Nobody look at this, please

I have a story due on the 20th for a fandom I've never written in (and haven't even read/watched the source material); I have it entirely plotted out, but haven't yet managed to write down more than bits and pieces because, y'know, I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I'M WRITING ABOUT.

Not that I (exactly) regret agreeing to sign up for the fic exchange, but it would be a lot easier if I could just call it "original fiction" and have done with it.

Anyway, I shall be attempting to pin the thing down in words in the comments, because that's succeeded before as a last-ditch pyschological work-around. And this post is public because if it's locked that entirely ruins the effect on me. But I think the fic-exchange is supposed to be anonymous (I'm not sure?), so if you do read along as I'm posting it, pretend you didn't until after the 20th.

Okay. Here goes:

It perhaps says something about Iruka's character that when he unlocked the gallery for the day and found that there was already someone inside, his reaction was neither to stop and consider the striking tableau formed by the biker (all black leather except for the flaming eyes on the helmet held under one arm) standing in front of the main painting of Michael the Archangel (with flowing fabric and feathers and light) nor to confront the man for breaking and entering (although the door had been locked, and nothing looked to be missing), but rather to snatch away the book that he held, because the cover displayed a naked angel and nearly-naked man embracing, and at Irkua's heels came three dozen fifth graders.

The last exhibit at the gallery had featured nudity; Iruka still had occational nightmares about Mrs. Borden's sixth-grade class.
"You can reclaim it afterwards," he said, aiming for 'authoritative' and landing closer to 'slightly harassed', and then a small tide of children poured in through the door behind him and swept through the room, intent on noisy chaos. They parted around the biker and rejoined without seeming to notice that he was even there, which--in Iruka's by-now copious experience--was an oddity: children delighted in attacking strangers with questions, especially when they were supposed to be doing something else. A passing thought of perhaps I could have allowed him to keep it, after all swam through Iruka's mind, but then he dove in after the children and it was drowned in their tumult of chatter.

The teacher who trailed along in the children's wake looked to be much closer to sleep than wakefulness, but between the two of them and the caffeine-manic mother who'd been roped into chaperoning, they managed to gather everyone more or less where Iruka wanted them, and by the time he had them trying to guess at the religious symbolism in some of the stranger of the exhibit's paintings, he'd completely forgotten about both the battered book shoved down the back of his jeans and its ineffable owner.
He was forcibly reminded two hours later when he went to sit down after the wave of children had swept out again and got jabbed in the back. A moment's guilt, when he pulled it out and saw that he'd bent one of the corners, was followed by vague consternation when he realized that at some point during his session with the kids, he'd lost track of the book's owner--and since the other man was now nowhere to be seen, that meant Iruka had managed to turn himself into an inadvertent book thief.

He checked inside the front cover, in the dim hope it contained a name or address or something, but found only a list of numbers marching down the outside edge of the front page. Page numbers, he guessed after a minute of staring at them blankly, and tried the first one.

Two paragraphs in, and he snapped the book shut, feeling his grow hot and tight from blushing. It was porn, straight up and unapologetic, and Iruka couldn't imagine how anyone could just read it nonchalantly in public, where people might catch a glimpse.

Well. Perhaps it was just as well he didn't have a way to return the book. He was tempted to burn it instead--it could keep his copy of The Communist Manifesto company once they finally finished with it in seminar.

That decided, he shoved the book down the back of his pants again so no one would see him with it on the way back to his dorm room.
But a week later, he couldn't bring himself to actually do it--he went so far as to bum a lighter off one of his friends who smoked, but when he held it up to the Manifesto, he heard his mother telling him, "Books are like people, Iruka. You should always be kind to them," and then he had to take five minutes to not-cry. In the end he dropped the lighter in a drawer and took to tearing the pages out when he felt stressed in order to fold them into origami cranes.

(He had his first string of a hundred completed within 6 days; he told himself that was perfectly understandable for a college student working two jobs.)
He'd taken to storing Waiting for Paradise in with his fencing gear, as his roommate Mizuki liked to treat Iruka's things as his own, and was only put off by the stink of sweaty canvas; he also liked to tease (or, if Iruka was being completely honest with himself, outright mock) Iruka for his "prudishness", and the book would give him enough fodder to drive Iruka near to homicide. Or requesting a mid-semester rooming replacement--he worked in the registrar's office once a week and had lunch occasionally with the college president: he had connections.

But he didn't want it to come to that. For all that Mizuki liked to use words like scalpels, and not in medically-approved ways, he was still the first friend Iruka had made in college, remained his automatic choice for table companion during meals, had always been the only person Iruka felt comfortable complaining to about how hard it was to work nearly full-time while trying to grind through Leibnitz and Kant and Maxwell. They watched bad TV on the weekends and picked through the local used bookstore together, and Iruka was willing to use his unwashed fencing whites as a very bizarre safe to help protect that.

So when the owner of the book showed up at a Tuesday evening fencing practice, Iruka's first reaction wasn't guilt for having accidentally stolen the book in first place, or relief that he hadn't yet finished tearing the pages out of Marx, meaning Waiting for Paradise was still intact, but rather frustration that there wasn't any way he could return the book without Mizuki noticing. For a wonder, he'd actually showed up to practice that night, even though he seemed more intent on criticizing his teammates' forms than improving his own.
Granted, he was still clearly better than everyone there except the team's coach and a couple of the townies who spent their weekends competing, but some of the sophomores had begun to creep up on his heels, and Iruka couldn't help but be a little worried how he'd react once they caught up--because they would, if only because they practiced four times a week instead of just once.

It took Iruka a while to realize that the new townie cutting a swathe through, well, everyone, was the biker from the gallery. The white canvas made him look like almost a different person, and Iruka had his hands full with several one-on-one lessons with townie kids. (Not that Iruka was anywhere near the next-best fencer on the team, but he had a very strict eye for form and needed the money.)

He didn't even notice that there was a new guy on the floor until there was an audible gasp from the other end of the gym and he looked over just in time to see Mizuki get driven off the end of the strip.

Edited at 2014-12-18 06:31 pm (UTC)
A moment later Chiyoko, his current student, nailed him in the crook of his elbow, exactly where she'd already hit Iruka four times already, and that pretty much ended the lesson because a) Chiyoko obviously didn't need any more target practice for the evening, and b) next time they would be focusing on distance because Iruka was pretty sure she'd had managed to break skin through four layers of canvas.

"Okay, I think that's enough drilling," he forced himself to say, rather than gasp. "Why don't you go watch some practice bouts--see if you can tell how they use distance."

"What, like that?" Chiyoko asked as she pulled her mask off, waving it in the direction of where Mizuki was up against the townie. Iruka followed her gesture just in time to see Mizuki get hit by a perfectly executed stop-thrust. Beautiful, he thought, and then Mizuki's going to lose it now, and he was right. As Mizuki became visibly increasingly frustrated, he lost control of everything, especially distance, so that he very nearly impaled himself on the last touch.

In a tournament, he would have restrained himself, for fear of getting carded. But this was just practice, and so he stormed off the strip without saluting or removing his mask or observing any of the other niceties.

"That was an example of what you should never do after losing a match," Iruka told Chiyoko, trying to ignore the sudden surge of worry that seemed to churn his stomach like too much acid. He looked down at her, and felt oddly comforted by the well, duh face she made at him. "But don't tell Mizuki I said that."

"I try to stay away from Mizuki--he scares me a little," she admitted, then laughed a little. "Don't you tell Mizuki I said that, either."

"Deal," Iruka said, and pulled his own mask off, grimacing a little at how wet all the padding inside was.

Edited at 2014-12-19 06:08 pm (UTC)
"So you teach here, too?" An unfamiliar male voice said from behind him, and Iruka turned to see who it was.

"I'm sorry...?" he began, and then recognized the other man. "Oh! I'm sorry." Unthinking, he began feeling at his pockets, as if Paradise is Waiting could be summoned into existence simply by the force of his embarrassment. "I didn't meant to--"

"This guy bothering you, Iruka?" Mizuki interrupted, appearing out of nowhere like the ninjas he always mocked in the movies.

Edited at 2014-12-19 04:58 am (UTC)
Iruka might have felt betrayed by Chiyoko's own sudden disappearance, except that he'd have followed suit if he wasn't certain it would have caused all sorts of problems later. "Hi, Mizuki," he said, in the vain hope that Mizuki might remember his manners if someone else served as an example. "No bothering going on here--just polite conversation."

Mizuki scowled. "Then what were you apologizing for?"

This took a minute for Iruka to parse. "I--what--?"

"Your friend had just turned down my invitation for a bout," the book's owner interposed, earning Iruka's undying gratitude for the rest of the evening.
It might have worked, had Mizuki not been so angry still over his loss.

"Oh, but you should," he said, voice as sweet as the fake syrup they used in the dining hall. "Show him a thing or two." Given how thoroughly Mizuki had been trounced, that seemed highly unlikely, but as Iruka opened his mouth to say so, Mizuki kept on going. "In fact, why don't you use this strip, and I'll even play ref for you." He began pulling Iruka over to the nearer of the en garde lines.

It didn't make sense--Mizuki liked to crow over his 49 to 2 win record against Iruka, so he couldn't expect vicarious payback. Not that he was one for that anyway; Mizuki hated owing anyone anything. Possibly he was just looking to share the pain, but that wasn't really his style: if he had a motto, it was more along the lines of 'revenge over all'.

So when Iruka found himself saluting the book's owner, he found himself torn, unsure of whether to try mouthing a warning or to simply go along with whatever Mizuki had planned. Fair play or loyalty?

And that's when he realized what Mizuki had planned--although he should have guessed the moment Mizuki volunteered to play ref. Mizuki hated reffing.
His first, gut reaction was to put his blade down and walk away, but as he stood, mask in hand, hesitating, his opponent smiled, ever so slightly, and winked. Well, Iruka thought he did. The sweatband falling down over one eye made it a little hard to be sure.

So he nodded back and pulled his mask on, and decided that if he was going to do this, he would do it textbook perfect. Mizuki could read most opponents like a book and play them like a cheap piano, but Iruka had form.

And so did the book's owner, he found with growing delight. Mizuki might have meant to turn the bout into a vicarious grudge-match, mis-calling touches and right-of-way just to get one over on the guy who'd beaten him, but instead it unfolded into an exhibition piece, with Mizuki standing ignored on the sidelines as both fencers traded touches in what could have been a choreographed dance.

Iruka had never felt so pleased to lose 4-5.
But in the afterglow and chatter of the onlookers they'd garnered, he again lost track of the book's owner, and by the time he remembered that he needed to return something, the other man was nowhere to be found.

"I hope you guys bout again next week," Chiyoko said as Iruka helped pack up her gear. "That was so cool."

"It really was," he agreed, unable to suppress his smile at the still-fresh memory. "But he didn't say anything about coming back--I wouldn't be surprised if we don't see him again."

"I hope not," Mizuki said from behind him. "Guy was a jerk--didn't even tell anyone his name. I asked around." He kicked at Iruka's heel. "C'mon, let's get out of here. The kid's mom can help her pack the rest of her junk."
Chiyoko nodded almost frantically, eyes wide and a little frightened, so Iruka put down the jacket he'd been folding and stood up. "Okay. I'll see you for Saturday's lesson, then."

Mizuki spent the walk back to their dorm creating increasingly elaborate and improbable theories as to the identity and motivation of their mystery fencer, to the point that Iruka began to thing he'd filled his water bottle with vodka again, although he wasn't showing any physical signs of inebriation. It wasn't like him--or, no. It wasn't like the guy Iruka had sat next to in their very first seminar. But people changed over the course of college, and Iruka was beginning to wonder if Mizuki was still quite the same person he'd met as a freshman.

Edited at 2014-12-21 02:10 am (UTC)
After the fencing incident, Iruka didn't feel quite as guilty about his accidental book-theft. Obviously the owner wasn't too upset over it, given he'd had the chance to demand Waiting for Paradise back and had chosen not to. But Iruka wasn't really sure what to do with it: he couldn't very well dispose of it, now that he knew there was an actual possibility of returning it, but Mizuki had lost all inhibition about going through Iruka's things. Not even sweaty whites were safe, now that he'd started showing up at all the fencing practices again, because he kept finding excuses to use Iruka's gear instead of his own.

He was about to resort to stashing the book in his desk at the registrar's office, when its owner reappeared--this time in the college coffee shop, where Iruka was eating a grilled cheese sandwich because the dining hall was serving "vegetarian chicken" and that always ended badly.

He was chewing his way through Kierkegaard, trying to wrap his head around the possibility of a faith so profound it was strengthened and not destroyed by paradox, when someone sat down across the table from him and said, "Do you have a favorite passage yet?"

Iruka blinked, unsure of whether he'd just imagined the question, and looked up from his book. There, back in black leather, though minus the motorcycle helmet, sat the owner of Waiting for Paradise. "What?"

"I know it's hard to choose, but mine's the section where the Enoch is up on the mountain praying for protection and Qaphsiel appears, but has forgotten than humans wear clothing--"

At the mention of potential nakedness Iruka realized that the book in question most certainly wasn't Fear and Trembling. "Wait, what?"
His companion managed to look hurt, despite his face being mostly covered by scarf and bandanna. "You mean to say that you stole my book and haven't even bothered to read it?"

"Yes--no! I mean--" Iruka wasn't sure what he meant, so he closed his eyes for a moment and tried to pull his thoughts together. "It was an accident. All I wanted was to avoid the corruption of minors. If you hadn't disappeared, I would have returned it once they left." He looked down at Kierkegaard again, because that made it a little easier to pretend he was talking to his fencing opponent of the other night and not this, this--well, owner of a well-used book of porn. "Through really, I was doing you a favor, if the cover is any indication of the sophistication of the writing."
"Well, there's sophistication and then there's sophistication," the other man leered--probably. It was a little hard to tell with so much of his face covered.

"That makes no sense at all," Iruka stated flatly, by now thoroughly regretting having ever noticed Waiting for Paradise in the first place, and wishing he'd stashed it in his old army bag and not under the bottom drawer of his desk. Perhaps if he could hand it over now, he'd never have to see this person again. "Look--" he glanced at the clock over the coffee shop's counter. "I need to go to class and I don't have the book with me right now. Can we meet back here later? Or I could mail it to you."

"No, here's fine," the other man said, settling down in his chair as if he intended to not move from it until Iruka returned--which Iruka couldn't help feeling spitefully pleased by, as that wouldn't be for another three and a half hours.

"Okay, then." Iruka shoved Fear and Trembling into his army bag, collected the detritus of his lunch, and left without further goodbye.

He didn't glance over his shoulder as he went through the door, but if he had, he would have been surprised to find that his table was already empty, with the book's owner nowhere in sight.

The problem with getting irked, Iruka decided later that day, while standing in line for dinner, was that it distracted you from doing things like collecting contact information or setting a time and place for meeting. He'd retrieved the book from his room, but when he'd returned to the coffee shop, it had been empty aside from someone studying and a student worker sweeping the floor.

"Well, this is cozy," a nearly-familiar voice said in his ear. Which, granted, it was--they hadn't opened the doors to the dining hall yet, but students kept shoving themselves into the hallway to wait, so that Iruka was about two inches from becoming uncomfortably intimate with the backside of the guy standing in front of him.

"I suppose you could call it that," he allowed, craning his neck to look behind him, as there wasn't space to turn around properly. "Just to warn you, whatever they had you pay at the door, it was too much."

"Not a fan of the food here?" the book's owner asked, and somehow Iruka could tell he was smiling and not leering this time. "Ah, well. I'll eat nearly anything."

"You might have to," Iruka laughed, but then the doors opened and they were spilled out into dining hall and he was distracted by the task of finding something edible.
They wound up at the same table, toward the back of the room. A few people gave them funny looks as they went by, but for the most part no one seemed to notice the strange biker who somehow managed to eat a plateful of pierogies and kielbasa without unwinding the scarf that nearly came up to his nose.

"Not bad," he said at the end of it.

"It's the one meal they can make reliably well," Iruka agreed, feeling a bit more mellow than he had at the coffee shop--even vaguely hopeful. Perhaps if neither of them mentioned the book, they could have an actual conversation.

But, of course, that was when Mizuki chose to shove past Iruka's chair and slam down his tray. "Slumming it with prospies, Iruka?" he all but snarled.

Edited at 2014-12-29 06:19 pm (UTC)
"No," Iruka said, finally beginning to feel angry by Mizuki's new attitude, instead of just worried or apologetic. "So good news: you didn't just lose the college a student. But if you keep this up, you might be losing a friend."

"What, over him?" Mizuki spat, jabbing an accusatory finger in the direction of the book's owner, who made a sort of 'who, me?' gesture with his hands, but didn't say anything. Iruka scrubbed at his face with his hands and wished they weren't doing this in the dining hall, even if they were all but hidden in the back corner.

"No, Mizuki--I don't even know his name."

"Oh," the book's owner said. "I suppose you don't. Call me Kakashi." He held his hand out as though they'd just met, as though Mizuki wasn't breathing fire and brimstone and unjustified rage down Iruka's neck. Iruka stared at him for a long minute before deciding that everything was so messed up at this point that shaking hands couldn't possibly make it worse.

"Iruka," he answered, as blandly polite as he could manage given the circumstances. "But you'd probably figured that out by now." Any moment now, he was sure, Mizuki would explode, and then it really would be time to request that mid-semester transfer. Just one lousy book, he thought despairingly.
But instead of the expected explosion, Izumo and Kotetsu slid in across the table, next to Kakashi. "Hey, Iruka. This guy a prospie?" And then, "I'm Kotetsu, and brainiac here Izumo. Congratulations on surviving dinner--you lucked out tonight. No vegetarian chicken!"

Beside Iruka, Mizuki seemed to pull himself together, though Iruka could still feel the tension pouring off him like heat from a flame.

"His name's Kakashi," he said, tone not quite that of a sneer. "He says he's not a prospie, though I can't think why anyone would subject themselves to the food here otherwise."

"Perhaps I'm just an adventuresome diner." Kakashi raised his visible eyebrow. "I've certainly had worse to eat than this. And I'm here because Iruka has a book of mine to return."

"What's the title?" Izumo demanded. "I have to know what on earth could entice Iruka away from work and study. He turned down Terry Pratchett last month. Terry Pratchett!"

"I didn't actually read it," Iruka tried to defend himself, but at the same time Kakashi said, "Waiting for Paradise," so nobody heard him. There was a moment's silence, in which he could see the wheels turning in Kotetsu and Izumo's heads. "I think I'll go get dessert," he announced before they had a chance to say anything, and made a preemptive retreat from the table.
But Mizuki followed at his elbow, and Iruka braced himself for either mockery or vitriol. Or vitriolic mockery--Mizuki had proved himself versatile on more than one occasion, though never yet at Iruka's expense. Not quite.

He was silent, though, as they picked through the desert options. "Did he really just loan you a book?" he finally asked while they were waiting by the microwave for a chance to heat their pieces of apple pie. "Why didn't you just tell me?" As olive branches went, it was about as much as Iruka could have hoped for.

"He didn't so much loan it as I accidentally stole it," he admitted, eyes fixed on his piece of pie, unwilling to look at Mizuki for fear of what he'd see there. "I knew--" he tried, and, "I thought--" before settling on, "It was just stupid, and I didn't want anyone to find out."

When Mizuki didn't laugh, Iruka risked glancing over at him, and was relieved to find no trace of derision, only a rarely-worn pensive look. "No, but that's perfect," he said after a minute. "We're watching the next episode tonight, he can come."

Iruka had never been properly dumbfounded before; it took him the entirety of warming up the pie to find words again. "Wait, what?" Such as they were. "I thought you were going to rip his head off, and now you want to invite him to Friday night MST3K?"

"Sure," Mizuki said casually. "None of us have read the books. He can tell us how the show compares." He shot a sly look over at Iruka as they approached their table. "Unless we have another expert already."

"I think Anko's read them," Iruka said, feeling inexplicably weak in the knees.

"Well, maybe she's free tonight, too." Mizuki sat in Iruka's chair, swapping trays before he could protest, and leaned across the table toward Kakashi, ignoring Kotetsu and Izumo, who were laughing so hard their faces were in danger of winding up in their dinner. "Kakashi, I think we might have gotten off on the wrong foot."

"Oh?" Kakashi set his elbow on an empty patch of his tray, and rested his chin carefully on his hand, eyebrow once again up, and face vacant of any readable expression. "Do tell."
Iruka did his best to ignore his table companions and ate his pie with an intensity of focus he usually reserved for the intricacies of geometry, wondering as he did so what'd he'd done in his previous life to warrant all this in his current one.

And if he could trust Mizuki's apparent declaration of truce.


Friday night MST3K was traditionally guys-only, so Iruka was a little surprised when Anko actually showed up; he hadn't thought Mizuki would really follow through and invite her. But she brought kettle corn, so that got the would-be hecklers to shut up in short order.

Edited at 2014-12-29 09:57 pm (UTC)