Losing Grace
Itsuki, shortly pre-series. They don't go into much obvious detail about the relationship between Haruka and Itsuki in the series. But it's there. Now uploaded with White Day in the right location--I don't know how I swapped them.

Itsuki is very good at being second place. He's a professional. It hurts when he thinks about it otherwise, and most of him has come to accept the burning hollowness that drifts continual beneath his skin; Itsuki revolves around the philosophy that he might as well accept his position in life with grace.

Barring that, with discipline.

When it's time for Haruka's birthday, which is marked out on his organizational palm-computer and again on the paper calendars of his offices, Itsuki is never late. He plans a week in advance to go shopping for her. The day is filed as personal time off. Itsuki uses the entire time from sunup to sundown strolling the shops, framing the concept of her needs in his mind during the trainride and then pursuing them until supper.

All of the Federation's calendars have double lining, a row of sporadic red numbers underneath the black. That is the day in Tokyo Jupiter. This is the day outside.

Itsuki occasionally counts off Haruka's years in TJ-standard, slumped against the cool metal of the wall, one hand tracing the elongated weeks. He measures out months that do not exist but for Haruka's obsession with them.

Haruka hates getting gifts from him these days, but she accepts it, unwrapping the heavy papers of the uptown stores and reacting with clumsy gratitude for the contents within. She likes receiving presents, on the whole. Itsuki knows her well enough that he can even choose objects that Haruka enjoys, picking colors that look good upon her or tasteful supplies for the home. Extra chopsticks, a rice bowl. Hairpins. Shoes.

Things he knows she needs, and that she resents him for it.

The intimacy of Itsuki's taste is what Haruka really shies from; the same critically piercing eye of a former, second-place lover.

He'd cried exactly once when Haruka told him the news. Not because he couldn't see the break-up coming from a hundred metered-miles away, but from a dull, reawakened roll of his stomach that was suspiciously close to nausea. They hadn't been working out well for months before her decision. Discussions between them were defaulting more and more frequently to arguments, with short-mouthed abrupt endings. Itsuki had measured the trend as adeptly as he had translated a Brahms rondo, but with far less satisfaction, and with an equal inability to do anything other than predict the closing notes.

Haruka was much too blunt in her ideals; love was precious in her eyes, and she had hers reserved for a boy on TJ-time.

She didn't tell Itsuki this, not out loud, but he knew.

Haruka had been thoughtful enough to dress her final words in widow-weeded modesty. Biting her lip twice, brushing her hair back once. Her decision brought its own apology in a sidecar. It terminated weekends that once ran seamlessly from class-end to class-start while kept in the cradle of Itsuki's fingers on piano keys.

Late night take-out. Haruka smiling. Discussions of movies, music, and professors, all in a private realm of human simplicity.

And the human had decided, Not you.

I'm sorry.

Did he love her? Yes and no. Did she love him? No, and maybe yes. Just as Haruka had been so desperately seeking her past incarnate in another, Itsuki was rendered silent by the fact that he'd been hoping for another chance as well, wondering if life would miraculously open up its doors and return to him a purpose fulfilled. Still chasing the vague ideal of an Ixtli. A creature he'd been made to devote his entire being to and that would love him back.

The sole reason why he existed in the first place.

Unfortunately, the gods must have been sleeping when he'd been in petition, because his time as an Instrumentalist came and passed with no answer to his desperate confusion.

Two people. College foolishness. A universe gone shattered for one, while the other hadn't really understood the difference between a broken human world, and a whole.

So Itsuki had not been enough of his brother-Ollin, and Haruka had not been the shape of his Ixtli. She'd given back the spare key to his dorm room when she left. Awkward, human fingers clattering with the metal ring, the hollow thunk as she'd set it upon the desk.

Itsuki had felt his eyes sting then, as he'd heard the questions flare in his mind like sunspots bursting, mercilessly brutal in their heat. He'd buried his chin in his sleeve; the cloth still smelled like the cold, filtered air of Foundation labs, chemical sterility. The fabric reminded him of Makoto. Of things created, upon which he'd finally had to close his eyes, feeling the lips of the lids overspill.

Being around Haruka had been a flirtation with the human. Itsuki had immersed himself in her as if she were a new salvation. Without her, the world had returned sharply into dossier-cut specifics from the Foundation. Declarations of purpose for each of its created children. Stamps of passing or failure, relocation, and far too many discards. Tasks laid out with achievements in mind, and the most damning one for Itsuki had involved love.

So he'd grappled with the fact of losing her with the same uncertain flounderings that he'd tried to understand his adolescence. Love was the key to finding an Ixtli, he'd been told. If that was all that was required, why didn't one come?

Why didn't Haruka stay?

He hadn't known what to do. Awkward himself, feeling as if this, too, was another example of his Ixtli lost and the Foundation judging him behind one-way mirrors, watching him with disapproving shakes of their head.

At first he'd tried calling her up. Then attempting to meet with her. Silence. Haruka's answering machine accepted his stumbling messages, the inadequate pauses between words drawn out long and fumbling. His breath was too husky into the mouthpiece; all of Itsuki's thoughts had writhed against his skull, wondering if in this second chance, he'd only gone wrong eternal.

Nothing.

They had gone out for noodles more times than he could count, haunted the cafes and corner bookstores of Nirai-Kanai. Itsuki checked all their old spots. He sat outside the parlors for hours, newspaper in hand, attempting his minutes casual while his eyes kept flicking up anxiously, waiting for sign of her to appear.

For five months, Haruka changed her routes. By the sixth, Itsuki had requested extra work from the Foundation, and the rest of his college quarters had been too busy to allow him to look for her. He spent his days passing time from aria to aria instead, listening to the croons of Dolems sonar-singing to one another over the winds.

Some days he thought he was dreaming in Dolem-speech, until the Mu were lamenting even in his sleep.

The first winter had been the hardest. Nirai-Kanai holidays were imported and followed, ringing in the new year with traditions Japanese, European, American--even African with the range of Federation staff gathered on the small island. It hadn't snowed on Nirai-Kanai, but the rain had made everything damp. People's boots sloshed.

Because he noticed Haruka showing up to class twice in a row with her hair soaked, Itsuki bought her a new umbrella to replace the one he knew she must have lost. He presented it during the same holiday party that doubled as his housewarming; a glass-walled building far more luxurious than a dorm, the introductory purchase made through Nirai-Kanai's Federation outposts. Still in college and already Itsuki had a plum scientist's position lined up. Who could be more content?

The funding for the house, he'd explained, had come from a rich uncle. A congratulatory gift, if it were.

Haruka's umbrella was a merry yellow, speckled with white like a robin's egg. Practical in the bargain--the brilliance of the plastic would be hard for Haruka to lose in the mesh of the umbrella stands, so she would always be able to tell where hers was. The variation in pattern would attract her attention, far better than a plain, flat color. There was even a tag by the handle, a decoration in the shape of a flower that could cleverly hold the owner's name printed on a small card.

Itsuki took preemptive measures and added in the address himself before he wrapped the package up, knowing that Haruka was prone to forgetting such things.

At the party, he handed it over as easily as if the box were little more than the paper-stuff padding.

"I hear you're also entering the Federation after graduation, Haruka."

A droll laugh on her part, words tart. "And where did you get that rumor?"

Haruka's nose wrinkled as she delivered the easy banter, but by the way she glanced away afterwards, Itsuki knew again that he was right.

He invited her to the next year's party. She attended. Then the one after that, again and again as they grew older, marked more months off the calendar. Eventually, they'd begun to speak again outside of the clipped politeness that society demanded. Never without Haruka's eyes inevitably straying in the direction of Tokyo Jupiter; Itsuki sees the shift each time as her attention leaves him, but he chooses, tactfully, never to mention it.

Haruka escapes from him with each gathering that they celebrate, both in the workplace and without. Her face grows distant at least once per event. She thinks about a boy who is years and miles away, even while she is practicing laughter at some comment by the Major.

Itsuki tried to hold her hand once and she let her fingers slip out of his grasp, as unclaimable as the sea.

He doesn't let it bother him. If it does, that's what the wine is for. The taste leaves his eyes dry through the blessing of dehydration, and the company of his Federation coworkers keeps him from dwelling too much on deaf gods.

For each holiday marching in on the double-lined calendar, Itsuki picks something different to purchase. He's had a lot of experience so far. He wraps Haruka's gifts patiently, dutifully following the tasks of Christmas and White Day intermingling. There's a record book that he keeps tally in so that he won't repeat his offerings. Haruka wouldn't notice, but he would, and he'd rather not accidentally duplicate.

She never sends him anything back for Valentine's Day, but Itsuki doesn't expect she will, and he tells himself that he can accept such things with grace.