Notes and Disclaimers: The characters and basic premise are owned by Aniplex, J.C. Staff and Shueisha. I heartily recommend you support this series by actually *purchasing* the manga and anime and not just reading scanlations and downloading DVD rips.
This story was written after the completion of the Read or Die OAV and manga, but we find now that it fits reasonably well as a prequel for the new Read or Dream The TV combined continuity. I strongly recommend ROD The TV, if you enjoyed either of the other RODs, because it combines them, creates a continuous timeline and is, in nearly every way, one of the best bits of writing I’ve ever seen in anime.
WSF is also a participant in the Fanfic Revolution, because fanfic doesn’t have to suck.
If you enjoy this, or any other WSF story, write me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know!
Nancy frowned, staring intently at the piece of paper in her hands. There was something significant about it, something she was trying to remember. If only she could, she was sure that the paper could do something. She didn’t know why, but she knew paper did more than simply lay there.
Her mind wasn’t being cooperative at all. Thinking made her feel like her head was wrapped in cotton wool, and frequently made her sleepy or gave her a headache when she tried too hard. She was determined to accomplish something, though. She didn’t remember much about herself – in fact, she barely remembered anything at all. But she knew that it was wrong to simply sit like this, all muddled and lethargic. She had to force herself to…do something.
So she stared at the paper. And wondered what to do. She folded it into a shape, then another, but that wasn’t quite what she had in mind. They were just random shapes, they weren’t alive.
Suddenly she saw someone sit next to her, just out of the corner of her eye. Nancy frowned, and tried not to look. The people taking care of her weren’t very nice at all. They seemed angry at her for some reason, and one or two had even hit her. She spent more and more time out here on the bench, where she could be by herself and not have to worry about what others thought.
This person wasn’t saying anything, however, so it was easier for Nancy to simply sit silently and try to manipulate the paper, with increasing levels of frustration.
It was from the young woman next to her. Nancy allowed herself to look at her. She was quite pretty, and seemed far friendlier than anyone else she’d met since she first woke here in this state. She was smiling pleasantly, looking at Nancy and the paper in her hands. Nancy felt herself blushing, and looked away again.
The young woman kept smiling, and held out a hand. “May I borrow that?”
She gently took the paper, and manipulated it in ways that seemed to move far too quickly for Nancy’s eye to see. And then she held up her hands…
And it was a butterfly. A butterfly, made of paper, flying through the air. That was what Nancy wanted. That was what she had been trying to do with the paper. Paper could move, paper was alive. A delighted smile sprang to her face. “That’s incredible!”
She got up, unable to see the paper butterfly escape so quickly.
Quickly capturing it, she turned back to the woman sitting on the bench. Nancy found herself desperately wanting to know more about her. She was able to move the paper, able to make it do things. Plus she wasn’t yelling and screaming. Nancy hoped things stayed that way.
She tried to speak. “Miss… who are you?”
“Yomiko Readman.” Nancy poked around in her mind, trying to see if maybe the name sparked something in it. But there was nothing. Yomiko went on. “A friend of your older sister.”
Now Nancy was hooked. Yomiko knew something about her! She quickly sat back down. “I have an older sister?”
She was still smiling, but there seemed to be some sadness in her eyes now. “Yes, you did. A strong yet gentle person who saved the world…”
Yomiko continued to speak, telling Nancy about her sister, and Nancy sat there enthralled, drinking in the information. The whole while, the paper butterfly sat in her cupped hands, fluttering to itself. But Nancy had almost forgotten about it. All her attention was now on Yomiko.
For once, Yomiko’s book remained tucked neatly away in her coat pocket. She curled her fingers around its comforting shape, but made no move to pull it out. She turned once again – for the last time, she promised herself – and watched as the squat form of the hospital shrank from view in the rear window of the taxi. She turned and sighed heavily, smiling gently at the driver who told her to “perk up.”
There was something engaging about Nancy, Yomiko thought, something beyond the child-like smile and sad eyes. She knew she was being foolish – this Nancy had tried to kill her – but she couldn’t help it. Despite the doctor’s prognosis Yomiko believed beyond any rational justification that Nancy was in there…and that this time they could be friends.
It wasn’t ridiculous, she argued with her inner voice. Her Nancy, the other Nancy, the good Nancy…the dead Nancy, she admitted reluctantly…had been the pattern for this one. So she *had* to have some good inside her, right? Look how delighted she had been with the butterfly – no really evil person would have laughed like that, at such a silly thing.
Yomiko let herself into her apartment with a sigh of relief. She looked around the unruly piles of books, drawing their protective bulk around her like a blanket. She glanced down at her bed and smiled. Half covered by the blanket lay her current favorite. She drew the blankets back and stroked its soft binding, opening it slowly to reveal creamy, ivory pages. If she concentrated, she could feel the nap of the text, so delicately raised on each page. Taking a deep breath, she lifted the text to her nose and inhaled the perfume of aged pages and leather. There was nothing more comforting than a book, when her mind was troubled. She opened it slowly and removed her bookmark; ready to pass the evening doing the one thing she truly loved. She began to read.
Some time passed before Yomiko realized that she had been reading the same paragraph over and over, without actually seeing words. She stared down at the page, completely unable to rein in her mind, which jumped and swung from thought to thought like a monkey in a tree. Nancy rescuing her time after time, Nancy in a hospital bed, Nancy as she went to her death…Nancy as she ran off after a paper butterfly. She felt for one ponytail, remembering the paper that Nancy had tied it off with – the same paper that saved her life.
Yomiko shook her head and forced herself to return her attention to her book. She jumped as a large, dark spot appeared suddenly on the bottom of the page, followed quickly by another. They spread, mingled, smeared, blurring the words…no, the words blurred because…her hand ran across one cheek, then the other, flinging away tears with something approaching anger.
“Why?” she asked out loud, but she couldn’t have said who she was asking – or what. Why did Nancy have to die? Why did Nancy have to live her life trapped in her own mind, an eternal child? Why did she feel like this, lost and bewildered in her own home?
Yomiko stood suddenly, and grabbed her coat. She didn’t care what the doctors said. The next time she saw Nancy, she’d have something special for her.
Yomiko passed through her day nervously. What if Nancy didn’t like her gift? What if the doctors caught them? What if Nancy did remember who she was and tried to kill her? She tried to laugh at this, pretending it was just a joke, but somehow the laugh wouldn’t come.
At the hospital, the staff was courteous. Already they had begun treating Yomiko like a family member. She spoke briefly to the doctor in the waiting area.
“She was much happier the last time you came,” the doctor intoned. “She was animated all evening, telling the nurses about the butterfly you gave her.” He smiled solemnly. “I’m sure we all appreciate you taking your time to visit, but we do have to ask you not to overexcite the patient.” The unspoken message was clear – don’t give Nancy too much to hope for.
Yomiko cleared her throat quietly. “Thank you for letting me visit. I don’t want to make trouble for you.” She bowed slightly and smiled. The ice in the doctor’s eyes thawed a little and she forged on. “I wanted to know if she was well enough to take a walk down by the water. I know she was dangerous, but…”
The doctor was torn between his own competence and his desire to stifle energy in his patients. Yomiko held her breath…how strongly did he believe in Nancy’s brain damage?
The doctor frowned. “Well…,” he hesitated, “if you promise not to overexcite her…a short visit might be possible. I’ll need to send an aide with you, of course.”
“Of course,” Yomiko echoed happily. “I’ve…” she held out a bag, “brought some clothes for her.”
The doctor nodded and gestured to a nurse to take the bag. Yomiko sat and watched the nurse and doctor converse, then disappear through a door.
It seemed like an eternity. Yomiko sat, clutching her valise and smiling at anyone who caught her eye. Anyone else might have worried that they resembled one of the inmates, but Yomiko only worried that the permission she had gained would be rescinded.
At last the door opened up and a wide-eyed Nancy, accompanied by a large, grim-looking orderly walked towards her across the room.
“You’re back!” Nancy jumped a little, like the child she was. “The doctor says we’re going for a walk.” The last was presented as a statement, not a question.
Yomiko nodded. She lowered her voice, so the orderly could not hear. “I thought we’d go see the river.”
Nancy, in the manner of children everywhere, nodded solemnly as she recognized a conspiracy. “Will you tell me more about my sister?”
Yomiko smiled. “I’d be glad to.”
The river was a short walk outside the hospital grounds. The orderly seemed pleased to be away from the depressing atmosphere too, and he became less grim with each step. At some point, he unbent enough to give Yomiko his name.
They reached the river quickly and sat down in the shade of a tree. The weather was warm and the sun on the water, added to the birdsong and insect noise gave the scene a soft, fairy-tale quality.
Yomiko sat with Nancy, pointing out birds and animals, and Nancy parroted back all the information importantly. Yomiko watched her carefully, looking for some sign of recognition, but other than the trust with which the older woman regarded her, Yomiko could sense nothing.
“Will you tell me more about my sister now?” Nancy asked suddenly, as she returned from chasing a squirrel across the grass. She threw herself onto the ground, heedless of her body, or ungainly way in which she was sprawled across the grass. There was no sense that such an adult body should be laying there in such a graceless manner.
Yomiko smiled, a little embarrassed, and glanced over to where the orderly napped, his head propped up on an arm, and nodded. “Come with me,” she said. “I have a surprise for you.” Yomiko opened the valise and pulled out colored sheets of paper. Pink and blue and yellow and white mingled as she waved her hand. As Nancy watched in awe, the paper flew into the air and joined together in improbable shapes, settling onto the water and floating there in the form of a small, colorful rowboat. Yomiko grinned at the expression on Nancy’s face and helped her into the boat.
They pushed off from the bank and let the slow current take them into the center of the river. Nancy shifted from side to side of the boat, staring down into the water.
“Did you ever ride in a boat with my sister?”
“No, but we once rode in an airplane made from paper. Your sister was very brave. Would you like to hear the story?” Yomiko watched again for any sign, but all she received was an excited nod.
The afternoon passed in the bright sun as Yomiko told an edited version of the dogfight she and Nancy had fought. But she was sure to point out Nancy’s resourcefulness, her bravery and her kindness at the end, when Yomiko thought she was stranded.
Nancy thanked Yomiko solemnly when the story was over. “She liked you a lot, didn’t she?” was all she had to add, as they pulled the boat back to the river’s edge and walked over the grass towards the sleeping orderly.
“Yes,” Yomiko answered. “Yes, I think she did.” She turned and held her hand out to Nancy, who took it quickly. “And I liked her a lot.”
The three walked back to the hospital grounds in silence. When Yomiko had said goodbye – and promised that she’d come again – Nancy waved one last time, and calling after Yomiko, said, “I like you a lot too!”