michiru, challenge: cigarettes
(too long to post in the comments)
“how many cigarettes come in a pack?”
haruka’s lips were pursed like she had already wrapped them around one; and she was pacing around the hotel room, the way that she only did when she had a craving. this one was dingy, of course the hotels where they stayed were all rundown, but this one had a particular dirt-tinge that seemed to surround everything. every day longer they stayed, michiru could feel her pores saturate with the stuff, started feeling filthy two weeks ago. of course, this one was dingy past repair, it was cheap and all they could afford.
money was so tight, tighter than ruka’s steps on the individual checks of the checkered carpet, the squares were green and blue and could barely be distinguished with all of the dirt worn in, but ruka managed to keep each step exactly within each square. they shared a bed because they had to, but ruka found it too springy, so she’d mostly sleep on the floor and the bed was michi’s place. she was sitting cross-legged on it, the closest to a picturesque domestic life as she could get, picking her nails and watching ruka pace.
she had gotten more quiet lately, a side-effect of all that spying that they had to do. any sound had to be weighed and judged before it occurred, and she was bringing the work back with her like a good little soldier. and she obviously still hadn’t answered haruka’s question, ‘cause ruka’s hands were restlessly wringing and she was getting that look that meant ‘ruka was worrying hard. there was a bitter taste in michi’s mouth, one that she was determined to ignore.
“fifteen or twenty, I think.” she kept her eyes on the yellowing wallpaper, tried to count all of the different shades of brown on the wall, but it just wasn’t enough. there was another person in the room, despite how desperately she wanted some time to be alone and quiet for once.
the city was always so loud, and here in this room with the thin walls and the screaming prostitutes and the same person sharing her air with all of that noisy breathing, she couldn’t escape.
“you have this panicky look all around you.” haruka had somehow gotten all of the way across the room without her noticing. (some bodyguard, she muttered sarcastically before turning her face up and up and over to meet her partner’s, or maybe she hadn’t said it at all?) “we are going out now, michi. you need to be somewhere that isn’t work or here.”
michiru had this vision of taking one of those crappy tourist tours and seeing all of the places in london like everybody saw, maybe going out for some fish and chips after and sitting in a restaurant, shook her head and left the bed. flip-flops weren’t work wear, so she put those on, tried not to remember that she hadn’t changed clothes in two days, despite the showers, took haruka’s hand and left. it was hard to remember what it was like not to be stared at, had to dye her hair that garish shade of aqua and that always got people muttering to the left and to the right and ‘ruka was the only one to mutter it to her face, but it wasn’t like ‘ruka was doing any better. she took ruka’s hand, ‘cause that’s what couples do and they were undercover as a couple. (‘ruka cut off all that long hair of hers, the ends all curled around her on the bathroom floor like snakes trying to creep up and strangle everything; and nobody was looking for some green-haired punk so the old brown hair of hers had to change with the bleach and the dye and the texture just didn’t feel the same anymore)
“and this was supposed to be our weekend off…” ‘ruka’s voice was of course deepened and gravelly for public, but lately michiru had been wondering if it was mostly a side-effect of the cigarettes. the job was stressful, stress made the body more susceptible to evil, their "benefactor" had said. 'ruka was still griping a little about the job but michiru didn’t say anything in return, a little ashamed to still be so bashful of all the attention her hair gave her. so ‘ruka kept talking, she was good at knowing how to do that, and michiru found herself gripping her partner’s hand a little tighter. “so the ditz goes off on some foreign press conference, and instead of following her and getting a-“ crack in the sidewalk where she stumbled and ‘ruka had to catch her, and really why had she taken the ballet lessons for all of those years if she was going to be this graceless? “-stuck here and not even paid like we were promised for the past two weeks while aino goes off on that fuckin’ press conference.”
they entered a dingy convenience store, still holding hands and looking around, and michi couldn’t stop her eyes from checking all the exits, windows, security cameras, but ‘ruka couldn’t either. “seven in total, plus clerk.” she whispered, ‘cause it was the habit and ‘ruka nodded before going off to the feminine hygiene aisle. the fluorescent lights were especially flickery in this store, which was just the same as their usual convenience store except the racks were maybe a bit more banged up. they had gone here for the walk, she knew, and went behind to follow her partner. “at least we get a break,” she murmured as they moved to the hair dye aisle.
she got a nice smile from ‘ruka, and for about the seventy thousandth time she remembered to be glad that they were such good friends. but she doubted that it showed on her face, nothing did anymore and it was just simpler that way. she put the same color as always into the little plastic cage that ‘ruka was holding and made sure to put it in the side that wasn’t broken before they started walking again. it was always best to keep moving around in a place with an unstable perimeter. but it was kind of odd when they stopped in the cosmetics aisle, right in front of the racks of nail polish. “pick one.” ‘ruka’s voice had the gruff, no argument tone that she wasn’t used to hearing directed at her. makeup was a luxury that they really couldn’t afford at this point, but it looked like ‘ruka was determined. this would have to last her a while, so she looked very carefully. yellows and oranges were out, they reminded her too much of the girl she had to watch twelve hours a day, and red and pink were too tacky. there was a shade on there, that matched the bows on her senshi outfit (was she allowed even to think of it in public?) but she wasn’t a senshi all the time, so she wouldn’t get it. in the end she chose a pale shimmery purple that would look classy enough for its inexpensiveness. but that blue polish kept staring at her, like it was daring her to buy it, but she wouldn’t stoop that low. “are we going on a shopping spree tonight?” she kept her tone light, teasing.
“yep. my treat.”
“oh.” suddenly, the sparse shop seemed to get just a little bit bigger, and michiru turned her face up to look at ‘ruka for the first time in two days. “thank you.” and it was hard to stop looking at her after that, stuck in her old clothes with the hair she hated and that damn blue nailpolish glittering at them out of the corner of her eye.
“let’s go get some breathmints.” and michiru found herself laughing along with haruka, despite that the statement wasn’t really funny and there were people staring now. and they linked arms instead this time, adding breathmints to the cage and then a package of those little individually wrapped chocolates, and deodorant. as they got to the checkout counter, michiru figured that she should take the opportunity to use a clean bathroom before they went. “you finish up here and I’ll meet you outside.” she didn’t mean for her tone to get so businesslike, it was probably just habit or something. she took a few moments to splash her face with water before walking out, but that blue polish was still there, looking accusingly at her. michiru stopped, (pretend like she hadn’t just been bested by the little bottle of nailpolish that she had just stuck in the pocket of her worn-out jeans) restarted, went to meet her partner.
haruka was out smoking at the entrance, exhaling like she could finally relax, with the brick to her back and all of the rest of london flashing around. they were out of the hotel, finally without working, and michiru hadn’t withered under the streetlamps and haruka hadn’t disappeared once she didn’t need to be rightnearby. and they had work in two days, they were walking back. michiru was the one to slide her hand next to her partner’s this time, feeling something for once. of course the walk was different than it was before, michiru reminded herself. they had gotten their vices.
“twenty. to a pack. well, nineteen now.”