In the morning, Wataru wakes to three things: his alarm clock, the kettle singing, and Mom and Dad's subdued arguments in the kitchen.
It's as constant as Wataru's nightmares, hellfire and demons, darkness and light. As he passes the hallway, the tension seems to dissipate, but only barely. He takes a seat in front of the table and Dad returns to his newspaper, absent of words. Mom is the only one who greets him.
Mom's smile is brittle, stretched thin, but permanent. When she looks at Dad, Mitsuru thinks she is always a little at a loss, a little spent. Dad never looks at her; he doesn't look at anyone much, anymore, but sometimes, when he looks at Wataru, Wataru feels some guilt, and not a little anger.
"You'll be late for school," Mom reminds him as he picks at his rice, the miso soup untouched and the eggs slightly burnt from when Mom's fingers had shaken so much and couldn't turn the heat down, her eyes too misty with something like self-loathing. Wataru sets his bowl on the table, and ignores the churning in his gut.
It's fine, he tells himself. Everything's fine.
For the first time in years, Meena has someone to tuck her in to sleep.
Her paws are larger, now, and her limbs longer; her father, older, too, and slightly smaller with his hunched form, his wobbly legs. He touches her nose with his and sings to her as her eyes grow heavy with sleep. And it should be the happiest days of her life, she knows, only the words that tumble out of his mouth are stories of another world, that far off, distant place that travelers only know of. Her father's songs are but soft, crooning words, and Meena can only wonder if, somewhere out there, Wataru is happy.
Even after all this time, sometimes Meena wonders if she deserves it.
Kee Keema is the one who catches Wataru, as he falls.
"Are you okay?" Kee Keema shrieks, more than a little frazzled. Wataru stirs, and sticks out his hand, flexing his knuckles.
"I think so?" Wataru says, and then both of them fall silent at the pearls that form on the grass, beads of Wataru's sweat and grime. Gold passes through Wataru's fingers; rare stones spill out of his pockets, when he stands.
"We're rich!" Meena gasps out, peering up at the hem of Wataru's shorts.
"Filthy rich," Kee Keema whoops. "You really are a good luck charm!"
Wataru looks a little relieved, and a little miserable. He holds both their hands, and Jozo purrs, rubbing his cheek. "Thank you," he says, his voice choked and tight, "for being there for me."
Kee Keema's expression grows soft, wistful; it almost aches to look at him.
"You're a good kid," says Kee Keema.
"The best," says Meena.
He really is.
It is not the Wataru the highlanders know that steps down from the heavens, but they all fall at his feet, all of them, crushed.
"I rule the world now," says Wataru. His eyes flash golden, barren of humanity.
No more goddesses, no more pain. Some promises, the toad whispers to him, are always precious enough to keep.
Mitsuru wakes to an elbow digging into his side.
He considers his companion -- the dark shade of his hair, his slightly tanned complexion. The baby fat unshed, still sculpting his cheek. His mouth red, his eyes shut. His nails almost bloodless as they clutch at the sheets.
Every day Mitsuru wonders at this familiarity, at the terror that coils in his stomach, at the fist that tightens around his heart. Mitsuru has known Wataru for more than a decade, since transferring into his class, and yet it feels like another lifetime past when Mitsuru lets this man hold him. Like another reality.
"Nngh," says Wataru, his eyes slowly fluttering awake. Mitsuru gently dislodges Wataru's arm from his side, but he presses a small kiss to Wataru's brow, proprietary. "Good morning?"
"Morning," says Mitsuru, with an indolence that makes Wataru's cheeks flush. The kiss turns to two, and three, and more. Wataru sighs into his mouth, cupping Mitsuru's jaw with his palm.
"This must be a nice dream," says Wataru, tangling their legs together. "I know that you don't normally shirk just to get some."
"Day off," says Mitsuru, still peppering his neck with kisses, his throat white and littered with the tiniest of marks. "And speaking of dreams..."
Mitsuru's voice takes on a different quality; he means for the words to come out careless, light and teasing, cool, but he remembers how, in his sleep, fitful and half-mad, Wataru had held onto him and murmured soothing words that still make his heart ache at the memory.
"I had the strangest dream," says Mitsuru, his voice thick with some unknown quality of sadness, beyond his unhappy childhood. "That I was trapped, and you saved me."
"Oh, Mitsuru," says Wataru, touching Mitsuru's cheek. Mitsuru deflates into his fingers, because Wataru, for all his pampered softness, his perpetual hopefulness -- he understands.
"I'm sorry," Mitsuru apologizes.
"Don't be," says Wataru. "You should never apologize to me."
Mitsuru still does, everyday. He does not know why.
They hold hands on their way home, she and her brother. Past the playground and the elephant slide, she untangles their fingers to sift through sand and stones. Children, with all their small cruelties, forget so easily.
"She looks happy," says Wataru, weakly. They watch Aya's socks line with dirt, her knees a lost cause.
"She is," says Mitsuru.
Wataru's hands pick at the can of hot milk on his lap. He bites the inside of his cheek, and it stings when he drinks. It is familiar, only...
That memory, it doesn't exist. Not anymore.
"I'm sorry," says Wataru.
Mitsuru levels him a curious look. "For what?"
For not stopping you. For being too late. "For that thing," says Wataru, blushing. "In the shoe lockers."
"For this morning, when you hugged me and cried like a first grader?" Mitsuru says, dryly. Wataru's too relieved that he's still the same bastard to even get angry.
"Not just that," says Wataru, looking at his palms, flat against his near empty can.
Mitsuru smiles, thinly. "Idiot. I remember everything," he says.
Wataru's mouth is parched and his throat clogged. "Everything?" He says, weakly setting his can aside.
"Everything," Mitsuru confirms.
"Oh," says Wataru, ready to babble and overflow with some hysteria and not a little annoyance. "That's--"
"What about you?" Mitsuru interrupts, slotting his hand into Wataru's and stroking his knuckles. "Did you miss me?"
Wataru stares at their joined fingers, at Mitsuru's wrist. Comes to a startling realization that's crept in his mind since that meeting at the lockers.
"Wataru?" Mitsuru says, his eyes bright and laughing.
He's happy. He really, really is.
One wish. That's all he needs.