Title: Shades of Twilight
Rating: PG
Note:Oi. I submit my apologies now for using such an often-used vehicle but I couldn't resist! By the bye, I'm sorry if you don't like Hitomi's characterization. The story only will work if she's suitably jaded, so bear with me? I've so been dying to get this story out. I hope you like it! Let me know what you think? Please? Thanks!

By the bye, if you see inconsistencies or misspellings of names, please ignore em! I haven't watched Escaflowne in such a long time that I'm going completely off memory and that memory will undoubtedly be flawed. Forgive me!

-Celyia




Chapter 1



"Happy birthday, Hitomi!"

The girls in the office crowded around me, almost as if I was a celebrity. Plastering a huge grin on my face, I sniffed markedly at the bouquet of freshly purchased daisies shoved into my hands.

"Guys! You shouldn't have!" I smiled, hugging each girl in turn with my free arm. Making a show of sniffing the flowers one last time, I shoved the stems into the water bottle that's always at my desk.

"We nearly didn't!" One of the girls, a small brunette with hair almost as short as I used to keep mine, complained. Shining brown eyes scolded me playfully as she tapped me on my shoulder. "You didn't tell us your birthday was today."

"I forgot," I muttered. Useless. They already were so busy chatting among themselves that I don't think they heard me.

Isn't that amazing? I honestly had forgotten. I had just turned twenty-five, but it didn't seem to be so important, you know? It's strange how things can change so much. When I was a kid, the prospect of my birthday would make me sleepless for a week ahead of time. There seemed to be something so neat about birthdays, then. Maybe it's the idea that you are one year closer to being an adult, or maybe it's in anticipation of gifts and acknowledgment of your existence. I really don't know. But somewhere along the line, the old feeling of magic I used to associate with my birth just seemed to have died a cruel and unheralded death.

Oh, I just hate that word. Magic, you know.

People use it all the time. "Holiday magic". "Oh, our date was magical!" All of it's hocus-pocus and fiddle-faddle. Don't get me wrong. There was once a time that I wished that magic was real, but then...

Well, I grew up. I went to college. I got a job.

And I finally let the sleeping dogs lie.

"So what are your plans for tonight?" one of the girls asked, her cute little snub nose wrinkling with curiousity.

"I'm going out for dinner with my family," I lied, knowing they would never leave me alone if they knew I planned to go home and fall asleep on my bed. I seriously had not gotten enough sleep lately and I figured my birthday would be the perfect time to catch up.

"That's cool," Snub-nose gushed as she leaned into one of her cohorts. "What do you guys have planned for tonight?"

And so they talked, eagerly chattering over my desk as I tried to work.

Didn't get much done. Dammit. But it's pretty hard to worry about arithmetic when you have a gaggle of girls standing over you gossiping about their little lives. Amazing how anyone could feel so alone even when there are people so close by, isn't it?

"The boss!" one of the girls whispered and suddenly, I was left in peace. Finally. The last thing I wanted was to have to take my work home with me tonight when all I wanted to do was sleep.

Of course, Mama does keep telling me I sleep too much. What I don't get is how she knows. She's not around. I live in my own apartment in a district that isn't even that close to hers. I guess Mama is psychic that way.

Okay, now that's embarrassing. Good way to get everyone's attention, Hitomi. Luckily, random giggling (and even talking to one's self) isn't that unusual in this office so they'll forget I just laughed out loud to myself.

You see, though, there's this thing in my family where I got a couple crazy relatives who think they are all psychic. Now that's embarrassing as hell. If anyone found out about that, I'd just ... well, I'd just die. That psychic stuff really does play on your mind, you know? I mean, there was a time when even I thought I was psychic. I mean, you couldn't find me without my dumb tarot cards or a horoscope in hand. I even managed to convince most of the kids at my high school that I had the ability, too. Scary, huh?

Actually, that's nothing. You want to hear scary?

What if I were to tell you that I lost nearly an entire semester of school?

I can't remember what the hell happened. Well, that's not entirely true. I have memories but they aren't real. They can't be. I have months of delusions hiding in my brain, events that I had somehow convinced myself that actually happened.

Stuff that feels real even though I know they can't be.

What's scarier than knowing my mental state is so flawed that I could become even crazier than my "psychic" relatives?

Nothing I've seen so far.

I think that's why I like (well, maybe the word "like" isn't the one I should use. "Appreciate" would be better) being an accountant. Numbers don't change. They aren't subjective. One plus one will always equal two.

In short, numbers are not magical.

And I so need that in my life.

"Kanzaki-san," the soft voice of my boss suddenly startled me. I wonder how long she had been standing behind me. God, I really hate it when I blush. It makes me look guilty and honestly! I had been working.

"Yes, Ma'am?"

"Miyuta-san informed me that today is your birthday," the tall but dainty woman started.

I shot a look over to Snub-nose. Oh, I'd love to wipe that smirk off her carefully made-up face. I know she meant well, but dammit, I didn't want anyone to know.

"Yes, Ma'am."

"I regret you fell through the cracks, Kanzaki-san. You are a good worker and I'd hate for you to think that we don't appreciate you," the woman smiled, placing a hand on my shoulder.

God, not the party. Not the party. Not the party...

"It's too late in the day to plan the office party."

Thank god!

"But we can arrange that for tomorrow."

I didn't mean to. I really didn't. I mean, I know I kind of sound like a bitch so I want to really stress that I appreciate their kindness. All of them. Even old Snub-nose. But the thing is, I really hate parties. There's nothing worse than just standing there like an idiot, socializing with people you don't know and probably never will.

It's a waste of time.

But really, I didn't mean to sigh. I know it's rude, but it just came out.

"Not to your liking, Kanzaki-san?" my boss asked. I couldn't tell if she were amused or pissed. Either way, I was (once again) too embarrassed to look her in the eye. "Hmm. Well, we can work around that. How about if I let you go home a little early? With a full day's pay? Does that sound better?"

I looked up at her. She really was serious!

"But the Naragashi project...? It's due ..."

"We presently employ twelve accountants, Kanzaki-san. It won't be difficult to find one to finish off the rest of the project and in lieu of the party, I'm certain they'd be happy to."

Wow.

I never thought they'd let me go home early. That doesn't really happen much around here. The parties were encouraged because they inspire teamwork in a place that demands it in order to survive, but I guess I'm really not that much of a team player.

It's really hard to be when you find yourself wanting to be alone. That's the thing about being a loner- once you live that way for long enough, you can't imagine living any other way.

"Thank you so much!" I gushed, putting it on a little thick. Couldn't hurt, right? I mean, maybe if I made a fool of myself, she would forget my rudeness from before. (I still felt a little bad about that.)

"Ah, it's quite all right. Just make a note so whomever I give the project to will know where you were and everything should be fine." With a bright smile, my boss walked off, undoubtedly pleased at her good deed.

Oh, I don't mean it like that, really. I'm pretty lucky. I work with good people even if they are a little bit on the nosey side. But they are nice enough, you know?

Happily (what could possibly spoil my mood now?), I scribbled out a little note. I mean, I had done most of the Naragashi project and while I did kinda hate the idea of allowing someone else to finish it, I hated the idea of having an office party starring me more. Within minutes, I was out of the freshly painted door, almost blissfully headed for home.

Had I known what awaited me there, I probably would have just insisted on going to the dumb office party. But then again, maybe not.



Note: Eeek. Slow start, but things begin to happen in the next chapter! Thanks!