Far away, as through a wall or maybe a thick layer of dust, a radio could be heard. The second movement of Beethoven's Sonata Pathetique, but more static than music.
"I've always thought that this song made everything feel like a movie."
The comment was ignored, as the other occupant of the room slipped to the edge of the bed and pulled his pants on.
A tent in the red and white flowered bedspread formed as the younger of the two drew his knees to his chest, and wrapped still-bare arms around them. Green eyes watched, across the bed, pale arms pulling blue fabric onto themselves, and long, lily-white hands pulling carnation colored hair out of where it had been trapped in the shirt's collar. But the man didn't button it.
Light filtered into the room through high windows. In reality, the windows weren't high at all—they were just barely above the ground, and a thick fringe of weeds grew in front of them. No one had mowed the lawn in front of those windows for years, and so all of the plants—dead, decaying, and alive—remained exactly where they had been when they first sprouted.
The windows were also screened, both outside and inside—as if to keep prisoners in—and were also covered in a heavy layer of dust. Just like everything else in the room. The light that ventured in through them was late-afternoon golden, and highlighted the dust which had been brave enough to leave its original position and take flight, dancing through the air on wings of reckless abandon.
Eyes the color of red wine drifted across the room, to a desk, where there were papers, and a pen in a stand. Beside it was an ink bottle, and between the two spider webs had appeared. Beside the desk was a chalkboard, which had as much dust on it as everything else. On the windowsill above the desk sat a line of dried roses. When picked, they had been white. But white roses dry brown. They were brown roses, now.
Three days ago, the clock on the wall had stopped at 3:18. Morning or evening?—it was unknown.
"Is that number significant to you in any way?" the man asked the boy behind him without turning.
"3:18. Is it on a death certificate, perhaps?"
There was a pause.
"I've always thought that it was a funny phrase," said the boy. "'Death certificate.' Like 'gift certificate.' Like you've won something."
"Sempai… Is something wrong?"
"It's dangerous. I'll fall."
"You won't get better at it unless you try!"
He sat on a park bench five feet away from the crowded pond, where children came to feed ducks scraps of bread in the summer. He sat watching them then, sometimes, too, although he could not quite remember the last time it had been summer.
There were no ducks, now, and the water was frozen, with a fluffy layer of snow over the top, like icing on a cupcake. Or dust on a shelf.
The particularly stubborn child he was watching gripped his mother's leg fiercely at the edge of the ice. The child was bundled from head to toe in brilliantly mismatched winter wear. Black snow pants, bright blue jacket, orange checked scarf, green mittens, red hat. He wobbled on his skates for a moment before forcefully sitting down.
"How are you ever going to skate like your brother if you don't even try?" his mother asked. She was dressed smartly—a wool skirt, hound's-tooth jacket, black scarf and stylish hat, and leather glovers. Her hair reminded him of someone, but who…?
"Don't wanna," the boy replied again, digging further into the frosted ground.
It had begun to snow again, heavily, and the flakes were especially prominent in the beams of harsh light cast by the tall street-type lamps over the pond. Beyond the snow, however, he fancied he could see the dark blue of night sky, as if the white flakes were falling straight out of heaven, and not just clouds. As if they snow was flying out of eternity.
But why would it want to leave?
It was catching in his hair, now, and some of it was melting. His ears were cold, but he didn't want to go back, yet. Not to the academy, which was still colder. Snow could land on warm skin all it wanted to, there. It would seldom melt. Snow didn't leave its eternity so happily, in the academy.
He could remember, vaguely, building snowmen in the yard beyond the back steps when he had been young. Before they had realized his potential, intellectually speaking, and sent him off. Like some freak they didn't want around any more. Back, before he'd been forced to become a computer-like man. Back when he'd just been a person, a boy. He had taken carrots out of the refrigerator—for the nose, because that's what they did in picture books; they used coal for eyes, but he couldn't find any, so he'd used cucumber slices instead. After all, sometimes Mama put cucumbers on her eyes. And Daddy had cut teeth into an orange slice, for the mouth. He'd wanted to give it his scarf, but Mama hadn't let him…
It wasn't so hard to remember, after all.
The boy had turned around to play in the snow, while his mother continued to speak to him. She was clearly quite frustrated. The boy looked up at him. He caught the child's eyes, and inclined his head towards a sign at the far end of the pond, where no one was skating. The boy's head snapped around to see what he was gesturing at, and then back, uncomprehending. The child was too young to read. He himself had forgotten this, as he had been reading for as long as he could remember.
"Thin ice," he mouthed, and the boy's eyes went wide, just as the mother turned around to see what her son was looking at.
Their eyes met briefly, hers at first startled. Then she glared, and yanked her son up and onto the ice.
"No, Mommy, it's dangerous!"
"It is not dangerous!"
He tilted his head back up to stare at the falling snow, then. Little white angels, formed around a single grain of sand, or dirt, or dust, falling onto his upturned face, and melting. So short-lived, and yet, when they stayed together, they formed mighty glaciers. …But even the touch of a human hand is warm enough to leave a mark, however tiny, on one.
Across the room from the bed was a chair, which was covered by a white sheet.
"Who did that?" the man asked.
"The sheet. Who put the sheet over that chair?"
"You did, Sempai," the boy said quietly. "Yesterday, because you hate the pattern of the upholstery."
"I did," he repeated.
"Yes. Are you all right?"
The man's eyes drifted away from the chair and back to the bed, where the top to the boy's uniform lay.
"It looks so small," he said, almost wonderingly. "I suppose," he continued, more matter of factly, "that it is rather tight on you."
"A little," the boy confessed, now sitting cross-legged under the covers.
"How are children supposed to play in clothing that tight?"
"We're not supposed to play," he replied stiffly, looking down suddenly at his hands. "We're supposed to learn."
"You've been inside too long. Maybe, tomorrow, you should go out. Don't you want to go out? You used to like the garden so much." His brow creased. "Or was that you? Was it someone else?"
"I like it in here, Sempai. With my black roses. I don't need anything else."
"It doesn't matter," he said fiercely. "Soon enough, you will be…" He faltered. "You will be…"
"The Rose Bride."
The man's brow creased again, almost as if he were in pain.
"I…" he started, and then dropped his head into his hands. "I…" His breathing quickened. "…Tokiko…"
"Sempai!" the boy said sharply. "Look! Look at me."
The man raised his head slowly and turned, as though hypnotized.
"You're beautiful," he said slowly. "I had forgotten."
The boy smiled almost cruelly.
"Sempai, why don't you come here?"
He sat at the kitchen table, watching television and eating a messy concoction—ice cream, chocolate syrup, and bananas. The banana peel, cutting board, and knife all still lay on the counter. Sun spilled in from the window and threw itself across the corpse of the martyred banana. Almost as if trying to bring it back to life.
A beauty pageant was on television. He watched it without much interest—intentions were too clear. Notice me, each contestant's nervously eager face screamed. Look at my pert breasts. My firm thighs. See my straight, sparkling teeth and thick eyelashes? Each vying for the attention, the adoration, of the crowd. Each wanted to win, because that was how each wanted to be remembered—in the height of youth, health, beauty, and power. Look at me, every flash of teeth or legs commanded. I'm beautiful. Immortalize me.
He ate the bananas out of the bowl, first. He didn't really like them—the way they tasted with the ice cream. He put them in only out of habit, out of tradition. That was how his mother had made ice cream.
It was how she'd made it for him that night. The night that the school had called.
He had been sitting at the kitchen table, much as he was now, eating ice cream with bananas and chocolate syrup. He was eating the bananas first—just like he always did. His father sat across from him, reading the newspaper, and his mother stood at the sink, washing dishes. In the living room, the radio was on a classical music station, and a clock ticked loudly on the wall. It was perfect familial companionship, but he didn't realize that until after the phone rang, shattering it.
His mother had slowly dried her hands off on a dish towel, and walked over to the wall where the phone hung. He had tracked her with his eyes only, still chewing banana. His father had simply turned the page of the paper.
"Hello?" his mother asked. Her voice seemed too loud in the quiet house. It drew too much attention.
A pause, then, "Yes, this is she." Pause. "Oh, it's perfectly all right—we weren't eating." Pause. Her brow furrowed slightly, and she bit her lower lip. "A parent-teacher conference?" she asked, clearly for his father's benefit. He lowered the paper slowly, looking for to his wife, and then to his son, and back.
She nodded again. "Yes. Tomorrow afternoon. Yes. Thank you. G-goodbye."
A definitive clicking noise resounded in the room as she replaced the phone.
"You didn't do anything wrong, did you?" she had asked him.
He had shaken his head 'no,' and taken another bite. The last banana slice, and a little bit of ice cream.
It coated his stomach in a cool feeling now, as it had then, and he could just imagine the dairy product melting with the acid in his stomach. He could almost imagine what it would look like, if his skin and muscle were invisible, and only his organs opaque. The way the ice cream—now a muddy brown from the syrup—and the bananas would look, as his stomach ground them up.
He had seen live organs before. Hearts, especially, stuck out in his mind. There was nothing rhythmic or smooth about the beating of a heart. It appeared panicked, frantic, pushing as hard as it could, every single time it pumped. As if this would be its last.
And that was the strange thing about organic beings—especially vivisected lab frogs—it could be the last time.
He appreciated mechanics more. Mechanical things ran smoothly. Calmly. There was no reason why they couldn't, if kept well-oiled, run forever.
On stage, one girl shrieked in joy and rushed up to a podium, center-stage, to make an acceptance speech. A dozen shutters flashed, capturing her image. Her youth.
In twenty years, she would be homely. The images that the faithful cameras had caught would last forever.
He shut the television off.
"What season is it, anyhow?"
A strange calm had settled over the room. Like the tomb of one who, long sick with some painful illness, has recently come at last to rest. The radio had changed tunes, to Fur Elise, but remained as staticky as ever.
"What a silly question, Sempai," the boy said, rolling over onto his stomach and twirling a lock of the man's hair between two fingers.
The man turned his head away from the boy's attentions, and was startled to once again see his jacket thrown on the floor.
"What's going on?" he asked, mostly to himself. He felt as if he should get up—there was something that needed to be done. Shoes to be filled. And yet the bed was warm, and soft, and he was so tired…
"What season is it?" he asked again, closing his eyes.
A rustle as the boy shifted again, and loosed an exasperated sigh—one far too adult for his tender age. He'd heard children sigh before, at such times—at the idiocy and blindness of adults around them to the pressing needs of childhood. That was not what this was. This was the sigh of an adult to a child, when things are not going as planned.
"It's spring, Sempai," the boy said. "It is always Spring, here."
"No," he replied, suddenly fierce, eyes open. "It is not always spring. There was snow. …Fire." He blinked, confused by this onslaught of emotion and half-memories. "And anyway," he said, clearing his throat, "that's illogical. It's not always spring anywhere."
"Some springs last longer than others."
"So do some autumns. But, all the same, all eventually give way to the next."
The boy beside him seemed terribly sad. It bothered him.
"No," the boy said. "Sometimes spring simply melts into autumn, with no trace of summer between."
"Nonsense. You can't go from a birth to a dying so quickly."
"What about infants who are born dead?"
"I said 'a dying.' Not a death. Autumn is dying, but the seasons know no death. Not as we do. And summer always comes, even if it is short."
"You're the one who used the metaphor. …We, all of us, are dying from the moment we are born."
"No," he said, suddenly impassioned once more. He wasn't sure if he liked the feeling or not. It was powerful, to be sure—a conquer-the-world feeling—but at the same time out of control. A strange paradox. He didn't like feeling out of control. Control was necessary. "Not everyone," he continued, sitting up and reaching out to cup the boy's face in one hand. He stroked the boy's cheek—smooth as new leaves—with his thumb. "You're too beautiful to wilt. For you there will be immortality."
"Eternal spring," the boy said, leaning closer into the touch.
"Yes, somehow. Our eternal secret."
The boy only nodded in reply, and then looked up at the man with adoring green eyes. In the man there was a flash feeling of wrongness in this—in the angles and contours of the boy's face—but it passed quickly. And then the boy pressed closer, still, and, with his sweet breath on the man's face, summer passed into autumn.
"Excuse me," he said. Or maybe demanded. Demanded, yes, that was it.
Nonetheless, the woman sitting at the desk ignored him. It was possible that she was not ignoring him, but simply couldn't hear him over the racket being made by the underclassmen in the hallways and office.
"Excuse me," he repeated again, louder this time. "This is important. Can you hear me? Important, I said."
Either the woman didn't hear him, or she was good at evading work. It wouldn't even be much work. He just needed a phone number, or extension number. He didn't know what would be required.
A group of grammar-school kids passed through the hall behind him noisily. Joyously. School would be out for them, now, at 2:30. He scanned the group for a familiar face, but found none, and found instead that one had stopped, or been left behind. His pencil-case had come open, scattering dull, yellow, and tooth-marked pencils across the floor. A worn pink eraser, as well, and a single green marker. He watched as the boy scurried about, trying to collect his scattered supplies, avoid being trampled, and smooth down his wild hair at the same time.
"Hey, you loser," one of the other kids yelled, turning back. He looked smooth, especially so for a grade-schooler. One day, the man thought, that child would play sports and command an army of less suave hangers-on, and cute, bubbly girls.
"Can't you even keep your pencils together? I don't think you can do anything right!" the boy continued.
"I can so," the other child mumbled softly. His tormentor, however, did not hear. Besides, he had already turned and was walking away. This other boy was, apparently, not even worth his attention for that long.
Meanwhile, the other child had finished collecting his pencils, and was shoving his pencil case roughly into his satchel. As if his embarrassment was the case's fault.
He knew the feeling. The halls here were different, perhaps, but the experience was the same. Differences were always so obvious to children. And they could be so cruel.
He remembered that feeling so exquisitely well. All of the feelings, in fact. Standing in front of the office with his mother and father, in new socks, and new shoes, and a new uniform that never seemed to fit correctly. The rattle of pencils in his backpack, and smooth, pink erasers. Of course they were new, with clean, sharp edges. No mistakes had been made, yet, at that time.
"Nemuro… Nemuro…" he remembered the secretary saying, as his mother smiled down at him. She had worn makeup, that day, and one of her nice dresses. Blue-green, he remembered. Flowered. A little bit shiny. His father had worn a suit.
But then again, his father had always worn a suit.
"Nemuro Souji, Room 144," the secretary had finally said, looking up first at his parents, and then down at him. She had not smiled. Her wrinkles had been deep, and settled into her face like the grooves of a record. But he hadn't been intimidated—no, he was too excited. About his new school. About how proud his parents were. Who would have ever thought that that stupid test they gave at school—the one with all the easy math puzzles and word games—would lead him here?
For all his apparent genius, he hadn't quite grasped the concept of an I.Q. test, at the time.
He remembered the click of his parents' shoes in the empty halls as they'd walked with him to his classroom. There would be no formal goodbye, because his parents would not make a scene in front of his new teachers and class-mates, and because there had been no point to having their goodbyes outside the school, before they even parted. His mother just squeezed his hand tightly as they walked the silent halls.
"We got here a bit late, didn't we?" she had asked nervously. " I hope it doesn't make a bad first impression."
"Don't worry about it," his father had said. And then they'd been in front of room 144. His father had knocked sharply, and, while they waited, he had pulled his hand out of his mother's.
After a moment, the teacher—a sharp looking man—had opened the door. Things had been said, but what he couldn't remember—he had been too eager, too ready to go into that classroom full of students who, he had been told, would understand him better.
Then, suddenly, his parents were gone, and the door was shut behind him. A room full of children, grey children, staring at him. Like he was underneath a microscope. Like he was an awkward caterpillar on a fragrant flower.
Black flower, he thought, suddenly, breaking out of the memory. Black flowers for everyone.
Yes, he could remember how cruel children could be.
"Excuse me?" someone was saying. "Did you need something?"
He blinked, and found himself looking into the honest, rather plain face of the main office's secretary.
"Yes," he said, biting back a harsh reply about the length of time for which he had been standing there. "I need the number for the Chairman's office. It's been changed; I don't have the right one any longer."
"The Chairman?" the woman asked, shuffling papers around until she could see a piece of paper which had been slid under her desk's transparent blotter. "That number is confidential. You'll have to get a note from a teacher, or else—"
"Mikage Souji," he said. "I won't be needing a note, trust me."
"I'd like to," she said, "But as it is, I can't. You'll have to get a teacher's note."
"I give a seminar, in case you didn't know. At Nemuro Memorial Hall. It's not a life or death situation, but, I just… I need a little more funding. I need to speak to the Chairman."
"Well, which teacher is sponsoring this seminar? I suggest you get a note from him or her."
"There is no teacher sponsoring it—the Chairman sent me a letter, and… Oh, forget it," he said, seeing the completely uncomprehending look on the woman's face. "I'll just pay him a visit. I'll talk to his secretary."
"There is no need to get snappy with me, young man," she said, as he turned to go. "It's not my fault, you know, that I can't give you the number."
I have an office, he thought. An office, and my own secretary, and she can't even give me a simple phone number.
"You need to go play outside," the man murmured. His jacket remained on the floor, where he had left it—how long ago? Long enough for dust to have settled. Dust was everywhere, however. No consequence. "When I was young, I always loved to play outside. In the snow." And fire. Wait a moment, he hadn't played in fire. But the snow. Snow made him think of fire. Snow and fire, snow and fire, always inextricably and inexplicably linked in his mind.
"It's a game of antonyms," he said aloud.
"Oh. I forgot you were there. I was only talking to myself."
"You forgot I was here?" The boy sounded slightly put-out.
"Are you sure you don't want to go outside?" Suddenly, the man's brow wrinkled. "I saw you outside, didn't I? Just the other day. But from behind. Was that you? I—"
"Have you ever seen a shadow play?" the boy asked suddenly. "It's like watching the absence of matter. Have you thought about that?"
"You're awfully slow, today, Sempai. Is something wrong?"
"Slow? I'm slow?" The man sat up, and put a hand to his forehead. He did, indeed, feel slow. Like he had a cold, and had taken medication. Maybe the wrong sort of medication. Yes, that was it. Like he had taken morphine for cold symptoms.
"Absence of matter," he repeated, after a moment.
The boy nodded.
"Something's got to be there, but you don't know what. You can make a hand look like a rabbit, after all, if you really try to. Who knows what beasts go masquerading in the shapes of humans."
"They make puppets…"
"Are you sure about that?"
"I must confess, I have always been a little bit fond of puppets. You can make them do so much, after all, if you just know how to pull the strings. They're just like any other machine, I suppose. If you know how to work it, it does anything you want it to. Not like people, who always seem to want to be contrary in some way or another.
"But shadow puppets are different. They don't have to have any features, except for the outlines, of course. I prefer real ones. Real marionettes. Ones that have faces, not just outlines." After saying this, he lay back again, onto the soft pillows. He did feel slow. A bit odd. A bit off. There had been something he wanted to remember, just then, but…
"What's the difference?" the boy wondered.
"The difference between what?"
"Outlines and features. Are they really so important?" And now the boy himself looked confused.
"Of course they are. Outlines are just… pretend. Shadow puppets don't have to be what they look like, because you never see the whole. But with real puppets, it's different. You have to see them for what they are."
"I'd never thought of it that way."
"You've never had to. You're only a child, after all."
The man turned over, and the jacket on the floor caught his eye.
"That's mine, isn't it?" he wondered.
Suddenly, the boy's fingers were on his collar bone—long, and almost unnaturally thin. Ghostlike, they seemed to tingle where they touched his flesh.
"Does it matter?" the boy asked.
He shook his head, and lay there, letting the boy's hands wander, and watching the jacket on the floor for some indication as to what it was doing there. Some sign of life. After a time, a thought occurred to him:
"…You really don't want to go outside?"
As he crossed campus, crowds of students seemed to part before him. Their whispers filled his ears. But it wasn't like at his old school—how long ago had that been?—no, these were whispers of admiration.
After a while, it all got to be the same. Whispers of derision, whispers of adoration—who needed either? He was complete unto himself.
Or anyway, he had been at one time. He had stopped being so sure, any more. There were people, now, whom he needed. Or who needed him. Or both. Similarly, he had forgotten just how many people there were who fell into this category. But, he reasoned, if he could no longer remember, it couldn't be terribly important. He wasn't in the habit of forgetting anything important.
Except, apparently, the Chairman's phone number.
The building loomed in the distance. Despite his quick pace, it never really seemed to be much closer. Almost, he thought, as if the Chairman didn't want to see him today—that was simply too bad. He needed more money. Research was not going as planned. It would take more time and more effort, and most definitely more equipment. Chalk, too, seemed to be running low. He was just making a catalogue in his head of other things he would need, when suddenly, he stopped.
Research? What research, he wondered. There was no research going on in his seminar. They could use a few more chairs, perhaps, but didn't need any extra funding for that.
Yes, Research, another part of his mind piped up. Eternity. You want to grasp eternity.
I know that, he answered it. I want to grasp Eternity. But I'm not researching it. To get to the castle in the sky took no research; it was just there. Nonetheless, the idea of researching something stuck in his mind. Had it been earlier in the year, perhaps? He started walking again, but with faltering steps. There was no research; he knew it. But he had to see the Chairman. There had been something that needed discussing. About his seminar.
About the research?
No. Not about the research. There was no research. He needed to see the Chairman, but clearly the Chairman didn't want to see him, because he was never going to find the damned tower in this mess of school buildings!
But then, suddenly, there it was. He stood in front of the Chairman's tower. He hesitated only a little before going in. He no longer knew what it was that he needed, but decided that he could schedule an appointment now, and think of the reason later. There would be a reason, he knew.
However, wandering into the building, he discovered the place where a secretary should be to be quite empty. There was a desk, a chair, a phone, but no nameplate. No papers. No comfortable shoes hiding under the desk. Nothing personal. And most definitely no secretary.
He wandered around the entrance hall for a time, finding all of it quite as empty as the desk, before deciding to take the elevator upstairs. Perhaps this office was not in use.
Riding the elevator up felt strange. He resolved to take the stairs, on the way down.
He arrived to find the upstairs office quite as empty as the one below it. But, perhaps this was only devoid of people. There seemed to be quite a lot of clutter on the desk in the hall, and behind that was a closed door, with a name tag that read, "Ohtori Akio." Acting Chairman. But where might his secretary be?
He moved behind the desk to check the phone. After all, most of the phones had their extension number written on them, or somewhere near by.
There was no number on the phone. In fact, there was nothing of consequence on the desk at all. Despite the personal effects, no one seemed to use the desk for much. He turned, and found a bulletin board on the wall. He hadn't noticed it before, but wondered why not. All of the picture postcards and memos crammed on made it difficult to miss. He glanced over it, looking for, perhaps, a list of new phone numbers, but something else caught his eye.
"Mikage Souji," it said in large print. He moved closer to the bulletin board. It was addressed to him, wasn't it? But how had Ohtori known…?
"Mikage Souji," he read again. There was a number printed beneath his name, and then:
I'm afraid that I won't have the time to speak to you for a while, but here's my number anyway. You will be needing it, later. I apologize for any inconvenience.
He blinked at the note for a moment. Obviously the main office's secretary had been in contact with Ohtori. He plucked the paper from the bulletin board, folded it, and put it in his pocket. He took one last look around the office, and noticed for the first time the window on the far side of the floor. He moved across the room to it, and was rewarded with a full view of campus, and bits of the town and ocean beyond.
There were the gates. The big, ornate gates that lead to the academy. He could remember, vaguely, walking into those gates some time ago. It seemed so long, but really, it couldn't have been more than…
How many years? He couldn't remember how long he'd been attending Ohtori Academy. He remembered wearing a purple jacket, and gloves. Had it been winter time? He remembered, also, something foreign playing on the radio in his escort's car. Something British, that had been wildly popular across the world at the time. He frowned. He couldn't recall the song, but he could remember thinking about it, looking up at the gates before him, and at the very tower in which he now stood. He could remember thinking about how lovely a school it was, but without any true wonder about it. He could smile about it, now, but hadn't cared enough to, then. It seemed so long ago. It couldn't have been more than a few years. He'd transferred here… When? Eleventh grade?
Suddenly, he wanted to see his school transcript. He needed to know, something in the back of his mind said. He needed to find this out.
He looked for the staircase that would lead him out of the building, but, finding none, was forced to take the elevator once again.
"Why don't you go to sleep, Sempai? You look so tired. Here. I'll give you a head rub."
"A head rub? That's a little bit strange, isn't it?"
"Not at all."
"I am tired. I don't know why. I can't think of anything I've done…"
"That's exactly the point."
"Nothing. You just go to sleep."
He stepped out of the building once more, and into the morning sun. He noticed, not for the first time, a rose garden some way away. He had not, however, noticed that it was so obvious from the Chairman's tower—perhaps it was just the angle, but he could see so perfectly through the other buildings. Straight to it.
Straight to the person inside.
He squinted a little. Just what he was seeing wasn't really clear, but… it looked like… Could it be? Something was familiar about that person. About the line of their neck. About the way they stood. He took a few steps forward, closer to the garden, and closer to the person inside.
But the hair, it was so dark. Too dark. …Or was it? A trick of the light, perhaps? But the movements—there was no way that it could be anyone else. Except, for a second, he wondered if maybe it was someone else entirely. He had a vision, briefly, of a completely different person that he should be looking for. The same green eyes, but darker hair, milky skin. A smile, not like a concubine, but only like a boy. A sick, helpless boy, who had finally given up, and given in, and was being carried along with the current at an alarming rate. …But it faded quickly in his mind, like a wisp of smoke, or a butterfly in a hurricane. And even from that distance, he started to call out. The name formed on his lips, and then died, as he saw another person step out from where he had been obscured from sight by the edge of another building.
This new man was tall, and dark, and his presence in the rose garden made him instinctively uncomfortable. Angry. As if he should rush in and pull the other man out. Beat him to a pulp.
But, of course, he would do no such thing. Could do no such thing, truth be told. He had never beat anyone to a pulp, and doubted if he could start with someone clearly so much larger than himself. Instead, he smiled at the thought that at least the boy was getting some air. Maybe making a friend—even if it was someone so much older. He tried to push down the feeling of alarm. He tried to be happy.
He failed, and instead found himself walking back to Nemuro Memorial Hall. As he approached the building, he was struck by an intense feeling of déjà vu. Of having seen it from exactly the same angle, but some other time. With different plants, and a different scent on the air. Different students. But the building and himself, they had not changed. Everything important was the same, except one thing.
He couldn't remember what that one thing might be.
He would ask the boy later. About why he had been in the garden—he so seldom left, after all. Were the black roses not enough?
When he woke later, he was alone. He felt the absence sharply, in the room. It was so dusty. It needed other people. Maybe later he would have someone come clean it—for pity's sake, it looked as though no one had done so in years. He couldn't run things like that. Not if everything was going to be dirty and out of use.
"Mamiya!" he called. "Mamiya!"
He sat up, and pulled at the sleeves of his jacket. They were slightly dirty, as well. Dusty, it seemed. He laughed aloud.
"Just like everything else in here," he muttered. "Mamiya!" he called again, finding his shoes underneath the bed and pulling them on.
After a moment, the boy appeared at the door.
"Yes, Sempai?" he asked.
"Have I been asleep long?"
"Not at all."
"Good. I have so much to do, today. Did anyone set the chairs back up in the auditorium?"
"I think so."
"I'll have to check on it, I suppose. Where did I put the key?"
Mikage stood, then, and fumbled in his breast pocket. His fingertips met cool metal, and, beside that, a dry sheet of paper.
"What's this?" he wondered, pulling it out of the pocket. He scanned it quickly before shoving it back. "Good, I'd forgotten that I went to get his phone number. I need to talk to him about allowing faculty to be interviewed for the seminar. You never know, after all, do you, Mamiya? About who might be promising. About who might be the one."
"I'll go see about the chairs, now."
Mikage moved past the boy, and out into the hallway. His brisk footfalls could be heard down the hallway, and up the stairs.
The boy stayed in the doorway for a moment, and then shut off the lights in the room. Mission accomplished.
Notes: I started out writing this, wondering about what Mikage's past was like. It kind of spiraled into something completely, totally, and utterly different. But I still think I got a good feel for what I originally intended, with a little more about his general confusion and malaise. You have to wonder how much the old memories and situations bled through to the new in every day life. In the series, we get to see how the memories of Tokiko confuse him, and this fic is basically me wondering how they affect other aspects of his life. And how Akio and Anthy deal with it. And by the way, the title means, "Eternal Spring." It seemed appropriate. Anyway, hope you enjoyed. Do drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org