so you get 3k of them.
"Let's go home together," Miydate says, and it sounds coaxing, but Watanabe knows that Miyadate is actually saying that they're done and he won't take no for an answer.
"We're in the middle," Watanabe protests futilely; he and Sakuma have spent all afternoon practicing how to sweep Watanabe's chain through Sakuma's cubes without any ricochets taking out someone's eyeball. Last week Fukazawa had nearly skinned them alive when they shattered a lens in his hand-me-down sunglasses from Kawai. This week Sakuma's got a pair of safety googles that already have a scratch down the middle.
Miyadate crosses his arms.
"Okay, okay," Watanabe surrenders, already winding the length of his chain around his forearm. It's just the three of them today anyway; Abe and Fukazawa are out on practical field training with Tsukada, and Iwamoto has only been cleared for half days after his tumble down a flight and a half of stairs. It hadn't even been ghost-related, embarrassingly enough; he'd stepped on his own bootlace.
Sakuma starts laughing, making both of them look over. "Sorry! It's just that you two are ridiculous. The shield's supposed to be the one protecting the sensor's body!"
"He puts himself in front of my body more than often enough, don't worry," Miyadate says dryly, making Watanabe crack up along with Sakuma.
In the late 1990's, the Tokyo metropolitan government had funded a study to investigate the link between childhood incidents of ghost encounters and the emergence of ghost-related talents during teenage years, under pressure from parents since school buildings and campuses were the second most likely place for minors to have a paranormal encounter. The official findings of the research were that there were no direct correlations between experiencing a ghost in early child and then manifesting any talents later, and in fact failed to relate talent emergence to geographic or genetic factors as well, excepting a few well-known families. At least once a year, an expert of one kind or another is televised to reassure the public that despite the gradual rise in the number of encounters over the years, sending a child to school is much more likely to turn them into a university student than it is into a hunter. Still, anecdotally many of the most famous hunters reported a formative incident in their childhood of some kind or other, and if asked many will say they feel that idea to be true in spite of any study.
Miyadate certainly believes it's true, but then again his kindergarten had been haunted.
Most of the incident is fuzzy in Miyadate's memory if he even tries to think about, which he rarely ever does. He remembers that he and Watanabe had been cutting out paper flowers for the class bulletin board, that for some reason Watanabe's flower had to have red petals and that, of course, there was no red paper to be found in the stack of construction paper.
"Let's go borrow some from the class next door," Watanabe had said. Looking back, Miyadate has no recollection of how they had escaped their room without supervision or their teacher noticing, but his memory of their classroom is one of busyness and cheerful uproar, so he supposes their teacher must have been distracted by someone or something at the exact moment the pair of them slipped through the door.
To be honest, Watanabe hasn't changed. Even now Watanabe can get away with things that border on ridiculous if he doesn't want to be noticed. Miyadate has never figured out whether it's some kind of talent or it's just dumb luck, but these days Miyadate finds himself dragged along by the hand just as often, if not more often, as when they were kids. That's how it was when Miyadate let Watanabe pull him down the hallway, hands gripped tight together, Watanabe strolling purposefully to the next door while Miyadate glanced over his shoulder, fretting about adults.
The classroom next door had been empty, and Miyadate doesn't remember the details but he remembers the impression of emptiness and echo, the strangeness of a classroom with no one in it. He remembers the windows, how there were two whole walls of them since it was the corner classroom but that all the shades were pulled down tight, making the room dim.
"Let's go back," Miyadate urged, tugging on Watanabe's hand. Watanabe ignored him, pulling him along as he headed for the cabinets in the back of the room. "Shota! We'll get in trouble."
"Just for a minute," Watanabe assured, which even at five Miyadate had whined was a lie. Their own classroom had a free-standing metal cabinet just like this one where their own teacher kept their craft supplies, but when they opened this cabinet it wasn't full of anything interesting. Just some stacks of dusty papers and manila folders on the narrow shelves, probably extra photocopies, and a few scuttling spiders. "Aww."
He rifled the papers half-heartedly, as if some colored paper would be mixed in, but only managed to send half a pile of folders spilling out to the floor.
"Shota!" Miyadate gasped, dropping to his knees to gather up the papers and hoping nobody cared which folders they had come from.
"Oops! Hey, there's something behind here." Stretching onto his tiptoes to reach deeper into the cabinet, Watanabe pulled out a thin, spiral-bound notebook, its green cover brittle and cracking. He opened it and flipped through some pages. "Aw, boring, it's just lists of names and check marks."
"It's a teacher's book," Miyadate said, still distracted gathering papers. Their teacher had one just like it for when she called out their names in the morning.
"Oh, right," Watanabe said, then to Miyadate's confusion, added, "Is this yours? Did you lose it?"
"Who are you talking…" Miyadate started, then froze when he turned his head and realized they weren't alone. A teacher was in the room with them, standing no more than two meters away. Had she been in the room the whole time? Miyadate hadn't heard the door open, but he'd been sure they were alone.
"We found it in the cabinet," Watanabe said, holding the notebook out. "It's yours, right? Sorry for looking in your cabinet."
The teacher didn't answer, only smiled at them vaguely as if they were cute children. She had long hair hanging past her shoulders and a somewhat shapeless cardigan over her blouse and skirt, her shoes sensible; she seemed a little older than their own teacher but not ancient like the principal. Something about the entire thing was wrong, although Miyadate couldn't figure out exactly what it was as the teacher came closer, and Watanabe didn't seem like he noticed anything strange, but all of the hairs on Miyadate's arms and neck were standing up.
It was the shoes, Miyadate realized suddenly; they were the same kind of shoes his grandmother wore, hopelessly outdated, and on top of that they weren't indoor shoes. Why would a teacher be wearing outside shoes in a school? The longer Miyadate looked and the closer she came, the more things seemed strange, her pale skin, the flutter of her hair even though the windows were closed, the sharpness of her fingers as she reached out as if she was going to pat Watanabe on the head.
"Don't!" Miyadate cried, reaching up to grab Watanabe's hand and yanking him down. The suddenness of it made Watanabe stumble to his knees, falling against Miyadate's side. The teacher—or whatever she was—didn't react other than to let her hand drift back down to her side, still smiling that vague smile.
"Ryota?" Watanabe protested, starting to push himself away, but Miyadate wrapped arms around his neck and hung on tightly, smushing his face into Miyadate's shoulder. Something inside him was sure it would be terrible if that thing touched Watanabe.
"Stay still!" Miyadate hissed, the panic in his voice making Watanabe quit struggling immediately. "Don't look!" he added. He didn't want Watanabe to see what he saw the longer he looked, how her skin seemed thinner and more papery over her bones every time Miyadate blinked, her smile widening into something with more teeth, a skull's grin.
The door slammed open, making Miyadate and Watanabe nearly jump out of their skins. Miyadate snapped his head to find their teacher in the doorway, hands on her hips.
"THERE you are!" she snapped at them, exasperated. "What are you two doing in here? Come out here this instant!"
Miyadate turned his head back, but the other teacher was gone as if she'd never been there. There was no trace at all of what had just happened except for the green notebook lying on the floor. Miyadate abruptly burst into tears.
"Ryota!" Watanabe exclaimed, hugging him more tightly. "Don't cry!" But Miyadate couldn't stop, shaking in spite of Watanabe's tight hold, and when hugging didn't fix it, Watanabe ended up just as upset as Miyadate, looking up at their teacher with wide eyes and a trembling lower lip.
It took her ages to calm them down enough to ask what had happened while they waited for Miyadate's mother to come and pick them up. Miyadate left out the thing in the room with them, and their teacher didn't press it, content to chalk up their panic to little kid imagination and to discuss it with his mother.
"Hey," Watanabe sidled closer on the bench they were sharing. He held out his hand and Miyadate took it, squeezing tightly. "You didn't tell her. About…"
Miyadate shook his head, staring at the floor. He didn't want to talk about it, feeling sick every time he blinked and saw that thing's terrible grin on the back of his eyelids. But it felt a little better with Watanabe's hand in his, warmth spreading slowly up his arm from their joined hands.
"Thanks for saving me," Watanabe told him. He kissed Miyadate's cheek.
Miyadate had done his best to forget about the incident, and there hadn't been another one for years. But when it did happen again in his first year of middle school, Miyadate recognized immediately the feeling of creeping dread and skin crawling. They were on their summer class trip, assigning hotel rooms for the overnight, and no force on earth could have convinced Miyadate to go into the second room in the row after just walking by it once. He was old enough now to know exactly how dangerous spirit objects and being ghost-touched were, so this time he went to find his homeroom teacher immediately, telling him that definitely nobody should stay in that room.
His mother had him tested a week later, and Miyadate had scored so high that the proctor asked if gifts ran in their family. Miyadate's mother had laughed nervously and said that her father hadn't even believed in ghosts. Miyadate scuffed his sneaker on the carpet and wished that he didn't. But when Watanabe passed his own test later, he felt better.
"Should we be here?" Watanabe hissed nervously into Miyadate's ear, making Miyadate roll his eyes despite his own anxiety. "We've only been in practices for two weeks. I don't even have a chain!"
The kindergarten was both familiar and strange at the same time, the perspective changed since Miyadate had been so much smaller the last time he had seen it and the deep shadows of falling dusk making the empty hallways stereotypically creepy. Miydate grabbed for Watanabe's hand and slid their fingers together.
"We know where the notebook was, and we can't just leave it here," Miyadate pointed out. He tilted his chin towards Kawai-kun and Fujigaya-kun behind them, who they'd asked to come with them. Well, Miyadate had asked Fujigaya, and Kawai had tagged along just for fun. "They're here, it'll be fine."
When they reached the classroom at the end of the hall, Miyadate took a deep breath and hoped that neither senpai could see his hand shaking as he pushed the door open. Inside, little had changed from his memory, aside from the blinds having been taken off the window. Distantly Miyadate wondered if the amount of sunlight coming in those uncovered windows all day was the reason no one else had seen the woman.
"Well?" Fujigaya asked when Miyadate and Watanabe paused just inside the room. "You said there's a source, right? A notebook?"
"It was back here…" Miyadate and Watanabe went to the cabinet and pulled open the doors, flinching at the loud screech of the rusting metal hinges. He crouched down to about the level he thought kindergarten them might have been looking. "It isn't here now, though." He rifled through some of the lower shelves, while Watanabe looked at the higher ones, the papers and folders musty from age. "Anything?"
"Nope," Watanabe answered. Miyadate straightened up, wiping off his hands on his jeans. Watanabe shrugged. "What now? Do you think they got rid of it themselves?"
"Nah," Kawai said, looking around but all in odd places, like the ceiling. "It's still here."
"This is good practice," Fujigaya said, crossing his arms expectantly. "You're the sensor, right? And you've touched the object before, so go on."
Miyadate frowned but closed his eyes and took a deep breath. It was still here, somewhere, but too vague to even make his arm hair rise. If they stayed later, longer after sunset, it would get stronger, but honestly Miyadate was hoping not to be here when that happened. He took one step, and then another, and at first he couldn't feel anything through the anxiety of senpai watching him and being back in this place. He took a deep breath and let it out, then another, and then he could feel it, or more like almost hear it, like a creepy game of hot and cold.
It was in the desk, in a drawer that felt locked at first tug but really was just stuck. The notebook was even older than Miyadate remembered, almost crumbling in his hand, and this time he noticed a dark hair caught in the metal spiral.
"Do you see her?" Fujigaya asked. Miyadate looked up to say no, but the answer was yes, there she was. She was different than what Miyadate remembered as well, now that he knew what she was, her face obviously unnatural, her gaze dead instead of vague. This time she made Miyadate feel sad instead of scared. "I see her. I don't think she…"
Miyadate trailed off with a frown before he said wants to hurt us. It was a ghost. It would hurt anyone who touched it, and it didn't have enough humanity left to want anything. But he was holding her teacher's book with the names of all her homeroom students, standing in what was probably her classroom, and all of it just made him so, so sad.
"It," Kawai said gently. "Not she. You don't think it what?"
"It doesn't seem very strong," Miyadate settled for saying instead. He carefully unwound the hair from the notebook and held it out for Fujigaya. "You can use this to help, right?"
"It helps." Fujigaya pulled a glass jar out of his bag and handed it to Watanabe. With the hair inside the jar, Fujigaya helped Watanabe through a slow approach, as if coaxing a skittish mouse into the jar instead of a ghost. It didn't always work, or even usually, Kawai murmured to Miyadate as they watched, but with weaker, non-aggressive spirits it didn't hurt to try the safest thing first. This time it did, and Watanabe screwed the lid down and held the jar up proudly. Inside was something smokey and greenish, something that Miyadate's eyes couldn't follow and made him dizzy when he tried.
Since then, there's been lots of ghosts, lots of jars and chains and cubes and dark rooms. Some of them hurt Miyadate, some of them make him angry, and all of them make him sad. But Watanabe is always there too, and no matter how much work they put in or training they have behind them, Watanabe's hand squeezing his always makes things seem clearer. Whether Miyadate can't find a source, or he freezes during a fight, or a close call is too close, it always helps.
"Watcha thinking about so hard?" Watanabe asks, and Miyadate snaps out of his thoughts to find himself still sitting on the bench in the locker room, still half-undressed while Watanabe is done with his shower. Watanabe is smiling down at him with a towel draped cutely over his head, adorably wearing nothing else.
"You," Miyadate answers, which is true and a lie at the same time. Watanabe's smile says he isn't fooled as he reaches out to ruffle Miyadate's hair. Watanabe has a huge, ugly bruise across his ribs from throwing himself in front of Miyadate two days ago, and a hundred other little cube-shaped bruises from everyone and everywhere. Miyadate leans over to kiss the ugliest one, gently; Watanabe still winces. "Sorry. Daisuke's right, you are a weirdo shield who needs taken care of too much."
"Hm, well, you aren't very perceptive for a sensor," Watanabe retorts, taking a step in closer and tangling his fingers more firmly in Miyadate's hair. He tugs until Miyadate gets the idea and kisses his bruise again. "Mmph. Because I actually really like putting myself in front of your body."
"I like it too," Miyadate admits, sliding arms around Watanabe's waist to hug him properly. He kisses a few more bruises before resting his cheek against Watanabe's stomach. "Even when I really shouldn't."
"Someone's feeling sweet today. Come on, Romeo, shower time. Didn't you want to take me home?"
"Yes, yes." Miyadate stands up and stretches, kicking off his pants and underwear. He's halfway to the shower before he realizes he has a shadow. "Didn't you finish already?"
"Mm, well," Watanabe flashes Miyadate a sneaky grin as he slides his hand into Miyadate's, their fingers tangling, "I can always take another shower."
whoops, I forgot to tag doctoggy!