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Hearts of Storm

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“What did you bring me here for?” Standing in front of a wall filled with graffiti, Yui cocked her head to the side.

“Hey,” Shaw hollered from a few meters away. “Catch!”

She turned around and shot her hands up just in time to prevent the projectile from hitting her face. It made a loud clunking sound as it hit the ground and rolled off to a side.

“Stop throwing things at my face!”

“You’re a terrible catcher,” he said with a look of disdain.

Why does she have a feeling he did it on purpose just so he can see something hit her square in the face?

She sighed as she bent down to pick up whatever he threw at her, realizing it was a spray can.

Fishing out a couple more spray paint bottles of various colors from his backpack, Shaw pointed at the wall behind him. “Go for it.”

Yui pointed at herself in confusion.

“You were interested, no? I was going to have you be my lookout again,” he paused, giving her a lopsided smile. “But since I don’t want to end up in the police station, I’ll make an exception today and be your lookout instead.”

Yui paused as she thought she heard something sounded almost gentle beneath his little playful taunt, but she couldn’t be sure. She hesitated for a brief moment before she waved the feeling away.

Whatever his intentions were, he made the offer, why not take him up on it? She had done it once already when she lost her bet and had to go on that one-day date with him anyway. And, if she was honest with herself, it was quite fun.

Well, except for when they had to run from the city management officers, of course.

Decided, she shook the spray can in her hand as she walked towards the wall and saw Shaw had already chosen a spot on the ground to sit with a good vantage point.

She took another look at him before raising the can in her hand and pressing down on the nozzle. He had gotten her out of trouble enough times that she figured she could trust him to keep her out of the police station this time too.

With a hiss of the can, a cloud of pink appeared on the wall just like last time, except, now she had a better idea of what she was doing.

“There!” She announced after several minutes of spraying.

She stepped back to look at her work and nodded in approval. Definitely a huge improvement from last time, her lines were no longer crooked.

“What the heck? Sea monsters again? And a whole family of them?” She heard Shaw laughing hysterically from his seat. “How uncreative can you be?”

“I told you they are rabbits!” She snapped back, pouting, before bending down to grab another spray can that was closest to her. “And who said I’m done yet?”

Truth be told, she was done. But there was no way she would sit back and let Shaw taunt her like that. So, she kept drawing. Minutes passed by, more and more little colorful creatures filled the wall like a rainbow. She admired and grinned at her handy work every time she went to pick up a new color spray.

Soon, she was holding the last can in her hand. Stealing a look at Shaw, she saw him looking off into the distance, blowing bubblegum bubbles and popping them loudly. She wondered if he was bored just sitting there acting as her lookout. She was bored last time, until she saw the breath-taking artwork that he drew.

For a brief moment, she debated on whether to just call it a day so he didn’t have to endure the boredom any longer, but she shrugged and decided otherwise. This was the last color anyway. It would only take a few more minutes for her to finish up.

Holding up the can, she pressed on the nozzle once again and stood frozen as she stared at the small cloud of gold-yellow in front of her.

The color of ginkgo leaves.

Whatever animal she was planning to draw had been forgotten. Her finger pressed on the nozzle again and with a few turns of her wrist, a ginkgo leaf appeared on the wall. She stared at it in silence.

“So, you drew the sea monster family’s demented cousins too,” Shaw’s sarcastic voice rose behind her suddenly. “Great!”

Jolted back to reality at his comment, Yui realized what she had done. As if possessed, she had painted ginkgo leaves after ginkgo leaves until they filled up a large space beside the first bunnies she drew.

What was she thinking? She had done it again. She had let her misery take over her again. Yui shoved her hand in her hair in frustration, wishing she had better control of her own emotions.

Picking up a can of spray paint, Shaw stood between her and the wall blocking her view, forcing her to take a few steps back. She heard the hissing of the spray can before she could react.

With a few swift motions, his hand sped across the wall as vibrant silver-grey paint followed in confident strokes.

“Hey! What are you doing?” Reaching her hand towards his raised arm, she tried to interfere with him from drawing over her work.

Quickly, he stepped aside to dodge her while he shot out a hand to grab her wrist. In one swift moment, he had her entire body pinned against his side with her back towards him, his arm wrapped around her torso.

She slapped her free hand at him and tried to break loose, but all he did was laugh, squishing her towards him more. The hissing sound rose again as Shaw continued his work despite her wiggling and her shoe almost kicking him in the shin a couple of times.

Finally, the hissing of the spray can stopped as he made his final stroke and released her from his grip. Unable to curb her curiosity, although still annoyed by his complete disregard of her protest, she turned her gaze towards the wall.

Yui couldn’t help but stare at Shaw’s creation in awe. In that small amount of time, he painted a huge imposing shark that seemed ready to jump out of the wall at any moment. The life-like image dwarfed her drawings both in size and art style.

It took her a moment to realize his shark had its jaw wide open and had “swallowed” the majority of her ginkgo leaves along with a few animals in its path.

“What was that for?” She pointed at the shark, raising her voice. “You said you were just going to act as my lookout.”

“Hey, who said I was just going to sit there?” He laughed as he dodged her half-hearted attempt to hit him on his arm.

“That was mean!” She complained, though she couldn’t stifle a small laugh of her own as she ran after him. “And it makes no sense! Why would a shark jump out of the water to eat bunnies and puppies?”

“What bunnies and puppies? You drew sea monsters!”

She chased after him trying to land a hit on the little brat while he skipped around taunting her and dodging her half-hearted attacks like two little kids playing on a playground.

With a pop, she cracked open a can of warm milk tea they bought in a twenty-four-hour convenience store on the way back. Trying to clench her thirst from chasing Shaw halfway back to the workshop, she took a big gulp.

Sitting on the bench, neither suggested to head inside to the workshop just a few steps away, even though it was freezing cold outside. She tilted her head back and watched small, white clouds of fog forming every time she exhaled.

It had been a long time since she laughed so much. In fact, this might have been the first time she laughed without care for more than half a year. She could still feel her sore cheek muscles.

Letting out a small self-deprecating laugh, she shook her head. It was only now that she realized how pathetic she had become since she came to this dimension.

“It’s Gavin’s birthday today,” she said quietly.

“I know,” he said nonchalantly.

She turned to look at him in surprise, but before she opened her mouth to ask how, she remembered that this was Shaw she was talking to. He had multiple informants working for him. It was easy enough for him to find out about things like these.

“That’s why you came to check on me?”

Rather than answering, he merely gave her a shrug.

He didn’t give her a real answer, but if she thought about it, it was obviously the reason he dropped by tonight. He never asked her why she had cooked for two, never made a comment about her sitting around and staring at an empty chair until the food was cold and even knew that there was a birthday cake sitting inside the fridge without her mentioning it.

She’d be stupid to think it was all a coincidence.

Before, she was so absorbed in her own grief that she never spent the time to understand Shaw. But ever since the bombing incident, she was determined to pick herself back up, and in the process of finding herself again, she came to slowly learn more about him.

Beyond being an annoying brat half of the time, this man sitting beside her could be surprisingly sensitive and caring. Thinking back on it, Yui realized there were countless occasions when he took care of her in his own little way, like pulling pranks on her when she was lost in her dark thoughts or taking her out on silly missions, like stealing his professor’s papers when he clearly didn’t need her help. He was trying to keep her mind occupied.

He probably took her out tonight because he saw the guilt on her face when they were eating that birthday cake and wanted to take her mind off of it. After all, he took her graffitiing, one of his favorite activities when he wanted to vent. He even sat quietly most of the time when she took her time drawing.

It wasn’t until she started obsessively drawing ginkgo leaves that he intervened.

Turning towards him, she took a long look at him, something she had never done before. Sitting beside her, he was leaning forward, bracing his arms on his knees. His antique dragonfly eyes bead necklace gently swayed and his broken brow slightly furrowed every time he took a sip of his coke.

Yui thought to herself that perhaps, beneath that bratty exterior, he was truly a good person, someone she could trust.

“Thank you,” Yui began again after a good few minutes of comfortable silence.

“What for?” He took a sideward glance at her before taking another sip of his coke.

“For taking my mind off of things,” she replied, acknowledging what he did for her not only tonight but the many times before that she didn’t realize until now.

“Sure,” he shrugged. “How do you plan to thank me?”

Yui rolled her eyes at his terrible habit of asking for compensation for everything but didn’t reject the idea, as long as it was something she could afford. “Fine. What do you want?”

There was a slight pause before Yui saw a glint in his eyes and the corner of his mouth hiked up and immediately, she knew the wheels were turning in his head. He was up to no good. Her eyebrows knitted and she moved backward instinctively.

“The birthday present you owe me,” he said. “Well, a belated birthday present. With interest.”

“Huh?” Yui was about to ask why she would owe him a present when she didn’t even know when his birthday was but realized that would have been a lie. Two months ago, she found his student ID inside the pocket of a jacket he lent her after a mission. She remembered thinking to herself that she wasn’t one bit surprised that he was a Gemini when she read his birth date on the ID.

“Elaborate dinner for Gavin’s birthday but not a word for me on mine? Favoritism much?” He asked jokingly, but Yui could see he held a blank expression staring off to a distance as if he was trying to hide his emotions.

“Sorry,” with a guilty smile, she apologized. She didn’t do it on purpose, but it was true that she didn’t take the date to heart, so when she got busy with the missions last month, it escaped her completely. Not that she would have cooked him an elaborate dinner, but at least she should have wished him a happy birthday. “Happy belated birthday?”

“Too insincere,” he tsked, crushing the empty can in his hand as he threw it in the trash can. “Rejected.”

Of course, he was going to make things difficult for her, but with what he did for her today, she did owe him. Letting out a sigh, she placed the now-cold can of milk tea on the bench beside her before sitting up and turning towards him.

“I’m sorry for forgetting your birthday,” firmly gazing at his amber eyes. She pressed her hands together in front of her face and apologized again. “I wish you a happy very-belated birthday.”

“Barely acceptable,” he smirked. “Still owe me that birthday present though.”

“Fine,” Yui rolled her eyes again wondering if it was her imagination or if Shaw was sounding a little like Victor. Hopefully, his idea of a birthday present wasn’t some kind of a financial report. “As long as it’s not something expensive.”

“No money required.”

As she was about to open her mouth to ask for clarification, she felt his hand on her nape and his face grew closer in her vision. Before she could react, his warm lips were already on hers.

She froze, eyes wide in surprise at the sudden turn of events. It took her brain several seconds to process what was happening and by the time she held up her hands to shove him away from her, he had already ended the kiss.

“What on earth?!” She jumped on her feet and immediately tried to wipe her lips with the back of her hands.

“Nuh-uh, no wiping,” Shaw shot his hand out to grab her wrists stopping her hands inches away from her face. “Wipe and I’ll kiss you again.”

He held on to her wrist for a short moment to make sure she understood him before slowly releasing it.

Free to move her arms again, Yui was about to ignore his threat just before she caught a glint in his eyes as he raised an eyebrow at her, as if daring her to defy him. For a moment, she debated internally. On one hand, she wanted to do exactly what he threatened her not to, even if it was out of simple defiance. On the other hand, she knew he would totally make good on his threat and the smirk on his face revealed to her that he was looking forward to her doing just that.

There was no winning against him.

Her face flushed red with frustration, but she had no choice but to give in. Slowly, she lowered her hands, but if Shaw thought she was going to let him do whatever he pleased without consequences, he was very, very wrong.

Without warning, Yui kicked out her foot with all her might. As her boot connected with his chin, she heard a satisfactory yelp from him. As much as she wanted to see his surprised and painful expression right now, Yui didn’t dare to stay for another second.

Turning around, she ran straight for the workshop. With speed she didn’t even know she had, she fished out the keys from her pocket, unlocked the door, slipped inside, slammed the door close behind her and set the deadbolt in one swift movement.

Heart still racing, she turned around and leaned her back against the door and heard, somewhat unsurprisingly, his laughter. It was so loud that she wouldn’t be surprised if the neighbors were woken up by it.

“Jerk,” she muttered, annoyed that he found her reaction amusing yet again.

Yui waited a few moments after his laughter faded before letting out a sigh of relief knowing that he wasn’t going to barge into the workshop to exact revenge upon her tonight.

Slowly, she raised her hand to her mouth again, intending to wipe off the taste of him, but as her fingertips touched her lips, she was reminded of his warmth and the unexpected tenderness of his kiss.

It wasn’t forceful or consuming. He simply caressed his soft lips against hers gently. Their closeness allowed her to smell the lingering scent of his shampoo and to taste a hint of the sweetness from the Coke he finished drinking a moment ago.

She had tried her damnedest to forget, to pretend it never happened, but the hazy memories of how his lips felt against her own lips and her bare skin that fateful night several months ago came creeping back to her. She should feel anger or even violation from the reminder, but instead, she only felt a slight annoyance. Eyebrows knitted, she bit down on her lips as she belatedly realized that she didn’t hate his kiss as much as she should.

As she contemplated the meaning of this, the large clock on the wall caught her eye and she realized it was past midnight.

Gavin’s birthday had passed.