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where it hides, curled and wounded

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Keisuke dreams of Akira, sometimes.

He tries not to.  Really, he tries.  He lies awake in bed, his legs tangled up in the thin blanket, and stares at the wall in the dark.  He thinks very carefully about Akira his friend, Akira definitely just a friend, or he thinks very carefully about anything other than Akira.  He stares into the darkness until his eyes go gritty with exhaustion, and then he squeezes them shut and curls a bit more tightly around his blanket, and still he thinks, or does not think, about Akira, until his body surrenders and he finally, eventually, sleeps.

Some nights, it works.  Some nights, he does not dream of Akira.

Other nights, he does.

The Akira of his dreams is not the Akira of his waking life.  In his dreams, Akira's cool, pale eyes go hot and dark, fixating on him with a hunger that makes him tremble.  In his dreams, Akira bites back the faintest moan, his cheeks flushed bright red against the white trim of his hood.  In his dreams, Akira tilts his head back, and the pulse at his neck is rabbit-quick against Keisuke's lips.  In his dreams, he can feel Akira move--

--and Keisuke snaps awake with a gasp, hard and aching with need, burning with self-loathing.  Sometimes, when he has the strength, he staggers to the shower and turns the cold water on full blast.  But Keisuke is a weak man, always has been, and so too often, he only buries his face in his pillow, grips himself hard and fast beneath the blanket, and whimpers shamefully, his mind full of nothing but Akira, Akira, Akira--

He can never quite bring himself to look Akira in the eye the next day.

Keisuke has a job in a factory.  It's the same thing every day.  He wakes up horribly early, scarfs a quick breakfast in the dark, puts on his standard-issue coveralls, and is on site before the sun is fully over the horizon.  The factory provides the steel-toed boots, the reflective vest, and the hat.  He spends eight hours loading items onto a conveyor belt.  He gets half an hour for lunch, which he eats in the break room while making pleasant, meaningless small talk with his fellow workers. 

It's not a glorious job, nothing exciting or impressive, nothing that any able-bodied man couldn't do.  It's just something that puts food on the table and a roof over his head.  But it's more than a lot of people have, what with the country still halved and half in ruins in the wake of the Third Division, and he knows full well that he should appreciate what he has.  He does appreciate it.  But still, sometimes Keisuke looks at himself when he gets home in the afternoon, at his callused hands and his coveralls scuffed and oil-stained, and he thinks about how this is a gray, boring job for a gray, boring man, and it stings, sometimes, to know that is exactly the kind of person he is.

Keisuke knows full well the extents of his person; he has no pretensions of being something better than he is.  He is a gray, boring man who works a gray, boring job, who keeps his head down and goes along to get along, whose only distinguishing quality is that, for some reason, he is permitted to be part of Akira's life.

Akira is not a gray, boring man.  In a certain light, Akira's hair gleams platinum; when he fights, his eyes flash like mercury and his body moves like quicksilver.  The truth is, Keisuke hates watching Akira fight, but at the same time, it enthralls him.  Because Keisuke is a weak, cowardly man, and he cannot help but fear what if, what if, even though he knows Akira is the strongest Bl@ster fighter in the area; because Akira fights as easily as he breathes, not a sliver of hesitation or uncertainty in a single movement, as strong and sleek and untouchable as a perfectly forged, finely honed sword.

Keisuke never was much of a fighter; he's not the type of person who deserves to lay a finger on a blade so beautiful.  That doesn't stop him from wanting to reach out and touch, even just once.

(Because Akira is aloof and stoic and reserved, but he is not a cold or heartless man.  Keisuke knows this, down to his bones.  Maybe that's why he dreams of Akira like that--to peel the layers away, to slice through the ice and stone to the fire that burns white-hot somewhere inside, to touch and feel, just for a moment, that Akira burns for him--)

Keisuke usually sees Akira in the afternoon, after Keisuke has gotten off work but before the day's Bl@ster fights have begun.  When Keisuke gets back from work, he takes a shower and rinses off the day's sweat and grime, and then he hoofs it to Akira's apartment.  It isn't far, and if Akira isn't at his apartment, he's usually nearby.  Keisuke can usually find him; Akira doesn't wait for him, necessarily, but he doesn't make himself scarce, either.

That wasn't always the case.  Once, not long after Keisuke started working at the factory and Akira started fighting as LOST, Keisuke came over and Akira wasn't in any of his usual spots.  Keisuke's immediate reaction was blind panic--where is he, did something happen, is he safe, did he leave me behind--and he pelted through the streets like a madman, wide-eyed and frantic, his heart thundering and threatening to collapse.

In the end, he found Akira by pure dumb luck, nothing more.  He was passing by a dank, gloomy alley when he heard a nasal voice whine, "Come on, Akira!"


Keisuke skidded to a stop and stared down the alley, an anxious fluttering in his gut.  Nervously, he glanced one way, then another.  The alleyway was narrow and dim, the kind of place that made Keisuke's skin crawl.  It was the kind of place where Bl@ster fights happened, and the kind of place Keisuke normally avoided.

(That didn't mean he'd never been to that kind of place.  He'd set foot on Bl@ster-dominated streets before, to see Akira fight.  But he only did it two times, or perhaps three, before he swore it off altogether.  Akira thought it was because Keisuke didn't like fighting--didn't like watching Akira fight--and that was mostly true; but in reality, it was because Akira fighting was a thing of grace and power and beauty, and it filled Keisuke with self-disgust to realize anew just how amazing Akira was, and how amazing Keisuke wasn't.)

But someone had said Akira, and so Keisuke took a deep breath to steel himself and walked down the alley, his shoulders small and hunched, his head on a swivel, his eyes wide and darting.

The alley twisted and curled, snaking between buildings and doubling back on itself.  Keisuke moved as quickly as he dared through the shadows, and the chattering voices grew louder and louder--

And there, after one final zag, was Akira.

He was leaning against a graffitied stone wall, his arms crossed, his expression neutral.  Beside him stood two men, both with the wiry builds of malnourished children who had grown into street fighters by dint of need.  One had a mess of spiked blond hair, the other was lean and long-haired and dressed in black, and Keisuke felt like he might vaguely recognize both of them.  He might have been able to put names to the faces, or at least pin down where he'd seen them before, if he bothered to look at them for more than half a second.  But they didn't matter; his eyes were fixed on Akira.

Keisuke could tell the exact moment that Akira caught sight of him--Akira's eyes narrowed minutely, and he straightened, just a bit.  The next heartbeat it was gone, Akira's expression gone blank once again, but it was enough to make Keisuke's heart leap into his throat.

It was enough for his companions to notice as well.  They fell silent, staring at Akira with identical nonplussed expressions, and then, in unison, they turned as though following Akira's gaze.  They stared at Keisuke, one with a furrowed brow, the other slack-faced.  "Oh?" the long-haired man said, drawing out the word.  "What's this, Akira, do you have a fan?"  He waggled his eyebrows.

The blond scoffed.  "You look like you're a little bit lost," he said to Keisuke, puffing himself up with a bit of swagger.  "Didja end up on the wrong side of town?"

Keisuke swallowed, still staring at Akira.  Akira.  Akira, he wanted to say, but his voice was caught in his throat, and it wasn't fair, for Akira to be here hanging out with people Keisuke didn't know, people who chattered away blithely in his presence as though they didn't understand what that meant, people who didn't--

"Keisuke," Akira said.

His voice was low-pitched, quiet, completely without inflection.  It still made a shiver go down Keisuke's spine.  "Akira," he whispered.

The other two men whirled to face Akira.  One let out a startled yelp.  "What, Akira, you know this guy?"

Akira didn't respond.  Instead, he pushed himself up off the wall and walked over to Keisuke.  "Let's go," he said, as though he'd been waiting for Keisuke this entire time.  He didn't pause, just walked right past, and Keisuke had to scramble to catch up with him.

"What the--hey!  Akira!" one of the men protested.

"What was that about?" the other said.

Keisuke didn't look back, didn't dare waste a single second.  He trotted after Akira and fell into step beside him.  "Sorry, Akira!" he blurted.  "I didn't know where you were, I was looking for you, I thought I heard someone say your name so--were you in the middle of something?  I--"

"It's fine," Akira said shortly.  "Let's go."  He didn't even glance at Keisuke; instead, as he led them out of the labyrinth of Bl@ster-ruled back alleys, his eyes were fixed dead ahead, unwavering, unyielding.

(That look in Akira's eyes made Keisuke's step hitch, and he wondered, something twinging and shriveling in his chest--what it would be like to have Akira look at him like that?  With that steady, sharp gaze, as though the only thing he cared to look at was right in front of him?

Akira never looked at Keisuke like that.)

That was the first time Keisuke had to venture off in search of Akira, and to this day, it remains the last.  Now, Akira only lingers in Bl@ster areas when he actually has Bl@ster business or when Keisuke isn't around.  Instead, when Keisuke comes over, they wander the safer streets or go to the rooftop of Akira's apartment building.  Neither of them can cook, so when they eat dinner, it's usually just Solids.  Akira eats the same way he does everything else--quietly, without expression, a bit distant.  Sometimes, the only noise comes from the crinkle of the Solids wrapper beneath his long, slender fingers.  Keisuke doesn't mind.  It's enough to be with Akira, to be able to sneak secretive glances from the corner of his eye.  It's enough that Akira could be anywhere, with anyone, and yet he chooses to be here, with Keisuke.

(It's not enough.  It's never enough.)

One day in January, it snows.  It's not a blizzard by any stretch of the imagination, but it comes down long and hard enough that Bl@ster fights that night are cancelled.  Akira barely even blinks.  "You aren't upset?" Keisuke asks tentatively--after all, Bl@ster fights are how Akira makes a living--but Akira just lifts one shoulder in a dismissive shrug.

So in the evening, when Keisuke would normally head back home and Akira would head out onto the streets, they instead take shelter from the chill gusts of wind and the still-falling snow in Akira's apartment.  Keisuke's been inside Akira's apartment before, of course, but never for any extended period of time, and it makes him feel shifty and antsy, like he can't quite hold still.  The apartment itself is small, stark, and spare--Akira clearly has very little attachment to the place itself--but there are still traces of him everywhere--in the indentation in his pillow, in the handful of metal hangers dangling from the rod in the tiny closet, in the trash can stuffed full of Solids wrappers.  It drives Keisuke half-mad, to be so completely surrounded by Akira's presence.  This is where Akira eats, showers, breathes.  Keisuke is sitting on the bed where Akira falls asleep, wakes up, dreams--

Does Akira have the same sorts of dreams that Keisuke does?

(Of course he doesn't.  Keisuke knows better than to hope.  But the thought makes him feel shivery anyway.)

Keisuke spends the evening sitting next to Akira, fingers itching and twitching with the desire to touch--to touch Akira, touch himself, anything.  And it would be so easy.  He's in Akira's room, sitting on Akira's bed, with Akira in arm's reach.  He could reach out if he wanted, reach out and touch Akira--trace a finger down his cheek, run a thumb over his lower lip, put a hand to his shoulder and push him down onto the mattress and--

Keisuke swallows, his mouth dry, and shifts uncomfortably.  He keeps his hands to himself for as long as he can, his self-control gradually being whittled to shreds, and when at last he can take no more, he makes his excuses and flees.  Even walking through the chilly January night does little to ease the heat in his body, and the instant he's back in his apartment with the door closed behind him, he has his hand down his pants, biting his lip on a moan.  But it only takes a few strokes before the guilt wells up inside him--Akira his friend, Akira definitely just a friend--and he squeezes his eyes shut and sags against the door, his temple thudding against the wood, his hand slowing.  Akira, he thinks bleakly.  The throbbing of his own pulse and his own desire is a drumbeat of accusation.

But Keisuke is a weak man, and he cannot stop himself from stroking himself to completion, collapsing in on himself as he climaxes with a choked whimper.

Filthy and full of shame, he takes a cold shower afterward.  He leans his forehead against the wall as he shivers horribly beneath the icy spray, and it feels like punishment and penance at the same time.  For good measure, he leaves the window open all night, too, letting the freezing air in.  Fortunately, it has its intended effect: he doesn't dream of Akira.  Unfortunately, it does have an unintended side effect: he wakes up in the morning with the chills, his head aching and his body feeling simultaneously too hot and too cold.

Keisuke lies in bed all day, coughing weakly, drifting in and out of consciousness.  When he finally wakes up enough to drag his sorry corpse out of his tangle of blankets, his throat is sore and dry, his limbs are heavy, his head is foggy, and the window is firmly shut.

He stares at the window for a few moments, squinting, his thoughts fuzzy and sluggish.  He knows he left it open last night.  He doesn't remember getting up to close it.

"You left it open," a voice says.

Keisuke starts.  Akira is sitting in the chair in the corner of the room, his expression flat.  Keisuke stares at him dumbly, hardly able to believe his eyes.  Akira is in his apartment.  Akira is in his apartment.

Keisuke has had dreams that start this way.

"Akira?" he says.  His voice emerges hoarse and croaky, and he winces.

Akira gets up, fills a glass of water at the sink, offers it to Keisuke without a word.  Keisuke drains the entire glass before trying to talk again.  "Akira," he says.  His voice sounds almost normal this time.  "What are you doing here?"

"I was at my apartment," Akira replies.  His voice is cool.  "You didn't show up."

Keisuke blinks, his thoughts still vague and blurry.  The silence stretches out several seconds as he mentally puts the pieces together.  He didn't have work today.  On his days off, he normally goes to visit Akira.  He didn't show up at Akira's today.  He didn't tell Akira he wasn't coming, either.  So Akira came to him.

Keisuke's eyes go wide.  "Akira," he says incredulously, "were you worried about me?"

In his dreams, Akira might have responded to that with a blush, or a faint smile, or maybe even a touch, a brush of fingers against Keisuke's cheek.  In reality, though, Akira simply looks away, his expression stone.  "You were sick."

Keisuke lets out a feeble, abashed laugh.  "That's what I get for sleeping with the window open," he says, rubbing the back of his head.  "I guess an idiot can catch a cold after all!"

Akira doesn't reply, and Keisuke's weak chuckle trails off into silence.  Keisuke swallows and plucks awkwardly at his blanket.  "Thank you for coming," he whispers.  "To check on me."

Instead of saying anything, Akira sticks out a hand.  Keisuke blinks, then looks down.  In Akira's hand is a Solid.

"You haven't eaten anything, have you?" Akira says.

Keisuke's heart wrings in his chest.  "Thanks," he mumbles, taking the Solid.  His fingers brush briefly against Akira's.  He shivers, pulling his hand away.  He distracts himself from the tingling in his fingertips by looking at the Solid.  The wrapping is mostly green; it's green curry flavor.  His favorite.

It's such a little thing, such a silly, insignificant thing.  Akira probably didn't even think twice about it.  Akira probably doesn't even realize it.

Akira has no idea what he does to Keisuke.

Keisuke swallows past the lump in his throat.  With trembling hands, he unwraps the Solid and takes a bite.  The fake-chemical tang is even more pronounced than usual; he doesn't care.  He eats the entire thing, slowly, in silence.  Tiny bites, to drag this moment out longer.  To keep Akira here longer.  But the seconds tick inexorably by, and soon, too soon, the Solid is gone, nothing left but an empty wrapper.  As though that were his cue, Akira stands up, grabs his jacket off the back of the chair, pulls it on.  The way his arms slide into the sleeves is almost sinful; Keisuke could watch it for hours.  "Go back to sleep," Akira says.  "I'll come tomorrow."

Keisuke swallows down all the words he dare not say.  "Thanks, Akira," he says instead, mostly just to hear the sound of Akira's name.  Akira, he thinks.  Akira, Akira, Akira--

Akira nods.  Then, almost as an afterthought, he adds, "And lock your door."  And without another word, he turns and leaves.  Leaves the apartment, leaves Keisuke.  Leaves him behind.

As soon as the door closes, Keisuke collapses back into bed, burying his face in his pillow with a groan.  He wants to scream.  He wants to drag Akira back inside.  He wants to touch himself, to think of Akira in his bedroom, in his bed--

He wants.

Keisuke rolls over onto his side, staring with blurry eyes at the wall.  He exhales, more than a sigh, less than a sob.  "Akira," he breathes out, like a prayer.  His heart twists and thrills and aches.  Akira was here.  Stoic, undemonstrative Akira, offering tiny crumbs of care.  In his own way, Akira cares.  It's more than Keisuke could have ever hoped for.

(Still, it's not enough.  It's never enough.)

He dreams of Akira that night, too.  But it's not that sort of dream, not tonight.  Instead, he dreams of sitting with Akira on the rooftop.  Akira is silent, staring at the frigid night sky.  He wears that same cool, unemotional expression, holds himself aloof, keeps his distance.  But every once in a while, his eyes cut away from the glimmer of stars, flickering Keisuke's way for a moment.  Keisuke looks away every time, unwilling to be caught staring.  But Akira does catch him, eventually, and their eyes meet.  Keisuke stares back, unable to look away, frozen, petrified, his heart thudding in his chest--

And then Akira's lips twitch, ever so slightly, in something that might be a hint of a smile.

(Of all of his dreams about Akira, these are the worst type.  The filthy dreams fill Keisuke with shame and self-loathing, but even so, the dreams where nothing happens are worse.  Because the Akira of these dreams is so very much like the Akira in his life that when Keisuke wakes up, he's fooled into thinking for a moment--just a moment--that it's real.)

Keisuke doesn't think much about what the future might hold.  He's not good at that, thinking about the future.  He thinks that maybe no one in his generation is.  They were raised from childhood to be soldiers in a global conflagration of a world war; they weren't taught how to plan for the future, or even how to think of a future as something they might have.

Keisuke is no exception.  His vision of the future is blank, indistinct.  He doesn't imagine himself working a better job, or living in a nicer apartment, or rediscovering his birth parents or having a family of his own.  His future is engulfed in mist and fog, indiscernible, unknowable.

Except for Akira.

Inasmuch as Keisuke can imagine a future, it always, always has Akira in it.

He doesn't know what the future holds, but deep down, he believes it will be better than this.  He doesn't know how they'll get there, but it will be a better world, a world where peace has returned and the country has reunited and Bl@ster gangs no longer roam the streets at night, and Akira will be there, waiting for him.  This, Keisuke believes.  Without cause or foundation, but equally without doubt, Keisuke believes.

And then the police come and drag Akira away, and Keisuke is a weak man who can do nothing to stop it.

Keisuke spends hours outside Akira's door.  At first, he paces back and forth, cursing himself beneath his breath for his impotence and ineptitude.  Then he goes into Akira's apartment and, wracked with guilt, searches it.  He doesn't know exactly what he's looking for, but whatever it is, he doesn't find it; Akira's apartment is as austere as ever, and there's barely any sign that someone lives here at all, much less any clues hinting at why Akira was taken away.  Frustrated, Keisuke goes back outside, sits down against Akira's door and huddles up, his arms around his knees, his head lowered.  When his back starts complaining, he stands up and resumes pacing.

Akira will come back here, he thinks, irrational and desperate.  Akira will come back.  He'll come back.

He doesn't know what he'll do if Akira doesn't come back.

He isn't sure how long it is.  He's not even sure if it's still the same day.  But eventually, at last, the gritty echo of footsteps.  Keisuke spins around, toward the sound.  Please, he thinks, please--

And it's Akira.

It's Akira, with two stern, scowling men in suits following him.  It's Akira, expressionless as ever but with a shadow of fatigue over his eyes.

It doesn't matter, because it's Akira.

The thread of tension snaps; the sense of relief is literally staggering.  Keisuke almost keels over into the wall, which is the only reason he isn't throwing himself at Akira instead.  "Thank goodness," he breathes.  "Akira!  You're back!"

Akira's expression barely even twitches.  "Have you been here this whole time?"

"I figured you'd come back here," Keisuke says.  He regains his bearings, takes a single step forward.  "Akira--"

One of the men steps forward, interposing himself between them.  He's a solid man, tall, wrinkling his nose as though Keisuke is something disgusting.  "Buzz off," he growls.

Keisuke glares at him.  The other man sneers and gives Keisuke a shove.  "You're in the way," he snarls.

"That's my line," Akira says.  He's looking at the men, his eyebrows knitted together, a glint in his eyes.  Other people might read his expression as mild annoyance, nothing more, but Keisuke knows Akira, has catalogued every expression his face can make; for Akira, this is downright venomous.  And what's more, he's still talking.  "This might be the last time we ever see each other," he says, the slightest hint of an edge to his voice.  "Can't we have a moment?"

Instantly, Keisuke's thoughts screech to a halt.  If there's a reply, he doesn't hear it over the roaring of blood in his ears and the echo of Akira's voice in his mind.

This might be the last time.

Akira doesn't joke.  Akira doesn't lie.

This might be the last time.

Keisuke turns to stare at him, wide-eyed.  No, he thinks helplessly.  No.

The men glance at each other, one awkward and uncomfortable, the other obviously annoyed.  "Ten minutes," one of them grumbles at last.

Numbly, Keisuke takes a step forward, toward the door of Akira's apartment.  "Wait," the other man barks.  "You can talk out here."

Akira's eyes narrow.  For a moment, there's nothing but a teetering silence, like the air itself is waiting with bated breath.  Then Akira reaches out--

Keisuke doesn't see it happen.  He isn't sure how it happens.  But somehow, in the span of a heartbeat, Keisuke ends up tucked against Akira's side, Akira's arm around his shoulders.

All higher orders of cognitive processing shut down.  Keisuke can't breathe.  He can't even think.  Akira is holding him.  Akira is touching him.  Akira.

"We have the kind of relationship where we do stuff that probably isn't appropriate to do out here," Akira says, and that's it.  Keisuke is dying.  Or hallucinating.  Probably dying.  "I don't think you want to watch.  Come on, Keisuke."  And without another word, Akira draws him inside the apartment.

Keisuke's heart is pounding so fast he feels like he might pass out.  His mouth is dry.  His stomach is in knots. Akira just implied we were, he thinks, and the train of thought derails there, unable to proceed any further, because Akira--

The slamming of the door snaps Keisuke out of his reverie.  He jerks and goes stumbling, and that's when he realizes that Akira has let go of him.  He shakes his head, opens his mouth as he turns to Akira.  He isn't even sure what he's going to say, but it doesn't matter; he never says it.  Instead, he looks at Akira, and the words die, turning to ash on his tongue.

Akira isn't acting normal.  Even aside from the fact that he just implied they were about to--that they--even aside from that, there's something off about him.  There's a tension in his shoulders, a furrow between his eyebrows that refuses to go away.  Keisuke swallows.  "Akira," he says, his voice hoarse, "what was that about?"

And Akira explains.

A false murder charge.

Life imprisonment.


Il Re.

The deal.

Akira explains it all.

Akira wastes no words and no emotion; he describes the trap closing around him as though it has nothing to do with him.  But Keisuke understands, all the same.  No matter how they dressed it up, no matter what Akira says, it's a death sentence.

This might be the last time.

As Keisuke listens, he can feel the blood drain from his face, feel himself grow light-headed.  "Akira," he whispers, stunned.  "Akira, what are we going to--"

Akira's eyes go hard.  "It's my problem," he says.  Curt, to the point.  "It's my decision."

He doesn't say the cruelest part, but Keisuke hears it anyway: This has nothing to do with you.  Stay out of it.  Keisuke rocks back, reeling.  "Akira," he says.  His voice emerges strangled.  "Akira--"

Humiliation rises up within him.  You can't help him, an insidious voice whispers inside him, unforgiving and unflinching in its honesty.  You can't do anything for him.  And he knows it.

(Keisuke knows he is the closest thing Akira has to a real friend, and that is a rarefied position to hold for a man like him.  He never earned it, never deserved it, and he knows full well that he should appreciate what he has.  Does appreciate it.  But he knows, too, that Akira has never needed him.  Not like he needs Akira.)

The objections die unspoken, filling Keisuke's throat like thorns.  He swallows them down with his shame and self-recrimination.  "You really are strong," he whispers instead.

"I'm just doing what I have to do," Akira replies, as though that's all there is to it.  "It's better than waiting to die in prison."

Keisuke hangs his head, his eyes stinging.  He wants to touch Akira.  Hug him.  Cling to him, hole up in this tiny apartment away from the rest of the world, someplace where no one can get them.  Where no one can drag Akira away from him.

(But Akira doesn't need him, and Keisuke is a weak man and always has been.)

So he only swallows, nods, straightens.  "All right," he says.  His voice wavers.  He looks at Akira for a long moment, drinking in the sight.  "Take care of yourself," he says at last, unable to say anything that matters, and he steps out of the apartment.

The two men in suits are still there, looking disgruntled.  One of them is smoking a cigarette.  "Have a nice farewell, lover boy?" he sneers.

Keisuke glares at him, then stalks away.  He walks to the stairs, goes down to the ground floor, steps out onto the sidewalk.  Then he pauses and looks up.

Akira's apartment building is an unremarkable structure, industrial and blocky and gray.  Akira's room is on the other side of the building; Keisuke can't see it from here, can't try to peek in the window for one last glimpse of Akira's silhouette.  Still, he stands there, gazing up at the building, not quite able to turn his feet away.  He stands motionless, powerless, his arms hanging limply at his sides, the bitter taste of helplessness on the back of his tongue.  Akira, he thinks, his mind groping aimlessly for answers.

He can't stop Akira from going to take part in Igura, but he doesn't have to let Akira go alone.  He could sneak out, follow Akira, join him in Toshima.  It would be crazy.  Possibly suicidal.  But Keisuke could do it.  And he wants to, he wants, and Akira--

Akira doesn't want him to get involved.

Akira doesn't want him there.

Akira doesn't want him.

(Akira does not want, but Keisuke does.  There is something ugly and misbegotten inside him that wants, stubbornly, pitifully, stupidly.  He wants, with a passion and a desperation that are unbefitting of the smallness of his existence.  But Keisuke is a weak man, a weak, cowardly, pathetic man, and he does not have the strength to reach for what he wants.)

So he turns away from Akira's apartment.  His hands clench into fists, and he grits his teeth in frustration and mortification, and tears prickle at his eyes.  But all the same, he turns away and leaves Akira behind, because for all that he wants, he knows when to surrender.  He knows when to give up.

(It is a denouement without a resolution, an end without an ending.  He does not realize it yet, but he will.)

At home, Keisuke collapses onto his bed and stares blindly at the ceiling.  Some part of his universe is collapsing, caving in on itself like a dying star.  He feels drained, exhausted by the abyss opening up within him.  The minutes tick by with agonizing slowness; the passage of time is oppressive, overwhelming.  Eventually, he forces himself to get up, eat something, take a cold shower.  He goes through the motions automatically, by rote; it is the only way he can function.

At last, he lies down in bed in the dark.  Very carefully, he does not think of Akira.

It doesn't help; he dreams of Akira anyway.  But it isn't a dream of sex and passion and release.  Nor is it a dream of furtive glances and seeds of hope.

It is a dream of blood and screams and despair.

Keisuke wakes with a jolt, shooting bolt upright.  "Akira," he gasps, his heart pounding so fast he thinks it might implode, bile crawling up his throat, every instinct in him screaming--

But when he looks wildly around him, there's nothing to be seen but the familiar shadows of his own room.

Keisuke slumps, panting for air, his entire body trembling.  His skin is clammy and his blanket is damp with nervous sweat; the room is silent except for his own ragged breathing.  There's nothing here.  There's no one here but him.  At last, belatedly, he realizes.

A dream.

Keisuke swallows down the terror and nausea, takes a deep, shaky breath.  The panic lingers, flooding his system with adrenaline, but the dream itself quickly seeps away, leaving behind nothing but a few vague snatches of memory and snippets of images.  Akira, fighting.  Akira, bleeding.  Akira, falling--

Just a dream.

Keisuke shakes his head, gets up, drinks a glass of water.  It doesn't help; his hands still tremble, ever so slightly.  Every time he blinks, he sees blood splattered across the insides of his eyelids, hot and crimson.

He knows better than to pretend this is some kind of precognition or premonition; a dream is a dream, not glimpse into the future.  Still, the anxiety wells up thick and noxious inside him, a creeping sense of dread that threatens to choke him.  It's not too late, is it?  He can still go.  He can go to Akira, join him in Toshima, be with him, stay with him--

Keisuke shakes his head at himself, more sharply this time.  He finds his own folly absurd; he is disgusted by his own arrogance.  What can he do for Akira?  Nothing.  Even if he went to Toshima, he would only get in Akira's way.  Akira is strong, he tells himself.  He'll get through Igura.  He'll survive, he'll win, and he'll come back home.  Anything else is intolerable, inconceivable, unthinkable.

But still, something inside him quivers in fear.

Keisuke stares at his empty glass, unseeing.  Eventually he sets it aside, climbs back into bed, huddles beneath the blanket like a child.  It's just a dream, he tells himself, squeezing his eyes shut.  Just a dream.

"Be safe," he whispers, "Akira," and his thin, brittle voice lingers in the air, filling the vast emptiness of this tiny room. 

(None of Keisuke's dreams about Akira have come true before.  He tells himself this will not be the first.

He is wrong.)