From what I've heard, this game is a favourite of acting teachers, the kind you play on the first day of class. It's a fairly revealing game, because of the lie: if the three statements you make all sound convincing, if the lie is indistinguishable from the truth, you have suddenly tapped a vein of innate ability. If a lie rolls off your tongue with ease, so will a line of dialogue. Or a soliloquy.

This is a game we play when it's dark outside, when the streetlights outside throw everything into high contrast, chalk and charcoal. If it's raining, the drops tend to look like drifting petals, or feathers, when their shadows fall on the floor.

He has forgotten it's a game. It's not play for us.

"When I was nine, I nearly drowned in the reflecting pool."

He hasn't ashed his cigarette yet. I can smell the smoke even across the room; his cigarettes are cheap, but he carries the very faint scent of incense with him, and it weaves itself into the smoke.

"I got too close to the water because I believed that if you have a reflection in water, you have a soul. So I wanted to see if I had a soul."

Half his face is in shadow, but his visible eye is still luminous. He doesn't look at me. I don't think he has since we started playing two months ago. Sometimes we've played standing or sitting at opposite ends of this room; sometimes we've been curled up on his bed, as close as lovers, trying to cover the tension between us with our words. Trying to pretend it wasn't there, that lying face to face with him not looking at me and me not touching him was natural.

"My grandmother says I was dead for about thirty seconds before I started to cough up water."

He's a good actor, but I know him too well. This game is mine.


The bluntness of that one word makes him flinch. I see one pale hand emerge from the shadows to take his cigarette from between his lips and tap off the ash; it drifts to the floor and is lost in the smudgy greys where the various kinds of light pool together. Even with one eye useless, I can tell a few of them apart. The streetlights are nearly orange, the moon pale and faintly lavender-blue; the apartment building across the street has a hint of green. If I let my thoughts wander they blur back into white and almost-white and not-yet-grey.

"Your turn," he murmurs. His voice is soft; there is a hint of defeat in it. The tone doesn't suit him very well.

"I started smoking on my eighteenth birthday."

I have no cigarette now. When we play, I don't feel like smoking--this habit so many years in the making is always overcome by the pattern of speaking and listening. He almost always has a cigarette in his mouth. The game points up the yin and yang in us.

He is silent, so I continue.

"I lived in Okinawa for six months in 1994."

There is a soft sound, and a cloud of what could almost be silver works its way through the air. The cheap cigarette smell fills my lungs again, with those teasing hints of sandalwood and dried jasmine and something like maple. If I ignore the Tower faintly visible from his window, the world might almost fall away from us. Almost.

"I failed a course in Italian."

He considers this for a moment. I watch his long fingers curl and uncurl slowly, like a cat's paws, as he thinks over what I've just told him. His hands are always in motion when he tries to untangle a complicated thought; it's a nervous habit he's had since he was eight. I remember small smooth hands with nailbitten fingers tugging at the sleeves of his michiyuki in the moment before he asked me about those corpses, those poor corpses under the tree, but are they in pain.

"You haven't lived in Okinawa."

His game. He's gotten very good at this.

"Your turn."

His responses have grown very honest over time. Sometimes I'm almost startled, but then, I know I should expect no less from him. The game was, in a way, his idea; it started when we met without planning to at a cafe downtown. I forget what sort of banter I teased him with, or whether I flirted with the waitress, but quite suddenly his eyes were fierce and green and staring directly into mine. Tell me something true. Just one thing.

And the part of my mind that sometimes purrs with sheer smugness made me ask him, Have you ever played Two Truths And A Lie?

"I had a dog for about seven years, and I never gave it a name."

Always here. Always in his apartment. He invited me to tell him a truth, so it seems only natural that that happens where he lives. I've never taken my shoes off, not once, never come in through the front door. He knows to expect me on his balcony, never before eight o'clock, never after eleven-thirty. I never move until he's ready to unlock the plate-glass window and slide it open. I won't come in unless he invites me.

"I almost got an earring when I turned twenty-one."

Sometimes his truth-and-lie patterns are little stories, memories reduced to two sentences and one falsehood. Sometimes I could swear I see tears on his face when he speaks, his voice still so clear and soft, just half an octave below the shy but bright-voiced teenager he hasn't quite grown out of. The tears don't suit him. The hardened look around his eyes doesn't suit him. The way his shirt bags just a little, just enough to show he doesn't fill out clothes in his proper size, doesn't suit him.

"Ah... I've only been drunk once."

"I know for a fact you named that dog."

My game, again. We are almost always evenly matched these days; I've only ever guessed a few of his lies wrong, and at the beginning he lost for a week straight. I think now we know each other better, not because of the truths we've told, but because of the way we've studied each other, picked up on the little cues, let silence fall between us or groped for something to say. I know what his breath feels like in a soft rhythm against my skin, the shapes his mouth takes that make me want to bend and claim a kiss. Of course I never have--it would bring the game to a premature end. Of course he doesn't know--it's not the kind of truth we would ever admit into our game. This is a ritual, dangerous enough in its simplicity; each night it becomes more intimate.

It's almost disconcerting how close we seem, even while I'm just watching him across the room.

"I don't speak a word of French."

This is like a jigsaw puzzle, in a way. For weeks I have been taking little pieces of him and making them click together, seeking an image, trying to make a whole out of what I know. Some nights I look at his face, pale, intentionally blank, and I sense he's doing the same thing. Some nights a little voice in my head whispers familiarity breeds contempt, and then something happens just to the left of my stomach that I don't understand. It passes in a moment, but those are the nights I leave at midnight and head straight for Ueno.

"I was an Art History major for a year at university."

The answering machine is off, the phone is unplugged, the overhead light and his sputtering desk lamp are out. Blood on his floor would look black--not even dark brown, simply black, like ink spattered by a careless artist. He's had a long day, he's tired and off guard. I know I strike quickly, and not always with that long arm sweep my mother taught me; I could kiss his dying lips and taste blood. The Tree itself, in words not entirely human, praises me as a flawless predator, crueller than the hawk who has been my shikigami, colder than the wolf whose teeth find a warm throat and dig it out.

His hands curl and uncurl. He waits. His mind is ready to spring for that one near-perfect lie.

"I'm falling in--"


The cigarette falls from his fingers; the illuminated half of his gaze snaps up to meet mine, green and unflinchingly angry. "Lie."

Taunt, as well. Bait. Insult. Hard-hearted practical joke. I didn't even have to say the word, yet he knows it would be no more than a hollow hot taste on my tongue. He knows me so well.

"Get out."

This is not how it usually ends.

He stands, and the bandage wrapped around his head flashes bone-white. One of his hands falls into shadow; the other is clenched in a fist. I cannot see the scars, but I know they prickle with his anger. I know they feel like the blisters that come from sunburn or cooking accidents, itching, hurting, unbearably hot.

"Get out."

I never stay after he withdraws the invitation. I am, after all, his guest.

On the balcony the world opens outward again; the city rushes at my field of vision like an over-eager child. The Tree murmurs the beginnings of its hunger into my mind's ear, not yet insistent. The sweep of sky above Tokyo is clear, except for that moon, those few stars, wisps of cloud I recognise from high school science class as being the kind that will gather forces and become a storm in a few hours.

Somewhere at the edge of sight is the faint shimmering sweep of a white bridge. Back when I had the clinic's van, I got to know that bridge fairly well--how to drive across it quickly, which lanes were the least crowded, the times of day I'd have to watch carefully for pedestrians. I've never been there on foot. The dreamgazers have shown me the lines of the kekkai that run beneath and through and around the structure. They showed me where it will break.

In this moment, if they are watching, they will also know when.

I don't look back; I know he is taking deep breaths, cursing the tears that are so hot in his blind eye they make him dizzy, hating me with the full force of a battered and hardened heart. I know he's asking himself why he doesn't just grab that sushi knife from the kitchen, slide the glass door back and drive the blade between my shoulders until he feels blood under his fingernails. I know him so well.

My hands go through the routine of finding the pack of cigarettes, tapping one out, finding the lighter. Routine is important. It's sane and right and reasonable; the human body operates on balanced rituals. Heartbeat. Breath. Gut response. Disease and accidents and death are all devastating because they are changes--the last time I had a cold, several unlucky winters ago, I was uncertain of my voice's limits for weeks on end. I never knew when I pushed too hard.

The lights of Tokyo give me a dozen shadows. Some are blurred, but a few are sharp and angular, a shape that's only identifiable as killer.

Tomorrow it will rain. Tomorrow I will finally walk that bridge on foot; I won't feel the snap as its kekkai gives out, nor will I feel the rain and wind thread through my hair as I've imagined his long cold fingers might. Tomorrow I will take that damn bandage off and see his face scarred and empty and beautiful.

And if I know that I have breath left to tell him, this will be what he hears:

"Désolé, mon cher; je suis menteur."


"Menteur" is French for "liar", by the way. ^^ *geek*