Authors Note: KHR rightfully enough, doesn't belong to me but to Akira Amano. This story takes time to form because I suddenly fell in love with a pair of characters that consumes me. More about that soon enough. This tale may take on a darker edge or a lighter one-I dare not presume on the vagaries and fickle nature of my Muse. Still, my eternal thanks to those who read this piece and gave it a chance. Comments and suggestions, as ever, are most welcome.
GAMES OF CHANCE
"It is a mistake to try to look too far ahead.
The chain of destiny can only be grasped one link at a time."
The one event that changed my entire world started one cool summer night when I turned nine. I was trying to escape the attention of the school bullies who found their way inside after class hours. It was my eternal bad luck to have run into them while on my way home. One look at me and their eyes changed from bored to excited and wild. Instincts took over and I bolted back towards the safety and protection of the classrooms, their braying breath and heavy footfalls following me like hell hounds high on the fever of a hunt.
I was busy trying to fade into the shadows of my favorite hiding spot I found when I felt someone come near. How I knew…I really couldn't tell you. I assumed that I was alone and that the ones pursuing me finally got tired and so curious, I turned to look at who could be invading my chosen spot. It wasn't the most easily accessible spot—a hidden nook formed behind a water tower on the roof—and it was tiny so I've never been discovered. At least not until that night.
He landed in front of me without disturbing the stillness of the night. His figure blended so well with the inky blackness that he seemed to have materialized from the depths of the nighttime sky between one breath and the next. Beyond the slight, all-knowing smirk that painted pale, thin lips and the speculative gleam that flashed briefly in his eyes, he made no other movement. He was still—in fact it would not be a mistake to assume that what stood before me was simply a misplaced doll or a cleverly perched statue. Except that this one was covered in what seemed to be a lot of brown paint and waving around a toy gun. Or so I thought.
There was nothing overly unusual about him. His clothes were nondescript—as nondescript as a black suit and fedora could be when worn while standing at the edge of a rooftop with no visible means of protection whatsoever. That and the fact that the one wearing them couldn't have been more than two years at the most. A baby. Oh and yeah, this baby was holding in his tiny fist something that looks suspiciously like a gun. He also smelled of something very distinctive and very potent. It took me a while but I finally identified that elusive smell—it was coffee. The gun-toting, suit-wearing baby smelled like he just came from drinking in a café. Or being drowned one.
But more than that….there was an underlying scent beneath the familiar scent of coffee…something intangible…something strong…something familiar and frightening…a coppery taste that tainted the air and made the muscles in my stomach recoil…
As for me, I was rooted to the spot—caught between fright and outright shock. For the briefest moment, I entertained the notion that I was having a particularly vivid dream. A pinch and my head throbbing from the knock I gave it certainly belied that idea. I then wondered if some of the things I ate for lunch hours ago caused this unusual apparition standing not five feet away from me. I forgot my bento and that led me to brave the offering at the school cafeteria. I was almost convinced that I was suffering from food poisoning when he made a slight movement.
It was then that I knew he was going to be trouble—indigestion and food poisoning notwithstanding.
After all, how many babies do you know lands on a deserted rooftop in the middle of a metropolis, especially one that's dragging by the collar a bloody, wound-ridden, obviously dying full grown mountain of a man?
Yeah…my thoughts exactly.
Eyes…that were all that seemed to fill the face of the weakling that stood before me. That was what first caught my attention. It might also be the fact that the child stood still with a look of incredulous wonder in its face and nothing more. There was fear—the smell, the reality of it was so palpable I can cut it with a knife. But there was no revulsion, no apprehension or even unease. The boy was scared, yes, but it didn't flee, it didn't make any noise at all. It looked—simply that, nothing more.
Paralyzed by fear? The question popped in my head and I assessed the boy in front of me once more. No…held by it, but not incapacitated by it…That wasn't it. The boy was wary, unsure but not lost in mindless terror. He stays still, like a wizened prey that has stumbled across a feeding predator and knows well enough not to draw further attention to it.
If I would be candid about it, I would say that the only other emotion that flickered in its tiny frame was an inexplicable concern. It was as if I was a cause for some worry, but not the usual ones I elicit from people. This one seems more world-weary and bemused—like I'm some recalcitrant child that was bound to create trouble you could almost smell it.
The thought amused me so much that my lips relaxed into an actual smirk. One that would have surely surprised those that knew me. Followed more likely, by the sight of a few fainting bodies dropping like rocks from turrets and nooks. The image was so droll that I had to restrain myself from howling in mirth. That, I felt would've caused an actual uproar.
All throughout this moment of jocularity I kept my gaze pinned on my diminutive audience. After a beat, the boy titled its head to the side to peer at something. For a moment I wondered at the movement until the wet glide of soaked locks registered against my clenched palm. Looking down, I spared a glance at my prey. It was still…no longer able to struggle or move on its own, it was finally quiet. Thank Hades.
I realized that I was waiting for the inevitable screaming when the young boy surprised me yet again. He raised a small delicate hand and with a finger indicated the fallen creature that currently occupied the space near my feet. With a raised eyebrow, he made an inquiry without one word passing between compressed lips. Debating whether to answer the silent query or ignore the motion altogether, I decided to pander my unaccustomed whim.
The response baffled me for a moment. I expected a barrage of questions. At most, I expected inquiries as to what I had with me. For a moment, I almost wanted the questions ringing in my head to be voiced out but I decided that maybe this was the right question.
"Why did you assume that I was lost?"
"You're on a rooftop of a school. Call me silly but this isn't really a pit stop for the bus."
"That's a mouthful."
"I'm nine. I can say a lot of words. I'm not mentally challenged, even if they all think of me that way. I just never had the chance to prove to them that I'm not."
"If you say so. So what are you doing here, kid?"
"Hiding from the bullies and hoping they'd leave so I can go home."
I snorted in derision at this silly child's pacifist nature. Violence never faltered in the face of simple decency. I was living proof of that, if nothing else.
"Why don't you just beat them up so that they would leave you alone? Running would just postpone the inevitable."I advised eagerly, waiting to see how this child of civilized society would react to such aggressiveness. I was prepared for the shocked dismay or even disgust. What I wasn't prepared for was the calm assurance of a stand that seemed resolute for someone so bullied and so young.
"According to my mom and the teachers violence is never the answer. I agree with them. How can hurting anyone solve anything?"
"It solves your problems, at the very least."
"Yes, but I'm not the only one with that problem in the world. I'd bet a lot more people have it worse off than I do. Anyways, you're not lost, what are you doing here?"
I watched as some passing thought flared inside of him and then watched as he fumbled and patted pockets in his jeans before drawing out a single piece of gaily wrapped object and held it out to me. A brief flicker of my eyes revealed the thing to be candy.
"What am I supposed to do with that?"
"Eat it. You're tired right? Babies need food all the time. I learned that from class today. You should eat so that you won't get sick or tired. Sorry I don't have anything better, like maybe a cookie or a sandwich or stuff. Candies are easier to hide from bullies."
I stared at the boy a minute more before reluctantly reaching out and taking the treat. I looked at the piece of candy once more before pocketing it and pinning the boy with a look.
"What are you doing out late boy? Shouldn't you be at home already? If you were those bullies wouldn't have had the chance to herd you like a mindless sheep."
"I was about to go home but they waited for me and chased me for so long…and well, I suppose Mom will wonder why I missed dinner again…she'll wait up though and she'll worry and I hope she doesn't get mad."
"You should have told someone then that you're being bullied. Isn't that what civilized society is all about?"
"I really don't understand much of what you said but I can't really tell. They'd call me a tattletale and the teachers don't believe me anyways. Besides, I don't like hurting anybody or causing them problems."
"Then you should've found a better escape route. Who runs up to the roof anyways to escape? This is a dead-end."
"You're either the dumbest child I've ever met or the most decent. I can't decide yet whether I should be impressed or annoyed by that."
"They were all blocking the stairs and gates. I had to go up. By the way, where is your mom? Do you want me to call for them?"
"I don't think that's possible."
"You're just a baby; shouldn't someone be here for you?"
"I'm not baby, kid. Believe me."
"If you say so. And don't call me a kid when I'm older than you."
"Whatever else it is you think, no way are you older than me, kid."
I could see the skepticism in the bright gaze that pinned me to my spot. Had I been any less insane I could say that I found the look to be rather enjoyable. I decided to keep quiet and wait for the waif to ask the inevitable was a long wait. The kid apparently could hold his tongue longer than I expected him to. I was about to blurt out an annoyed quip to break the silence when the voice changed, becoming a lot softer and more appealing.
"Are you hurt?"
"Why do you think that?"
"There's some stuff on you…"
"I'll live." Hah! What an understatement. Sometimes I wonder why I developed such weird inner conversation.
"I really hope that's paint. 'Cause if that's blood I don't think my mom can help you as much…"
"It's nothing. Don't worry about it…I'm leaving now. You should leave too. The idiots chasing you are gone now."
I shook my head wearily. This was really turning out to be an unusual evening…even more so for me. I prepared to flit out when my undersized interrogator spoke once more.
"Can I ask you something?"
"Uhm…well, I want to know—but it's okay if you don't want me to…"
"Ask away…but be quick about it."
"Why are you dragging a dead person with you?"
"Ah…" I flashed the child a wicked grin and then pointed at the figure still lying prone at my feet. "You mean him?" He gave me a small nod. "He ran when I asked him a question."
"Yep. Pretty much that. I hate it when that happens."