Nails stand out.
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
Author's Notes: Written for calliette as part of the 2010 Yuletide fic exchange. Thanks to calliette for the prompt, leaper182 for the proofreading, and the mods for all the work they put into Yuletide every year!
When I first cross-posted this to ffnet, I accidentally copy pasted the summary to a Dead Like Me fic in this chapter. Whoops! It's fixed now, but that's why there are some odd reviews on this one.
Anita hadn't ever really been one to fit in with the crowd. Not that she'd set out to be a loner or maverick, but when you were an international clone with supernatural powers, a red shock of hair and had grown to be nearly as tall as Maggie, it was hard to slip by unnoticed. Places like the television studio, surrounded by dark crouched figures and a live, perfectly tidy audience, it somehow felt worse than when she was looking out across an ocean of tidy black and bleached brown hair on the street. She was like that nail that just kept on standing up, and every time the show's presenter waved her hand or asked a question, Anita felt like she was about to get hammered down or pulled right out.
Hisami was smiling. It wasn't like Anita had shown up for herself, anyway. Just moral support and security for her friend. They didn't expect for anything to happen at a TV studio, but Anita had already had one favourite author kidnapped on her in the past and she sure as hell wasn't taking any chances with her current one. Mostly it was moral support. Hisami had become a lot more used to interviews and book publicity tours over the years but she was still shy enough that she liked to have someone familiar there afterwards, when the adrenaline fled and left her legs all wobbly.
Still, she felt a little lost in the audience. Hisami seemed to have a lot of young female fans, and they were all dressed their best. Cute and sweet and smelling collectively like a perfume store. Anita's comfortable jeans and long-sleeved top were ideal for keeping slips of paper concealed, but perhaps not so useful for blending in. Well, blending in as best as she could. Anita had learned over the years as a consulting 'detective' that body language and clothing were really the key to infiltrating crowds. It made people see you as one of their own right off the mark.
The interview was focused on Hisami's new novel, as well as her back catalogue. Anita was so familiar with it all that she could've been the one down there answering those questions.
'Well, I always inevitably draw on the people I know to create my characters. I think everyone does, because we all have our own limited perspectives on human behaviour. We know the people close to us best, we can love them even seeing their flaws. But I haven't based any characters on anyone I know specifically, if that's what you're asking.'
Hisami was wearing her hair down. Anita didn't know why she did it, because Hisami said she felt more comfortable with it tied loosely back, but she supposed it was part of the unfathomable workings of the backstage makeup department. They'd given her a cardigan to wear over her blouse, and a brighter lipstick than Anita had ever seen. They had painted her fingernails. She looked pretty, but a little less like herself. Nice but wrong.
'Oh my god,' some girl whispered in the row behind Anita, 'I don't believe it, it's Marthe. I swear, it really is!'
Anita scowled. Bloody fangirls. Marthe was the name of the romantic heroine in Hisami's old fantasy light-novel series. It had been years since the final book, but there was still a huge fanbase. It was a shame because Hisami really preferred writing subtler stories, and half the publicity gigs she did were overwhelmed with talk about the series. Anita herself had always felt a bit uncomfortable with Marthe's judgemental and sullen nature. Who willingly designed a heroine like that?
'It so is, looks just like her! Take a picture! I wonder if she's here with anyone.'
It had been so long since she'd read the books that Anita was slow to recall that in the promotional art Marthe had been drawn with a tall frame and curling short hair that was brownish red. When she realised that the fangirls were talking about her, she slumped a little in her chair and tried to focus her attention on Hisami and the lights on the stage. Somewhere behind her right ear there was the muted sound of a cameraphone clicking.
'Oh, I just... I would be her Lora in a minute!'
Lora, of course, had been the younger girl in the series. She eventually travelled alongside Marthe. It wasn't the most overt Girl's Love series, but there had certainly been hints that you could read into the story. Lora's devotion to Marthe, and the way that Marthe was fiercely protective of Lora. Anita hadn't really seen it in the books herself, but in that moment with the girls giggling and whispering to each other as she watched Hisami smile and nod in her unusual getup it made strange sense.
It wasn't like an epiphany, because nothing had changed. In many ways, Anita had always been aware of her own reactions to things, her own feelings. She had simply been blind to what it meant. She hadn't understood herself, her relationship with Hisami, very well at all. It was more like she'd woken up with blurry eyes and her brain hadn't made proper sense of what she was seeing for those first few seconds. Like Anita's own heart had come into proper focus for the first time in her life. She had the words in her head now, making sense. Words like 'love' and 'overwhelming' and 'she is perfectly beautiful'.
Anita bit her lip because she felt swollen with the huge importance of it all. She just wanted to stand up, squeeze past the other people sitting in her row, interrupt the interview and just take Hisami into her arms. She didn't, partly because she knew she'd freeze when she got there. It was one thing to want to do something so bad that you shook, another to be able to actually do it. She knew she wouldn't be able to.
Anita sat on her hands and closed her eyes, focused on the amplified sounds of Hisami's voice. Time dragged out and the murmur of the crowd around her as the show rounded up just set her teeth on edge. She waited, wishing she could do something more, be somewhere else, right up until it came time to stand and find her way to where she'd been told she could meet Hisami. Then she sat as people brushed past her and were moving slowly towards the studio exit doors. She couldn't tell if the girls from behind her were still around or not, but she was beyond caring. She took in a deep slow breath, tried to summon some form of courage, and wondered why she'd been able to face down certain death and not this.
Hisami was waiting outside the door, smiling and looking a little desperately tired around the corners of her eyes. Anita felt a little guilty, because she'd come along in the first place to support Hisami afterwards. She shouldn't have been so slow to see herself clearly in the first place, and she shouldn't have sat around being overwhelmed by it all. Hisami had wiped off the makeup and put the cardigan back wherever she'd got it from, but her hair still hung forwards and seemed to be getting in the way.
'I've got some hair ties in my pocket, in case you forgot yours.'
Hisami smiled and in the comfortable intimacy of the friendship they had shared for over a decade, she turned around and just waited. Anita's hands moved forwards like they belonged to somebody else, running through her hair gently and plaiting it. She couldn't really quite believe that this was Hisami's hair she was touching. Hisami's soft clean scent that cleaned all the discomfort of that large crowd out of Anita's head. Her sweet Hisa.
Hisami shifted on her feet, and Anita realised she'd stopped halfway through and was just staring. Anita finished up quickly, but when Hisami turned around she looked confused.
'Are you all right, Anita?'
Anita took a second to look into Hisami's eyes. Knowing something in your head and seeing it in someone's eyes was very different. Anita smiled and knew that everything was going to be all right.
'Fine, I'm fine.'
Hisami didn't look like she believed it, but she had an uncanny ability to tell when Anita was beyond being able to talk about things. She gave Anita a private smile and slipped a hand into hers.
'So, can I treat my personal hero to dinner? You don't need to be home tonight, do you? You could stay over, if you'd like.'
Of course it wasn't anything new. Anita had stayed over in Hisami's personal apartment many times just because her shared place with Nenene, Maggie and Michelle could get a little cramped. But it was the first time she'd agreed to anything like that with intent.
'Sure. Anything for my favourite writer. Everything.'
The look in Hisami's eyes made it clear to Anita that Hisami had been way ahead of her, as self-awareness went.
'Oh. Well, I'm very glad of that.'
To anyone else it might have seemed like Hisami was withdrawing into herself. She looked away and said nothing as they began walking, but the soft blush on her cheeks and the steady warmth of her hand in Anita's own spoke volumes. Anita almost said it aloud, that she was sorry she'd taken so long to figure it out, but that could really wait until after she'd figured out where to find the courage to sneak a kiss.