Koichi’s stomach was rumbling as he stepped off the train. Pulling out his phone, he checked the time. It was only a bit past one, so he had time to stop off for something to eat before he headed to his appointment. He probably should have had a heavier breakfast, while the convenience store onigiri had tied him over he still missed dinner the previous night and was a bit off his eating schedule. If Makoto was there she’d likely had made him sit down and eat before he had left that morning, or would have last night. He’d been more casual about eating times when she wasn’t around since he didn’t really feel a need to keep a schedule about it. Though that wasn’t enough for her.
Makoto kept a schedule about everything, it was one of the ways she’d managed to get him through his last few years of university. He thumbed the screen and checked what was local as he headed out into the street. His eyes turned upwards as he looked down the line of buildings. This area was much more developed in general than Naruhata, the buildings close to the station newer, shinier and taller. It was mostly a business district, but there were a couple of chain restaurants in the lower floors of buildings as well as a few local family owned businesses and oh, there was a burger place nearby. Been a while since he had one and without Makoto around he wouldn’t get scolded if he picked up some to bring home for dinner.
Thumbing through his phone he mapped out the route and started to walk when he heard someone cry at the turnstile.
“Ah! I left my bag on the train.”
He paused to see a young man ahead of him looking panicked and glanced back at the train whose doors were starting to close and he even saw someone holding up the bag as they moved towards it. Leaning into a crouch he zipped down and sped forward. Holding up his hand, he shouted.
The guy, whoever he was, tossed the bag through the closing doors and Koichi stood up and walked back to the turnstile where the guy was standing out. He walked through and handed him the bag.
“Here you go.”
The boy took his bag and he waved off as he started down the street. He couldn’t help but hear a few people mumbling, particularly they were mumbling about his crouching being creepy and him using it as an excuse to flip skirts. Shrugging his shoulders, he started back down the street towards the burger joint.
As he headed down the street he stopped every few blocks to pick up some bits of litter here or there. One or two people were upset that he was breaking the flow of the walkway, but otherwise most just moved around him as he got to the burger place. It was a colorful chain, but they did make some pretty good food. He took a few steps inside before stepping out of the way of the door so he wouldn’t interrupt the line.
There was red and white decorating the walls and a small dining area with seating. Glancing around, he peered around the low hanging wall and eventually found a trash can. Unloading his pockets of the litter, he turned in time to see a familiar shade of red that didn’t match the walls with a bit of orange near the end of the dining room. He blinked but thought he imagined it as he got in line to pick out his order.
After ordering and paying, he walked back around to the dining room to find a place to sit. It was pretty crowded, all things considered. He’d prefer a booth, but there were some seats by the window and… The flash of red entered his vision again as he absently started to take a sip from his drink. Turning his head, he blinked for a few seconds at what he saw. Sitting in one of the booths in the corner, looking like she’d stepped off the set of a period drama was Ume, the girl from last night. Sitting across from her was one of the police officers from Tsukauchi-san’s branch, was Tama something? Should he say something? Did she even remember him? It looked like they were having lunch, he didn’t want to…
The word was loud enough and firm enough that it pulled Koichi out of his daze. Blinking, he focused in on the conversation as he watched Ume take a large bite out of her burger with that declaration.
Turning to the officer, Tamakawa, yeah that was it, he blinked in surprise. His face scrunched up.
“You can’t just reject this, Ume-san.”
Ume only paused for a moment to take a sip from her drink. She set it down, picked up a napkin and wiped her mouth before she straightened her back into a different position. Even sitting straight up only her shoulders cleared the booth table. Still, her gaze was even and she spoke with a much more stern voice than he remembered her using the night before.
“I most absolutely can, Tamakawa-san. I don’t think you appreciate that fact. If you attempt to make me do anything I do not wish to do, I will reject it.”
Wow, that was really formal. Did she actually step out of a period drama? He didn’t know people used that type of dialect anymore. He took another look at her apparel, she did look the part of a regal princess or a court courtier from one of the shows his mom liked to watch when he was young. She was dressed in a purple kimono with pink trim folded neatly around her with a bright red obi. Her hair was pulled into an honest to goodness topknot, with a wooden decoration resting in its center and the way she held herself… Her back was straight, her feet were forward and she just had a presence about her. She was thirteen but he actually felt just a teeny bit intimidated, he half expected her to pop out a fan and hold it over her face in a dramatic way. The only thing that really was off was that, despite all this, her black tom cat was just lazily sitting in her lap under the table edge. Was that allowed?
Glancing at Tamakawa, he could tell the cat headed officer was just a bit startled.
“Uh-Ume-san, you can’t just reject foster care. You’re a minor, you need to be taken care of.”
“Do I now?” It wasn’t actually a question, but it didn’t sound quite sarcastic as it did challenging. “You seem awfully certain I am incapable of taking care of myself. Why don’t we test that? Are there any lougings the police HQ uses part time for officers? I could surely rest there.”
“You can’t live at a police HQ, you need supervision.” He said.
“Why?” That was a question, but it was harsh and cold. Koichi wasn’t even being addressed, but he felt himself retreating into his shoulders and taking a step back.
For a moment there was silence as Tamakawa seemed to try and gather himself. He turned his eyes then and rested them upon Koichi.
Koichi loosened his stance as both of them turned towards him. He watched as Ume in particular turned her head, the grey eyes sharp before they got a bit wider and a little more relaxed.
“Koichi-san, what a coincidence to see you here.”
The voice was still very polite and slightly antiquated, but much warmer. At least it wasn’t the frigid cold she used before.
“You want to sit with us? There are not a lot of tables available.”
Koichi felt a bit like he was in college again, being flagged down by a senpai. Which was rather weird, considering who was inviting him. If Tamakawa had an objection he didn’t voice it as Ume slid deeper into the booth and Koichi sat down with his own food. As he sat he saw Ume’s posture change again, she actually put an arm over the table top and leaned her head onto it as she spoke.
“So whatcha up to?”
It was a bit strange, the flip from ultra formal to ultra casual.
“Just grabbing lunch before I have to get to an appointment?”
“More catching falling girls from collapsed black holes?” Ume asked as she pulled her drink down to her mouth to take a sip.
“No, I’m doing an inspection today.” Koichi said as he started to unwrap his burger. “I was just helping out yesterday, it’s not my job.”
Ume sat up some more and started once more on the burger she had been eating before. It was one of them, Koichi glanced that way and found there were wrappers for four other sandwiches. Wow, she must have been hungry.
“Ume-san, you want to discuss the problems with…”
Tamakawa added. Ume held the sandwich in her mouth so she could bring up a single finger to tell him to stop. Why didn’t she…? oh, right her left prosthetic only had two clamps, not fingers. Biting into her burger she chewed it and took a drink to swallow it down.
“Honestly, Tamakawa-san, no. No disrespect intended to your position but I don’t think we should discuss this further until we can talk to someone with more authority in your office to see if they can accommodate me.”
“We need to figure this out soon.” He said. “Besides, you can’t just randomly request an appointment.”
“Then I’ll formally do so.” Ume said. “If you need paperwork done to do so, I can do that too.”
“That’s not the problem, the chief is busy. It’s been a hectic week and we need to place you with a guardian for your own well being.” He said.
“I don’t see why.” Ume said. “They had beds at that hero agency, I can sleep there and put in a formal request to discuss it.”
“You can’t burden the resources of a hero agency by freeloading.” Tamakawa said.
“I can work for them if I need to to reimburse in the meantime. I’m sure I can be useful.” She added.
“That goes against the child labor laws. Why are you so against this? Look, the state can take care of you. You can be looked after, fed and safe.” Tamakawa was getting more frustrated at this.
Ume let out a sigh before straightening up.
“Have you ever lived in an orphanage before?”
The voice she used this time wasn’t sharp or demanding, it was just very very soft. It caught Koichi off guard.
Tamakawa didn’t respond immediately, but he let out a deep breath.
“There are laws to protect you, you’ll be safe.”
“Until I’m not.” She responded. “The police have a lot of internal and external oversight to monitor them. A hero agency as big as Ingenium’s would be skewered by the media if anything bad happened. But an orphanage or a foster home is different.”
Her eyes were downcast.
“I’ve been in positions where the people who were supposed to protect me hurt me instead. So you shouldn’t be surprised at my hesitancy to put that sort of power over my life in the hands of strangers.”
Koichi swallowed a bit, thinking back to the previous night, to the conversation they had. To the scars. His eyes moved absently to see them, but they were covered with a layer of wrap bandages just under the bright kimono. They never learned from her what exactly happened, but he knew his future brother in law had been livid at the thought that someone had done something like that. Even if the perpetrators were, in Ume’s own words, dead, Koichi didn’t really blame her for not wanting to risk something like that.
Koichi looked at Tamakawa and found the cat-faced officer didn’t immediately have a retort. He took a bite of his burger to think for a moment before washing it down in the ongoing silence and deciding to speak up.
“Well, if you need to make an appointment and the chief is busy, maybe in the meantime you could maybe, possibly, stay at my place.”
Tamakawa’s head shot up around the same time as Ume’s did. He looked a bit surprised, but Koichi continued.
“I mean, it’s not very big, but my fiancée is still out of town for the moment, so I have an extra futon. Tsukauchi-san could come check up while I’m away if you’re worried, it wouldn’t be too much of a bother if it’s only until you can talk with the chief.”
Tamakawa paused to think before taking a breath.
“You’d have to talk with Tsukauchi about that.”
“Well I mean, yeah, Makoto too, but is that doable.” Koichi looked at Ume. “I mean, would you feel safe?”
Koichi watched the little girl seem to consider this for a moment. She picked up and finished her burger before making a reply, but grey eyes met him when she started to drink and setting it on the table she gave a small smile.
“Well, if I couldn’t feel safe with the man who saved me I don’t think I would feel safe anywhere.”
I had a sick feeling in my stomach which wasn’t just because I’d eaten five greasy burgers, large fries and a soda. Mind you, that did contribute since I hadn’t had fast food in this body ever and the sheer amount of salt and grease was a shock even with how delicious it was. No, my sick feeling was mostly because of how quickly and thoroughly I was taking advantage of the innate kindness of the people I’d found so far in this world.
Honestly, I would have been happier if I could have just stayed at the hero agency and been some sort of junior healer. That was a trade, room and board for an ability I happened to possess. In this case I was going to essentially be mooching off the person who happened to have broken his arm the previous day preventing me from hitting the pavement when I was unconscious. I hadn’t considered it because I didn’t actually think I’d see him again so soon. The timing was good though, because I spotted him in line in the restaurant from my booth and managed to continue the conversation I’d started with Tamakawa in the restaurant so I could draw him in.
God, I hated doing manipulation like that, and honestly I had hoped it would just fall through. That I’d have to find some other way to get by.
The problem was, as much as I hated taking advantage, I was not going to an orphanage or a foster family, period. The former because I could not and would not put myself in an orphanage if I had the choice. I did not need a repeat of the first half of the shitty childhood this life gave me. The latter because even if they were a nice family, I needed guardianship where the people didn’t or wouldn’t be keeping an actual close eye on me.
A hero agency or a police station would likely partially monitor me at best for the simple fact the people were there to do their job, not babysit a lost little girl. It would allow me the space to do my own thing and my own research without having to resort to simply running away. While tempting, in a modern world with things like phones, cameras and the internet, it would be absolutely exhausting to avoid being found and brought back.
This option though, crashing with a singular twenty something with his own job, was ideal. If he was working that meant he had a schedule he had to follow, which meant I could use that time without much supervision. Even if he brought me along to his work I could just sit in a corner with a phone or a laptop. Unlike someone with any experience with parenting, I doubted Koichi, as busy as he was, would limit or monitor the things I was doing and researching. Even if it was for a short while, the more information I could gather on my own without interference the more thought I could put into, well, everything.
As we were heading down the street the foot traffic started to ease up a bit as we moved. We were pretty clustered together, Koichi in the lead while Tamakawa was behind me with Danny standing on my shoulders. If anyone found any of us odd, they didn’t comment. I noticed before Koichi wasn’t one to really ask about the stranger things about me, but again, I saw some fairly odd figures just moving through the crowd. Some people with animalistic parts, or just bizarre things that were a part of their body. I saw a man with elongated arms, a woman with a pair of tusks hanging out her mouth as long as a forearm, as well as people who were just taller or squatter than a normal person. Most of them were in suits, which wasn’t surprising, since this seemed to be a more business-oriented district. It seemed like apathy, but maybe you simply weren’t supposed to ask about such things, I imagine it seemed rude to flinch or stare or walk up to someone with a mutation and ask questions. Though just looking at them I bet good tailors made a killing in this world.
“Where exactly is your appointment, Haimawari-san?” Tamakawa brought me out of my thoughts as we continued to walk.
“We shouldn’t be far from it now. Though you two will have to wait outside.” He said.
We decided to accompany Koichi and wait for him to be finished since we’d need to go back to the department together so Koichi could sign some paperwork so I could be released to him, at least temporarily.
“You did say you were doing an inspection, what are you inspecting?” I asked as we continued down the street.
The skyline was notably less tall in this area. Instead of a hallway I could actually see squatter buildings, some of them notably older.
“Oh, I’m a pre demolition building inspector.” He said, looking over his shoulder as he moved forward. “The firm I work on takes contracts for clients looking to tear down older buildings in order to do new construction. I’m meeting them there and am going to go through a checklist of any issues or concerns they might have before trying to purchase it.”
“So you’re going to go check the inside of old buildings to see if they’re safe to tear down?” I asked.
“Basically yeah.” Koichi scratched his cheeks. “There’s a bit more to it than that. There’s been a boom in the industry in the last decade or so, lots of the buildings we look at are holdovers from the reconstruction age of Japan. Because of the rush of the time, a lot of them weren’t made up to code or used faulty construction methods. There’s also sometimes problems with hazardous building materials that were used during that time that weren’t approved by the government. So we do checks for that sort of thing and make recommendations for disposal as well as efficient demolition practices. My firm also works with zoning laws and helps settle real estate disputes if they come up.”
“Is that what they call it?” Tamakawa said in a small voice.
“No, I mean, actual real estate disputes. Those come up a lot too, especially with some of the older families who have contracts from before the upheaval. We can usually come to an agreement without too much fuss, but some people are pretty stubborn about certain buildings standing even though they have parts of them that just aren’t safe.” He said.
“Not exactly the type of work I imagine you do in a suit.” I said, looking at Koichi.
“Actually, it’s surprisingly sturdy.” He pulled on the fabric. “The fabric quality is about the same as those used by some of the costumes at super hero firms, it’s a little more expensive but the brand is established enough that they make it pretty standard for people who might work in or around people with hazardish quirks in an office environment.”
“Hazardous in an office environment?” I raised an eyebrow.
“Some people don’t have full control of their quirks on the best of days.” Tamakawa said. “It’s not that they want to cause discomfort or harm, just that it gets away from them. The government has worked a lot to make clothing more sturdy as a preventive measure.”
“Will it stop a knife?” I asked with a raised eyebrow.
“It’ll slow it down. It doesn’t tear nor burn as easily as cheaper fabric. We use it for our uniforms at the police station too. But it’d be pretty hard to cut and shape if the fabric completely stopped a blade.” Tamakawa answered.
Well, that was true. One reason why high percentage khakri was so expensive was because it was bloody hard to sew. You needed chakra metal scissors and a lot of precise control to do so. One reason my outfit was just a highly foldable square. Though it was double layered, there wasn’t much stitching involved with it.
As we walked Koichi’s phone went off and he pulled it out.
“Oh, we’re here.”
I glanced around to look at the surrounding buildings. I’d lost track of our environment while we were talking, as well as the people around us. Now there were none just walking about and I could see why. The sidewalks were cracked with holes in them, the railings distorted, and the surrounding buildings… There was ACTUALLY a giant chunk missing out of one of them. The stone didn’t look like it was about to crumble, but I could see cracks in the outward building. Looking around, I saw other hazards, there were large potholes in the street, glancing across the way, I saw the remains of a convenience store that had been burnt out into a husk. There were also melted stubs on the ground where I could only presume a few street signs had been. I blinked, looking around as Danny jumped off my shoulder and pawed at a hole in the ground. The wind shifted and I could even smell the burnt pavement, making me cough for a second.
Koichi seemed to notice my confusion and nodded.
“Last month there was a skirmish between local gangs. Things started to escalate when one of the gang took civilian hostages. That was when the number two hero intervened, apparently he was in the area and well, a show of power is usually how he gets villains to surrender.”
“This does look like Endeavor’s work.” Tamakawa said, looking at the rubble around and putting a hand on one side of the buildings.
“A hero did this?” I said, looking incredulously at the area.
“Not all of it.” Tamakawa said. “But Endeavor is more known for his efficiency, rather than his delicate hand.”
I looked at the area and the sickness in my stomach grew a bit. It looked like a fucking bomb had gone off here, not a fight. I’d never gotten into a fight that caused this much collateral damage before, given I typically never let fights go on that long.
Before I could mull over that for much longer a man actually appeared to the side of the building.
“Oh, Haimawari-san? They sent you this time?”
Koichi held up a hand.
“Gudo-san, yes when they heard about the area they thought I’d be best fit.”
The man who came out had dark skin but white hair that was balding at the top. He was just a little shorter than Koichi and was in suit pants and a button up. He also had a bright colored vest on and a construction helmet, which he held out to Koichi.
“Thanks,” Koichi said, taking the helmet and strapping it in place before he reached into his bag and pulled out a clipboard and a pen. “Are you ready? You didn’t go in without me, right?”
“Of course not. Thank you for coming, I am in your care.” Gudo said before looking at myself and Tamakawa. “You brought an officer this time? Is he going to assist in the inspection?”
Koichi rubbed his head.
“Hopefully that won’t be necessary.” Turning to look at us, he looked us over. “You two will be okay on your own, right? This shouldn’t take too long.”
Tamakawa looked around.
“Not much around to come out. If anything goes wrong we’ll be sure to evacuate.”
“Is something going to happen?” I asked, looking at Koichi.
“Hopefully not, so you shouldn’t worry too much.” Koichi seemed to think this again before he reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone. “Here, you can use this while you wait so you won’t be too bored. If something comes up I’ll text you on my company phone.”
Koichi produced another phone from his bag.
“You have two phones?” I said, raising an eyebrow as I took the other one from his hand.
“It has a radio function.” He clicked the center button. “In case the cell service is down.”
He said into the phone and there was some static on Tamakawa’s radio.
“Again, why do you need that?” I said, raising an eyebrow.
“Debris, accidents, that sort of thing, these aren’t stable buildings sometimes walls crumble and stuff, though no one usually gets hurt.” Koichi said. “Anyway, I won’t be long.” He turned and headed to the building. As he did, Danny moved to follow him, but I called him back.
As Danny jumped back up onto my shoulder I turned to Tamakawa.
“Okay I get the debris, but would the building collapse so bad that we’ll need to evacuate?”
“It’s possible if there’s enough damage, but that type of damage is usually obvious from the outside and doesn’t need an inspection to determine. I only mean if something or someone else tries anything we’ll be sure to clear out.” He said.
“Someone else?” I looked at him.
“Yeah, squatters mostly. There is a good reason why Haimawari-san is the person they send on jobs like these.” Tamakawa finished.
Again for people who don’t know, Koichi is the protagonist of MHA: Illegals.