XXXHolic: Hitsuzen

Catching Air




"—Wha!? Where'm I!?" Suzume gasped as she suddenly jolted up in her futon, eyes wide and bouncing around the unfamiliar room she now found herself in. Fortunately, her brain caught up to her mouth, and she started to remember the events of the previous evening before she did anything really foolish, like try to report her own nonexistent kidnapping. 'Ah, that's right…' She thought, sweat-dropping, as she smiled wryly at herself. 'I'm at Doumeki-kun's house because he let me spend the night here after we stopped my uncle… But why do I still feel like I'm forgetting something important…?'

Suzume sat there for a bit longer, holding her chin as she furrowed her brow slightly in concentration.

Why was she even awake this early to begin with? She usually only woke up this early on school days…

"Ah! That's right, I'm supposed to go back to school today!" She exclaimed, jumping to her feet. "Ah-ah! My uniform and books are still at my house! I can't go without them, but I don't wanna be late, either!" She thought out loud, mussing up her bed hair even more as she held her hands to her head and ran around the room like a chicken with its head cut off. She hadn't actually attended any classes since the entrance ceremony because of the illness caused by her uncle's curse, and now she was at risk of ruining her second chance at making a good first impression by being late on her first day back! And she doubted having an unusual hair color was going to help her case since none of her past teachers had ever believed her, either…

She doubted Doumeki was awake yet, since the sun was barely even up, and she didn't think she should leave without saying goodbye or thanking him, but she probably wouldn't have time to go back to her house and change before school if she waited for him to wake up on his own, and she didn't think waking him up so early would be a particularly decent way for her to express her gratitude…

"Arghh! I guess there's no choice but to go with that for now…!"

—¡–!–¡–!–¡—

{About an hour-and-a-half later…}

"…" Doumeki said as he stared at the note Suzume had left behind for him on top of the now neatly folded spare futon in their guest room. Her handwriting seemed a bit panicked since she had rushed to jot down a brief explanation about how she had to go back to her own home so she could get ready for school, but despite how anxious she had been to leave, she had still bothered to go through the trouble of folding the futon and making breakfast of green tea-flavored doughnuts for him as thanks for the hospitality…

What was she, a young housewife?

For a moment, Doumeki wondered what made her choose doughnuts, but then he remembered her mentioning that anything she tried to make, other than sweets, turned into charcoal… So, yeah, doughnuts was a good move on her part, even though he didn't usually like eating sweets this early...

Doumeki shrugged and picked up a doughnut. He might as well give them a try. He took a bite.

"… They're good." He thought out loud, surprised. Since they were doughnuts, he had been expecting them to be really sweet, but she had used to green tea to balance out the sugar and create a more mild and sophisticated flavor. Doumeki decided to grab a second one before heading out the door.

—¡–!–¡–!–¡—

The sun was shining, the birds were singing—it was a beautiful and peaceful day... unless you were Watanuki Kimihiro.

"Urgh! Why won't these things quit chasing me around, already!?" The exasperated high schooler shouted as he ran through the streets, trying to loose the particularly large and grotesque spirit that had decided to target him today. Even though he was slaving away in Yuuko's shop to stop this kind of thing, his daily battle with rogue spirits had yet to end.

"Watanuki-kuuuun!" He heard a familiar voice call out to him, but Watanuki didn't dare stop. Not with this thing after him. It would be suicidal to slow down and let something like this catch him now!

"Hey! Watanuki-kuuuun, I said!" The voice called out again, much louder this time. It sounded like its owner was gaining on him, too. A girl with short, white hair who was wearing a Tsuji Academy uniform pulled up next to him on an orange bicycle, keeping pace with him. It was Suzume.

"Yo, Watanuki-kun! Need a lift?" She asked, smiling wryly, as she sweat dropped. Must be rough, being chased by something that nasty this early in the day.

"Suzume-chan!? What are you doing here?" Watanuki asked, surprised. He hadn't realized the school she mentioned before was actually theirs.

"Same as you, I guess. I was on my way to school when I noticed you and your tag-a-long, there. So hop on, Watanuki-kun!" She told him, nodding her head to the back of her bike.

Watanuki didn't need to be told twice. In one odd but strangely fluid and graceful leap, he was on the back of Suzume's bike, using the stunt pegs she had on the back wheels for support, while he held onto her shoulders for support.

"Nice. Now hold on, Watanuki-kun—We're about to become one with the wind!" Suzume declared with a mischievous twinkle in her eyes, grinning, as she increased their speed. It didn't seem to make any difference to her that the weight she had to pull just doubled, because Suzume took off like a shot, pedaling with such speed and strength, that they actually caught air once or twice along the way when they hit a bump.

"Yahooo~!" Suzume cheered, positively loving every moment, as they took flight from the top of one of the steeper hills in the road, soaring through the air like a scene right out of E.T. She just loved the feeling of the wind flowing through her hair while she sailed off into the sky during these brief moments before gravity caught up to her—that wonderful feeling of absolute freedom!

Unfortunately, her passenger didn't seem to share her point of view.

"Uwaaaaaah!?" Watanuki yelled in alarm and surprise, clinging tightly to the crazy girl he had just entrusted his life to. He never would have taken a sweet and levelheaded girl like Suzume for a speed demon!

Poor Watanuki had been under the mistaken impression that Suzume was normal

Which she obviously was not… You see, even before her powers of kotodama had reawakened, Inoue Suzume had always been a little odd. Since she had been born with such a unique hair color in a country where conformity was encouraged more than individuality, she had always been an easy target for teasing, and didn't have many real friends growing up, until she had to start dying her hair for school. As a result, little Suzume had often played by herself, and as a result, soon discovered many different ways of playing and having fun on her own, such as BMX biking… Which resulted in her present condition as a notorious speed demon that was always looking to catch some air.

But this was something most people didn't discover until it was too late, like Watanuki, who was currently spazzing out as he clung onto her for dear life…

—¡–!–¡–!–¡—

{At Tsuji Academy, one high-speed chase between a spirit and two high schoolers on a bike later…}

"Ahaha… Sorry, I guess I got a little carried away back there, huh?" Suzume apologized to Watanuki sheepishly, rubbing the back of her neck. He still looked a little green around the gills…

"Ah, well… Thanks for your help, Suzume-chan." Watanuki said, smiling wryly as he sweat dropped. At least they had managed to get there in one piece… Suzume was a nice girl, and, as promised, she had helped him get away by out riding and out maneuvering that awfully persistent spirit… but he definitely wasn't getting back on that bike with her any time soon—A roller coaster was less nerve-racking!!

Wait a minute…

"… Um, Suzume-chan, this might be a little late, but… Why didn't you just use kotodama to get rid of it?" He asked, slightly chagrined that he hadn't thought of this sooner.

"Oh, well, it doesn't always work on the big ones like that." She explained rather calmly. "Sometimes I just have to run, like everyone else."

"Ah, I see. I haven't really been able to find anything that works on the really big ones either." Watanuki said, nodding in understanding. Even he could handle some of the smaller ones by throwing salt at them, but the big ones were a different story. "But anyway, I was a bit surprised to see you wearing a Tsuji school uniform. I thought you said you were fourteen yesterday." If that was true, then why was she dressed like she belonged in the same grade as them? Shouldn't she still be in middle school?

"I am fourteen. I just skipped a grade." She replied nonchalantly while she chained up her bike.

"O-Oh. I see…" Watanuki said, smiling wryly as he sweat-dropped. 'Don't tell me Suzume-chan's actually some kind of genius…?' He thought, wondering how he always ended up meeting such extraordinary people.

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