"Okay, one bag of Hershey kisses, two Snickers, a pack of small candy canes, and a large bag of chips…"
His eyes scanned over each variety of chips indecisively, reading over every name, comparing sizes, prices, weighing his options.
Yuu hadn't exactly been specific when he told him which flavor he was craving. Looking over all the dozens of different options made his head ache and his palms feel sweaty.
If only he'd brought his glasses.
He decided on a bag of family sized original Lays. He'd seen Yuu snack on those plenty of times during school hours and after some of his baseball practices. But he was pretty out of it before he left, he and his friends, and normally during those downer sessions he craved something with more of an added kick to it. Something hot.
His hand shot out to the red and orange bag that had been calling out to him during his five minutes of mentally mulling and stressing over what most would consider nothing, and was off to the paying counter at last. On his way up, he caught the eye of the young woman working the register and hesitated. It would have been nice if someone had gone with him on his journey to the liquor store, however, being seventeen and walking around at night stoned off medication was very much illegal in the grungy city of Sanguinem, so he was on his own.
"Are you ready, Mikaela?"
It was too late to run and hide now. He nodded his head apprehensively, shuffling towards the counter with basket in hand. He kept his head bowed low as if he were the one who should have been hiding from adult vision, and fished through his pocket for a ten dollar bill. For a second he thought he'd left the money behind, and his heart leaped into his throat, though barely letting up even after his fingers grazed against the neatly folded piece of parchment resting just fine and dandy in his sweater pocket.
The young woman eyed the fidgeting child across from her and then scoffed through heavy red lipstick. "Yuichiro, right?"
"Yeah," he breathed back through a forced smile. Handing his money over, he chanced a peek over at the transparent double doors. Thankfully, the snow had lightened up a bit over the past twenty minutes.
The lady snorted once again. "Honestly, kid, I wish I had the tolerance you have. It would really help me out with some of the crazy nut jobs that come around here in the dead of night searching for trouble."
Mika hummed, checking behind his shoulder for any of those accused trouble makers. Besides him and the cashier, the liquor store was a complete ghost town.
Truly, he longed for the safety of his bed. If only he'd stayed sitting at his window emersed in his all time favorite book, he wouldn't have had to travel three blocks out into the freezing cold to sate his brother and his friends' extreme case of the munchies. Unfortunately, all thanks to his unbearable peeve of needing to investigate everything, he couldn't help but nose around the sound of glass shattering in the kitchen one story below. Hopefully, Yuu would take pity and not have him take the fall for another one of his clumsy drug induced crimes.
The lady handed him his bag and change, and he made haste out of the old rundown building before she could strike up anymore pointless small talk. The chill hit his face like a brick of ice, and he tugged on the strings connected to his hood to shield an extra eighty percent of his already frozen features.
The city was dead silent; no cars, no pedestrians. It was just him, alone with his cluttered thoughts and the monsters that lurked deep within the dark, musty depths of the alleyways.
Before he and Yuu left for school that morning, he'd overheard a news reporter on television informing the city of the new gruesome crimes that have been plaguing the night streets as of late. People have been disappearing from their homes, an entire family was murdered two months ago—mother, father, and child; and after several men were found grossly mutilated beyond facial recognition in the alleys, people have been stearing clear of the outdoors. But even then, not a soul was safe. And there he was, an innocent sixteen year old boy trudging through it all, hauling a bag of junk food in his arms for people he didn't even like all because he was too afraid of saying the simple word no. But in his eyes, maybe dying was a lot more preferable than what he was forced to deal with in every waking hour of his miserable life ever since being introduced to that ominous cop and his spoiled son who was nearly just as bad.
He missed the orphanage; his old friends. His only friends for that matter. He missed the sarcasm and aggressive attitude wrapped tightly in a blanket of happiness and affection. He missed the the days of staying up all night chatting with them, then sleeping through the rest of the day like owls. He missed sneaking out in the dead of night and helping those friends wreak mischief upon the city dwellers. He missed being treated like he was worth more than just a nuisance and errand boy. For the past six years he had been trained and brought up to believe that he was nothing. And for the past four years, he believed it. And he deserved it.
Just two more blocks and he could finally get some rest for school tomorrow.
"Come on, buddy, just tell us what we need to know already and I'll at least put forth the effort of making this just a teensy bit less painful. We all have a home to get to tonight."
He froze. That condescending voice was coming from one of the alleys. There was a hushed petrified response from who he assumed to be the victim, and then a muffled scream followed by the sound of something being slammed against a solid brick wall.
‘Was this one of the crimes the news reporter was talking about?’
There was only one way to find out. Witnessing a murder was one thing. But catching the murderer in the act, and possibly getting their face on camera….
He would be doing something not even Guren and his crew of lousy cops could ever dream of.
He clutched his bag of groceries tightly in one hand, and began manuevering stealthily towards the corner of the mouth of the alley. Each step he took, the guy met face first with his attacker's fist. He peeked his head into the alley just in time to see the murderer pull out a strange looking knife that appeared to glisten in the dying light illuminating exactly where he'd artfully decided to hide and observe from afar. He could only make out the dark outline of the weapon, but even then, the decor looked like something only an assassin in a ninja movie could weild. He was intrigued yet terrified all the same.
He was about to witness a murder.
"Fine then. Seeing as you clearly get a kick out of swallowing your own teeth…" the first hooded figure looked to the second and nodded. Now was the perfect time to pull out his phone. The bruised and bloodied silhouette on the ground tried scrambling away from the second mystery man who had yet to say a single word, but the older man didn't stand a chance and was easily lifted off his butt with the use of just one powerful hand.
The shorter male—the leader, he presumed—took the man by the wrist as he quaked and stammered relentlessly, and in one swift motion far too quick for the average human brain to preceive, sliced his finger clean off. The scream that came after sent a jolt of electricity up his spine, and he immediately turned away. Suddenly, he didn't want to catch the crooks or save the city anymore. He clamped a clammy hand over his trembling lips, resisting the urge to vomit.
"A treat for my cat," piped the leader.
"Please, God! Please! I swear on my life, I don't know anything! The guy never told me his name! I-I was just a messenger! I swear! I didn't know what he put in the box! He just told me to send it to a specific address, and I did! But that's it! I swear—"
"If that's the case, then you're just as useless as I thought. Now, any last words before I shove my dagger down your lying throat?"
"No? Nothing? Well, if you say so…"
The second hooded figure grabbed the victim's arms from behind, locking him in place as he kicked and screamed for mercy. The leader pried his jaws apart with his dagger, and the rest, he couldn't bear to watch. Only hear:
And then silence.
His heart pounded against his eardrums. His vision blurred and it was as if the world had been thrown into a blender set on high. The body fell to the floor, and so did his groceries as he bolted far away from the alleyway and towards his house at top speed. He passed through street lamps, turned tight corners, slipped on ice, pushed passed an oblivious couple, and was nearing the large Sanguinem park when the sense of somebody close on his heels struck his gut like that murderer's fist to that helpless guy's face. He threw a quick glance over both shoulders, seeing nothing but the midnight, snow covered Earth. Not a second before turning back around, a shoe found itself imbedded in the center of his stomach, and he was dropping to his knees like a sack of sand, a wheezing mess. He was given no time to catch his breath as he was then shoved to the ground and pinned down from behind. The dirty snow burned his eyes.
"I bet you thought you were being sneaky there, didn't you, little boy?" joked the man who had just finished murdering a human being like it was child's play. His words puffed against his hood, and he could see his warm breath mingling in with the chilly air. It reeked of jolly ranchers. "Did you enjoy the show? I enjoyed performing it."
All he could do was gasp in response, the air he had lost refusing to come back. Tears sweld at the corners of his eyes and poured down his cheeks like fountains. "I'm… I'm sorry! I didn't mean to—"
"You know, I should kill you right now," spoke the voice on top of him softly, as if deeply considering those words. "I want to. But you sound too young, and I'd be in real shit if I ended up slaughtering another brat. How old are? Do you go to school?"
"I-I'm sixteen," he choked, hoping for dear life he was of age to avoid having his throat slit open like cattle. The weight on top of him shifted ever so slightly and his breath hitched upon witnessing a menacing dagger plant itself mere inches from his nose.
"Oh wow, only a year younger than me. That's interesting. What school do you go to?"
"That backwards shit show? You know, one of their little guard dogs bit my brother's leg. Don't you think it's only fair I get even by carving up one of the students that go there? Kinda like an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth type of thing. I was gonna kill the guy who let the dog loose in the first place, but we were kind of on a tight schedule that day, and I never really got around to it. But seeing as you're a student, and I just so happen to have time to spare…"
"You were the one who broke into the school last week!"
"Guilty," the murderous teenager admitted gleefully. "But cut me some slack, I just wanted to know what the inside looked like. I've never really been to a high school before. Or spoken to another kid my age. Well… around my age. Anyhow, It's a real shame I have to cut our little chat short. It was… interesting."
The genuine somber in the boy's voice when he spoke those last words helped the anxiety bubbling in his chest lessen, if just by a fraction. He sounded just as lonely as him. But that didn't change the fact that he had just witnessed two teenagers interrogate and brutally murder a full fledged man twice their age. He could still hear those gargled screams like they were right inside of his head. A sound he would never forget.
"Are you going to kill me?" He uttered helplessly.
The boy on top of him hummed in the negative and took hold of one of his wrists, pressing it down firmly into the snow, and used his free hand to unstick his large blade from the ground; it had been wiped clean of the first victim's blood. "Just hurt you a bit."
His sleeve was tugged up to reveal his frail arm, and he winced as the teen's cold fingers unknowingly squeezed the scars marring the front half of his wrist. Only then was there a slight pause and a sound of curiosity.
"What's this?" The older boy murmured under his breath, the pads of his fingers running up and down the jagged lines quizzically. He didn't need to see them to know what they were and why they were there. "Did you do this to yourself?" There was no answer. "You did, didn't you?"
Having taken a merciless murderer by surprise with the sight of his own self inflicted scars, his face flushed in utter humiliation regardless of the snow it had been buried in not two seconds before, and he tried tugging his wrist free. He wished the guy would just do what he said he was going to do and get it over with.
To his surprise, the knife was set back down and the weight on the back of his thighs slouched. He then cried out as his entire body was flipped, and the boy on top of him was now straddling his lap. The strings on his hood were yanked and tied together tightly, rendering him completely blind. His breathing came out quick and ragged, but every muscle in his body was frozen stiff. His arms were anchored to either side of his head and the winter breeze ghosted past the scars he had created just the night before when his corrupt thoughts got the better of him. The shame upon hearing a light gasp from above made him want to hide away under his blanket like the coward he was. he wanted to explain himself, but what could he possibly say to justify his sinful deeds.
"Don't," snapped the boy. His voice held either mockery nor malice. It was gentle. Guilty, almost, making him feel even more shameful. "I guess I won't be hurting you after all, seeing as somebody else is already doing a fine job at that." His thumb brushed against each fresh line, as well as the older ones, as if counting them. "These date back years, I can tell. And I bet there's more hidden all over your body, aren't there? Don't answer that."
He swallowed hard before asking in a quivering voice," Why do you care so much?"
"Because I of most people can understand that life can be a major bitch sometimes. That's why you have to be a bitch back."
"Is that why you kill people?" he bit defensively. The moment those words left his mouth, the sharp edge of the dagger was pressed firmly against his gullet.
"Hey now, no need to get all defensive. After all, I am the one holding the knife. And I didn't insult your little hobby—" the cool blade tapped his wrist "—so don't insult mine, hmm? The only reason I'm not cutting off your pretty little lips is because it goes against my personal morals."
That did the trick of shutting him up, and the boy laughed in amusement.
Barely realizing one of his hands were free, he moved it upward in an attempt to push his assailant away. Expectantly, that last ditch attempt was all for not when a much stronger hand merely slapped it back to the cold hard ground.
"If you're not gonna kill me, then what do you want?" He asked, fear and agitation frying his nerves. The guy just shoved a dagger down a man's throat, and now he was speaking casually like they were friends. Who wouldn't be sacred and irritable? The kid was completely insane.
"I want your number," he shrugged with an invisible smile. Mika blinked, unsure if he'd heard correctly, and the boy laughed for a second time. "I know it sounds crazy, but you're the first real teenager I've ever spoken to besides my brother in a long time, and I'm really curious about you, and I want to know your story. I was thinking maybe we could be friends?"
"You killed someone!" he blurted incredulously, squirming and jerking at his binds fruitlessly.
"And I enjoyed every second of it too. But that's besides the point."
"On the contrary," the boy stated as a matter-of-fact. "I mean, you are the one who was wandering the streets alone at night and taking videos of me feeding a guy my dagger, so who's the real crazy guy in this situation?"
The boy's phone rang just as he was going to make more of his thoughts known, and one of the hands pinning Mika to the snow was now clamped over his lips while the other busied itself with answering whoever called. Strangely enough, he was too perplexed with the kid's enthusiasm to fight back.
"Yeah, I'm on my way now, just had to take care of a few things. Yeah. Everything's dealt with? Good. Okay, I should be there in ten minutes. And tell that creep to save me some food this time or I'll cut his tongue out and shove it up his ass. I'm dead fucking serious this time."
There were a few clicks, some shuffling, and for a second he thought he could get away with daring a peek at the unusual boy sitting idly on top of him.
"Nice try, kid," He heard as his hand was gently guided back to the ground. "I wanna know your face just as much as you want to know mine, but sadly that can't happen. Try not to take it personally, though, as I'm almost a hundred percent sure the rest of your face is just as cute as your chin and lips. Now do me a solid and stay down while I make my escape. My mom just finished making dessert and I'm dying of hunger right now. Who knows, maybe I'll even save you a piece and give it to you next time we just so happen to run into each other."
The weight on his lap disappeared, and his entire body shuddered as the surrounding air flooded the dampness left behind by the snow.
"I exchanged our numbers, by the way," the voice spoke, sounding a few feet to his left. "And about your wrists, I won't tell you to stop. I mean, what right do I have? But what I will say is: don't give up yet. You're a lot stronger than you think, otherwise I would've killed you the second you pulled your phone out. That was real ballsy of you and if it had been my brother who caught you instead, you would probably have a hole where your brain should be. Personally, I'm glad to have been the one to chase you down."
And after that, there was nothing but the distant sound of a passing train… and his pulse threatening to burst out of his neck. He untied the knot and loosened his hood with unsteady fingers, whipping his head left, and then right, and then left again. Nothing. The stranger had completely vanished into thin air, like a ghost.
He leaped to his feet, twirling a full 360 degrees in search of the boy who joyfully stole the life of another human being, yet, let him, a measly teen, go free with only an aching stomach to prove that what he went through hadn't been just a figment of his imagination.
While he occupied himself with trying to figure out just how to deal with the experience which would have traumatize most, many feet away, sprinting across an old abandoned building with his hood drawn over his head, dagger safely tucked away on his thigh, his new companion with a determined smile playing over his lips.
It was just his luck Yuichiro and his band of associates were out cold from the drugs they'd swallowed before he left. He didn't think he would be able to construct a lie good enough to explain why he hadn't come back with their snacks. Or why he was soaking wet and covered in sand.
Thankfully, Guren's door was closed and the lights were off, signifying that he was still held up at the police station working overtime on the multiple cases that the mysterious boy and his freakishly strong brother dropped on him two months prior. Should he tell him about tonight?
Not in a million years.
He'd do anything to avoid conversing with that maniacal bastard. If anything, he should tell his cop father that his son blackmailed him into coughing up his medication and then handed them out like candy to his obnoxious mean friends.
But Yuichiro Ichinose was a good boy; a model child. He would never do something as criminal as abusing drugs and binge drinking while there was no parent around to stop him.
He scoffed, peeling his wet clothes off after he was securely tucked away in his safe haven. He changed into his cozy pajamas and collapsed face first onto his pillow with a tired groan. His phone lie motionless in his right palm, the number he knew was in there silently calling out to him in that creep's voice.
The number owned by one of the two murderers who have been wreaking havok upon the city at night like violent, merciless, bloodthirsty monsters. Of all ways to kill a person, why stick a knife down their throat?
“… I enjoyed every second of it…”
He repeated those words over in his head until they began sounding more and more like unintelligible jargon.
"He's only a year older than me."
Only a year older and enjoying his life as a wanted felon. If he or his brother were ever caught, there was no way they wouldn't be facing an immediate death sentence. The way they went about slaughtering seemingly innocent civilians was simply too big a pill to swallow. Even for a city as lawless as Sanguinem. And while his father worked overtime trying to put a face to said crimes, the criminal sat happily in his home eating the dessert his loving mother prepared for him and his brother.
He jumped as his phone vibrated with a new message, pulling him from his thoughts. He knew it wasn't from Yuu. And he was expected to be asleep at such an early hour so it couldn't have been Guren either. That only left the one other person in his contact list.
He opened the new message, speechless at the picture staring back at him.
It was a picture from the mystery killer, or, as he read before opening the message, FRIEND. It was an innocent picture of a large slice of cake. His favorite dessert. And licking the cake, was the darkest cat he had ever seen in his life. Truly, he didn't know a living creature could possess such a depthless color. It made the picture appear broken or incomplete; like a glitch of some sort. His phone vibrated again.
FRIEND: Don't pay attention to Ayame. She's a fatass. But do you like strawberry shortcake? I was serious about saving you a piece. You seem like you could really use some sweetness in your life. And sorry about kicking you in the stomach. It was a good thing I held back though. I could've really popped something in there ;P
He sat stunned. He couldn't begin to comprehend what his life had come to in the short time span of just an hour and a half. He'd witnessed a guy, begging for his life, have a fancy looking dagger slid right down his throat. He was chased down by the man who he later found out was a mere teenage boy just like him. Said teenager kicked him in the gut, planted his face in the freezing snow, showed feelings of sympathy after seeing his self-harm, spoke words of encouragement, apparently befriended him, and now he was texting him about food and cats like normal teenagers do.
He ran a hand through his unruly mess of blond tresses, blowing air out through his cheeks. His phone was tossed to the side and he fell back on his bed and pulled his sleeve up to reveal his sins. There was an added hand print where the boy had roughly manhandled him, and as he thought back to the gentle way each hateful cut was caressed with soft fingers, there was only one thought running through his mind:
"What the hell?"