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Niiboshi Reo is granted a wish. It is not gilded in gold, nor even shining in silver- it is beating, and cold, and stained in the dark like blood covering his hands. It is the grind of the gears of fate as they wind to a halt, a thread cut loose and dangling. It is a voice sticky as honey, telling him exactly what he must do for the allegiance from which he’d once been saved. The gears float stagnant down before him, pulsing in time with the beat of his heart- an unsteady one-two, one-two.

Reo seizes them, and demands they move once more.

(There is no other choice. Not for him.)

 

The Asakusa rain doesn’t wash anything away. It falls cold from grey clouds that try and fog away the outline of Tokyo Skytree, to dull its lights pulsing bright over the city’s old bones. It makes Reo reminisce. It makes him long for the feeling of a hand in his, a heat that pierces through the chill of the storm.

(The spark that had been lit in him then still burns.)

 

What lingers behind his closed eyelids is this- ordinary, brilliant, wonderful Mabu, and the time they’d spent together in the sun. The rhythm of the harmless; workdays mundane little adventures that ended in peace prevailing. The taste of their cooking, the smell of broccoli and sweets and everything that made up their home. Being one day struck breathless by the certainty that this was no longer someone he could live without.

(The trigger had been nothing in particular. Mabu had been holding Sara, soothing her to sleep with a smile and a nostalgic little nothing of a tune. Reo had been watching, idly from the corner of his eye- and he had known. I’m never going to let you go.)

 

It is raining, and Mabu is here.

As he’s always been. The two of them, inseparable. Mabu, the one person in the world for whom Reo will stand waiting in a downpour. The skies are dark and the wind whips against the windows, and if he calls Mabu’s name, then certainly he’ll answer. Maybe he’ll even call Reo’s name in turn. Maybe it’ll sound a little bit like it used to, beloved and cherished.

(Reo’s not sure if that would make it better or worse. Not when this weather already makes him so bitterly cold.)

But it doesn’t matter, because Mabu won’t stop. He’ll still open that door and slip out into the evening, bound for a den Reo can’t- won’t- enter.

(He’s already sold his soul. He doesn’t understand why Mabu’s had to be forfeit, too.)

“I’m heading out.”

It is said with distant eyes, their briskness caught in what Reo could hardly call a backwards glance. There is no pretense here, and the both of them know it. Reo says nothing. He just watches the rain soak through that inscrutable back, and tries to fight the panic of drowning as he’s left behind in Mabu’s wake.

“At least,” he chokes out once Mabu’s silhouette has well and truly disappeared, “take a fuckin’ umbrella.”

 

(It is raining, and Mabu is gone, gone, gone.)

 

He knows that they were happy.

He knows, because he can’t allow himself to forget. The weight of Sara in his arms. The still warmth of Mabu, sleeping the seasons away at his side. A handful of spare change. Milk bottles and plastic bags full of diapers. Pancakes off the goddamn street and brought fresh from the kitchen and split neatly between two.

It’s all starting to feel like a dream he never lived. That they never lived. Reo reels in the dust of a dried-up ocean and gasps against the water in his lungs and clutches tight to the memory of the one thing he knows is real-

 

He wakes from dreams of clutching tight to Mabu’s slack hand and screaming his name until his throat goes dry and the darkness swallows them both, only to realize between heaving breaths that the sun has yet to rise.

(The dark shelters them still. Though it should bring him comfort, all Reo can do is curl his hands into the sheets and try to calm the unease racing though his heart. Despite the most valiant of his efforts, there is no such thing as an unending night. His hands have always been stained. Mabu has always been pristine. That’s why the dirty work is his. Desire and gunfire and all the world’s tragedies, deflected from them and onto some other unfortunate soul. He doesn’t care what it takes. He’ll stop the goddamn sun, if that’s what it takes to bring Mabu back to him.)

 

This is a memory. Or perhaps it’s a dream of the future, long after Reo has crumbled in the face of a doll’s apathy and given himself as sacrifice for the future Mabu deserves, because it always should have been him, always should have been him, always should have been-

He wakes.

“Papa?” asks Sara, leaning over him with eyes wide. In her hands is a dish overflowing with cucumber salad. (Her very favorite, moreso than any cake could ever hope to be.) It takes him a moment to understand where he is- but this is the dinner table, three places set neatly. All it’s awaiting is the food.

“Don’t doze off on Sara’s birthday,” Mabu chides as he steps out of the kitchen- shirtless, wearing the custom apron Sara had made for him some years back. It’s embroidered with cucumbers and kappa and bright green lace. It’s kind of an atrocity. The three of them adore it beyond all else.

Reo plucks a slice of cucumber from Sara’s plate and watches as her eyes go wide with betrayal before she snatches it away and scuttles back to Mabu’s side, peering out warily from behind his back.

Reo laughs and says, waving a half-sincere hand- “Sorry, sorry.”

He pops the cucumber slice in his mouth. Sara puffs out her cheeks,and pushes Mabu forwards like a shield, knowing full well Reo can’t muster the will to betray him.

Unlike a certain someone.

The thought flies from him, breaks into the fabric of the narrative and sours it with all the disgust of the waking world. Reo snarls at it, tries to plead with his own mind- he belongs here. Even if it’s only a dream of what they should’ve had. This is his place.

“Then would you like it?” asks Sara in a voice that isn’t hers.

The world warps. Mabu staggers and falls, bruises blooming stark across pale skin in every place they should have marred his. Reo rushes to catch him, but like sand through his fingers does Mabu slip through, a shadow rejoining the dark. The clatter of his chair hitting the ground never comes. Instead it’s swallowed up by the void, ground to dust the color of their eyes.

Love.

Useless to him now.

He cranes his head, clenches his hands into fists and whirls about the dark, searching for desire like the long stain of the sunset across the sky. That’s the key to it all. If he can find it here, then certainly he can find it there, can set the world right from its tilted axis. His demand comes not in words, but in the strength of his glare. Give it to me.

Numb to his desperation, Sara tilts her head. Inhuman. A doll. Monotone does she offer, substitute for the kappa wearing her face- “Then you could have it in the next life.” A pause. Just enough time for Reo to burn. “You wouldn’t have to wait long.”

Reo barks out a laugh- and then another, and another, torn from him in hysterics like a needle from his arm. The next life? What pretty words.

(This isn’t the voice he wants to hear.)

“Fuck you,” spits Reo defiant, staring down fate and the world and every cog in the machine that would call itself divine. “I’m taking it in this one.”

And the dream crumbles, unfulfilled and longing.

(But he refuses to let it become a dream of what they’ll never have.)

 

Come back to me, Mabu.

He can’t accept it. He won’t accept it. If the world will give him no miracle, then he will create it with his own two hands. If Mabu once saw fit to take them, then certainly they’re worthy of that much.

He doesn’t believe in god, or in blessings. But he believes in Las Vegas and air conditioners and petty thieves struck to stone by the sight of them.

He believes in Sara. He believes in Mabu.

And if that’s his lot in life, then Reo thinks it’s a pretty damn good one.

 

He wakes up. The futon is empty beside him. Azuma Sara is just another idol, dominating the local airwaves. Above him the air conditioner rattles up a storm, finally nearing the end of its life. The holes in his heart are turning bloody, same as the bullets shot by his hand. Round as dishes. Red as the otter’s mark. Reo snickers at the thought- that’s got a chunk out of it, too.

(It’s why he has no time for all the lies this falsehood spits- all the things he does to try and return them to a time that no doll belongs to. So they sit around the table choking down delicacies and Reo lets fresh-baked ningyo-yaki go cold as the river below, the fake pretending to be what Reo wants yet betraying him all the same.

Playing house.

It’s so pitiful, all Reo can do is laugh. But they’re not out of hope just yet. He can feel the phantom weight of the dishes cradled in his arms, see the sparkle of them in the gold and silver he’d once been denied.

Fuck sacrifice. Fuck the next life.

He’s done nothing wrong. He’d be a fool to let a child playing at morality hold him back now. So long as it’s for their hope- so long as it’s for Mabu- then there is no length too far to fall, and no one he can allow to stand in their way.

Everyone has wishes. But when the rest of the world is nothing but a web of lies, there’s nothing stopping Reo from burning it, if that’s what it takes. Hell- this time, he might even enjoy it.)

 

Today again he holds Mabu’s heart in his hand. Marred by mechanics. A precious thing that once was his. Unable to crush it, he thinks- all he wants is their happiness. All he wants is Mabu.

In the moment, they are connected. But what washes over Reo are the memories- the color of his voice, calling Reo’s name like a cherished treasure of childhood. The emotion that spills transparent as glass from his eyes, satisfaction and sweetness and the desire he’d once been shown. The heat of him, pale in the sticky waves of every midsummer they’d spent side by side. The sole relief Reo had ever known, his one and only lifeline.

Don’t let go of your desire. To you, it’s life itself.

 

(In the earliest hours of the morning, Reo wakes with a start. At his side Mabu gasps, jolted awake by the same dream. Its details fade fast. He knows only that it was wrong, a life devoid of hope. A distance. A coldness. Gears in his hands and a gaze fixed firmly on the past. It means something. He just doesn’t know what.

But just as he’s about to ask Mabu, Sara sneezes between them. It sends Reo into a momentary panic, jolts him back to the present- what’re they going to do if she’s caught a cold, if they have to take her to the hospital, if they have to-

Reo pauses.

Sara is here.

He picks her up in gentle arms and wipes her nose with the tissue Mabu finds. Reassurance comes as it always has- in the simple ways they are together. The gentle days continue. The world is as it should be.

Desire is your lifeline- certainly, he thinks, that’s what Mabu had said to him in that country of rain. How he’d convinced him to stand up and live.

And yet, as he stands to face the day once more, mentally tallying all the things they’ll need for Sara’s cold-  

It’s a shame Reo has never known anything but love.)

 

The gunshot wails. Mabu ushers him away. The weight of the dishes in his hands aren’t what he’d expected, but it’s hope all the same. No, thinks Reo with a wicked grin, caring not for the tragedy left in his wake, it’s more than that.

It’s our future.

(It’s a shame he understands only that he was loved.)