A.N.:I doubt that many people have encountered this particular Asian drama yet—it was just barely released, and so far only four episodes have English subtitles—but it really is amazing.
In fact, consider this a challenge: watch the show (PM me if you're interested, and I'll tell you where to find it, since it's not even on YouTube yet), and then write stories of your own. I've gotten several fanfic websites to create a category for this show, but I need more writers contributing. Pretty please?
Oh, and a sage is a call to take away a dead body. I usually don't bother with Japanese terms—it'd be silly when I'm writing in English—but this one seemed to be some sort of technical term, so I figured I'd go ahead.
When Momoko was young, a woman died saving her from an oncoming car. Before she passed, the woman somehow gave Momoko the ability to repeat days. When the adult Momoko goes to work at a funeral parlor, she finds that by touching the belongings of somebody who has been murdered, she can repeat the day they died and (usually) save them. Though Momoko keeps this ability to herself, she often relies on one of her coworkers, Otomo Shoutarou—a womanizing but very clever jerk—and her best friend, Hina, to help her save lives.
All well and good, at least until one of the killings hits a little too close to home, and Momoko isn't the only one repeating time.
"Complications in the Life of a Mop Girl"
CHAPTER ONE: Here We Go Again
"I think she's asleep."
"She can't be. She's standing up."
"Do you really think that would stop someone like Momoko?"
Collective eye roll, because they all knew it wouldn't. Not even gravity could hinder Momoko when she was set on something, and it wasn't even the first time she'd done this. They really needed to stop putting her on the night shift.
"Do you think we should wake her up?"
"No. If we leave her, she'll eventually fall over."
"And then we get to laugh, right?"
"And then we get to laugh."
"Can't we just push her, then?"
The words were spoken without any malice at all—as annoyingly odd as Momoko could sometimes be, most of them liked the girl well enough. She was just…not stupid, but rather simple, and it would have required a super-human effort not to tease her.
In the end, though, the decision was taken out of their hands. As Momoko's coworkers debated the merits of pushing Momoko rather than simply letting her fall on her own, the office door slid open, and a tall, rather handsome man stepped into the room. He pushed the door shut behind him, took another step or two before noticing the sleeping girl and the small group gathered around her. He needed only an instant to understand, but he only sighed and shook his head. "That girl…" he muttered, his voice both lacking any real heat and too low for the others to hear.
The employees of the Little Angel funeral services hadn't noticed the newcomer, and they continued to not notice him as he moved towards them. They were too focused on Momoko's rather vacant expression to realize that Shoutarou was even behind them…at least until his hand snaked between them and Momoko was already falling over.
The impact from Shoutarou's hand had been enough to wake Momoko, and she gave a startled squeak as she went down, her cry immediately becoming one of pain as her head thumped against the hard tiles of the floor. Laughter erupted around her, but she ignored it, choosing to stay where she'd fallen until the pain faded and she could deal with the man she instinctively knew was to blame.
Her coworkers returned to their desks, their entertainment over, and a moment later, Momoko pushed herself to her feet. She was still rubbing her forehead as she stomped across the room, stopping to glare down at Shoutarou. "Jerk," she muttered at him, her words more of a pout than an accusation. She was far too used to Shoutarou to really get angry with him.
He only stared back, managing to keep his expression completely blank in spite of the laughter in his eyes.
The rest of the day passed without incident. Shoutarou continued to tease Momoko, Momoko continued to pout at him, and their coworkers continued to ignore what would have been flirting between anyone else…at least until midmorning, when the call for a sage came in.
Mr. Higashi, the soft-spoken president of Little Angel and the only one who never laughed at Momoko, listened intently to the voice on the other end of the phone. An expression of genuine but detached sorrow crossed his features, but he only listened in silence. "Yes, I see," he murmured at last, "I'll send someone immediately." He placed the phone back on its cradle without bothering to say goodbye, then glanced over at Shoutarou. "Mr. Otomo," he called, still in that gentle voice of his.
Shoutarou glanced up from the magazine he'd been reading, his expression already schooled into a mask of polite interest as he stood and quickly made his way over to his superior. "Has there been a death?"
For all that he'd spent most of the day teasing a girl several years younger than himself, Shoutarou's voice had become remarkably professional, and Mr. Higashi only nodded and began giving the details. "Take Momoko and retrieve the body," he finished.
Whatever he thought of that last order, Shoutarou only nodded in return. He, too, began to turn away, stopped as Higashi called his name once more.
Mr. Higashi always looked a little too serious, but his eyes were more worried than usual. "Look after Momoko," he murmured in a voice too low for anyone else to hear. "She's been…depressed lately. Take care of her."
A single dark eyebrow shot into Shoutarou's hairline, but he only nodded yet again. Higashi wasn't the only one who'd noticed how quiet Momoko had become in the past few weeks, though neither man was the type to question her. Higashi didn't want to invade the girl's privacy, and Shoutarou dealt with Momoko's problems too often already.
The rain started almost the moment Shoutarou and his young partner left the building, and it was still pouring as they tried to maneuver the bulky vehicle through the surprisingly heavy traffic. Cars were inching along at a snail's pace, and only a few minutes into the drive, they stopped altogether.
Shoutarou surveyed the packed vehicles in front of them with a mildly annoyed expression. "There must have been an accident," he mused aloud, briefly looking for another route and then realizing he wouldn't be able to get the truck out anyway. There just wasn't room to move, and from the look of things, they wouldn't be going anywhere for quite some time.
He sighed, leaned back in the driver's seat and crossed his arms over his chest, then glanced over at his silent companion. Momoko was staring out the window, her forehead resting against the glass, her hands a little too motionless in her lap. Her face was turned away, but while he couldn't see her eyes, he could tell that she was frowning. "Momoko?"
The unspoken question was almost kind, at least coming from him, but she didn't respond. She only continued staring out into the rain, and he wondered if she'd even heard him.
He sighed yet again, hoping this wasn't going to be another of Momoko's odd days. He really wasn't in the mood to deal with her fantasies, especially since they always seemed to involve a lot of running around on his part.
And missed dates. Couldn't forget the missed dates.
Shoutarou eventually turned his attention back to the road, entertaining himself by looking for foreign women in the cars around them. Ooh…that blonde looks like she could be French. Do I dare leave Momoko alone long enough to run over there and get her number?
The question didn't require much thought at all. Probably not. Even with the truck practically parked, even if I shut off the engine completely and take the keys with me, Momoko will find a way to crash it.
The silence continued, but long after Shoutarou had lost interest even in the blonde woman and was practically dozing in his chair, Momoko's soft, hesitant voice startled him back into awareness.
"How did he die?"
The question startled him even more—she'd been so obviously lost in her own world that he hadn't been expecting anything at all from her—but he only blinked at her. "Who?"
She didn't turn around. "The man who died today. Was he murdered?"
It was an odd question, even from the very odd Momoko, and there was something in her voice that he didn't like. She sounded…not quite haunted, but close enough to it. "No. They obviously haven't done an autopsy yet, but the paramedics thought he died from a heart attack."
Silence, then… "Oh. That's good."
She didn't say anything else, but he continued to stare at her, because this just wasn't like Momoko. The strangeness of her question aside, where was her energy? Usually she'd be asking all sorts of questions about the deceased, wondering what their lives had been like, wanting to know who they'd left behind and whether they'd been happy. This morose, quiet Momoko was making him uneasy.
Momoko had already gone back into her own world, but the silence was heavier this time, almost ominous. What was going on with this girl?
Sakamoto Makoto's body had been found in the underground parking structure of a hotel, one hand still clutching at his chest, the other tightly gripping a set of keys. The paramedic who'd pronounced him dead at the scene assumed that he'd been trying to get into his car when his heart failed him. Pity that he'd died, the paramedic added, but at least he hadn't been on the road. There'd been enough accidents that day.
By the time Momoko and Shoutarou arrived, the corpse had already been placed in a body bag. Momoko was grateful for that, because while she no longer panicked when faced with the dead, she knew she would never have the blasé attitude Shoutarou and the others had long since perfected. She would never stop wondering who these people had been, what they'd left undone, what they were losing by dying.
And she would never stop wondering if she could still save them.
Momoko bit her lip as she helped Shoutarou load the body onto a stretcher and then into the van, grateful that at least this man's death had been relatively easy. A flash of pain, a moment of panic, and the struggle had been over. She wished it could be this peaceful for all of them, and not only because it would mean Momoko's curse would sleep. She hated knowing that others had suffered.
It didn't take long to finish loading the body, and since the death had been so clean, they didn't have any reason to linger. They climbed back into the truck, Momoko trying very hard not to think of their silent passenger, Shoutarou obviously not caring. A familiar, almost comfortable silence fell between them, and Momoko turned back to the window.
They hadn't even finished the paperwork at the morgue when the second call came in. Shoutarou excused himself and slipped outside, his cell tight against his ear. Momoko watched him go, then turned back to her forms with a barely audible sigh.
Sometimes paperwork was even more tedious than repeating time. At least she only had to live her days twice—the forms came in triplicate.
She'd just completed the final bit of paperwork when Shoutarou returned, and Momoko needed only one glance at his expression to know that the news would not be good.
"There's been another death," Shoutarou told her, the words quiet enough that the morgue attendant wouldn't overhear. "A woman this time." He sighed, shaking his head. "She fell from a rooftop. The police think she might have been pushed."
Momoko paled. "She was murdered?"
Shoutarou shot her an odd look, but he only motioned for her to follow him from the morgue. "It's too early to tell," he said as he ushered her towards the company van, "but there were signs of a struggle on the roof."
Momoko barely heard him. Oh, gods, she was thinking, not again.
The woman's death had not been clean. She'd fallen from the top of a building six stories high, and her body had shattered on impact. Even Shoutarou looked faintly sick as he and Momoko waited for the police to finish processing the crime scene, and if there'd been any color at all in Momoko's face, she would have looked positively green.
And it was, Momoko barely noticed the nausea she was feeling. She was too busy trying not to panic. I can save her, she reminded herself. I won't let this be like the last one.
I won't let her be another Kohei.
Thoughts of the cartoonist she hadn't saved flooded her mind, but Momoko almost savagely pushed them away. She didn't think she'd ever stop grieving for the man or feeling guilty for not preventing his death, but this wasn't the time for that. She needed to focus on this new woman, on stopping a different killer.
The case, she reminded herself, her mental voice as firm as she could make it. Be smart about this—get the details of the case before you return to the past.
She swallowed, forced herself to walk nearer the body. She couldn't help glancing once at the woman's ruined face, but even as she watched, two officers came and began zipping her into another nondescript body bag. Momoko looked away, turning instead to Shoutarou. He and his police friend were standing close by, their eyes resolutely turned away from the woman's corpse as they discussed her death.
"…Asami Reina," the Assistant Inspector was saying. "She worked in the hospital, but we still don't know why she was on the roof. From what her coworkers have said, she didn't have any reason to be there. Nobody did."
Shoutarou nodded. "You mentioned signs of a struggle."
The Inspector sighed, apparently not caring that he was giving the details of an ongoing investigation to a civilian. "The gravel on the roof has been disturbed. There might have been a fight, but of course that's not something we can really prove. Anything might have moved the gravel, though it looks recent." He paused, then added, "We also found a woman's silver compact. We're still trying to determine if it was hers."
"That's a little odd. Women don't go to rooftops just to powder their noses. Was there anything else?"
The Inspector only shook his head. "Not that we could find. Of course, we're still interviewing her coworkers. One of them might know something."
Shoutarou's features twisted in thought, but before he could say anything more, Momoko stepped over to them and began tugging on Shoutarou's sleeve. "You don't have any suspects at all, then?"
The Inspector eyed her for a second or two, then visibly shrugged. "No. As far as we can tell, she didn't have any enemies. She was just a secretary, and she hadn't been working here long enough to really make an enemy anyway. There just wasn't any reason to kill her."
Momoko bit her lip. "It just can't be easy, can it?" she muttered to herself, ignoring the startled looks the two men were giving her. She turned back to the Inspector, pasting what she hoped was a flirtatious smile onto her face. "Inspector," she asked, not even trying to be coy in spite of the smile, "did the victim leave any belongings behind?" She didn't give him time to answer. "Like the compact? Can I see it?"
Shoutarou's eyes sharpened slightly at the question, but the Inspector didn't notice. He was grinning rather stupidly back at Momoko, a sly smile of his own twisting his lips. He glanced surreptitiously at the crime scene around them, then suddenly motioned the two of them to come closer.
Momoko and Shoutarou automatically leaned closer, Momoko with a face that had suddenly become even paler, Shoutarou with that same hard look. The harshness of his expression only deepened as the Inspector pulled a plastic bag from his pocket, holding it up for Momoko to see.
The girl eyed the compact with a frown. "You're certain this is hers?"
Once again, she didn't wait for an answer. Her eyes were locked on the compact, her attention so focused on the thing that would activate her gift and send her back in time that she didn't even notice when Shoutarou reached out and laid a restraining hand on her arm. "Momoko?"
She didn't hear him, either. She was already reaching for the evidence, her lower lip caught between her teeth as her fingers brushed against the plastic.
And then time shifted, and the world changed, and Shoutarou's sudden cry didn't matter.