Numbers in Choreography
Disclaimer: Characters' names, traits and some references have been borrowed from Tachibana Higuchi's Gakuen Alice. Plot, setting and this story belong to November Romeo.
Dedication: To Rekindled Moroseness, for hosting a contest that prompted creativity, originality and depth from the GA authors. You gave the fandom a good challenge. I didn't finish on time but I dearly loved the premise you set forth.
Author's Note: This story didn't turn out the way I first planned, but the direction it went grew on me until I developed a certain fondness for it. Here's to my first AU, and to dramas without tears.
Genius has a price. It's been said for years and history attests to it.
Galileo Galilei was tried for heresy and spent his last years under house arrest. Ludwig van Beethoven was completely deaf on the premiere of the Ninth Symphony and could not hear the crowd's applause. Vincent van Gogh suffered from a mental illness and would sometimes hurt himself, even when he was at the peak of his career.
La tristesse durera toujours, he said. The sadness will last forever.
I've always thought the price I paid was a lack of emotions. Hardly anything made me smile. Nothing could make me sad. I argue but I am never truly angry. I say thank you but I am never profoundly moved. This way of living is my boon and my curse but I accept it, because in the sphere I move around, I did not pay the highest price for my brilliance.
That odious honor belonged to Natsume Hyuuga, the man I loathe deeply. Yet, he is perhaps the only person who could wring compassion out of me, for the sole reason that his everyday function had come to depend on me.
"He couldn't have done anything but you knew, didn't you? Didn't you?!" Natsume practically shouted the last line. The woman at the witness stand buried her face in her hands. She was breaking down into a slobbering mess. Natsume's hand hit the stand and I winced. "Mr. Aikawa was late that evening but someone else was in that house. You were in that house."
The witness whimpered. I checked my watch— nineteen minutes in. This was getting out of hand.
"Objection your honor!" the defense table cried. "He's harassing the witness!"
"Sustained. Counsel, mind your questions."
Natsume turned to the judge with wild eyes. His gaze was unfocused. That was the signal I was waiting for. I stood. "Your honor, I motion for a recess."
Natsume spun around and his hand hit the witness stand for a second time. "No."
"Motion carried," the judge contradicted and his gavel hit the sound block. "We'll break for half an hour. Hyuuga, I suggest you cool off. I can only tolerate what is reasonable from you." With that, the room adjourned and the poor woman was escorted from the podium.
Natsume threw me a dark look but he didn't approach the table. He exited the room and the crowd gave way. My heels clicked loudly as I went after him, my own temper flaring up. He entered the men's room. I gave him two minutes to relieve himself then without hesitation I went in.
"You don't own the goddamn restroom," I said tersely. "You know when to stop and that was seven questions before you ripped the witness apart. Don't bluff. You're fucking dry."
He turned to wash his hands. He was staring blindly at the water. "I didn't come this far just to see an innocent man go to jail." He turned to address me, then seemed to think better of it and turned to wash his hands again.
"How the hell does one preclude the other?"
"Give me twenty-three minutes," he said. I watched him reproachfully as he kept his clenched hands under running water. "Twenty-three minutes and I'll have her."
He shut off the tap and I saw that as an opening. Without warning, I reached into the inside pocket of his coat.
"God damn it, Imai!" he cried as he backed away at the invasion. I pulled out a small plastic packet then threw his precious tablets at him.
"At least you came loaded," I said scornfully. "Twenty-three minutes. Or you're off the case, boss. Now finish washing up."
I didn't need to tell him that. Before I even finished my sentence, Natsume was facing the sink again and the faucet was running strong.
My eccentric colleague could be introduced in two ways. The first is through the faultless image he showed the world, while the second is by his defining imperfection.
Natsume Hyuuga is a notable lawyer, one promotion shy of being named partner in the firm. He is a tough boss, critical and thorough with any case or legal document that arrives at his office. He has an incredible eye for detail and nothing of consequence misses his attention. Every day he follows a precise schedule and is inflexible in this routine. All these things are true, but all these are euphemisms for what he truly is.
The real Natsume Hyuuga is a dysfunctional robot. He's an uncompromising dictator with a freakish eye for particulars. Far from being an ordinary critic, he is a nitpicker with fanatical fixations. He doesn't have schedules, he has rituals and his obstinate, willful nature is not character; it is simply pathological.
"He's a man of precision," I once said to a junior staff that was yet to be oriented. "Watch what you say, what you do and how you do it. If you slip up, he'll know it and never forget."
"You make him sound like an android," the clerk had said with a nervous laugh.
"Exactitude, do you know what that means?"
"A noun, referring to the state of being exact or accurate," he answered proudly. Newbies are always eager. That would be hammered out of him soon enough.
"Get ready to redefine that word," I replied cynically. "And stop smiling like an idiot. You're already three minutes late." He blanched and I led him into the lion's den. Natsume was inside, staring grimly at his pocket watch.
Before I closed the door I heard him return the neophyte's greeting in an ominous voice. "You're late Mr. Yome. We're not off to an auspicious start…"
Pity the man who threw Natsume off his schedule, and what a rigorous and unforgiving schedule it was.
He starts each day strictly at four a.m. The next two hours are then spent taking a long shower and changing clothes repeatedly until he finds what "suits him" for the day. Afterwards, he packs his things and he does this in a specific order. The legal books go in the bag first, followed by his carefully transcribed notes. He tucks his recorder at the pocket then carefully places the case of his fountain pen at the corner of his bag. When he's finished, he carefully brings everything out. Then he rearranges the ensemble again and again until it "suits him".
At the door, he checks his bag one more time to make sure he has everything then he locks up. Five steps away, he turns back. He opens his apartment, checks the gas stove and the lights in every room and when he is satisfied he locks up again. On his way to the office, he stops at the park for thirty-one minutes. He looks over his notes, an old habit from when he was a paralegal, before setting off again. By the time he arrives at our building, it's almost eight o'clock. He walks in with the other employees but by then, Natsume already had a long day.
To the unpracticed eye, it would never show.
From the lobby to the elevators, our work would begin at once. There were three of us on his clock and we fell into step with him.
"Good morning boss. I have the minutes typed up from last night."
"On my desk, at seventeen past nine."
No more. No less.
"Good morning chief. Coffee sound good?"
"Coffee doesn't make a sound," he said dryly. "On my desk in five."
Not hot. Not cold. Not tepid.
"Good morning Hyuuga," I said when my turn came. "I reviewed the contract for the Briggs case. It's flawless. We have a witness to brief at Room 509. We start at ten fifteen."
"Ten seventeen," I amended. He stopped walking and looked at me. I scoffed, "I'll work it out. Don't be late." We reached the elevator and Natsume excused himself to head for the stairwell, all the while mentally counting his footsteps.
These were integral to his day. He counted steps, pages, minutes, teaspoons, elevator dings and red cars passing beneath his office window. He calculated distance, employee overtime hours, signature strokes and available parking spaces. He reckoned what could be counted. He reckoned what no one else would. This idiosyncrasy both fascinated and frustrated those around him.
"Has he always been like that?" was the basic question.
If I were addressed, my answer was straight, "Not always, just when he hit eleven."
That response was always followed by surprise and the awareness that Natsume and I went as far back as that age. I've known him that long and so his story wasn't lost to me.
Natsume's mother passed away when he was eleven years old. She was found sprawled on the bathroom floor after suffering a hemorrhagic stroke that caused her to vomit before falling to the tiles. Her skull hit the bath tub and her blood leaked onto the ceramic. This was the gruesome sight Natsume met when he came home. He was the one who found her. He called an ambulance but the medical attention came too late. She was dead on arrival.
The moment was life-changing. His father had died in a car accident years before and so this tragedy left him and his little brother Youichi orphans. At eleven, nobody expected him to be strong enough for it but he surprised us all with his composure. The same night, he left the hospital and came home to his brother, who had been left in the care of a kind neighbor. Then, when Youichi was tucked in bed, he snuck out of the neighbor's house. He took a mop and a bucket of water then got down on his hands and knees to clean up the bathroom where his mother had lain in a pool of blood and puke. He scoured the entire room so that it would be unsoiled should his brother ever return to the house. He was protecting Youichi in the way he knew how.
It was three days later when the school called the neighbor's house to inform him that Natsume had been cutting class. He'd been sighted bringing and fetching his brother but he never went inside the campus. The neighbor was perplexed. He searched the village for the recalcitrant child but when he finally found him, he couldn't find it in his heart to berate the boy.
In the middle of the day, Natsume was back in their old house, down on all fours in the bathroom, determinedly scrubbing already immaculate tiles. His jaw was set, his eyes were unfocused and it looked like his knuckles had turned white and clammy from the soap and water. Mr. Narumi went to the boy and pulled him into a hug, but though Natsume didn't fight him, he made no effort to return the warmth. He continued this ritual for weeks and Mr. Narumi was stumped on how he could draw him back into the world.
His friends tried to coax him out, but he wouldn't listen.
Youichi went to him too but Natsume barred him from entering their home.
Mr. Narumi appealed to him but nothing changed his mind.
Like Galileo, Natsume was imprisoned in his home but it wasn't an outside force that kept him in. He was incredibly anxious about an imaginary spot on the bathroom floor that neither his brother nor any of us could see. He was relentless about it and so he scrubbed the floors everyday, though it was to no avail.
That bathroom was never clean again, and Natsume Hyuuga was never the same.
There are two well-known anecdotes of Natsume at the office. The first was when he lost his cool during a case and ended up in a fist fight with the accused. The running joke is that he only meant to hit the man once, but because of his condition, he ended up hitting the guy eleven times. He was fined heavily for misconduct but ask anyone and they'll say it was worth it.
The second story is about a brownnosing legal clerk assigned to his office. The overly enthusiastic employee got on everyone's nerves but it was only when he remarked on Natsume did he realize how much trouble his big mouth was.
"Wow, chief! You're an excellent lawyer for someone with OCD." He was all bright eyes and big smiles when he said this.
Natsume cut him down with an acrid look. "I'm an excellent lawyer. I have OCD. Those are two very different things."
People exaggerate and say the clerk had turned to ice. He lasted two days and was never heard from again. These are the sort of stories that led me to this position. The others are afraid of Hyuuga but I wasn't. He wasn't impossible, just difficult, and I'll be damned if I cower from something difficult.
"You can't do that!" Mochiage, my colleague, panicked when he saw that I had stamped Hyuuga's report as complete. I tossed it in with the other documents for inter-office transmittal.
"This contract has been going back and forth for weeks," I said ruthlessly. "If we let that obsessed nut have his way, the client will never get it back."
"But you don't understand Hyuuga," Mochiage protested. At the time, I was fairly new to the office and so he was free to say this. "If he finds out you submitted it without his approval, he'll go ballistic."
"How often does he give his approval?"
From her desk, our co-counsel, Nonoko Ogasawara smiled, "Once in a blue moon. Let her be Mochu. I think this may be interesting."
"Oh, it's interesting now," he muttered darkly. "But when he learns that the indenture has left the department, all hell will break loose."
He was right, and it wasn't long before Hyuuga came thundering down the corridor. He shoved the door open and came to stand next to my desk.
"Hotaru Imai," he said derisively, "in my office. Now!"
I got up and followed him, more amused than alarmed by his anger. Curious eyes followed our progress through the halls. When we reached his quarters, Natsume slapped the report on the desk.
"What gives you the right to undermine my position and finalize an agreement with a corporate client? You know very well that I'm the authorized signatory for this office and that means I get to decide when this report is ready for transmittal."
"Cut the crap, Hyuuga," I responded with disdain. "You know as well as I do that the only reason those papers are sitting on your desk is because you're too much of a nut job to stamp it final."
"Nut job, is that what you're calling me here?" he raged. "What do you think this is, high school?"
"I think this is a business," I said plainly. "Not a psychiatric ward that's going to acclimatize to your madness. I know that contract is ready even if I didn't look it over forty-seven times."
"Is this a joke to you?" he asked when I referred to his condition a second time. "If I tried quizzing you right now—"
"I'll answer if it'll get you off my case," I cut in. I saw the warning in his eyes and I knew he was about to go off the rocker, but I dearly enjoyed pushing his buttons. "Go right ahead. Not everyone in this office is afraid of you. That would be stupid."
"It was still my responsibility. My task. Don't you see? Anything could go wrong now…"
To my surprise, his outburst only lasted but a second. Natsume suddenly turned away then began counting out loud while he paced. Odd numbers only.
"Seventeen… nineteen… twenty-three… twenty-nine…"
Correction, prime numbers only.
"Hyuuga, you are such a freak," I muttered. Natsume didn't argue because he knew he was. I turned to leave the room and had almost reached the door when the counting stopped.
"I want to hire you."
I halted. "Pardon?"
"I said I want to hire you Imai."
"I'd rather eat concrete," I scoffed but turned to face him anyway.
"I'll double your salary."
Cash registers dinged in my head. "Triple it and maybe we can start negotiations."
"You're a block."
"And you're a pariah," I retorted without missing a beat. "I'm a kick ass lawyer and if I'm going to be a subordinate to an anal freak, it damn better be worth my time."
Instead of being insulted, Natsume surprised me again when he threw back his head and laughed. It was such a study on his face. His facial armor fractured and the tired lines around his eyes crinkled with amusement. The sound he made was strange, as though it was bursting out of lungs that weren't used to the act.
"Triple the scale, your own office and a chance to bully every other person on the floor," he said when he found his breath. I was startled by the generous offer then immediately suspicious.
"Why do you want to hire me so badly?"
His answer was as blunt as my question. He waved the report I had boldly stamped as complete. "Because I trust you."
Then he said this twice more, as though to convince himself of his own words.
He always found comfort in it. Years of working with him has made me certain of that fact. Natsume did things over tirelessly. He went backwards an infinite number of times within a day. Since I was always on the go, raring to move forward, this work style was less than ideal. But true to his word, he paid me a truckload and I didn't fail him for what I cost his department.
In the entire law firm, I was the only one who could bypass him without suffering his wrath. When a report arrived in his bin with my mark-ups, somehow my initials guaranteed its veracity. Natsume ran facts by me. He thought aloud in my presence. If this confidence was a trite suspect to those around us, nobody commented on it.
In truth, I was also amazed. My tolerance was something I didn't understand. Years ago, I would never have imagined myself in this position. After all, I wasn't exactly the one who coaxed him out of that god forsaken bathroom when he was a child.
That was the achievement of a strict, forbidding doctor named Rei Serio; the best in his field though infamous for using radical methods. He had developed a less documented form of therapy called 'Persona', a dark role-playing technique that got into the minds of his patients and was frequently used on psychiatric cases in the penitentiary. I don't know how Mr. Narumi got hold of him but he came to our town one day and sought out Natsume.
Few saw him in action because he never socialized. He was identified only by the dark purple trench coat and the big silver class ring he wore. He arrived at the Hyuuga residence at seven o'clock every day. I didn't know how he spent the time but he wouldn't emerge until four in the afternoon. Mr. Narumi said Dr. Serio would simply pull up a chair in front of the bathroom door and talk to Natsume. The patient wasn't responsive but he continued to carry a dialogue. Sometimes he was nonchalant. Often he was mocking.
One day he built a house of cards.
"Should the face cards go on the top?" he mused out loud. "Or should they stand as the foundation at the bottom?" He shuffled the cards then slowly began stacking them. "Are ten cards for the first layer enough?"
The first layer fell over and Natsume glanced up. He twitched at the mess they made. Serio caught his eye and smirked. He knew he had him. He began stacking again.
"Perhaps a row of sevens and eights would prove sturdier. What do you think?" He piled up the cards, only to let it fall away when the second layer was halfway done. Natsume visibly flinched. Serio shuffled the cards twice but when he was about to rebuild the house, Natsume suddenly spoke.
"Again," he said. Serio looked at him, a strange smile on his lips. Natsume cleared his throat. "Shuffle it again."
He did so.
The doctor did it once more and he repeated the action until Natsume was satisfied. He watched the cards clatter against one another, the rag and bucket forgotten. At four o'clock, Dr. Rei Serio took his leave. He returned his chair next to the telephone then placed the deck of cards at the dining table. When he came back the next morning, the deck was gone. Natsume Hyuuga had them and he was shuffling them repeatedly as though his life depended on it. It had become a new obsession for him and though it was hardly something to be victorious about, Dr. Serio and Mr. Narumi breathed easier after that day.
After seven weeks, Natsume Hyuuga was finally out of the bathroom.
Natsume also had a ritual before calling it a day, a bizarre choreography of numbers and repetition. When his last business was done, often late into the night, he would finally cap his fountain pen then slip it into its case. Then he would check his cabinets for things out of place. He would open and close the doors, inspecting thrice for anything awry. These shelves lined his entire back wall so a good twenty minutes would be lost to accomplish this task.
When that was done, he would return to his desk and flick off his lamp. But something about it must fascinate him because he would turn it on three seconds later before turning it off again. He would do this thirteen times. Finally, when he was satisfied, he would get up, gather his things and turn off the overhead lights. This is the spot where he is ultimately trapped. He could bang his head against the door but the ritual doesn't end until the count is complete. The overhead lights would flicker for three-second intervals.
"Thirty-nine times? Seriously?!"
"Seriously, I counted," I told Mikan Sakura as I finished highlighting a line in the report I was proofreading. My roommate got up from the couch and came to kneel next to me.
"Insane," she breathed. "And he does this every day?"
"Every single day of his miserable life."
"That's so sad."
"And inefficient," I said. "He drives the office up the wall with the way he is. His rituals become our rituals. In a way, it takes a very special person to be able to work for him."
Mikan knew that last bit was a self-compliment. She sat on the floor and mused. "How does he manage to keep his job?"
"The man is brilliant," I said grudgingly. "He doesn't miss a step. We might hate him but no one can deny he's sharp as a tack."
"I want to meet him."
I snorted. "What for?"
"Case study!" Mikan cried. "I'm specializing in psych! This will put me ahead in my class."
"You're specializing in psych for children," I reminded her.
"That's not really a problem, seeing as how many times you refer to him as 'that little brat'," she countered with a pout. Mikan was a medical intern at the local hospital. She was currently working under counseling and therapy for kids with special needs.
"He won't be an easy subject," I told her. "You forget, he's already Dr. Rei Serio's favorite psych case. Books have been written about him."
"Anonymously," she said in a mysterious whisper. "What if we just put a hidden camera in his office? That would gather enough data even if we set it up for just one day."
"I am not getting fired to further your career."
"He won't fire you. He needs you."
"True," I murmured then glanced around briefly. "It's awfully quiet tonight, aside from your chatter. Where did your blasted bird fly off to?"
"He's in the hospital. He seems to have caught some exotic disease Ruka won't elaborate on."
"Exotic, huh?" I smirked. Mikan could be so short-sighted. "When are you going out with the vet again?"
"Oh, Hotaru," she laughed. "I keep telling you, Dr. Nogi drops by to see you."
"It's not my parakeet he's fake medicating."
"We happen to share Giuseppe!"
"I don't even like animals and the bird hates me. Try telling Ruka 'I'm-not-a-real-doctor' Nogi that, the next time he comes calling."
"My middle name and exactly why Hyuuga pays me the big bucks."
"You have to introduce me to this boss of yours," Mikan said, willingly returning to the subject. "He sounds like a real piece of work."
I put down the report then studied my best friend with a critical eye. Outside of the organized science of medicine, she was loud and messy and slapdash. She liked people in general and loved being spontaneous or random. My boss would weep if he ever walked into this accident zone.
"Tell you what, if Hyuuga pisses me off considerably, I'll introduce you to him."
"You make it sound like you're inflicting me on him."
"Unleashing you, more like."
But I would never really introduce them. It would be complicated. Mikan and I met at the University when we stayed in the same dormitory. She had no idea how I was before reaching college and I didn't want Hyuuga to be that link for her. I may be callous now. I might be called unfeeling and uncompromising. However, I was even worse before and my boss could attest to that.
"There's something off about this witness," Natsume said after we finished the briefing at Room 509. "Something about her story doesn't add up."
"She's the stepmother with a one year old child. She picks up her stepdaughter, Yumi Aikawa, and brings her home at five eleven then leaves again six minutes later. She went to the grocery and locked up three rooms: the nursery, the master's bedroom and the library. Receipts presented were at six p.m. She's home half an hour later to find their house on fire. It could've easily started between five seventeen and six. The baby is at the neighbor's house. Her stepdaughter is in the fire."
"The story checks out," I reminded him. "Her stepdaughter was with her at the grocery." But I knew he couldn't hear me when he started up again.
"She's the stepmother with a one year old child. She picks up her stepdaughter, Yumi Aikawa, and brings her home at five eleven then leaves again six minutes later…"
Natsume was stuck. I've seen him in this state several times before and there was no distracting him. He had fallen into a trance as his mind began working out the details into a system that would make sense to his peculiar intellect.
"…it could've easily started between five seventeen and six. The baby is at the neighbor's house. Her stepdaughter is in the fire."
I grabbed his arm then snapped my fingers in front of him. "Hyuuga, look at me. This isn't an alibi. We're calling her in as a witness for her husband not a suspect for the case."
Natsume shook his head. He was still muttering to himself. "Mr. Aikawa comes home at nine o'clock. His house was in ashes. You were in that house."
He looked up and amended, "She was in that house."
I blinked at what he implied. "Why would she kill her stepdaughter? There's no motive."
"She has OCD," Natsume said suddenly. "You saw it, the way she looked at us; the way she touched everything in the room. She talked about Yumi as though she was an enemy. She didn't trust her stepdaughter at all. It's OCD or paranoia."
"Are you sure about this?"
He looked at me with irony. "I think it's safe to say that this is my specialty. Imai, you need to perform a character check on her."
"We don't have time for that. The hearing is tomorrow."
"Isn't this what I pay you for?" he asked with a slight sneer. "We won't go into court without checking this out. Call it a gut feeling. Call it madness. But get it done." To that, I couldn't argue and Natsume walked away repeating the story to himself.
I could call him on it but it didn't seem to affect him anymore. Natsume knew he was crazy and because he was somehow a functioning adult despite everything, why bother to deny it? He was finished with denial. He had long accepted his condition and the taunts no longer mattered. Once upon a time they did but the years had changed that.
I recall how frustrating he was in school. Even after Dr. Serio drew him out of the bathroom, he was hardly normal. To help him cope with the loss of his mother and his evident sickness, the teachers tried to surround him with mature classmates that supposedly possessed high emotional quotients. People like me. I was his old lab partner.
Now Natsume was the most complicated person to work with. He was unconventional in so many ways that I just couldn't be bothered with. I had my own goals. I had my own schedule to follow. His rituals didn't match up with mine. He needed patience and I couldn't give him that. Not at eleven years old. Not at twelve. No teenager was ready to give him that. How could I be ordered to be his friend?
"Hurry up, Hyuuga," I had hissed at him as he washed his hands at the sink after the day's experiment. We were eleven. It should've been a normal day. I was expected to wait for him but he was stuck. He was washing his hands for the fifth time and we were going to be late. Out of exasperation, I pulled him away from the tap.
"Don't touch me!" he shouted then turned to drown his pallid fists again. Seeing him so weak and so irrational, I just snapped.
"You freak!" I shouted back. "Why don't you just douse your hands with boiling water and get it over with?"
"Shut up, Imai."
"Shut up and what? Keep waiting for you?" I scoffed.
"Shut up!" He pulled the knob down in full blast. "Just stop it. You're messing me up."
"I'm messing you up?" I laughed. "You're still trying to take control when you're already so out of it. Listen up Hyuuga because I'm going to tell you how it is."
"You can't take control. You're incapable of it because you keep moving backwards and expect the world to wait. We're all moving forward and if you don't move your ass, you'll be left behind."
"Shut up," Natsume muttered. "Just shut up already!"
"Just leave with Dr. Serio already!" I retorted. "Because nobody wants you here!"
I was startled when he shut the water and turned around. I backed up a step when he stalked forward, shaking with anger.
"You don't want me here because you think I'm dangerous," he said coldly. His eyes shone but I knew he wasn't going to cry. We weren't the sort of people who resorted to tears. "But I can get better. I just need time to get better."
"You're too far along. You're a lost cause," I said harshly. I was a kid. I didn't know what I was doing or what I was saying.
Natsume's jaw clicked. I thought for sure he would hit me but instead he squared his shoulders. "It's not too late," he said softly. "No, it's never too late."
Natsume Hyuuga left town not long after that. He was given to the care of Dr. Rei Serio while Youichi stayed with Mr. Narumi. Through him, we still heard stories about Natsume because his brother sent letters throughout the years they were apart.
I want to believe I had nothing to do with him leaving but whenever I remember the wild look in his eyes during our last argument in the lab, I knew my words had sent him packing. I wasn't guilty about it exactly but it was because of that encounter that I never quite forgot about my freak of a lab partner. What happened afterwards, I learned in bits and pieces.
Natsume went through both pharmacotherapy and behavior therapy under Dr. Serio. It lasted for years and continued into adulthood because his condition was so severe that he often relapsed. He experienced different side effects from the drugs given to him, like dizziness and nausea. Since his physiology never got used to it, he avoided using the medicine if he could. The behavioral therapy also helped and because Natsume was a willing and determined patient, there were significant results. For one thing, he was eventually able to function on his own and he even made it to law school.
Law school. We never would have thought he'd make it that far, but somehow he learned to channel his attention to detail and penchant for repetitive tasks into a field he could excel in. It was amazing how he survived and for someone who seemed to move incredibly slow, he rose up the corporate ladder quite fast.
Fifteen years passed before Natsume and I met again. I had just moved offices and I was surprised to find out that the man I was having an inter-office battle with was my old lab partner. He was as infuriating as ever. I overstepped his authority expecting to get sacked. I was rewarded with a new job post instead. I could say I accepted because of the money but that wouldn't be the whole truth. Our history together wasn't something to boast about. Even by a great stretch of imagination, we weren't really friends. I wasn't fond of him, god forbid. He said he trusted me but that alone wouldn't have convinced me.
At eleven years old, I told Natsume that he was a lost cause. He looked at me, told me I was wrong then set out to prove it. He left everything behind to accomplish this and eventually succeeded. Maybe my reasoning was flawed but that was the clincher. See, in my opinion, a man who could accomplish such a goal would make a kick ass lawyer. He would also be a worthy boss.
So now I was with Natsume Hyuuga in a court room to defend a man who has been accused of murdering his own daughter. After the recess, Natsume wasted no time riling into the witness. He recognized in her the same weaknesses he had. Upon his behest, we had looked into her profile and he had been right. She was another psychotherapy case; a dangerous one if his hunch was correct.
Natsume had the ability to argue with the best of them. He was still anxious, that may never be removed, but he had also established his own brand of confidence that couldn't be replicated by another in the field. It was confidence that stemmed from the knowledge that he had checked his facts fifty-three goddamn times.
"Three rooms locked up," he recited from memory. "You came home at five eleven and there was no one with you!"
"Objection, your honor! This is all conjecture!" came a panicked voice from the prosecution.
"Overruled. Counsel, please continue."
It was all the encouragement he needed. Natsume bared his teeth. His clenched fist finally slackened and a flash flood of movements broke free. He declaimed all that he knew, punctuating words with actions worthy of the stage. I could practically see his mind calculating the gestures. There was restraint there, but barely.
As I watched him regale the audience with his words and at the same time struggle with himself, I recognized his defiance and suddenly something came to light.
He wasn't one to be pitied. He took his mannerisms, his illogical tendencies and brought it all before the courtroom for the crowd's applause or disapproval, to their amazement or mockery, but never for their pity. That's when I understood what made him so compelling.
He was completely unapologetic of who he was.
He slammed his hand against the wood. Bam! "And on the night of the murder, you were there!" Bam! Bam! "You shut the closet and turned the lock. You set fire to the room knowing she was inside."
He pointed. He cursed. He spun to address the crowd then turned to point again. He made huge gestures. He was a spectacle to everyone. I was probably the only one who kept count. The rest of the room was swept away by his showmanship, from an ostentation he could not repress.
Easy there Hyuuga. Hang in there.
Three times he thrust a fist in the air. Seven times he pounded his feet. He hit the prosecution table twice. Numbers in perfect choreography. It was a sight to behold and one I won't easily forget.
"You don't answer to your husband but you will answer to this court! Are you responsible for the death of Yumi Aikawa? Did you murder your seven-year-old stepdaughter?"
"Yes!" the woman finally cried. "But I had no choice! She was going to hurt my baby!"
"Well, fuck me," I breathed when the confession flew out of her lips. Hyuuga had actually done it and his twenty-three minutes were just about over. The lucky bastard.
The room turned to frenzy after that. Cameras flashed. Reporters shouted. The prosecution table was completely floored. I leaned on my chair and watched Hyuuga's back that hadn't relaxed even after the woman's admission.
Sit down, boss. Sit down now.
"No further questions, your honor."
It wasn't usual and he should've been charged with contempt. When he sat down, the room erupted into applause and the judge shouted for order. Like Beethoven, Hyuuga was deaf to it all. He snatched the pills from my hand and consumed it before he got his bearings. The rest of the room was riotous in the aftermath of that memorable performance.
Natsume Hyuuga had torn down the witness. In the end, we won the case.
My dislike for Hyuuga lingered for reasons unclear to me. Maybe it was because he still acted irrationally, or perhaps it was because people looked to him and found inspiration in something I ridiculed. He was ruled by anxieties but he had surpassed me; not effortlessly but I was still outdone. If we were running a race he was the clear winner, having overcome a far higher obstacle. He had every right to gloat but not once did he ever do.
After the trial we were welcomed at the office by a small victory party. It was a big account and a celebrated case. This was a huge win for the firm. We endured it together, though neither of us had any inclination to celebrate. I was never very social. I have a feeling Hyuuga was pretty much terrified by the attention.
He suffered handshakes and dodged hugs. I watched him squirm when someone came much too close. He put down the cake he was handed at a nearby table. He didn't drink the champagne during the toast. When it was safe to withdraw, he hurried off to his office and put down the blinds. I went to my own room and for the rest of the afternoon a steady stream of colleagues came to congratulate me and to curry favors. I thought he must be going through the same.
At the end of the work day, I decided to drop off my notes at his office. When I reached his corner, I could see his lights blinking in three-second intervals which meant he was getting ready to go home. Through the cracks of his blinds, I saw him at his table flicking his desk lamp on and off. His head was resting on one hand as though he was nursing a headache. He wore a deep frown while his fingers continued playing with the desk light.
For a man who had just earned a victory, he looked incredibly distressed. He didn't look like he was on top of the world. He looked exhausted; a man who was more than ready to leave.
I walked in without knocking.
"Good evening to you too." I closed the door then turned. Natsume seemed ready to throttle me. "Ready to go home?"
"She-devil," he muttered.
"I came to drop off my notes."
"Leave it on my in-tray, stamp it or don't stamp it, throw it out in the trash, I don't care." His eyes shut and he rested his back on his chair. He clasped his hands together as though to keep them still then started tapping his feet.
"What's wrong with you?"
"People have been coming in here for greetings and small talk. It's noisy. I don't like it. You know my routine. Every time I reach the overhead lights, the door opens and I have to start over."
He can't go home, I realized. So that was the problem. He wasn't grateful for the attention we gave him, he was dismayed by it. Anything we try to do for this man threw him off his rhythm. In the end, he didn't need or want our adulations. He just wanted to go home.
I couldn't remember when Natsume had last shown any self-pity. No one ever saw this side of him anymore since we were more accustomed to his practiced detachment. When his eyes opened, my expression must have shown, at least partially, that he had struck a chord and he wasn't any more used to it than I was.
"Don't pity me, Imai."
"I don't." I stepped closer. For all his wealth, his prestige, his enviable genius— at last, I also saw his suffering. "I loathe you. But I also loathe the gods who did this to you."
"You're not fair game."
"Genius has a price," he said, unknowingly echoing my mantra. He got up then started his ritual at the corner of his office. He opened and closed his cabinet doors one by one, for what looked like the hundredth time. "Mine is steep."
Natsume didn't comment. He looked quite content to finish his ceremony in silence. I watched him, weary for him, but it seemed as though he had run out of words to explain.
"La tristesse durera toujours," he quoted suddenly.
"That's Van Gogh."
"Learned, aren't you?" he said with a soft laugh. "He was wrong."
"Why? Are you happy now?"
"I'm all right," he said simply, "I may still be this, but I'm not as pathetic as you said I would be. What was it you called me? Right, a lost cause."
"I'm… sorry that I said that."
"Don't start apologizing now. I don't need that from you." His words were emphasized by the slamming of cabinet doors. "I need you to check my notes, to mock my findings, to certify my reports and to declare them finished for me." He stopped what he was doing and looked straight at me. "I need you to be there."
His gaze was as powerful as others described it to be. What was this strength he possessed that even when he admitted to needing help and understanding, he remained in the advantage? There was no answer to that but I knew I didn't need one anymore.
I tried to keep my voice professional, though something in my chest had momentarily come to life. Compassion. Sympathy. Trust. Respect. One of those things. How I loathe that it was one of those things, but somehow even the antipathy had abated.
"Good night, Hyuuga."
"Good night, Imai. Good work today."
When I stepped out of the building the lights to his corner office were still blinking in perfect three-second intervals. It had a rhythm you could set your watch by, perfection even in his most glaring flaw. I knew it would continue flickering until I reached the bus stop. Perhaps it would go on until I get home, if someone comes in to congratulate him again and disrupt his perfect routine. He would be forced to start over and the blinking lights would never end.
La tristesse durera toujours, he said. The sadness will last forever.
Or maybe not. There was a count to it, a certain end to the madness. The repetition. The numbers.
On and off.
On and off.
Exactly thirty-nine times.
No one will ever see this side reflected
And if there's something wrong who would have guessed it?
And I have left alone everything that I own
To make you feel like it's not too late, it's never too late
- Never Too Late, Three Days Grace
Additional Disclaimer: There are some inaccuracies in the portrayal of OCD and Asperger's Syndrome in this story. While it depicts an extreme case, there were exaggerations that would be more art than science. To learn more about this psych condition, please consult relevant websites and textbooks.