Chapter 1: Swimming Through Sick Lullabies
Wallace set the filing box in the middle of the dusty room with a grunt. It wasn't that the box was heavy, per se, but in the sparsely furnished space there was nowhere to set it that did not require him balancing the weight past where his back felt should be acceptable. He stood, placing both his hands on the small of his back before stretching backwards with a groan, "Please tell me that was the last one," he begged good-naturedly.
Daisuke glanced up at the young man with a laugh. This room was really not that different from his last, the only true differences being that this one came fully equipped with a new recruit, more than moderately eager to prove his worth as a next-door neighbor and that where Takeru's room had had seat cushions padding the small window seat built-in to the alcove under the far window, making it a near perfect place to rest, this room did not.
Daisuke briefly considered sending Wallace back to take the cushions before dismissing the idea. When Daisuke had stolen them once before, Takeru duct-taped him to the floor in a state only describable as extreme undress and had left him for Miyako to find, nearly six hours later. Important lesson learned: Don't screw with Takeru's comfort. Especially if one has just imbibed an one liter bottle of barley tea. No, the cushions would stay.
"Nope," Daisuke answered, laughing again at Wallace's over the top show of relief, "I think that you've already gotten everything."
"Oh thank god," the blond haired boy dropped to the floor with a heavy whump, stretching his legs out long, "But seriously," Wallace paused momentarily, waiting until he had Daisuke's full attention before teasing, "I never would have pegged you for a plushie-man."
"Wha—" Daisuke began with a start before dropping the defense of his pride with a noncommittal shrug, "but they're kind of cute…" he ended sheepishly. Wallace laughed.
Just then there was a sharp knock on the wall next to the door and Miyako strode impatiently into the room. It was all Daisuke could do to stifle his laughter at the quick way she suddenly seemed to pull back and stand a little taller, her shoulders pressed conveniently back, when she noticed Wallace laying on the tatami. "Hey," she nodded in their direction, the very epitome of controlled cool, something that only served to needle Daisuke's funny bone that much more.
"Miyako-san." Wallace's simple acknowledgement was quite, humble and, most amusing to Daisuke, all-too-completely without even a hint of emotion. The kid would have be blind not to have noticed Miyako's overt preening as she deftly flipped her hair off her shoulders, smoothing and patting it into place. Still, Wallace's face displayed nothing beyond a vaguely blank alertness. Not that Daisuke found the emptiness concerning. On the contrary, it all made for a grand entertainment.
"Wallace was just helping me switch rooms," Daisuke offered casually, gleefully hoping to further needle the situation. He was hard pressed to keep from smiling as Miyako immediately snapped up the bait.
"Oh, really?" her voice took on a pitch that Daisuke had never heard before, her almost frightening smile somehow managing to swell even further, "That was awful nice of you, Wallace," she praised, ending her statement with titter that might, possibly have been misconstrued as a giggle. Miyako coughed delicately into her fist in hopes of concealing the would-be vocal mishap before once again flashing a smile in the boys' direction.
Wallace cleared his throat uncomfortably, fidgeting nervously under the bright glare of Miyako's smile. So, Daisuke mused, the boy would crack if sufficient pressure was applied. That was okay though, he decided, they could work on that. Wallace had still shown significant natural skill. Not that that meant that Daisuke would help him out of the situation that he had all but pushed him into. No, those who teased the great Motomiya Daisuke deserved all the Miyako they got. Karma, as the local colloquialism told, was a bitch.
"Umm, well, I guess if that's everything..." Wallace began carefully, eyes darting over to where Daisuke sat in the hopes that some, any help would be forthcoming. Daisuke only offered the beleaguered boy a small, not terribly comforting smile, biting his lip so as not to laugh when the boy stood, sighing, "Okay then," he nodded. "I'm sure that you have something important you need to discuss," he actually risked a small smile of acknowledgement in Miyako's direction, but not before, quickly looking askance at Daisuke. Deference was a trait learned very swiftly in this environment. "I'd better scram." He brushed at the heavy dust clinging to his pants without much result, "Besides, I promised Michael I'd help him out with a job in Ikebukuro."
Daisuke shot the boy a lazy, two finger mock salute from where he still lounged against the tatami, "Okay, see ya," he promised, wondering vaguely how it was that Wallace planned to get past Miyako unscathed. Judging by the way he was slowly starting to circle the perimeter of the room, the plan was to get within dashing distance of the door before making a run for it. Oh, the young ones always underestimated Miyako.
"Hey!" Daisuke smiled, trying not to laugh when he noticed the boy's eyes light up at what might possibly turn into an offer of aid, "Thanks for all the help!" he finished plainly, unable to completely contain his amused grin.
Wallace's disappointment came through as only a momentary flash of pain before his good natured smile was firmly back in place, "Anytime," he assured Daisuke quickly. As soon as he was sure that he was close enough to make it through with only a short sprint, Wallace paused, offered a quick, if sincere, bow, first to Daisuke, who responded with another indolent wave and then to Miyako who seemed almost as if she might respond in kind before good sense got the better of her and she sent him on his way with an arrogant nod.
Daisuke held on to his composure as best as he could until he was almost sure the boy was out of earshot, finally releasing his heretofore simmering mirth through spasms of deep, gut wrenching laughter. Miyako scowled, waiting none-too-patiently for Daisuke to regain his sanity. It took a good two minutes, but eventually Daisuke was able to inhale enough oxygen to actually string together a few words, "You like him," he gasped, pointing out the door in the direction that Wallace had escaped.
Miyako scoffed, stepping forward to slap ineffectively at Daisuke's still gesturing finger, "I don't know what you think you're talking about," she complained, tossing back her chin derisively.
"You do!" Daisuke insisted, eyes sparkling, unable to contain his mischievous grin as he continued mocking her in a singsong voice, "Miyako and the new guy, sitting in a tree. K-I—"
"Yeah, yeah," she cut him off impatiently, squatting beside and riffling though one of the boxes Wallace had just transferred to the new room before reciprocating, "You like plushies!"
Daisuke flinched as his previously well guarded secret was blurted across the room, "You heard that?" he frowned at the way his voice went up two octaves, unable to look away as Miyako carefully sized him up with her eyes. Somehow the normally indifferent eyes contained an eerie glint.
"Maybe," Miyako finally conceded with a shrug, "I don't really know. What were you saying about me and that kid?"
Daisuke frowned at the mat, drumming his finger on its rough contours as he considered his options before finally surrendering with a sigh, "...Nothing."
Miyako gave him a toothy grin for his hard won acquiescence, "What's this from?" she asked lifting blue toy from the box, holding it by its ears for Daisuke to see, "It looks like a cross between a dinosaur and a..." she paused to study the doll, "bunny rabbit?" No, that did not seem quite right, "maybe, sea monkey?"
"Hey!" Daisuke complained, "Give that back," he insisted. The doll smacked him in the face. Miyako's interest had passed and she was back to digging in the box again. Daisuke rolled his eyes, "Get out of there!" He crawled over to shove her away from the box, but he was too late. She had already claimed her next prize.
"Oh!" she exclaimed, "I like this one." She held up a pink ball of fuzz with wings and a single red and yellow feather. "Can I have it?" she begged, bouncing up and down on her knees like a spoilt child, "Please!"
Daisuke rolled his eyes at her over the top performance, "Whatever," he complained, pounding the lid back on the thoroughly abused box before sliding it out of Miyako's reach. With a happy murmur, she squeezed the stuffed doll tight.
"So…" Miyako began again, once she was certain that Daisuke did not intend to reach out and take back her newest joy, "Rumor has it that the great Daisuke-kun has managed to screw up royally—again." Miyako set the pink toy on her lap in such a way that made it seem like it, too, was watching and waiting for Daisuke's response.
Daisuke ignored both Miyako and the doll, opting instead for a hurt tone, "Again?" he questioned, turning his best puppy dog eyes in Miyako's direction. Not that she even noticed. She was too busy playing with that damn plushie.
"Again," Miyako confirmed matter-of-factly, smiling into the eyes of the doll without even the smallest inkling of concern for Daisuke's self-confidence, "Tell me, oh brilliant one," she continued, looking back up at Daisuke, "how you can make it all the way to Kari's, meet this guy and still manage to lose him before getting back here. Eh?"
Daisuke appeared bored, "What can I say?" he queried, his tone light, "The subway was really busy. Rush-hour, you know? I was lucky to make it back myself," Daisuke finished with a shrug, seeming far from concerned that his failure might suggest a lack of competence.
Miyako, however, was not so impressed by his flippant answer or attitude, "I'm being serous here," she complained, frowning in his direction as she squeezed her new toy tight. Daisuke was glad it was only a stuffed toy and not a real pet or she would have probably already snapped its spine.
Daisuke looked at her strangely, "Really? I wasn't under the impression that you ever actually wanted a real answer," he admitted, "Wouldn't that be a little too…," he paused momentarily before quietly voicing his own concern, "inconvenient?"
Miyako's only response was an annoyed grunt.
"I guess…" Daisuke began slowly when he realized she had no intention of leaving without his explanation, or at the very least, something that might logically pass for an explanation, "I guess that I just didn't like him very much." He finished with a self-derogatory smile.
As the seconds began to tick by without him continuing any further, Miyako's frown deepened, "Bullshit, Daisuke," she growled, her voice low and clearly mistrusting, "You never like anyone," she complained, "What makes this guy so different?"
"Well..." Daisuke seemed to be considering the question very carefully. That is, until he actually answered, "Maybe I really didn't like him." Daisuke gave her a wan smile. Miyako just rolled her eyes at the flippant answer, not buying it for a moment.
The room was quite for a moment or two as Daisuke silently observed Miyako, clearly mulling over her own thoughts and trying, as it were, to pluck the truth from between Daisuke's lies. So fixed did she seem on these thoughts, that it caught Daisuke by surprise when she fired point blank, "It's because he looks so much like Takeru, isn't it?"
It would have been difficult for Miyako not to have noticed Daisuke's pained flinch, but the all too obvious statement was already hanging heavy in the room's dank air, unable to suddenly become unspoken. Still, Miyako did her best not to look away as Daisuke considered her question, chewing at his lip, unwilling, or perhaps unable, to fire off a facetious remark on that particularly tender subject.
"Daisuke—" Miyako tried softly after a few more moments had passed without a response from Daisuke, "I'm sorr—" she paused, considering carefully what it was that she had been about to say, "I—" Miyako tried again before giving up with a gusty sigh, offering instead the question of, "Why?"
The soft question made Daisuke pause momentarily, licking his lips before giving her a bitter sort of smile. He pushed his body up from the tatami with an easy bounce, smiling down on where she still sat, "Why what?" he grinned, the practiced nonchalance felt too real to actually be real. Miyako fought the urge to floor him with a swift kick to the shins.
"Why," she clarified, the line of her voice running hard at Daisuke's continued triviality, "didn't you just do what Ken asked you to do?" There was a pained, almost anxious edge to her question that made Daisuke want to apologize for having worried her. In the end, however, he just shrugged the question away, unsure that any answer would have been sufficient to ease her fears.
"Daisuke," Miyako warned, her voice low, "I'm not stupid." Daisuke smiled at the obvious statement. "I know what you are thinking," she continued, "and it's crazy. Okay?" Her tone suggested that she wanted an answer, but she did not pause long enough to get one, prompting instead, "Just promise me that you'll remember that it's crazy." Miyako eyed him closely, waiting for his reply.
"Do you remember what Takeru used to say?" Daisuke asked suddenly, completely ignoring her request for his word, "Do you?" he asked again when she did not immediately respond, "He used to talk about how we humans were born only to die. How, from the day we entered this world, we are actively dying," Daisuke gave a bitter laugh, "I always said that he was an idiot, but in the end," Daisuke could not help the slight break in his voice, "In the end—he was the one who was right."
Miyako swallowed nervously, watching Daisuke carefully, looking, it seemed, for some telltale sign she thought should, or rather would be there, but that, as of yet, she had not been able to identify. "Maybe," she spoke softly, almost to herself, but then, willing herself not to be afraid of the boy who stood before her, Miyako raised her voice so that he could not help but hear, "Maybe." She gave Daisuke a sympathetic sort of smile, tossing her head as she continued, "But just because we are all going to die someday, doesn't mean we can't put it off as long as possible, right?," she queried, "I mean, Takeru always said that, too." She stood up to face Daisuke eye to eye, using her inch and a half of height over him to her full advantage, "After all, if we are going to dredge up the past, lets make it an honest past," she squeezed the pink puff of a toy tightly, "As I recall, Takeru was always somewhat of a fucking blowhard."
So deep in thought was he that Daisuke totally failed to notice the way Miyako's grip had changed on the stuffed bird until after she had swung it around and whacked him upside his head. "Oww," he complained, frowning at the toy, still hanging dangerously by one wing in Miyako's tight fist, "That hurt!"
Miyako took a step back before hitting him with the toy again, this time across his shoulder, "For the trouble I had to go through doing your job," she grinned, tossing back an answer to his unasked question as she moved back to where she could lean against the door's uneven frame, ignoring both Daisuke's disproportionate wince and the way he was rubbing his recently abused head.
"Ken even made me take that awful Minamoto," she complained with a put-upon frown, her lip curling unpleasantly at the memory, "You know I can't stand that guy."
Daisuke just rolled his eyes, but at least he offered a small smile, somewhat reminiscent of the smile he had once sported. That is, before their world has started crumbling to hell. "Whatever," he offered up good-naturedly, "So be honest now, are you just here to tell me what a royal fuck-up I am or was there actually supposed to be some purpose to your visit?"
"Both," Miyako announced casually, suddenly remembering why it was that she had walked all the way over to the north side of the compound, "I thought you should be made acutely aware of all the troubles you cause me and," she emphasized the word with great pleasure, "Ken wanted me to tell you that there would be a special gathering this evening."
Daisuke was in the process of rolling his eyes, but that last part, at least, seemed to pique his interest, "Hm? Ken asked you to come and tell me?" he queried, "Why didn't he just use the D-terminal like he usually does?" Ken had always made a point of using technology to its fullest, of not relying on the oh-so-unreliable human when something he trusted so much more could be used to do his bidding.
Miyako just shrugged, more concerned with lovingly petting her newest toy for its job well done and far too familiar with Ken's idiosyncrasies to be particularly concerned by them. "Ken is Ken," she answered mildly, "Sometimes it's best not to consider his motives too closely." She brushed her hair over her shoulder in an offhand manner, "He was probably just too busy and I was there anyway."
Daisuke frowned. Ken was Ken. Of that, he was all too well aware. And there was something about Ken's sudden change in procedure that did not sit well with Daisuke. Something that felt not quite right, confused, as it were.
Daisuke's unexpectedly morose silence had Miyako studying him closely. "Daisuke?" she questioned carefully.
"Huh?" Daisuke jumped, Miyako's voice jarring him from his deep thoughts, "Oh!" he seemed to suddenly realize that she was still in the room, "It's nothing," he smiled, a completely dishonest smile, but one Miyako found to be believable, nonetheless. Daisuke flashed a peace sign in her direction, letting out a self-satisfied sounding, "Ha-ha!"
Sure, it was not quite the old Daisuke, but it seemed close enough that Miyako was willing to let sleeping dogs lie. "Whatever," she muttered nonchalantly, taking no small joy in the fact that for once it was her getting to blow him off. Miyako shook her head as she used her shoulder to push away from the doorjamb, "See ya later, freak," she promised, nodding one last time in Daisuke's direction. And then she was gone, leaving Daisuke alone in the room to finish his work, offering no more of a goodbye than a slightly saddened smile to the small stuffed toy gripped tightly to her chest.
"Ken is Ken," Daisuke repeated softly, standing in the doorway to watch her go, glancing over his right shoulder with a nervous twitch before saying yet again, "Ken is Ken. Sometimes it is best not to consider his motives too closely."
But no matter how hard he focused on his ill-considered prayer, his thoughts could not drown out the quite voice that seemed to echo faintly throughout the dusty room.
And sometimes it is deadly not to.