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0.1 F A L L I N G

Nabeshin opened the curtain of his bedroom window. The weather is beautiful today. The heat of the season can be seen and feel all around, which seems to indicate a good start. A thin smile tore through his lips as he gazed outward.

The memory of the first day he met the woman he once loved slipped through his mind. The woman who changed everything, the reason why he is in such a state now…

SIX YEARS AGO…

"Nabeshin, aren't you hot?" asked his best friend Toji behind him. It was morning and they were walking along the footbridge in the middle of already searing heat. Summer is upon them and the heatwave was so unforgivable even the air was oppressive and prickly to the skin.

Below them were vehicles that were starting to pile up, as the traffic inched slowly. This was often a problem in their city so the heat around them was increasing due to the smoke coming from the carbon emission.

“Nine…” Toji whined again. The number he just said was Nabeshin’s codename. He was Nine and Toji was called Twelve.

They were friends since childhood so Nabeshin was used to Toji’s antics. They were both orphans of the Second World War. It was lucky that both their parents left them with businesses and a bit of fortune suffice for them to live a comfortable life without asking for anyone’s benevolence or help.

“If I were you, I’d just walk quietly, Twelve,” Nabeshin finally said.

Toji huffed in annoyance while furiously fanning his face with his hand as if it would help him alleviate his suffering. In Japan, it is normal for the weather to rise or drop in extremes where the summers are piping hot, baking cities in its wake and freezing everything when it’s wintertime.

They continued walking briskly until they reached their destination: the back of the property of their local high school where the half Olympic-sized pool was located. It was where they sneak in every time they were late or not wearing proper uniforms.

Nabeshin stopped his ascent on the stairs when he noticed that his friend was no longer following him. His eyes scanned the vast property and they landed on a group of girls by the pool. Judging by their noise, they were bullying someone in the group: a girl with short jet black hair and translucent skin. He’d never seen her before, she must be new. He scanned the girl’s passive face and immediately realized that she was a gaijin. No wonder she’s being bullied.

Her eyes that were too wide to be pure Japanese and her face’s bone structures were a clear indication. But she looked Asian as well. A half-blood then. With her vibrant eyes, cute button nose, thin pink lips, she looked like an angel.

“Girls, stop bothering her, will you?” a loud voice said and Nabeshin saw Toji leaning against the fence that surrounded the pool, also watching the commotion by the water but with a weird gleeful expression on his face.

“Isn’t it too early for you to bully anyone?”

The bullied girl ducked her head but it was clear that Toji had her full attention.

“Oh, this is nothing, Toji,” one of the bullies spoke up. She must be their leader. Leaders always got more guts than the minions, though this one was clearly wary of Toji. She was eyeing the boy cautiously and her voice almost apologetic. “This is just how we welcome our new students.”

Everyone in their school knew that Toji was weird. He liked to do things his way regardless of what anyone says, be it harmless or illegal. He may be all smiles and sunny personality but there was danger in there somewhere as well… that was something everyone was smart enough not to engage.

“Von wanted to take a dip,” another girl piped up, giving Von, the bullied girl a teasing prod on the back, causing her to take a step towards the water. “She told us she missed the climate back in her country.”

Von clenched her fists by her side. “Y-yes because I’m h-hot.”

The girl’s voice is quiet and quivering but there was strength in there. Nabeshin noticed that she understood Japanese and could speak it clearly but her tenses are a little off. She has a brogue too but as of the moment, Nabeshin could not place it.

“Is that so?” Toji smiled broadly.

“Well, that makes two of us!”

In a flash, Toji cast aside his backpack, jumped over the fence and into the pool, splashing water everywhere, including the group of girls who couldn’t react fast enough to bolt away. They could only shriek in surprise as they were soaked with the cold, chlorine sanitized liquid.

Nabeshin noticed that Von was looking at Toji with awe as his friend brushed his wet hair off his amused face… and then as if she sensed him watching her intently from afar, Von turned to look at him. Nabeshin gave her a cold stare before walking away. He ignored Toji calling him with his real name.

They seldom call each other with their proper names in private and don’t call each other with their codenames out in public because of obvious reasons. Their codenames are their own and were not willing to share with the rest of the world, they were symbols of their brotherhood and they treat their codes something akin to sacred.

Nabeshin plopped himself down on his seat as soon as he reached his classroom, ignoring everything and everyone in the room. The class was not in session and his classmates were just goofing around, being their noisy and nosy selves. Trying to calm himself, he decided on listening to music while looking out of the window, drowning everything, including his erratic heart knocking on his ribs.

NABESHIN blinked and realized the knocking he was hearing were from the other side of the door of his hotel suite. He opened it only to see his secretary outside, fist about to rap on the solid wood. He let her in and she walked briskly towards the desk, placing a stack of folders filled with documents and contracts, things that needed his attention and approval. His upcoming projects for the year 2014. He works in the film industry, particularly in the field of animation, where he quickly rose to stardom as director of the most successful anime movies and series aired in Japan. Some of his old works were aired and had a vast fandom overseas.

When he was finished signing the documents and giving her additional instructions, the secretary took off, leaving him with his memories once again.

“I didn’t know there are three of us in this project,” Nabeshin told Toji sarcastically while giving the other person in the room a look of disdain. Von had the sense to look uncomfortable under his scrutiny.

Nabeshin was in their workroom, in their secret hideout, tapping away on his computer when Toji came practically bouncing down the hall with glee, ushering the quiet girl inside the room. They stood by the door for a moment, surprised to see him in there already working. Toji recovered quickly and started to babble about the girl, making introductions and other inane things social pleasantries required while Von just stood idly by the door, moving only to stand in the middle of the room, wringing her hands nervously when Toji prompted her to.

“Everything is going to be fine,” Toji explained. “She’s good. Her ideas are great and I honestly think she’s gonna help us give our project more twists and substance.”

Nabeshin saw the smile Toji gave the girl and he felt tension bubbling inside him. His friend obviously liked Von and it disturbed him a bit for whatever reason. He tried ignoring the feeling and watched as Toji took his preferred seat on the worktop, shuffling the papers he was currently working on.

“How is she going to help us if her own life is a mess?” Nabeshin spat, still irritated. The whole school knew that Von’s American father had remarried in America and wanted nothing to do with her anymore so she was sent to Japan, that she was now stuck with her depressed mother who couldn’t move on with her life, who couldn’t take care of herself, much more a teenaged daughter. They don’t need a goddamned charity case.

He turned to take his leave but a quivering voice stopped him in his tracks.

“You don’t need to worry, I will do my best,” said Von. “If you give me a chance, a-a month, I’ll show you.”

Nabeshin adjusted his glasses up his nose and stared the girl down, studying her as if she were a specimen in a microscope slide. He’s got to admit that it was quite admirable to see the determination in Von’s eyes..

After a great pause, Nabeshin acquiesced, “Fine. I’ll give you a month.”

Von’s eyes flashed in relief and happiness, her gentle smile made his pulse quicken but he kept his expression neutral. He looked away when Von and Toji exchanged looks and smiled at each other, clearly celebrating.

“And Von,” Nabeshin said quietly, making the two look back at him.

“There’s no turning back now.”

There were an edge and threat on his voice and they all heard it, rendering even Toji speechless. Before anyone could move a muscle, Nabeshin left the room.

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