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Introduction

A 1x1 between Comrade and Senpai. If you are neither of these people, feel free to bask in the exuberance of our literary enlightenment, aspiring to absorb the vaguest twinge of our mastery of the written word in a sort of belletristic parasitism.

Or don't. I dunno. Your call.

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Days tend to blur into one another when you wile them away doing a whole lot of nothing at all. And Nastasya Wu had wiled away many a day doing a whole lot of nothing at all.

Thirteen years, in fact. And had she cared to try her hardest to reach back across all those years in search of a single memory-- a place, a name, a face, a thought or emotion, anything at all that had made a difference-- she would have come up empty-handed every time. But she didn't care to try, not when she knew her living memory had more or less ceased to be in a distant place and a distant time. Across that ever-widening gulf that stretched between now and then, there was nothing worth trawling for, nothing worth remembering. Just drifting. Just existing. Doing the bare minimum.

It was so terribly irksome, Wu all but sighed, as she lay there in bed staring up at a barren white ceiling. The rays of the rising sun struggled to pollute her apartment, to infect it with some semblance of the morning radiance that went unfettered outside, but the dingy little shades that adorned her bedroom window were drawn tight, admitting only a faint wisp of sunlight that diffused helplessly into the dank air within. The window's thick skin stood guard against Wu's realm of solitude, a resolute bulwark against the outside world-- the din of traffic, of early morning birdsong, of the voices of the city, of the hallmarks of life, none would intrude upon her here and now. Here and now, she took a perverse sort of enjoyment in the utter, wretched silence of her home, a place that might as well have been uninhabited for all the life its single occupant seemed possessed of.

How terribly irksome and pathetic it was, that even now, thirteen years later, when she had long since resigned herself to an existence that could barely be called alive at all, Wu still opened her eyes every morning to a pang in her guts, to memories of a time she didn't feel this generally dead-- to the ardent wish that, if only for one last time, she could see those devilish blue eyes, or that flaming red hair, or that bold, irrepressible spirit, anywhere but in her memories.

She sighed, and reluctantly pulled aside the bedsheets-- and in doing so, doomed herself to at least one more day of knowing there would never be any more of that again.






Silence, however, was nowhere to be found by the time Wu prodded open the door leading into Idlewood Books and strode in to begin her shift-- not with the headphones that arched through the wiry bristles of her greying hair and enveloped her ears in the pleasant embrace of violent, pounding music. God bless whatever genius had invented the portable MP3 player; Wu had many a happy memory of spending school days as a fifteen year old up on the highest limb of a tree, with nothing for company but booze, smokes, and her trusty old Walkman, but memories weren't worth much compared to simple convenience. Her fingers closed around the cool skin of the player as she, however reluctantly, hit the pause button on its console and reached up to pluck away the headphones. The sunglasses that devoured up half her face, though, remained squarely in place as she made to clock in for yet another day of drudgery.

When she returned to the front desk and set up at one of the registers, however, an all too tediously familiar voice greeted her. "Hey, sunglasses--" Marina was standing at the other cash register, leaning over with her forearm against the wide bar of the desk and smiling at her laconic coworker as she approached. "Heard we're gonna be havin' some new blood on this shift as of today. Some new girl. Met her yet?"

Wu stared blankly at her for a moment, Marina's expectant gaze reflected in the inscrutable depths of her sunglasses, before she answered in a dry rasp, "Nope. Haven't." Marina admitted a certain self-aware chuckle, and retorted, "My mistake; you'd probably have answered with that either way." She sighed, and straightened up, glancing through the sparsely populated bookstore, giving it a quick once-over. "Well, she should be showing up anytime now. Can't wait." She shot another smirk Wu's way, and added, "No offence, sunglasses, but you don't exactly make the best company a coworker could ask for."

"That hurts," Wu drawled in a thick morass of garbled accent and languid delivery, sounding rather like she couldn't have possibly cared less what Marina had said. The other woman merely chortled again and turned away, leaving Wu to hope that this new person would indeed show her face soon-- maybe she and Marina could hit it off and they could both leave Wu well alone.

As if anything ever really goes the way it's supposed to. Knowing her luck, whoever the new person was, they were just gonna be another headache to a woman who just wanted the entire world to fuck off forever.

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#, as written by Senpai
The sound of bacon sizzling in the pan ceased as a spatula picked it up and dropped it onto two plates. The chef let out a soft sigh, returning the pan to the stove as she made sure to turn it off and put the pan on a backburner. Looking at the plates, she went over them and fiddled with the arrengement to make everything just perfect. The portions were decent, nothing was touching one another... there were no issues. Taking a deep breath, the aroma of the prepared breakfast filling her nostrils, the red-headed woman brushed aside some wandering bangs and smiled. "There we go. Breakfast is ready!" She called up the stairs. One pair of little feet came running down to greet her mother with a hug around her waist.
"Good morning, mommy!" She didn't wait for a response before rushing to the table. The mother simply smiled and waited for her husband to come down the stairs. It took him a little more time, but dressed in his suit and tie, he made his way down the stairs.

She resisted the instinct to flinch as he reached over and kissed her cheek. "Good morning, Ash."
"Good morning, honey." She had to respond quick. Hesitation was a dangerous game to play. Seeming content, the husband made his way to the table and sat across from his daughter.
"Daddy! I'm going to school today! Teacher said-"
"Mhm, yeah, that's nice, dear.."
The father seemed disinterested in what his daughter had to say. That wasn't uncommon in this house as he looked at his phone, taking a bite of eggs. The daughter looked down at her meal with a very melancholy look on her face and picked around at her breakfast. The mother frowned at what was unfortunately a regular sight in their house. Shaking her head, she returned to the kitchen and began working on dishes.

"I begin working today, dear." She tried to spark up a conversation, but was met with a similar response as the one that was given to her daughter. She gave her defeated attention to the cleaning until her husband stood up and wrapped his arms around the wife that was tending to her household chores. Her body stiffened up in surprise, maybe shock, but she forced herself to relax. Fear was also a dangerous game to play.
"I'm off to work. You have a good day with your... thing." He was clearly not displaying enough interest in what she was actually doing to care. "I've got a long day today, so don't wait up for me." She couldn't admit it out loud, but she felt a sense of relief that he wouldn't be home.
"A-Alright, dear. Have a good day." And after barely acknowledging his daughter with a farewell, he went out the door. The housewife let her body rest against the counter in relief that he was gone. She'd managed to do things well this morning. She didn't earn a hit. And Karen was still just fine, too, even if her ego would suffer as a result.

The mother turned to her daughter once breakfast and the kitchen had been properly tended to and gave her a big hug and a kiss on the forehead. "Alright, Karen. Momma's starting work today, y'know. So I'll be home just a little bit after you get home from school. So Momma will leave you a snack in the fridge for when you get back and then she'll come home and make your dinner, okay?"
The child seemed content that her mother was at least acknowledging her, giving a smile and a nod. "Okay, mommy."
The mother smiled back, giving her a bigger squeeze before smothering her daughter's cheek with her own. "That's my big girl! Such a good girl!" The both of them laughed before they broke off the hug for each to finish their own preparations for the day. Ashley touched up on her makeup and made sure her purse had some essentials. She also made sure to check that her daughter's bag was properly ready for school. Everything was in order by seven-thirty and soon enough her daughter was on the bus to school. The house was empty. It was quiet. A rare occasion for this little house of three. She reveled in it for a moment and then found the mirror just outside the mud room. She looked herself over in it, double-checking the make-up on her face, the foundation over her scars. Everything seemed to be to her liking. Forcing a smile that looked genuine, she told herself, "Everything's alright. You're fine. You've got a job now, y'know? A bit of freedom. Some excitement. Time away from... him." Her face didn't agree with her words, but she shook her head and shrugged it off. It was her true feeling on the matter. But why was she still scared?



In an hour's time, she'd locked up the house and made the rather short walk from her house to the small coffee shop she was now employed at. She'd somehow passed the interview, being somewhat of a nervous wreck during, and now she was to start. It was exciting and horrifying at the same time. It had been so long since she had a job and she new barely what to expect. But as she stood before Idlewood Books and secured her purse over her shoulder, the red-haired woman opened the door and entered her new place of work. It was quiet. Had an air of tranquility. That was part of why she wanted to work here, after all. It was peaceful to her. She immediately found herself grinning as she walked past a row of novels and up to the front desk. There waited a rather muscular woman with sunglasses about as big as her face. Something about this woman was... odd. Very odd. Ashley honestly couldn't quite place her fingers on what it was about her that was odd, but it was definitely something. Yet she was still a welcome sight over that of her husband.

Making sure to greet her with a smile, she approached the sunglassed woman and held out her hand. "Hi there. I'm Ashley Nara. The new girl? I'm supposed to be starting today. I'm sorry if I'm late for anything. I had to make sure my daughter got on the bus and I ran into some traffic, y'know. It won't happen again. But um, it's nice to meet you. Ashley Nara." She paused and blinked, running her introduction over in her head again. "Oops. I, uh, already said that... didn't I?" She lets out a nervous laugh, somewhat loud at that. Her nervous and excited nature was getting the best of her, it would seem. "So. Yeah. That's me! Ready to work, y'know! What can I do?" She could only hope that this woman would find some sort of charm to her demeanor to make her not look as foolish an unreliable as she was feeling.

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"Korean?"

"No."

"Japanese?"

"Nope."

"Chinese, then."

"Mm-mm."

"... Mongolian?"

"Swing 'n a miss."

"It's gotta be Korean, then."

"You've already guessed that."

Marina wrung her hands in an only partially facetious show of exasperation. "I got nothin', then. I mean, I'm in the right ballpark, right? You're some kind of Asian, aren't you?"

"Some kind," Wu confirmed languidly, leaning down with both elbows against the surface of the front desk. This was anything but her first exchange of this sort with Marina Jackson, who seemed to routinely and utterly forget all about the last dozen few times she'd raised the subject whenever the thought struck her anew. At this point, Wu would have figured if Marina was so damn interested, she might have hit up the internet and done a little sleuthing, but then, Wu didn't really see why it was worth going to such lengths over in the first place. Even she didn't really give a shit about her own heritage; why anybody else had a reason to was simply beyond her.

Nevertheless, Marina appeared determined-- at least, until she completely forgot the exchange and started it up all over again next week. "Well, you can't evade me forever," she warned light-heartedly, rubbing her hands together nefariously. "One of these days, I'll--" Wu saw her face light up as she stopped short, and then she perked up, a wide grin pasted across her face. "Hey, I think that's our new coworker! Wait a sec here, sunglasses, I gotta go get the welcome basket." And then, without so much as an upward glance from Wu, she took off.

Idly, Wu reached over and whisked up her MP3 player, flicking through her array of bands for something to listen to. As far as she was aware, the new woman was going to be working at the coffee shop, so she probably wouldn't have much to do with her-- shit, the only reason she even spoke to Marina at all was because Marina was right there, working the other cash register, and Marina was too damn chatty not to talk to Wu. Of course, business could get pretty slow some days, so Wu presumed-- maybe hoped was a more apt term, although she really wasn't emotionally invested in the prospect enough to really call it that-- Marina would spend her fair share of time over by the coffee bar, chatting her new coworker up--

"Hi there. I'm Ashley Nara."

Aaaaaaaaaand just like that, Wu's train of thought stopped short. No no, didn't just stop short-- it derailed completely, went right off the tracks, went sailing off some nearby cliff and came crashing down in a glorious blaze. Dozens killed. Millions of dollars lost. Sorrow and disaster all around.

Slowly, almost arduously, Wu forced herself to look up at Ashley Nara, hoping-- sincerely, ardently hoping-- that ... that voice wasn't what she knew it was, that Ashley 'Nara' wasn't her Ashley. She damn near recoiled at the sight of the vehemently red hair, the vivid blue eyes, the smooth shapely face Wu could remember tracing her fingers along many a lonely evening back when she'd been just a teenager... and the 'y'know' just cinched the deal.

Wu felt a dense wave of dizziness hit her then and there, and it only grew all the worse as Ashley continued to rattle off a ramshackle introduction, with a clear anxiety that was distinctly not like the Ashley Wu knew. Ashley had a daughter? Did that mean... not that there weren't single mothers who adopted, but no, it seemed far more likely that meant Ashley had found somebody else since Wu, somebody she loved enough to raise a child with her, especially given the change in surname. But I don't really have a right to be bitter about that, do I? It was thirteen years ago. Just because Wu hadn't moved past it didn't mean Ashley hadn't: Ashley had always been the stronger of the two.

But she hadn't just moved past it... she'd forgotten Wu completely. And that, that hurt much more than the prospect of Ashley loving another woman ever could have. Wu hadn't physically changed all that much at all since she'd been a listless eighteen year old with not much clue of what she wanted to do with her life except love Ashley, certainly not enough to justify Ashley failing to recognise her face to face. Certainly not enough to make Wu feel something for the first time in all those years-- namely, a cold, bitter pain in her gut.

"Oh," she said. And then returned her attention to her MP3 player, grateful that the aegis of her aviators obscured the irksome moistening of her eyes.

"Sunglasses!" Marina chose just about that moment to make her grand return, toting along a little basket with a few pastries-- brownies, cookies, that sort of thing. "Don't mind her," she directed to Ashley as she arrived at the front desk, setting the basket down beside Wu, who kept her eyes resolutely on her MP3 player's screen. "You must be the new girl! My name's Marina. I'm pleased to have you with us! In fact, I took the liberty of putting together some welcoming stuff for you-- hope you like sweets." She took the basket and held it out to Ashley, before scratching the back of her head. "They're actually all from the coffee shop, to be honest," she admitted with an abashed smile. "But it's good stuff nonetheless! Sometimes I think we oughta get outta the book-sellin' gig and just be a plain ol' coffee shop."

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#, as written by Senpai
Ashley's greeting was met with nothing more than an "Oh" from the rather muscular woman behind the counter. She was pretty much ignored, as ar as she could tell, which caused her to draw her hand back and brush her hair aside with a nervous laugh. "Heh. Right, um..." Luckily, the woman known as Marina came to break what was slowly developing into a very awkward silence. Ash was pretty relieved at her presence as she began chatting her up and giving her a welcome basket. "Oh my, you really shouldn't have. I wasn't expecting something like this, y'know?" Regardless, she takes the basket in hand. "Still though, I'm sure it's all wonderful. Thank you very much." She once again introduced herself to Marina, about as awkwardly as she had with the sunglassed woman.

Keeping her gaze on that rather muscular woman, something about her was... familiar to Ash. She didn't quite know what it was, but she felt as if she knew her from somewhere. Years of parenting, her issues with her family and being with... him had made her a bit forgetful. Seeing that girl made her think that she had something to recall, though. In fact, something about her made her think of... She shook her head. No, there was no way. And this was no time to be thinking of that. With what she had instilled in her over the years, never was the time for that. Prying her eyes of of the woman for a minute, she let out a soft mental sigh and continued listening to Marina.

"Yes, the shop is great. I really can't wait to begin working here. Um, what are to be my responsibilities, anyway? Is that decided by day or will I have a set job? I'm so sorry if I was told. It's... It's been one of those mornings." Her expression was apologetic as she continued taking in her surroundings. Yet that woman still nagged at her brain. "And, um... About that woman there. With the sunglasses..." She lowers her voice, trying not to draw too much attention to herself. Not that it should matter with her listening to her music, but... "Who is that woman? She really didn't seem very social. Barely said a word to me, actually. Did I mess up my introduction? I do that sometimes, y'know? I just start talking and maybe I forget how to do things right. Or is she just having a rough day, or...?" Truth be told, she was just prying for some kind of information that might hint at who she was without seeming to obvious.

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Wu settled back with her MP3 player on hand, the blissful fury of obscenely loud and intense music doing its best to burn the sting of Ashley's neglect out of her. It wasn't doing a very good job of that, though. How could she just... forget all about me like that? Even if she had moved on, even if she had found somebody else, had a child, found happiness in a life that Wu had no place in... surely Wu had meant more to her than that. Hadn't she?

Ugh. Shoulda known better even back then. A couple years of happiness and companionship just wasn't worth it. Wu rested her cheek on her fist, elbow leaned against the counter beside the register. It hadn't been worth it then, and it wasn't worth thinking about now. Her mistakes were done, and she'd learned from them-- learned well, if the past thirteen years of solitude were any indication. If she was going to have to work with Ashley, then she refused to summon up the effort of letting her emotions-- whether of hurt or of lingering fondness-- cause her to do anything foolish. She'd use it to demonstrate, to herself more than to anything else, that the past was the past, and she wasn't going to repeat the follies of her youth.

It was probably for the best Ashley didn't remember her, in that case.

Meanwhile, Marina, of course, was just not shutting the fuck up. "You work the coffee shop!" she informed her new coworker, punctuating the declaration by triumphantly thrusting a fist into the air as though she were a victorious general before the masses and not an underpaid peon in a less than successful bookstore. "After all, who doesn't like a good cup of coffee or a brownie with their book? I mean, honestly, I don't-- I dunno how people can read and chew or drink at the same time, that's some crazy multitasking-- but it's the principle of it!"

At the very least, though, she had the presence of mind to lower her voice when Ashley brought up her other new coworker. Marina shot a conspiratorial glance over to where Wu sat behind the counter; the older woman sat there with her headphones snug over her ears and her aviators reflecting all gazes back to the viewer. For all anybody knew, the juggernaut of a woman was dozing off behind the aegis of the shades. "Oh, that's just how Sunglasses is," Marina explained with a shrug of her shoulders-- as if to say 'what can ya do?'. "It's nothing personal. She's just... well, between you 'n me, I'd guess she's so damn lazy she couldn't be arsed to properly introduce herself. I'll have to do it for her!"

The jubilant young woman strode back over to where Wu sat, and clapped the larger woman on the back as though they were old chums; Wu didn't so much as budge a muscle upon impact, although she did reluctantly reach up and pluck off the headphones. "Yep?" she grunted, refusing to stare over at Ashley even though she knew the shades would have obscured the direction of her gaze.

"Since you're such a not-so-social butterfly," Marina announced. "I'm gonna have to introduce you for you!" When Wu offered up no resistance, Marina took it as tacit approval, and turned back to Ashley. "This here is Sunglasses. I think her real name is like... Ru? Cho?"

"... Wu," the other woman reluctantly put in, figuring there was a good chance Ashley wouldn't recall her name if she had failed to recognise her face. Marina snapped her fingers. "Wu, right. I just call her Sunglasses. She doesn't seem to mind-- but then, she doesn't really mind much. Anyway, all I actually know is that she doesn't even really like reading, so I got no clue why she ended up workin' here, and the only thing she puts any effort into is her body." Marina glanced down at her coworker-- the shorn sleeves of her shirt betrayed the strong arms stemming from her broad shoulders and barreled chest-- and gave a little wolf-whistle. "And what a body it it is. Sometimes I think I shoulda nick-named her Arnold-- y'know, like Arnold Schwarzenegger-- but Sunglasses just kinda stuck."

She grinned widely, and bowed, as though she'd just conducted a grand performance. "So that's the skinny on Sunglasses!"

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