Pilot = Prologue + First Chapter combined.
This story uses Japanese naming conventions and honourifics. Please find a glossary/guide attached at the end of this chapter.
"One touch, and I see everything..."
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 wet, freezing 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 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 glanced back to see how much ground there was left between them, but the movement interrupted her momentum. She lost her footing and slipped, landing sprawled in the centre of the alley.
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 lay there for a moment, struggling to catch her breath—fighting the urge to just break down and cry. But she couldn't remain where she was. She had to keep running. Otherwise...
Small frame shaking with exhaustion, she got to her hands and knees—and shrieked as a foot smashed into the small of her back. Her chest slammed into the stone pavement, knocking the breath from her lungs. Fingers raked across her scalp. She cried out as she was dragged to her knees by the hair.
"Where do you think you're going?" whispered a voice in her ear. She would have known it anywhere. It was him. His breath blew cold against her skin and sent chills down her spine.
Lips trembling, she responded with a thin whimper, too afraid to say a word.
"I asked you where you were going!" 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 down hard on her lower lip to stop herself from crying 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. Then, to her surprise, he released his grip.
She blinked. Was he giving her a chance to escape? Automatically, she got to her feet and started to flee. He seized the back of her collar and pulled, choking her with the material as he threw her to the ground once again.
She gasped, massaging her aching throat, lips moving in a silent plea. He watched her for a moment, looking almost sympathetic. But the emotion was short-lived. 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. Blood.
This was it, she realised. This was the end. Before this moment she had thought—hoped—that there was a chance that he would come to his senses and let her go. But now, looking up at his pitiless form, 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 alley.
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 blade of the knife in his hands reflecting her wide-eyed expression of absolute terror. Tremors quaked through the teenage girl's body as the man bore down on her.
"Don't do this," she whispered. "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."
"One touch, and I'll watch you die."
Chapter 1: Changing Fate
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 in a leather jacket, 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.
The horror movie ends as she walks off and the contact breaks. All I can do is stand there in dazed paralysis and watch her go. 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, but the moment slips right through my fingers as she rounds the corner and disappears from my line of sight.
My collar cuts into my skin as someone jerks on my sailor uniform from behind.
"Something wrong, Evelyn?"
There's only one person that could be. Generally, people here don't talk to me, and amongst those that do, 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—particularly this guy—even shorten it to Rin, despite the fact that I never gave them 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, set beneath a head full of unruly bleached-orange hair that's sticking up every which way, as if he's just rolled out of bed. Although, knowing him, he probably has.
"Good morning, Ryo."
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, do that uniform up 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."
"Have you tried wearing these things? It's hot and stuffy."
Ignoring his whines, I do it up for him. Then the familiar scent of tobacco wafts off his clothes and the corners of my mouth drop into a scowl. Seriously, this guy...
Yanking down on his collar, I head-butt him in the chin. "You've been smoking again, haven't you?" I accuse. "Didn't I say 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. Judging from the throb of my forehead, I probably hurt my head more than his. With a weary little sigh, he says, "Evelyn, you tell me that repeatedly. You've said it least once a week for the past five years, in fact." He shakes his head with mock-admonishment as he snatches his lapels from my hands and starts unbuttoning all my work.. "You'll never get a boyfriend if you keep being such a nag."
Who says I want one?
I cross my arms. "I only say it because it's true, Ryo." Yet after five years of trying to convince him, he still doesn't believe me.
He flicks me in the centre of the forehead and blows a cigarette-scented breath in my face. "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 that 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."
How many times have I told him not to call me that? And he's using that singsong tone that he used to reserve for when he was teasing me for my poor Japanese in elementary school.
I shove him in the chest. "It's Evelyn, you jerk. And I'm not a child, so don't talk to me like that!"
"Okay, okay, yeesh..." Rolling his eyes, he 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.
With a groan, I stop and 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. Huh. If I'm not mistaken, that's a distinct sign of embarrassment. Heh. 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 when I first made contact with them didn't exactly leave 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...
Her murder flashes before my eyes again.
There's a moment of silence.
Oh right, he's waiting for an answer. "No, I don't know her. What class is she in?"
Huh. She's only three classrooms away and yet I have never seen her before today. "She new?"
Ryo practically goes misty-eyed. A broad smile across his face, he answers, "Yep. Just transferred in from England. I believe both her parents are half, 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."
I think there was a thinly veiled insult in there.
As I open my mouth to retort, he lets out what I think is supposed to be a forlorn sigh.
Ugh, sickening. If this were a manga there'd be a speech bubble with a love heart over his head, shimmering stars in his eyes, and a bunch of random 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."
It's a complete and utter lie. I feel sick to the very pit of my stomach. But he wouldn't believe me if I told him the truth.
Last class of the day and my concentration is out the window. Literally. Class 2-1 is out doing phys. ed. down in the courtyard, which means that Miyakawa Ai is down there too.
I kept 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. Sitting in the courtyard while I was sitting with Ryo on the roof during 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. But just because I know when and how they die, 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.
At the very least though, I have to try.
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, Aoi and Nakajima, tell me that he never came back to class after lunch.
Brilliant. Thanks for the heads up, Ryo. Real kind of you. He's probably at the arcade playing video games.
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. It's time to formulate a plan to save Miyakawa Ai.
Three days until she dies— Wait, 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—
Someone slams into me from the side. A quick glance tells me that it's one of the little boys from the group of elementary school kids. Instinct makes me grab his arm. Then the world stops.
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 can 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."
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. The boys are 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!"
The kids pull faces at him, but otherwise ignore him. They're not even looking at where they're going!
I drop my book bag and sprint towards them. "Kids, get back!"
They're over the line now. One of the girls calls out: "Ah! Tat-chan, Maa-kun, look out!"
The second of the two boys quickly slides to a stop. "Tat-chan," he yells, "the platform!"
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.
His arms windmill in the air as he fights his own momentum...
He pitches forward...
God damn it! Almost there!
My shoes skid on the ground—
I reach out to grab him—
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.
In the darkest depths of the Spirit Plane, Zephyrus frowned at the first page on his Reaping Schedule. A second ago the name Masao, Tatsuyuki had been at the top of his appointments, he'd been just about to go and collect the boy's soul when the pages had started fluttering 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. Before it had told him that the kid was supposed to die at nine-years-old due to a train accident. He grimaced.
This wasn't the first time this had happened. Ever since he'd been moved to this sector, names had been disappearing from the top of his list and reappearing elsewhere with a new cause of death almost constantly. Accident victims, for the most part. Why, 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 a neurodegenerative disease some forty years into the future. He knew exactly what it meant, and the very idea filled him with dread.
Reaping protocol dictated that he report the anomaly to Gabriel, his superior, but he was reluctant to do so. She'd tell Azrael and he knew exactly what the archangel would say.
No, it was best to keep this quiet. At least for now.
"What's wrong, Zephyrus?"
"Gyah!" He yelled and jumped as a woman's voice suddenly sounded in his ear. He spun and found nothing but the iridescent glitter of spirit essence in the dark empty space of the Plane. He sighed. "I know you're there, Gabriel." No one else would approach him like that. Heck, no one else approached him period.
The woman laughed. Golden particles rushed towards him and condensed, forming the shimmering outline of a woman that solidified into a corporeal form. Gabriel smiled at him, her gold eyes glimmering beneath her long red hair. "You'd think that after eight hundred years, that would get old, but it doesn't."
Zephyrus shook his head. Sometimes he found it hard to believe that she was a Death Angel. "Are you here to check up on me?" he asked. She didn't usually pay social visits.
The angel rolled her eyes. "Of course not, I just came to ask you a question."
He frowned and tilted his head. "Question?"
Her expression turned serious. Eyes narrowed she queried, "Zephyrus, have you noticed anything... strange lately?"
Was this a trick question?
He shook his head, busying himself with pretending to read his Reaping Schedule. "No, nothing. Why?"
She sighed. "I see... Well if you see something, let me know."
She'd already disappeared.
Zephyrus gave it a few moments before snapping his book shut and making a move. In a stream of blue essence, he travelled to the edge of the Real Plane. Looking down at the pale glimmer of souls encased in their Vessels—and the slightly more distinct glow of those that were not, he frowned. So he wasn't the only one who had noticed.
He sighed and shook his head. What a pain in the ass.
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!
~Naming Conventions and Honorifics Explained~
As written in Tanoshima Manga books with a few additions.
Not all these words will be used in the story.
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.
kouhai: The opposite of "senpai", 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.
okaa-san, otou-san: The Japanese word for "mother" and "father". 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.
oba-san: 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. The masculine equivalent is ojisan, "Uncle".
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.