Kazuto winced as the headset he was wearing barked static into his ear as his boss shouted at him.
"Kirigaya! Progress on 44!" The grizzled voice came through the tinny speaker with an impressive amount of authority despite sounding like the person asking the questions was about twelve years old.
Kazuto rolled his eyes as he clipped his spray bottle to his utility belt and used his hand to hit the talk button on his headset.
"Just finished up the 44th floor, boss. I was just getting ready to call you and let you know before you about made me drop my squeegee," he said, unable to keep a shade of irritation from coloring the end of sentence.
"Did I just hear some more lip come out of you, Kirigaya?" the voice in his ear shouted again.
"Who, me? Never, sir," Kazuto replied as he adjusted his position in his harness. He made sure to keep his voice as flat as possible. While he didn't necessarily respect his boss, he didn't feel like washing the windows of another eleven floors as punishment just because he felt mouthy today.
"Well, just to make sure it wasn't, you get to finish the rest of Kishimura's section today, and you're not coming out of that harness until the job is done!"
"But Kishimura works all the way up from eighty to one hundred!" Kazuto protested, stomping his foot where it was braced along a concrete support. The resulting dull thump! caused the cat that was sleeping in the windowsill of the apartment he was currently washing to wake with a start and shoot him the stinkeye. Kazuto stuck his tongue out at it.
"Maybe you'll think about that before you start popping off again, slacker."
"Never missed a day of work since I started this stupid job, but whatever," Kazuto mumbled as he switched off his headset and activated his rope winch to begin the walk up the side of the building.
The Cardinal Luxury Tower was one of the more upper-scale apartment complexes in downtown Tokyo; a slender but solid affair that stood one hundred stories high and was built with a design scheme aimed towards the future.
Unfortunately for Kazuto, that meant lots and lots of glass windows that needed washing. The company that he worked for, Lucky Shine Glass, had all but fallen over themselves to get a contract with the owners of the building, gladly overselling the amount of laborers they had in order to secure a fat and consistent paycheck. This meant Kazuto and his few coworkers each had large swaths of building to clean and were usually hassled by the overbearing crew foreman to get their lazy butts into gear, despite the fact that the weather usually did not work in their favor or that they were hundreds of feet in the air suspended by a simple harness and rope system that Kazuto heavily suspected of not being up to safety regulations.
As far as Kazuto was concerned, it wasn't the worst job. He didn't really have to interact with too many people because the tenants were all out of the house at their jobs or running errands and he was essentially left to his own devices as far as cleaning went because wiping a window down wasn't rocket science. He enjoyed the solitude and the sound of the wind rushing past his hair, and the money the company offered for such a dangerous job was good enough to make him ignore the faults, for the most part. But, on days like today, where his boss handed him extra work, he did sometimes wish he could've found a nice desk job with normal hours.
The sun was beginning to set, turning the nearby ocean into a sheet of hammered bronze that reflected up onto the building, making the structure seem like it was wavering side to side. Kazuto snorted in irritation as he finally reached the eightieth floor and braced himself up to start his rhythmic washing routine when his attention grabbed by the apartment he was currently situated outside of.
On the lower floors, windows typically served as a singular panel of a wall or a smaller feature, but this apartment's entire exterior wall was made up of several floor-to-ceiling windows that flooded the apartment with the light provided from the setting sun. The apartment was done in an open-style fashion, with no walls that broke up the central living space. An ebony door stood on the far right wall. To the right of the door stood an umbrella stand and shoe rack where it looked like a few different pairs of women's shoes rested neatly in pairs. To the immediate left of the door was an impressive kitchen done in white tile that looked immaculately kept despite the wide variety of cooking implements that it contained. Next to the kitchen along the back wall of the apartment ran an elegant dining table that only had two seats placed on either end of it. The main feature of the apartment was the lavish living room done in white and beige with red accents that faced the right wall towards a monster sized television that had been mounted over an impressive looking fireplace. Lastly, to the left side of the apartment sat a gorgeous white grand piano that glowed like a divine being in the light of the sunset. Next to it sat an equally majestic cello that showed signs of wear along the neck from hands that must have spent countless hours rehearsing and fingering the strings. Yet despite the fact the instrument had been well-loved in the past, Kazuto could see a thick veneer of dust laying upon it.
"Damn," Kazuto muttered to himself. "Nice place. Wonder who lives here?"
As if on cue, the front door swung in and a young woman stepped inside, taking care to lock the door behind her after she closed it. She was of a slender build, but tall and seemed to possess more strength than she let show, evidenced by the abundance of groceries she hefted in one arm with apparent ease. Her hair, done into a neat braid and ponytail, was the color of the sunset coming off the water and Kazuto could see she had the eyes to match as she turned her head slightly when she went to put her shoes inside the organizer by the door. Her eyebrows furrowed together in concentration as she spotted something out of order with her footwear and knelt to adjust it, causing the knee length red skirt she wore to slide up her shapely legs, making Kazuto blush and avert his gaze momentarily. Apparently pleased that everything was back in its proper place, she stood and hung her white blazer on a hook just over the shoe rack, giving Kazuto a glimpse of an emblem on the lapel that seemed familiar to him, but he couldn't quite place. The woman, seeming to be more comfortable now that she was rid of her outerwear, turned her back to Kazuto and sauntered into the kitchen with her hips swaying to some tune that he could not hear and set the voluminous bag of groceries on the counter and began pulling out various items that he could only assume to be used in tonight's meal. Without turning around, the woman grabbed a pot off of the hanging rack suspended over the kitchen's center island and placed it on the cooktop, flicking one of the dials halfway up and grabbing a tomato from the grocery bag and a knife from a nearby drawer as she moved over to a cutting board.
Kazuto watched her with a quiet fascination, totally enraptured by her gentle but deliberate movements that showed a sort of solid grace that only served to enhance her beauty.
The woman made quick work of dicing the tomato and tossed it into the pot which were followed by a thick looking red sauce and several herbs and spices that Kazuto couldn't quite make out. Soon enough the pot was simmering and had tendrils of steam rising from it. Kazuto was sure that it had to smell amazing. While the pot had been simmering, the woman had kept herself busy by preparing a small side dish the looked to be some kind of noodles.
Reminding himself he had his own busy work to do, Kazuto began wiping down and washing the windows, keeping an eye on the woman inside the whole time. His stomach growled as she dumped the noodles into the pot of sauce, making him wish he had eaten a more substantial lunch while he had been on break earlier in the day.
Suddenly, as the woman was stirring the pot, a large bubble came up and burst, covering her, her white blouse, and kitchen in lumpy red sauce. Kazuto gave a small snort of laughter as the woman froze in surprise and slowly wiped sauce off of her face with a fist placed on her hip. She proceeded to take a damp dishtowel and wipe down the sections of kitchen that had been contaminated by her cooking mishap while shaking her head seeming to mumble to herself. Once the area was once again sparkling clean, she set the dishtowel off to one side and began to undo her shirt, presumably to throw into the wash.
Kazuto suddenly had a realization that the laundry area was nowhere in the main space and had to be further inside the apartment. Panicking as the woman began to lift her shirt over her head and expose her stomach, Kazuto quickly rapped hard on the glass of the windows.
The woman froze stock still, slowly turning her head to the windows and seeing Kazuto there for the first time. Copper eyes locked with his and Kazuto quickly felt his face blush red as he quickly wiped down the smudge his knuckles had made on the window. Not waiting for a response, he quickly made an apologetic gesture to the woman and scrambled up the building as fast as his legs would carry him.
He spent the rest of his shift washing the remaining windows in a flushed fervor, unable to shake those bright copper eyes from his mind. By the time he had reached the roof and removed his harness and was headed down the service elevator, the sun had set and the temperature had dropped, but he still felt feverish as he hopped onto his motorcycle and drove home. He tried to lay on the couch and watch TV, but he tossed and turned restlessly, replaying his embarrassing episode in his head again and again, unable to shake the woman's face from his mind. Reaching a decision, grabbed his phone off of the coffee table in front of him and dialed a number.
A sleepy voice answered the phone. "Hey, Kishimura here."
"Kishimura, it's Kirigaya."
"Kirgiaya? Do you know what time it is? We have work tomorrow, man. You should be asleep."
"I should be asleep. You work the afternoon shift, lazy bum."
"I am what I am. What do you want anyway?"
"Trade shifts with me." Kishimura's voice lost some of it's sleepiness.
"Woah, trade shifts? Why the hell would I do that? I get to sleep in on the shift I'm on right now!"
"Come on man, please? I'd owe you a huge favor."
The line was silent for several moments as Kishimura mulled the idea over. "You are a pretty resourceful guy, I'll give you that….a big favor from you could come in handy…. I don't know man. Mid-morning shift has to get up so early!" Kazuto rolled his eyes.
"Nine o clock is hardly early, dude."
"Wait a minute, this wouldn't have to do with the new tenant on eighty, would it?" Kazuto grimaced.
"It totally does! Ohhh ho ho Cold Man Kirigaya has got the hots for a lady! Just wait 'til I tell Retsuko, he'll wet his pants laughing." Kazuto tapped his foot impatiently.
"Yeah, ha ha man, real funny stuff. Now do we have a deal or not?" He could almost hear Kishimura's smirk through the phone.
"This should at the very least be entertaining for me and the rest of the boys, and with the cherry on top of you owing me, how could I refuse? We got a deal." Kazuto let out a sigh of relief.
"Thanks man." Kishimura's voice grew drowsy again.
"Yeah yeah, lover boy. Now stop calling me. I got an early day tomorrow."
Kazuto hung up his phone and lay back down on the couch and stared up at the ceiling. Tomorrow was going to be an interesting day.
Kazuto woke up the following day a little before noon, relishing in the opportunity to sleep in. He climbed out of bed, showered, and got dressed in his company coveralls before going around the house to straighten up and finish some chores he'd left incomplete in the middle of last night's frustrations. When he had finished all the busy work to be done in the house, he still found himself standing around at noon with two hours until his shift which he spent rehearsing what he was going to say until it was time to leave.
After a brisk ride and a trip up the service elevator that seemed to last an eternity, Kazuto stood on top of the building looking over the edge. The tower trailed away beneath his feet, almost appearing to dwindle away to nothing. People were multi colored specks that drifted along invisible tracks that carried them along the sidewalks. Yet despite the height, Kazuto's stomach was roiling with anxiety for a completely different reason. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes, steeling his nerves.
"Okay," he whispered to himself. "Let's go." He stepped off the edge and let his body fall through the empty space while the harness took up the slack. He spun around to face the building, planting his boots hard on the surface of the concrete support as he rappelled his way to the hundredth floor. Taking his utensils in hand, he made quick work of the windows that made up the top nineteen floors. After finishing the eighty-first floor, he slowly made his way down and peeked from the top of one of the windows into the woman's apartment to find the space empty once again. Kazuto swallowed hard and lowered himself until he was fully in view from the interior of the apartment and slowly began cleaning the glass, eyes constantly flickering over to the door to see if it would open.
Behind him, the sun lazily made its way back to the horizon, painting everything the same ruddy orange as the day before, making it seem as if the world was but a dream dipped in bronze.
Kazuto's heart jumped into his throat as he saw the door swing open and the woman entered again. She repeated her usual ritual of hanging her blazer with the familiar symbol on the hook and her shoes in the organizer just as she had yesterday, however, instead of carrying on with whatever she needed to do now that she was home, she turned on her heel and immediately scanned the apartment and the windows, where she found Kazuto hanging from his harness like a giant dumbstruck spider. She fixed him with an icy stare and began slowly stalking closer and closer to the windows.
"H-hey miss!" Kazuto stammered, waving feebly. "So sorry about yesterday, I didn't mean to be staring like that, I was just here cleaning the windows, because, y'know, I'm a window cleaner and it is my job after all, and I uh.." his voice trailed off as the woman stood directly in front of him on the other side of the glass with her hands on her hips, the same frosty look on his face that made him feel like he was about to be reprimanded for speaking out of turn in class. "S-sorry again.." he managed to mutter as his face flushed red.
The woman's expression seemed to soften by a fraction when she saw his face, but still looked as welcoming as a doormat made of barbed wire. She slowly raised one hand and pointed to her ear, slowly shaking her head.
"Oh, can you not hear me?" Kazuto asked.
The woman raised an eyebrow at him.
"Right, right. Duh." Kazuto put his utensils in his belt and crossed his arms over his chest, thinking as the woman continued to regard him coldly. "Hmmmm," he thought scratching his chin. An idea popped into his head, memories from a class he had thought at the time was a complete waste. Kazuto looked back at the woman on the other side of the glass and pointed at her, causing her to raise her eyebrows slightly. He then slowly gestured towards his forehead, followed by a somewhat complicated hand movement. Do you know sign language?
The woman blinked in surprise and her hands twitched by her sides before she responded. Yes, actually. I know sign language. Kazuto smiled at her.
That's a relief! He signed back. The woman, now over her momentary lapse in her guard, resumed looking at Kazuto haughtily.
Why were you cleaning my windows so late yesterday? You guys are usually done my floor by the time I get home. Kazuto sheepishly scratched at the back of his head and made an apologetic gesture.
I am really sorry about that. I had to cover a coworker's section because he wasn't here yesterday and I was cleaning when you came in.
The woman squinted at him, apparently still not mollified. Then why are you still cleaning this section of the building today? Did your coworker not come back? Kazuto froze. He hadn't expected her to be quite so quick on the uptake.
Well, you see, he said After yesterday's...incident, I didn't feel right just running off and not making things right again, so my coworker and I switched sections so I could apologize.
The woman uncrossed her arms and finally seemed to relax a bit. Well, that's pretty decent of you, actually. Plus, you did let me know you were there. It would be a different situation entirely if you had said nothing while I was… The woman paused and twiddled her fingers while trying to think right of the right word; a faint blush rising to her cheeks.
Indisposed? Kazuto suggested. The woman favored him by turning one corner of her mouth upwards that optimists might have called a smile and inclined her head.
Yeah, indisposed. The woman shifted her weight to one leg and stuck her hip out in a relaxed, casual manner that was a complete 180 from her recent behavior. So, what is your name? she asked. You moved shifts, right? If I'm going to be seeing you around a lot I might as well know your name. Kazuto was so stunned by the quick turn in her demeanor his fingers fumbled over spelling out his own name.
Oh yeah, uh, I'm Kazuto Kirigaya. The woman shot him a coy grin.
That's quite a handful, she told him. Do you have a nickname or something?
Kazuto grimaced. He didn't have a lot of friends, so there wasn't anybody to really give him a nickname. After a moment of silent self debate, he decided to use an amalgamation of his name he went by online.
Yeah, some of my friends call me "Kirito".The woman tilted her head and an expression of thoughtfulness came over her face.
Ki-ri-to, she signed slowly. Kazuto saw her lips move as she pronounced his name while she practiced the signing.
He offhandedly wondered how her voice sounded. He thought it might sound musical, like a flute crooning a lullaby. Maybe it was quiet, like a summer breeze whispering through the trees on a lazy afternoon. Or maybe, he thought as his cheeks flushed red, her voice was low and sultry smooth, the embodiment of hot flashes and spine tingling chills. He shook his head and cleared his thoughts as the woman's attention refocused on him.
I like it, she told him. It sounds…..noble. Kazuto snorted and fiddled with his utility belt.
Yeah, Kirito, the noble window washer. Sounds about right.
There's nothing wrong with washing windows, you know. Without you, I wouldn't be able to enjoy the view! Kazuto smiled ruefully at the woman.
You're too nice. Most women wouldn't be so kind to the guy that they caught peeping into their apartment while they were about to undress.
The woman raised her eyebrows and stared back at him evenly. Most guys wouldn't come back to apologize, much less go through the trouble of trading shifts and climb eighty floors to do it.
Actually, I take the service elevator to the top and drop down, so it's only twenty floors.
The point still stands, the woman maintained. My name is Asuna Yuuki. Kazuto inclined his head.
A pleasure to meet you, Ms. Yuuki-
Asuna, the woman cut him off. My friends call me Asuna. Kazuto grinned.
So we are friends now?
Well, you've already seen my house.
It is a nice place you got here, Kazuto told her, eyes looking past her and scanning the apartment again. What is it you do for a living, Asuna?
I'm a music teacher at the Sacred Oath Academy, Asuna told him as she walked across her apartment and settled down onto a couch in the living room. Kazuto snapped his fingers as he followed her along the outside of the building.
That's why your jacket looked familiar! I pass that place on my way here every day. It looks very prestigious. Asuna gave him a knowing smile as she took a brush off the coffee table and started working knots out of her hair.
Everyone's favorite synonym for expensive.
Kazuto grinned back at her. Your words, not mine, Ms. Music Teacher, but it looks like they serve you well enough.
Asuna smiled sadly at the ground as she paused her brushing to reply. They pay me well certainly, but I am not really in it for the money. My father pays for most of my bills, because I come from a wealthy family, but I could be just as happy somewhere teaching in places where children might not the opportunity to get the kind of education that Sacred Oath provides, but my parents would never approve for fear of losing face among their peers.
Sounds like I'm not the only noble person here, Kazuto said, smiling gently. Asuna snorted and shook her head.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions, she signed, hand movements becoming slightly harsh with emotion. She caught herself and took a breath, closing her eyes as she relaxed. Once she had seemed to settled down, she looked back up at Kazuto. So do you have anything else you do besides washing windows? Kazuto let himself dangle from his harness as he kicked his feet in the air.
I'm waiting to hear back from a couple of robotics and technology corporations. I work with that kind of stuff, or at least would like to, I did get a degree for it after all, but it's complicated because I want to work in a lot of complicated fields that aren't really being explored in many places yet. This job is just an in-between, really, although it isn't the worst- Kazuto froze as he realized Asuna was looking at him with an amused smile. Ah, sorry I was rambling.
Don't be, Asuna reassured him. It's refreshing to meet someone who is passionate about what they want to do.
Kazuto's headset blasted in his ear as his boss roared at him.
"Kirigaya! What's this I hear about you trading shifts with Kishimura? Did you want to slack off more by sleeping in later? I won't have it!"
Kirito, are you ok? Asuna asked, brow furrowing in concern when she saw Kazuto jump. He waved her off dismissively and pointed at his headset.
Yeah it's just my boss.
Oh no, I hope I haven't gotten you into trouble of any kind by keeping you!
Not at all, Kazuto said I made sure to get all my other floors done before I came down here. He pushed the talk button.
"Yeah boss, some things came up in our schedules and it worked out better for both us if we traded, so that's what we did." Kazuto looked back up at Asuna and motioned toward his headset then spun his finger around his temple and stuck out his tongue. He was awarded a small giggle from Asuna that made him feel vertigo for the first time since starting washing windows. The way her nose wrinkled up was terribly adorable.
The voice in Kazuto's headset grumbled. "Well as much as I don't like it, if Kishimura agreed, then that's fine. What are you still doing on site then, Kirigaya?" Kazuto frowned.
"What do you mean, boss?"
"It's nearly seven o' clock. Evening shift starts in an hour."
"Shit!" Kazuto looked at his watch and confirmed it was indeed seven o' clock. The sky had grown dark and the automated lights of Cardinal Tower had already flickered to life, bathing the building in a golden light.
It seems like you need to go, Asuna commented as she rose from the couch. I have assignments that need grading anyway, so perhaps we can say goodnight for now. Kazuto grimaced, loathe to leave, but nodded.
I do have things to do tomorrow. Goodbye for now, Asuna. Asuna put her arms above her head and stretched, easing some of the tiredness out of her cramped muscles.
Goodnight, Kirito. See you around.
And with that, Kazuto activated his winch, slowly ascending to the top of the building, feeling a lot better than he did on the way down.