Disclaimer: I don't own the characters of this story; they belong to CLAMP.
Note: I had so much fun writing these. I know, I'm a penguin on a floating ice sheet, drifting farther away from the main story but this, especially the second scene, was so much fun to write.
TrueDespair: Wow….just….wow. I can't even….wow. *Please excuse the BETA over here as her mind was blown on things that she wanted to say but can't in fear of spoiling the chapter for readers*
No such thing as magic?
I look myself in the face
And whisper 'I'm in the wrong place'
Is there more to lose than gain if I go on my own again?
Marina & the Diamonds: "The Outsider"
"There is no such thing as magic; he said."
The French midday sun didn't harm her pale skin as she was sitting on the bench under the mansion's biggest apple tree; a cigarette stuck between her perfectly manicured index and middle finger. Her brows furrowed and she seemed to stare across the lawn but her eyes were distant. "My own son."
"He's probably too close to you to notice." Her companion offered; one hand lost in the silky strands of her hair.
He laughed. "Yes, but I was standing next to you when you phoned Yuuko to ask for her permission to enter her territory two years ago and I have witnesses both of you in one room, remember? The day she approached you with the offer to take care of Fai? It was hard to miss."
The electricity in the air that caused every hair on his body to stand up. The tickling on his tongue.
"I was angry because she wanted to steal my son. I dropped my guards. It was stupid, because I knew she was right, which made it even harder for me to accept it. Up till then I've been perfectly fine believing that she was just a wicked, heartless monster who cared so little about her own child that she abandoned it and let it be raised by her sister. I didn't want to hear that she did it to save the kid – because that meant that she had made the right decision while I damned my boys to a life of misery."
"Well I don't think she was right, dear."
Freya inhaled and rolled her eyes when she blew out some bluish-grey smoke. "Don't be silly, Ashura. Of course she was. Our kind isn't supposed to have offspring, which is why we make horrible parents."
"If I may be so bold to ask…"
"You want to know just what exactly I am."
"Alright, if you must know," Freya gave in, wearing the slightly annoyed expression of a woman who had to explain a kid how the motor of a car worked. Who cares how it works as long as it works? Her face would say. "First you should be aware that we – my kind or whatever you want to call us – we are human. I have human DNA, I look human, obviously and I have human parents. I can't do magic and I'm not a psychic."
"But you are different." Ashura pointed out, stating the obvious to make sure she kept her eyes on the subject for it were the differences he was interested in. What did they mean to Freya, for her relationship with her sons and with him? Freya was one of those people who keep their issues and worries as well as their joys to themselves, protecting their emotions like dragons guarding treasures.
"Because we serve a purpose. As I said I can't do magic but that doesn't mean there is no magic in this world. Actually, my people have this old legend that this world was made by the strongest power of all: the magic of human wishes. Wishes for a better future as well as for a different past. Millions of them."
"Because almost everyone regrets the mistakes they had made or the things they had to leave behind?"
"In a nutshell... yes. Now, every wish has the same core; the longing for happiness. For ourselves or the ones we love. It's impossible to make everyone happy but is said that this world is very close to fulfilling that wish because here... we make sure. In every generation kids are born, kids with special abilities, so they can influence and change people's lives."
Ashura never asked if Freya believed in all of the things she said (assuming she didn't; for Freya preferred knowing). Not believing wouldn't make a story more or less true. Stories were for the listeners and this story was told so he would not be put off by her alien nature. In a way Freya admitted that she wanted him around, which was all Ashura cared about for the moment. He was afraid to say it out loud, though; when Freya was confronted with anything slightly romantic, she was insulted, like one had offered her obviously poisoned food. Freya didn't trust romance. So instead of saying something sappy that he would regret later, the black haired man showed her he cared by asking further questions. "What kind of abilities?"
A little breeze came up and stirred the blue fog of Freya's cigarette; ash was falling next to her cream colored, way too expensive high heel shoes and with an angry look she pinched the smoldering tip of the half-smoked cancer stick and ripped it off, saving the rest for later. For a puzzling woman, she had a lot of rules. Her companion noticed that with a faint smile. Like she never smoked around a non-smoker before.
"That depends. The most common gift is the X-raying."
"What, so you're telling me you're like Superman?"
"Relax." Freya said; rolling her eyes and retrieving the cigarette packet from her blazer pocket, stuffing the unfinished one among the others. "It's a metaphor. X-raying means that one is able to see a person's true nature. I belong to this majority. Let me listen to the sound of a beating heart and I'll tell you the owner's current emotions, his or her medical problems and favorite drugs. I could even find the person's perfect match, given that I've listened to that other heart, too. Yuuko" – Freya pronounced the name with the amount of sympathy she had for maggots or broccoli – "can do the same by reading in people's faces. Which is one of the reasons why I can't stand being around her for too long. It's stressful to know every person's real intentions once you meet them but having someone who could do the same on you – now that's just uncomfortable."
Resting his elbow on the back rest of the bench and propping his head against his palm, he studied the blonde thoughtfully. What she was – who she was wasn't showing. But one could tell there was something odd about her, maybe an additional or a lacking hormone… her sweat scented like lilies of the valley; that much he knew, and today was one of the rare days when he could smell it, as it was usually covered by a cloud of perfume.
"You said earlier that your kind is not supposed to have offspring. Why? Does it… are the boys affected?" Ashura's expression was a mix of concern and gentle compassion. He had met Yuui only a couple of times but Fai… Fai was like a son to him. Back then when the blonde had been his student; how many times had he offered him to pick him up from a party and sleep on his couch when Fai was too drunk to find his way back home? How many times had he listened to the details of Fai's messy, always changing love life because the boy had no one else to talk to? Fai held a special place in his heart, like Freya. Brilliant as a student but defaulted as a human being, Ashura had always felt responsible for the kid.
"A little bit, but their father is normal, so there is nothing to worry about. I know that Yuui can write down a recipe for every meal he had tasted once and still add some improvements while Fai always knows when there will be rain and well, they will always be a little too pretty for the likings of others but aside from that, they can live an ordinary life. No, it has nothing to do with my influence on them; it's their influence on me. They're my sons and their needs are more important than anyone else's. They keep me from doing what I'm supposed to do which is fixing people's lives."
"That doesn't sound fair to me."
Freya shrugged at that but the man wondered if she was just half as callous as she pretended to be. He wondered how he could recognize when she needed a hug. Mainly because he wanted to wrap his arms around her. Though knowing Freya was one of the toughest persons he ever met, he was well aware that even tough people need some comfort; needed it probably even more, for it took so much for them to break down.
"… and Yuuko had a child, too? Even though she knew about all of this?"
Freya nodded, her whiskey colored eyes, just a shade darker than Ashura's golden ones, trailed back to focus on him. Her features, well known and carefully studied, didn't reveal its owner's emotional state… or maybe Freya's feelings were just too complex to be imprinted in something as mundane as a human face.
"The infallible proof that love can turn even the most wicked beings into happy, careless idiots. And please believe me, everyone knew that things would end badly when she started to date the puppet master, but those two have always been too strong and stubborn to listen to anyone else. Poor little lamb that they sent into this world: having not only one but two supernatural parents. I can imagine the boy has now to deal with seeing ghosts or something equally weird that will ruin his childhood."
"The puppet master?" That name, or title, just sounded wrong in his ears. Ashura had to think of a fifty year old guy with a purple cape, a nose like Pinocchio and an army of dolls behind him. Then he thought of Jeff Dunham. Not knowing, which association was worse.
"Clow Reed's the name but we call him puppet master because that describes his talent so well. He makes toys, like dolls and teddy bears or little plush cats with peppermint colored butterfly wings -" She frowned, obviously questioning the man's taste. "- but his toys are alive. Did I ever tell you about the Mokonas?"
"The Horitsuba school mascots."
"They're Clow's creation. He made them for Yuuko to fill the hole in her life after they had to give their son into the hands of Yuuko's sister and Clow's brother, I guess. Or was it the other way round?"
One of the few moments when Freya seemed to emerge something like sympathy… and then she rolled her eyes and muttered 'how unnecessary' to ruin the atmosphere.
Ashura chuckled softly and let a strand of her hair run through his fingers, before he kissed it gently. Freya let it happen without any response. Not because she didn't care – she just had no idea how to respond. She was only good at touching people when they were sedated and ready for surgery and most of the times being touched made her uneasy. But that was something he could deal with.
"Tell me about the current center of Fai's adoration, dear. You've met him once. And you seem to like him; after all you made no effort to pry him away so far."
Freya's head turned slowly, very slowly, as she glared at her friend and partner. "Are you kidding me? That guy is the rudest, foul-mouthed, arrogant and self-righteous rice eater I've ever met. And his name! What kind of a name is black steel? And if he was just like I perceived he was I'd rather kill Fai than let him have my son. It's Fai who had such faith in him."
"So he caught you on the wrong foot?"
She crossed her arms in front of her chest and sulked like a kid; a grown-up woman of fifty in a Chanel Costume, one of Europe's top surgeons… you wouldn't believe it when you haven't witnessed it. "It's not my fault that he's such a jerk on the outside!" She protested. "You know how I suck at dealing with strangers. Or with anyone, actually. But he's apparently the one meant for Fai, so I guess I should be nice."
Ashura held his breath when he realized what this meant.
I could even find the person's perfect match, given that I've listened to that other heart, too.
"Freya… since when do you know?"
She didn't answer right away, and Ashura thought of repeating the question when she suddenly took his hand into hers. It was tiny, soft and cool, pretty much what he had expected, yet her display of vulnerability moved him.
"Fai was seven when he ran into a glass door. I guess I already told you about this. What I didn't tell you was that there was a complication when I removed the glass from his eye. The anesthetist did everything right, still, my kid refused to wake up after the effect of the drugs had worn off. For twenty-four hours, Yuui and I sat next to his bed and I didn't dare to fall asleep in case he might stir or show any kind of…"
Freya's voice cracked. Swallowing the hard lump in her throat, she started again, on another part of the story. "While I was busy saving my son's eyesight, there was a woman in Japan who almost died from a heart attack – literally, she was born with a weak heart – when her two year old son was almost crushed by the shelf he had tried to mount." Boys – why do they always have to climb on something?
"Anyway, that woman Miyako, had been a patient of mine. She had a special touch, a little gift, not strong enough to be one of my kind and though I wouldn't go as far as call her a friend, I kind of liked her. Maybe she had sensed what I was, but when they brought her kid into the hospital, she asked the doctors to consult me. That was back in 1990, so we had no internet and I remember clearly how I sat in Fai's room in the middle of the night and turned on the speakers of the phone while Miyako, on her side of the planet, was holding the receiver next to the echo cardiograph, so I could listen."
"And that was when you heard…?"
"I didn't hear anything. All I could make out was a steady very fast beat, which is normal for toddlers. Through the phone I missed those fine underlying nuances that tell me everything I need to know. To help Miyako, I had to listen to this in person, but I couldn't leave Fai. I was thinking of the right words to tell her that I was of no use when I was asked what this noise was. I turned and… Fai was looking at me. He was only half there but his eyes – his eye was focused on me and he called me mommy. Then he said 'sounds beautiful' and fell asleep. Only this time I knew he would wake up again. I just knew, although intuition is hardly my thing, but at that moment I sensed something that may have been fate or destiny or whatever you want to call it. I told Miyako her son would be fine because it felt right. Then I hung up and I think I cried." Her brows furrowed as she tried to grasp the memory in detail. Ashura thought that it would be just like her to forget her spilled tears on purpose.
"Yes. I wailed. I remember because Yuui woke up from the sound and I told him to sneak into his brother's bed and hold him, so Fai wouldn't slip away from us again. It was such a lovely sight, these two cuddled together. I should have made sure that they stay close together. Always."
Freya's thoughts drifted in a direction that the other didn't like at all, so he gave her hand a reassuring squeeze, hoping he crushed nothing while doing so.
"And you think it was the sound of that heartbeat that brought Fai back? That it was not just a coincidence-"
"No. I know. There is no such thing as coincidence. Not in this world, not in any other."
"And this kid, the son of your friend…"
A shrewd smile twisted the corner of Freya's lips. "I didn't know it was him, when I met him. Miyako always said that he looks like his father but I have never met her husband, either, so there was no way to compare. But later I pulled some strings, called some people to find out more about this gym teacher, that my son was so fond of and found out that he is Miyako's kid. In conclusion, destiny is a bitch."
There was nothing to add.
When Kurogane Suwa, the elder, had been a little kid he used to bother his grandma with questions about his grandpa, receiving always the same answer. Gran-pere was a soldier. He died on Iwo Jima long before your father was born.
He didn't blame her for keeping it a secret. She was the descendant of a very old and very noble Samurai clan and had dishonored her family enough by giving birth to a child without being married; admitting that the baby in her belly had grown from the seed of the enemy in times of war would only make it worse. So Kurogane had no proof that his grandfather was American, safe for his own and his father's bodies which were so very tall and attention drawing (and therefore so very un-Japanese). The mystery about the missing grandfather remained one since his father was likewise unwilling to talk about the matter. Yosuke Suwa had grown up following the path of his grand-father and his grand-grand-father, the path of the Samurai but Kurogane, as much as he loved Japanese traditions and family values, could not ignore the voice of his heart that told him that he was ignoring an aspect of his identity. He had had a grandfather who died in World War II to protect his family or his country or both. Regardless which side the man had fought for, Kurogane was proud to be his grandson.
He got married to a wonderful woman and she blessed him with two lovely kids, a daughter and a son. The girl was named Souma and the boy… that sweet tiny boy…
When his son was born, Kurogane Suwa swore to himself that there would be no secrets in his family, no damnation of his dear one's just because they fell in love with someone that would be regarded as inappropriate. And he sealed that promise by following an American tradition.
Thus, his boy was given two names; one that belonged to only him and the one that was his father's.
Youou Kurogane Suwa was a happy kid, blessed with a healthy amount of ignorance and the dangerous lack of fear. He frowned at foreign traditions and was creeped out by exactly three and a half things.
Physicians. Foreign women. And clowns.
Fortune tellers, too… and for the protocol: fortune tellers usually belonged to category B, foreign women, which was why they only counted as half. Hence there were three and a half things Youou was creeped out by.
Fortune tellers were by far the worst because it was not the person he feared: it was the prospect that their words would come true. Youou didn't believe in magic and supernatural abilities and that stuff but when you're ten years old and a smelly gypsy woman is waving her crooked tanned finger in front of your nose while howling that you will fall in love only three times your entire life, you start to worry.
Does it mean you'll die young? Does it mean you'll end up alone or, much worse, married to a woman you don't love? Or does it mean your heart will be broken twice before you meet the one?
When Youou attended Middle School (and insisted on being addressed by his father's name because he was sick that everyone called him You-chan), he had another question to deal with: does Oruha count? He didn't think he was in love with Oruha but she was his best friend since kindergarten and everyone expected them to become a couple, so they started holding hands. Oruha was the first girl he kissed. Their relationship lasted about a month, and then Kurogane found out what it was like to really fall in love.
With age thirteen, Kurogane received his second first kiss by his first love, a boy called Shigure. But that ended as well, when summer break began. He was able to let go, heart still in one piece, no harm done.
And then there was Tanya. Tanya was staying in the hotel where the seventeen year old Kurogane worked part-time as a waiter and she was everything that a girl should not be: loud, flirty, and absolutely shameless. She was born in America, in one of those free love communes and the traditionalist boy knew he should be disgusted by the way her knee-high skirts rustled when she walked, because she swayed her hips too much when she did. Or the seductive way she played with her long, wavy, honey-colored hair. He knew he shouldn't care at all for the cute freckles on her nose or how her blue bikini fit to her flawless body like a second skin.
She drank. She smoked. She cursed. And she was brave enough to take what she wanted without giving a shit what everybody else thought.
This girl had balls.
He was impressed. Thrilled, even.
And sooner or later Kurogane could no longer deny that the main reason why he hated her was that she made him want her, despite everything she was. No, because of everything she was.
She stole his heart, his virginity and a good deal of his manners.
Ignoring her addicting bad sides (which were rubbing off on him soon enough) she was kind at heart, smart and never unfaithful. And had a rough humor to boot. He loved her in every way, everywhere he was capable of but he knew it wouldn't last. When summer was over she went back home and the boy that was left behind turned gloomy and grumpy. Without Tanya, his life was sane, but also dull and grey. He learned to live with it.
So, twice the Japanese had been in love and he started to believe that he would get away with nothing but a scratch. One of the lucky bastards that never knew what it feels like to have a broken heart.
Then Fai happened.
And now the cycle was complete, the prophecy fulfilled and once more the Japanese - a boy then, now a man – found himself facing his fear. The old-fashioned wood-paneled trailer looked cozy from the outside, yet on the inside Kurogane expected a dim-lit, crowded space with expensive oriental-patterned cushions and curtains, jam jars with dried parts of animals stacked on high shelves and air heavy with incense that made you struggle for every breath.
"I have a bad feeling about this." The man complained and the woman next to him laughed.
"S-sorry." Oruha uttered; her voice shaky with laughter. "But the last time you said that we were on Souma's Baby shower."
He grumbled. Like he had to be reminded. "I was right, wasn't I?" All that pink decorations, the useless smart-ass chatter of mothers who had killed their own dreams for their children's sake, who tried to live through their children and who considered every unmarried or childless or male person as odd… it had been torture.
"Maybe. But this is different. The worst thing that can happen is that you lose a little bit of money and a little bit of time for nothing, but then again it's the belief that makes a prophecy true…"
The tall man snorted with disdain.
"Do you want me to pay?" Oruha offered with a wink. "It was my idea after all."
"Hn. No way. You will stay here. If I have to sit this through, I will do it alone."
"That's no fun!" She complained and Kurogane could feel a shiver running up his spine. He was used to this words, had heard them about 900 times during the last 1095 days, usually accompanied by a childish whine or a pout. He needed no reminder why he came here in the first place, but hearing this little Fai-ism was the push that gave Kurogane the strength to climb the three wooden steps and enter the little trailer.
People should be aware that a door was never just a door. Doors were promises and temptations; they are solid yet belong to the undefined area of space which is neither one room nor the other, filling the emptiness of the boundary surface known as wall. There is hardly anything on earth that can make people get lost like a door can do – even if you have a notion what will be on the other side, it never leads where you expect it to. It is a miracle that there were so few human beings afraid of them.
The door that Kurogane was about to pass was a special one, a strong one – holding more than the outside and inside, the cold and warm, as well as dark and light together… with one step Kurogane found himself in the Victorian era.
Not that the gym teacher knew much about Victorian England; to him the interior was merely a different kind of strange than what he expected. There were shelves with jam jars, alright. But in the bright light of three tulip-shaped glass lamps that hung from the ceiling, every visitor could see that the jars were not filled with toad's eyes or lizard's tails but with, well, jam. Neatly lined up and carefully labeled, there seemed to be jam in every color of the rainbow and every hue, made from every fruit or flower that one could turn into jam. Elder syrup in a pale yellow shade and orange-ginger jelly in a warm orange shade. Green gooseberry jam. Blackberry jam.
To accompany the sweet treasures on the shelves, a lovely scent lingered in the air; a note of vanilla and bergamot; the essences of Scones and Earl Grey.
Not many furnishings, but those present were massive and expensive in an intimidating way. An ottoman in a pale mint green. The seat cover owning a silky glow. A chaise longue that matched the ottoman and between them a round table with a plain white tablecloth. A folding screen was set up, dividing the space and blocking the customer's view on the certainly more private parts of the trailer, like a kitchenette and a bed.
"Sit down; I'll be there in a second!" A melodic but definitely male voice called from behind the screen and Kurogane, still a bit dumbstruck, obliged, taking a seat at the chaise longue. There was no doubt that the ottoman was the owner's place.
When the man appeared, he carried a tray with two cups of tea, a few slices of lemon, two knives and at least a dozen scones. His sight was startling, not because of the frilly blue apron he wore over his anthracite gray three pieced suit or the paleness of his skin or his ash colored eyes in a face with slightly Asian features that was mixed with those strong European cheekbones. It was the breath-taking resemblance to someone Kurogane knew. If the guy was about twenty years younger and a little less tall and had the black hair, which was carefully parted in the middle, been a little bit more stubborn, he could easily have been mistaken for-
"Ah! It's you." The fortune teller remarked with a business-like smile.
Kurogane wasn't sure if the guy was pulling the usual I've been expecting you-crap that most fortune tellers loved or if there was a real connection between him and a certain wimpy boy. Gosh, they were even wearing the equal glasses…
"Have we met before?"
"As a matter of fact we haven't, which is quite amusing given that you know the rest of my family."
Kurogane wondered in which universe this would be amusing.
"You must have met my wife, Kaho. She's currently teaching math at the high school classes. And my son Kimihiro is in your class, if I'm not mistaken." The man placed the tray in the middle of the table and gave his customer a quick, scanning look before he walked over to the shelves. "Nothing too sweet, I assume?" The question was maybe directed at Kurogane or the jam or himself. It was hard to tell by the pondering fashion in which he tapped his chin.
"But you don't seem to be the berry type, something spicy maybe-" The slender hand with a plain golden ring reached out for the orange-ginger jelly that Kurogane had already noticed, then stopped mid-air. "But no citrus either. Hm, that's tough. You're a summer type, so you should be attracted by winter – there we go! I knew I brought the plum marmalade with me for a reason. I hate that stuff."
"I don't like jam of any kind."
"No, you don't eat jam, that doesn't mean you don't like it. It just means you don't eat it because you haven't found the right flavor yet. Everyone likes marmalade. Trust me, I'm an expert."
With the satisfaction of a proud mother, the fortune teller placed the jam jar next to the scones and heaved his slender figure in the ottoman.
"Shouldn't you be an expert at horoscopes and stuff?"
"Oh, I am. But it's hard to make money with astrology so I rely on my other hobby, which is marmalade manufacturing. And when I get bored, I come to a fair like this one. And I get bored easily, so to save our time, we'll skip the introduction. I already know your name and mine is written on my apron, so we can get to the part where I prepare the scones and you tell me your problem over a cup of tea. Nothing stimulates the mind like a cup of tea. Yours is Chai; I thought this might fit my Asian customers a bit more."
Not for the first time this evening, the gym teacher wondered if the lack of cliché was a sign of authenticity or if this guy was just pulling a prank. The name on the apron read 'Eriol Reed' which was weird because his wife's last name was Mizuki. And his son's last name…
"Hey, why does everyone on your family have a different family name?"
Eriol exhaled audibly through his nose. "I really do hope this is not the problem why you're here because that would make you a really boring person and as I pointed out, my time is too precious to waste it with boredom."
"For all I know you could be lying."
"For all I know you could be a pain in the arse. But if I have to answer a personal question before you can swallow your pride and pour your heart out, I will. My wife kept her maiden name and my son was given his grandmother's maiden name for the same reason – to make the connection between her family and mine less obvious. It's not easy to find real friends when everyone knows that your father or husband is the possible heir of a billion euro concern."
Kurogane's jaw might have dropped at that and he might have been speechless for a while, wondering why the hell a member of the Reed toy emporium bothered with any job at all if he could easily live on Daddy's pocket money… but if you're rich you have the right to be eccentric and if that meant that this guy was free to sit here and sip tea while telling people about their future, the Japanese man would not complain.
"Now you." Eriol demanded as he picked a scone from the tray and started to cut it in two neat halves.
"Um, I- It's complicated."
The older man chuckled at that and unscrewed the jam jar. "Yeah. That's what everyone says. Like they're talking about bullets. But while a bullet is a bullet, a rose is not a rose and it's the same thing with complications. Complications are not complicated; they can be nailed down to detailed facts, and events that were different from expectations. For example: ninety-seven percent of my customers that say those words are here because of a matter of the heart. About seventy percent of those are searching for true love, either wanting to know if there's a chance their chosen one might return their feelings or when they will meet the handsome stranger that will turn their life upside down. You – by the way, this cup of tea was made for drinking, it would be rude if you let it get cold – you don't seem to belong to the usual bunch of romantic fools, so I doubt it's the latter one. Am I right?"
Kurogane suppressed a shiver (the weird kind of jerking of the body, like when one had to pee really badly) and gripped his cup of Chai and breathed in the intriguing scent of the various spices – smelled like almond biscuit, in fact – before he took a tiny sip. "Right. Do I have to use names?"
"Whatever you feel comfortable with. But be aware that names also mean power."
Kurogane frowned at that, but made no comment. He had had no intention of saying Fai's name now, if he hardly used it anyway. "My neighbor," He explained as shortly as possible. "I know him for about three years now, we're co-workers and- why the hell are you grinning like that?"
"Excuse me." Eriol said, though his smile never faded. He offered a jam-topped scone and for a moment Kurogane was torn between taking the pastry and strangling this guy. Well, he picked the pastry with a glare – and almost dropped it at the next words.
"But you're not by any chance talking about the chemistry teacher and the form teacher of class C? The tall French guy with the cross-dressing tendency who says 'Hyuu' instead of whistling?"
There was no need to answer, no need to bother with a shocked How the hell do you know? expression for it was written all over Kurogane's face. He was too flabbergasted to be angry at the tattletale for giving out such delicate details about Fai. He knew very well what a bunch of dickheads people could be when they found out about the blonde's fascination for girl's clothes. And he hated them for that.
"Never underestimate rumors and gossip. Hm… okay, I have a time period now, I'm vaguely familiar with the person you're interested in… and I can see you're right handed. Should be enough for step two."
Eriol grinned mischievously. "The part where you have to give me your left arm."
"…My arm? Why do you want my fucking arm?" The taller man asked; startled. He was familiar with hand-reading, the theory that a being's future was written in the course of the lines on the palm of a hand, like a map for one's destiny. But his arm…?
"I need to feel your pulse underneath the not-taken hand."
Kurogane was a bit stubborn when it came to things he was not familiar with so he agreed on holding his arm out to Eriol under the one condition that the fortune teller had to explain why. It was probably just the humbug he was about to hear, but anyway. Oruha was right; there was not much he could lose.
"You want me to read the course of your life, right? Well, some people read faces, other read hands, but for a detailed prognosis of someone's past, present and future path, one has to listen to the song of the blood, for the blood is one of the few parts of the body that binds body and soul. For a matter of unrevealed or unrequited love, it's best to read from the hand that is less taken. Men usually offer their strong hand when they want to hold hands with their significant other. The habit goes back to the noble time when quarrels were fought with swords and not with guns or fists… the sheath of the sword was carried on the side opposing the sword hand and would only get in the way on a lovely walk in the park, hence the lady was offered the strong hand, hence the other one was the hand not taken."
And it was the left elbow that he propped on the table, the left wrist that Eriol clutched to in what looked like a new way of arm-wrestling. The man shut the eyes behind his pair of glasses and relaxed.
For a moment there was nothing to hear but the sound of their breathing and nothing to focus on but the not-so-gentle touch, the pressure on the wrist and the hard wooden table under his elbow.
Then Kurogane could feel a tickling sensation spread under his skin like an Australian bush fire; radiating from the spot where the fortune teller's thumb pressed on his pulse.
He got goose bumps and nearly jumped out of his skin, when Eriol started to talk again.
"There is someone whose path is deeply intertwined with yours, at least it has been this way for the last few years; it might be him, but to be certain I need you to remember something. It can be a habit or a possession, something that you connect with only that person."
'Hn. That's a tough one.' There were the smiles, of course, but everyone smiled even if no one smiled like Fai. There was the cross-dressing, but that seemed too unspecific for Kurogane. Truth be told, there were so many little things that made Fai to the person that he was and like a kaleidoscope, he was always changing his appearance. Changing the outside to distract from the things that are hidden inside.
For a few horrific seconds he didn't think he could come up with anything - knowledge had a way of disappearing when being tested.
But there was some knowledge hidden under a bed, trapped in a box and little treasures that were kept there because his owner had no other use for them but still could not bear to lose them. It was a secret that he sometimes took them out to count them, feel their weight in his hands, to make sure that they were still there, still in their place, still a secret.
The repeated action helped Kurogane to remember each and every one of these items, so that he could take them out in his memory. The little snow globe with the tiny snow man figurine in it. By shaking, Mr. Snow man would be caught in a whirl of white and silver glitter, a blizzard trapped behind glass. Fai had given this thing to him the first Christmas he had spent at the Academy.
A post card from the Bretagne sent during his second summer break.
A lip balm stick that the idiot had bought just because he couldn't bear the sight of Kurogane's cracked lips (It had been a fucking cold winter last year) and that Kurogane refused to use because it scented like peaches and was offending his manliness.
And then there was the book of course, that novel that Fai had read about ten times and some parts of it even more. Kurogane could tell because some pages were thinner than others and the letters were paler. Not that the Japanese man had read Jane Eyre himself. He had tried to, and if it was just to reconcile his curiousness why this and no other book was Fai's favorite, but he had given up soon enough; howling with frustration. The lecture required an English vocab that Kurogane did not possess because he sucked at languages. Words have always been his enemies; tricky little bastards.
But he focused on this stuff and while he did so, Eriol could see things clearer.
Pulse reading was a complicated thing. Behind the blackness of his eyelids, the fortune teller saw a red ribbon which represented his customer's path. The light that it was emitting grew stronger and weaker with the rhythm of the Japanese's heartbeat. The glow was strongest at the counterpoint of the beat, when the heart filled with blood.
There was another ribbon and more than this, there were ribbons interwoven with the red one, each one representing another person's fate that had once crossed paths with this man. Together they formed the carpet of Kurogane's life but the other ribbons were unlit and invisible to Eriol's inner eye. All, safe for the one that Eriol had noticed earlier, one with a bluish gleam. It was no coincidence that the ribbons had the same color as their owner's eyes for eyes were the mirror of the soul, so people said, unaware that it was the other way round. Single threads in the ribbon started to gleam as Kurogane remembered his secret possessions and they illuminated the course of this other life as well.
The fortune teller could see that there was a weak connection between the two, many, many years ago but decided to keep that to himself. He focused on the course of the ribbons three years ago, when they had been tied into a knot (which meant an intervention, a forced meeting) and departed as parallel lines.
"You have lived your lives separated, but next to each other for a while, right? Then something happened and you changed course."
Eriol asked but he needed no answer. There was a section with holes in the blue ribbon, like a mouse had been biting some threads and after that the red ribbon slowly approached the blue one. And a little farther off… Wait…
The fortune teller's forehead must have been covered in lines because his customer asked "What? What is it?" at the sight of that frown. Unlike the girls that usually sat at his place, he sounded annoyed more than shocked.
"There is something that can't be right. Or at least it doesn't make sense…have you ever been apart from that man?"
"He's been on vacation a couple of times if that's what you mean."
"No, I'm talking about an emotional distance. Like a really big fight."
"We fight all the time." The ruffian snapped but Eriol heard guilt in his defensive tone. Oh yes, that man knew exactly what he was talking about. The ribbons' light became more intense, especially the part that framed a huge gap. They drew an empty eye in the black nothingness, a spot where no other ribbon could enter, like two brackets that had met without a word to close in. By the course one could tell that they had been supposed to collide after the division, to collide and intertwine like an umbilical cord, instead they circled around each other like a double helix, craving to become one but keeping a safe distance.
So far for the past and the present.
"You screwed up." Eriol stated; eyes fluttering open as he released his grip from the man's tanned wrist. He had seen enough so far, had even caught a glimpse at the future, which could be recognized easily: the future path was not a ribbon for there was often more than one possible future. Each outcome was marked by one or many threads that marked the new course while the amount of threads could give the fortune teller a hint for the likeliness of the outcome.
The Adam's apple in Kurogane's throat bumped down and up as he swallowed hard. "You mean there is no chance…"
"No. No-no-no. I'm speaking of an unused chance. You had a fight and a really big one, strong enough to make you act like strangers. It requires very strong emotions to drive two paths apart with so much force. But for every action there is a reaction, a force equally strong but leading in the opposite direction, to re-establish the equilibrium."
"Are you telling me that fate is bound by the laws of Physics?"
"Yes and no. The momentum conservation law as well as the Le Chatelier's principle are laws to describe the logic that our world or any world consist of. Fate is merely the sum of the most likely occurrences, yet their likeliness is based upon the logic. Physical laws are just a small fraction of the factors that influence fate. The same force that separated you should have been able to glue you together, which is what usually happens when people make up after a big fight. So either you two have not been making up or one of you is unaware of the true reasons of the fight. And since you are the one who is sitting in front of me, I assume that he's the one who doesn't have a clue."
Kurogane growled and he was overcome by the need to punch that man in the face and tell him to start doing his job instead of prying and sticking his nose in other people's path. But then he could see how the past was influencing the future, not just to avoid making the same mistakes over and over again. The reason why he was here now, in this tiny trailer, was because Kurogane had never mentioned with one word how he felt for this blond idiot. Mainly because he hadn't want to accept that. His denial had led to a tense situation, which had led to what was known as "The Second Episode of Suffocating Silence" in the Horitsuba School Records. They never talked about the events connected to that period of time. That would have been his chance. If there had ever been the perfect time for a sappy love confession it had been within those twenty-nine days when Fai had attempted not to notice Kurogane's very existence. Fai had been far too angry (and later disappointed) to laugh at the other.
If there had ever been a perfect time for a first kiss it had been on White Day, when the Chairman's intervention had put an end to the silence, making it possible for the two teachers to become friends once more.
Maybe one day the moronic blond would have proposed that even if he did not feel the same way, one date wouldn't hurt, would it?
But he had let this chance slip away and now it was lost.
"That doesn't mean it's the only chance I ever get." He announced, speaking to himself as well as to the bespectacled man. The elder smiled slyly.
"Of course not. But with the missed chance in mind, you should be able to recognize when a new chance shows up. Which is soon, by the way."
"How soon is soon?"
Eriol shrugged. "Maybe next week or maybe in three days. Could be tomorrow for all I know. Time prediction is a bit fuzzy, especially if I don't know what kind of event you will be facing. But there's an intersection ahead. The chances that you will get closer to the person you hold dear are exactly the same as the chances that you might grow apart. If you think that's too much of a risk, then I'll advise you to stay inert until the critical point is over. If you want something to change, then there are some things you should follow."
That was the moment when Kurogane became a bit impatient. Of course he wanted things to change, of course he grew tired of reconsidering three times every word he wanted to say and suppressing any action that might give him away whenever Fai was around. "Which things?"
"First, look out for signs. Coming events cast their shadows before, and even those who are not born with intuition will feel a pull when the time comes. You can trust that feeling. Also, keep your eyes open to fork lightning, crossroads or crosses in any shape or form. Don't rush anything and wait until the moment that you have to choose. And then – and this is most important-"
A window was opened.
A lean man stuck his nose out in the fresh air and a light breeze stirred his blond locks and tickled his skin.
"A storm is coming up." He mused, staring at the dark blue sky with a dazed expression. Then he placed his elbows on the windowsill. "But not here. Hm… no rain today, I guess?"
A second breeze came up, as if to answer the man's question. He smiled contently.
"Okay. I think I'm ready."
He closed the window again and ambled to the door to grab for his scarf, a jacket and to slip in his light canvas shoes. It was going to be a mild autumn evening. A quiet and peaceful night.
Leaving his umbrella at home, Fai left the apartment humming a soft tune; in his heart the image of a giant with poppy red eyes and a rude attitude appeared.
 Actually TrueDespair came up with the idea that the Horitsuba Universe was created by wishes, it was mentioned in her story "Worlds apart", so it would be nice if you have a look on her story.
 Just in case Mr. Dunham reads this (incredibly likely, yeah *eyesroll*): I am very sorry to use you for that joke. Please note that this story's character's opinions do not necessarily represent the author's opinions. I'm a huge fan. *thumbs up*
I really hope after this chapter more people will say: 'okay, enough with the hints. What the hell happened during that time of Suffocating Silence and what caused it?' Then I can feel less guilty about wasting an entire chapter on the matter. But I like this story and I need to share this with you because I think you might like it too. I also hope I can present you the next chapter in a few weeks. It's already 60 % finished. 80 % even, adding the stuff I've only written on paper so far.
God bless the person that has uploaded every single song of the album "Human Again" on youtube for I still don't own it and I do need my daily dose of Ingrid Michaelson. It keeps me inspired.