A/N: I haven't updated this story as I planned to because UDDUP hasn't made much sense to me lately. However, due to Like Burnt Toast's unexpected popularity and the fact that the first half of UDDUP is still one of my favorite manga works in terms of story, characters, art style and promise, I decided to keep writing it as an AU story. I will be focusing on the original cast and building character development around one main plot, rather than snippets of plots replacing each other in rapid succession... ahem, if you know what I mean. I'm not promising fast updates, but I will do my best to stick to the original plan. In the meantime, here is a filler. It was going to be a full chapter, but I haven't updated in so long I figured it'd be a nice little amuse-bouche by itself.
Like Burnt Toast
Sometimes, right before the alarm clock goes off, when the morning light is soft on my cheek, I dream of a future without death, or pain, or hurt. Then the dream goes bad, and my alternate reality materializes into a profound wasteland, where death, unable to thrive on the already lifeless, cannot exist in a void. That's when I realize Death needs people to experience it. That's when I know it's a part of me, and Mamoru and everyone. Sometimes, courtesy of a stupid dream, I wake up with eyes that sting when I blink.
This morning, again, I came into consciousness with my hair at science fiction angles and my feathers strangely ruffled. There was a glimpse of the vision - the perfect world, the ding-dong-your-prayers-have-been-answered future - and it was as limp and chilly as a severed arm. (When it comes to similes, I draw from experience. This is the reason I avoid getting poetic with food and red liquids.) You see, I'm used to all the seemingly endless scenarios coming at me from all directions; they can be exciting or painfully sinister, but this one was simply disturbing. So disturbing, in fact, that it seemed to transcend the simple knowledge it was just a dream and bury its claws on my shoulder like a creature breathing down the back of my neck like in a movie. I rubbed at the imagined spot with fingers numb from sleep.
As I stood to stretch my limbs and get ready for the day, there was a knock on the door and Igawa's keen voice peered through the crevices. I was not surprised. Every now and then, when he gets up at the crack of dawn to tinker with his machines, he double acts as everyone's wake-up fairy.
"'Oi, Haruka-chan, you up yet? Rise and shine," he said, and I could indeed hear sunshine in his voice, as well as wholesome, carefree and arguably wanton eggs begging to be cracked and burned alive (behold, as I mentioned above, the power of Haruka and food poetry, and why they're not supposed to mix, ever) - although this is egg thought is one I would never share with either one of my housemates for fear of freaking out the normal one and turning on the other.
To violence! Turn him on to violence, not that he's not already.
I looked sideways at my reflection in the mirror. A rose-cheeked dork stared back at me guiltily. I puffed out my cheeks and let the air out in an extended sigh. Alright, time to welcome the morning. Hello, world!
"I'm up," I chirped.
"Huh? Didn't hear you."
Yes, he did. My voice is on the soft side, but it's not unusual for Igawa to wake up in a teasing mood either.
"I said I'm awake. Just got up."
"I think I hear mumbling," he said thoughtfully.
"Up and running," I said louder still, pronouncing every word, a stubborn little grin slowly finding its way on my lips.
"Tut-tut, so mellow... I wonder what she's saying in there - "
I swiftly marched from the vanity to the door and opened it. Igawa's freshly shaved face beamed down at me.
"Oh, hello," he offered in that shy, slightly frantic way of his.
I tilted my head. From the corner of my eye I saw flyaway hair reach out towards all directions like sinister branches come alive in a Russian fairy tale. Ah, the Russians... I wondered if there were any Russians after me.
"Looks like someone had a rough night," he said.
"Do I even want to know?"
I scrunched up my nose. Eyes widened in a display of teenage angst. No, surely not.
"Um, what do you mean?"
"I mean, is it something you can share or is it something I'd be better off not knowing?"
The insinuation. The implications. The horror. Flooding to my face at lightning speed were large quantities of blood and somewhere deep within the recesses of my mind, there was the faint ticking of a countdown until critical system failure.
"Why would it be something like that? I- Igawa-san! Don't tease me!"
7... 6... 5...
"I'm talking about a premonition," he said matter-of-factly, looking at me with a rising sense of worry behind his pair of brightly-colored specs.
"Oh. A premonition! Oh, right. No. Not a premonition," I babbled, relief edging in my voice. I flashed him a quick smile that stretched from ear to ear, hoping for a quick and painless save.
Still, the absurdity of my morning behavior took on the form of a cross-dressing elephant named Ricky that stood in the middle of the hallway with a sage look on his face, a cautionary tale for stupidity. Igawa picked up on it quite expertly, being a bit of a lovable idiot himself.
"Is there something wrong today? Are you feeling all right?" He made to reach for my forehead; I dodged.
"I'm not sick," I laughed it off, smiling genuinely at his concern. "I was confused, that's all. I just woke up, so you just took me by surprise!"
"Okay, good. Mamoru will be glad to hear you're not bringing school germs home. Really, I've never seen anyone get so annoyed by the flu before, especially someone else's flu." He nodded at himself, slightly amused.
Good old friendly Igawa. I felt a surge of affection for him; then, because I'm always so incredibly lucky, he started doing the awkwardly-rubbing-of-the-back-of-his-head routine, and I knew that he was thinking it over. We've been living under the same roof for far too long, and I don't mean to brag, but I can sort of tell what people are thinking. That is some serious baggage, I'm telling you.
Good Gods. I could almost see the thoughts physically swirl in his head. Everything about him is always so animated.
"Why, what did you think?" he wondered eventually, as I walked back inside to do one of the apparently most engaging and fulfilling chores ever to be done by women and single men worldwide - make the bed.
"Not to worry, Igawa-san." I chuckled. Good, Haruka, throw dust in his eyes. Dust in the eyes! "It was just a dream. Not even a premonition."
"No, no," he said, confused. "What did you think I meant? I mean - Argh, I don't get this. I'm not sure what we're even talking about anymore. I haven't slept much, I had to run another upgrade on Mamoru's glasses, but I get the feeling I missed something," he said, stuffing his hands further down the pockets of his oversized khaki pants.
Igawa might look like he'd be crass, but he's never been anything short of bubbly and schoolgirly around me. I'd hate to make him realize that sometimes, I am the one who misunderstands things for the worse. As in, wink wink nudge nudge. That would ruin my image and both our sanities. And Mamoru... Really though, being a sixteen year old girl in a permanent situation like mine is a recipe for disaster. If I had to keep lying through my teeth to save all of us the occasional embarrassment of being exposed to Haruka's newly emerging inappropriateness, I would. So I did.
"Meh, Igawa-san, you make no sense in the mornings, ha-ha!" I added, flashing another brilliant smile that was unfortunately left hanging stiffly on my lips when he didn't respond immediately.
Okay, so lying doesn't come naturally to me.
He scratched his nose, and made a grimace in protest, but I could feel his busy beehive of a mind already wandering off to the land of microchips and promiscuous uncooked eggs. Hoorah.
"I think I hear the sound of silence downstairs, and it seems extra cranky this morning," he said eventually. We both stood still and tried to eavesdrop for any particular Mamoru-indicative signs - like a heavily forceful dark aura emanating from below, rising up from the staircase in waves and engulfing us in sheer murderous intent that would partially go away after an intense work-out and a hearty breakfast.
Not for the first time, there was sudden clutter and a curse.
"Shit!" Igawa said, shooting upright and running down the stairs, his youthful slanted eyes on fire. "Say that wasn't my new hybrid he just trashed, damn it!"
"Who left this... thing here? Haven't I told you time and time a - "
I quietly shut the door, leaned against it, barely awake and already exhausted, and giggled in my hands.
Story of my life.