A/N: I love UDDUP. I love it so much that I requested a category from the staff, and (surprisingly), here it is. Since I am notoriously slow at posting, there are already four stories! That's amazing. So, let's make a real fandom out of this.
Novocain, my beta, proved once again how reliable she is. Thank you, dear.
Life with two bachelors means that, sometimes, my shirts have the lingering smell of at-least-a-week-old socks on them. This is especially likely during exams, when I have to temporarily drop some of my house-keeping duties in favour of school. I don't complain. It doesn't bother me. It's such a trivial matter, after all. I know for certain that I'll have three gigantic piles of laundry staring at me later; it doesn't faze me. The fact that all these clothes belong to the two most important people in my life adds a spring in my step.
Everyone thinks I'm a meek child. It's probably partly true. The people I've met so far tend to make my personality seem of a very low-key nature in comparison.
But I'm not a child, and I don't like being mistaken for one.
Mamoru and Igawa know that I like a considerable number of things, but they'd be surprised to find out there are also things I don't like. I like cherry ice-cream, Igawa and Sierra, the colour white, and all kinds of praise from a certain someone. The last one's the one thing I like that he doesn't know about. I dislike wars, clowns, wars, and cranky blind swordsmen who enjoy bossing me around. And did I mention wars? But the bossy swordsmen – rawr - definitely take the metaphorical cake at times like this, and I can't stress that metaphorical enough, because you simply don't mention real cakes in the same sentence with Mamoru unless you want him to disappear with a swoosh in the middle of the night and board the next flight to the country of Wherever It's Daytime And They Sell Chocolate Cakes Now.
It makes me smile when I'm not annoyed by his persistence at treating me like a bad cross between a precious protégé and a bratty niece.
We've been living together for years now. We have guests from time to time – Sierra, Juliett, Kilo, Motorcycle Guy; you name it, we have it – but there come times when it's just the three of us. Or even the two of us, Mamoru and me. That's when it gets all bittersweet, like strolling in a storm or something equally strange and stupid and definitely a disturbance you'd be willing to forgo, because when you're soaking wet and trembling in the midst of the downpour, you notice all those little things you'd otherwise never get the chance to experience. It's all there. Who would have guessed? The squishiness of your shoes tickles your mind like a big yellow button you keep almost-pushing and withdrawing from time after time after time. You like it. It makes you giggle with your mouth closed. Your clothes are so wet and clingy you know you'll be getting a cold before you can finish this line of thought, but do you care? No. You don't. Because it makes you feel different - yes, it makes you feel unique and fiery and perhaps a little retarded, but it's all part of the game, so it's good. Your hair gets plastered on your face and neck. It's uncomfortable, and you can't see well because your eyelids are heavy and you have to squint to keep the rivulets out of your eyes, but when you taste the rain, it's not so terrifying anymore. It leaves a delicate tinge in your mouth, like an apple, tears, and what you imagine dust would taste like.
It's not so bad once you get used to it. Not at all. In reality, I think I've been rather drawn to it all my life. Yes. I might just be addicted to it.
I wonder if he too, tastes like tears and dust, and maybe a bit like fleshy, ripe apples.
It was dinner time. We were gathered around the small kitchen table, eating in amiable silence. I stole a glance at their plates and noted that most of their food was gone already, even though Mamoru was a slow eater and Igawa didn't have much of an appetite when he had work to do. They seemed to appreciate my cooking very much. I was so pleased I had to hide my flushed grin behind a glass of water.
"Hey, what'cha thinking about?" Igawa broke the silence.
"You seem pleased about something," he elaborated.
"Oh! It's nothing."
"You're not fooling anyone." Mamoru remarked in his somber, no-nonsense voice before diverting his attention elsewhere - his plate, to be precise. He picked up a mouthful of rice.
I couldn't hold in my grin any longer.
"I'm just glad you like the food."
Mamoru nodded. He'd never know what a loud, warm feeling it gave me.
"So, princess, how was your day at school?" Igawa initiated our daily ritual with a pleasant face and an absent mind.
"Great!" I said.
"Did anything happen?"
"Mm, let's see... I think I did well on my physics test and Yoshizumi showed everyone pictures of her kitty. So, uh, nothing huge."
Igawa made a victorious clacking sound with his chopsticks. I had said the key word – physics.
"Good," he said, obviously pleased. He cracked a smile, throwing a look at the man in shades. "It's good, isn't it?" he stressed.
Igawa Ryoutarou: Genius Engineer, Ally of Justice, Hijikata Mamoru's Personal Pushing Device.
I giggled. It was so typical of him – of us. Not for the first time in the last few years, I wished time would leave some things unchanged.
The phone rang. And then, it happened.
Actually, it didn't happen afterwards. The threads unleashed themselves right as the first ring echoed from the hallway.
The threads... they have always been there. They're not always the same threads, of course, and they're such a messy bunch that it took me forever to find something real they could be named after. I'm unable to control them. I can only watch and feel as they swim in a liquid space, perpetually, some of them thin, some thick, some soft and wispy, others rough and solid like a finger on my temple. Occasionally, I feel something in the back rows stall, and it unsettles me because I know what's coming next.
Like a lightning bolt through the skull, an area lights up. The threads swirl, merge, and spread out again in all directions, and it hurts but I'm so deep into the life-or-death puzzle that I can't pull back. I grope in the dark for the right thread; I try to follow to it to its end despite the sideburns, and at that moment I feel a little bit closer to the man I chose to be my protector, because it's painful and confusing – oh so painful – and when I almost can't take it anymore, it stops. The end of the thread flashes before my eyes, followed by the ends of its kindred threads and their kindred threads. And then I know, whether I want to or not.
But that's nonsense. I always want to know. I've been telling myself that I need to accept all that throws itself in my way. I must be willing to see and ready.
This time was no different from all those that preceded it. I wasn't taken by surprise. I can't claim to have gotten used to it, but I know that the time when my prediction ability strikes can't be predicted itself.
I held my breath. It felt as though my head was being ripped apart by a giant's hands, and, as it lay half-open, the angry face of a young man flashed in my sight. It was a face with smooth edges and sharp, boyish eyes. There was something vaguely familiar about it. The boy glared at a spot in the distance, and someone screamed a warning... There was a rustle of cloth and he was knocked off his knees.
Someone screamed again as a bullet grazed by his cheek and hit -
His eyes widened -
I screamed. My ears thumping alongside my heartbeat, I was aware of my own heavy breathing, but it wasn't enough of a distraction. I felt disgust well up in my stomach and my face contort in distaste and something akin to horror at the sight of the blood oozing out of my abdomen and staining my dress. I tried to hold it in with my hands, all the blood, a thick and warm stream down my front, but there was so much of it, slippery and wet like an old witch's tongue... down my thighs, my calves, my feet...
I came to when I was jolted hard by a hand on my shoulder. My throat was sore and my hands reflexively reached for the gushing wound, but it wasn't there, as I already knew. I closed my eyes.
I inhaled a deep breath through my nostrils and exhaled through the mouth, like a woman in labor.
Igawa was squatting beside me. It was his hand on my shoulder.
"What on Earth was that?" He sounded worried.
Mamoru tutted his tongue.
"What?" snapped Igawa.
"Even I know that. It's not rocket science."
"Did it look like one of her usual premonitions to you?"
"It didn't look like anything to me."
Igawa went still for a moment, before scowling again.
"I didn't mean it like that. And stop using that goddamn guilt trip, if you can."
"Weren't you in the middle of asking her what she saw and being all worried?" Mamoru's lips were drawn in a tight line, as was often the case.
Igawa, being a technician and so a fairly practical man, refused to acknowledge him further.
"Do you want some water?"
"Thank you... I'm okay." I forced a smile.
"All right." He gazed around for a few moments, and then he sighed and looked at me. "What did you see?"
What did I see?
"H- honestly? I don't know."
Who was that boy?
"Who was it about? You must have at least seen someone. Was it Mamoru?"
What was I doing there?
"No. No, it wasn't Mamoru." Igawa opened his mouth to speak again, but I cut him off. "It wasn't you or anyone from the Network either."
I hesitated. I needed time, more time to think. I've always been careful about the visions I choose to share with others, even those who are closest to me. You never know how the knowledge of what's to come can affect the future if it becomes too widespread. I couldn't afford to take any chances. And since neither Mamoru nor Igawa were involved, they wouldn't be in danger...
Time. Time. Time!
"A boy," I said slowly. "Someone I'm not sure I know, even though he reminds me of something."
Was I the one who knocked him over?
"A boy?" Igawa parroted after me.
Did I know I'd get hit instead?
It was still too soon. I had managed to see a snippet of the future clearly, but the full picture was still loose. It was too soon. It was impossible to make tails or heads of it yet but absolutely crucial that I did so in time.
Did I do it anyway?
Igawa shook his head absentmindedly. Mamoru hadn't moved or broken his silence yet. He had his poker face on. I was keen to believe he wasn't born with that expression in his arsenal. It had to have been acquired somewhere on the road. As far as poker faces go, his was too flawless to be completely natural.
"I'd better go upstairs. I think I'm a little lightheaded," I said apologetically.
He nodded slightly frantically, and I was already halfway to the stairs when Mamoru spoke.
"What about the boy?"
I stopped in my tracks. Mamoru reached up as though to run a hand through his hair but picked up an empty glass instead, rolling it over his fingers expertly.
"He was shot." I couldn't lift my gaze from the floor. Maybe I didn't have to. Maybe I could spend eternity looking at two worn tiles under my feet. It could turn out to be interesting after the first thirty years or so, when most of my braincells will have melted into goo and dripped down my ears onto my two most favorite tiles in the whoooole, wide world – spoken with a lisp.
I could feel unseeing eyes staring at me through his sunglasses.
"Mm-hm." There was heat emanating from my face in steady, shameful waves.
"Hey, man - " Igawa piped up, but he was summarily ignored.
"You always strive to be acknowledged as a grown-up and you complain when you're treated like a kid your age, even though you're not really that responsible, are you?" His voice sounded cool and carefully calculated to travel through the little kitchen's air molecules and land a double slap on my cheeks – puff, puff! - like raw steak thrown full-force at a wall.
"That's not very fair! Haruka is much more mature than her age calls for, and - "
"Don't shout in my ear."
" - maybe there is a reason she can't share everything, or whatever, why do you have to - "
"I can hear you," he gritted through his teeth, his sensitive ears obviously hurting.
" - again - "
I heard my own voice come out almost as a screech, the words a jumbled mess of ire and embarrassment. "Please stop!"
They stopped. Tail between my legs, I made a run for my room.
And that's what happened at dinner.
Stupid Mamoru. Stupid, stupid, stupid. As though the vision itself wasn't enough.
I don't know how much time is left before it materializes.
I must do something - and quickly. But what? How do I avert a death I know next to nothing about?
Maybe tomorrow. Yes, I think I'll think about it tomorrow. I must sleep. God knows how many hours it's been since I crawled up here, and I have school tomorrow.
Right now... sleep... yeah... soft pillow... that guy... what an idiot...