A/N: Okay, lets clear a few things up you beautiful, mislead readers; this is Version 2 of the story Black Alleyways and Bleak Hearts. It is not meant to rely on or intersect with the Old Version of BABH at all. Not even a little. Hence forth, the two version will be known as "Orca-chan Version" (Old) and "Hobo" Version (New.)
So my point in all this: DO NOT FEAR! I will try to dissuade your confusion with the bits of sanity I have left. Also, plagiarism is punishable by death in my country. : ) Enjoy!
Black Alleyways and Bleak HeartsOne
One thing I never understood completely was how people could get to work on time when all the forces of nature were against them.
"You stupid clock!" I screeched and almost threw it across the room.
There had been a thunderstorm last night after I went to bed, and the power had apparently flashed off because my alarm clock was oblivious of its set duty or time of day. Looking at my cell phone I nearly had a heart attack when it flashed 7:45. I had gotten out of bed faster than that morning when I knew my mother was coming over.
Making it outside, my hair had gone crazy at the sight of the humidity as I put the laundry out to dry. The forecast said no more storms, but you know, who's the reliable one here? Trying to find an outfit was also an ordeal. I was having a fat day, so I had to scourge around for my loose pair of slacks and, wouldn't you know it, they were dirty. Then, noticing the time, I had a small panic attack and rushed out the door in the nearest outfit. By the time I got to the train I realized I had forgotten my portfolio, and by the time I got back to the train, the last one until 10:30am had left.
So sitting at the nearest bus stop in a somewhat shady part of town (I mean seriously kids, how many holes are in your face? How many do you need?) you can see that I was a little unhappy. To make matters worse, or perhaps giving me something to take my frustration out on, some kid sat down next to me with leering eyes. I turned away, because he didn't know what kind of vicious he was sitting down next to.
Just as he started to say something (brilliant, I'm sure) the bus pulled up and I boarded without looking back at him. Relaxing the little I could on the ride to the office, I sent Towa, my editor, another text message apologizing and giving him an update. He sent back an understanding message, but mentioned my deadlines.
Hoping that for once my assistant showed up, I headed into our building as fast as my short legs would take me, passing people I knew and didn't know, smiling at the security officer, and getting to the elevator just in time to see the doors close. Sighing, I tapped my foot as I waited, giving the straggly looking man who walked up beside me a strange look. He didn't quite fit in with the soft colors of the lobby or the shining marble floors and smiling personnel. Where did he think he was, the police station? A rock concert? Shaking my head I got onto the elevator and reached for the same button as the homeless guy.
Raising my eyebrow I asked almost as suspiciously as I wanted, "Heading to our publishing house?"
"Yeah," I listened to his arrogant drawl and decided I didn't like him. Anyone who causes Towa problems is not my friend.
Giving him a placating face I nodded and made a mental note to phone security when I got to Molly's desk. Molly is Towa's assistant and though she's a petite 5' she could scare men twice her size. Goodness knows she got me all the time. In a way, I felt sorry for this hobo; he picked the wrong office to smooch off of.
Breezing past him as soon as the doors opened I headed all the way across the cubified office (as I liked to call office buildings lined with cubicles), nodding hellos and going for my desk. On the way I gave Molly a warning glance and motioned behind me with my eyes figuring Molly was much worse (and easier) to get to handle this. Molly, being the quick woman that she is, narrowed her eyes immediately, focusing her eyes behind me. Smirking a little, because I was having a bad day and was feeling a little vindictive, I got set up at my desk noticing that my assistant was no where to be seen and someone had set a fresh cup of coffee on my desk. Score! It's hazelnut.
There was a rustling a few desks over that caught my attention, and I watched, amused for the first time today, as a young, scrawny boy carried over a box of gifts twice his size. Setting it down, he turned and came towards my cubicle. Popping his head around the corner, and giving me an infectious smile our intern, Nawa-kun, looked pleased as he noticed the coffee cup in my hand.
"Do you need any help this morning Tachibana-san?" He asked, hopeful as always.
"No thank you, it's mostly going to be calls this morning, but I'll be sure to let you know if I need anything." He always liked when I said that, cute kid. "And thanks for the coffee, I really appreciate it."
Glowing, he disappeared back to mediate gifts for authors and whatever else Towa had him doing. Nawa-kun was going to school for his business degree and had started working here a few months ago. Though his office skills sometimes left much to be desired, he was a hard worker and had won over most everyone in the building.
Trying not to get too nostalgic, I tried to get organized. But like I said, some days were simply not the day. A distracting sound to my right made me look up and I saw Molly, flustered, leading the hobo into Towa's office. Looking over his shoulder, as if he knew I was watching, the hobo caught my eye and smirked. In return sending him a suspicious glare, I got a bad chill.
All kind of crazy thoughts ran through my head as I sat back down and stared blankly at my coffee. Maybe he was a con artist and was here to take Towa for all he had, and how did he get past Molly? Fretting, I almost knocked my beloved coffee over before I realized I had a few hours of work to get caught up on.
Putting my head down and diving right into it, I didn't notice Towa and his new friend behind me until Towa cleared his throat. At the interruption I jumped about a foot in the air, earning a laugh from the hobo and an affectionate smile from Towa. I glared at the infiltrator.
"Excuse us for interrupting your work Akemi-chan, I want to discuss your new manga. Would you come into my office?" Turning around and leading the way, I followed him the few steps to his office, past his reception area and gave his back a confused look… even more so when I tried to shut the door but the hobo followed us in.
The hobo gave me an amused look, like "what did you expect". Sitting down in front of his desk, beside the hobo, I pulled on my straight face. I didn't know why I was really here (manga? yeah right), or more importantly why the hobo was here as well, so it was better to not look as nervous as I felt.
"Now, as we had been discussing, it's time for your first tankōbon. I want to follow the boys love approach, but in a different manner you've been portraying it."
Towa gave me a few seconds to interject, but all he got was a blank look. I got it and all, but that didn't explain why hobo was here. Huh, hobo is such an affectionate name. I wonder if he minds. Glancing at him out of the corner of my eye I noticed he was looking at me from where he was reclined in one of Towa's comfy leather chairs. Arrogance eluded from him, and it made me grit my teeth.
The calming chi of Towa's office did nothing to alleviate my sudden and complete aggravation. I blamed it on karma, the other day my neighbor Toby-san wanted to play a game of Lotus Tiles with me but I said no claiming that something or another was going on. In truth, I had had a lot of work to do and knew that that excuse was not going to dissuade him.
"I know we've tried this before, and you've had some problems with keeping things going, so I've worked out something with my friend Izumi." Gesturing to hobo I was finally able to round my suspicion on him.
He was better looking in the warm light of Towa's office, with a soft glow on his black hair (probably from a lack of showering) and a flattering light to his dark skin. But that devil-may-care look in his eyes made me want to clobber him. Looking me right in the eyes and winking I gave an exasperated sigh and turned back to Towa. He was smiling.
"You and I both know what inspires you Akemi, so I want to bring Izumi in to help you."
Towa has always been a very intuitive man. He could read people's emotions and know how to act around them so well, it's a wonder he didn't go into politics, or trade like his family. So when he gave me a few minutes to feel overwhelmingly incredulous he was prepared for my rebuttal.
"You don't think I can write it by myself?"
"It's not that, I want this to be the best boys love to be written. I want it to capture people and to not let them go. I want it to succeed where others have not succeeded before. If everything goes as planned, it will run for 25 volumes. Akemi, I know you and I know how you work. If you don't have something to fuel your creativeness, some outside force to push your limits, there's a chance the story will fizzle out, or go in a direction that lacks luster."
Raising a hand to stop my protests, Towa went on. "I have thought about this, and a tankōbon is the next step your career has to take. If you don't make the right step then your work will hold no weight, and you won't be on staff as a manga-ka for long."
Ouch, that one hurt. "So, what is it that the hobo here is going to do?"
They both raised their eyebrows at my affectionate nickname, but Towa answered. "You two can help each other out. Izumi, who is well versed in several subjects and debate, will keep you writing."
I paused, waiting for them to continue. "And in return?"
"He needs a place to stay."
My vision blackened for a quick second, loosing sight of the moss green walls, the floor to ceiling bookshelves on my left and Towa's massive desk. I hissed out one word: "Freeloader."
"Now, now Akemi, it's not like that. I want both of you to get things done, to feel accomplished-"
"I can only imagine how well Izumi-san will feel accomplished as he mooches off some random woman- namely me!"
Giving me a dry look, Towa spent the rest of the meeting reminding me of consequences and of the fancy editor's powers he has until I had to agree to let this freeloader be my muse or I'd loose my job. If there was ever one true thing about the manga industry as a whole, it was that the editor was boss, and what he says goes.
Huffing out of his office (I wasn't expected to mature all the time, was I) I looked out over the floor seeing sympathetic glances, confused looks, and Molly. I charged by Towa's reception area, ignoring her outstretched hand ready to comfort, and went the few steps to my desk. I was having a bad day, there was so much work to do, and now I had to put up with this? Not letting myself cry, I started on the calls to the anime company. I'd be damned if I let this hobo ruin my life.