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The Moon, Waning

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Some nights, he wakes from pain. Some nights, he wakes from coughing. Some nights, he wakes from the nightmares, or from the brush of death just behind him, and some nights, he can barely sleep at all.

Worse than all of these are the nights he wakes from cold. Because for all pain's sting, it is familiar, defeatable. For all the cough's raw exhaustion, he knows it will eventually end. The nightmares he already carries with him, so what matter is it if he sees them in his sleep as well, and death -- death has become an almost tantalizing comfort.

But the cold. The cold is inescapable when that cold comes from within.

Hypothermia: violent shivering, stiff joints, blue skin. A drop in a human's body temperature so severe that it will eventually stop his heart. He knows all about it, and he knows what hikers on mountain passes do when one of theirs falls victim. Wrap in warm clothes, get out of the wind, find shelter. Escape, escape, escape.

There's nowhere for him to escape to. If this cold wants to kill him, there's nowhere to run. Aki could knock on the door tomorrow and find his corpse on the floor, eyes glazed, lips blue, skin as pale as paper, never to move again. And everyone would cry, and wonder if a shadow did it, and Ken would never get the revenge he deserves. God knows what that might do to him.

His body gives a mighty shudder. A whisper of breath hisses out between his chattering teeth.

He can't die tonight. Just a few more days, Castor, wait. They deserve better than to find him like this.

He still has feeling in his arms, but his legs are a bust, totally numb from the waist down. He already sleeps in his jeans, anything else stopped being warm enough months ago. His torso -- he didn't think he needed anything but his turtleneck and three blankets to keep his heat in. He'd thought this moment might come, but before the promised day? So close to the end, he has to do this?

Well, if it can't be helped, then there's nothing for it.

He keeps his peacoat slung over the desk chair unevenly, a single sleeve drooping to the ground. He flexes his legs, once, twice -- nothing. It's gonna make him crawl. His body's going to make him crawl like a cripple if he wants the smallest chance to survive. Because his body's wanted to die for some time now. It's been him, the stubborn asshole refusing to give in, that's kept it from its rest.

Just a little longer. Just a few days more. It can't be tonight.

His chest hits the floor with a meaty thud that knocks the wind out of him. His legs follow like puppets snipped from their strings, twisted over and on top of each other. He can't feel when they've hit the ground, so he pushes on without thought, every spark of life left in him pushing towards that one reachable sleeve.

When he gets there, he's panting, and still shaking, numbness creeping up under his turtleneck and along his arms. He shrugs the coat on -- the buttons are beyond him, his fingers feel slow and far away, tools that don't belong to him. So he wraps the coat tight around him, feels blindly for the beanie he knows is up on the barren desk. The wool is alien in his hands when he finally brushes against it; this hat he's worn for years, now a stranger to him, because Shinjiro Aragaki has been hollowed out, and what's left behind is a body of cold, a body of pain, held together by a single promise he made himself two years ago.

It's good that this stranger's hat still fits him. He pulls it over his head so far he almost covers his eyes.

The bed's lost to him. The blankets already proved they did nothing, and it's so high, so far. But over there, just beyond the desk, there's a radiator, finally turned on to fight back the October chill. That's where he'll sleep. Its warmth will be the only warmth he steals tonight. None of the faces that flash through his mind will know a thing. No arms will feel the pathetic way he trembles in their embrace. No one will know, and it's better that way. If they have nothing to hold on to, they'll have to let him go.

Every breath is an effort. Every inch a victory. Shinji rests his head on the warm, rattling metal and holds it like a lover.