Pɪʟᴏᴛ = ᴘʀᴏʟᴏɢᴜᴇ + ғɪʀsᴛ ᴄʜᴀᴘᴛᴇʀ ᴄᴏᴍʙɪɴᴇᴅ.
Tʜɪs sᴛᴏʀʏ ᴜsᴇs ʜᴏɴᴏᴜʀɪғɪᴄs. Gʟᴏssᴀʀʏ ᴘʀᴏᴠɪᴅᴇᴅ ᴀᴛ ᴛʜᴇ ᴇɴᴅ ᴏғ ᴛʜɪs ᴄʜᴀᴘᴛᴇʀ.


TOUCH

~x~

"It starts with a single touch…"

Run.

She fled through the network of flooded alleyways, refusing to stop and catch her breath or even dare to hesitate when she reached an intersection. Her uniform was plastered to her skin, and broken glass and sharp stones tore the flesh of her bare, numb feet. Each step she took left behind a bloody footprint, which was soon washed away by the drizzle of rain from overhead.

But she took no notice of this. The only thing on her mind at that moment was escape.

She could hear him behind her; his footsteps thundering down on the stone pathway, his soft, violent threats echoing off the surrounding buildings as he gave chase. She looked behind her to see how much ground there was left between them and shrieked as the movement interrupted her momentum and threw her off balance. She lost her footing and slipped, landing sprawled in the centre of the alley, trembling with both fear and exhaustion.

Everything hurt: the leaden muscles in her legs ached; the palms of her hands stung from the grazes she'd received when trying to break her fall; and each rattling gasp for air brought a stabbing pain through her heaving chest. She wanted to lie there and cry over the things she had seen today, over all the misfortune she had had to endure in her short life, but instinct took hold. She couldn't remain where she was. She had to keep running. Run or die...

"One touch, and I see everything…"

Small frame shaking with exhaustion, she got to her hands and knees—and shrieked as a foot smashed into the small of her back and slammed her back to the stone pavement.

Fingers raked across her scalp and she cried out as her captor seized her by the hair and dragged her to her knees.

"Where do you think you're going?" whispered a cold, quiet, male voice in her ear. His breath blew cold against her skin and sent chills down her spine. She shivered, unsure if the cold she now felt came from the winter gales that plastered her wet nightgown to her body or if it came from the fear that froze her heart.

Lips trembling, she responded with a thin whimper, too afraid to say a word.

"I asked you where you were going!" he roared. He yanked down with the hand entangled in the girl's auburn locks, snapping her head back so that her eyes looked into his. In them she saw nothing. No regret, no hatred... just emptiness. She bit hard on her lower lip to stop herself from crying out as he shook her violently and snarled, "Did you think that you could just run away? You're as much responsible for what happened as I am." He let out a low, bitter chuckle. It was a hollow sound, devoid of true expression. To her surprise, he released his grip.

She blinked, confused for just a brief moment. Was he giving her a chance to escape? Automatically, she got to her feet and started to run. Snatching at her necklace, her assailant pulled, choking her with it as he reeled her back in.

She gasped as he let go of the chain, and massaged her bruised throat, eying her assailant warily.

He watched her for a moment, looking almost sympathetic but the emotion was short-lived. He seized her by the arm and threw her to the ground.

Steel-blue eyes glittering, he adjusted his grip on the knife in his other hand. She eyed the weapon and swallowed hard as she spotted the rust-coloured stain that ran the length of the blade's cutting edge. A sickeningly sweet, metallic scent touched her nose. The smell of blood.

For the first time that night, the girl felt true fear. Before this moment she had thought-hoped-that there was a chance that he would come to his senses and just let her go. Now, looking up at his pitiless form standing above her, what remained of her faith fled. She backed up as far as she could, dragging herself through the cold stream of water that flooded the backstreet.

"One touch…"

Her heart skipped a beat as her fingertips met the base of the building behind her.

She watched, frozen, as he stopped in front of her, the silver knife in his hands reflecting her wide-eyed expression of absolute terror. Tremors quaked through the teenaged girl's body as the man bore down on her.

Looking up at the murderer in front of her, she whispered one final plea, "Don't do this, please... I beg you, don't. Don't kill me..."

He crouched so that they were face to face, a shadow of regret flitting across his features. He patted her cheek fondly and for a moment she thought that he would spare her. Then he leaned forward and murmured in her ear, "Don't even bother to scream."

"…and I'll watch you die."

~x~

Chapter One - Changing Fate

~x~

We passed each other in the hallway. She knocked my shoulder and my fingertips brushed the back of her hand. For that moment, I was paralysed.

I don't know her name.

I barely remember her face.

But I know that in three days time, at seven minutes past midnight, she's going to be stabbed to death by a man with blond hair and steel-blue eyes.

One touch, that's all it takes. A single second of skin contact and I can tell you when, where, and how your life will end. My mother used to tell me it was gift, that God had chosen me for something special. But if this is supposed to be a blessing then I don't even want to know what constitutes a curse.

She moves and I'm free from the horror movie that's playing in my head. I turn and stare at her as walks by. Every fibre of my body is screaming at me to grab her and pull her back so that I can warn her of what will come to pass. Then the moment slips right through my fingers as she rounds the corner and disappears from my line of sight.

Someone yanks on the collar of my sailor uniform from behind. "Something wrong, Evelyn?"

I know that voice. There are very few people who actually pronounce my name as e-vah-lyn like they're supposed to. Most of my Japanese peers stick to an odd staccato-rhythmed e-bu-rin. Some of them even shorten it to just Rin, not that they have my permission to do so.

A glance to the left and my gaze is level with the collar of a white shirt beneath an unbuttoned gakuran. A few more inches up and I'm staring up into the face of a boy with eyes so brown that they're almost black, and a head full of unruly bleached-orange hair that's sticking up every which way, almost as if he's just rolled out of bed. Knowing him, he probably has. "Good morning, Ryo," I say. Enthusiasm abounds.

He opens his mouth to grin and greet me—and then ducks and winces as a passing teacher smacks him over the back of the head with a book. "Akatsuki-san, how many times do I have to tell you to wear your uniform properly? Don't make me give you detention again!"

Ryo just pulls a face and treats the man to a rude hand gesture. With a sigh, I slap his hand. "You know, if you just did it, then they wouldn't be telling you off all the time," I say as I start buttoning his jacket for him, ignoring the whines about how hot and stuffy the uniform is when done up correctly.

The familiar scent of tobacco wafts off his clothes. Scowling, I yank down on his collar so I can head-butt him in the chin. "Bastard," I snap, "you've been out smoking cigarettes again! Haven't I told you that those things are going to kill you?" I mean it literally too. Eleven years, four months and eighteen days from now, Akatsuki Ryo is going to die from lung cancer.

He frowns a little and rubs his jaw. To be honest, I think I hurt my head more than his. "Yes, Evelyn," he says wearily, "you have. Every day for the past five years, in fact. You're such a nag." He sighs a little and then snatches his lapels from my hands and starts unbuttoning all my work.

"I only say it because it's true."

He flicks me in the centre of the forehead and blows a cigarette-scented breath in my face. The smell makes me want to gag; it's like standing in front of an exhaust pipe. "Come on," he says, rolling his eyes, "how many people get lung cancer from smokes?"

"About twenty-five per cent of men who smoke more than five cigarettes a day, and I know you smoke more than that. I'm telling you, you're one of those twenty-five per cent. Quit if you value your life."

He just pats the top of my head patronisingly. "Okay, okay. Whatever you say, Rin-chan. Ryo-nii will stop smoking."

He's using that singsong tone that he used to reserve for when he was teasing me for my poor Japanese back when we were in elementary school. I shove him. "It's Evelyn, you jerk. And don't talk to me like I'm a child!"

"Okay, okay, yeesh..." He looks away and adds in an undertone, "Uncute, flat-chested foreigner..."

"I heard that."

"What? You heard nothing."

Whatever. It's too early to deal with this stupidity. I turn around to continue on my way to homeroom. But I've only taken two steps before Ryo calls out again, "Evelyn, wait!"

I groan and stop to face him. "What is it now, idiot Ryo?" I stop short; there's a weird expression on his face, one that I don't recognise. I gesture at it with my index finger. "What is this? You're creeping me out."

He fidgets and his eyes wander up towards the ceiling, a clear sign that he's feeling embarrassed. I want to raise an eyebrow at that. Ryo, embarrassed? I should take a picture.

He coughs a little and twiddles his thumbs. "You're friends with Miyakawa Ai, right? Uh, want to introduce me to her?"

I blink at him. "I'm sorry, I'm friends with who now?" He of all people should know that I have no friends. Reflexively blurting out how and when each of my classmates is going to die didn't exactly leave them with the best first impression.

He shakes his head and sighs at me. "Miyakawa-chan," he repeats. "You know... about this tall, petite, really cute, with dark red hair...?"

Ah, he's talking about the girl that bumped into me.

The one who's going to die in three days...

Miyakawa Ai.

Her murder flashes before my eyes again.

There's a moment of silence and then I realise that Ryo's still waiting for answer. "No, I don't know her. What class is she in?"

"Class 2-1."

"Huh. She's only three classrooms away and yet I have never seen her before today. Why's that?"

"She just transferred in from England. I believe both her parents are half-Japanese, but I hear that Miyakawa-chan's Japanese is terrible-worse than yours was when you first came here, and you're a full-blooded foreigner." He lets out what I think is supposed to be a forlorn sigh. "She's so adorable..."

I stare at him. If this were a manga there'd be a love heart at the end of the sentence, shimmering stars in his eyes and roses in the background. And people think that he's some kind of violent delinquent... Forget that. Ryo's a lovesick kitty cat—not that it's going to do him much good if things turn out the way I know they will.

I jump as Ryo suddenly sticks his face in front of mine. "Hey, Evelyn, are you okay? I was thinking it before: you look kind of pale."

"I'm fine."

It's a lie. I feel sick to the very pit of my stomach. But he wouldn't believe me if I told him the truth.

~x~

Last class of the day and my concentration is out the window.

I keep seeing her out of the corner of my eye, this flicker of dark, red hair in a navy and white sailor uniform. Walking past the door to my classroom. In the corridor on my way to the restroom. Running around in the courtyard while I was sitting with Ryo on the roof, having lunch. It's like I'm being haunted by a red-headed ghost.

No, I shouldn't say things like that. She's not dead-not yet, anyway.

Whenever I see her I get this dull, itching sensation in the back of my skull. I know what it is. It's plagued me for most of my life... guilt. The angel on my shoulder is screaming at me to warn her, to do something to save her. Unfortunately, just because I know when and how they die, it doesn't mean that I can always stop it. For all I know, even if Ryo stops smoking, he may still get lung cancer anyway. But the very least, I have to try.

~x~

It's a forty-five-minute walk back to my house from Tenshin High. Seeing as he lives next-door, I normally hitch a ride on the back of Ryo's bike. Not the safest way to travel, but we've perfected it to an art. However, when I get to room 2-3, his friends, Hanta and Nakajima, tell me that he never came back to class after lunch. Bastard. He's probably at the arcade playing videogames.

Unfortunately, thanks to the Miyakawa incident, I'm too tired to walk. Final option: take the train.

To be honest, I hate trains. They're loud, stuffy and crowded, particularly at this hour, and every time I get jostled I see someone else's death. It is my least favourite way to travel. But that jerk left early, and I'm too drained to even try making the long trek home, so here I am.

As per usual, I choose a relatively empty spot on the platform to wait. There's a bunch of elementary school brats chasing each other around just to my left, but I can ignore them. Earphones are in to drown out their yelling and shrieking. Now it's time to formulate a plan to save Miyakawa Ai.

Three days until she dies-no, let me rephrase that, three days until she's murdered. Now all I have to do is think of a way to save her without her thinking that I'm a raving lunatic. Yeah, because that's not going to be hard.

The thought is jolted out of my head as someone slams into me from the side. It's one of the little boys from the group of elementary school kids. Without thinking, I grab him by the arm to stop him from falling-and freeze as I watch him die.

It only takes a mere second. A single rapid flicker of images. But for me it feels like a feature-length film. In my mind's eye I see him stumble and go tumbling off the edge of the platform into the path of an oncoming train. The crowd looks on in horror as his tiny frame is crushed into the rails, and I see myself standing amongst them, face pale and hands clammy with regret.

One minute and eight seconds...

He break away from my grip. "Ah, sorry, miss!" I hear him apologise, but I can't do anything but stare blankly as he runs back to his friends.

His friend pushes him playfully. "Stupid! Watch where you run!"

The boy pouts and shoves back with a small laugh. "It was an accident!" he protests. "I apologised properly."

Fifty seconds...

The blare of the train horn sounds in the air and snaps me back to the present.

Mother of... that kid's about to-

I can see the train coming. They're chasing each other again, moving closer and closer to the yellow warning line.

A stationmaster yells at them from the platform on the other side, "Hey, you brats! Stop that! It's dangerous!"

Thirty seconds...

The kids pull faces at him, but otherwise ignore him. They're not even looking at where they're going!

Crap-

I drop my book bag and start to sprint towards them. "Kids, get back!"

Twenty seconds...

They're over the line now. One of the girls calls out and tries to warn them, "Ah! Tat-chan, Maa-kun, look out!"

One of them hears and quickly slides to a stop. "Tat-chan, the platform!"

Ten...

"Tat-chan, stop!"

Eight...

People have noticed now and are pointing in horror. A couple of them are yelling at him to get back. He hears them, and stumbles as he tries to halt.

Six...

His arms windmill in the air as he fights his own momentum...

Five...

He pitches forward...

Four...

God damn it! Almost there!

Three...

My shoes skid on the ground-

Two...

I reach out to grab him-

One...

"TAT-CHAN!"

Zero.

The screech of the brakes on the rails pierces the air as I land with a thud on my backside.

The train grinds to a halt, the doors slide open, and people start to disembark, pausing in the doorway when they see me collapsed in a heap on the platform's edge. There's a circle of people around me. I can hear them murmuring, wondering what happened, asking if I'm ok. Somewhere behind me the other elementary school kids are crying.

I take a deep breath and look down at the kid sobbing in my lap, my right hand still firmly tangled in the back of his shirt.

My face is flushed, my breathing's ragged, and my chest hurts like hell...

But I made it.

~x~

The Spirit Plane

Zephyrus stared at the first page of his Reaping Schedule with a look of utter bewilderment on his face. He could have sworn that a second ago the name Masao, Tatsuyuki had been at the top of his appointments. He'd just been on his way to collect the boy's soul when suddenly the pages had fluttered on their own and the name had disappeared.

He flicked through the unending list, passing page after page of scheduled deaths until he found it again: Masao, Tatsuyuki. Age: 82. COD: Cardiac Arrest. He glowered. Before it had told him that the kid was supposed to die at nine-years-old due to a train accident. Frustrated, he tossed the book aside.

This had been happening to him a lot recently. Names would suddenly disappear from the top of his Reaping Schedule and reappear somewhere else with a new cause of death. It was mostly accident victims. Just last week some woman was supposed to be run over by a car and die from a haemorrhage, but her name had vanished just moments before he was supposed to collect her soul. When he'd finally found it again, the Schedule had told him that she was going to die of some neurodegenerative disease some forty years into the future.

It can't just be my imagination...

"What's wrong, Zephyrus?"

"Gyah!" he yelled and jumped as a woman's voice suddenly sounded in his ear. "Gabriel! How many times have I told you not to do that?"

She smirked. "Can't help it; you're too much fun to scare. Now, what's the matter?"

"The Schedule is being stupid," he grumbled.

"How so?"

"Keeps changing its mind about when and how people are supposed to die. Take for example this Tatsuyuki kid. He was supposed to be crushed by a train a minute and forty-two seconds ago, but now it says that in seventy-six years he's going to die of cardiac arrest! I feel like I'm going crazy!" He looked at the other Reaper and let out a frustrated wail, "Gabi..."

She ignored Zephyrus's whining. Her amber eyes seemed to darken as she processed what he'd said.

"Gabriel?" asked Zephyrus when she didn't respond.

He flinched as she locked her gaze with his. "You're not going crazy," she said finally. "That boy was supposed to die today." She scowled, eyes narrowing once again. "Someone in the Real Plane is changing Fate. I must consult Azrael..."

Zephyrus cursed as she suddenly vanished. He hated it when she did that.

He glanced at his discarded Reaping Schedule on the floor. He should get back to work...

Glowering at the book before picking it up, he dusted off its leather-bound cover and flicked back to the first page. If the next soul he was supposed to collect also disappeared from the top of his list, Zephyrus was going to have a fit.

"A human able to change Fate," he muttered as he checked the next death listing. "Well, isn't that just a pain in the ass..."


[Tᴏᴜᴄʜ Pɪʟᴏᴛ Eɴᴅ]


A/N: Thank you for reading the first instalment of Touch! You can find links to character artwork and other little goodies on my profile. Hope you enjoyed what you read will continue with the story!

Cheers,
Jax


~Naming Conventions and Honorifics Explained~

As ᴡʀɪᴛᴛᴇɴ ɪɴ Tᴀɴᴏsʜɪᴍᴀ Mᴀɴɢᴀ ʙᴏᴏᴋs ᴡɪᴛʜ ᴀ ғᴇᴡ ᴀᴅᴅɪᴛɪᴏɴs.
(Nᴏᴛ ᴀʟʟ ᴛʜᴇsᴇ ᴡᴏʀᴅs ᴡɪʟʟ ʙᴇ ᴜsᴇᴅ ɪɴ ᴛʜᴇ sᴛᴏʀʏ.)

the order – given then family vs. family then given: This story follows the traditional Japanese convention of giving one's family name (surname) before one's given name. So in the name Akatsuki Ryo, Akatsuki is his family name, and Ryo is his given name.
The only time when this will not apply is when a character has an English (or other non-Japanese) name. Typically you'll find that they give the English version in the order of given name then family name (e.g. Evelyn White), and the Japanese version in the reverse order (Howaito Evurin).

family name vs. given name: The way in which a name is used in conversation depends on the circumstances and the speaker's relationships with the listener and the bearer of the name. Typically the family name is used, with given names largely restricted to informal situations and cases where the speaker is older than, superior to, or very familiar with the named individual.

-san: This is the most common honorific, and is equivalent to Mr., Miss, Ms., Mrs., etc. Used with people you are not very close with, and when being polite.

-sama: This is one level higher than "-san". It is used to confer great respect.

-dono: This comes from the word "tono", which means "lord". It is an even higher level than "-sama" and confers utmost respect.

-kun: This suffix is used at the end of boys' names to express familiarity or endearment. It is also sometimes used by men among friends, or when addressing someone younger or of a lower station.

-chan: This is used to express endearment, mostly towards girls. It is also used for little boys, pets, and even among lovers. It gives a sense of childish cuteness.

-[blank]: Usually forgotten in these lists but perhaps the most significant difference between Japanese and English. The lack of honorific means that the speaker has permission to address the person in a very intimate way. Usually only family, spouses, or very close friends have this kind of permission. Known as yobisute, it can be gratifying when someone who has earned this intimacy starts to call someone's name without an honorific, but when that intimacy hasn't been earned, it can also be very insulting.

The following can be used on their own or as honourific suffixes:

sempai/senpai: This suggests that the addressee is one's senior in a group of organisation. In this story it is used by younger students to address their upperclassmen.

kouhei: The opposite of "sempai", used to address underclassmen in school, or newcomers in the workplace.

sensei: Used for teachers, doctors, or masters of any profession or art.

oniisan: Also shortened to -nii, with "san" also replaceable by sama, or chan dependant on the relationship between the speaker and the addressee. This honorific is used when speaking to an older brother, an older brother figure, or by children addressing a young man who is older than them.

oneesan: Also shortened to -nee, with "san" also replaceable by sama, or chan dependant on the relationship between the speaker and the addressee. This honorific is used when speaking to an older sister, an older sister figure, or by children addressing a young woman who is older than them.

obasan: The japanese equivalent of "Aunt/Auntie." This honorific is used when speaking to a biological auntie, an aunt-like figure, or to middle-aged women in general, with "san" also replaceable by sama, or chan dependant on the relationship between the speaker and the addressee.

okaasan: The Japanese word for "mother". The 'o' may be dropped if being informal, with "san" also replaceable by sama, or chan dependant on the relationship between the speaker and the addressee.

Other terms:

gakuran: A type of school uniform for boys. The top has a standing collar buttoning down from top-to-bottom. They are usually black or navy blue. The second button from the top is often given to the girl its wearer likes.