A Kindness Not Shared


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Scene Title A Kindness Not Shared
Synopsis Working through her problems and bringing up the past to her present life, Hokuto Ichihara is visited by an unkind spirit that delivers to her repayment for past deeds done.
Date March 16, 2010

Ichihara Bookstore

The texture and sound of a vinyl albums is something that is difficult to describe, even if words can fit the noise of pops, hisses and clicks from tiny dust particles ont he record, there's just something warm about the sound, something inviting and familiar to the noise. It's been four years since this record player's music graced Ichihara Books, four years since its melodies replaced that of an old beat up boombox parked on a shelf. Things are finally changing in Hokuto's life, moving forward, settling in, getting back to the person she was before the bomb, even if it did have to come at the price of hundreds of people's lives.

She seems to be doing well despite that little fact.

Seated cross-legged on the front counter in view of the picture windows that show the tranquil night streets battered by heavily falling snow, Hokuto contentedly pages through a carnation red folder sitting in her lap. The store should have closed an hour and a half ago, because that's what the sign on the door says, but with Hokuto having returned to the business— with employees none the less— it seems that any pretense of actually maintaining scheduled hours has gone to the wayside. That front door should be locked, the lights should be dimmed and the closed sign should be turned around. There's a lot of things that should be here, and none of them are.

"It's next to the copy of Twenty Thousand Leagues!" hokuto shouts to the building, as if //itis going to answer her call. In truth, she's more shouting down into the basement, where she'd ordered her erstwhile companion Corbin Ayers to retrieve a box of old photographs that belonged to her mother and father. There's still so much junk down there that needs to be moved, but one piece at a time things have slowly started to work their way up. The past has a way of doing that, slipping back one piece at a time.

Sometimes when you least expect it.

It would help if a big fat guy who happened to occassionally be a big fat dragon hadn't broken the stairs and made Corbin have to use a ladder up and down. Carrying boxes up a ladder by yourself? Not easy. Not easy at all. There's a dragging sound as he pushes the box against the floor, before pulling himself out and dusting his clothes off. Strange she would become more colorful the same time he starts to dress more drab. Once again, he's wearing something dark, even black this time.

If it hadn't been for the snow and most of the employees he hired being dead or sick… he might have gone to a funeral today. Instead he just sent flowers. But he's dressed as if he'd planned to stop by, and never did.

With a grumble, he picks up the box again and carries it into the room, dropping it on the counter beside her. "We really have to get those stairs fixed."

It would help if a big fat guy who happened to occassionally be a big fat dragon hadn't broken the stairs and made Corbin have to use a ladder up and down. Carrying boxes up a ladder by yourself? Not easy. Not easy at all. There's a few sounds, and a tumble, and the box he'd been trying to lug up the stairs goes right back to where it'd been… though also spilling out on the floor of the attic. "You know, we really have to get those stairs fixed!" he yells up to the top of the store, before heading back down to begin putting the pictures back where they belong. His clothes are all dusty, ruining a perfectly good suit. Which, surprise surprise, is actually a suit. Strange she would become more colorful the same time he starts to dress more drab. Once again, he's wearing something dark, even black this time.

If it hadn't been for the snow and most of the employees he hired being dead or sick… he might have gone to a funeral today. Instead he just sent flowers. But he's dressed as if he'd planned to stop by, and never did.

There is a reason that only the little piggy who made his house of bricks survived to marry a piggy wife and have many round and pink piggy children.

Locked or not, the wooden front door blows in on its hinges like a bad game of 52 Pickup.

A solid whudding rack of boot rubber to cracked planks and a howl of blisteringly cold wind and stinging snow later, a tall figure in a dark coat stands stock still at the entrance. Exciteable dollops of snow swirl merrily in ahead of him, on and on with the wind into the store, past his flipped collar and foggy breath across the antique sheen of a gas mask whose details are rendered into a near clockwork conglomeration of brown leather and polished brass.

In his gloved right hand a .45 familiar to current and former employees of the Company weighs heavy against the wind. Custom slide, extended, vented barrel. For Agents it's standard issue, for all that they probably don't spend all that much time looking down the business end.

But the Man and Mask don't stay idle long and Hokuto's chance to do just that comes quickly enough. Three long strides carry him on into the store proper, gun hand switched too casually to the left so that his right is free to address the basement and ladder situation he is rapidly crossing the sales floor for.

It would be nice to think that years of Company training didn't go entirely to waste with Hokuto, that some of the instincts they tried to place into her during training haven't entirely been forgotten. The way she's turned rock still on the presence of the door being kicked open is a testament to just how ill-suited she is to Company life and employment. Dark brown eyes stare down the barrel of that familiar gun with all the horrified expression that is fitting of someone about to be shot. But it's not the splitered frame of her front door, not the exploded lock that Bao-Wei had just replaced for her, or the rattling jingle of her wing chime above the entrance screaming that was too rough in metal on glass language, but that she's not being shot that startles her the most.

If anyone was ever deserving, after all.

Jaw trembling and eyes wide, Hokuto watches the darkly dressed and inexplicably masked man come storming past her thorugh the short aisles of books and rotating metal-wire magazine carousels towards the back of the shop. It's not that she needed to have the gun in her face to realize something is wrong. Once the shelves start to impede the gun being laid directly at her, Hokuto is scrambling behind the counter, voice shrill and cracking as she cries out, "Corbin! Corbin he's got a gun!" Clearly he had to have heard the door explode open from one snowy boot.

She has one in here somewhere, in the store, somewhere behind the counter but it hasn't been used in years. Rifling through boxes of newspapers, magazines — Hey I have a laptop? — there's so much disorganized junk down here she might find it by the time obht of them are dead.

Oh crap. That exploding sound of a door getting kicked in is very audible down in the basement. And the yell that comes down gets him scrambling to move. First thing that comes to mind, is a quick hope that Hokuto hides. Standing up, backing away from the scattered pictures, he opens up his dusty suit coat and finds the gun that he coincidentially just started wearing recently. The only reason he's been wearing it more and more recently would be the weather, and the newsbytes of increased theft. Not to mention the recent situation under the bridge on this very island.

It's not something he's used to using, though, as he looks down at it and makes sure it's loaded and the safety's off.

The music upstairs and the sound of his breathing isn't enough to dampen the sound of footsteps approaching his area. A quick glance around confirms what he already knows… There's no way out except the ladder. Also no way in, unless one wants to fall through the floor itself.

No way out except for the ladder, and wonder of no small wonders, it's the ladder that the man in black is making an unbroken line for. Face obscured by leather and eyes as invisible as his identity behind metal-screened ports, he spooks into a sprint when Corbin breaks out his gun to the tune of Hokuto's rifling around for another. He fires twice once he gets there, directly down into the open pit of the basement port, risking another few seconds of Hokuto left to her own devices so that he can drop down enough to lunge for the ladder's uppermost rung.

All the better to start reeling it up out of reach.

Granted, pulling a however-many-feet-long ladder out of a hole one handed is about as easy as it sounds, and initial progress is limited to how far he can get it in in heaving back to his feet and catching fast at the second rung rather than the first. Settled snow cracks off coat and onto floor with the whip, draw and snap of shoulders and back working doubletime underneath.

The mask remains disaffected.

Everything under the sun is picked up and tossed from behind that cabinet, including a snow globe and a a magic eight ball that goes rolling across the wooden floor before clunking up against one of the supports of the front desk. Hokuto finally unearths the matte black gun case, yanking it out by the handle and flipping open the clasps, lifting the lid and revealing— an empty foam imprint of a gun. There's a dejected hiss when she slaps the lid closed, wheels around and grabs the magic eight ball with one hand and comes popping up from behind the counter. She can't even remember where she left her cell phone, can't even remember where she used it last.

Bare feet pad across the floor as she runs in a crouch, ducked behind the book-filed shelves and not towards where she can hear the masked man struggling with the ladder, but towards the table in the small nook at the back of the store near the entrance to the storage room. Setting the magic eight ball down, Hokuto grabs her box of tarot cards, quiclly rifles thorugh them for three, and drops the box on the floor. One by one, she sticks the card into spaces between the floorboards, so they're standing up at an angle and could be easily noticed by someone walking through the store. The Tower, One of Swords, and King of Swords in a row.

Immediately upon finishing that task, she grabs the heavy magic eight ball — the old and durable kind from the seventies that wasn't made of cheap plastic — and creeps towards the stock room door, leaning in to hear the sounds of the struggle with the ladder beyond.

Hokuto steadies her shuddering breathing, then darts into the stockroom, trying to stay low with that turtle-hunch posture as she approaches the back door of the store, able to see the shadow of the attacker on the snow-dappled concrete out back where he wrestles with the ladder at the bulkhead. She hunches down by the corner of the doorway, waiting, thinking, wishing she had a better idea than this.

The gunshots all missed the guy down in the basement, but that doesn't mean they missed everything. One of those pictures he was gathering up for Hokuto has a fresh hole ripped into it by the bullet, pulled into the air and flipping from the impact and momentum. Pale blue eyes get caught staring at it for an instant, the hole right through the man in the picture's face, but he gets distracted by the sudden dragging of the ladder upwards. Well, shit.

Smart enough not to present himself as a target, he quickly glances around and grabs the first thing that fits what he wants… a broom that they brought down here for sweeping up some of the dust. Shoving the wooden handle on top of one of the rungs, as it's going up, he tries to use his weight to pull it back down, and out of the man's grip— without stepping into immediate view as well. Like the masked man he still hasn't seen, he only has one hand to use. But he has leverage and gravity both on his side. If nothing else, it should slow him down a moment.

Hot breath vents out through metal ports in violent streamers of fog against a winter that just won't give, steam tangled fluid around the mask's non-existent ears for all that its unseeing eyes remain a perfectly round and perfectly unnerving preying mantis blank. These people are evidently a pain in the ass of a magnitude he was not expecting. Not that two on one odds are ever ideal.

Reason cedes to frustration in a matter of seconds; frustration cedes to blunt force even faster. He hooks a boot into a lower rung and heaves it down and back into the basement with all his strength and every intention of clobbering the asshole down there with the sudden rush of its far end, interceding broom handle or no.

Corbin isn't who he came here for. If he has to take care of what he did come here for quicker than he might've hoped, so much's the pity.

Fresh snow sinking damp through the beaten brown leather of his faux scalp, ice spidered fine over dark lenses only just visible between and beneath bars of stainless steel, the masked figure turns its head slowly back for the store, and so the storeroom.

Exhaust filters out.

This thing — person — is a live, no doubt. His chest rises steep and falls slow, recalculating.

Information filters in.

He begins to pace for the open door, right hand crossed from lapel to hip to thumb a hunting knife open and clean off his belt. The guthook glints orange when he stops just opposite the corner Hokuto is hunched behind…and waits.

The ladder he'd been trying to keep from getting pulled up actually almost falls on him from the way he ends up down on the floor of the basement, cursing quietly. Ow, that really hurt. The gun skitters across the floor boards, where he has to hurry and reach for it, pointing it up at the hole that got shot through, even if he's wincing quite a bit. This is painfully annoying, but there's no one up there, and he listens— oh there's the footsteps. They're not close to the entrance.

Stuffing the gun back into his holster against his chest, he adjusts the ladder and starts climbing up as quickly as he can, waiting til he's at the top and can look over to check, before pulling all the way out.

More than enough time for the lion to stalk his prey.

The sounds stopped, the rustling, fighting struggling. Hokuto hunches her shoulders forward and waits, breathing in shallow and shuddering breaths after the noisy clatter of the ladder being thrust down through the opening into the basement from the bulkhead. Maybe he heard her, maybe he didn't, maybe he left, she can't tell from where hse crouches, and can only see the dirty yellow glow of the back light glinting off of the fresh snow filling the lot. Swallowing tensely, Hokuto can feel her jaw trembling, she heard gunshots and she hasn't heard anything back. Her fingers grip around the sphere of the magic 8-ball, teeth clenched and jaw set, brown eyes up and wide towards the doorway. This is a stupid idea, this is a terrible idea, she should run and hide and call someone for help, scream, something. Fear paralyzes her, and it makes her wonder if this is what would happen in the field.

Maybe this is the field. Maybe this is Winslow?

Corbin might be laying dead, might be bleeding out on the floor of the basement right now. It's that notion that has Hokuto springing up and towards the door with with the eight-ball lifted up like a bludgeon at head-smacking height. Unfortunately for Hokuto, he was waiting for her.

There like an unexpectedly closed door in a dark hallway, the man in the mask seems to have the worst kind of advantage. He swings his left foot back with a twitch of her adrenaline-sprung launch, giving him two feet worth of extra range to swing the club the magic ball out of her hands before it can test the craftsmanship of his mask head on. It's a calculated strike, and two fold: the same arm locks itself in a wire-bound vice around her neck at the end of its arc, elbow crooked at nape and her face snugged too firm to his shoulder, suffocating mouth to wool and filling her sinuses with the warm stink of whiskey.

Which is about the same time the knife splits in just under her diaphragm, vanishing a carefully metered inch of itself into the soft flesh of her belly before the gut hook catches and starts to fish and sink itself too gradually downwards. Sternum to mesentary while he holds her close.

There's not even enough time to reach for his phone and hit a quick three numbers, as Corbin scrambles up the rest of the way and toward the store proper. Where Hokuto is with the monster that's come after her. If he could see what was happening, he yell something, but instead as soon as he gets into the doorway and spots the man, he starts firing. Thank god it was loaded, and he remembered to turn off the safety.

Never a good shot, never a good field agent at all, most of the bullets of his company grade gun rip through bookshelves and books, rather than anywhere near skin. But the gun continues to call out. In this case, it may be to draw attention to… well… him. Rather than actually effectively injure the person.

The only time he's not a self-preservationist would be, well… right now, it seems. Hokuto's far too important to him. But even then he doesn't see her pressed up against the man's chest…

It's the pale white claw of a hand ineffectually slapping and clawing at the matte fabric of that black jacket that Corbin sees first from behind, the spidery fingers grasping and clawing at the mask and the shrill noise of a squeak — not a scream — that accompanies the horrifying feeling of the knife sliding in right beneath her sternum. She's flailing now, like a fish about to be gutted, and her one hand that isn't trying to stop the knife from moving down futily is pawing and scraping at the mask, fingers slipping beneath the leather, long digits yanking and pulling at the lacing on the back that holds it in place, paw-prints over slatted copper in front of one of the visor eye holes of the mask that may as well be skeletal for how thin her fingers are. She grabs at the mask's front, tugs, pulls, tries to reveal her attacker.

If anything, even if that knife does go down the way it's going to, maybe Corbin can make it out, maybe he can figure something out, maybe if she lives a glimpse of a face will be enough to track this psychopath down. But leather and lace and so much copper and brass do not budge easily, the mask is meant to conceal just as much as it is meant to protect his head, but she's trying..

Somewhere, the magic eight ball rolls to a stop in the snow. Outlook not so good.

Hokuto's fingers are likely to slice themselves to bloodslick ribbons if they aren't careful. And he is, grip on the hilt as unbroken as his resolve to get what he wants in a quickening of breath that flushes damp against the hand that she has scrabbling for purchase at the stiff fix of his mask. His head turns with the movement, unfeeling visage resisting only as much as is necessary for him to maintain single-minded focus on his increasingly untidy progress down below. Through the abdominal muscle at an uneven nick and slice that nearly pierces something dangerously near the region bowel would be expected to lurk.

He fires twice again into some random span of shop or ceiling once Corbin starts pulling the trigger — three four, concussive compensated muzzle blast enough to stupify in its snug against the side of Hokuto's head even if two robust casings didn't come stinging out into her temple at the same time.

Too little, too late. One of the opposition's rounds flattens itself into the small of his back and he arches, sucking for air the mask doesn't have space to allow for. Followthrough only a hazy second thought now, he gives up on taking it slow and withdraws to plunge the knife in deep around her back instead. Liver, lungs and kidneys are fair game, and later she might just remember the sensation of knife blade grazing naked spine. Then she's flung down and away behind him like a sack of meat in coldcut offering, free to rupture and bleed or be sacrificed at will to the cause of his own escape. Which he breaks off to make with a hoarse huff and a spidery look back over his shoulder.

Oh god. Hokuto.

It's clear when Corbin's pale blue eyes see her, and see the state of her, because he stops firing a moment. The shower of broken ceiling wood and dust aside, none of the stay shots hit him, but it doesn't matter, cause as soon as the man flees, leaving the bleeding woman, he is met with a few more shots. One bullet that tears through the glass window near the door, letting in some of the cold air, but hopefully he won't hear the unhelpful clicking of… No more bullets.

Skidding to a stop next to her, he drops the gun in favor of something much better in this case, a cellphone. God damnit. Things were supposed to be getting better. The Nightmares should have been over. But now they're coming into the waking world. Hokuto may believe she deserves this, but as he quickly dials, it's obvious he doesn't. "Hokuto, you're going to be okay. Just— hold on."

And pray he doesn't come back.

Somewhere in the shop a robust shelf goes keeling slowly when a shoulder wrenches away from it a few degrees into a turn too late. Leatherbound volumes of every age and descent spill sloppily out onto the floor ahead of its creaking fall. Wood crashes, paper flaps, dust furls airborne and hunched, head down, the perpetrator stops in the doorway long enough to look back.

Breath ragged in the cold, fog fluted through brass ports in uneven stops and starts, he watches. And hears. No more ammunition amidst the tinkling of glass.

For a heavy minute it looks like he might come back to tie up loose ends. Blood thickens towards the end of his knife, crusts gummily at his gloves while he hangs on the threshold — and then turns to go without ever having said a word.

Snow is falling down at a rapid pace, the air is freezing and the ground beneath Hokuto is steadily turning a deep crimson hue in the wake of the assailant's approach over clunking floorboards and through the shop again. Lights are coming on in the adjacent windows of the buildings crowding Ichihara Books, and after the riots on this tiny island just a few nights ago the sound of gunfire likely has residents calling for the police. They'll be slow to arrive, given how bad the storm is, given how heavy that driving snow falls and how fast her attacker is fleeing. The ambulances, too, will be too slow to arrive, even if there is a hospital just on the other side of the island from here.

She's whimpering, there, laying across Corbin's lap, hands too weak to reach up and even press on the wound at her stomach that is leaking blood like a punctured water bottle, too cold and too numb to reach the other wounds on her back where steaming blood fans out in a pool beneath her and continues to spread to either side of her body ins ow progression.

When she does finally get her shaking, bloodied hand moving, it's to reach up and paw distantly at Corbin's cheek, leaving three streaks of red down across his stubbled jaw where she touches. Lungs suck in breath, shallowly, and brown eyes are glassier than they should be, despite the tears welling up in her eyes from pain, spilling down either side of her face and freezing against skin in the sub-zero cold.

She can't sit up, and her jaw keeps trembling, her whole body is trembling. Somewhere in the store, the wind chimes jingle again from the breeze, snow drifts in the front door of the store and collects on the floorboards. A yellow-eyed cat is thelast person to see the attacker leave, turning slowly to leap down from her perch on the counter and trot out of the store across the floorboards and out the back stockroom to where Hokuto lays in the snow, a thick and tacky pool of blood now soaking into Corbin's knees.

She mouths something, words, maybe. It's an attempt at saying something that she's wanted to say to him the whole time they worked together in the Company, something she was too afraid to because of the loss of her father and family. It's unfortunate that she can't squeak out the words now, one bloody thumb brushing over Corbin's lips.

There's a book in her store, on Egyptian mythology, detailing how when the sun god Ra descended in the west and came to night, he was believed to have died and sunk into the underworld to be reborn anew come morning, and in this time between night and day, great cats like lions would watch over him and guard his spirit before it's eventual return with the rising sun.

Hokuto's choice of feline is far less leonine in quality, but equally like a sentinel as it watches her from the doorway, yellow eyes sharp in the dark. Hokuto Ichihara doesn't get to see the sun rise like Ra, doesn't get to journey back from the underworld, but in the grand scheme of things being able to be by Corbin's side — at the side of someone she loves — before she goes is a peace that most people aren't afforded.

It's a quiet end she never gave her victims as the Nightmare Man.

It's peace enough.

More than she deserved.

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