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"Love" in the Key of C Major
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Saturday, August 5th, 1:37pm
"Karin! Karin, look at this scarf!"
"Come on, Yu... No more clothes."
If there was anything more dangerous in the world than walking through the Kaimono District of Karakura with her twin sister, Karin Kurosaki didn't know of it. The Kaimono was old. Old cobblestone streets. Wide sidewalks. Vendors everywhere. Shops with their doors propped open, trying to lure you in to see what treasures they had for sale. Artists lined up along the sidewalk, offering the temptation of an open seat to take and pay for your own personal, hand painted or hand drawn portrait. Strange people covered in paint trying to pass themselves off as statues so you would smile and throw them a nickel or quarter.
It was a fun place. Alive and bouncing. And oh so very dangerous for one over stimulated blond Karin was trying to drag home.
"What do you need a scarf for? It hasn't even started to get cold yet," Karin argued, handing her sister her morning cappuccino in the hopes it would keep Yuzu from grabbing anything else she didn't have the money for.
"It will soon," was her response, and she took a sip while they walked along, "And then I'll get stuck with some dumb itchy scarf that I hate because you wouldn't let me buy that totally adorable, really soft red one back there."
Karin chuckled at her sister. As motherly as Yuzu was at home, taking care of all the cooking and cleaning and such, she could be rather childish when she wanted to be. "I'll get you a scarf for Christmas, then," she amended, taking a sip of her own black coffee, in a small cup exactly the same as the one in Yuzu's hand. It was a wonder they didn't ever mix them up.
"But it won't be that one," Yuzu sighed. From her tone you could tell she had already moved on and didn't give a damn about the scarf anymore. She was just pretending to push it because her over-the-top silliness was making her black-haired boyish twin laugh.
"Oh the misery," Karin sipped her coffee again between sarcastic remarks, "How will you survive?"
Yuzu opened her mouth for a come-back, but her phone went of instead. Karin didn't recognize the ringtone - some sort of J-pop something or other - leading her to believe it was new. After looking at her phone with a frown, Yuzu rolled her eyes back to her sister, "Give me a second?"
Karin nodded and waved her off. Her own wordless way of telling the blond to take her time. It wasn't like they were late for work or anything... which they totally were. But oh well.
"Jinta, what?! ... Yes, I got your flowers. ... They were lovely Jinta, but that's not the point. ... You know what, you keep saying you don't understand, but how can you not?! ... No. ... I said, no! I don't hate her! ... Because you LIED and said you were at work! ... You know what? I am not a difficult person. I give and give and give until it hurts! ... And I don't see why you can't just respect the fact that I don't want you to see her anymore. ... Yes, I know you work with her. ... BECAUSE YOU LIED AND SAID YOU WERE AT WORK WHEN REALLY YOU WERE WITH URURU!"
Karin's eyes went down to the pavement and she shuffled a couple steps away from her sister. Sounded like Jinta was in the doghouse. An odd, though not totally unheard of, occurrence for the two of them. This could only get louder before it got...
"... a surprise present for me?"
There was something in the air that day. When Karin would look back on it later, laying in her bed late at night staring at the ceiling and wondering about the world, it was almost frightening how thankful she was to Jinta for calling Yuzu and holding them up in the middle of the district. If he had waited even another moment, Karin would have missed it completely. Just went to show how fragile life and time could be.
But she did hear it. A melody of sweet, sweet sorrow, gliding through the crowds so gently and yet shocking her so forcefully to the very depth of her soul. It was... amazing. And also, so very sad.
Music, like some other things, has always been a roadblock for writers. Because there isn't any perfect way to describe what Karin Kurosaki heard that day. It's like trying to describe a color. No matter how many times you try to explain what the color blue looks like to a blind man who has never seen it, you keep coming back to this blank. Similar to that, there's no way to explain the way the song that Karin heard, other than to base it off of something else.
The beautiful violin that carried itself over the crowds and through everyone else's noise and chatter touched Karin in a way no music had ever touched anyone ever before. It lived, in the essence that she could hear it's silent heartbeat, and feel it breathing on her skin. It whispered to her...
She followed it. Like a moth to a flame. She found a group of people all huddled around, enjoying the sound. But they didn't hear it like she did. They just didn't feel it. Carefully she wiggled her way through them so she could find it. So she could see for herself first hand who could make something so sad and so beautiful.
A white haired boy with a violin.
His features were strong. Chiseled jaw. Drawn eyebrows. Tight lips. And yet... delicate hands. He held the bow and the violin so nimbly Karin was convinced a light breeze would take them from his hands.
And then she snapped herself back. Only stalkers analyzed people this much. And she needed to get going anyway...
Three boys came out of the crowd. Ghetto dumbasses with baggy pants, huge hoodies and yellow smiles. One of them shoved the white haired boy with enough force to send him flying a few feet - but he barely staggered back even a step. Another pushed his buddy to start running and knocked the boy's violin out of his hands. And though the rest of the crowd had been more focused on the two losers causing trouble, Karin noticed the third one making a run for it with the boy's violin case full of money.
Impulsively and irrationally, Karin stepped out of the crowd and blocked the thief's only escape - the only pathway through the crowd. The other two dumbasses' then crashed into their friend, trying to run.
The rest of the crowd around the boy watched with wary eyes, but it didn't seem like anyone else was going to help. So Karin was flying solo.
"Give. It. Back."
With three little words Karin lost half the crowd. And the other half stepped back - allowing the punks more room to escape. Wusses! Karin thought angrily. Some of these people were twice the size of these jackasses.
The one with the case tried to dart to the left, and his friends moved with him. But Karin was faster - she had 10+ years of competitive soccer to thank for that - and shifted to get in his way again. He exchanged worried glances with the other two. Clearly he was the runner. Not the muscle.
"What's the matter with you?" one of the thugs behind the one with the case spoke up and stepped forward, "Move chick."
The other two thugs had thought better of the situation. When you're on a snag and run you don't stand around and argue after you're caught. Or at least, you're not supposed to. The chicken shit set the case down quietly and ran off another direction. The other one hesitated only a moment before following. Proving it was possible they weren't complete dumbasses.
Now the crowd was dwindling into single digits. "Not until you give the case back, dickhead," she replied, strong and steady as ever.
Though the name-calling might not have been a good idea. The one she was talking to happened to be the short-tempered one. He stepped forward, getting so close Karin could smell the alcohol and cigarettes on his breath. "Look you little bitch," he sneered, "I'm not fuckin' playin'. I will bust you up if you don't get the hell out of my way."
"I'd like to see you try," a classic line - totally appropriate for the current situation.
The punk's hands tightened into fists and he started to move. Karin was ready to block anything he threw at her, even with her arm's folded at the moment, but she didn't get the chance. That boy... the white-haired one with the amazing musical talent... came out of no where and swung his violin through the air like a baseball bat. It exploded into a mess of wood chunks and other pieces against the side of the thug's head. And... well... he dropped like a rock.
He was bleeding from his temple. Karin, as a registered nurse, knew a head wound was a hard one to stop the bleeding. But it wasn't life-threateningly bad. Unless he had a concussion.
"ARE YOU FUCKING CRAZY MAN?" the punk shouted from the ground. He kept touching the wound and then freaking out when he saw the blood on his hand, "ARE YOU TRYING TO KILL ME?"
The white-haired boy's back was to Karin. And he stood there in front of her, narrowing a glare at the jackass on the sidewalk while he clenched what was left of the neck of the once beautiful instrument in his hand. "How dare you threaten to lay your hands on a lady," his voice was so deep... and dark. Like an older man, not a college kid.
Karin felt her face get warm. No one had ever called her a lady before.
"I can take thieves... I get four of five of you jokers a month, and you're not even worth the chase," he pointed the broken neck of his violin down at the punk, making him flinch slightly, "But I will NOT stand here and tolerate ANY man raising a hand to woman. Especially not some punk-ass drain on society."
Whatever look came across the white-haired boy's face after that, Karin didn't see. But it sure as shit scared the thug. "The next time I see you or any of your degenerate friends around here, I will bust your head on the case you just tried to steal."
The thug just kept nodding and scooting away from the white-haired boy, trying to get his feet under him. It took the "degenerate" a few tries, but within a minute he was up and running. Karin watched him run over the shoulder of Violin Boy until he disappeared. And with him, the crowd disappeared too.
Finally the boy turned. And he had the most gorgeous turquoise eyes Karin had ever seen. But they only briefly scanned her over before the boy turned to retrieve his case.
Karin blinked. Between the violin smashing, the lady and the turquoise, she was a little thrown. She swallowed, then slowly turned to watch him as he opened the case and started collecting the broken pieces of his violin. He had no intention of fixing it... He just didn't want to litter.
"Why'd you let him go?" she asked before even realizing it was her voice doing the asking, "Wouldn't it have been better to call the police or something?"
Violin Boy didn't look up from his task, so Karin watched his back intently. "And get charged for assault?" he mentioned, "No thanks."
"But it was self-defense." Why was she arguing with him? Shut up, Karin!
"No... It was secondary defense," he reminded her, unphased and bored by her arguments.
"Right," Karin rubbed the back of her head uncomfortably. She was never really good at this sort of thing, but... "Well, thanks, by the way. I mean, you didn't have to jump in or anything. I could have, you know, taken him or whatever. But right... Thanks." Good god, she sounded like a lower-voiced valley girl. Did she even know any adjectives?!
He collected the last of the smaller pieces, throwing them in with the bigger chunks and the random coins and bills still in his case. Then he closed it and spoke as he rose to his feet, "Keep your thanks. An apology would be better, but it wouldn't change anything. You just cost me the best spot on The Square."
"I..." Karin was, confused - to say the least, "How did I do that?"
The boy turned, and Karin felt herself get drawn into that strange turquoise gaze of his again. "You honestly think anyone is going to come near me after word gets around that I cracked a violin on some jackass' head? ... Please."
He headed off, walking right past her shoulder on his way, carrying the case he had threatened to lodge in the skull of some idiot, and somehow having made Karin feel like this was all her fault.
But then, he stopped. And he looked her over one last time. "You're not hurt, are you?" for some reason the words seemed odd coming out of his mouth after having just followed a slew of irritated comments. And because of the weirdness of his words, Karin could only bring herself to shake her head slowly.
His mouth untightened passibly, like he had been worried a piece of his violin had hit her or something, and was now ever so slightly relieved that wasn't the case.
"Fine," he exhaled his final word to her with minty breath before he vanished around a corner - taking his sweet and sorrowful, if not now somewhat broken, melody with him.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Thursday, December 21st, 8:03pm
"Why that barbaric, inconsiderate bastard! I cannot BELIEVE he STOOD you UP! Of all the selfish...!"
Karin held the phone away from her ear as her sister screamed through it. "Have you been reading the dictionary again, Yu?" she asked, in reference to her use of the word 'barbaric'.
"That is beside the point!"
"We can debate what the point is later, sis," Karin told her, "Right now I need a ride home."
"I get done with class in an hour. Think you can wait?"
"Yeah, that's fine. Don't rush or anything," she reassured her twin, "I'll just go hang out in the coffee shop down the street. I think it's even an internet cafe."
"All right... I've got to get back into the lecture. Text me the address?"
Karin nodded - to herself, mostly - "Sure thing. Thanks Yuzu."
"Stay warm. I'll see you in a little while."
The black haired Kurosaki hung up her phone and sighed, blowing smoke from her hot breath into the cold night air. It had started to snow on her way down the block from the restaurant, and the temperature seemed to be dropping faster than the flakes. Just as she had gotten to the internet cafe on the corner, a man turned off the lights and came out to lock the door, apologizing as he left. Her next idea was to call her sister, who luckily answered, despite being in the middle of class. And then... she lied and said she was going to the cafe, knowing Yuzu would have immediately skipped out on the lecture to come and get her. And she didn't want her sister doing anything like that so close to midterms.
Now she stood huddled inside the dark front alcove of the door, wondering what to do. She didn't want to go back to the restaurant. She'd been there for two hours already, and by the time she left the entire staff was giving her free food and apologetic looks that she just couldn't stand anymore.
She stepped down out of the alcove, under the falling snow, and looked around the dark street. The streetlights were dim. The cars were few, and the people were fewer. This was more of a morning place. Little grocery store. Internet cafe. Restaurant. Coffee shops. Clothing store. Most everything was closed.
But there was a light still on in a shop further down. And Karin was wearing date clothes. Thin jeans, black flats, cute red and white top, matching jean jacket. It had taken Yuzu nearly an hour to 'girl-her-up', and it had apparently been for nothing. Luckily, she had drawn the line at make-up. That just wasn't going to happen.
No hat or gloves or scarf. So anything open was better than waiting out in the snow for an hour and a half.
It was a music store. All the windows, even the one on the door, had bars on the inside. The storefront window was filled with guitars and drums... and a random triangle. She shrugged and tugged open the door. It was as good a place as any to take shelter from the weather.
A bell rang above the door when she went in, but no one came. She looked around... impressed by the gleam coming off the violins... taking in the smell of fresh wood, instrument oil, and old varnish... straining her head back to count nearly forty guitars hanging from the ceiling by wires...
Suddenly, something caught her ear. Karin glanced around, noticing a pathway through the instruments that led to a brightly lit back section. She quietly made her way across the carpeting, and up three little stairs, following the sound like she was being led though a maze. She didn't know the song, but it sounded like it was being played on a piano. Beautifully, she had to admit.
She peeked out around a tower of drums, stacked on each other from largest to smallest, taller than her. The sound was right in front of her now. And the sight made her eyes widen.
It was the violin boy. But... On a pretty, if not somewhat worn by the years, redwood spinet piano, hidden all the way in the back by itself. All around him were papers, scattered across the top of the piano, the seat next to him, and some crumpled on the floor. She watched him as he played an unbelievably wonderful song, feeling the tune through his fingertips, as he was playing it with his eyes closed. His body moved with every chord - whether it was his feet changing the sound on the pedals underneath, or just the swaying along with the music that came from his dancing fingers.
The melody rose to a climax, and immediately afterwards, he opened his eyes and watched his own fingers bring the song to a slow and peaceful end.
He started shuffling through the papers on the top of the piano. Putting a few from the music rack with the stacks laying flat on the top of it. After a few moments, a beeping sound suddenly caught his attention that made Karin jump. Out of surprise. Not fear. Surprise.
With a sigh, he pressed a button on the watch around his wrist and carefully climbed out of his seat. For the briefest second, Karin thought about hiding, but before she could find a place, he turned and saw her.
"I'm sorry... I'm about... to close... up...?" he drew it out, his bright white eyebrows knitting closer and closer together in confusion, "Do I know you?"
Karin shrugged, "Sort of."
He came closer, looking her over, and it didn't seem to take him very long. "Oh right..." he frowned, "The troublemaker from The Square."
"Are you always so rude to people who try to help you?" Karin asked, annoyed that he only remembered her as a 'troublemaker'.
The white haired boy walked past her, ignoring her question. And from the looks of him, maybe boy wasn't the right term. He seemed older somehow, despite being only an inch taller than Karin. She and Yuzu had just turned 19 - Freshman college students. So what did that make him?
She followed him as he went to the door, but hung back by the glass case full of instrument parts where the register was. He stopped at the door and pulled it open slightly, looking back at her. "You have to go," he told her, "I'm closing up."
Karin bit her lip. "Couldn't you stay open... Just a bit longer?" she asked, hoping he wouldn't ask why.
"No," he answered flatly, opening the door wider and motioning with his head.
Reluctantly, Karin ventured back out into the cold. It wasn't like she could argue with him. It looked like he was the only one working here tonight. She would definitely loose. The door closed behind her - not a slam, just a close, but she still winced. It had been so warm and wonderful inside the music shop. She had almost regained the feeling in her toes.
There was another dark shop across the street with a front porch light on, and a deep enough alcove that it looked pretty dry. She glanced around, but the street was empty. Getting snow in her flats, she quickly ran across and huddled into a ball in a corner against the door, preparing to wait the long hour until her sister got out of night classes.
She watched the white haired boy as best she could around the clutter of music instruments inside the store. He flipped the sign to CLOSED. Occasionally walked past the front window, putting and instrument back where it belonged or carrying a bunch of boxes to god knows where. Eventually, he drew the large black curtains closed and turned off the lights.
Karin rested her forehand on her knees. Her fingers and ears were steadily on their way to being frostbitten. Her toes might already be so. But still, she didn't pity herself. This was far from her first time getting stood up, but that was part of living and growing, wasn't it? And yeah, she was a bit cold, but at least she wouldn't have to feel guilty for pulling Yuzu out of class. Though her sister would probably yell at her later for lying...
She reached into her pocket and flipped open her phone. A smile broke across her face. There. She had already wasted thirty-five minutes. Ten alone sitting on the doorstep. She'd be out of here in no time.
"What the hell are you doing?"
Karin's head snapped up just as she was returning her phone to her pocket. The white haired boy stood in front of her, and eyebrow arched and a frown set on his mouth. He shoved his hands into the pockets of his jeans. She couldn't help but notice he was even more underdressed than she was. Plain black T-Shirt, light jeans, black sneakers. Behind him, the lights in the store were back on behind the dark curtains, and he'd left the door open a crack.
"Waiting for a ride," she told him.
He looked around, probably noticing there were no other places open on the street - no where else for her to go. He returned his attention to the black-haired girl freezing on some random person's doorstep. "When's your ride coming?" he wanted to know.
She didn't see any reason to lie. Yuzu said she was done with class in an hour. It would take her half and hour to forty five minutes to get to Karin in the snow. Karin had already been waiting thirty five minutes. Simple math brought the answer to... "'Bout an hour."
The boy seemed irritated. He huffed, and his breath was barely noticeable in the air. Not surprising. He was probably cold in the clothes he was wearing now. Although, Karin was just as underdressed and she could easily see her breath. Curious. "All right," he turned slightly, "Come on."
Karin hesitated. She didn't even know this guy. Was she really willing to risk her safety just to get out of the weather?
A sharp wind came through the alcove - chilling her to the bone. She practically jumped off the little porch and followed him back across the street and into the warmth and wonder of the music store.
He closed and locked the door behind them. Surprisingly, when you're the second place national Judo champion, like Karin was, you didn't worry about being attacked by some strange guy with bright white hair that managed to defy gravity - even while wet from the snow outside.
"Are you cold?" he asked redundantly. Of course she was cold. Who wouldn't be?
But Karin, grateful to be out of the snow, held her tongue and simply nodded.
He walked past her. She assumed that was some sort of signal for her to follow him, so she did. He took a different path through the instrument maze than she had earlier, leading her to a back corner - and a beautifully ornate iron spiral staircase. He stopped beside it and motioned a hand for her to head up. Karin took a few steps, then looked back slightly to see him turn off three light switches on the nearby wall. The store went pitch black. Now there was just the light coming from the ceiling above her. She followed the staircase up to it.
The upstairs was a studio apartment. A mess, but none the less, a studio apartment. She made out a lot of furniture, just mostly covered in papers. The guy came up from the staircase behind her and went over to what looked like the kitchen area, with a little old-time refrigerator Karin had seen in a Coke commercial once when she was little, a few white wall cabinets over a bit of matching white floor cabinets with a blue countertop and a silver sink filled to the brim with dishes, a little white stove, and a very out of place little silver dishwasher - no bigger than a mini fridge - that looked like it had never even been plugged in.
She glanced around the rest of the room. It kind of looked like it had once been a cocktail lounge or something. There was a big section, surrounded by large front windows with diamond shaped stained glass, that was just one step higher than the rest of the room - like a stage or something. At least, that's what it looked like now, with a shinning black baby grand, propped open and ready for a concert, despite being covered in more papers than the little piano downstairs.
There was a messy king sized bed against one wall - though you can hardly call a bedspring and a matters on the floor an actual bed. A futon against the other wall, folded up like a couch, but with no place to sit with all the clothes all over it. And a little metal and glass coffee table in front of it, also covered in papers. Karin made a mental note to be careful of the coffee table. You could barely see it, and she had a bad history of busting her shins on coffee tables.
Last, but not least... a bird in another corner. She went over to get a better look. It was probably just dumb luck she had once skimmed through a bird book at the library out of boredom, and knew it was a blue-eyed cockatiel. The bird tipped it's head to the side, looking at her curiously through the bars of a cage taller than she was, and raising the feathers on the top of his head out of excitement.
"Tosh-iro..." it yelled, looking over to the white-haired boy, "Tosh-iro!" It whistled a few times, like a person might call a dog, "Tosh-iro! Tosh-iro!"
Karin smiled and looked over to the strange boy as well, who was putting a teapot on the stove. "Toshiro?" she asked, "Is that his name?"
Those turquoise eyes that had once thrown Karin so off guard were now a bit easier to take in when they looked over at her. "No... His name is Hyourinmaru..." the boy sighed, "I'm Toshiro."
She reached a hand up and rubbed the back of her head, feeling stupid for not having even asked his name by now. "I'm Karin?" she replied, unsure if she should even open her mouth.
He didn't say anything. He opened the cabinet above his head and pulled out two coffee mugs to put on the counter. What a surprise he even had any dishes left. As he continued with his tea preparations, Karin gave the bird another quick glance before heading off to look around some more.
There were posters on the walls. Some were framed - they usually had signatures somewhere on them. Guitar Wolf. Mono. Double Dealer. Kadenzza. Others were just pinned up. The Pillows. Metronome. MUCC. And quite a few stickers just stuck to the old wood walls that she was pretty sure were bars and clubs around downtown.
The piano wasn't the only instrument on the little stage. Five guitars, in different shapes and sizes and colors, hung on the wall near the baby grand. There was a clarinet, a flute, a recorder, a... what was it called? Obo? ... and what looked like a ukulele, on a window bench beneath the stained windows that Karin hadn't even been able to see before. There was a stand up bass, even bigger than the bird cage, leaning in the corner, with a few cases around it - violins, she guessed, and a case laying open on it's side to reveal a trombone. Everything else was propped on music stands of various sizes and shapes... a saxophone, a silver trumpet, a gold trumpet, a French horn, a... uh...
"What's this?" Karin asked curiously, picking up a strange stick shaped black and silver instrument. It kind of looked like someone put pieces of a flute and a clarinet together in a jumbled mess.
The boy... Toshiro... looked up, seeming bored with her interest in his instruments. "Piccolo," he answered flatly, just before the teapot started screeching. He quickly turned off the stove and returned to making tea.
Karin looked over the baby grand. She reached a hand out, running her fingers along the black and white keys without actually pressing them. When she was in first grade her teacher had let her play the harmonica for a little band number the kids did for their parents. Her dad had been so over excited and embarrassing about it, she had lost interest in music all together - terrified how he would react if she actually got good at anything. Every once in a while, she kind of regretted giving up so early.
Then again, she was a sports girl. She didn't really have a knack for music.
Her hand brushed over a pile of papers, and she picked up the top one. "Flight of the Bumblebee" Nikolai Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov was printed in bold at the top. And even though this was only the first page, Karin already felt a headache coming on from trying to read through all the notes and changes.
"Here," Toshiro made her jump slightly. Damn he was quiet. He was less than three feet from her, and offering her one of the coffee mugs, unsurprised that he had startled her.
She took the mug with a quiet, and somewhat embarrassed 'Thank you', quickly moving to change the subject. "Is this something you want to play someday?" she asked, showing him the music in her hand.
He barely glanced at it over the sip of tea he was taking. Then he sighed and lowered his cup - setting it down on the left side of the piano, on a cork coaster. He didn't even bother sitting, just leaned over and snapped right into the middle of the song. It was... unbelievable. Like he had four extra hands Karin just couldn't see. He only played a few bars, then straightened up, taking back his tea.
"That's... amazing," Karin told him.
Toshiro shrugged, taking the sheet music from her and putting it back on it's proper stack. "There's a seven year old who went on Australia's Got Talent who can do it too," he brushed off the compliment, "It's not that impressive."
If there was one thing Karin was good at, it was keeping a conversation rolling. Though this Toshiro guy was proving to be a bit of a challenge so far. "Can you play all these instruments?" she asked curiously.
"Bullshit," Karin promptly put her foot in her mouth.
He didn't seem surprised at her doubt. "I have a lot of free time," was his response. And then he took another sip of tea.
"I don't see how..." Karin looked around the room at the instruments again, "Must be a lot of work, owning a music store..."
"I don't own it," he explained, recapturing her attention, "I work at minimum wage and get free rent for the upstairs. Although, I may as well own it. I'm pretty much by myself most of the time. The owner is old, so he doesn't come around much."
A few moments passed in awkward silence. The only sound was the roaring wind outside the windows. Even the bird was dead quiet.
"Thanks, by the way," she told him finally, "For letting me come hang out in here."
Toshiro shrugged again. He seemed to do that a lot. "I was just over by the window," he told her, looking over at the diamond stained glass, "Saw you outside, across the street. It seemed kind of wrong to just leave you out there."
"Hm," Karin took a sip of tea. Once again, the two of them fell into an uneasy quiet.
"And... Thank you," he mentioned, slowly turning back to look at her again. Then, finding he couldn't really keep eye contact with her as he spoke, his gaze shifted down to his tea. "For what you did... A few months back," he explained, "No one... has ever stood up for me before. So, thanks, I guess."
Karin smiled, "You're welcome."
All of a sudden, her phone went off. Karin reached into her pocket, knowing that was her text message tone, and found it was from her sister. Bringing a screeching halt to a strange evening.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Sunday, December 31st 12:41pm
Karin didn't feel like spending New Year's alone.
Most of the time, Karin didn't mind being alone. People had their own lives to live. Their own things to do. She usually found a way to entertain herself - soccer, school, work, etc. But tonight... Tonight was supposed to be special, wasn't it? Maybe not. Another year had come and gone and she was... no different.
And somehow, thinking about this, Karin had ended up walking halfway across town.
Giggling finally made her lift her head from watching her feet on the sidewalk. It was a couple, man and woman, huddled together and waiting for the light to change so they could cross the street. The woman, the one giggling, lifted her head slightly. The man took advantage of it, and gave her a soft kiss. Karin felt her face turn red, and quickly looked away.
Huh. That was weird. She was at... his music store. She recognized the sign from that night... What was it? A week? No, more like ten days ago. She had watched him through the back window of the car, standing underneath it, until Yuzu had turned a corner. She hadn't been back here since then - too busy with the Christmas Holidays and such.
All the lights were off. Even the ones upstairs. Was he asleep already? Maybe he didn't celebrate New Years. She should be asleep. Tucked in bed at home. Not out here in the cold - though much more properly dressed than she had been the last time she was here.
Oh yeah. She never called that friend of Renji's to cuss him out for standing her up. What the hell was his name? Zabimaru something... Oh well. Too late now.
She tipped her head to the side, looking over the building. Maybe he was celebrating New Years? He seemed old enough to get into a bar. Although, he'd probably get carded. A lot. She wondered if he was alone... Or maybe... With someone special...?
"Always the troublemaker, aren't you?"
Or maybe... None of the above.
Karin knew the voice the minute it spoke, but she still wasn't expecting the way his bright turquoise eyes locked her in. He seemed to have that effect on her. Whether through his music, or otherwise. Toshiro stood only a few feet from her, pushing his bangs slightly out of his face with one hand, while the other held a plastic bag of tupperware containers.
She raised and eyebrow at him, "What do you mean?"
He shrugged, and tucked the free hand into the black dress pants he was wearing. He looked nice tonight. Black shoes, dress pants, an odd white shirt, somewhat like a vest, with black buttons and a low V neck revealing a turquoise undershirt, all under a black overcoat with a standing collar. "You seem to spend a lot of time alone," he observed, "I just figure you're looking for trouble. Like that day back in August."
Karin's expression went flat. How many times was he going to bring that up? "I can take care of myself," she snipped.
"I'm not saying you can't," he told her, seeming quite serious, "I'm saying you shouldn't have to."
For a minute, the two of them said nothing. And then Karin felt her face heating up again and looked over at a pile of snow on the curb. The blushing thing was new to her. Most guys... Nevermind. It didn't matter. He'd probably just think her face was red from the cold.
Toshiro finally broke the silence, "... Karin, was it?"
She looked back over at him, "Yeah."
"What are you doing here?" he asked. He wasn't being rude. It was almost like his tone was asking. Aren't you cold? Don't you have any family to spend tonight with? Isn't there somewhere else you'd rather be? All in one soft-spoken question.
Karin couldn't help but sigh - maybe a little bigger than what was called for. "I have no idea," she smiled at him, and then went over to sit down on the front cement stairs of the dark music store, "It's New Years Eve, and I'm alone."
Toshiro just stood before her, listening patiently on the salted sidewalk pavement.
"My brother is in a band," she explained, waving her hands a little as she did so, "And they're playing some New Years thing at a bar somewhere. My dad is working the graveyard shift at the Hospital, because no other doctors would take it. And my sister is spending the night at her new boyfriend's."
The white haired boy didn't say anything.
"I have friends," Karin had never felt the need to justify herself or her actions to anyone before, but the words just came tumbling out before she could stop them. The ranting of a lonely soul. "But they're all either out of town or spending the night with their families..." she suddenly realized something, and looked up at Toshiro with an eyebrow raised, "Wait... Why are you here?"
He shrugged again, remembering MoMo once told him he did that a lot. "I just came from my grandmother's," he told her, though there seemed to be some reluctance in his tone - like he didn't really feel comfortable telling a stranger his life story, "She's all the family I've got, and she goes to bed pretty early."
"So the tupperware is...?"
"Leftovers," he confirmed what she was guessing, "She seems to think I need to eat more. Something about my being short because I don't eat enough vegetables."
Karin nodded, listening. "What about friends...?" she pressed - just trying to keep the conversation going to fill the silence of the dark lonely street.
"I prefer to keep to myself," he told her, "I have a few, but I wouldn't really spend holidays with them."
"Hmm," Karin propped her elbows on her knees and her chin in her hands, staring down at the wet sidewalk, glowing in the crappy streetlights.
Toshiro checked his watch, and then looked around. One set of streetlights blinked yellow, another blinked red, but the street was as empty as he had ever seen it. He stepped over to Karin and set his bag on the step next to her. "Come on," he offered her a hand.
Karin eyed his hand suspiciously, but took it, noticing he wasn't wearing any gloves. She was. Red gloves, red hat, white coat, thick jeans, black boots. He pulled her off the stairs and led her directly into the street, stopping when they reached the middle of the intersection. "What are we doing?" she finally had to ask.
He looked back at his watch again. "Celebrating the New Year," he lowered his arm, but it seemed like he was waiting for something.
A few seconds passed.
Karin's head whirled in the direction of the color breaking across the sky. Fireworks. And not even a lead-up. Just... instant finale. And Toshiro must have known this was the perfect spot to seem them - they broke practically right above the two of them.
The streets that had once been so empty, filled with life. People who had been waiting in the warmth of their homes now broke out into the open, unable to contain their excitement. They danced in the streets, screaming 'Happy New Year!' to one another over the sounds of their whistles and drums, and even some people banging pots and pans with wooden and metal spoons. Children ran around with sparklers and threw mushy snowballs at one another. Karin was deaf by the end of the finale.
"You totally knew that was going to happen!" she laughed, giving him a playful nudge.
He pushed his hands into the pockets of his overcoat and shrugged again, but this time with a smirk.
All around them, couples started embracing - kissing the first kiss of the New Year. The two of them stood there, in the center of it all, looking around, until they looked at each other out of the corner of their eyes. Karin could have sworn she wasn't the only one with pink on her face now.
"Well..." she reached a hand to tug on her hat nervously - then turned her head to look up at him, "It is tradition..."
He hesitated. But luckily, just when Karin was feeling like she had made a complete fool of herself, he reached a hand towards her and used it to tip her mouth up to his. And he had a good mouth. Gentle, and tasting like mint. His lips were a little cold, but so were hers. And Karin was pretty sure she got a little tongue just before he pulled away.
Toshiro looked at her like he had a very bad idea behind those bright turquoise eyes of his. She waited, hoping it was the same idea she was having.
"Do you... want to come upstairs...?"
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Monday, January 1st, 6:11 am
Luckily, being alone on New Years also meant being alone the next morning when Karin was creeping into the house at six am. Her father, as she could hear from his monster snoring down the hall, was crashed out from working last night, 5pm to 4am. Her brother was no doubt sleeping at his girlfriend, Rukia's, probably drowning in his own drunken vomit. And her sister-
-was making coffee?
"Karin?" Yuzu was just as stunned to see her twin and Karin was to see her, "Are you...?" She glanced down the hallway, "I thought you were in your room all this time..." She raised and eyebrow at her black haired sister, "Are you just getting home?!"
"Shh!" Karin held up her hands like a burglar caught in a spotlight, "You'll wake up dad!"
Yuzu lowered her voice, "Where have you been?"
Karin shrugged out of her winter coat and hung it up on a hanger in the sliding hall closet. "Nevermind," she told her, "Why aren't you at Jinta's?"
"He had to leave early this morning," she explained, "He's spending the rest of New Year's break at a cabin with Urahara and some of the others who work at the shop. It's like a New Years employee retreat or something." Then she frowned, "Wait. Don't change the subject. I thought you were just going to hang out at the house last night. Where did you go?"
"Out," she told her, walking past the strawberry blond to get a mug out of one of their cabinets. That coffee smelled really good.
"Out whe- Oh my god," one of Yuzu's hands was holding her own coffee mug. To keep herself from dropping it, she slapped her free hand over the smile breaking across her face.
Karin was dumbfounded by her sister's actions. "What?" she pressed.
Yuzu lowered her hand off of her mouth. "You totally got laid last night!" she whispered through her smile, and then slipped her hand back over her mouth.
Red broke across Karin's face. She hadn't been sure if she wanted Yuzu to know of her New Year's activities, but she sure as shit knew now. "H-How did y-you...?" she stammered.
Yuzu finally let her hand drop. "You could never hide anything from me Karin, I'm your twin," she went to take a sip of coffee, pausing briefly just as she got the cup to her lips. "And your shirt is inside out," she murmured into her cup.
Karin looked down. Sure enough, the white button up she was wearing over a red and black striped cami was inside out. And all the buttons were wrong. She leaned her head back, looking down the hallway and listening for her dad's obnoxious snoring. After reaffirming he was still asleep, she grabbed the bottom of the shirt and pulled it off over her head, undoing the buttons so she could fix the stupid thing.
"Sooooo..." Yuzu's smile went slightly mischievous. A weird look for her, given her nauseatingly sweet personality. She carefully stepped backwards and gave a little jump, managing to slide up and sit on the countertop without spilling her coffee, "Usually and inside out shirt means you got dressed in the dark and left in a hurry..."
Karin slid her arms back into her shirt and buttoned it back up correctly from the bottom to just under her breasts. "Speaking from experience...?" she jabbed at her sister.
"If by 'experience' you mean I have a lot of trampy friends..." she replied, "Then yes."
Karin sighed, "Yeah, I left."
Yuzu looked at her apologetically, "Is he not a cuddler?"
"I have no idea," Karin returned to pouring herself a cup of coffee, "I don't know anything about him. I only met him twice. Three times if you count last night."
"Is he hot?"
Karin looked back over her shoulder at her twin, seeming surprised at her question.
Yuzu over-emphasized a shrug. "What?" she justified herself, "I was just curious."
One again, Karin turned back to the task at hand, setting the coffee pot back into the coffee maker when her cup was full. "Yeah, he's... hot," it seemed like such a vulgar word to describe such a beautiful human being, "Gorgeous even. I am seriously shocked he even slept with someone like me."
"Karin, you're boy-ish, not a boy," Yuzu didn't really care for it when Karin was down on herself. Especially since it didn't happen a lot. As far as confidence went - Karin was chock full of it. "You have a great figure," she carried on, "Any dummy can see it, even under your basketball jerseys and baggy jeans."
"Yeah, but Yuzu... He's like a freaking model under his clothes," she told her, "Sleeping with Lena Fujii would be beneath this guy."
Yuzu's eyebrows went up slightly. Lena Fujii was an idol of hers - probably the most famous and beautiful supermodel of the year. And Karin wasn't known for her exaggerating. "So why did he?" she asked, "Sleep with you, that is."
Karin shrugged, "No clue."
For a moment the kitchen was silent except for the percolating sounds coming from the coffee pot automatically re-filling itself.
"So... Was he any good?"
Karin rolled her eyes and headed out of the kitchen. Yuzu immediately jumped off that counter and followed her sister into the living room. "It's a legitimate question!" she argued, remembering to keep her voice down - even with her exclamations.
"You have got to stop reading the dictionary, Yu," Karin told her, going over to take a seat on the couch and try to enjoy the rest of her coffee.
Yuzu followed, and sat down right next to her. She was so not going to let this go. "Come on Karin," she coaxed her, "If he's that great, and it was a great night, why did you sneak out at god knows how early in the morning...?"
Karin sighed, weighing her options in her head. Don't tell Yuzu - start a fight with her. Run - Yuzu would chase her down. Ignore her - Yuzu would threaten to tell dad. Lie - Yuzu would know. Tell her now - save a lot of time.
"I guess I just..." Karin stared down at her coffee for a long moment, "I didn't want him to wake up, and see me still there, and look at me like..."
Yuzu was an impatient one. It ran in the family. "Like...?"
Karin finally looked up at her sister, "Like I was a mistake."
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Tuesday, March 6th, 4:28pm
Anyone who has a brother will tell you that at times, they can be really, really annoying. Karin Kurosaki was no exception to this. Her brother was sweet and caring and overprotective... but he was also really, REALLY annoying.
Especially when he started blasting his guitar on an amp at full volume, (not actually, but that's what it sounded like through their paper thin walls), in the bedroom directly next to hers while she was trying to study for an College Calculus final she was doomed to fail.
"ICHIGO! TURN IT DOWN!" she shouted as loudly as she could. It was no use. He couldn't hear her.
With a sigh, Karin got up from the little table in the middle of her room - every inch covered with every bit of knowledge she needed to absorb for the final. Her knees were stiff from kneeling on the floor, so she awkwardly stretched out her limbs as she headed for her bedroom door.
She didn't even bother to knock. Obviously if Ichigo was blasting his guitar, his hands were too preoccupied for her to walk in on him doing... other things he shouldn't be doing with an unlocked door. "Ichigo," she snapped, going right in and standing before her carrot-top brother with her hands on her hips, "Can you turn it down? I'm trying to study..."
"Sorry," Ichigo shrugged, "I was just playing some of my band's music for Toshiro."
Karin blinked. She hadn't even noticed there was another person in the room, but she saw him now. And he definitely saw her. The two of them locked widened eyes and just simply stared for a minute. Him sitting on the bed. Her standing, looking like a fool in the middle of her brother's bedroom.
"Oh... Toshiro? This is my younger sister, Karin," Ichigo was completely and totally misinterpreting their silence, "Karin? This is Toshiro. He works at the music store where I got my new guitar."
Karin blinked a lot, snapping herself back. "Why-" she started at a pitch that only dogs could hear, so she took a moment to clear her throat before trying again, "W-Why is... he here...?"
"He and I started talking," Ichigo pushed some of his hair out of his face, "I brought him by to hear some of the stuff the band is working on. He's a CRAZY good musician. Like a protege or something."
Karin forced a smile, "You don't say..." She glanced over at Toshiro, who had recovered from the shock a lot more gracefully than she had, and was now smirking at her. She frowned. "Okay, well..." she looked back to her brother, "Just keep it down okay...?"
Ichigo nodded, "Sure."
The black haired Kurosaki turned and headed out of the room, forgetting to close the door behind her. She stopped in the hallway, leaning against the wall - head spinning - when all of a sudden Toshiro's voice broke through the small headache she was starting to get.
"Where's your bathroom?"
"Left, down the hall, last door on the right, just before the staircase."
The protege did, however, remember to close the door behind him. And he clearly hadn't been looking for the bathroom. No. What he was looking for he found standing in the hallway, leaning against a wall and seeming just as surprised to see him as he was to see her.
"Odd coincidence," he commented, keeping his voice down, even though Ichigo had started back up on his guitar again - this time at half the volume.
"Not really..." Karin breathed, trying to avoid looking at those crazy turquoise eyes of his, "It's a small town..."
The two of them stood in silence. If you didn't count the noise coming from Ichigo's room that he called 'music'. And then a new noise broke through. Toshiro fumbled through the pockets of his jeans for his phone.
"Hitsugaya," he answered it.
There were some murmurs on the other end of the phone that Karin couldn't make out - though it wasn't for lack of trying. She raised an eyebrow at him curiously, hearing plenty from just his side of the conversation.
"No MoMo. ... No. ... Please don't. ... I thought you promised me you weren't going to clean anything? ... Because I don't want you to mess with my sheet music. ... No. ... It IS organized. You just don't understand it. ... Yeah. ... I said, 'Yeah'. Go ahead. ... No. Just the dishes and the bed. ... Absolutely not. ... Because if you clean the store, I won't be able to find anything. ... What? ... Dinner? I don't know. Do whatever you want. ... No. Leave the coffee table alone. ... Well you're the one who said if I let you stay over you wouldn't clean anything. ... No MoMo. ... No. ... Okay, I have to go. ... All right, I'll be home later. .... Bye."
Karin felt a pain in her chest. It kind of felt like... jealousy. She'd never felt jealousy over a person before. Things, sure... She was jealous of her friend who got straight A's in her college without even trying, and the guys on her community soccer team who had way better shoes and shin-guards than she did. But never anything like this.
Before she could stop them, the words came tumbling out - a lot like New Years. "You sure bounce back fast," she snipped.
"Sorry," fresh off his argument with MoMo, and knowing she was going to clean everything he told her not to anyway, Toshiro pocketed his phone. "I didn't realize that showing up at my house in the middle of the night and sleeping with me," he played her little sarcasm game, "Then sneaking out at three in the morning and not talking to me for two months meant we were dating and I'm not allowed to talk to other women."
Karin frowned at him. Still, she kind of deserved that.
But that wasn't the way Toshiro had been raised. "And anyway," he sighed, feeling bad he had snapped at her - how ever long winded it had been, "That was my sister. She's staying with me for a few days while her apartment is being painted."
She didn't believe him. She had been raised to think any guy who wasn't her brother or her dad was a jerk, and would ultimately let her down. "I thought you said your only family was your grandmother...?" she challenged.
"Oh, so you actually listen to me when I open my mouth," he feigned surprise out of his own boredom with her games, "Great. That makes me feel a little less used." He tucked his hands deep into his pockets, "And anyway, we grew up together. She's my foster sister, but not actually related to me or my grandmother. And she does her own thing on New Years."
Karin wasn't really listening. She got up from leaning against the wall. "Used?" she sounded appalled, "What do you mean used?"
"Nothing," he shrugged, "It just seemed to me like you weren't the one-night-stand kind of girl. Guess I was wrong."
"And you think I used you?"
Toshiro blinked, staring at her seriously, "You have a better word for it?"
Karin never liked to argue with people. Usually, she was right, so she didn't have to. And on the occasion she wasn't, she would usually just punch or kick whoever she was arguing with, (her dad, her brother), and walk away. She almost thought of doing the same to Toshiro, but instead skipped the first step and turned to go back to her room.
All of a sudden, Toshiro reached out and grabbed the crook of her elbow. Reflexively, she tried to grab his arm and flip him, but he was faster than she was. He pulled her back, wrapped his arm around her waist and gently put his other hand on the back of her head - pressing her to him. This time she definitely got tongue.
Before she was ready for it to be over, he pulled away, releasing her and stepping back.
"Wh-What was that for...?!" she was still in shock, but clearly her mouth worked.
He shrugged. "I guess I didn't want you to walk away not wanting to see me again," he told her, turning to walk away. He stepped over to Ichigo bedroom door and opened it up. "Kurosaki?" he called in to the orange haired guitarist, "My sister just called. I've got to go before she reorganizes the shop."
"Oh... All right... Later," Ichigo raised an eyebrow at Toshiro's suddenly need to leave but said nothing.
"Great sound though," Toshiro assured him, "Oh and your strings will be in later this week. Probably like Thursday or Friday... But I'd come in on Friday. Shipping is a bitch. I never know when anything is going to show up until it does, you know?"
Ichigo nodded, understanding, "Yeah, I get it man. I'll see you Friday then."
Toshiro threw the older Kurosaki one more nod before closing the door and heading towards the stairs, his back to a still stunned Karin. And just when she thought she was recovering from his kiss, he glanced back at her one last time with a teeny tiny smirk on the edge of his lips. It only lasted a moment, and then he headed down the stairs, out of sight.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~