[Author's note: I've probably had this story planned for several years now, and I finally got around to writing it. It's set about a month or two after events in "Falling from the Moon," but it should make sense even if you haven't read the longer story. The title comes from the 10,000 Maniacs song "Because the Night"--the song's title was the working title, mainly because it was the soundtrack to my original mental music video, but it didn't really reflect the story all that well. Anyway, hope you enjoy it! Please see my disclaimer page for the obligatory copyright information.]
True LoversA "Please Save My Earth" fanfic
By Natalie Baan
Crunch-squeak, crunch-squeak went the snow under Alice's boots. The path through the park had been cleared earlier--heaped drifts lined it to either side--but the last hour's fall had whitened it again, a layer just deep enough to make satisfying footprints. Great starry flakes danced down from a cottony, featureless sky, out of clouds growing dim with twilight. The snow settled into the prints of the people who'd passed this way earlier, blurring their edges. Next to her, Rin walked backward, turning in random circles that made his trail look like a diagram of dance steps, his head flung back as he tried to catch snowflakes on his outstretched tongue.
She wasn't sure it was a good idea to do that in Tokyo, considering how polluted the city was. But she didn't have the heart to spoil his fun. Anyway, she supposed that just a few couldn't hurt.
Smiling, Alice tilted her own face up toward the sky. The slowly swirling flakes, the white-blanketed world made her think of Hokkaido, where the winters were so cold and the snow lay deep and lasting over empty fields and rolling pine-clad slopes. The pang from the thought was slight, more nostalgia than pain. It was different here, but it was beautiful too, with the street lamps shining warmly through the falling snow, surrounded by faint haze, as though they were fairy lights. /Hush,/ the park's trees and bushes all murmured, /hush, rest now,/ as they settled in to drowse beneath the gently accumulating weight of that soft covering. Even the bustling drabness of buildings, streets, and sidewalks was transformed, made quiet and clean, everything enfolded in a single peaceful stillness. The moment made her realize how right she felt in this place, that her homesickness was a thing of the past. She couldn't think of anything that she was missing. To top it all off, it was her first winter in Tokyo, and though she'd heard that it didn't snow as much or as often as she was used to, here came the snow after all, as though it wanted to help her feel completely at home.
/Thank you,/ she told the clouds, scrunching her eyes a little for happiness as flakes skittered over her cheeks and caught on her eyelashes.
Then the snowball hit her in the side of the head.
"/Ahahaha!/ I gotcha, I gotcha!" Rin hopped from one foot to the other in a kind of war-dance, then dove for the nearest drift and began scooping together another double-handful of snow. Sputtering, Alice wiped frantically at her hair and face.
"Rin-kun!--Oof!" Trying to duck aside, she lost her footing and had to flail for balance, which meant that the second snowball hit her on the arm rather than the chest. "/Ooh!/" That was enough of /that./ She pounced for the drift on her side of the path and dug mittened hands into it. The snow was a little powdery and didn't pack well; her hastily lobbed missile fell apart in a shower of flakes just a few feet from Rin, sending him into more gales of laughter.
"Alice, you throw like a girrr-ul!" he taunted, then whipped his own snowball. She covered her face with her hands just in time. Snow splattered across her forearms.
This fight was going too fast--she just couldn't keep up with it. But she wasn't about to give in to an eight-year-old. Beating a tactical retreat, Alice jumped over the drift, stumbled, almost falling to her knees, and then scrambled behind a convenient bank of rhododendrons. Evergreen leaves, curled in on themselves against the cold, rustled quizzically as she huddled there, hurriedly scraping and packing, scraping and packing. The snow would stay together if it was pressed hard enough. She actually had time to make a couple of snowballs--maybe Rin was waiting in ambush for her to come out. Then the bushes whispered a warning to her.
"/AHA!/" Rin sprang into view around the end of the shrubs, his arm upraised and a grin of fierce triumph lighting his face. He fired his attack at Alice, who pressed back against the bushes, eyes wide, hands turning desperately around a third almost-finished snowball. Somehow a branch got in the way, deflecting his shot. Leaping to her feet, Alice hurled her snowball at Rin; he dodged, but she was already scooping up another from her stockpile, and as he struggled to get out of the way, the snow deeper on him than on her, she hit him on the shoulder, a big, white splat. With a slightly impish grin of her own, Alice grabbed the last of her weapons. Whether she threw like a girl or not, he was easily in her range. She took a step toward Rin--he stumbled backward with a panicky, trapped look, then lifted straight up, out of the snow and into the air. He soared right over her head; she ducked instinctively, then straightened and turned to see him bobbing away across the empty park: a small figure swooping in and out of view among the trees, a cackle of high-pitched laughter echoing in his wake.
That was /so/ not fair.
Rin crouched on a branch of a pine tree, close to the trunk. One hand was braced on the jigsaw-patterned bark; above the palm of the other, a ball of compacted snow floated, revolving slowly. It paused, then dropped into his hand as he turned his sight to the distance.
To his pursuer, coming nearer.
Rin smiled. He watched Alice prowling warily through the trees, her muffler pulled up over her mouth and chin, a line of determined concentration between her brows. The falling snow spangled her straight, black hair; her long skirt trailed the top of the taller drifts. She peered about, but didn't seem to see him in the deepening darkness--nor would she, if he didn't move too quickly and draw her eyes up to his perch. His smile stretched wider, and he carefully cocked his arm, waiting for her to come within easy reach.
The tree branch creaked and groaned beneath him. He started, catching his breath.
He leaped from the branch as it began to tremble. The tree's limbs all shifted, tossing as though a strong wind was rising--a hissing rush, a disturbance of the air alerted him, and he flicked himself to one side, then the other, dodging curtains of snow that plummeted from the shaking branches above him. A fine dusting caught him, the scattering edge of one of those snowfalls, cold on his cheeks, on the back of his neck. Ducking, he whirled aside, trying to find a place beyond the span of any of the nearby trees, which were all shedding snow in tiny avalanches, and Alice was there, eyes sparkling, her face flushed with cold and excitement as she heaved her snowball up at him with all her might.
The snowball spun through the air. As it approached him, it began to slow, though it continued to rise. It coasted to a stop, less than a meter in front of him as he hovered above the ground.
Lifting his head, Rin smiled.
The heaps of snow beneath the quieting trees shivered, then surged upward behind him, flowing together into a broad, smooth wave of white that arched high over his head. It curved above him, fluid as a waterfall, as a cat's leap, before plunging down again. Alice staggered backward, one arm raised in futile self-defense, her eyes going huge with alarm as that tsunami poured toward her.
She vanished beneath the torrent of snow.
"/Ahahahaha!/" Rin rolled around in midair, laughing until his stomach hurt. So Alice thought she could beat him with her friends' help, did she? She should have realized he wouldn't be such an easy mark. He rocked backward and then sat up, wiping at his eyes. "Alice--"
So still. That small, mounded hillock of snow. The park, empty of movement, of the sound of voices, as though he was the only person left in the world.
The snowball he'd been levitating dropped to the ground. He flew down, lighting next to the drift. Reaching out a shaking hand, he brushed at its surface. Powder shifted, and beneath his mitten there appeared strands of mingled brown and cream: the woolen fringe of a muffler.
"/Alice!/" Falling to his knees, he began digging with both hands. "/Alice! Alice!/" His chest and stomach ached, a totally different pain from before; panic made his throat tight, his eyes prickle and burn. He hadn't meant to--oh, why, why-- He uncovered something red, the puffy, yielding surface of her parka sleeve; grabbing hold of her arm, he pulled and tugged. "/Alice!/"
The drift erupted upward. Rin lost his balance and his grip on Alice's arm; he sat down hard in the snow. A white-caked figure surged up and half-fell on him--he caught a confused glimpse of red coat, a sweep of long hair as he was grappled--and while he squirmed, trying to get away, a hand pulled the back of his collar away from his neck. Something icy cold slithered all the way down his spine, a horribly chilly, shuddersome wetness.
Alice released him. As he wrapped his arms around himself, trying uselessly to grab for the snow that was already melting inside his clothes, she scrambled to her feet. He could hear her laughing, silvery bright, the sound retreating. He wheeled, staring after her as she ran off among the trees, the vivid color of her coat dancing away from him into the darkness.
Her throat hurt from breathing in the cold air as she ran, but she couldn't stop giggling. She pitched and stumbled through the deeper drifts beneath the trees, far from the path. Full night had fallen, but enough light reached her from the distant street lamps that she could see her way, crossed by the long, long shadows of tree trunks, dark bars stretching out across the snow. The trees' curiosity and concern surrounded her, a murmuring chorus of puzzlement. She reassured them as she panted and gasped for breath. Movement caught her eye, a gliding flight, something weaving smoothly among the trees, quickly catching up and then pacing her. She squeaked and tried to run faster. It was really hard in the snow. Fighting to lengthen her stride, she tripped, struggled to keep her balance--and then her legs weren't impeded at all. She kicked her feet, her stomach giving a little swoop of alarm as she was lifted from the ground, the park whirling dizzily around her as she spun in midair. Then Rin's small fingers closed onto hers, holding them tightly.
Past the white-frosted branches they rose, climbing higher and higher, turning about the center point of their joined hands. Their revolution and rise both slowed gradually, until at last they were still, floating well above the treetops. Snowflakes tumbled by them on all sides, swirled in random flurries by the breeze that rippled her skirt's hem and stirred Rin's bangs across his forehead. Lavender eyes gazed into hers, a long, intent, somehow pensive look that made her heart catch: a stuttering ache of affection mixed with poignancy, the pull of love and the promises of a distant day. She stared back at him, and after a moment or two the corners of his mouth curved upward. When he spoke, his voice was gentle.
"Let's go home, Alice."
Together they flew hand in hand across the park, toward the steady glow of their apartment building. Beneath and all around them, the city lay dreaming under the sparkling, lamplit snow.
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