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Katsaridaphobia

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Seijuro stumbled down the garden path, worried. Since Mama had died last year, he'd taken it upon himself to protect Tetsuya at all costs, supervising him from breakfast until bedtime. Today, however, he had fallen asleep under the warm afternoon sun and now he was missing. Seijuro tripped, scraping his knee on the path. Holding back tears, he pushed on, calling "Tetsuya!" into the garden.

In the distance, he heard a scream, his heart pumping as he started running through the flowerbed, untended since Mama died.

"Tetsuya!" he cried, vision blurring with tears again. "Tetsuya!"

Breaking through a line of bushes, he came out on the other side to see Tetsuya balancing on bird bath precariously, blubbering uncontrollably.

"What happened?" Seijuro asked, running forward to grab Tetsuya's hand and check him for injuries.

"Watch out!" Tetsuya said, pointing down. "There's a roach in the grass!"

Seijuro finished checking him over for injuries, finding none. "What?" he asked, distracted.

"A roach!" Tetsuya started crying again, squeaking when the bird bath wobbled beneath him.

Seijuro processed this.

"A… roach…?" Seijuro thought back to the way he'd come running. His knee was starting to sting. "Alright." He was getting a little irritated. "Get off the bird bath."

"NO," Tetsuya said loudly.

Seijuro grabbed his arm, trying to pry him off the bird bath. Tetsuya struggled, kicking up dirty water at him and crying loudly, tears streaming down his cheeks. Feeling bad now, Seijuro let go of his arm and patted him on the back.

"It's just a roach," he said.

Tetsuya sniffled. "I don't like roaches." More tears leaked out.

"I'm sure it's crawled away by now," Seijuro reassured him. "Just come down."

Tetsuya shook his head violently. "How do we know it's gone?"

Seijuro squashed his growing annoyance. "Roaches always run away."

"Can't you just kill it?" Tetsuya looked at him hopefully.

"How would I even be able to find it? Just come down." He tugged on Tetsuya's arm again.

"No!" Tetsuya jerked back, almost falling backward off the bird bath. He straightened, eyes wide with fear. He was clutching Seijuro's hand on him.

"Come down," Seijuro said gently.

"No." Tetsuya glared at him through teary eyes. "You haven't even looked."

Seijuro huffed. "Fine."

He stomped around the yard for a good ten minutes, not finding any roaches to kill. Tetsuya watched from his perch, glancing around himself suspiciously in case a nefarious roach snuck up on him.

"There's nothing here," he said tiredly, looking back at Tetsuya.

"You just haven't found it," Tetsuya said sullenly.

Irritated, Seijuro sniped back, "Well you know roaches can hide in bird baths too?"

"What?" Tetsuya's eyes widened in terror.

"Yeah," Seijuro said, satisfied. "They live in the stem of it, or under it, or something." Anything to get Tetsuya off it.

Tetsuya burst out bawling. Seijuro ran back to him, hands waving uselessly. "Stop crying," he said worriedly. "There probably isn't one."

Tetsuya was hiccupping, upset all over again. "But- you- don't- know-!" he sobbed.

"It's okay," Seijuro said, perplexed. "You can just get off the bird bath."

"Bu- but," Tetsuya hiccupped. "They're- in," he sniffled, "the grass," he trailed off with a mournful whimper.

"That's alright," Seijuro said, "I'll protect you. I'll carry you through the grass."

Tetsuya squinted at him suspiciously, nose leaking. He sniffled. "Okay."

Seijuro presented his back for Tetsuya to clumsily climb on, catching his legs on his hands. Tetsuya was a lot heavier than he looked, but Seijuro thought he could make it to the path. "Alright," he said. "Here we go." And he stepped through the grass, Tetsuya occasionally squirming when he thought he saw a roach.

"Hold still," Seijuro said, arms burning from Tetsuya's weight.

"I'm sorry," Tetsuya hiccupped.

Seijuro sighed. "It's alright," he said. "I'm here to protect you." Tetsuya buried his face in Seijuro's shoulder, hiding away from the roaches. Soon, they reached the path.

"Alright," Seijuro said, arms quivering. "You can come down now."

"Are there no roaches on the path?" Tetsuya peeked over Seijuro's shoulder, anxious.

"That's right," Seijuro said patiently. Tentatively, Tetsuya climbed down, still clinging to Seijuro's shirt.

"Are you alright?" Seijuro asked him, looking down at his splotchy face.

Tetsuya nodded, slowly letting go. After a moment of hesitation, Seijuro leaned down and hugged him, something Mama used to do for them. Tetsuya slowly reciprocated, warm and soft in his arms. Seijuro felt his annoyance washed away by a soothing calm.

"Here," he said, holding out his hand. "So you'll be safe from the roaches."

Tetsuya looked around fearfully. "Are there roaches all over the garden?"

"Yeah. There are roaches everywhere," Seijuro said, feeling warm as Tetsuya clung to him.

15 Years Later

"I couldn’t go in that garden for years!" Tetsuya stared at him in shocked irritation, holding a beer in his hand. Around them, the listeners were laughing, which had brought a flush to his cheeks.

"You were so cute." Seijuro smiled at Tetsuya fondly. "It's one of my favorite memories."

Tetsuya harrumphed, hiding his dissatisfaction behind his drink.

Seijuro leaned forward, squeezing Tetsuya's knee. "You don't forgive me?" he asked, faking a pout.

Tetsuya took a finger and peeled it back mercilessly, forcing Seijuro to retreat or lose a finger. "Not a bit."

But he reached over and squeezed Seijuro's shoulder in silent affection.