This is what keeps you alive. You breathe in the stale, bloodstained air—the smell of iron and sweat—and you press down with even pressure on her wound as you listen to her shallow breaths. You can already see the fever in her glazed eyes and flushed face. It doesn’t matter if you can’t actually smell the infection yet.
Every time Akutagawa strikes her, it’s nipping on the heels of failure and leading a lesson by its throat. Kouyou-san frowns in clear displeasure when she sees the bruises that bloom across Kyouka’s skin, but her hands are gentle and the cloth cool as she bathes them.
“Tell Ryuunosuke not to hit your face,” Kouyou-san says with the hard voice of a Port Mafia executive. “The Port Mafia values your beauty.”
There are many messages wrapped in layers around Kouyou-san’s words and tongue, lessons delivered with honey rather than stinging pain.
Still somehow, Kyouka feels them ache in her bones.
“You look just like a flower,” Kouyou told Kyouka, petting her hair gently and tucking a blossom behind her ear. “You’re beautiful.”
Kouyou smiled, and for just a moment, Kyouka felt warm in the light of that affection and didn’t think about what she would have to do. Then she remembered.
“Don’t fret, Kyouka-chan,” Kouyou told her and took her fingers lightly to guide her as they walked. “It’s your first job. Everyone’s a little nervous their first time, but I’ll take care of you.” Her fingers squeezed reassuringly.
It felt like a warning, or a promise.
“I’ll help you.”