01. try not to mistake
"I'm sorry." The girl says — at least, he thinks she's a girl, he can't see her face — leaning over the table and pouring a cup of tea. "It's not that you fell, as much as it's that I kicked you in."
"Oh." Toushirou blinks, seven and a half years old. How strange, to have fallen down a rabbit hole. He's terribly young and he's terribly short — and he supposes, if there's anyone who could be accidentally kicked down a rabbit hole, it would be him. "Are you sure?"
"Quite. I'd never hurt such a sweet boy on purpose." The smile is clear in her voice, cheeky, warmth of the sunset. He thinks he'd like to see her face to know if she's being sincere. "Would you like some tea?"
He wrinkles his nose, and sits with his back straight, head raised high. It's a very comfortable chair that he sits in, so he must resist the urge to slouch. Besides, slouching encourages shortness; his granny reminds him often enough. Since this is a tea party, he should be polite to his host, or so he tells himself. "No, thank you."
"Suit yourself." Her shoulder lifts and falls, and with a gloved hand, she drops a sugar cube into the cup, the faint plop echoing through the plate of shortcakes, fairy glitter lifted by the breeze. Transfixed, Toushirou watches a lily-pad begin to grow in the centre of the tea cup, fragile petals unfurling and blushing pink before him. The teapot continues to pour, steady in her hand, and it's like a magic fertilizer, liquid reaching the brim of the cup yet not spilling. "More for me." She murmurs absent-mindedly.
Toushirou blinks again and waits for the tea to overflow, expects it to stain the pretty tablecloth with moving fishes and turn the ocean brown any second now. But he waits, and it doesn't. He turns to look at her again, amazed, and her face hidden by the curtain of jet black hair.
He opens his mouth and — "Excuse me. Do you know how I can go back? I have school tomorrow."
"But of course." Verdant stalks entwine round a plate of chocolate chip cookies, tiny leaves beginning to shoot out, curl and Toushirou wishes that he'd reached out and grabbed one when he had the chance. The stalks keep growing, and soon a different kind of flower blooms, petals technicolour and singing. She puts the tea pot down. "Twelve steps backwards, that's all it takes. Crumpet to bid you farewell?"
He shakes his head, the taste of butter too golden on his tongue. "Could I have your hat instead?"
"That's a better parting gift." She agrees with a tilted nod and complies, removing her hat in a theatrical manner; and Toushirou is surprised and unsurprised to see the face of a hare staring at him, eyes bright, eyelashes thick, whiskers twitching, tease of a smile apparent — and she places it gently on his head. The air is rich with the scent of peppermint. The brim of the hat slants and touches the tips of his ears.
Toushirou wakes up in his bed that instant, alarm clock ringing shrilly, the mockery of laughter, and the dream already forgotten.
Time to go to school.
He's fifteen when he returns to the technicolour fantasy place — twice as old, but by no means twice as tall and he just doesn't get it. There are flowers in his dream that turn to him, chortling as he crouches down, and looking at him like he's their sun made of shadows and when he sits down, cross-legged, not quite sure what to say or how to go about it; they sing, and Toushirou listens. He looks at them and feels the textured grass; he closes his eyes and feels the sun warm on his face. He closes his eyes and wishes that he could wake up, but instead he hears their voices unite in a song, and it's a very long time until they stop and one of them begins to talk to him, petals soft and fair.
And if he looks, properly looks, he'd have known that they had wept for him instead of cradled the morning dew. But he doesn't, tentatively touching their velvet skin, and listening carefully to their garbled words, too high-pitched to be coherent to his ears. But it's pretty, so very pretty, and their song hides the sound of a tick-tick-tick of his alarm clock until it's too loud to ignore.
He dismisses the dream when he wakes up, fingers tangled in his hair, pushing away loose curls. That's all it is: a pretty dream.
The difference being that this time, he thinks about it, recalls it with unnerving precision and suddenly the world he lives in feels unreal, spun on it's axis and kept on an angle. He considers telling Momo about it before they get onto the bus because he can't shake the dream off his mind, but then she smiles at him, and fixes her pigtails, and he knows that she'd just call him silly. So he says nothing, because he'd rather have that than her laughter. He has her laughter anyway, when she asks him how she looks, are these pigtails okay, and he tugs one of them gently, checking that they're fine. Her hair is soft and slips through his fingers like ocean water.
Momo holds his hand when they sit together on the bus, when they're certain no one can see. Toushirou lets her because it's comfortable and warm, and he knows that she likes the feel of it against her skin. Toushirou lets her because he can't say no.
Because it's gentle and there's no thorn stuck in his thumb when he brushes over her knuckles.
And it's skin against skin, not leaf against skin, as he tells himself to calm down, as the bus rocks from side to side when the wheels go over the tracks. Momo is his anchor.
A butterfly lands on him, and Toushirou blinks and opens his eyes. He wonders why he knows her, why he can't see her though he knows she's there. He looks through the creature's vertebrae and sees only the blue sky divided by a paper thin line. Stick-thin and teasing, it's with a start that the strawberry blonde wings extend and cover the sky. He jerks upwards, surprised by the sudden blockage of blue. But he felt the weight of the butterfly's feet against the ridge of his nose the entire time and maybe he shouldn't have been so surprised. He doesn't even realize he's let loose a startled cry until he's tackled by someone human-sized and all at once he's pushed down into the ground.
"Aha!" A boy says, scruffy hair pressed into his neck, arms shaking as he clings on to Toushirou, squeezing tightly. "I have you now!"
The butterfly is most definitely laughing at him, trilling at both, flying in loop-de-loops and smiley faces.
"Um." Toushirou blinks. He is a little bit more than confused, and a little bit more than disorientated. "What?" Except his words are muffled against fabric, and what comes out sounds like: "Whuh?"
"… oh." Disappointed, the boy lets go of him, and Toushirou looks at him properly, mussed up and dirt-stained clothes, knees scraped with mud, and a gardener's overall. "Aren't you the cabbage thief?" He sounds perturbed as he speaks, black hair slowly falling onto his dark blue eyes. In vain, he tries to move it away, but it's a lost cause, it flops and obscures his face once more.
"No." Tartly, Toushirou can't help but reply; sitting up so he's at eye-level with the boy. "I'm not."
The gardener looks like he's about to burst into tears, and he must remind Toushirou too much of Momo because he still can't say no to her either, not when she looks at him like that. There are twinges of guilt stabbing at his chest, even though Toushirou knows he deserves to act the way he does. People don't get tackled and accused of theft for a vegetable he doesn't even like and expect to be treated politely in return.
"Is there anything I can do to help?" Toushirou offers instead of an apology, feeling awkward about the whole situation.
The gardener gazes at him, chewing on his bottom lip, and then looks at the butterfly with orange wings, and cups his hands together and beckons for the butterfly to land. And for one moment, whilst the scruffy looking person stares probingly at it, Toushirou frowns and thinks that it would be a terrible opportunity if the life was snuffed out before his very eyes. He inches closer, almost protective of the familiar creature.
"It isn't you either." He says sadly, and the fragile creature flaps its wings and lifts itself up into the air, before landing on his mop of black hair, seeking to comfort and not knowing the words. "I don't know what to do."
"Well," Toushirou mulls over the situation and furrows his brows. "How about—"
But he never does get to suggest what the gardener should do; waking up while the world drenches through his clothes, alone and bruises trembling as they grow.
Afterwards, he's never quite certain how the boat doesn't capsize immediately, but the woman in a white summer dress offers her hand, hair fire bright, and the man in white pulls him out of the river that he's suddenly standing in. He's completely soaked waist down, and it doesn't take two shakes of laughter from the lady in white to realize that he's here again, just like he's been for the past two nights before.
"Oh, you silly goose," Orihime, the White Queen-To-Be, smiles dazzlingly, and offers him a towel, as well as a seat on the boat. "You're stepping on the fishes."
For all he hopes, there is not enough dream logic in the world to give an answer that Toushirou can deem satisfactory. He shrugs and looks away. "I didn't mean to."
The White King-To-Be understands, and continues to row the oars, water rippling through every stroke. He's not very good at it though, but Toushirou says nothing as he eyes the algae floating by. The wind ruffles his hair, and the white, white swans with black, black visors bow their heads at the soon to be monarchs passing them by, if not intertwine their necks to form a heart that longs to beat. Orihime cheers her fiancé on with his endeavour, and then joins him with the paddles, grabbing one of them and scooting over to where he sits; energy vibrant with every push she makes. Uryuu slides his glasses up against his face then lets his fingers rest on hers. Mostly, they succeed in making a circle.
"Are you coming to the wedding?" She enquires, sincerity crystal clear. The sky is such a clandestine blue above them, the river is such a clear blue below them, and Toushirou thinks he should say no and decline, but as he looks at the pair he suddenly recognizes them. In the world he lives when he wakes up. They're a legendary couple made of stitches and patchwork quilts, older than him that he only knew of them by reputation, and heard they eloped one day and Momo cooed at the romanticism, telling him their many stories, the countless creases of the fabrics, whenever she wanted to spill some gossip. In truth, Toushirou has forgotten nearly all the anecdotes, though he tried his best to be an attentive listener, despite not being interested in the oddball couple from the very beginning. He wonders what they're doing at the real world, wonders why they're here in his dream world.
He clears his throat and remembers that he hasn't said anything at all. "When is it?"
Ishida Uryuu's cheeks are a dull red. "We don't know yet."
"But when we do," Her tiara is made of diamonds, and it shines like a collection of fireflies hugging each other on a dusty night, "will you go?"
He wonders if they're married in the real, waking world.
"Yes," Toushirou says with conviction he didn't think he'd muster up, and he means it. He'll go if he can. He'd like to be there. "I'll go."
This is what causes the boat to capsize: the White Queen-To-Be throws her arms over him, and the boat topples under the unexpected rush of momentum, the last thing Toushirou expects is to be surrounded by fish, and hear the King-To-Be suggest that he better grab the rods now, dinner is practically waiting for them, pre-cooked; and none of the slithery, glittery fish scarper at his words. Orihime laughs, and it never occurs to Toushirou that he might be joking until then. There's a fish that keeps nudging the crook of his elbow, and when he looks through the waves, past the odd refracted light and its emphasized angles, he feels like there must be something he should say.
In the end, Toushirou settles with a murmured "hello."
It sounds too formal to his own ears.
But the fish shakes her tailfin, and opens her mouth, bubbles of lost words and lost messages emitted underwater. It's enough.
The White King and Queen-To-Be promise they'll save him a seat.
The aftermath always hangs over him like sunlight filtering through the curtains, unyielding and not to be denied, creeping under his eyelids through whichever means possible.
He's slow to wake up, groggily getting to his feet. His granny tells him that this is a good thing, as he throws off the bed covers: he needs to sleep as much as possible to grow, grow, grow. Slow to rise means that's he's quick to grow. It is breakfast logic, his mind tells him, flirting with dream logic and rationalizes the sentence. All is well.
Except all is not well. Not well at all.
The dreams are too strong, too vivid; and Toushirou begins to hate sleeping, because when he dreams, he's there. In a world where blades of grass are sharp enough to cut, where logic defies all reason and it hurts to look at something so bright. It's like an acid trip — he's never taken drugs, but Toushirou imagines that this can't be much worse than that, bright and cheerful and spiders on his skin and stars shooting out of his eyes. He's learnt to swallow down that urge to vomit, most mornings. But this must be something akin to hell, dressed up in pretty colours and rainbow wings, propped besides a baseball cap.
The worst moments are the parts of the day that he finds himself missing the shape-shifter, the girl who was a flower, the girl who was a fish, the girl who changes every time he sees her. She greets him with a smile every time, twinkling prettily in her eyes. When he thinks of her, it's not so bad. No, it's just the rest of the psychedelic world that's driving him up the wall. But she's part of it, and that's what's worse.
She's the flower whose leaf curled up in his hand; she's the butterfly that fluttered on his nose; she's the fish with the dappled scales that nudged him again and again and leaped in the air especially to splash river water on his face. She's ever changing but he knows it's her every single time, and when he's with her, he can't bring himself to hate to place.
"What am I doing here?" He asks, and he's breaking, he must be breaking, lying on a huge hairy orange cushion that breathes in an uneven beat. Strands rise and fall, rough against his flat palms, a strange breathless warmth compared to above. Toushirou looks at her, and she's human, a beautiful human being with strawberry blonde curls and blue-grey eyes, and she holds his hand as they lie side by side. She reminds him of the White Queen-To-Be, but finer in a way that he cannot explain. He wonders if this place has a night time. Her gentle squeeze isn't enough to put him together. "I don't — I don't want to be here."
"Oh, Toushirou." She says helplessly, hands soft as she reaches out to cup his cheeks. Soft, warm, all too real to simply be just a dream. He doesn't know her in the world that he lives when he wakes up. But here, he knows she's a fish, a flower, whatever she wants to be, and now she's a human that sits up and leans over him, fingers stroking the contours of his face, sliding around him like a spring breeze, and she's kissing him. She kisses his forehead, his eyelids, the corner of his mouth. Like it's enough, that anything that happens here is going to be enough, and her kisses are going to mend him because they're the best equivalent to delicate glue. "I'm sorry." She says, voice a low rumble, and kisses him again, tousling his curls at the back of his neck. Her lips are soft. "I don't know."
He kisses back and licks his way into her mouth. He kisses her back because he can't think, and he doesn't know what he's doing, what else is there to do, but she's prettier than the Queen-To-Be, and he doesn't want to see her cry. He can feel saline streaks on his cheeks, and it runs down his throat, and her skin is damp, and he can't think. His pulse is racing, and he's trembling beneath her, trembling with every collarbone scraped with sweat, each collision that leaves him gasping. He rolls his hips and mouths "I love you" against her skin when he pretends he can't hear the way she whispers "I'm sorry" into the small of his back. There must be a way that she can come with him, out of here, away from here, he tells her, but—
It doesn't matter, it shouldn't matter, but it does matter, and he wakes up alone with his name on her mouth, and he hates it. He rubs his eyes before his feet touch the floor and if his eyes are a little bit red around the edges before he brushes his teeth and hits the shower, then he ignores it.
"Come on." Momo says, and takes his arm as she leads him through her house, cotton sweater brushing against his skin. They're staying together for the next two weeks because Momo's parents are going for a holiday, and Granny has asked him to be a good neighbour and spend time with her. "Movie night. You get to pick a scary movie."
"Did you order pizza?" He asks, and frowns appropriately. He knows all about pizza in healthy food documentaries.
"Better." Toushirou nods approvingly. "I made it." She must sense his doubt, and is quick to add. "Homemade food is a thousand times better than ordered food."
It's true. Toushirou knows this. Still.
"Only for tonight." Momo says, teeth biting at the corner of her mouth, a nervous tic of hers that she does unconsciously, or whenever she tries to be someone she's not. Her cheeks darken under his gaze, and Toushirou relents. He's never been a fan of horror, is all. The exception being horror-comedy, where the comedy overrides the horror, in theory. "I thought we could watch something different."
"'kay." He is rewarded with an earnest smile, and Toushirou briefly smiles back. "But we're watching My Neighbour Totoro after."
Momo shrieks and holds onto him, furrows her nose into the creases of his shirt, legs tucked underneath one another, hands holding tightly onto his arm, as the horror unfurls with the murders left, right and centre, and the two of them are alone in a darkened room with the television as their only source of light. Toushirou remains silent, but even he feels relieved once the credits start rolling, and Momo is slow to let go of him.
The horror is washed away by the tranquillity of the next movie, but Toushirou's can't quite allay his heart until Momo starts smiling once more and joining in with the roars and the theme song, pleading at him to join in with the making the plants grow scene, and he succumbs with a deep sigh. There is a reason that this is her favourite film, and both of them fall asleep before the film ends, not enough smoothies in the world to keep them awake.
He becomes a weary traveller, the path clod filled with dust. He climbs trees and talks to bugs, careful not to ruin this twistedly beautiful, textured world. His grief seems to have made it more striking, and he learns to appreciate it in a way he'd rather not. There are bumblebee girls and griffin boys that cross his way, skeletons that dance and sirens that sing to them, he watches them from afar, but none of them are the girl from that night. She's disappeared from the dream, taken by the tide, and Toushirou looks high and low, helped by oysters and falcons. He searches but he never finds.
"Have you seen her?" He asks, trying to pronounce her name the way he breathed it since that night, but it's wrong, the syllables off, the slip of the long, soft cadence at the end, to no avail. But he persists, travelling far, visiting plenty and he won't give up. There are scrapes on his hands and knees, a punishment that he has to pay. "She changes form. Like — like, a shape-shifter, or… I don't know, an Animagus." But comparing her to an Animagus isn't quite right, and Toushirou can't compare her to a Youkai because that isn't correct either. It wasn't one creature but many, and when he really thinks about it, she didn't reach the standards of Japanese folklore. "She was a butterfly once, wings the same colour as her hair when she was human."
"Hm. Can't say that I have." A sunflower says, taking pity on him. He dips his sunflower head and causes his green spine to twist, leaves quaking in a follow up ripple. "Still. You'll see her again." The sunflower is much more optimistic than Toushirou is. "If not here, then somewhere over there." He gestures awkwardly.
Toushirou follows the line of sight. He sees mountains and meadows and springs and glaciers. He's travelled through half, and many more. He's tickled a mountain into a fit of laughter and seen it fall apart into rocks, and explored the thousands of crevices left it his wake. He's seen beaches of pebbles, of sand, of skulls and of tears, and not once was there a glimpse of her. He's had bruises and scratches left on his skin, briars and thorns, prickling at the blood that lies underneath.
"But—" She changed from every time he visited, and who's to say when he sees her again — for the first time — it'll be in a shape that he won't recognize?
"I'm surprised you recognised her so many times." Another sunflower chimes in, angling it's petals towards the starving sun. Toushirou glares. "Plenty of shifters have seen you, many more times than her."
"I don't know how I knew it was her." He says it quietly, and swallows down the memory, the brush of tailfins and velvet petals. He presses his mouth into a thin line, and breathes slowly. "But I did."
"Well, that's love." A third sunflower sighs wistfully, joining in the conversation. "It makes exceptions to these kinds of things. The heart knows, looks past shape, size and colour."
"It's just the brain that needs a bit of work, eh?" The first sunflower tries to make him feel better, and Toushirou thinks of all the romance novels Momo reads, the hero, the damsel, and all the clichés that live in between. His heart feels heavy in his chest.
It's too idealized a thought for a cynic, and that, Toushirou supposes, is why he agrees with the latter.
"Cheer up," the second sunflower says, deciding that his friends sharing the patch of turf don't have the greatest pep talk skills. "You see her, you don't. Life still goes on, you know?"
It doesn't make him feel any better, and Toushirou sits down, tucks his chin under his knees and waits for the moment he wakes up.
"Do you think hope is a thing with feathers?" Momo says, red shoes contrived to the ground while she pushes herself back and forth on the swings, not daring to fly just yet. The park is an interesting place to hang out, because most children don't play, leaving the place vacant. It's a pity, this loss of innocence, where friends are made and where they first met, not as neighbours but two children trying to reach the top of the slide and scuttle down headfirst, and being friends ever since Momo took a shine to him, and Toushirou decided to be a gentlemen — after a careful look from granny, and she had waited for him at the bottom, where they could both ride the merry go round at the same time, sand in their shoes.
"It's seems like an odd thing to imagine." Toushirou shrugs, never considering it before. How does someone picture hope, and attach feathers to it? Hope is many things, a light in the darkness to some, but not feathered.
"I think cats should have feathers." His best friend pensively says, and lifts her ballerina feet from the ground. She was made for dancing.
"That's stupid. Cats have fur."
"Wings. I mean. Cats should have wings." Toushirou watches her through the metal chains, and the unsynchronized swings they make, not quite sure what to make of her reasoning. "Cats with wings. Catwings. Catlings." Her chin digs into her chest, and Momo pushes harder against the ground with her brilliant idea as momentum. Her hair is short and her fringe cuts across her forehead in a way that makes her look like a new celebrity, pretty and untouched, flying away at the breeze. She reminds him of a pixie, fairy dust anklets clacking together like a footstep crushing snow when her legs knock against her knees, nearly hidden under her lilac dress. "That's what I'd call them."
Doubt is lost when Momo smiles contentedly, slightly goofy but sweet. "Yeah."
He figures out he's Alice in Wonderland the day Momo tells him with bangles on her arms and a floral t-shirt that she's gotten into her university of choice, and she won't stop hugging him, won't stop touching him because this is wonderful, brilliant, fantastic. Wonderful, she repeats like a broken record, eyes glassy and pretty pink cheeks flushed, absolutely wonderful. Except, it's much later when it makes sense. But that day is the catalyst, in more ways than one.
And then she kisses him, and it's been months since the girl who was a fish and flower and petals and scales made his chest ache. Momo tastes of grapes.
"I." She stops, falters, blinks her violet eyes at him and lets her cheeks turn apple red. "I promised myself that I would do that if I got in."
"Oh." His throat is dry, and maybe it's the first time in a while that Toushirou is glad that he's still a little bit, inches, really, shorter than his best friend. It makes looking down a lot easier when avoiding her eyes.
"Did I — was that — okay?" It's Momo. His childhood friend who was practically inseparable from him when they were growing up, who favoured her namesake fruit over his delectable watermelon; she cries when she laughs, and her favourite colour is the rainbow, one colour for every day of the week, though she likes to rearrange the spectrum occasionally, but never coordinates it with her clothes. He likes to think he's known her inside and out, partly because she wears her heart on her sleeve and he can read her like an open book, and as introspective as he is, she can do the same. She reads his mind with a painted fingernail on her lip, and a telling expression that says she's six steps ahead of him, skipping on her hands and knees. It's Momo, and she's scared, because she's crossed a line that's never been crossed before. Not for them. Not for Momo and Toushirou, sandbox buddies forever. They made a pact the day, as Momo likes to call it; Toushirou got his head out of the clouds and noticed that they were neighbours.
"Yeah." He stands on toes and leans up just a little bit, and his lips brush over hers. One day, he thinks with a smile, he'll be taller than her, and this will be reversed. She'll be the one standing on her tiptoes, and he'll be smirking and reciprocating their chaste kisses. "This is good."
He cracks a smile and looks at her. "Well. Maybe a bit more than that."
She hits him good-naturedly, and wrinkles her nose, and that helps blur the clear line into a more welcoming smudge more than blueberry cupcakes on a rainy day ever did. She laughs, incredulous. He doesn't mind.
Momo spends the rest of her summer constantly at his side, not that it differs from previous summers much. She's his best friend, she reminds him with a cheeky smile, that's never going to change. What does change is that she can kiss more than just his cheek and she can hold his hand as long as she wants, and their fingers absolutely have to intertwine. Eskimo kisses are also fun, but are only done after they've climbed the tree to get across the other side of the window and stay in for late night conversations.
It's slightly cutesy, but he can handle it. The transition is much more subtle than Toushirou thought it would be, and that line, if there ever was one, is indistinguishable now.
He makes her happy. But her eyes don't lie, she can never lie to him, not even when she half-heartedly tries. Her honesty is clear on her face. He knows that as much as she's happy, elated to be his girlfriend and he her boyfriend, she's sad, and she can't hide that from him. She never could. But they have fun. They have fun together, and they are happy. Their happiness is like an hourglass, limited intimacy until all time runs outs, but that means nothing to them at the start. She'll cherish this summer because this is the summer that everything changed, that she mustered up the courage to tell him how she felt, that his heart beat for hers. And she doesn't regret it, that clumsy kiss where noses bumped, and their mouths clashed in a painfully, innocently, Momo manner. She tells him that she wishes she had confessed sooner because their romance has bloomed like the sakura trees, left too late to darken in the sun. He rolls his eyes and says she's being silly. He loves her.
She clings on to him and cries on his shoulder the day she has to go, suitcase packed neatly to the side of the door. Out of sight she might be, further than she's been from him before, but never out of mind. That she promises. She's only a phone call away. That he promises.
He's not sure which of them becomes more of a lip-parasite that summer.
Sixteen and eighteen, best friends and lovers, bitter and sweet; he could think of a thousand labels to describe them, but in the end, goodbye is still goodbye.
The night she goes, he dreams of Momo in Wonderland. He's been running for days in his dreams, looking everywhere, while his legs pull him in one direction and then lead him to another. Scuffles he hears, broken branches, and leaves askew, left floating after him; the clues aren't telling enough. Toushirou has no idea what's been leaving him a trail for him to evidently follow. He's bent forward on his haunches when he notices her for the first time, sitting serenely on a giant rock. She wears a pretty white dress, the type that wedding dresses are made out of, sugar and cotton candy and it cuts at the knees. Her legs swing back and forth, and her smile doesn't reach her eyes. There's something glassy about her, delicate and breakable. But then, Momo's not looking at him directly. She's looking through him, beyond him, acting as if he's not there. Someone else stands in his place.
It's the first time he's dreamed of someone he actually knows. The thought leaves a strange taste in his mouth.
"Momo." Toushirou says, helplessly. He can scarcely hear his own voice, the weariness all over again. "I—"
It's Momo the White Rabbit, Momo in a pretty white dress. Momo with slender hands and coltish legs, windblown hair and dainty cheeks; Momo who stands up and turns to run, running like he's never known her to run, not after buses or trying to get to the garden to pick up a daisy and then rush back to their room first. Not even in their New Year's race, first to the park and home.
He runs after her.
She leads him through marshy fens and shallow streams; and he chases, chases, chases. He can't outrun her, but he can catch up. He can run fast enough to reach out and touch her — if only she looks back and gives him the chance. He can. If she.
"Come back!" He screams until his throat is sore, and the worst part of it is that he held her hand and kissed her and watched her leave in the car through the window, and he couldn't say it to her face in reality. He's saying it now, to her back, in a dream. Look at me. "Momo, please."
But she did look. Hand pressed to the window as she sat in the seat of the car, mouth weakly upturned until honesty wears her smile down, Momo looked at him until his figure was too small and indistinguishable to see anymore.
The White Rabbit doesn't turn to face him, and Toushirou wades against the raging current, struggling to keep his path straight, struggling to keep her in his sight. The tick-tick-tick chants like a mockery, pressed to his ear.
Here Momo glides, feet tapping soundlessly across glades, feet barely pitter-pattering against the twigs that bend beneath her, while Toushirou moves gracelessly and clumsily, everything snapping in two with every step he takes.
He's tired, so fucking exhausted, and supporting himself against a tree to take a minute to breathe. Head downcast, he notices a golden pocket watch. When he looks up, scouring the area, Momo is gone. Dizzy, heart pounding, breath catching, sliding down on the tree; finally, finally, Toushirou gives up.