my best to convey my words in Japanese. “Wow, that must be hard. Are you boys hungry?” I asked, kneeling down to face them at eye level. As if to answer my question the boy with the ball clutched at his stomach and nodded.
I stood up to ask Yuki if we could take them for a snack, but as I met his eyes his face contorted in horror. “Jordan, watch out!” he gasped, reaching for me.
A strong hand suddenly gripped my shoulder and another two hands gripped my ankles, yanking me to the ground. I sucked in air at the sting of the concrete that hit my knees. I let out a scream and turned my attention to the boys behind me, who suddenly were equal in size to Yuki at least, if not larger. Their eyes were glowing red, and a hideous black shadow seemed to ooze off of them both. Their mouths were filled with jagged teeth and each hand was tipped with a razor sharp claw.
I gave up on screaming and focused on trying to kick and claw my way free. There was a flash of light and I looked up just in time to see Yuki charge towards them with a spear in hand. He plunged it into the back of the creature holding my feet and it let out a terrifying shriek. As Yuki pulled his spear free, the other creature let go of my shoulder and took a swipe at Yuki, catching him across the stomach.
I wasted no time in rolling over and grabbing for the pen in my hair. As I held it in front of me it became a sword. I barely had time to catch my breath before a now-bleeding monster launched itself at me. I jumped to the right and took a clumsy swing. With sheer luck I made contact. There was a spray of black, tar-like blood across the concrete. The monster staggered and reached for its arm. Both he and I looked at where it lay severed on the ground. He let out a blood-curdling scream and looked at me with vengeance in his eyes. In a deep, rumbling voice he snarled, “I’m going to torture you before I eat you.” With that, he reached down and picked up his arm and raised it high above his head as if to pummel me with it.
Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of Yuki holding his stomach while trying to fend off his own beast. “Hang in there, Yuki!” I yelled at him as I charged my approaching monster. I must have caught the beast off guard because he stumbled back a few steps and I forced my sword through his chest before twisting my wrist and pulling it through his side. The beast sank to his knees.
With my sword freed and my monster mostly subdued, I turned my attention to helping Yuki. I looked at the sword in my hands and focused on it. With the glow of a white light it faded away, leaving two lethal-looking daggers in my hands. I stepped in, ducking low as the beast swung his arms wide, trying to avoid Yuki’s spear. With its side exposed to me I drove the first of my daggers in deep, up to the hilt.
When the monster cried out, Yuki thrust his spear into its throat before stepping back. The monster gave one last gurgling cry before collapsing. I rushed to Yuki, leaning into him to help bear his weight as he sank to the ground. The entire front of his shirt was covered in blood and he had even more cuts and gashes covering his body. “Yuki?” I asked, cupping his cheek.
He smiled at me. “You okay?” he asked weakly.
“Yeah…” Behind me I heard a growl. I turned just in time to see the one-armed monster push to his feet and lunge at us, his teeth bared. A shadow moved quickly and there was a flash of steel. Just as the monster would have reached me, his head rolled to a stop beside my knee.
I looked up, trying to process what had just happened. Yuki stood before me holding a sword. His hood flapped behind him. My brows drew down as I looked from the Yuki in my lap to the Yuki standing before me. “Yuki?” I asked the one holding the sword.
“Not quite.” The Yuki in my lap grinned as he turned his head to look at our newest surprise. “Took you long enough… Itsuo,” Yuki grumbled.
“I was told not to intervene,” Itsuo said flatly, turning his back to leave.
I pulled myself free of Yuki and stood up to rush after him. “Wait!” I grabbed his sleeve to stop him. “Where have you been? I thought you were dead. Why…?”
Itsuo sighed and reached for my hand, pulling it free from his sleeve. “To you and my family I am dead. Itsuo died that night in the car accident.”
“I’m confused,” I admitted, looking back and forth between Itsuo and Yuki. “What do you mean, you were told not to intervene?”
“Guardian Command told me the two of you were in training. I’m not supposed to lend support until you take the oath and become full Guardians. Even so, I think they will forgive my overstep since you mostly took down two Evio class monsters.” He started to walk away again, before stopping and pulling something out of his pocket and holding it out to me. “Here, use this to close up yours and Yuki’s wounds.”
I looked back at Yuki, who was gasping for air. Cursing myself for leaving his side, I rushed back over to him. When I looked back, Itsuo was gone.
I hugged my father tightly. “Thank you, Daddy,” I whispered in his ear, trying not to let tears seep into my voice.
As I stepped away, Yuki took my father’s hand and ended up hugging him instead. My father flashed me a confused look that I responded to with a silent shrug. “Don’t worry, Mr. Nakamura, I promise to watch over Jordan.”
Dad smiled politely and thanked Yuki. He motioned for me to follow him to the entrance to security. He pressed a credit card and five thousand yen into my hand. “What’s this for?” I asked, already suspecting the answer.
“That’s the card that still has your name on it attached to your mother’s and my account. Use it in the event of an emergency.” He looked over his shoulder at Yuki. “The cash is for another lock on your bedroom door.”
I rolled my eyes. “Dad, didn’t you offer to marry me off to Yuki not that long ago?”
“Yes, but I was just calling your bluff,” he insisted.
“I’ll be fine. You should be more worried about him,” I explained.
“If you kill him, don’t use your kitchen knives or the good cookware. It was expensive.”
“Thanks, Dad,” I said, one last time before one more hug. Then I stepped back to stand with Yuki. We watched until my Dad had made it through the checkpoint and gave one last wave before heading to his gate.
The last couple of weeks had flown by. We had moved into our new place. Dad had had a security system installed in our new apartment. We bought furniture and Yuki bought a car. Demetri, to his credit, made it the entire time without revealing his ability to speak. All in all, I felt pretty good about things.
Yuki and I walked in silence back to the car. I slid into the passenger seat, trying to ignore what now felt like an awkward distance between us. As we pulled out of the parking structure Yuki finally broke the tension. “You know your Dad really did ask if I would be interested in marrying you?”
I cringed. “Sorry, he’s just worried about me.”
Yuki laughed. “You’re not even remotely interested in what I said to him?”
“I think it’s better for me not to know. Now that we live together it could cause friction.”
“I’m running through all the answers you could have given and none of them would help our situation. If you said yes, then I would feel pressure over your unrequited love. If you said no, I would somehow hold it against you, being convinced you have no taste,” I explained.
“Ah,” he responded. I was inexplicably irritated by his single-syllable answer
“Ah? That’s all the response you are going to give?”
“You didn’t want to know. Now that you have explained your reasoning, I understand and agree with you.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I pushed.
“I mean, I think you are right and no good can come of me telling you.”
“So you said no? You jerk! As if you will ever find anyone better than me,” I grumbled.
Yuki sighed heavily. “Here we go. I didn’t say that I said no,” he responded calmly.
“You said it was better I didn’t know. That normally means you are about to tick me off.”
“Maybe I just want to protect my delicate ego?” he insisted.
“Maybe you just want to protect your-”
“Hey now,” he cut me off. “There’s no need for threats!”
I started chuckling. Yuki cast me a sideways glance. “Do you enjoy arguing with me?”
“Yes,” I smiled.
“If this is your form of foreplay, I am a little worried about what the main event is.”
I gasped and turned to glare at him, only to find he had a satisfied grin on his face. I decided to drop the fight. “I’m hungry.”
“Me too,” he said, poking at the GPS on the car’s console. “Your dad is gone. Do we want instant noodles or to sample of some of Japan’s fast food?”
“Fast food, then let’s stop to pick up groceries.”
“Don’t we have a fridge full of food back at home?”
“I’m not going to spend an hour or two every day on a meal. Especially not for three meals a day,” I said with a sigh. “I will find a use for most of what is in the fridge, but I’m not going to cook the big meals like dad has been for the last couple of weeks.”
He laughed. “I understand now why you were chubby when we were growing up.” Yuki rubbed his belly. “I think I put on a little weight with all your dad’s cooking.”
“I wasn’t chubby,” I argued.
“I never said it was a bad thing. Itsuo and I both thought you were pretty cute…” he trailed off. I shot him a startled look. He was glowing bright red.
“Ugh, men!” I grunted, crossing my arms over my chest and sinking down in the seat.
“Anyway, we can grab a burger then hit up a store. Monday I start at the new office and I just know I’m going to need to buy stock in a local coffee chain,” he joked.
“Yeah, I go in for a meeting with my editor. I need to finish up my storyboards today and tomorrow.”
“If we pick up the stuff, I can handle dinner so you can focus on work,” he offered.
“Awww, look at you trying to act all domesticated,” I teased.
“Keep it up and I may even wear a frilly apron for you.”
“Just as long as that isn’t all you wear.” I laughed wickedly when he gave me an innocent look and a not-so-innocent wink.
We made it home with uneventful ease. As we opened the door to the new place, Demetri sat there waiting for us. “Hey, cranky kitty, we bought lots of tuna,” I told him.
“Good work human, but we have an issue. While you were gone someone or something tried to breach the barrier on this place. They didn’t succeed, but it would seem they know we are here.”
“Who is they?” Yuki asked as if reading my mind.
Demetri was quiet for a long moment. “I’m not entirely sure who the threat is, but they no doubt want to prevent Jordan from fulfilling her purpose.”
“And my purpose is to protect mankind?” I asked, still hazy on some of the details that had brought me across an ocean.
“And to help keep the gates between planes sealed,” he finished for me.
“Is there a training course I get to take for that? You do know that I just barely passed P.E. in high school, right?”
Yuki outright laughed. “Yeah, that was pretty funny.”
“Shut up!” I warned, but he kept going cracking jokes at my expense.
“She was so bad at dodgeball the teacher made her wear a hockey helmet to class.”
“Greeeaat…” growled the cat.
“I don’t have to take this. I could go do my work,” I insisted.
“Wait!” Yuki said with concern. “We really should talk about someone trying to breach the barrier.” He turned his attention back to the cat. “So what does all this really mean? What should we be on the lookout for? What can we do to prevent this from happening again?”
Demetri looked back and forth between the two of us. “I suppose both of you could use a little training.” He pointedly looked at me. “Some could use more training.”
“Why do I need training?” Yuki asked.
“Because you insisted on moving across an ocean to be close to me,” I pointed out.
“Will this training protect me from her sharp tongue?”
“I don’t know, Yuki. You’re talking ninja-level moves to avoid her venom,” Demetri considered.
“That’s okay, I was better at dodgeball than she was.”
The cat laughed. The little fuzzball laughed at me. “From the sounds of it, that doesn’t sound too hard. Perhaps I should be training you as the next hero.”
“Go ahead,” I snapped angrily. “When you two are done saving the world I will be working on my storyboard.” I turned with a huff and stormed away, closing my door with a little more force than I had anticipated and rattling the sparse hangings we had on the walls.