Tokio knows that, in terms of his friendship with Azuma, parasitic is the word that comes to others’ minds.
Azuma beats their class in everything ranging from sports to grades, famous for being a charismatic young man with a bright future ahead of him, constantly being weighed down by Tokio, meager, and barely making the cut of being below average.
It’s not that he intentionally tries to be a dead weight to his best friend. He hardly notices his heavily one-sided codependency he has place on Azuma. On the best of days it goes unnoticed, and on the others, it takes their friendship being brought to his attention by others for him to notice at all. And they do, of course, bring it to his attention. His sister teases him whenever he brings up his friend, as if Azuma’s accomplishments are Tokio’s to be proud of, throwing joking comments at him from her position in front of her game console. Others bring it to his attention in less pleasant ways than his sister does.
Vulture, the kids at school called, and continued to call him.
A cruel predator that doesn’t hunt for themself. Just feeds and picks on what’s already grotesquely rotting in front of their face. Someone who only gains from another person’s troubles.
The first time the kids called him a vulture, all those years ago during their field trip to the zoo, he bites his tongue and runs with water in his eyes. Because he can be a lion, he swears he can! He can be big and loud, and he can learn the confidence and skills to become a lion, too. Or he can be a bear, bold. Or a tiger. Something cool.
No, they had told him, you’re none of those.
During the field trip incident, Azuma had found him after he ran off from their class, teary eyed and childishly heartbroken at the idea of being a vulture. When the anger and pain wore off over time, the memory became fond to reflect on. The next year, during their school’s book fair, he even got himself a print of vulture from a book fair, deciding he would make vulture be cool to him.
Vultures aren’t so bad—
Staring at his reflection, Tokio feels his fond childhood memories turn grotesque in light of his newfound nightmare. Shaky hands run over his face, fearing the image he’s being shown in the dim light of his bathroom mirror. From his face, cartilage grows like a tumor, shaping into something dark and hideous and viscous. A buzzard’s beak masking where his humanity should be. How terrible he looks, Tokio reflects, with this monstrous beak plaguing his face. If he wasn’t so weak-willed, he would try to get it over with and claw and peck it out.
How did he get here..?
He was made choujin. Tokio had been with Azuma ( wordlessly following Azuma, but really weighing Azuma down) at the plane crash.
“That guy’s not a choijin,” Tokio had worriedly covered near his friend, who was huffing on his own blood. “He’s a monster! Let’s just make a break for it like a normal person would! You can run, can’t you? I’m sure you can.”
Azuma sits upright, and puts a heavy hand on Tokio’s shoulder. “He’ll kill us. I can tell… this time it’s different. He’s indiscriminate, a choujin, a pokemon, whatever he is… I can't win the way I am now.”
(It startles him more than he’d admit, hearing his friend admit to his own weakness that easily. How could Azuma ever admit defeat when he never experienced it? His friend is too great.)
“That’s why,” Azuma continues. “I’m gonna use this!”
Tokio’s brain falters, as he watches his friend pick up the syringe from the ground. But before he realizes his hands are moving, he’s grabbing a syringe of his own, because if Azuma is doing it, surely it is their best choice. And if not, well, then he’ll continue on following Azuma around even to their mutual demise, he guesses. But he hopes not. He is a coward at heart, and does not want to die.
“Somehow…” Tokio says. “Somehow it feels like if I don’t do anything right now, I… I won’t be able to stay friends with you.”
(He isn’t entirely sure whether he means because Azuma will leave him behind in the dust of something superhuman and divine and demonic, or whether it is because they wouldn’t be around to see the next day to even stay friends. He isn’t sure, but he sobs at the thought of either or being true, tears running down his face in an ugly campaign of truth.)
Azuma nods, and in a quick motion his friend initiates a mutual standoff between the two of them. The needle at each other’s neck, fingers hovering above. One push before their mutual destruction.
“No regrets, okay?” Azuma says.
“You got it!” Tokio replies.
They pull the trigger on one another, and it feels like hell and heaven all at once, as an indescribable heat flows through his veins, filling him with something his body had not been built for, something his body rejects and accepts in unfortunate synchronization, something sickening in its existence yet so sweet in his gut, and he realizes all at once, he may have some regrets.
Looking at the monster staring back at him in his reflection, the realization hits him tenfold.