Falling from the Moon
A "Please Save My Earth" fanfic
By Natalie Baan
"So you didn't get into trouble at all?"
"Nope!" Shusulan's smile was smugly cheerful. "It's great to have a friend like Mariko-chan! She covered for me totally." Glancing up from the can of hot coffee clasped between her mittened hands, she studied Issei, satisfaction turning into something more thoughtful. "How about you?"
"Um, no. Everything was fine." He'd had to bribe his sister not to make insinuations where his mother could hear them--of all the people in Tokyo, why did /he/ have to have a little sister with a boys' love obsession?--but his mother had accepted the story of him staying over at Jinpachi's house, and his father hadn't even realized that he'd been gone. As far as he knew, the only one who'd actually gotten into trouble was Alice, whose parents were keeping her practically under lock and key for the foreseeable future and who was being zealously ridden herd on by her brother, the boy who'd run into them in the park that night. She was bearing up under the punishment with reasonable good humor, from what he'd gathered in passing encounters in school. Shion's--or perhaps he should say Rin's--parents had been frantic when their son had gone missing, but were so glad to have him back safe and sound that they'd forgotten everything else.
"That's great." Shusulan looked at the piercingly clear sky that arced above the ice skating rink in front of them. The weather had taken a definite turn into winter; there was a bite to the air and the people who whirled or crept by wore colorful layers of coats, sweaters, and scarves. Shusulan had on a pink muffler with matching earmuffs. "Wow! I can't believe we did it!"
"Yeah. And I haven't heard anything on the news about it--have you?"
Shusulan shook her head, then added, "Hiragi says a couple of amateur astronomers in America posted to one of the bulletin boards he's on, claiming they saw a strange flash of light on the moon, but NASA and the other space programs haven't picked up on it. And the way most of the base was underground, there's really nothing left for them to see. So it looks like everything worked out just right. Don't you think?"
Issei shifted uncomfortably on the cold wooden bench, curled his fingers deeper into his pockets for warmth. That was the third "Hiragi says" from Shusulan since they'd met at the station, which wasn't making him feel any easier about his ulterior motive for getting together with her. With studied casualness, he asked, "Have you seen Hiragi much since we got back?"
"No. He called me a couple of times to keep me updated, but that's about it." With an aimless lift of her shoulders, she looked down again, her lips curving into a wry smile. "It's funny, but when there wasn't anything more about the moon base for us to talk about, I didn't really know what to say to him."
"Hmm." Relief and an even greater anxiety made Issei's heart twitter and swoop like a demented small bird. He turned and stared straight ahead, gazing through a blur of passing skaters. With an attempt at lightness, he cleared his throat, and then remarked, "I--broke up with Jinpachi."
There was a silence that felt much too long, though maybe it was just his nerves playing tricks on him. Then: "No kidding?" Shusulan's voice was low, suddenly unforthcoming. He'd been trying really hard not to peek into her thoughts, since it seemed unfair--he'd managed, over the last few days, to figure out how to close his mind off so the others were only distant, cloudy presences and his dreams were once again his own--but as he quailed before her lack of reaction he just couldn't help himself. He reached out and felt a white blankness of <*shock*> like snowblindness, an uneasy tension that was tightening a half-turn further, keying up to a slightly higher pitch, and he shut himself down again quickly. Swallowing, he huddled his chin more deeply into his scarf, let out a breath, and then was able to make himself smile, rueful, knowing that this wasn't exactly comfortable for either of them.
"Yeah. He was looking for something he couldn't see in me, and I was looking for something he wasn't ready or willing to give. And we tried, but we just ended up stuck like that, neither one happy. So there didn't seem to be any point anymore." He glanced at her, found that she was watching him, and startled heat leaped into his face. He hoped the cold air had put enough flush in his cheeks to hide it. Looking away, he tried to push aside embarrassment, to gather both courage and the words he wanted to say. "So anyway, um, I was wondering--"
"I'm not interested in being anybody's second choice."
He felt like he'd been punched hard in the stomach. The rebuff was so blunt, so unexpectedly hurtful that he almost flared back at Shusulan. At the last instant he bit down on that instinctive response, remembering how he'd been working her patience by being dense for all this time. Coming to her after that, as though he imagined he could take her for granted--he was probably lucky she hadn't really hit him. Taking his hands out of his pockets, he leaned forward, elbows resting on knees, and thought for a long time before he said, quietly, "Maybe sometimes the second choice is wiser than the first."
It was Shusulan's turn to be silent; finally he couldn't stand it anymore and got up the nerve to sneak a look at her. She was staring down at her coffee, brows drawn into a tiny frown. He opened himself enough to catch the tenor of her mind, not the content, and felt it ticking steadily over above a current of mixed emotions. She was thinking. At last her shoulders dropped a fraction, her mouth relaxed as she dipped her head in an almost soundless /hmph,/ and hope fluttered dizzyingly closer to reality. "All right." He straightened, and she jerked her chin up, tossing him an arch, sidelong stare. "So," she said, challenging, "/now/ what?"
Intelligence failed him. He rubbed his hands anxiously over the knees of his pants, his mind gone totally blank. "Um, we could...date?" Shusulan looked at him as though he'd just sprouted a pair of antennae or something, then twitched and started to laugh--and as much as he wanted to summon indignation, he found that he couldn't, because its place was filled with inexplicable, almost lunatic happiness.
"Sure." She gave him another, more sly look, her lips pursed. "Why, Enju-kun, I never /knew/ you were so smooth."
"Ah, actually, if you don't mind it, I'd prefer not being called that." She blinked at him, and he blushed again. He wasn't sure how to explain. Instead he murmured, "I'd rather you called me by my real name--my name in this life." It was like being reintroduced to each other, starting all over, the two of them awkward and new. But that was what he'd wanted. "/Issei./"
As though nonplussed, she glanced down once more, and then smiled, at once tentative, nearly shy. "Issei." She curled her hand around the bottom of her scarf, played with its fringe. "I think--I'd like you to use my name, too." Issei sat back against the bench and looked up into the sky as though following his heart's sudden spring toward it: a swift, winged dart into those winter-blue reaches that opened as wide as the future.
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