“You can go home if you want to, Toiro,” Kuroba’s voice tore through dead silence, a stark contrast to the complete stillness of the night. There were no other but the three of them on this side of the street, standing under bright fluorescent light.
Toiro blinked in surprise. The case they were on was hardly solved. If anything, it was just one dead-end after another. Knowing Kuroba, there should’ve been more investigation to do, maybe enough to keep them occupied until next morning. He helplessly glanced at Kuroba, then Usami—who responded with a “tch” and immediately looked away—then Kuroba again. He hesitated for one more second.
After steeling himself, at last Toiro stuttered out. “But, Kuroba-kun, you…”
“Just who do you think I am?” The black detective smirked that terrifying smirk of his, baring his teeth, and successfully sent Toiro trembling in fear.
It’s simply irrational, Usami thought. In reality, Kuroba had just been discharged from the hospital—from a bullet wound —less than a month ago. Turns out that his intimidating aura recovered even faster than his body did.
“Tomorrow, I want you to drop by my place and bring me coffee. Don’t be late. Got it?”
“Just do as you’re told, Toiro.” Usami, who could no longer standhis silent pleas for help, finally snapped. “I mean, just take a look at him, he’s still standing, isn’t he? Don’t waste your breath worrying.”
Toiro didn’t seem exactly convinced.
“And leave it it to me to make sure this asshole makes it home safely.”
Usami added, because he also understood how shaken Toiro was from recent events. While both he and Kuroba are rather used to seeing gruesome aftermaths of murder, Toiro still noticeably turns green at the sight of every bloody corpse. That being said, the murder they accidentally encountered this afternoon was decidedly less than pretty. Kuroba might be one sadistic scum, but he surely knows when to stop taunting Toiro before he vomits all over the crime scene.
The light haired boy nodded, albeit remaining anxious. He murmured, “well actually I—”
Kuroba’s glare sharpened.
“Nope! Nevermind! See you tomorrow, Kuroba-kun, Usami-kun!”
Toiro desperately tried to dodge his piercing eyes on the verge of terrified tears, yelping out apologies as he did. Usami watched as he ran, figure disappearing into dark alleys. Which left him to deal with Kuroba on his own.
“You’ve become somewhat more tolerant,” Usami commented once Toiro was out of hearing radar and they were already heading towards the station.
“Is it so.”
“Are you always like this when you’re exhausted or failing to solve a case?”
Kuroba replied with snort. When he finally looked up, he had a mocking grin plastered on his face. Between his fingers was a small card, a memory card, Usami soon realised—along with a firm belief that that thing was still secretly kept inside the bag of their main culprit six hours ago.
“I don’t give up that easily, you know. Speaking of, tonight you’re joining me to skim over that filthy old man’s financial records.”
Isn’t that illegal? Usami was about to argue, but then again there had never been any barrier between what’s legal and what’s not when you’re working with Kuroba.
He rolled his eyes. This red-eyed scum. What was his previous tough act about Toiro for? It’s obvious that Kuroba’s voice was quieter than usual and slightly drawled at the edges, as if he was having difficulty forming sentences. His body too was swaying, although his expression stayed fantastically nonchalant.
Again, Usami clicked his tongue.
He had never been fond of Kuroba—unlike some masochists, no matter how skilled Kuroba is in dealing with cases, he is still very unwilling to put up with his SM games, thank you—but at the moment, since he wasn’t in the mood to carry an unconscious detective to his apartment, or even worse, an ER, for tonight only, Usami really wished that Kuroba is going to be alright.
According to Usami, there are three levels to dealing with blood and crisis.
The first one is what he calls “the grotesque corpse level”. Being an apprentice of Amou, Usami was quick to note that once he can get over the metallic stench, it is just a matter of time until he can treat corpses more like inanimate vessels rather than humans who used to be alive.
The second level is situations in which you accidentally hurt yourself badly, and they are more difficult to handle calmly compared to the previous level. When Usami was younger and working part-time at a restaurant, there was one occurrence in which his hand slipped and he got a deep cut on his palm. It was traumatic—the sting, the smell, the feel of blood gushing out. However, being a tough man he is, Usami earned the courage to pick up the knife again after a mere two days of recovery.
The third level in this theory is reserved for situations when you have to watch someone you care about—for instance, a comrade—bleeding like a fucking waterfall. He had never imagined to experience it firsthand so soon, but he did nevertherless. Like every other thing that is wrong in this world, this is also Kuroba’s fault.
“Stop staring at me like I’m something fragile.”
Usami averted his eyes, scowling to compete with Kuroba’s own. Does he even have any right to say that?
“I won’t, except you do look like a you’re about to collapse.” Usami raised one brow, tilting his head to peek at the digital train schedule board. “The train won’t be here for another five minutes, do you wanna sit down? Honestly, you look dead on your feet, man.”
Kuroba instead shook his head, arms folded tight in front of his chest. His brow furrowed a bit, as if he was thinking (probably about their victim’s younger brother’s strange alibi). “No.”
They resumed waiting in silence, until Kuroba snickered.
“You’re still staring.” Kuroba’s tone was lighter and full of mischief. “Seriously, did my faked death scare you that much, Usacchi? That was a week ago, get over it.”
There it is again, that stupid nickname . Kuroba could die a million times and that wouldn’t be enough reason for Usami to accept being called in such dishonorable manner.
“Shut up,” Usami hissed.
Yet, deep down (he won’t ever admit this) it did bother Usami. He wondered, sometimes, if Kuroba remembers whatever comfort words Usami blabbered out when Kuroba was laying in his own pool of crimson. It’s likely that Kuroba had forgotten, as Usami himself had a hard time keeping his own voice from cracking. His memory consists of only bits and flashes—he was on pure adrenaline, so it’s no wonder—but the recollection of fresh blood (Kuroba’s, staining his hands as he tried to quench the flow) has been stuck in his head ever since that day.
It was all too real and it terrified Usami out of his wits. Kuroba had a gaping hole on his body and that is certainly not okay . Humans die when they bleed out so I must stop the bleeding by any means why won’t the blood stop flowing is his pulse still there fuck fuck fuck. Fuck. Don’t die on me.
Some other things were easier to recall, like how he “politely rejected” (he did punch that guy, to be precise) The Earl’s offer to help carry Kuroba into the helicopter. Usami didn’t mean to give such violent approach, but afterall it was the Earl’s finger which pulled the trigger. Like hell Usami lets him anywhere near Kuroba after he almost took his life.
It took everything in Usami to not have that bloody scene replayed inside his head every time Kuroba is around. Clearly, it is better that way since it would’ve been embarrassing for them both. Detectives shouldn’t be prone to sentiments.
Usami thought that Kuroba must hold on to the same beliefs.
After what felt like an eternity, their train finally arrived at the station, interrupting Usami’s metaphorical train of thought. Usami hopped on without hesitation, but then realized that Kuroba didn’t move an inch.
“Come on.” Usami said, impatient.
There was no response.
It took Kuroba another minute to return to the present, blinking, and at last hopped on the train mere seconds before the automatic doors slammed closed. He nearly lost his balance when the vehicle began moving. Usami pretended to be entertained by watching the whole scene, but his smirk unceremoniously crumbled the moment Kuroba slumped down right next to where he was.
There , out of other very empty seats in the very empty wagon.
To be fair Usami had been doing a magnificent job keeping his temper in check all day. He finally lost it, however, when he felt an additional weight on his left shoulder. Usami flinched, putting no effort to hide his dislike.
“What the fuck are you doing?!”
“I wanna sleep a bit,” the devil himself mumbled from where his face was buried, which just happened to be Usami’s own jacket. “Wake me up when we’re there.”
As soon as he finished his sentence, Kuroba was out like a light.
Had the situation been different—no, had a certain self-sacrificial maniac not been shot—there is no doubt that Usami would be happy to punch Kuroba. But Kuroba’s sly. After everything that had happened between them, it’s near impossible for Usami to have the heart to hit him. Not right now, when he had a recovering wound. Unfortunately for Usami, without the wound, it is not that easy to actually land a hit on Kuroba.
Thus all that was left for Usami is to grit his teeth.
The train kept on moving, shaking, stopping every few minutes. An hour almost passed when Kuroba suddenly felt his current human-pillow shifting as if to get up. He opened an eye blearily. “Are we…?”
“Nah,” Usami replied as he stood, annoyance seeping through his tone, “I’m going home , your case be damned, Kuroba. You can deal with that tomorrow. It isn’t like the victim’s gonna get murdered twice.”
“Don’t you dare.”
For someone who was supposedly still half-asleep, the grip on Usami’s jacket was a deadly one. It irked Usami even further. He tried shoving Kuroba off, but the latter was just as persistent in his efforts to not let Usami leave.
“Tch. Not everyone is a freeloader like you, there are guys who can’t be late to his job in the morning! Get. The fuck. Off me!” he emphasized, thrusting his elbow with every word.
Their awkward, half-hearted fight would be amusing for any passerby to see. Usami’s attempts met no avail—that is, until his elbow landed somewhere between the other boy’s ribs. Or at least Usami thought it did, because all of a sudden Kuroba released his grip as if he’d been electrified. Kuroba probably thought that Usami didn’t catch his restrained gasp, since he didn’t say a word and instead continued holding on to the piece of cloth like nothing happened.
Usami cursed in silence.
He wanted to hit something. Maybe he should apologize. Except it’s Kuroba, the immoral, sadistic scum , so Usami reckoned that he is not really obliged to.
He tried so hard to hold himself from asking if he had torn some stitches, though.
“Usacchi, please stay...” Kuroba’s trembling voice almost went unheard, his hand latching on tight, “... if you’re not so eager to wear a jacket covered in slugs when you go to work.”
Usami sighed internally. What was he expecting anyway?
The automatic doors slammed closed abruptly, and along with it gone was Usami’s last chance of a peaceful night rest. He shot a dirty look towards the sleeping form of Kuroba. Perhaps this is all part of his plan, an underhanded plot to exploit his gullible self.
That’s what Usami would think, hadn’t he known that sometimes Kuroba returns from a whole day of absence smelling like antiseptics, and pokes around murder cases just as usual, even if not a single person, not even Toiro, is convinced that a bullet wound like that can fully mend in a month.
Before he knew it, within Usami’s mind emerged a memory of Amou. He used to frequently find the man sleeping on the sofa, sprawled between various documents and reports. Usami would then leave a cup of coffee on his desk, only to find it drained the next day, and yet Amou still hadn’t moved an inch from the exact same spot.
A mental note: apparently one of the qualifications of a detective is to take pleasure in destroying your own body.
Usami snorted. As if a weak scum like Kuroba deserves being compared to a great detective like Amou.
He quietly chuckled despite himself.
The train stopped at the next station with another halt, but by then Usami was ready to catch Kuroba from slumping forward and keep him from waking up.