To set the stage, the moon sits alone in an inky sky.
Unable to set the stars alight, its grin is lost among the shadows.
When a golden fox arrives to steal its glow, will the moon set forever?
Worry is eclipsed with the setting sun.
Tsukiko sits alone in her office. Blank papers litter the floor and her desk, mingling with crumpled and half-finished drawings. The wastebasket overflows.
She glances at the clock. Half eleven. No one else is left in the office; the others are new talent and rather lazy. If memory serves, her coworkers left hours ago.
The clock ticks loudly, whittling away at Tsukiko's sanity. At long last she can take it no more and thus flees the space with a desperate speed and grace the likes of which have never been seen by mortal eyes.
The wash of headlights on the slick pavement bleaches the color from Tsukiko's clothes and skin. She gasps in the sudden light, drawing back into what emaciated shadows she can find.
Suddenly, she feels the silvery touch of fingertips on the back of her neck. Tsukiko starts and whips her body around, but no one is there. Only shadows and the bluish hulk of a moped lying abandoned on the sidewalk.
She shivers and hurries on toward her apartment.
The door clicks open before Tsukiko can unlock it. She suppresses a sharp intake of air and tries to calm her pounding heart. The shoes slip off her feet of their own accord, and she closes the door softly behind her.
Her jacket falls to the floor along with her red bag. Tsukiko takes a deep but silent breath, then makes her way into her bedroom.
"I thought you'd be here," she sighs, sitting down on the bed.
Shonen Batto smiles, leans his bat against the wall. He glances amusedly at the television, atop which is a taped episode of Tsukiko's latest cartoon.
"Another design is due tomorrow," mumbles Tsukiko, noticing the subject of his amusement.
Shonen Batto chuckles to himself. The familiar feeling of his mother's paranoia washes over him in a gentle wave. It fills him with a strange sense of power. Oh, how he'd missed that.
"Why didn't you disappear?"
"You said goodbye to me," Tsukiko murmurs, a little more insistent. "You must have thought you were going to disappear!"
Again, he shrugs.
Tsukiko grasps at the hem of her skirt, twisting it between her fingers to hide her fear. She knows it is futile, but the familiar gesture is comforting nonetheless.
Shonen Batto mills about the room, picking up various objects and inspecting them. His attitude not unlike that of one who is visiting the empty house of a long-dead parent, he silently sifts through the jewelry on Tsukiko's dresser.
"Why did you come back?" Tsukiko stares fearfully at him. "Stop that."
Obediently, Shonen Batto drops the locket he is holding. He still stares at the dresser, though. His gaze is focused on the mirror, on the pictures adorning it.
"Why did you come back?"
The boy turns for a moment as if he wishes to speak. But he goes back to the dresser without a word.
"You look different now." Tsukiko catches sight of his face and gasps. "Your eyes--"
"She did it," speaks Shonen Batto, looking distastefully at his own reflection in the mirror, then at Tsukiko's.
"What are you talking about?"
Shonen Batto ignores her, keeps looking at the mirror.
"She made you look different? Who is she?"
"She lives near here. On the fifth floor of an apartment building. A high school student. Very bright."
"She influenced you that much?" Tsukiko smiles, though the expression is devoid of positivity. "I bet you're talking like her."
"Most likely." He scowls. "I look older. Her age."
"She was kind to you," observes Tsukiko, her smile warming. "You don't look quite so frightening anymore. I like your eyes."
He scowls again.
"So this Sakura girl set you free?" Tsukiko looks away. "Did you kill her?"
Obviously agitated, the boy grips the edges of the dresser. He glares at Tsukiko, but the potency of the emotion is lost when their eyes meet.
"Humans are strange, aren't they?" Tsukiko's eyes, losing some of their fear, have not left his. "You don't understand them. Well, maybe you do, a little. But you could never fully understand something that to you seems so utterly irrational. You can't figure out why that girl helped you, even though she knew full-well that you were a monster. Isn't that right?"
Shonen Batto turns away from the mirror. The sneer on his face communicates itself through his eyes, and he snatches up the bat with the air of a spoilt aristocrat. He hefts it experimentally, testing its weight as though adjusting to the alien force of gravity.
"You developed a will of your own." Tsukiko's fear is all but gone. "You didn't want to disappear, did you?"
"Would you have wanted to disappear?"
"Point taken." Tsukiko stands. "Come here. I want to get a better look at you."
Reluctantly, the boy obeys. Tsukiko laughs when she sees that he is now ever-so-slightly taller than herself. The boy's twisted features have also been smoothened. It was as if his sculptor had decided to soften the demon he wrought into an angel. Of course, a touch of malice remains in the eyes and mouth. After all, there are some things even masters cannot fix.
Tsukiko brushes her fingertips across the back of his hand. She takes him by the arm, the roughly smooth material of his sweatshirt confirming her suspicions that the boy does indeed have a corporeal form. Her sadness washes over him, both a surge of power and a crippling blow that leaves him barely able to stand.
"Why did you come back here?"
Shonen Batto shrugs, pulls his arm away. The uncomfortable waves of human emotion emanating from Tsukiko are disconcerting, and he suddenly has no stronger urge than the one to get very far away from her as quickly as possible.
"You poor thing."
Shonen Batto glances up at his mother, and all thought of flight vanishes with her voice.
"I wasn't sure before, but you really have developed a will of your own." Tsukiko's tone takes on that strange expositional tone that narrators wield, and the effect does nothing to comfort the target of her speech. "You're frightened, aren't you? Feeling driven into a corner? Suddenly you have a world of options open to you, and it's terrifying."
"Don't talk like that," he mutters. "I'm not afraid of anything."
"The world is a scary place," Tsukiko argues with a sigh. "It's easy to get lost, fall through the cracks. People trample you."
Shonen Batto strides purposefully toward the door, snatching his bat back up on the way. He doesn't bother to turn the knob, intending, obviously, to pass right through the hollow wood.
Unfortunately, this doesn't pan out quite the way he'd intended.
"What the hell--" he spits through clenched teeth as he falls.
"You're quite irate," notes Tsukiko.
"You think so?" He nurses the beginnings of a bluish bruise on his forehead. "Can someone please explain what just happened?"
Tsukiko smiles. She goes to her dresser and retrieves a pen. She then digs out a sketchbook and begins to draw, ignoring the look of pure hatred the boy gives her. The ink forms a figure, the outline of an adorably sour-looking fox.
"You killed the detective," she states matter-of-factly.
"The girl did it." Shonen Batto scowls. "I just finished him off a day or two early. He didn't belong in this world anyway."
"Neither do you."
"You never did answer me. About why you came back here."
Shonen Batto stares at his hands, struggling to find words with which to answer his mother. You're right; I am afraid. Well, I was in the neighborhood and I just felt like visiting. Oh, look, you've got a new laptop. None of these come close to sufficing, and he remains silent.
Tsukiko puts down her sketchbook, capping her pen in the process. She surveys the boy on her bedroom floor with carefully masked interest. Once upon a time, this boy almost destroyed her sanity. He'd nearly torn an entire country apart.
But was that really the same boy? She meets his gaze again, and the fear she's once felt is reflected in his eyes. She wonders if this is what a god must look like the first time it takes a human form. How strange it must be to adapt to the silly rules of the world.
"What are you going to do now?" she asks, watching him remove his roller blades and stand.
He looks younger now without the extra height that the wheels offer. The boy's hands rest lightly on the cool wall, but he looks as though its presence is the only thing keeping him upright.
"I'll keep attacking people, I suppose." He laughs humorlessly.
"Old habits, you know."
"How single-minded of you."
Tsukiko turns on the television. It flickers, breaking into the middle of a news report.
"--that the seventeeen-year-old high schooler, Sakura Kurogame, was found in the kitchen of her family's apartment. The murder weapon used in both the assault on Kurogame's parents and on her good friend, Yumi Hinamura, is believed to be the metal baseball bat found with Kurogame. Police have so far declined to comment on whether she will be charged in any of the similar attacks that have occurred around the area."
Tsukiko sneaks a glance at Shonen Batto. He has frozen, eyes fixed unblinkingly on the television screen. The report drones on, releasing precious few real details about the murders. His expression is blank, but Tsukiko can read the shock in Shonen Batto's trembling fingers.
"Poor girl," Tsukiko sighs, checking to see what effect her words are having. "She's gotten herself into a bad situation."
The boy's hand finds the doorknob before he grasps the notion that he's made his way across the room. He snatches the bat and his roller blades in the other, makes as if to open the door. And his eyes never leave the television, where a picture of Sakura Kurogame is still fixed on the screen.
"Don't go rushing off like that," Tsukiko commands, getting up. "You don't even know where she's being held, and anyway, you should at least put your skates on."
He pauses. After a moment, he sits and tugs on his roller blades. The effort seems to exhaust him, and he falls back dazed. His anger is muted by the unfamiliar wave of dizziness that hits him
"Are you alright?" Tsukiko asks, helping him up.
"What do you think?" He steadies himself against the wall, blinking away the spots that dance in front of his vision.
"You're hungry," Tsukiko interprets aloud, and she laughs. "Come on; you need to eat something."
Shonen Batto glares distrustfully at her. All the same, he allows Tsukiko to lead him into the kitchen. A strange feeling of bittersweet nostalgia creeps into his mind.
"look through here," Tsukiko instructs him, pointing to the refrigerator and the cupboards near it. "Go ahead and eat whatever looks appealing."
The boy glares at the boxes of food he finds in the cupboards. He avoids the refrigerator as if the thing were a large, venomous beast. Finally, a styrofoam cup of instant Ramen catches his eye. Tsukiko takes it off the shelf and sets some water to boil.
"What are you doing?" snaps Shonen Batto, inching toward the door.
"Calm down. You have to heat the water first. You don't want to eat uncooked Ramen, do you?"
"If you don't eat, you'll be too weak to help her." Tsukiko fights back a smile and the thought that she is acting like a mother. "It'll be hot enough in a few minutes. You can use my laptop to try and locate Sakura in the meantime."
"Don't need it."
The boy sits down at a small table, closing his eyes. Tsukiko leaves him alone, noticing that the water is warm enough to pour into the cup. She lets it sit next to the boy, a pair of chopsticks keeping the lid closed.
Abruptly, the boy opens his eyes and stands. He starts to speak, but Tsukiko points severely at the Ramen and he falls silent. A brief struggle with the chopsticks, and he hurriedly wolfs down the scalding soup.
"You didn't even taste that, did you?" Tsukiko accuses him, a faint smile playing across her lips.
"I found her," the boy interrupts. "I have to go."
"So single-minded," murmurs Tsukiko. "Are you going to try disappearing again?"
"I was thinking more along the lines of using the front door," he answers distantly.
Shonen Batto picks up his bat and disappears through the previously-locked door. Tsukiko stares after him, and her sad smile lingers long after the scrape of skates on carpetless hallway fades away.
(Author's note: Wow. Again, a long lag between posts. I do apologise wholeheartedly, I swear! I hope to add more to this fic soon. All I need to do is...eh...track down that sheaf of paper I scribbled the next bit on...which, knowing the state of my room, might take awhile. At any rate, here's hoping you've enjoyed this latest installment to the...eh...this...well, this fic written to the tune of Paranoia Agent. Blessed be, take care, and Ave Atque Vale. ::the Raven:: )