Mistled

(text version)

Disclaimer: Swan Jun, Eagle Ken, Condor Joe, Swallow, Jinpei, Owl Ryu and Hakase Nambu belong to Tatsunuko Productions. The lyrics to "Oh-girl" as sung by the Chi-lites have been reproduced without without permission. Everything else in the story is copywrited to me. Please
don't sue me Tatsunuko, I'm just doing my part to keep Gatch-love alive. Anyone who wants to archive this or send copies of this any where, please contact me and get my permission before doing so. I can be reached at ebonbird @ hotmail . com


1.

The girl stood staring out of her recently denuded window, her hands propped against her jukebox.

Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.

The sky shone a benign gray. The sun behind the cloud cover paled through, a fuzzy edged disk. The light posts were still dressed up to look like candy-canes and catty-corner to the check-cashing place, artificial evergreen bunting tied off by red velvet wire bows festooned the empty fruit bins of Mr. Kim's grocery. The green plastic matting, beneath the rocks Mr. Kim had used to weigh it down, looked lonely and exposed.

Two women, possibly mother and daughter, walked out of the metro exit and onto the sidewalk. The older one carried a white bag and wore a coat of a soft yellow color. She'd pinned a red ribbon to her lapel and wore metallic green earrings, bells.

The other woman was laughing, dangling a red and beige scarf in her mother's-- she had to be her mother's-- face. They both had thick lashed eyes, narrow as string. The younger's eyes curved almost shut as she smiled. They looked fresh, their glow intensifying when they spotted Jun staring at them through the window.

They waved.

Jun waved back.

They stood like that, the three, waving at one another, until the daughter took hold of her mother's elbow. In synchrony they inclined their heads. Their mouths moved, also in synchrony.

Reading their lips Jun smiled and bowed as much as the jukebox allowed her; whispering, "Happy New Year," in reply.

Waving, the women turned the corner and passed out of sight.

Jun sighed, then noticed that the sky had brightened a degree. The gold foil, hiding in the red and white twined garland of the streetlight candy-canes glinted at Jun, sharp and sweet.

Those woman had been so nicely dressed, thought Jun, smiling to herself.

She wore old jeans, a much-loved pair that did nothing for her figure, fitting snug around her hips but bagging shapeless over her bottom. Her face was puffy from too much sleep and, a black curl, having escaped the faded red kerchief that held back her hair, grazed her cheek. She looked far more tired than the amount of work she'd accomplished warranted.

She had stuffed the lights, big old fashioned semi-ovoids of red, green, yellow, blue, orange and white, into a cardboard box, carefully put away the cellophane charms that had dangled from the sill and reduced the soap-made snow drifts that had decorated the windows to a bucketful of grimy water.

Her expression wistful, Jun pushed back from the jukebox. Her foot hit the bucket and water sloshed over the side, wetting her tennis shoe. She'd get that later. Loosening her hand enough to release the coin she'd been holding, Jun let it slide down the valley made by her narrowed palm and settle between her index and middle finger.

What, she wondered as she read the display, do I want to listen to? Not Christmas music, she decided as flipped through the play lists. She'd had enough of that in the last few weeks. She was singing, a very old children's song, "One-two-three-FOUR-five..." with a deft twist of her wrist she sent the coin into the slot. Slim fingers punched the familiar number and letter combination, "--six-seven-eight-NINE-ten---" servos whined, "---eleven twelve..." CD's shuffled. She keyed up the volume, wanting this loud.

In anticipation, she started to move, pulling the kerchief from her dark hair, and backed onto the dance floor.

"Jun," she said aloud, as the very first drum beat came on, "you are a romantic fool." She sounded amused. Her eyes closed shut in ecstasy when the harmonica began to play.

She caught up the broom in her hand and began to dance for real.

"Oh girl," crooned the jukebox, "I'd be in trouble if you left me now. . . "

Shoulders swaying in counterpoint to her hips, hair brushing against her shoulder blades in perfect time with the music, Jun hummed.

'Cause I don't know where to look for love. I just don't know how.'

There were some beautiful harmonies meshing behind the dreamy bass line. One of these days she would have to sit down and figure out those cords.

'Oh girl,' how I depend on you, to give me love when I need it---"

She stopped dancing---

'Right on time, you will always be,"

Walked over to the jukebox---

"All my friends think---"

Reached around behind it and flicked off the power switch.

It wasn't like she didn't know the rest of the song.

It wasn't like it really applied.

Probably never would apply.

Ken was too-well adjusted for it to apply.

Wonderful song, though. Lazy bass line, lazier drums, lush violins, great piano and incomparable vocals.

The kind song that completed the mind-body circuit, and brought a person straight out of her skin.

Jun's eyebrows gathered into that resigned expression of hers, the one that was almost indistinguishable from her 'I'm trying to think' expression, except her lips quirked upwards at the corners.

Ken was, and would always be, at least until there was no more need for this particular science ninja team, her commander. No, there wasn't a thing in the world that might coax him into her arms, not while he was in full possession of his faculties, at least.

Fraternization and all that.

And 'coax' was such a, such a puny word to describe what she wanted, what she thought she might want, what she . . . hoped to do?

Never mind he might not be attracted to her in the first place.

She laughed, a short soft exhalation and leaned her head against her quiet jukebox, the painted metal cool against her cheek. Soothing, almost.

She caressed her music box. She'd worked hard for this jukebox. Almost every CD in there was hers. And there were two thousand, four hundred, and twenty six more in the attic, just as much hers. More music, her adopted brother Jinpei liked to point out, then she could possibly play in a year.

But it was all hers. Every inch of it.

Thanks to Dr. Nambu, she had so much. A roof over her head. A somewhat thriving business. A patron who respected her. Honest work. A chance to etch, "Jun was here" across the annals of history . . . and she had the boys.

Jun smiled for real. She might not have Ken's heart, but she had his love, and that was a very good thing.

One of the best things.

Maybe best of all.

Preparing to stand, she placed her hand against the wall, her eye settling on a bit of very dirty floor that was by the planter. She leaned over and pulled the planter away from the wall, only to blush at what the planter had concealed.

She'd forgotten she could be so silly.

She'd bought it for the holidays, had bound it with red ribbon and attached a loop of string, in tending to hang it.

But she'd chickened out. And now it sat, dirty and discarded, a sprig of poisonous green leaves and dusty white berries.

Mistletoe.



2.


Jun eyed the lopsided bunch of dusty greenery critically. It didn't look like much, but once upon a time the Ainu and the ancient Europeans, interestingly enough, had thought it sacred. It was believed that mistletoe could cure illnesses, nullify poisons and encourage fertility.

In many cultures it had symbolized peace. To such an extent that warriors might declare a day-long truce should they meet beneath a sprig of mistletoe, even in the heat of battle.

She'd found mistletoe's modern connotations far more interesting.

Many were the plans she'd had for this particular bunch of green leaves. Almost all of those plans - no, she smiled, fantasies if she were going to be frank about it - had been sitcom and comic-book inspired.

She pulled a ratty bandanna out of her pocket and wiped away the worst of the dust that covered it. Its leaves were still a healthy color. They only looked a little pinched. "What a hardy little thing you are," Jun told it. "Guess that's why you're an evergreen."

She'd thought of hanging it from the glitter ball and pulling Ken onto the dance floor one evening should the mood be right. Then, she observed Joe rapping another one of her regulars, all sly smiles and flashing eyes, and she'd quashed the idea as too dangerous.

Holding the bunch of mistletoe up to the light, she let it dangle by the string from her fingertips until it spun itself straight. It would have looked very pretty beneath the glitter ball, twirling in the reflected spotlights.

But she'd been afraid; afraid that if Ken had caught sight of her mistletoe he would have understood completely what was going on and she'd not see him outside of the mission field for at least a month.

Jun lowered the mistletoe to the table top, rested her hand against her shoulder and her head against her hand.

She liked him too much to risk that.

With renewed purpose, Jun bound up her hair. She left her seat, hopped over the bar top and went into the kitchen to get more cleaning things.

Minutes later she returned, bearing four types of housekeeping mitts, three buckets, her home chemistry set and a surgical mask. The lock of hair that had tickled her cheek all morning had escaped its confines once again.

She stalked into the center of the dance-floor and cast her gaze upwards, a feral gleam in her eye. "You," she said to the clotted dust that crept down the electric cord and coated the top of her glitter ball, and got to work.

As the sun pressed brighter and brighter through the thin cloud cover, Jun dusted, scraped, mixed and scrubbed until the skin around her eyes was white and moist. Eventually, the harsh tang of chemicals combined with the sting of sweat in her eyes drove her to take a seat on the floor, right where she'd been working loose a calcified smear.

Gum, she decided, pulling off her face mask with a heavy sigh, ought to be illegal. She stretched her legs and indulged in a slouch.

The bell above her door tinkled. She looked up and winced, momentarily blinded by the daylight blazing behind the man's familiar silhouette.

"Hey," he said, laughing. "Didn't mean to blind you." He carried a pink box, diagonally striped with broad red bands and tied with a big green bow. He smiled as he walked towards Jun, his gait easy. His hair swung shiny and loose around his wind-flushed face.

"Ken," Jun said.

He got down on his haunches next to her and propped the box, it looked like a cake box, on his knee. "Hi," he said a little breathlessly. He smelled of cold.

"Hi," Jun replied, regretting her decision to go without a bra.

"What're we doing down here?" he asked.

"I'm," she leaned forward, planted her palm on the ground, and got to her feet, "taking a break from cleaning." She pulled off her right hand glove and extended her hand. He took it. His eyes, warm and largely unreadable, locked with hers.

They stood toe-to-toe. A hint of a smile played at the corners of his mouth.

"What is it, Ken?" Jun finally asked.

"Happy New Year," he grinned. He had a slight smear of cream colored frosting off-center of his chin.

"Happy New Year."

"Want to share some red-velvet cake with me?" he asked.

"Sure," she said. "Give me a minute, though, okay?"

In the bathroom, she splashed her face and neck with warm water, scrubbed her hands, and retied her bandanna twice before giving up. Her hair wasn't paying attention to her today.

Folding the kerchief three times, she slipped it into her back pocket.

She licked her nude lips, placed her hand high on the bathroom door, and took a deep breath, reminding herself that she had practically grown up with the person waiting for her in the other room.

She found Ken in the booth, holding the ribbon bound bunch of greenery up to the light. It twirled and twisted on the string while he poked at it with his finger. He appeared transfixed, his sweet mouth partially open.

The bandanna would have hidden her burning ears.

"Found one of your Christmas decorations," he said when she sat down, his eyebrows quirking. She held out her hand. He lowered the mistletoe to her palm; folded her fingers around it. For a moment, his hand enveloped her own.

Fixing her with a look that meant she was at the center of his attention, he leaned over, so close that she saw that his eye-lashes were not just black, but also brown-black and burnt bronze. The white of his eyes were very clean. Their color benign. His irises-- she lost a second seeking out the many hues of his irises-- looked like the heart of a deep blue chrysanthemum. Luckily, when he spoke his breath was not as sweet. So, Jun pulled back a little, the hammering of her heart the slowest it had been since he'd walked through the door.

Ken was already opening the cake box. Jun smiled to herself when she saw that the smear of frosting that graced Ken's chin matched the frosting on the cake.

"This," he said, as his strong hands slid the box apart, "is incredible. The woman who made this--"

"Woman?" Jun asked.

Ken nodded, "She's one of my customers, lives all the way out in Ugari." His eyes met hers. "She used to be a chef at Dano's Diner. In New Chicago?"

Jun looked suitably impressed though she could not remember having heard of Dano's Diner. The world was a big place, and if word of this 'Velvet' cake had reached Ken's ears it must be pretty impressive stuff. Ken cut two thick slices, revealing cake of a queer red color.

"What's it made of?" Jun asked.

While fixing their plates he answered, "Some special kind of chocolate, red food coloring I think." He made a little face, "lots of red food coloring. Other stuff, but Miranda wouldn't tell me. I think there's cherry juice in here, too."

"A red chocolate cake?" Jun queried, squaring the plate in front of her.

Ken rolled his eyes, his fork wavered over his slice. He was picking the best angle to begin. "Yeah, and is it ever good."

Her eyes blinked wide at her first mouthful. The taste had exploded in her mouth, at least five different kinds of sinfully good. Even the aftertaste sparkled. She took another bite, smiling close-mouthed as she chewed. She swallowed and exclaimed, "Good!"

Ken chuckled. "Told you," he said, and took his first bite. The sound started low in his deep chest, trembled up the column of his throat. One of his hands curled in on itself and the tendons in his solid forearm shifted.

Jun's mouth went dry.

Ken was moaning.

He swallowed. "Sorry," he said, smiling apologetically. "It's just so good." He took another bite, and instead of moaning, sighed.

The toes of Jun's left foot pressed down on the toes of her right.

Oblivious to her scrutiny, Ken wriggled in his seat, slow. He looked to be having the time of his life.

Fascinated, Jun watched him swallow. His Adam's apple slid up into the tender shadows beneath his jaw. His eyes squeezed shut and he did it again. He moaned. Right there in front of her.

She blushed.

Ken's eyes blinked open. "Hey," he said, "Why aren't you eating your cake? Miranda worked really hard on this."

Jun brushed crumbs from her cake into a small pile with her fork. "This is a really nice gift, she gave you," she said.

"Isn't it, though?" Ken replied. "She's a really nice lady. Really friendly. I guess she gets lonely living all the way out in Ugari. Doesn't have many friends, I don't think." He took another bite.

"I can imagine," Jun said, raising a forkful of icing to her lips, doing her best to ignore how he kissed the morsel off his fork.

"Probably my best customer. For Thanksgiving she got me a scarf."

"Really?" Jun said. "You're kidding me."

Ken made a complicated face, somewhat incredulous and mostly exasperated. "Why," he asked, "would I do that?"

"She bought you a scarf for Thanksgiving."

"Unh-hunh," Ken rubbed his thumb at the corner of his mouth. "Knitted it herself."

"How old is Miranda?" Jun asked.

Ken shrugged, "Twenty-eight maybe, twenty-nine."

"Is she married?"

"I don't think so," he put his index finger in his mouth, moistened it.

"She dating anybody?"

"Dunno," he replied around his finger, withdrew it from his mouth, pressed it against the plate to pick up a crumb of cake, and put it back into his mouth.

"You really have no idea, do you?" she blurted.

Ken leaned back into his seat, all smiles and lightness gone from his expression. "No idea what?" he asked.

"No idea that half of your clients are dying in love with you?"

His brow beetled, "You're being silly."

"A lot of the girls that come to the J, come because they know you're here."

At this, he scowled.

"Ken, how can you not hear them whispering about how beautiful you are?"

Ken blushed, "C'mon, Jun, stop it."

She leaned across the table, her expression earnest, "What's it like? Having three quarters of a room drop what they're doing when you appear?"

"Weird," he said. "And it doesn't happen all the time." He looked down at his hands, "Can we change the subject?"

"Sorry, it's just--" She took pity on his discomfort, "Never mind."

Ken's head nodded ever so slightly and favored her with another one of his slightly smiling stares, his eyes thoughtful as he examined her. The beautiful thing about Ken was that she felt neither frightened nor embarrassed.

"Can I ask you a question, Jun?"

"You can ask me anything you want, Ken," Jun said.

"Why didn't you put up your mistletoe?"

Jun hadn't been prepared for that. She hadn't been prepared for that at all.

"Um..."

Her fork twisted and turned in her grip, hovering over her remaining cake. She put it aside.

"Um?" Ken supplied.

He appeared to be stealing himself for whatever she had to say, his mouth compressing until it was bud-like. His eyes dark blue wells of--

"Sorry," he said, "never mind." He cleared his throat, "You've got frosting all over your cheek."

Her eyes smiled first. "You've had some on your chin since you got here." She pushed herself out of the booth, "I'll get us some napkins."

She felt his eyes on her back the entire way to the kitchen.

On the other side of the double doors Jun leaned against the counter. What, she asked herself, was that?

Shaking her head she strode back to the set of double doors. Ducking her head, she pulled it open, and ran directly into Ken.

A small shriek escaped Jun's mouth. The napkins she'd been carrying fluttered out of her grasp. The sound of the padded doors bumping against their backs filled her ears. Ken, being taller, reached over her head and braced his hand against the door nearest her. The fabric of his jacket, still cold from outside, enveloped her on one side; he himself radiating nothing but heat, and a tangy scent that was all his own. Her hands were crossed over her chest. She stood on her toes, her legs tensed. His other arm held back the closing of the other door.

Sandwiched, Jun thought, and feared the coming of a giggle fit. She felt something, touch, spider-like, the top of her hair.

Ken's eyes pulled hard on hers. She was unable to look up and see what grazed the top of her head. The tip of Ken's tongue (was it white pink or pink white?) darted out and grazed the bottom of his lip.

A delicious shiver, not unlike the one that flooded her mouth with the first bite of the red velvet cake, soared through her. It started from the crown of her head swept down her neck, down her shoulders, the back of her calves and to the soles of her feet.

Ken's hand, dry almost papery, settled on her upper arm. Her eyes almost closed in reaction to feel of his fingers on her skin. They must be glowing, Jun thought. They were so warm.

Her head tilted up, ever so slowly. In time with the slow smile spreading across Ken's face.

She looked up and saw twirling from a string held in his hand -- mistletoe.


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Author's notes: The idea for this came to me on the 24 of December, 1997. This Christmas present is a little late. Hope y'all don't mind.

Please direct all feedback to ebonbird@hotmail.com. All comments laudatory, flammatory and in between are deeply appreciated.

Miscellania

1. The old children's song Jun sings is the "One-two-three-four-five, six-seven-eight-nine-ten, eleven-twelve song," that used to be on "The Electric Company," a show once produced by the Children's Television Workshop.

2. The lyrics to "Oh girl" by the Chi-lites (which is available on Vol I of the "Crooklyn" soundtrack).

Oh girl,
I'd be in trouble if you left me now.
Cause I don't know where to look for love,
I just don't know how.

Oh girl,
how I depend on you,
To give me love when I need it,
right on time you will always be.

All my friends call me a fool.
They say, let the woman take care of you.
So I try to be hip, think like a crowd.
But even the crowd can't help me now.

Oh girl,
tell me what am I gonna do.
I know I got a guilty face,
Girl, I feel so out of place.

Don't know where to go,
who to see.

Oh, girl,
I guess I better go,
I could save myself a lot of useless tears,
Girl, I gotta get away from here.

Oh girl,
pain will double if you leave me now,
'cause I don't know where to look for love,
and I don't, I don't know how.
Oh yeah,

Oh girl,
Why do I love you so?
Better be on my way,
I can't stay here.
Have you ever seen such a helpless man?


3. Red Velvet cake does exist. There are many different recipes available on-line. Try a search engine.

Happy Christmas, all the time.