It seemed to Black that White found it exceptionally easy to make friends with just about anyone. And maybe that was a good thing. Because that meant that there would always be someone there to take care of him, if Black wasn't around.
Still, they were always the unlikeliest of people. First there was Choco from that gang that claimed that they ruled Treasure Town. Choco always said that the only reason they let Black and White 'run amok', as they called it, was because White was a good friend of theirs. He even called him "the Little Professor," because of all the random facts that he spouted ("Did you know the biggest star in the sky is the sun? Know 'dat?") Black knew that it was really because they'd seen what he could do with a steel pipe in his hands. Back then, there had been no mistake about who really ruled this town.
Even the police had been too scared to really do anything about the "stray cats", as they called Black and White. Most of the time Black's victims were either wannabe gangs, or the Yakuza, and what police officer in Treasure Town was going to try and put him in jail for teaching those guys a lesson or two? They had enough to worry about - and it was too easy to let two street urchins like Black and White fly under their radar when most of them had heard tell of the damage the young duo could do - it bordered on legend. And anyone that doubted it only had to take a look at that Yakuza, Kimura's file, and get a good long look at how his face had turned out once Black was done with him.
Then White had befriended that cop Fujimura, and his partner Sawada - going well beyond what Black had always just considered a 'necessary relationship', when all he saw those two as good for was getting information on who he needed to deal with in Treasure Town. And yet, as much as Black hated adults, White didn't seem to hate anyone at all. And now, he wouldn't hear a word against Sawada ("Talking bad about people makes your heart dry up.") even though Black thought he was green-as-grass and a little too soft.
In the beginning, Black had thought that it would always just be the two of them. Him and White. But he'd been kidding himself. Ever since that evening when White had been stabbed by one of those guys that Dawn had called 'aliens', Black had realised that things weren't nearly as simple as all that. Not even in here in his town.
After all, it had been Fujimura and Sawada who had taken them both to the hospital. Black hadn't known what to do. He knew he shouldn't take the knife out of White's belly, but there was no way he could carry him like that. When he'd pulled it out, there had been so much blood. He didn't know how long he'd walked the streets - cursing that the hospital was so far away, cursing that he couldn't get there any faster - before the police car had shown up. By that point, Black's clothes had been soaked through with White's blood, and he must have been crying. He hadn't even realised it, until Fujimura had taken him gently by his shoulders in the waiting room, lest he attack, and wiped the snot from his face with his handkerchief. Black couldn't remember the last time he'd let someone touch him like that.
He didn't say a word the whole time they sat there in that waiting room. Black only stared at the sign that flickered fretfully:
At some point, Sawada shown up again with clean clothes for him. Clothes that weren't soaked in blood. Black hadn't even had the energy to feel outrage at the fact that Sawada had been to the abandoned car under the freeway that served as their home. His and White's. As far as he was concerned, their car was off limits to the police, and anyone. He'd just taken the clothes and held them in his arms, not sure what to do until Fujimura took pity on him and pointed him in the direction of the bathrooms.
The only time they'd ever been at the hospital before then, had been when White needed his appendix taken out when he was nine. Black remembered how scared he'd been then - with the way White was screaming. He felt like he'd abandoned him to that operating room... He never thought he would feel guilt like that again until Fujimuria and Sawada decided that this time it would be in White's best interests to stay at police headquarters - once he'd been stitched up and "fit to leave". The words 'if he makes it' remained unspoken.
"This town is too dangerous for him, you know that Black!" Fuijimura had told him, and in that moment, Black had had to agree. He hadn't been able to protect him from that knife - what made him think he would be able to protect him all the time? And he knew that White would never go on his own - he wouldn't leave Black's side until Black pushed him away - and so he did. He did what he had to to do. He was always the one that had to play the bad guy. Always the one that had to take the responsibility. And that was why he'd always thought that White needed him, and not the other way around.
"I'll find a stronger partner," he'd told him, and then felt his heart crack in two at the look on White's face. Sometimes the words White had shouted back still rang in Black's ears - even now.
"Do you think anyone else would be with you?"
It wasn't often that he let himself think about that. He already knew the answer.
He'd really thought it had been for the best. He thought he was doing the right thing, letting the police take White - and there was a part of him that asked himself why it always had to be him, Black - and how was he supposed to know those things? He was still just a kid. But there was only so much time he could allow himself for wallowing in his own self-pity - and that was next to none at all. You didn't survive on the streets that way.
But when he'd let them take White away, Black's whole world had flown apart.
The darkness in his mind had closed over him then, like water over an island. All he could do was fight people, and hurt them - because it was the only thing that was holding him together. The guilt and anger in him had nowhere else to go - and he barely remembered any of it. He looked back on it with a sick, cold feeling in the pit of his stoamach. And then the Minotaur had come to him.
He still dreamed about him sometimes. And the aliens. He dreamed there were hundreds of them - all dressed up in those fancy suits they'd had at the carnival. And everything was all light and noise - but the music was distorted - the rides sounded like broken music boxes, and every few seconds there was the long scrape of metal on metal that set his teeth on edge. All of them had guns and they were pointed at him - but that wasn't what was frightening in the dream. What was frightening was that the Minotaur was there - taking them down with impossible speed and precision. Tearing their hearts from their chests with his long fingernails. Everything he did was flawless, and simple - not like tearing through flesh, but like ripping through wet paper.
Black knew how it felt to have the steel in his hand connect with a body, but not how it felt to have it cut clean through flesh and bone with simple, brutal force. No one should be able to do that. No one human...
Black crows blotted out the sky, and around him the carnival began to crumble to the ground, sparks flying from the collapsing metal as it made its slow, treacherous descent to the concrete below.
And then the Minotaur would walk through all the destruction he had created, his leather boots soaked through with all that blood, and he would come to Black and wrap him in his arms, pressing Black's face into his chest, and Black could feel the bull skull he wore as a mask scrape gently over his scalp, and smell the blood on him - like copper, but all he could see was darkness.
"I'm there, inside you," the Minotaur whispered. "Always. Whenever you need me."
White liked it best when Black slept through the night, without leaving. Before - before Sawada and Fujimura had taken him away - Black would get up and leave, quietly. He didn't know that White knew - and he would come back in the bluish light of dawn with his hands smelling of steel, and his skin smelling of copper, and of anger, and of fear.
Black always stayed now. He slept with the driver's seat pushed back as far as it would go and the thin blanket pulled tight around his shoulders. This morning, his face was buried in the blanket's folds and his goggles, which were dangling around his neck as usual, were caught between his cheek and his shoulder, leaving faint red marks on his skin.
Black thrashed himself awake, breathing heavily, and when he looked over, White met his eyes from where he sat in the passenger seat, with his knees pulled up to his chest and his arms around them.
"What?" Black mumbled, but White didn't say anything. Black never told him what he dreamed about, and he hated that. Because if Black couldn't tell him then he couldn't tell anybody, right? Was that right? When he didn't get an answer, Black rolled over onto his side, facing the window, pulling the blanket tighter around his shoulders.
White could tell that Black was uncomfortable - but there was a lot White could understand, just from watching Black's face. He looked frightened - something White wasn't used to - something that always give him a bad feeling in his heart.
He reached out to touch his shoulder, but before he had a chance, Black threw the blanket off, and got out of the car, walking away towards the mouth of the alley, where the sun was just beginning to light up the pavement.
White watched him from the car. He was lanky, but not tall - neither of them would ever be tall, with their lack of nutrition - but White was showing signs of being taller than Black already.
Black was still rumpled from sleep, his hair standing up on one side, and his clothes wrinkled. He'd shoved his hands into his pockets, in his characteristic stance. White thought it made him look younger. He got quietly out of the car, leaving the door open, and came up, barefoot, behind the older boy and, after a second of hesitation, where he wondered if Black would snap at him, he wrapped his arms around his waist and rested his cheek on his back, near the top of his spine.
They had never touched much before - not before the police had taken him away. It was never anything more than Black's arm slung around his shoulders, and his hands brushing White's skin as he helped him to dress or tie his shoes - something White had just learned to do on his own in the last year or so.
He'd insisted, once he'd come back, that Black teach him - and while Black had been reluctant, he'd done it. Most of the time now, White just didn't bother with his laces or the ties on his hats, but everything else he could do.
When Black didn't pull away - didn't even take his hands out of his pockets, White held on tighter. "Don't worry, Black," he said - because Black never told him what was wrong, and White had no idea how to fix it.
Black pulled in a long breath through his nose - not used to the feeling of someone's arms around him - even White's. He held it for a moment, then let it go and hung his head. White's arms squeezed tighter.
Black closed his eyes, his own hands still stuck in the pockets and wondered what it would feel like to turn around and wrap his arms around White in turn.
But he didn't. Because they never did that.
The last time he could remember giving White a hug was last year, after they'd walked back from the playground - where Fujimura and Sawada had taken White to meet Black again. At first, White had chattered about things - the way the leaves of the trees sounded in the wind, and the song that was playing in one of the restaurants - he thought he remembered it from somewhere - White talked like Black hadn't betrayed him, but eventually his talk had petered out, and they walked the rest of the way to their abandoned car in silence.
White hadn't let go of his hand - not once. And it was a little strange because that was new, that kind of touch - not since White was really little, and had a penchant for wandering towards traffic and getting lost... but Black didn't let go either. He hadn't wanted to. Part of him was still trying to come to terms with the fact that he had White back - and that it wasn't all some sort of cruel trick that the world was playing on him... that everything was going to be okay now, and that the darkness in his mind was slowly receeding to reveal the world brighter and more vibrant than he remembered it. And when they entered the little alley that the sun had already abandoned it as it set, seeking to brighten other, less lonely areas perhaps, with its dying rays. Black had stopped then, and pulled White into his arms and held onto him for a very long time, until White had squirmed a little and said that it hurt his stitches.
That night they had slept curled around each other - both of them craving a physical proximity that had never been something they'd had before - one that neither of them had realised that they needed until they'd both been without it. Only now it was intensified by the memory of what it felt like to sleep alone out of necessity for the first time in their lives.
Finally, now, with White still clinging to him from behind, he disengaged himself and ran a hand through his hair. "All right, White," he said, unable to meet those concerned brown eyes. "What do you want for breakfast?"
And so they got on with their day, and their lives - and for a while it seemed like things would be fine again.
He'd been wrong.
These days, White wanted to go see Sawada and even Fujimura all the time - most of the time Black refused - he didn't like White telling the police what they were doing - even when Black told him not to, White 'forgot'. He also didn't like the way White seemed so happy to spend his time there with them, to the point that sometimes, it didn't even seem like he wanted to come home.
Black began to wonder if it had been wrong of him to take White away from the police headquarters. He would be protected there, after all, well fed, and entertained. And Sawada could hug White in a way Black couldn't without feeling trapped, without his skin itching, and Black got the feeling that White was way more normal than he was, in the end.
That evening, Fujimura pulled him aside, into the hallway while White and Sawada laughed together in the other room, and told him that Sawada was going to propose they stay in his summer house instead of in "that car of theirs".
A house on the beach.
Those words struck Black like a slap in the face and he barely heard Fujimura saying that he wanted to tell him first, because he "didn't need another agent away on 'sick leave' with a busted up ribcage."
"Has he told White yet?" Black asked.
"No, I don't think so," Fujimura began, but Black pushed past him, into the room again and grabbed White's arm, pulling away from Sawada without even looking at the other man. "C'mon White, it's time to go home."
"Now, White!" And with that, he'd left. He didn't need this - Treasure Town was still his town. It was their home. But he hadn't forgotten those words White had said on top of the bullet train, with the wind howling in their ears.
"I hate this town. I hate it...
Hey, Black. I just gots a great idea. We could built a house by the sea, and we could... we could paint it blue. We could paint it blue."
Black had passed it off as White hitting his head too hard - why would he want to leave Treasure Town? But the more he thought about it... the more he saw those little signs in White that there really was something wrong. Black told himself that he would grow out of it.
Still, it was only a year later, but sometimes he would catch White staring off into some middle distance - too far away for Black's voice to reach him.
Once, he'd touched his shoulder and asked him what he was thinking about.
"The sea..." White had said in that voice that Black didn't recognise - low and far away.
Treasure Town didn't have a sea.
Black didn't bring it up again and hoped, like he always had, that it would just go away.
He was halfway home before White reached out and grabbed hold of his belt, and dug his heels in, causing them both to stop. Black turned - anxiety and fear closing in on him, and he shoved White's hands away a little too roughly.
"Ouch," White said, and Black ignored the guilt that flooded him. "We're not going to visit Sawada anymore," he snapped. White's expression became defiant far too quickly and anger roiled up in Black's gut. "Why not?" White cried. "If you won't come, I'll go by myself!"
"The second you go without me, don't you bother coming back!" Black growled, then immediately felt sick with guilt, with fear that White would take him up on it. Both of them fell into a silence and he rubbed his forearms and turned away, arms crossed over his chest.
"...You didn't mean that, Black," White said softly, behind him.
"...No," he mumbled. "I'm sorry, White... but it's no good for us to keep going back there. It's dangerous. The Yakuza will start to think we're going soft."
White didn't buy it for an instant. "You never tell me anything, Black. If you keep it all inside like that, it'll rot your insides."
Black laughed a little and turned to look over his shoulder at him. "Who told you that?" he asked, although he wondered if he didn't believe it.
"No one, I just knows it, that's all," White said. "Now are you gonna tell me or not?"
"Because I... I don't... c'mon White, we gotta get home. It's getting dark."
White had a bony spine, and it was pressing up against Black's as they lay back to back in their car. Black was staring straight ahead, listening to White's even breathing, and the crickets outside. He'd just closed his eyes - hoping for a dreamless sleep when White's voice came to him softly through the darkness, and he heard the creak of the car seat as White turned over to face him.
"What is it, White?"
"...Why won't you tell me why you don't want me to see Sawada anymore?"
"I don't want to talk about this now, White. Now go to sleep."
"...It's because you think that he wants me to stay with him, isn't it? In his house on the beach?"
Black felt like his heart stopped - and when it started again it was far too fast. He balled his hands into fists and tried to get his voice to work . It was funny that something like that could knock the breath out of him more effectively than a punch to the gut.
"When did he tell you that?" He finally managed.
"The time before the last time." White said, counting on his fingers.
The last time? That had been weeks ago. Why hadn't Fujimura told him before then? Black shut his eyes and took a breath.
"So are you gonna go?"
"Not if you don't come with me, Black."
Black sighed. "You want to go, don't you?" He rolled over and came face to face with White's brown eyes. They were only about a foot apart.
White looked down, then back up again - his eyes were narrowed in a strangely calculating look. Black recoiled a little, brow furrowed. "You think Sawada's going to take me away."
"I think that's what he wants. He thinks Treasure Town's bad for you. He thinks I'm bad for you."
White shook his head. "When I was at the police office, he was the one that asked me if I wanted to see you."
Black stared, startled, but then it faded from his eyes and he looked away. "That doesn't change anything. He still wants to take you away from here." …and me, he thought, but didn't voice it.
"But you're worried that I want to go with him, aren't you Black? You're not worried he'll take me, you're worried I'll want to leave you."
He couldn't admit it out loud. Until this moment, he hadn't even been able to admit to himself that that was what he was afraid of - of White being the one who wanted to leave him. The thought shook him to his core. He pushed it away and rolled onto his back, locking his hands behind his head. Black could feel his eyes on him, so he closed his own. "…When did you get so smart?" he asked, quietly.
White either ignored him, or hadn't heard him. Instead, he said, "You said no one was ever gonna break us apart."
"Yeah. Yeah, I did."
"Did you mean it?"
Black shrugged one shoulder. "I already messed that up," he said, trying to sound practical, but his voice cracked a little, betraying him.
"But you came back," White countered.
"So what now?" Black asked, eyes snapping open. He let the panic seep into his voice - panic at losing White, at losing his mind again and - turning it easily into anger. He'd had a lifetime of practice with that. "What're you trying to say? I- Go if you want, you have every right to--" to leave. "Go to Sawada's house on the beach, White, it's what you want. It's like it's meant for you, isn't it? So you have the chance, so go."
They were silent for a long time. He tried to think about anything other than what White's answer might be, because he didn't want to face that - wasn't sure that he could.
"I gots all the screws," White said suddenly and Black furrowed his brow and glanced over.
"I gots all the screws that you need, for your heart," White told him, and Black felt his eyes widen a little.
"What are you talking about?"
"Things are better when we're together. Even a house on the beach would be too lonely without you. It would be sad."
"Houses don't-" have feelings, Black finished in his head, but he didn't say it. "So what are you saying?" He asked. "You're gonna give that up? Pretty stupid if you ask me," he said, readjusting his arms beneath his head and looking up again as though he could see the stars through the roof of the car, through the freeway above them, and through all the light pollution that Treasure Town produced.
"It's not stupid. I wouldn't be happy there. Not without Black," White murmured, pulling his arms into himself and curling up a little.
Moments ticked by, both of them waiting.
"…I don't want to go…" Black whispered. Staring hard at the roof to keep the tears back.
"This town isn't ours anymore, Black…"
"…I know," he said, closing his eyes a moment too late. Two tears rolled down over his temples and into his hair. One slipped into his ear, but he didn't move to wipe it away.
Black spent a long time fighting back those tears, a long time keeping his breath even and slow, but in the end he couldn't do it. White sighed softly and suddenly his small body was burrowed into Black's side, his head tucked down under the older boy's cheek, his soft hair brushing the tear tracks on Black's face. Black sniffed and shifted, reaching up and wiping his nose with the back of his hand like a little kid, before letting it drop down to the hard seats like a dead weight.
White raised his head and looked at him. Black didn't have to look at him to practically feel the excitement radiating off of him.
"You mean it?"
"Yeah," he said, glad that his voice sounded like it normally did - and not like he'd been crying.
"It'll be amazing, Black. We'll paint it blue, and look at the stars every night, and we'll catch fireflies and use them as lamps so it'll never be dark, and-" Black listened to him, still staring at the roof of the car - but just for a moment, just a second or two, he lowered his eyes to the younger boy's face - to his long-fingered, delicate, expressive hands, spelling out his words as though he was painting them in the air, and the weight that had been heavy on his chest for so long seemed to lift and fade away.
Outside their car - outside their little alley - Treasure Town shimmered with its neon lights, because it never slept - it was still rumbling and roiling all around them.
This town - maybe it had been theirs… once.
But now there was something else. Something different. A place that somehow would never be as dark as the city, because there would be fireflies and stars, and
White would be there… in a place that seemed to have been made just for him… maybe even for the both of them.
Black drew a deep breath. In… and out… and when he looked away from the other boy, he was smiling.
Just for a second, through the smell of concrete and steel, he thought he'd caught the scent…
…Of the sea.