Jettison (Tick Tock)
“So do you like,” Asano makes an aborted hand gesture, “sparkle in the sun?”
Karma opens his mouth. Closes it. It’s not every day that Asano comes up to you with a twilight reference and an accusation about vampirism, which… okay, Karma doesn’t know how to respond.
“What?” He says eloquently. He tries to convey aggression in as less words as possible which fails spectacularly; anticlimactically, given that Asano remains relentlessly stubborn in his pursuits. He’s done research about it, if the notebook in his hands is anything to go by, and he says, “do you hate garlic?”
“That’s a myth ,” Karma bristles before he can censor himself, because he took offense - it was an insult to someone like himself who he considered to be a connoisseur, a chef, to have an aversion to garlic of all things, a staple of the kitchen. Asano smiles at him and clicks his notebook shut, apparently having found the answer to whatever he had been looking for, (I wonder, Karma thinks miserably, when he hadn’t quite gotten the hang of the in and outs of supernaturality and now he’d found himself an unwilling participant on the wrong side of a witch hunt,) and walks away humming an ominously cheerful tune.
He thinks he’d done a pretty good job of hiding his affliction , for Asano to pick up bits and pieces to string together and hit the nail on the head was… inhuman, per say, (that, and that Asano's presence quite literally chilled Karma to the bone,) so Karma finds himself pouring over the thickest reference book he can find in the library, of mythical and fantasy elements.
“You know half of those are made up, right,” Asano says, sliding into the seat across Karma with an amused glint in his eyes, and Karma scowls at him.
“Just half?” Karma says.
“I’m sure you can figure it out,” Asano says. Smiles at him. His teeth are a lot sharper than Karma thought they were.
“A siren?” Karma blurts, when the class is arranged in a half-circle on the carpeted floor of the music room and Asano steps back from the microphone after a particularly soul-rendering cover of something or another, and Karma doesn’t blush when questioning gazes snap towards him only if it’s because blood doesn’t quite rush unconsciously to his face anymore.
“Flattered,” Asano says, cocking his head, “but no.”
“So my big brother went off the side of a bridge when I was six,” Asano tells him, walking his fingers off the edge of his palm and miming a slow fall. “Followed him about four years later.”
Karma’s fingers pauses above the piano keys, black and white.
Asano picks up his guitar pick, faded ochre, a hole punched at a corner to thread a string through. He looks through the hollow and straight at Karma with his eye glittering violet, then he flips the pick around in his fingers and starts to play.
“Sometimes,” Asano says, “when the light hits right.”
(“Are you transparent?” Karma had asked, because Asano had come up to him with that stupid sparking comment and there's a lot to be said about the undead and the two supposed forms they take but Asano didn't quite look like a zombie to him.)
Karma rests his cheek against his fingers and watches him. In the glare of the afternoon Asano almost reflects sunlight like a rose window; soft purple and pink dust with strawberry blond almost gold, and the lines blur so fine that you almost couldn’t see it unless you were looking very, very hard.
"Second place," Karma says, and perhaps the light hit right and Asano glittered in fury.
“What were you expecting?” Karma asks, when Asano looks so monumentally crushed, slowly lowering the mirror in shame. Karma glowers at the reversed image of himself, and flips Asano off.
Sometimes, in the dead of the night, Karma hears farther than he should; there’s a baby crying a few blocks over and someone blasting songs on the midnight radio down the street. If he listens hard enough, he can just barely hear water rushing under a bridge, and the sound of laughter beneath it.
Bullets (points, List)
Karma, in all his undead immortal wisdom, makes a list. He strikes out Vampire because surely he can tell if Asano is the same as he, or that would surely be a disgrace; he cancels out Zombie and Ghost and Siren , and as an afterthought strikes out Mermaid . Asano looks over the list with something not unlike mirth in his eyes.
The phone rings once, twice, and a sleepy voice picks up on the other end. “Hello?”
“It’s me,” Karma says, looking out of the window by his bed. The night sky is cloudy but the moon winks like a bright eye, round and obtrusive, and if Karma listens closely to the other end of the line he can hear “are you in water right now?”
“Tides more fun to play with under the full moon,” Asano says breezily, laughs as Karma hears waves lap around him, and hangs up. Karma crosses out werewolf , thinks, then rewrites mermaid from where he eliminated it last.
“So how did you get turned?" Asano says casually one day after school, and Karma scrambles to hide the list and "huh?"
"It's not as much of a conversational taboo as the media would like you to believe," Asano says, "it's just a question like 'what's your college major' or 'what supernatural are you'? Just putting it out there, because you're jumping around trying to figure out what I am instead of just, you know, asking like a normal person. It's not rude and nobody will take offense, for your information."
Karma gives him a blank look.
"I was turned, too," Asano clarifies, "my parents are both unspectacularly mortal, even if my father may not look it. And yes, I am older than you, in terms of the supernatural, but I think you know that already."
Karma stares, skeptically. "The bridge thing?"
Asano raises an eyebrow and nods, like he's saying smart , and Karma frowns.
"I picked a fight with the wrong guy," Karma shrugs, "I just wanted to let off some steam and ended up being beaten half to death. He said that I had too much spirit to go to waste."
"Only you would start fights with random strangers," Asano says, but he doesn't sound judgemental. Despite Karma's best attempts to hide it, Asano slides the list from under a folder and laughs a little when he reads it, and scratches off mermaid again with a pen.
It’s a matter of personal pride now, to figure out what Asano is on his own. He sits at the edge of a bridge just past the city square and peers into the water, where his eyes pick out shapes darting quicker than humans can see, the resounding cascades of water easily passed off as the wind.
The temperature seems to drop then, in the midst of summer, and Karma looks up as the unmistakable presence of Asano gradually approaches. The boy was a heat sink, that much Karma could feel.
Asano sits cross-legged next to Karma and leans forward on the steel barricade, which in all means should be burning in the midday sun. There’s a soft bubbling sound, like soup simmering over a slow fire.
“Water,” Karma guesses.
Asano raises an eyebrow. He gets to his feet languidly and then dangles over the banister with a torpid display of acrobatics, and Karma watches as he falls one hundred feet to the water and enters with barely a splash.
"Are you a horse?!" Karma blurts, then claps his hands over his mouth.
"Am I a what ?!" Asano says, eyes blazing. Next to them, a puddle ripples violently and explodes, drenching Karma in dirty sidewalk water.
String (fate; messages)
"Water benders? Like, in Avatar?"
"No, like, in real life."
"That doesn't exist."
"Nagisa, I'm literally a vampire. Our teacher was a giant yellow octopus."
"You expect me to believe that Asano waterbends ?"
"I wish I was joking."
"So what, he's like… a water elemental? Do those even exist? What does your book say?"
"Well… there are many types of… water related myths, but he said half of these weren't real . Apparently he… jumped off a bridge and then got turned."
"Is there any information on turnings like that? By suicide?"
"Can't you just ask him? He said it was okay."
"This is now a matter of personal pride, Nagisa. I have to figure it out."
Karma runs alongside Asano when they’re on the track, breezing past their classmates as their arms pump in tandem. They’re quiet for a long while, lapping the slow group for the second time and then Karma says, “let’s have a swimming competition.”
“Are you fucking serious?” Asano doesn’t sound out of breath in the slightest.
“Yes,” says Karma. “I know it doesn’t sound like it’d be much of a competition for you, anyways.”
The look Asano gives him is amused. “Is this an opportunity to observe me in my natural habitat, or so to speak?”
“Yes,” says Karma, again.
Asano snorts. “I accept.”
“Meet me by the bridge today, at 7. You know the one.”
“Your funeral, then.”
Karma had lost sight of Asano a few hundred metres ago, he didn’t know what else to expect, bobbing over the darkening water and wondering if he wanted to risk sounding like an idiot calling out his name, when something tugs his leg hard and Karma goes under-
-and surfaces, spluttering. His ankle feels like it’s been torn apart, stinging,as he gasps and there’s a loud splash in his periphery, then an ear-splitting scream, then, “-kushuu!”
Asano is there, dripping wet and looking pissed off. “He’s mine ,” he snarls, and then who seems to be a young woman breaks above the water, pouting.
“I know that ,” she’s saying, “I just wanted to play . I wasn’t going to do anything-”
“Hands off , Mr’ya.”
“Gakushuu’s got a vampire boyfriend,” Mr’ya sings obnoxiously, from where she paddles alongside them as Asano unceremoniously drags Karma to the shore and “waterbends” to clean out his ankle, leaving a trail of red that quickly gets washed off by the currents.
Asano ignores her. “I wouldn’t worry too much about that,” he tells Karma, “her stupidity isn’t infectious.”
“I’m telling everyo-”
“Oh, piss off!”
“But,” Karma says, before he processes the alarm bells ringing in his head to tell him that this is a bad idea , he says, “but aren’t all nymphs female?! ”
The grin Asano gives him is predatory, two rows of teeth far too sharp. Karma, wrapped ankle or no, bolts.
"There are many variations of water spirits in the world," Asano explains, much later, "water nymphs, as you call them," he gestures grandly to the large fantasy book propped open in Karma's lap, "stem from greek mythology, and traditionally depicted as all female, yes, but it's really up to them how they want to present."
"So you're like," Karma says, "you chose to present as a guy?"
"What? No, are you an idiot? I am a guy. I was turned, remember?"
“Immortality grows weary on old bones,” Karma sighs.
“You’re seventeen,” Asano snorts, “you’re an infant, by supernatural standards; heck, you’re just a child even in human years.”
“Shut up, old man,” Karma says. “Let me wallow in my sorrow, the respite of death that I shall chase and never catch, the fleeting joys of life-”
“You’re such a,” Asano starts, then shakes his head. “Happy turning day, I guess.”
“Don’t understand why you won’t celebrate yours,” Karma says, “it’s such a life changing, hah, event.”
“That was literally the day I decided to kill myself,” Asano reminds him.
"So teach me about supernatural stuff," Karma says, "since you're older than me and all. What's real and what's not? What's supernatural etiquette?"
"There's nothing much to learn on etiquette," Asano eyes him skeptically, "and I'd admit I'm not too well versed on the subject, either. You're the second vampire I met, you know, supernatural races tend not to formally associate with each other, or so I hear. My knowledge is mostly from the river girls but they tend to be flighty with their details, so I listen with a grain of salt."
"Then teach me about you," Karma insists, leaning forward. "I'll tell you everything about vampires."
" You don't know everything about vampires," Asano snorts, which, true. But he relaxes and tucks his legs in and starts to speak, his voice soothing like waves crashing against rocks on the shore and Karma hears about the galaxies and all the stars in the sky that he can't ever see.
"So they dragged me under, under, until I couldn't hear or see or breathe, they had claws and teeth and they were ripping and tearing and I remembered seeing the water turn red. I started swallowing water, fire, and I knew I was going to die then, but then the next moment when I breathed in the river I felt my lungs fill with air even though I was in water, that was impossible and I was still being dragged lower, and lower, and lower."
"Then what happened?" Karma asks, pupils blown as Asano slowly ran his hands through his hair, soft rumbling in his chest.
"Then they let me go," Asano laughs a little, "they knew I'll be back. They let me go and somehow I managed to swim to the surface, mind you, I should very well be dead. I ran home with my feet and limbs all torn apart, my father freaked out and covered me in bandages and I told him I fell down some rocks."
"I went back. I was… terrified, 10 year old me, I didn't know what to do but I knew I survived the impossible. I was angry, funnily enough, because I had intended to die that day and something had clearly tried to kill me but decided to half-ass it. I was angry because I had wanted to die but now I couldn't without solving the mystery of the river. I spent a really long time there, digging things and shouting into the water and skipping stones, of course nothing happened, but I was reluctant to go in."
"I caught my first fish."
"Bare handed. It had been about a month in, that time, me sitting by the riverbank daily, when I saw this fish swim by. I don't remember what it was but it was huge, or maybe it was tiny and it seemed huge to my 10 year old self, well I had the inexplicable urge to get myself a meal that for some reason I lacked the willpower to ignore, so I jumped in after the fish. I don't remember actually catching the damn thing, I was running on autopilot, but what I do remember is the first time I took a huge bite out of a raw, still squirming fish."
"Oh, gross. "
"Absolutely disgusting. I didn't even know what came over me, there was blood everywhere, I got the fish scales and bones stuck in my tongue and gums, I slashed my cheek against it's fin. The fish was still thrashing about in my hands and I took a huge bite out of its belly. I spat it out immediately, it was awful , then I heard Co'ora laughing at me. She came up and taught me how to descale and gut a fish with a flat rock."
"So this is like cocaine to you?"
"It has too much influence over tides," Asano mutters sourly, curled up against Karma with an oddly relaxed expression, "it's more of, being tipsy."
"Is your dad going to kill me if I bring you home and he thinks you're drunk?"
"Probably," Gakushuu says peacefully, eyes closed.
“So you’re a fish eater?” Karma asks.
“Among other things,” Asano says. “How much has vampirism affected your diet?”
“Not a lot,” Karma thinks, “I drink blood sometimes, I guess, if I happen to meet with Nagisa and he doesn’t mind. Regular human food is still fine.”
“Same, I guess,” Asano closes his eyes, “I still eat normal human food. I occasionally have a treat; the river girls don’t like to share so I have to get my own.”
“Your own what?” Karma asks.
Asano grins, all sharp teeth. “I’ll show you sometime.”
Karma tries not to look up. If he starts counting, he won’t be able to stop.
One moment Karma has the taste of seawater on his lips, the next he's drenched in it; then he surfaces, spluttering like a wet cat and justifiably disgruntled.
"Asano!" Karma yelps.
"Sorry, sorry," Asano says, beet red, "I… lost control."
"I know I don't breathe," Karma says, but I don't want to drown . He doesn't say that, just watches in poorly concealed amusement as Asano's ears sizzle and evaporate with the embarrassment, and laughs even when a squirt of hot water hits him on the cheek.
He leaves glistening trails along Karma's arms as he pulls him closer, and the ocean shines in his eyes as he lifts his chin, and they try again.
"So do you like," Asano says, waving a hand around, "change into a bat?"
Stereotypes, misconceptions, racism; "Do you change into water?" Karma counters, slightly miffed.
"Yes," Asano says. He picks at a loose thread in the seam of his sleeves, and when his hands leave Karma sees that it's soaked through. Asano glares at it.
Karma blinks once, twice. "Oh."
"So what can you change into?"
"Depends," Asano says thoughtfully. "On a good day I can be a puddle."
Umbrella (Don’t need one)
It's ethereal, when it rains, and if Karma thought Asano was pretty in the sun he was otherworldly in the storm.
"I thought vampires had aversion to sunlight, not rain," Asano jokes, voice tinkling like windchimes, grinning as he stands soaked to the bone. That might not be an exaggeration, not with how he lives in the water and how the water lives in him; they're a mystery shrouded in myth, nymphs, he didn't even know one could be turned.
"Coming," Karma calls. He toes off his shoes and steps out of the shelter. The park isn't quite the great unknown but it's a chilling metaphor in it's own way, and Asano is standing in the middle of it, head tilted to the sky and eyes closed.
“You don’t even have a pulse,” Karma murmurs, scraping the thin of Asano’s wrist with his teeth. The boy shivers (as if he feels it) and doesn’t pull away.
“What do I taste like?” He asks much later, when Karma has licked the red off his palm and has a hand threaded through his hair, and Karma snorts, sending little wisps of nothing flying. “Salty,” Karma tells him, and drags a fang across the pad of his thumb.
"Yeah, no, vampires are fiercely territorial, I'm not messing with any of them."
"I don't know if this has escaped your notice but you're a vampire."
"I didn't exactly turn in the best of circumstances," Karma says, swinging his legs over the stairway banisters, "I've met only three other vampires and the reception to new blood is, well, it's not the best."
"New blood," Asano snickers.
Karma shoots him a look. "Point is, I stay away from them, and they stay away from me. It's a comfortable arrangement."
"I didn't get welcomed with open arms, either," Asano says, "they tried to eat me several times after I got turned, and yeah, the whole nymphs-are-female thing isn't, untrue, because all natural born nymphs are female; they almost wanted to kill me just to avoid the hassle of having to learn to deal with a little boy."
Karma winces. "Harsh."
"They told me he (Ikeda) made it three hundred metres downstream before he finally drowned," Asano says absently, "Mr'ya wanted him fresh but Asle'ee wanted to see how long he'd last."
Karma watches as Asano delicately peels a thick slip of muscle off the bone and nibble at it like it was a bamboo fiber. Karma kind of wants to know what waterlogged person tastes like but Asano had said he was hungry , and it was his kill, not Karma's. It'd be rude.
"What did they do?" Karma asks.
Asano stares, deadpan, are you seriously asking me this? And snaps a rib bone between his teeth.
"So why you?" Karma asks. "Given that they..." he gestures to the pile of bones picked clean, and Asano licks the last droplets of red from his fingertips. Karma doesn't stare.
"Don't know," Asano shrugs, "the answer I get is always different depending on their mood. Some days it's because I had 'spirit'," he makes air quotes, "because they'd never seen someone so damn angry at the prospect of dying before. Some days it's because I was so young and Co'ora was having a real bad case of baby fever. Sometimes it was because I was really pretty," Asano makes a face, "I try not to think of that as a reason, given that I was 10 at the time."
"You don't have a functioning circulatory system," Asano blurts, when they're ankle deep in stinking river water with the pants rolled up to their knees and Karma's almost within reach of his catch. He falters, distracted, and the crayfish scuttles away.
"What?" Karma says.
"It's how I knew you weren't human," Asano says.
"How can you tell?"
"Blood is mostly water, i… hear pulses, when blood gets pumped, for the lack of a better description. I've learned to tune it out as background noise but you were a," Asano waves a hand absently, "negative space." At his feet, the water burps a crayfish straight into the waiting bucket. Karma scowls at it.
"How did you find me out?" Asano asks.
"Same," Karma says, "well, similar. I'm very blood sensitive (Asano snorts unflatteringly) as you should know, I don't hear pulses or anything of that nature but I have an innate sense of the… bloodness, of living things around me. You sense like an ectotherm, by the way, it's unnerving."
"Cool," Asano says. Karma feels the current around his legs shift a little, and then another crayfish gets lobbed out of the water and into Asano's bucket.
“Are you ever going to tell him?”
“Hey, dad, I tried to kill myself by jumping off a bridge when I was 10 and instead got turned into a water nymph by some other bored, crazy nymphs who wanted a plaything, so now I’m magical and immortal. Pass the salt?”
"So are we like, the poster couple for bridging gaps between supernatural races? Do we need a flag?"
"You're getting ahead of yourself," Asano snorts, "We’re hardly the first inter-race friendship or relationship out there.”
“I thought you said the races didn’t intermingle,” Karma says.
“Well, we’re acquainted,” Asano points out, “and races don’t associate politically. Of course we still interact, it’d be impossible to avoid supernaturals anyway, there’s just no political structure or hierarchy for any proper supernatural societal groundwork, so no formal association.”
“Hm,” says Karma, “so you do know other supernaturals?”
“There’s a Tokyo supernatural casual meetup once a month,” Asano says, “no bloodshed. I can take you there sometime.”
“Funny how you never mentioned that earlier, might have thought you wanted to keep me for yourself,” Karma teases. Asano snorts again, and tightens his grip around Karma’s waist, but doesn’t deny it. And Karma thought vampires were the territorial ones.
Bite, lick, kiss, bite, kiss, bite, bite-
“Ouch, not there!”
“A Vampire ,” the girl says, eyes sparkling, and she leans all the way into Karma’s personal space until they’re nose-to-nose. “Show me your teeth! Are they super sharp?”
“Kay,” Asano snaps.
The girl, Kay, pouts and sinks back into her seat. “You’re so mean, Asano, I’ve never talked to a vampire before, you know they’ve never shown up for the gatherings.You weren’t going to share, were you?” She appraises Karma like cut beef and licks her lips, and a jet of water squirts out from her glass on the table and shoots her in the cheek.
Karma makes a face at the tray, covered in wet advertisements and ketchup that missed the tiny condiment saucer. What dangles from his fingers is what could possibly be the world’s soggiest fry, and in its periphery a pile of equally limp fries, and a splatter of sauce between them.
“Let’s never eat here again,” Karma says cheerily, and from across the table Asano huffs out a laugh. He picks up a fry with his fingertips, stares at it consideringly; Karma’s almost about to wish him good luck when Asano bites down on a perfectly crisp, golden fry, and Karma’s jaw drops.
Asano, lips quirked, picks up another wet potato, and in front of Karma’s eyes it drains of moisture and then sizzles a little as Asano’s fingertips turn red-hot, then, “open up,” Asano says, danling the now dry snack just in front of Karma’s lips. Karma’s out of his seat before he knows it, batting Asano’s hand away and then dragging him across the table to close the distance; in front of dozens of tired, fry-deprived students that pay no attention to anything but their sad, sad meals, Karma almost wonders what it would be like to spend an eternity with him.