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That Which Doesn't Kill You

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One morning, Shiki just didn't wake up.

Akira couldn't even say that he didn't see it coming: Shiki had become more and more listless as the days went on, not even content to spar with Akira.

"What's the point?" Shiki had asked.

Akira didn't reply. He didn't know the answer.

--

Somehow, word spread. All the enemies Shiki had made over the years, every person who had ever lost somebody at the hands of Shiki, came to slit the throat of a comatose man. Akira donned the black coat, took the katana as his main weapon, and dispelled those rumors.

--

After the third, fourth, fifth person fell at his new blade, Akira said to Shiki, "You're a coward. You knew this would happen."

Shiki didn't answer. He couldn't even hear Akira.

--

Akira had never cared for another person, not in this way. Cooking was new, and it took many weeks before any dishes tasted like anything except vomit. Good thing Shiki couldn't complain, would do nothing but obediently swallow the gruel put into his mouth.

Worse was cleaning Shiki, bathing him daily and washing sheets and stained clothes. The smell nearly undid him the first time. At least, Akira thought vindictively, if Shiki woke up and found out about how Akira changed his diaper, Shiki would be far more embarrassed than Akira.

--

Once, when Akira was done washing the blood off his hands and he had maneuvered Shiki to underneath the shower's warm spray, he let his fingers rest on Shiki's navel. There were a few safety pins in the bathroom cabinet: it would be so simple to give Shiki a piercing.

"You'd deserve it," he told Shiki.

Shiki stayed quiet. Akira moved his hand away.

--

Two people came on the same day. A young woman with a fierce rage, talking about the lover she had lost to Shiki. Before her corpse was even cold, an older man pointed a gun at Akira's face, no explanation at all as to why he needed Shiki's death.

"I'm sorry," Akira whispered as he buried them. They stared at him with their lifeless eyes.

--

On some days, the frustration rang so high that Akira lost track of his own actions, didn't realize he had punched Shiki until the impact echoed through the empty house. Shiki's body sported new bruises, new cuts, new scars.

"I hate you," Akira sobbed. Shiki's breath hitched with the next blow.

--

Akira raped Shiki. There was no other word for it: Akira couldn't pretend that Shiki secretly wanted it because Shiki didn't want anything anymore.

He didn't even know why. He was putting Shiki into his sleep clothes, a task so routine he hardly needed to pay attention anymore. And then the rage and hatred and absolute sorrow overtook him.

"This is what you did to me," Akira growled.

Shiki lay silent, complacent, and never once said, "stop."

--

After, Akira thought of leaving Shiki. "I'm not strong enough for this," he said. But he took Shiki to the shower and washed off the blood and semen trailing down his thighs.

--

"I don't know why I'm doing this," Akira mumbled, more to himself. Two years had cured him of the hope that Shiki would answer. But sitting outside with a warm spring breeze blowing the scent of flowers at him, he almost could pretend that he and Shiki were out on a picnic. Just relaxing, taking a nap.

He thought of kissing Shiki, a light touch of their lips. The urge passed. He'd wait until Shiki could fight back.

--

"I wonder what you were really like. I never got to know you. Toshima is a terrible place to learn of a person's passions and dreams."

Shiki's goal had been to defeat Nano with his own strength. Akira's mood soured -- the outcome of that goal hadn't been pleasant.

"At least I've got something to keep me going, day by day. You don't deserve to die unless you can see who killed you."

Sometimes Akira contemplated how his life could have been different. What would Keisuke think of him now, if he were alive? Akira smiled sadly. "Keisuke might be proud that I'm thinking of somebody other than myself. But he'd probably also hate you."

Akira had never realized how much he depended on people talking at him, not until the only voice he heard was his own. "I think I miss him a bit."

Shiki blinked.

"Probably time to feed you." Akira sighed and stood up, ready for another day.

--

He lost track of the days. The people coming after Shiki were getting less and less; most people just forgot he had ever existed. Stories of Toshima and Il-Re were rare -- everybody was too busy trying to rebuild their lives to consider that shut off part of the world where men went to die.

The world around them was changing, while Akira and Shiki stayed the same.

--

He took Shiki to a graveyard. None of the names looked familiar, but Akira bought incense and lit it for the plainest, dirtiest marker. He put Shiki's hands together in prayer.

"Pray for whoever you may have once loved," Akira said. "And when you're done, pray for me."

Shiki's hands stayed together, all the way back to their version of home.

--

"Why didn't you let me die?" Shiki wheezed, voice rough from disuse.

"I'm not like you," Akira answered.

"No." Shiki's lips curled up, almost a smile. "You're stronger."