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Falling All Over Again

Chapter Text

There are three rules to Mabu’s life. One, he has to remember to wind up his mechanical heart each morning. Two, he must obey every command OtterBot gives him. And finally, he must never leave the room in which he’s spent his entire life.

It’s a simple room, with a toilet, shower, bed, closet, everything Mabu needs to survive. Three of the walls, floor, and ceiling are the same shade of white, while the other wall is made up of reflective glass. This is the wall that OtterBot uses to interface with Mabu. Sometimes, he thinks he sees shadows moving behind it, but OtterBot reassures him that it’s nothing but his imagination. 

Mabu sighs and leans back into his bed, staring up at the ceiling. He’s already done his exercises and chores for the day, so it’s his free time now. “OtterBot,” he says, summoning the AI, “can you tell me what Earth was like?”

Earth is a desolate wasteland. Your kind destroyed its natural beauty and made it unable to sustain life. You are the last human alive. 

It’s the same answer Mabu always gets when he asks anything about the outside world, but today Mabu wants more. “I know that,” he replies, “but what was Earth like before? When it could sustain life? In some of the books you’ve given me, they describe these beautiful ‘blue oceans’ and a ‘blue sky’, and even ‘twinkling stars at night’. But I don’t know what any of those things are.”

Sharing information about the former condition of the planet would only result in discontentedness in your current situation. You are more likely to try and leave this safe place, resulting in your demise. 

“I promise I won’t try to leave, OtterBot. Can you please just tell me what this ‘sky’ is?”

It is against protocol. If you keep asking these questions, I will withhold your rations for the next thirty-six hours.

“No, you don’t have to do that! I... I’m just tired, that’s all. I won’t ask any more questions about Earth.”

Good boy, Mabu. Get some rest. The lights dim and Mabu rolls over onto his side, disappointed. Eventually, he drifts off to sleep, dreaming about what the world might have been...

A loud crash interrupts Mabu’s fitful sleep. He opens his eyes to see nothing has changed in his room, then mumbles grumpily, “OtterBot, why the hell would you do that...”

Then he hears it. A thumping noise that almost sounds like footsteps, but that’s impossible, there’s nothing else alive to be making that noise—

“Looks like this is just another one of his test rooms. Doesn’t seem like he’s in here.”

“You go ahead, Tsubomi. I’ll check this room and make sure it’s clear.” The footsteps retreat, but Mabu doesn’t dare move. His heart pounds in his chest as the voice speaks again. “Jeez, how many rooms does an evil scientist need?”

Even though Mabu is sure he’s never heard it, something about that voice seems... familiar, somehow. He pulls back his cover a bit and peeks out. A figure is poking around in his room and has just reached Mabu’s desk, where his sketchbook is lying. The intruder starts to flip through the pages and, before he can stop himself, Mabu shouts, “Hey! That’s private!”

The figure jumps back and Mabu buries himself under the covers, trembling. The footsteps slowly get closer. “You must be one of Doctor Uso’s test subjects, right?” Mabu feels a hand on his blanket and lets out a shriek, scooting away from it. He falls off the bed and immediately feels a sharp pain in his right arm. When he looks down, he sees a piece of broken glass sticking out of his forearm.

“Ah, careful! There’s a lot of broken glass over there,” the voice says.

“I noticed,” Mabu mutters back, then bites his tongue. The stranger laughs and Mabu says, “Please forgive me! I didn’t mean to talk back!”

“You must’ve been here a while,” the voice says after a moment. “You’re trained to expect punishment. How long has it been for you?”

“My entire life. OtterBot says it’s a toxic wasteland outside and that I’ll die if I go outside of this room.” Mabu pauses, then asks, “Are you a radioactive monster?”

“No, I’m not,” is the amused reply. “Are you?”

“Why would I be?! I’ve been safe in here this whole time!”

“Kid, I hate to be the one to bring your world crashing down on you, but Earth isn’t like that. Uso lied to you.”

“Don’t call me that,” Mabu says irritably. “When I was made, I already had the body of a twenty year old man. So I’m not a kid.”

“You were already twenty, huh? You must’ve had a life before all of this, then. Friends, family—“

“No!” Mabu can’t take it anymore. “I was created here, and I’ve never been anywhere else. I’ve always longed to meet other people, like they do in books, but that’s not in the cards for me. This... this is a dream, isn’t it? It has to be. I’m going to wake up, everything’s going to be normal, and I’m just going to be disappointed. You can’t fool me, I know I’ll never be able to connect with anyone...”

“Even though you want to?”

“More than anything.” Mabu looks down at his forearm, which has started to patch itself up. “I was designed not to have emotions, but I don’t think it worked. I’ve always felt like I’m missing something, but I don’t know what.”

“‘Don’t let go of your desires.’” Something stirs within Mabu when he hears those words.

“...What was that?”

“It’s something my partner told me a long time ago. You have a choice to make; you can stay in here where you know it’s safe, or you could journey into the unknown. Even if it is just as bad as you think, at least you’ll know.” Mabu stays quiet and hears a sigh. “Look, if you’re not going to come out after my motivational speech, I don’t know what else to tell you. Hey, are you listening to me?”

“Don’t let go... of your desires?” Water drips onto the hard white floor below Mabu. He pulls his blanket back so the stranger can (sort of) see him.

“Ah, why are you crying?! I didn’t mean to—“

“I— I don’t know,” Mabu whispers. The stranger attempts to approach him again, and this time Mabu lets him. 

“Hey, it’ll be alright. I didn’t mean to scare you or anything, sometimes I just come off really angry, sorry about that— oh, shit! You’re bleeding!” A hand grabs Mabu’s and starts to wrap his forearm in cloth, but suddenly freezes. Mabu watches as a tanned finger traces two black circles on his pale wrist.

“I’ve had those markings ever since I can remember,” Mabu explains. “OtterBot says—“

“It can’t be,” the man says in a small voice. His other hand reaches up and touches Mabu’s face, turning it towards him, and Mabu finally catches his first glimpse of another human being.

Long blond hair falls into the other man’s startlingly green eyes, which are widened and fixed on Mabu. His lips are parted, revealing sharp teeth (are those what normal human teeth look like?) Tears well up in his eyes as he runs his thumb across Mabu’s cheekbone. “It’s you,” he breathes, barely audible.

“I— I think there’s been some sort of mistake,” Mabu stammers, pulling away from the man. “I don’t know who you are.” 

The man recoils as if Mabu had slapped him, but quickly regains his composure. “Of course you don’t know who I am,” he says, smiling bitterly. “I should’ve known better.”

“I’m sorry,” Mabu says, confused. “I didn’t mean to upset you.”

“Don’t worry. I could never stay mad at you, Mabu.”

Mabu blinks. “How did you know my name?”

The man shakes his head and says, “Never mind that. We need to get you to the hospital and make sure there’s nothing wrong with you. Will you let me take you there?”

He stands and extends his hand to Mabu. In his extended palm, Mabu can see an uncertain future, one he’s hardly dared to dream about yet hoped for his entire life. Mabu takes one last look around his room, then grabs the man’s hand, ready to face whatever the future has in store for him.

Chapter Text

Reo is still in shock. He thought the academy and the past eleven years in the police force would prepare him for anything, but clearly, he was wrong. When he glances over to the side, he’s there, staring wide-eyed at the world around them. His green eyes are filled with wonder as he peers through his spectacles, and he’s still squeezing onto Reo’s hand. 

Part of Reo wants to weep and wrap his arms tightly around Mabu, smothering him in kisses and promising to never let him go again. Another part of him wants to beat Doctor Uso to a pulp and make him pay for every awful thing he’s surely done to Mabu over these past ten years. Ten years, six months, and six days, to be exact— he must have been taken the same day Reo lost him. It takes all of Reo’s willpower to maintain his calm facade, but he knows he has to. For Mabu.

“Niiboshi! There you are,” Tsubomi calls out to him. She and Reo are part of the same elite police force trained to target yakuza like Uso. Noticing Mabu, she says, “Who’s this? A victim?”

Mabu squeezes Reo’s hand tightly and steps behind him, trembling a bit. He looks at Reo and asks, “Is she a radioactive monster?”

“I can hear you, you know.” Tsubomi’s irritated comment makes Mabu jump and cling tightly to Reo. “What’s his deal?”

“He’s a, uh, special case,” Reo replies, gently patting Mabu’s head. “Hey, it’s alright. She’s not going to hurt you. I promise.”

“Don’t make promises you can’t keep, Reo,” she teases, making Reo glare at her. The grip on Reo’s chest loosens, and he looks down, surprised.

“Reo...?” Hearing Mabu say his name almost makes Reo sob. Mabu looks at Reo, then down at his hands. “Why do I... know that name?”

Tsubomi and Reo share a glance, then Reo kneels down in front of Mabu. “What do you mean?”

“It started when I heard your voice. Then when I saw you, and you said that thing about desire, and now, your name... It made me feel something inside. I thought it was because I was interacting with another person, but I don’t feel it when I talk to her.”

“That shouldn’t be possible,” Tsubomi murmurs. Reo knows better than anyone that Uso never messes up a mindwipe— he’s been working on tackling Uso his whole career. “You’d better take him to the hospital, Niiboshi. I’ll stay here and look for some files on him.”

“No sign of Uso?” Tsubomi shakes her head, then walks away. “Bummer. I wish I could’ve kicked him in the nuts. Come on, Mabu, this way.” Reo leads Mabu through the raided complex and out of the door he’d kicked in earlier. He’s about halfway to where the police vehicles are hidden when he realizes Mabu is no longer by his side. “Mabu?”

Mabu is still standing in the doorway, staring openmouthed at the clear night sky above him. When Reo looks into his eyes, he can see the band of the galaxy reflected in them. “It’s beautiful,” Mabu breathes. Reo nods in agreement. 

“It really is,” Reo replies, eyes fixed on Mabu. Suddenly, Mabu turns to him and grabs both of Reo’s hands, and Reo can’t help but notice how his pale skin glows in the moonlight. 

“Is this the sky?! The night sky? I’ve read about it in books, but I never imagined it could be this amazing! Ah, even if I do die because of this, it’ll have all been worth it, just for this moment...” Mabu continues to babble on and on, waltzing around under the full moon with a huge grin on his face. As Reo watches him dance around, he gets a strange feeling, one he hasn’t felt in ages.

“Ow!” Mabu trips and falls into the grass.

“Mabu! Are you alright?!” Reo sprints over to Mabu to find him lying on his back, laughing.

“I’m fine,” he wheezes. “Better than ever before, actually. Thanks for convincing me to come out here,” Mabu says, beaming up at Reo. Looking down at Mabu, Reo feels his frozen heart finally thaw a little bit, and he knows things are going to be different from now on. Because for the first time in ten years, six months, and six days, Reo smiles.

Chapter Text

“You’re going to need this,” Reo says, tossing Mabu a round object. Mabu stares at it, not quite sure what to do, then puts it on his head.

“Am I supposed to be able to see out of this?” Mabu hears a scoff and the object is pulled off his head. Reo spins it around, then puts it back on Mabu’s head. Feeling foolish, Mabu sits down where Reo tells him to.

“You’ll want to hold on tight,” Reo says, grinning and sitting down in front of Mabu. “I’m assuming you don’t know what a motorcycle is?”

“Eh? No, why— woah!” All of a sudden, the motorcycle shoots forward. Mabu quickly wraps his arms around Reo’s waist and leans into him, watching the world fly by. He’s afraid to close his eyes, still thinking this could all be a dream. If it is, he doesn’t want to wake.

Soon enough, the dead trees around them give way to glowing structures, and Reo rolls up to the front of one. Getting up from the motorcycle, he grabs Mabu’s hand and leads him inside.

Upon entering, they’re greeted by a woman wearing white. Reo reaches into his pocket and pulls a small white card out, which the woman takes and puts into a machine. The machine beeps and a green light turns on, and the card pops back out. Jabbing a thumb in Mabu’s direction, she says, “This another kappa zombie? I can go put ‘m with the rest.”

“No,” Reo replies, putting a protective arm around Mabu, “that won’t be necessary. He’s not like the others. Is Doctor Tateyama in?”

“Yes, but he’s...” Reo glares at her, and she clears her throat. “Erm... I’ll tell him you’re here.”

“No need. I think I’ll just go back there myself. He can’t be too busy for me, right?” Despite her protests, Reo starts to push his way past her. Before he fully knows what he’s doing, Mabu plants himself where he’s standing and tugs him back. Reo turns to look at him, surprised.

“Hey,” Mabu says, “I think you’re making her uncomfortable. Let’s just wait here, alright?”

Reo stares at Mabu for a moment, then his face softens. “Alright. If that’s what you want.” As Reo and Mabu take a seat, the woman flees through a doorway. Soon after, a brown-haired man in a lab coat bursts through the door.

“Niiboshi! I hope you haven’t been waiting long,” he says with a nervous laugh.

“We’ve only been here a minute,” Mabu says. “Are you the doctor? You’re not radioactive, are you?”

“Yes? Wait, no. Well, yes and no. I’m Tateyama, but I’m not radioactive. Who exactly are you?”

“That’s none of your concern,” Reo growls, making Tateyama jump. “We just need you to run the kappa zombie tests on him. Is that too hard for you?”

“N— No! Of course not! Come right this way, you two!” With a swish of his lab coat, the doctor turns and leads them through a maze of hallways. “Now just sit down right in here— Er, what are you doing?”

Mabu has sat down on a black stool. He tilts his head and says, “Sitting down?”

“Not there, Mabu,” Reo says, pinching the bridge of his nose. He points to a bed with his other hand. “Here.”

Once they get seating all figured out, the doctor pulls out a weird device and says, “I’m going to listen to your heartbeat now, Mabu. Hold still.” He presses a metal circle against Mabu’s chest and listens. Then he squints, scratches his head, pulls the device away, then puts it back on Mabu.

“Something wrong?”

“Eek! N— Not at all, Niiboshi! There’s just... a ticking noise. That’s all.”

“Oh, that’s because my heart is mech—“ Mabu starts, but is interrupted by Reo.

“A ticking noise?! The hell is that supposed to mean?!” Reo stalks over to the doctor and grabs him by the collar of his coat. While Reo is yelling at him, Mabu unbuttons his shirt, reaches into his chest, and pulls his heart out. He taps Reo on the shoulder and holds his heart out to him.

“See? My he—“ Before Mabu can finish his sentence, Reo screams and falls backward, dropping the doctor. When the doctor gets up, he takes one look at Mabu’s heart and leaps about a foot in the air. Mabu tilts his head and asks, “Is something wrong?”

“You— you’re holding your heart,” Reo gasps, back pressed against the wall. “Holy— it’s still beating—!”

“Yeah,” Mabu replies. “You seemed worried about my heart’s ticking. So I thought I’d take it out and show you that there’s nothing wrong. What’s the problem?”

“What about that isn’t a problem...” Reo mutters, scratching the back of his head. “I— I guess if you’re still alive— but how—?”

“Sorry. I’ll put it back if you want.” Mabu puts his heart back in his chest and Reo stiffens. Walking over to him, Reo gently rests his hand on a small, circular scar just over Mabu’s heart. “You won’t be able to reach it that way,” Mabu says, pulling Reo’s hand just above his rib cage. “You’d have to reach in here. But I’d rather you not do that, having my heart pulled out by someone else feels like what I’ve been told sex is like.”

“Oh? And how do you know that?”

“OtterBot needs to maintenance my heart every couple weeks or so, or it said I’ll die. I’m not sure if that’s right, though, since it’s been almost a month since my last maintenance...”

“Let’s get you into the MRI machine,” the doctor says. “That way we can see what’s going on. For now, just, um... make sure it keeps pumping?”

~ ~ ~

Three hours and several scans later, Mabu and Reo finally walk out of the clinic. Mabu feels exhausted from all the sensory input he’s received in just the past few hours and wants to sleep. Reo has promised to take Mabu back to his apartment in Tokyo, which is apparently half an hour away.

As the door opens in front of them, Reo starts to walk towards the motorcycle, but Mabu freezes, looking up at the sky. “Reo,” he calls out fearfully, “what’s happening?! Where have the stars gone?” The corners of Reo’s lips quirk upwards.

“Ever seen a sunrise before?”

Chapter Text

“Before we go in, I have to warn you, my place is a mess,” Reo says. He wishes he had cleaned up a little bit, but how could he have known? Reo hasn’t had anyone over in years.

“This place is huuuge! Is this really your home?!” Mabu’s excited statement attracts the stares of some neighbors heading off to work, but one look from Reo sends them scurrying off. Reo grabs Mabu’s wrist and drags him to the elevator.

“Don’t draw attention to yourself, Mabu! Any one of those people could be working for Uso,” Reo scolds him. Mabu mumbles an apology and looks down at his feet. In a softer voice, Reo says, “I just want to keep you safe, alright?”

The elevator door opens and Reo leads Mabu to his apartment. Just as he’s about to open the door, Mabu grabs his hand.

“Those people... they were scared of me, weren’t they?”

“It’s not you they were scared of,” Reo remarks, struggling to find the right key.

“You mean... they were scared of you? But why?”

“Guess I have a scary face.” The truth is, Reo wants people to fear him. After losing Mabu, Reo’s sole purpose was to kill the men responsible. Uso is the only one Reo hasn’t managed to kill yet, but he’s getting closer and closer. After Uso is gone, Reo will have no reason to be...

“You look like how I imagined sunshine to be, I don’t see how they could be afraid of you.” The key ring falls out of Reo’s hand. Mabu picks it up and says, “I don’t think you tried this one yet.” He inserts a silver key into the lock, turns it, and the door swings open.

Reo slowly steps inside behind Mabu. His hand trembles as he locks the door behind him. “Mabu...”

At Reo’s hoarse whisper, Mabu turns to look at him. “Eh? What’s wrong?”

Of course he doesn’t know. Of course Mabu wouldn’t remember the day they first met in the rain, when he’d first compared Reo to the sun. Hot tears run down Reo’s cheeks, dripping onto the dirty floor. “It— It really is you,” he manages.

“Reo...?”

“I— I— I really need to hug you right now,” Reo says, rushing forward. He wraps his arms tightly around Mabu, burying his face in Mabu’s neck. “I know you don’t understand this but— but I promise I’ll explain everything— once I know what’s going on, I’m so confused too, but—“

Reo feels Mabu’s warm arms squeeze him and completely loses it. Sobs wrack his entire body as he desperately clings to Mabu, almost afraid that he’ll disappear forever if he lets go. “Mabu, Mabu, my Mabu,” Reo whimpers again and again. Mabu’s warm hand runs through Reo’s hair as he whispers soothingly to Reo.

Slowly, Mabu’s hand grows still and his breathing deepens, and Reo realizes he’s fallen asleep in his arms. “Ah... you really were tired, huh. Don’t worry, love,” he murmurs, picking Mabu up bridal style, “I’ll take care of you now...” With a quick glance around, Reo realizes there’s nowhere to put Mabu. The couch has stacks of boxes loaded with files on Uso, and the couple of chairs Reo are covered with dirty laundry and old mail.

With nowhere else to put him, Reo gently sets Mabu down on his bed. He takes Mabu’s glasses and shoes off and, after some hesitation, unbuttons Mabu’s shirt. While he knows that Mabu likes to sleep in his boxers (even in the winter), he doesn’t want Mabu thinking he’s some perv.

Once he gets changed, Reo slides into bed next to Mabu. He remembers the last time he and Mabu were in bed together, the night before he died...

Chapter Text

It was the happiest day of Reo’s life. On a mid-August night, he was walking through a crowded street with the love of his life, Mabu Akutsu. He and Mabu had just been promoted as a result of them catching a wanted criminal while on parking duty. It was sheer luck, really— they just happened to be in the right place at the right time, but Reo was convinced otherwise.

“I’m telling you, it’s fate,” Reo insisted. “We’re going to be the best cops ever, and someone up there knows it.” He pointed up to the night sky and Mabu chuckled. 

“He fell on me, Reo. He didn’t exactly make it very hard.”

“But our teamwork was key! You distracted him, I got him in handcuffs. By the way, did you notice how fast I was? I’m so good at this job,” Reo said, puffing out his chest.

With a smirk, Mabu said, “The only reason you were so fast is because he was on top of me. You tackled him, punched him, then put him in handcuffs before I could react— and before you even knew who he was.” Reo started to protest, but Mabu held up his hand. “I know you well enough to see when you’re lying. If we’re going to be real police officers, you can’t go around arresting everyone who comes near me.”

Reo pouted and put an arm around Mabu. “So what if I’m a bit protective of you? I can’t have people going around putting their hands on my Mabu.” Mabu rolled his eyes.

“You’re so ridiculous sometimes.”

“You know you love it,” Reo said, grinning. “Now where’s this secret spot you’re all excited about?” Mabu grabbed the sleeve of Reo’s blue yukata and pulled him through the streets, leading him to a familiar building. “This is... the police station?”

“Close your eyes. Just do it,” Mabu added after hearing Reo’s groan. 

A few minutes later, Reo opened his eyes to see the roof of the police station decorated with beautiful bundles of irises and roses. Red chochin lanterns gave the whole area a soft glow, illuminating a small metal table with two chairs. “Mabu, what’s all this?”

“I thought this would be a nice place to watch the fireworks from. There’s a perfect view from up here— look, you can even see that new Skytree from over here!” Reo’s eyes followed Mabu’s extended finger to see the incomplete tower, which had just reached a hundred meters tall. 

“Looks more like a stump than a Skytree,” Reo muttered. Mabu sat down next to him and handed him a plate of freshly made ningyouyaki. “Oh, thanks!”

As Reo dug in to the ningyouyaki, he noticed Mabu running his thumb across his index finger. “You nervous about something?”

Mabu jumped slightly and said, “No, not at all! I just—“ 

A flash of light and a loud bang cut him off. The firework show had begun. From their spot on the roof, the fireworks were perfectly visible and, as always, stunning. Reo was completely mesmerized by them. “They’re beautiful,” he breathed.

“Not really,” Mabu replied. Reo looked over at him and met his eyes, making a face. “Sure, they’re pretty, but not in comparison to some things.”

“Like what?”

“You.” Reo stared at Mabu, illuminated by the soft glow of the lanterns and the fireworks. Mabu smiled at him and Reo, feeling his face heat up, looked down at his feet. “The fireworks pale in comparison to you. The way you look when you see them, like you couldn’t be happier... It’s also the way you look at me when I make you your favorite food, when we go on dates, and sometimes for no reason at all. You make me happy, and I know I make you happy too... that’s why...”

Reo was looking at Mabu directly now. His heart beat rapidly in his chest. “Mabu...?”

Mabu got down on one knee in front of Reo, holding Reo’s left hand in both of his. “... I want to spend the rest of my life together with you! I always have, and always will... love you!” With one hand still clasping Reo’s, Mabu reached into the pocket of his yukata and pulled out a small black box.

“I want to be by your side for the rest of my life. Reo, will you marry me?” Mabu opened the box to reveal a simple golden ring and Reo started to cry. 

“Is— is that why you haven’t been buying anything you’ve wanted lately? S— so you could do this for me?”

“Yep,” Mabu said with a laugh. “I couldn’t even afford a ring for myself... so... are you saying y—“

“Of course. God yes, Mabu, I can’t even— oh c’mere,” Reo said, pulling Mabu into a kiss. Their tears of joy mixed on their cheeks. As more fireworks went off, Reo thought of how perfect his life was and wished that things would never change...

Reo wakes up to the smell of yakisoba. He spends a few minutes in bed, not wanting to let go of that dream, when suddenly the events of the previous night come rushing back to him. Bolting upright, he shouts, “Mabu!”

Reo’s digital alarm clock reads 4:07 pm, which means he’s been asleep for about eight hours. He scrambles out of bed and into the kitchen, but trips on a box of papers and falls flat on his face. “Shit!

A hand grabs him by the shoulder. “Hey, are you alright? That was a pretty nasty fall.” Reo looks up to see Mabu holding a bowl of yakisoba over him. “I was just about to wake you, I thought you might be hungry— huh?"

Standing up, Reo cups Mabu’s face in his hands. “You’re really here,” he murmurs.

“Yeah, I, uh, didn’t go anywhere,” Mabu replies awkwardly. “It’s not like I know where anything else is... are you hungry? I made this for you.”  He offers the yakisoba to Reo.

“How’d you make...” Reo starts to say, but then sees his kitchen. The piles of unopened letters have been cleared away and his used dishes are neatly stacked. The countertop, which Reo hasn’t seen in a long time, is spotless, and the stove is clear. “You cleaned up for me?”

“Well, I woke up and wanted to cook something, but I noticed how messy your kitchen was! I couldn’t cook in a place like that, so I picked up a bit,” Mabu says, shrugging. Tilting his head, he asks, “Why is your place such a mess?”

“I— It’s not a mess! It’s... organized chaos, that’s what it is! What, has your room never been messy?”

“Nope.” Go figure. Mabu’s always been sort of a neat freak. “Keeping my room clean is part of my daily chores. If I don’t complete my chores, I don’t get fed.”

“Ah, is that so...” Reo shouldn’t be surprised— he knows how Uso treats his captives. But when it comes to Mabu, everything seems so different.

“Even then, the food delivery could be faulty sometimes. Why, once I didn’t eat for almost two weeks!”

Two weeks?!” Reo grabs Mabu by the shoulders and yells, “How are you still alive?!”

“Why are you acting that way all of a sudden? I only really need to eat about once a month. It takes me a week to get hungry,” Mabu replies. “What, isn’t that normal?”

“Not at all...” Reo brings his hand up to his neck to rub the engagement ring there, a habit of his when he’s thinking, but his fingers touch empty space. With a jolt, Reo realizes it’s gone. “My ring!”

“Oh, are you looking for the thing you were wearing around your neck? When you fell earlier, the chain broke and the gold thing went under there.” Mabu points to the refrigerator and Reo groans. Getting down on his hands and knees, he peeks under the fridge and, sure enough, there’s the ring. He tries to get it back, but it’s just out of his reach. “Ah, shit...”

“Can I help?” Reo nods, not really expecting Mabu to get it— Mabu has smaller hands, after all. But instead of reaching under it, Mabu grabs the fridge and picks it up with one hand, as if it weighs nothing.

“Eh?!”

“There it is,” Mabu says calmly, as if nothing out of the ordinary is happening. “Are you going to get it?”

“Y— yeah,” Reo stammers, picking the ring up off the ground. 

“You should eat now,” Mabu says. “The yakisoba will get cold.”

“R— right...” As Reo sits down to eat, he watches Mabu happily wash some of his dishes. He starts to type a text to Tsubomi, then hesitates. If word gets out to his bosses about Mabu’s apparent superhuman abilities, they’d want to study him, just like with the kappa zombies.

The kappa zombies Reo has dealt with usually were small-time criminals who had the misfortune of meeting Uso’s thugs. Through some process that no one but Uso understands, they become slaves to their desires and will stop at nothing to attain whatever the object of their desire is. The only way to stop them is to extract their desire, which Reo does with a specialized gun. After the extraction, they become human again, but they lose their memories. Sometimes the abilities they obtain as zombies remain after the extraction.

 Mabu shows all the signs of being a kappa zombie victim except for one crucial detail: somewhere buried away inside him are memories of his past. Something about the process must not have worked on Mabu, which probably led Uso to keep him locked up. He might just be the key to finally stopping Uso.

But Reo knows how Mabu will be treated by his people. In fact, being the most ruthless in his division, Reo has performed interrogations on the former kappa zombies. He looks over at Mabu, who’s forgotten about the dishes and is staring out Reo’s window in wonder. Reo knows he can’t let that happen to Mabu— it would break him. 

Looking down at his uneaten yakisoba, Reo runs his thumb over the cool metal of the ring. He decides to make a promise; he’s going to protect Mabu now, no matter what it takes. To commemorate his vow, he slides the ring onto his finger hoping that, maybe someday, it can be the symbol of another promise as well.

Chapter Text

“I have to go back to work today,” Reo had said. “Stay here when I’m gone, alright? It’s not safe for you to go out by yourself.” Then he’d left Mabu with a list of what he should and shouldn’t do.

Mabu sighs and stares at the door. It’s been six hours since Reo has left, and Mabu has been bored ever since. He gets up and opens the fridge, which has a couple pieces of rotted fruit and a half full glass of water inside.

Again, Mabu looks at the door. He doesn’t want to disobey Reo, but the last time he went out, something amazing happened— he met Reo. So why not be brave?

Mabu slowly opens the door and peeks outside, then quickly closes the door again. After doing this several times, Mabu determines that it’s safe, and walks over to the elevator. He pushes the up button like he saw Reo do last night, then hesitates. If he went up last night, shouldn’t he have to go down to get back outside?

The elevator door opens and Mabu steps inside, waiting for it to take him up. But when the door closes, nothing happens. Mabu frowns. Did he do something wrong?

After about half an hour of sitting in the elevator in confusion, the elevator door opens again. A woman with pigtails enters the elevator with a small boy who she’s bickering with.

“No, we’re not wasting money on another one of those anklets!”

“It’s a micanga! And it’s for Kazuki,” the boy insists. He notices Mabu and grabs his sleeve. “Sir, you need to help me! This weird old lady is being mean to me!”

The woman starts, noticing Mabu. She blushes and stammers, “Wha- I’m not- I’m his sister!”

“Oh, alright,” Mabu replies. “Do you happen to know how this elevator works?”

The siblings tilt their heads at him and give him identical expressions of confusion. The little boy asks, “Are you stupid?”

“Enta! Be nice,” the woman says, giving her brother a light smack on the head. “Sure... you just push the button with the number of the floor you want to go to. See, we’re going to the ground floor, so I click the ‘one’ button here and...” She pushes the button and Mabu notices bright green polish on her nails. He jumps a bit as the elevator starts moving. “See? Here we go.”

“Ah, thank you...”

“Are you new here? I don’t think I’ve seen you around before.”

“Yes, I’m staying here with a friend of mine,” Mabu replies. Reo had told him to say that if anyone asked.

“Well, it’s nice to meet you! I’m Otone Jinnai, but you can just call me Otone. Say, are you doing anything right now? I’m taking my little brother to soccer practice and it would be great to have another adult with us.” Enta starts to say something but Otone claps a hand over his mouth. “Don’t mind my little brother, he’s just shy.”

“Is it far away? My friend says I shouldn’t leave the building,” Mabu asks, a little concerned. Otone stares at him and mutters something about a control freak.

“Not at all! There’s a park just outside of our apartment building with soccer fields,” she reassures him. “Here, I’ll show you.” Mabu follows her out of the elevator and to the door, where he stops. Otone gives him a little smile and takes his hand, leading him outside. “See? They’re right here.”

Huh, they really are close. Mabu decides that since he can still see the building, Reo will be okay with him being out here.

“Hurry up, Otone! Your dumb boyfriend is slowing us down,” Enta says, sticking his tongue out at Mabu.

“B- boyfriend?! Why, you little—“ Otone chases after him, shaking her fist. Mabu isn’t sure why she’s angry at him. He shrugs and, figuring it’s a brother-sister kind of thing, follows them to the field.

A group of about ten boys the same size as Enta are running in circles around the field when Mabu arrives. Otone is sitting on a bench nearby, and Mabu decides to sit with her. “So, is this soccer? I’m not sure this is what I read about,” Mabu says, frowning. Wasn’t there supposed to be a ball involved in soccer? Or was that rugby? Or both?

“No, right now the boys are just warming up,” she says with a smile. “So, where are you from?”

“I... I don’t know, actually,” Mabu says. “I stayed in the same room for my entire life until three days ago. Apparently I was someone’s prisoner... the friend who I’m staying with thinks I had a life before all of that, but if I did, I can’t remember it.”

“That’s so tragic!” Mabu looks back at Otone to see she now has tears in her eyes.

“Please don’t cry! It’s alright, really! Reo found me and rescued me, so I’m okay now.” Mabu smiles sheepishly at Otone, trying to show her that he’s okay. “Besides, it’s not like I knew what I was missing. But now that I’m here, I can experience the world and make friends, like you!”

“Friends like me—? But we just met!”

“Did I overstep my bounds? I’m sorry!” Mabu blushes and looks at the ground. “I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable or anything—“

“No, no, it’s fine!” Otone puts a hand on Mabu’s shoulder. “We can be friends. Just be careful about who you call your friends. There’s one guy on our floor who I know would get mad— Eh? What’s wrong?” She turns her attention to the boys, who seem to be fighting each other. “Oh no— Mabu, could you give me a hand?”

Mabu follows her over to where the boys are gathered and sees Enta fighting a small blue-haired boy. Otone tries to separate them to no avail. Mabu walks forward and grabs the back of their shirts, lifting them up in both his hands.

“What happened here?”

“It’s all Kuji’s fault,” Enta whines from Mabu’s left hand.

“Why do you blame me for everything?! You’re the one who kicked the ball into the tree!”

“You buttface!” Enta starts swinging himself towards the other kid like a pendulum and breaks free of Mabu’s grasp. Mabu lets Kuji go and walks over to the tree. The ball is stuck pretty high up in it, and the tree’s first branches are high above Mabu’s grasp. He doesn’t think he can climb it, but maybe there’s another way...

Otone calls out, “Mabu? What are you doing?” Mabu has wrapped his arms around the trunk as much as he can and starts to lift. “I don’t think that’s going to—“

With a huge tug, Mabu pulls the tree out of the ground, then tips it towards the boys and shakes. The soccer ball flies out of the tree and rolls to a stop a few meters away from the boys, who are gaping at Mabu. He pushes the tree back into the ground and walks back over to them.

“I fixed it.” The boys and Otone continue to stare openmouthed at Mabu, and he starts to feel a little uncomfortable. Did he do something wrong?

A boy with dark hair and red eyes steps forwards. “Mabu-san... is a real-life superhero!”

“Huuuhh?!” All ten of the boys cluster around Mabu, talking to him all at once. Otone unsuccessfully tries to pull a few on them away as they start climbing on Mabu.

After a few minutes of being the boys’ personal jungle gym, the little red-eyed boy gathers the others behind him. He says, “That was rude of us! I apologize.”

“I— It’s okay, I guess,” Mabu says, laughing nervously. “J— just give me some warning next time, alright?”

The boy nods, then bows, holding the soccer ball out in front of him. “Mabu-sama! Please play soccer with us!”

Sweating profusely, Mabu holds his hands up. With an awkward smile, he says, “I— I don’t know how to play...”

“That’s okay! We can teach you! I’m Kazuki, by the way!” His little hand grabs Mabu’s and leads him towards the field. “Now come on, boys, let’s show Mabu-sama how it’s done!”

~ ~ ~

A couple hours later, Mabu is starting to get the basics of soccer. At first, he passed way too hard and almost knocked Enta out, but he’s learning. He scores his first goal, and the boys surround him, cheering.

Otone helps him up and says, “Thanks for coming out here with me. The boys haven’t had this much fun in practice for ages. Winter practices can be kind of dull.”

Before Mabu can reply, a voice rings out across the field. “Found you~.”

Reo stands at the end of the field with his foot planted on the soccer ball. The boys race to hide behind Mabu, except for Kazuki. He stands in front of Mabu and crosses his arms.

“Kazuki! Don’t provoke him,” Enta whispers. Mabu tilts his head, very confused.

“Don’t come any closer,” Kazuki commands. “I won’t let you hurt Mabu-sama!”

“‘Hurt’? Why would Reo—“

“I would never hurt Mabu,” Reo says with a smile. But this isn’t the same soft smile that Mabu has seen— this is a cruel grin. “You, however...”

“Niiboshi-san,” Otone interrupts, stepping between them. “Is there something I can help you with?”

“Yes, as a matter of fact,” Reo says, straightening his back and looking down at her. “What are your intentions with Mabu?”

“Reo!” Mabu runs over to him and grabs his arm. “She isn’t trying to hurt me. I got stuck in the elevator and she helped me. I’ve had a lot of fun playing soccer with her brother’s team and—“

“Oh, you’re having ‘fun’? Isn’t that just swell. Should I just leave you here, then, and let you get taken again? But you’d be having fun , that’s what’s important.” Reo is holding Mabu by the shoulders now and glaring at him with a fury Mabu doesn’t understand. “You’d be better off without me, wouldn’t you!”

“Reo, stop! Why are you acting like this?!” Reo blinks, and Mabu pulls out of his grasp. Struggling to hold back tears, Mabu adds, “You’re scaring me.” Reo looks down at his hands and back up at Mabu. Otone reaches out and touches Mabu’s arm.

“I sent the boys off— practice is over, anyway. Do you need any help from me? If he’s bothering you, I can—“

“You can what, call the police? I am the police,” Reo growls.

“If there’s a suspicious man threatening someone, I think the police will take care of him, despite his credentials!”

“You haven’t even seen ‘threatening’ yet—“

“I get it now,” Mabu interrupts, causing them to turn and look at him. “You’re jealous.”

All three of them are silent for a moment, then— “J— Jealous?! No way,” Reo sputters. “I’m just— I want to protect—“

“It’s alright, Reo. You don’t have to hide it.” Mabu walks closer to him and says, “That’s why you said the thing about me being better off without you, right?”

Reo mumbles, “Eh, did I really say that out loud...?”

“Yeah, you did. But it’s okay. You felt hurt, that’s why you were lashing out. But I want you to know something,” Mabu starts. He grabs both of Reo’s hands and looks him in the eye. “You are important to me, Reo! Next time, let’s play soccer together!” Reo’s face starts to turn red, but Mabu keeps going. “No matter how many friends I make, I will always have my connection with you! Because you’re my... my...” Mabu struggles to think of the right word. Suddenly, he remembers the word Enta used in the elevator for a special friend. “... my boyfriend!”

“Heeeeh?!” The tips of Reo’s ears are red as strawberries. “I— I don’t— I don’t think—“

“...I guess I’ll leave you to it,” Otone says awkwardly. She starts to walk away amid Reo’s stammering.

“S— so cute— how is it possible to be th—“

“Hey, if you need me, don’t hesitate to come over! I live in room 549,” Otone says with a wave.

“Does h— he even know— my heart—“

“Alright, seeya,” Mabu calls back cheerfully. He grabs Reo’s hand again, which makes him jump. “Come on, let’s go inside! You’d better have gone to the store. I promised I’d make ningyouyaki tonight, and it’s getting late!”

Chapter Text

“Mabu, I’m off to work,” Reo calls out. “If you go to see Otone today, remember to shut the door this time!”

“I already told you, I did!” Mabu pokes his head out of the office door and pouts.

“Then why was it open when we got back last night?” Mabu starts to say something about a ghost, but Reo cuts him off with a short “Bye!” He’s not meaning to be rude, but today’s an important day at work. Today’s the day he’ll find out if he can keep Mabu.

After a short motorcycle ride through Asakusa, Reo arrives at the police box. He’s greeted by Tsubomi, who says, “If you can afford that bike, you can afford a helmet.”

“It almost sounds like you’re starting to care about me,” Reo teases. “What’s my assignment?”

“You’re on patrol today. But first, the boss wants to see you.” Reo was expecting this, but the words send a thrill through his veins.

He gets into the elevator, swipes his card, then pushes a previously locked button. He pushes his hair back and fidgets with the top button of his shirt. When Reo reaches the bottom floor, he presses his thumb against a screen and waves to one of the security cameras with his other hand. A door slides open and Reo strolls in. “Morning.”

“Niiboshi,” Boss greets him. An unremarkable man with forgettable features, Reo’s boss is not one for small talk. Reo doesn’t even know his real name. “You took something with you.”

“Yes, I did.” There’s no point in lying. “Is that an issue?”

“Not until he made those new friends of his. They make his disappearance... difficult. People will ask questions.” Reo realizes that Mabu’s little outing yesterday might just have saved his life. “He’ll stay with you until further notice.” Reo feels so relieved he might cry— but no, he has to keep it together, at least in front of his boss.

“Alright,” Reo replies, trying to keep his voice level.

“Say you won’t get attached to him.” Reo forces a laugh at the statement.

“I watched my partner die in my arms. Do you really think I’m dumb enough to make the same mistake again? I won’t connect with him.”

“Hm. I can still take custody of him if he impedes your work.”

Reo looks down at his feet, knowing what he needs to say. Mabu... I want to stay with you. I want to connect. But I need to keep you safe. Forgive me, Mabu...

“Mabu can die for all I care. He’s an annoyance, that’s all. But I can watch him for now.”

“Good. You’re dismissed.”

“Good talk,” Reo says dryly, starting to walk away.

“Remind me how your partner died.” Reo stops in his tracks. “Go on.”

“...Shot in the heart. By one of Uso’s guys.”

“What a shame. But it’s what made you so ruthless and so, so helpful to us.” Reo stands quietly with his back facing his boss. “Enjoy your patrol, Niiboshi.”

Chapter Text

Patrol always helps Reo clear his head. By the time his shift is over, he’s practically forgotten about the bad parts of the meeting. So what if he has to convince his boss he doesn’t care about Mabu? He has Mabu back. That’s all that matters. All he has to do now is help Mabu get his memory back. 

Reo knows that somewhere deep in Mabu’s head, his memories are buried away. They have to be. How else could Mabu have recognized Reo? He just has to figure out how to unlock those memories, then he and Mabu can live a normal life together...

“Hey, I’m ho— oh!” Reo walks in to see Mabu standing at the stove, completely naked. 

“Reo!” Mabu starts to turn around and Reo quickly slams the door behind him. “Welcome back!” When Reo doesn’t reply, Mabu tilts his head and asks, “Is something wrong?”

Feeling his face warm up, Reo says, “N— no, I was just surprised, that’s all.” I guess some things never change, huh... 

Now that Mabu’s facing Reo, he can see two scars on Mabu’s chest. He’d only caught a glimpse of them once before in the doctor’s office, but he was a little distracted what with Mabu holding out his still-beating heart and all. One of them is a straight line going from the center of Mabu’s chest to just under his left nipple, which Reo assumes is a surgical scar.

The other scar, however, Reo knows exactly how Mabu got. That memory is burned into his mind.

“Put some clothes on,” Reo says, his good mood ruined. Mabu frowns and puts on one of Reo’s shirts while Reo gets a plate of curry. He picks at his food in silence, not meeting Mabu’s concerned eyes. 

“Reo, I—“

“I’m going to bed,” Reo says suddenly, pushing back his chair. “Long day today. Good night, Mabu.” Reo walks into his room and closes his door, leaving his half-eaten curry behind.

He leans against the door, listening to the muffled clinking of dishes from the other room. Sighing, Reo walks over to his sink and splashes his face with water. The right side of the sink is a mess, with Reo’s toiletries scattered all over the counter. The left side is organized and clean, except for a layer of dust and a long-dried bit of toothpaste.

“Mabu, we’re going to be late! Just get a stick of gum or something!” Reo pulled on Mabu’s arm, causing him to miss his toothbrush entirely. Mabu started to wipe it up but Reo shouted, “It’s 7:43! You can clean it up later!”

If only Reo had known ‘later’ would never come. He takes his shirt off and passes his dresser, stopping to open one of the drawers. Mabu’s old shirts are neatly folded inside, just the way he left them. The drawer is mostly empty, though.

“At least let me put the laundry in! I know you’re not going to do it later,” Mabu said. Reo rolled his eyes, even though he knew Mabu was right. 

“Come on, future Niiboshi-san,” Reo said, making Mabu smile and blush. “We’ll have plenty of time later. Let’s not be late on the day we might get promoted.”

When they arrived at the police station, their boss was waiting for them. “Good morning, Reo and Mabu! Guess what?!” She bounced over to them, smiling from ear to ear. “That man you caught yesterday— he’s one of Kawa Uso’s guys!” Reo’s jaw dropped.

The Kawa Uso? The yakuza boss?!” She nodded at Mabu’s inquiry. “No way...!”

“Yes way! And they want to see you two down at the main station!” Reo nudged Mabu excitedly.

“Mabu, this is great!”

“What about you? Are you getting anything?” Mabu’s eyebrows furrowed together in concern. 

“I’m getting a pay raise, don’t worry. You boys aren’t getting all the glory,” their boss said, laughing. “I’m proud of you, though. Now you’d better get down there, you don’t want to keep them waiting!” 

Grinning, Reo took Mabu’s hand and ran out of the building. Unable to contain his excitement, Reo started to dance through the street. “The two of us are a couple~! The ultimate couple~!” Mabu laughed as Reo twirled and dipped him, leaning in for a kiss.

“Reo— Reo! Stop it, we’re in public!” Reo looks down at him and pouts, making Mabu laugh even harder. 

Before Reo could steal another kiss, he felt a sharp pain in the back of his head, and everything went black.

Already knowing what he’s going to dream about, Reo sighs and sprawls out on his bed. It’s the same nightmare he’s been having for the past ten and a half years. He snuggles up with one of Mabu’s unwashed shirts, which has long since lost Mabu’s scent. Reo tosses and turns before finally falling asleep.

When Reo regained consciousness, his arms were being held behind his back by two people. He looked to his left and saw Mabu, still unconscious, in the same situation. “Hey,” Reo said, starting to squirm, “let us go! We’re police officers!”

“Good,” an unfamiliar voice said. “It’d be a shame if we got the wrong people.”

“Wh— what do you want from us?” Mabu, now awake, had asked the question. Reo could see fear in his eyes.

“You’re the two kids who caught one of our men.” It was a statement rather than a question. “That isn’t supposed to happen. You must’ve gotten lucky, that’s all. You will tell your bosses never to interfere with us again, and we will leave you be.”

“Yeah right,” Reo muttered. He glared at the masked man in front of him defiantly.

“Why would we harm you? You are otterly insignificant and of no concern to us. Simply deliver our message and we can forget this fluke ever happened.”

“No,” Reo growled. Mabu looked over at him pleadingly, trying to get him to stop.

“Excuse me?”

“I said, no! People like you are the reason I grew up an orphan! There’s no way I’m ever going to help you!” Reo stomped his foot and, unable to do anything else, spit at him. A splotch of water lands on the man’s suit.

He calmly retrieved a cloth from his pocket and wiped his jacket clean, then sighed, “Have it your way. It only takes one to deliver a message, after all.” He pressed a gun against Reo’s forehead, and Reo gritted his teeth. 

“Reo, no!” He could hear Mabu screaming for him, but he simply closed his eyes and waited. He heard the shot fire and waited for the pain, but it never came.

“Well, well. Isn’t that something.” Reo opened his eyes, seeing the gun pointed away from his head. Someone’s hand had grabbed it and pulled it away from him and towards their chest.

Reo saw the two black rings inked on the person’s wrist and his heart leapt into his throat. Slowly, his eyes traveled upwards to see...

Mabu fell to his knees, clutching his chest. Someone screamed, and it took Reo a moment to realize it was himself. Mabu turned to face him and gave him a slight smile, even though he was starting to cry.

“Don’t let go... of your desires,” Mabu said softly. Then he fell, almost in slow motion, into one of the men’s arms.

“Mabu... Mabu! No! WAKE UP!” 

“Let’s take this one with us,” the masked man said. One of the others picked Mabu up and tossed him over his shoulder. “And take care of this one, would you? We don’t want him following us...” Reo felt a slight pinch in his neck, and everything started to get fuzzy. He slid out of the other men’s hands onto the cool pavement, unable to move—

“Reo! Reo, wake up!” Reo bolts upright, smacking his head against something hard. “Ow!”

“Mabu,” Reo cries out instinctively. He closes his eyes and sighs, wiping the sweat from his forehead. It was only a memory, Reo reminds himself.

“That’s me,” a voice says, making Reo jump. Before he’s fully aware of what he’s doing, Reo grabs the knife he keeps beneath his pillow and leaps out of bed, pinning the other person down and holding the knife to their throat.

“Eep!” Mabu lets out a small squeak and puts his hands up. Reo stares down at him, confused, until the memories of the past few days come crashing down on him. He quickly hops off of Mabu and helps him up.

“Sorry about that,” Reo says sheepishly, “I was having a bad dream.” 

“Oh, is that what that was? It sounded like you were in pain, so I came in to check on you. You’re not hurt, are you?” Mabu looks at him worriedly.

“No, I— I’m fine. I didn’t mean to wake you.”

“Don’t worry, I wasn’t asleep,” Mabu says with a small laugh, scratching the back of his head. Reo notices his eyes are red and puffy.

“Mabu, have you been crying?”

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have bothered you. I’ll go back to the couch now—“ Mabu starts to leave, but Reo grabs his hand. 

“Please, stay with me,” he says. “Maybe I can help you.”

“May I... may I cuddle with you? That might make me feel better,” Mabu mumbles, looking down at his feet shyly. Reo smiles a bit.

“Of course. Maybe that’ll help me, too.” Reo leads Mabu into bed and pulls his blanket over the two of them. Mabu wraps his arms around Reo and starts playing with his light hair. “Mhn... Mabu...”

“I had a bad dream too,” Mabu murmurs, his face half buried in Reo’s chest. “But it was weird. It almost didn’t feel like a dream.”

“Oh?” Reo isn’t really paying attention. He’s more focused on having Mabu in his arms and feeling his embrace. Mabu still smells just the way he remembered, albeit slightly more... metallic? But he doesn’t care, he knows it’s his Mabu right here in his arms and he’s so, so relieved...

“I was in this weird room with really bright lights that were hurting my eyes. I tried to move, but my hands and feet were cuffed to the table I was lying on. There was some kind of logo on the wall, a red heart with some kind of animal in it, maybe a rat?” 

“...What?” Mabu has Reo’s full attention now.

“It gets weirder, though. Another man was there, he was standing next to me. He said I was reborn to be his doll. I got scared and asked him where you were, but he said I wouldn’t be seeing you anymore, that I was his now. I tried to struggle against the restraints but then he grabbed my hair and then... and then I think he started trying to eat my face? Hey, Reo, why’re you holding me so tight all of a sudden?”

Reo realizes he’s practically crushing Mabu in his arms. His throat is tight as he says, “So he kissed you.”

Mabu thinks for a moment then says, “No, I don’t think so. Kisses are romantic and sweet, right? That wasn’t anything like that. Reo, what if I was seeing the future, can’t some people do that? I don’t want to live in that kind of world!”

Reo pulls away from Mabu, then pushes Mabu’s chin up so he’s looking at Reo. “You can’t see the future, Mabu.”

“But why did it feel so... familiar?”

“Mabu, listen to me. I will never let anything like that happen to you. I’m going to keep you safe, alright?”  He presses his forehead against Mabu and gently strokes his hair.  He whispers, “I’ll protect you...”

Mabu leans against Reo and quickly falls asleep, but Reo is deeply troubled by what he said. He shivers as he thinks about Uso’s lips against Mabu’s as he calls Mabu his “doll”...

Maybe some memories are better left buried after all.

Chapter Text

Reo wakes up alone, as usual. But the bed next to him is still warm, and he can hear a soft sizzling noise coming from the kitchen. He gets out of bed and stretches, then walks into the kitchen. 

Mabu is just turning off the griddle as Reo enters. Thankfully, he’s at least wearing underwear— Reo’s underwear, to be precise. Reo frowns. “Why are you wearing those?”

“You seemed upset yesterday that I was naked when I cooked, so I thought I’d put at least something on in case you woke up while I was making pancakes. Here’s yours,” Mabu says, handing Reo a plate of pancakes. 

Through a mouthful of pancake, Reo asks, “Couldn’t you have just worn your own?” Mabu does his cute little head tilt thing and Reo blushes.

“I don’t have my own clothes, Reo. Some of the clothes in your drawers might fit me, but they’re in the section you said was off-limits.” Huh. Reo had forgotten about that. 

“Hm, since I’m off work today, how about we go to the mall? We can get you some clothes— oh, and a phone, too. That way you can talk to me even when I’m not here.” It’ll also help Reo keep track of him.

“Th— the mall?” Mabu sounds nervous. Reo looks up to see him biting his nails.

“What’s wrong? I can assure you, no one there is going to be radioactive,” he adds for good measure.

“Malls are dangerous,” Mabu mutters. “Bad things happen at malls. There are shoplifters, terrorists, evil robots, dinosaurs, aliens—“ 

“Oh, right. You’ve only seen malls in movies and TV shows, huh,” Reo realizes. “Don’t worry, Mabu, none of that stuff will happen. Maybe there’ll be a shoplifter, but we— I mean, I have dealt with them before. Besides,” he says, nudging Mabu, “don’t the kids think you’re some sort of superhero?” Mabu jumps a bit and Reo laughs. “If anyone could handle it, it’s you.”

“A superhero...?” Mabu looks down at his hands and Reo rolls his eyes.

“Don’t let it get to your head,” Reo says, putting on his leather jacket. 

“But the one who’s the superhero is you, Reo. Isn’t it?” Feeling his face heat up, Reo is glad he’s facing away from Mabu. He throws the motorcycle helmet at Mabu and walks off to the elevator, pulling the collar of the jacket up to hide his face.

~ ~ ~

“Woah,” Mabu says breathlessly, holding Reo’s arm. “This place is enormous! Where should we even start?”

“Let’s just start with the basics—“

“Hey, what’s this?” Mabu has walked over to a nearby fountain and put his hands in. “Oh! Are these coins?”

Mabu!” Reo smacks the coins out of his hand and pulls him away. “You can’t just do that!”

“Ow!”

“Excuse me, sir. Is this man bothering you?” Reo turns around to see a security guard. Oh, great.

Glaring at the guard, Reo says, “That’s none of your business.”

“Sir—“

“Don’t worry,” Mabu says, smiling at the guard. “This is Reo. He’s my boyfriend!”

“Wh— Wh— whaaaat?!” His face heats up as he sputters, “No, that isn’t— he’s not— he doesn’t know what—“

“We’re shopping because I don’t have any clothes or a phone. I came from a—“ Before Mabu can say anything else, Reo drags him behind a nearby food stand.

“What did I tell you about saying the B-word in public?! And you know you’re not supposed to tell people where you came from,” Reo whispers frantically. Mabu tilts his head and Reo wants to scream in frustration because he’s just so cute.

“The B-word?”

Reo hisses, “Boyfriend! You’re not supposed to say I’m your boyfriend in public!”

“Boyfriend? Oh,” Mabu says loudly, “I thought the B-word was ‘bit—‘“ 

“Hnnngh!” Reo clamps his hand over Mabu’s mouth before he can finish. “Nope! Okay, you know what? Let’s just go get the stuff and get this over with.”

Reo leads him over to a department store where he starts picking out clothes and showing them to Mabu, who gives him a yes or no. It takes a little while for them to find everything they need, and it takes extra time for Reo to pull Mabu out of the women’s section. At one point, Mabu comes up to Reo with black lingerie and, with a deadpan expression, says, “Reo, I’d like to buy this."

One long-winded explanation later, Reo and Mabu walk out of the department store with several shopping bags. They order some food and then sit together in the food court area. Reo happily digs in to his meal but notices Mabu frowning and picking at his food.

“You aren’t hungry, are you?” Mabu shakes his head. “Right, I forgot you don’t need to eat for a while. You don’t have to eat that.”

“I’m not being a burden, am I?” 

Surprised by the question, Reo replies, “No, not at all. Why do you ask?”

“I came crashing into your life a few days ago and now you’re taking care of me and spending all this money on me. You had a life before me, right? I feel bad about coming in and disrupting everything.”

“I’m happy you’re here with me,” Reo says, looking around to make sure no one’s listening. He doesn’t want his boss suddenly showing up to take Mabu away. “And don’t worry about the money. I usually only spend what I have to, so I have a lot saved up.”

“But don’t you have a morgue?”

“Excuse me?”

“You know, the thing you have to pay off to stay in your apartment?”

It takes a minute for Reo to figure out what he means. “Mortgage,” Reo corrects him. “Not morgue. And no, I don’t, I paid it off a while ago.”

“Well... don’t people renovate their houses? That costs money too, right?”

“Yeah, but I’m not into that kind of stuff. I like my apartment the way it is.” Deep down, Reo had feared that if he changed his apartment, he’d lose a piece of Mabu, so he’d left it just the way it was— for ten and a half years. “I told you, money’s not an iss—“

“What about your friends? Oh no, I’ve been so selfish this whole time!” Mabu starts talking with his hands the way he always does when he’s agitated. “I’ve been making you spend all your free time with me and you haven’t spent any time with your friends! I’m sure you have a ton of friends, and I’ve been hogging you all to myself, and now I’m spending your money which you could have used to do activities wi—“

“Mabu, calm down!” Mabu has worked himself up so much that he’s about to start crying. He looks at Reo with tear-filled eyes. “It’s alright, I promise! The thing is, I— I don’t really have any friends...”

With a sniffle, Mabu says, “Huuuh?”

“Connections... they aren’t really for me. So I scare people away before they can hurt me. And I don’t spend money on experiences, either— there’s no point.” Or rather, there was no point without you. 

“How can you say that?!” Mabu suddenly grabs Reo’s hands. With a serious expression, he says, “I’ve spent my whole life dreaming about a world like this! There’s so much to do here, Reo! And I— I want to do it all, with you!”

“Uh, okay,” Reo stammers. He swears he’s blushed more times today than in the past ten years. Mabu starts walking away, still keeping one hand on Reo’s. On a dime, he stops and spins around, making Reo bump into him. “Wh—“

“I’ve decided something, Reo,” Mabu says determinedly. “You and I, we’ve just been coasting through life— but let’s help each other live passionately! That way we can both be happy together!” Reo feels like his heart is going to explode. 

Before he can say anything, shouting from the floor above him catches his attention. Reo sees a man push a woman down and run away with her purse, shoving two mall security guards out of his way. 

“Hm. Bummer,” Reo says. That’s not his problem. He turns around, only to realize that Mabu is no longer by his side. “Huh? Where’d you—“ 

Mabu is running down the long hallway in the same direction as the thief went. “Oh, you’ve gotta be kidding me,” he groans, starting to chase after Mabu. “Mabu! What the hell do you think you’re doing?!”

“He stole that woman’s bag and no one’s stopping him,” Mabu replies. Reo is running right next to him now.

“Well what are you going to do from down here, throw something at him?!” Abruptly, Mabu stops right where he is and stares at Reo.

“You’re a genius! The kids taught me how to do that, but I think there was a word I needed to say—“

“Wh—“ Mabu grabs Reo by the back of his shirt and holds him up in one hand. Surely, Reo thinks, Mabu is not about to do what Reo thinks he will. Mabu pulls his arm back and Reo screams, “WAIT!”

“YEET!” Reo sails through the air, swearing loudly the whole way. He hits something hard and fumbles over on top of it. Reo groans and rubs his back. 

“Freeze!” Looking up, Reo sees the two security guards pointing their tasers at him. He realizes he landed right on top of the shoplifter. 

Taking the purse, he gets up and hands it to the guards. “You’re welcome,” he grumbles. “You’re lucky I was here to do your job for you.”

“Excuse me?” One of the guards scoffs at him.

Reo pulls out his ID and says, “Niiboshi Reo, special ops.” The look on their faces makes Reo smirk. 

“I— I’m sorry... Sir!”

“B— but how did you get up here in the first place...?” Reo sighs and crosses his arms.

“It wasn’t my idea, but my partner over here... huh?” Expecting to see Mabu waiting downstairs, Reo is surprised to see a big crowd. He spots Mabu in the center with a couple of cameras pointed at him.

“Great.” Reo sighs again and pinches the bridge of his nose. “Just what I need right now. You two handle this.” Once he finds the nearest staircase, Reo hurries down and starts pushing through the crowd.

“I appreciate your interest in me, but I really need to find Reo,” Mabu’s voice says.

“Reo? Who’s that?” Reo recognizes the voice of a local news anchor. This is bad, he needs to get Mabu off air before he says something he shouldn’t...

“He’s my boy...” He can see Mabu now and watches as Mabu puts his hand up to his chin and narrows his eyes, thinking. “He’s my... my...” Reo can almost see a lightbulb pop on in Mabu’s head as he looks up and says, “He’s my bitch!”

“NOOOOOO!” Hearing Reo’s cry, Mabu looks around. When he sees Reo, his eyes light up and he smiles. He runs into the crowd and wraps his arms around Reo, burying his face in Reo’s shoulder. Reo tries to stay mad at him.

“Reo, are you alright? I didn’t mean to hurt you or anything, it’s just the only thing I could think of was that and now all these strange people are asking me questions I don’t know how to answer...” All his anger melts away as Reo hugs Mabu back.

“It’s okay,” Reo reassures Mabu. “I’m okay. I’ll talk to them, alright? Just stay here for a moment.” Before he reaches the newspeople, Mabu grabs his hand and looks at him inquisitively.

“What is a ‘bitch’, anyway?”

“Oh boy...”

Chapter Text

“Uh, is the blindfold really necessary?”

“Just trust me, Mabu,” Reo says reassuringly, pushing him forwards. Mabu tries to walk with Reo’s guidance but quickly trips over something. As he falls, he feels his heart slide out of his chest. A few screams come from around him and he blushes, trying to feel around for his heart.

“Reo, can you help me?” 

“Sure, did your glasses fall— holy shit! Your heart—“

“Oh, you see it? Where is it?”

“H— here,” Reo says. Feeling a hand grasp his heart, Mabu lets out an involuntary moan. “Shit, uh...” Mabu feels for Reo’s hand and guides it up his shirt and into his chest cavity. “Sorry...”

“It’s alright. Can I please take this off now?” He gestures to the blindfold.

“Oh, right,” Reo says, pulling it off of him. “Er... surprise!”

Mabu gasps at the shining metal structures before him. “The amusement park! Reo, can we go in? Please?”

“That’s why we’re here, dummy,” Reo says, flicking him. “Do you really think I’d bring you here just to look?”

“How’d you know I wanted to come here?” Reo gives him a little smirk.

“You’re not really subtle, Mabu. I saw you staring at those mall posters yesterday. Plus, it’s a special day for you, isn’t it?”

Mabu thinks for a moment, then realizes that in all the excitement of the past week, he forgot... “Today’s my birthday!”

Reo nods, then leads him into the amusement park, smiling. “Since it’s early, there’s not a lot of people here yet. We should try and go on the more popular rides—“

“I wanna go on the rollercoaster!” Mabu grabs Reo’s hand and runs towards the line entrance. There is a cart waiting for them when they get to the start. Mabu hops in excitedly. “C’mon, Reo!”

Reo reluctantly takes his seat next to Mabu as a worker makes sure they’re buckled in. When the worker looks at Mabu, her eyes widen. 

“It’s you,” she says to Mabu, then turns towards another worker. “‘Taro, c’mere! It’s that guy!” Reo bristles.

Pulling Mabu closer to him, Reo asks, “How exactly do you know him?”

“He’s the shopping mall guy,” she replies. “The one from Twitter!”

Mabu tilts his head and says, “What’s Twitter?”

Before she can respond, the cart shoots along the track towards a hill. It slows down as they start to go up the incline.

“Are you alright, Reo?” Mabu is a little concerned about his companion, who’s gripping the safety bar and mumbling to himself. 

“I’m— fine,” Reo mutters. He doesn’t look fine. 

“Are you afraid of rollercoasters? Don’t worry, Reo, it’s very unlikely that we’ll die on this ride.”

“That’s reassuring,” Reo replies with a glare. “And no, I’m not sca—AAAAAAGH!” Their cart goes over the top off the hill and starts to zoom downwards in the middle of Reo’s sentence. Mabu happily puts his hands up.

“Wheeee!” As the wind races past Mabu, he can’t help but feel exhilarated. It seems like the ride ends far too quickly. “That was so much fun,” Mabu exclaims as he stands up. “Don’t you think— oh...”

Reo has both his arms wrapped around the safety bar. His face is green. “Uuurghhh...”

Mabu helps him out of the car and awkwardly pats his back. “It’s alright, Reo. We’re back on the ground now, there’s no need to be afraid.” Reo glares at him.

“I’m Reo Niiboshi,” he growls. “I’m not afraid of anything.”

“Don’t be silly,” Mabu replies. “Everyone’s afraid of something. I’m afraid of... of... uh...” Mabu frowns, realizing he doesn’t know his own fears. “Huh. I guess OtterBot told me I was designed to be fearless, but I’m sure I’m afraid of something. There’s a lot of other things to do here, Reo, let’s go.”

He and Reo wander around the amusement park, going on a couple of different rides together. They also get some cotton candy, which Mabu has never tried before. As Mabu eats his third helping of cotton candy, he stiffens and taps Reo on the shoulder.

“Hm? What’s wrong?” Mabu points to a nearby game, which looks like some sort of strength test. But it’s not the game he’s worried about— one of the prizes has caught his eye.

“Kappa,” Mabu growls. 

“Oh, do you want the kappa plush? That sort of game is probably rigged, but maybe I could talk to the vendor—“

“No! Kappas are evil, Reo— OtterBot told me so.” Reo raises an eyebrow.

“Didn’t OtterBot also tell you that you were the only person alive? And that the whole world was radioactive?” At Mabu’s protests, Reo laughs. “I’m just saying, you might want to find a different source of information. And those kappa plushies are pretty cute—“

“Do you want one?” Mabu still feels bad about the rollercoaster and wants to make it up to Reo somehow. He takes a closer look at the game. There’s a large hammer and a sliver platform attached to a vertical pole with markings on it.

“Hello, would you like to play? If you get the top prize, you’ll win a customizable kappa plush,” the vendor says.

“Customizable?” She hands Mabu a small pamphlet with shell designs, scarf colors, and hairstyle options. Now that Mabu is looking closely at it, the plushie is very cute. He decides to get one. “Okay, how do I play?”

“You have to take the hammer here and hit this plate as hard as you can. If the marker goes all the way to the top, you’ll hear a bell ring and you’ll win the kappa plush. Are you up for it?”

“Sounds easy enough,” Mabu says, picking up the hammer. Before he can do anything, the vendor steps in front of him.

“That’ll be five hundred yen,” she says, holding out her hand. Reo grumbles and presses a coin into her hand. She smiles and says, “Good luck!”

Mabu steps forward and puts his arms over his head, then swings the hammer down with all his might. It slams against the plate, and Mabu watches as the marker flies all the way to the top of the post, ringing the bell. He looks over at Reo and grins. “I did it!”

“That shouldn’t be— you shouldn’t—“ the vendor stammers. Reo chuckles. “I mean— you’re very strong, sir!”

“Thanks,” Mabu says, smiling. “Can I have a plushie that looks like him?” Mabu points to Reo.

“Of course,” the vendor says, still gaping at Mabu. “It should be ready by the end of the day...”

“Great, thank you! Reo, let’s ride the ferris wheel!”

“You go ahead, Mabu— I’ll catch up,” Reo says, handing Mabu a few bills. As soon as he’s out of Reo’s sight, a hand latches onto his and he’s pulled between two buildings.

“Wha— mmph!” A small hand clamps over Mabu’s mouth and he finds himself looking into familiar red eyes.

“Mabu-sama! Are you alright?” Kazuki is staring intently at Mabu. Mabu nods and looks to his left, where he sees Enta peering at him with his arms crossed. “Niiboshi-san didn’t hurt you, did he?” Mabu shakes his head and pulls Kazuki’s hand away from his mouth.

“No, why would he?” After speaking, Mabu puts Kazuki’s hand back over his mouth, so not to be rude. 

“Because he’s a supervillain, isn’t he? You must’ve been sent here to stop him—“

“There you are! Boys, don’t run off like that!” Two adults appear around the corner, one of whom Mabu recognizes as Kazuki’s father. Mabu waves to him and he gasps. “Mabu-san! Hey, get off of him, kids!” He shooes the boys off while the woman with him helps Mabu up. 

“I suppose I should thank you,” she says, smiling at Mabu. She looks vaguely familiar. 

“I’m sorry, do I know you?”

“I guess not... but I had my purse stolen at the mall yesterday and I think you were the one who threw that man at the thief, right?” Mabu blinks, surprised. 

“I didn’t realize that was you! Wow, and you know the boys, too?”

“I’m Kazuki’s mom,” she says with a smile. Mabu looks over at Kazuki, then back at her. They don’t look that much alike. “Small world, huh?”

“No, it’s huge, actually!”

“Mom, can we hang out with Mabu-sama? Pleeease?”

“He’s a responsible adult, Yasaka-san,” Toi adds. Mabu isn’t even sure if he’s an adult, much less a responsible one. He stands up, but Enta and Kazuki cling to his legs. “Please?”

Kazuki’s mother sighs. “Mabu-san, do you mind taking the boys with you for a bit? I don’t think they’re going to give up on you...”

“Sure! I was just about to go on the ferris wheel, anyway. Would you three like to come with me?” The boys cheer and Mabu smiles. He looks back at the Yasakas and says, “How about we meet you back here in a couple hours?”

“Alright. Behave yourselves, boys!” With that, Mabu leads the three boys towards the ferris wheel. On the way, Mabu spots an ice cream stand.

“Are you hungry? Would you like some ice cream?” All three nod eagerly, and Mabu helps the boys order what they want. 

After walking around a bit, Enta notices a face painting stand and asks Mabu if he can get his face painted, which leads to all of them getting their faces done. They also pass another game booth, where Mabu wins plushies for all of the boys.

Finally, they get to the ferris wheel and get into a car. Mabu watches in awe as they rise up through the air. 

“This is amazing,” he breathes.

“Have you never been on a ferris wheel before?” Mabu shakes his head at Enta’s question. 

“This is my first time at an amusement park,” Mabu replies. “Wow, you really can see everything from up here!”

“Have you ever been to the top of the SkyTree? Nii-san says you can see the whole world from up there!”

“The SkyTree?” Toi points outside towards a massive tower, the same one Mabu can see from Reo’s apartment. “I’ll have to go there with Reo sometime.”

“You mean Niiboshi-san? Why would you want to be with him?” Enta’s question takes Mabu by surprise.

“Why wouldn’t I? Reo found me when I was all alone and brought me here, into this world full of light and happiness...” Mabu smiles softly at the thought of Reo. “He’s sweet and kind and is always patient with me, even though I can be kind of a pain. I’m still learning how to act properly here...”

“That doesn’t sound like him,” Kazuki says, frowning. “He’s really mean! He threatened to kill me once!”

“I already told you, that would never happen, Kazuki! I’d protect you,” Enta insists. Turning to Mabu, he says, “But really, you should stay away from Niiboshi-san. He’s probably going to hurt you one day.”

“No!” Mabu stands suddenly, causing the cart to rock wildly. He quickly sits back down. “Ah, sorry... but Reo would never do anything to hurt me! He’s not a bad person, he just...” Mabu remembers what Reo told him yesterday. Connections... they aren’t really for me. So I scare people away before they can hurt me. 

“I think someone hurt him,” Mabu murmurs. “Really, really badly.”

It’s quiet for a few minutes, then Toi pipes up and says, “Can we get some more ice cream?”

~ ~ ~

After sending the boys back on their way with the Yasakas, Mabu goes to look for Reo. He finds Reo still at the game Mabu won earlier, looking frustrated. 

“How much can I pay you for one of these stupid kappa plushies?!” The vendor smiles smugly at him.

“You’ll have to play the game, just like everyone else.” She holds out her hand expectantly. Reo slaps a coin into it and stalks over to the machine.

“Reo? What’s going on?” Reo jumps and drops the hammer on his foot, then swears loudly.

“M—Mabu! I thought you were going on the ferris wheel,” Reo stammers.

“I already did. And I got my face painted and had ice cream with some of the boys from the soccer team. It’s been almost three hours, Reo— have you been here the whole time?” Looking down at his feet, Reo mumbles something Mabu can’t quite hear. “What?”

“Oh, fine! You caught me,” Reo says dramatically. Mabu tilts his head, not understanding. “I was trying to get one of those stupid plushies so I could have one that looked like you.” He covers his red face with his hands. “I know, I’m stupid. Just say it and get it over with.”

“You’re not stupid, Reo. Why are you hiding your face?”

“It’s embarrassing...” Mabu pulls Reo’s hands away from his face, but Reo refuses to meet his eyes. Frowning, Mabu picks up the hammer and swings. The sound of the victory bell makes Reo jump. 

“Can I have another kappa plush, please?” The vendor nods, giving Mabu an icy glare. Reo’s shoulders jump up. “This time, I want it to look like me. And give it a white scarf, please.” Grabbing Reo’s hand, Mabu pulls him away from the game.

“Why... why did you help me?”

Mabu pouts and says, “You’ve spent all morning at that silly game. It’s my birthday, and I want you here spending time with me. Can you do that?”

“M— Mabu...” Mabu crosses his arms and looks at Reo, expecting an answer. “... You’re so cute!! Of course I’ll spend time with you,” Reo says, engulfing Mabu in a big hug. Mabu grins and starts to lead Reo towards the haunted house, knowing that Reo won’t get distracted again.

~ ~ ~ 

“So, did you enjoy your day?” Tossing his jacket on the couch, Reo smiles at Mabu.

“Of course! That was the best birthday I’ve ever had,” Mabu says, squeezing his Reokappa plush tightly.

“What was your favorite part? Mine was when we got kicked out of the haunted house.”

“That was because you punched a guy!”

“Eh, can you blame me? He touched you,” Reo says, shrugging. Mabu rolls his eyes and lightly punches Reo’s arm. “So, what was it?”

“My favorite part?” Mabu thinks for a moment, then says, “All the time I spent with you. I haven’t ever seen you smile and laugh like that... That was the best thing all day.” Reo is quiet, and Mabu looks over to see him beet red. “Sorry...!”

“No, I— it’s fine,” Reo stutters. He does finger guns at Mabu and starts walking backwards into his room with Mabukappa tucked under his right arm. He hits the wall next to the door, turns even redder, then disappears into his room, quickly closing the door behind him. A muffled “Goodnight” comes from the other side of the door.

“Goodnight,” Mabu calls back, settling himself on the couch. Holding Reokappa tight, Mabu falls asleep within minutes, dreaming about cotton candy, Reo, and ferris wheels.

Chapter Text

“I’m going back to work today, Mabu. If you need me, just call,” Reo says, waving to him.

Reo parks his motorcycle outside the police box, but before he can check in, his phone rings. He quickly picks up when he sees who’s calling.

“Mabu! What is it?”

“Hi Reo! Did you make it to work alright?”

“Yeah, is that... is that the reason you called me? To make sure I got to work safely?”

“Yep! Okay, bye!”

“Wait—“ But it’s too late; Mabu has already hung up. Reo sighs, knowing that Mabu will call him again soon. Not ten minutes later, Reo’s phone is ringing again.

“Hey Reo, what would you like for dinner tonight?”

“Mabu, you can’t keep calling me,” Reo says irritably. “I have to work. Only call me if you have an emergency, alright?”

“Oh. I’m sorry,” Mabu says, sounding dejected.

“It’s nice to hear your voice, though.” It is a nice reminder that Mabu really is here. “Why don’t you go hang out with your friends from the soccer team? And as far as dinner goes, stew would be nice.”

“Okay, thanks. I’ll see you later.”

“Bye.” After Reo is certain Mabu has hung up, he adds, “I love you.”

Thirty minutes later, Reo’s phone rings again. “Mabu! What’s wrong?!”

“Hey, I accidentally locked myself out of the apartment—“

“You’ve got to be kidding me...”

~ ~ ~

For the first couple of hours of his patrol, nothing out of the ordinary happens. With nothing to keep his attention, Reo’s mind starts to wander. He starts to think about Mabu and what the future has in store for the two of them. Uso is surely going to come back for Mabu, especially since Mabu has the potential to remember what happened to him. Reo knows he can’t protect Mabu from him alone, but he doesn’t want to give him to the police...

“Excuse me! Mister policeman!” Reo feels a small tug on his pants and looks down to see a little boy tugging on his left pant leg. “I’m lost,” he says.

“Me too, kid,” Reo sighs.

“You don’t look lost,” he replies. “Can you help me find my parents? Maybe I can help you find who you’re looking for.”

“You can’t help me,” Reo says, holding the kid’s hand. He leads the boy over to a ningyouyaki shop and buys a few of the sweets, then offers one to the boy.

“You don’t know that!” The boy pouts but takes the ningyouyaki and starts to munch on it. “I have really good eyesight, you know,” he says through a bite.

“I’m not literally lost, I just... I’ve got a really big problem that I don’t know how to solve. I don’t even know where to start, honestly,” Reo says. The boy looks up at Reo and tilts his head, making Reo chuckle. “Heh, you look just like him when you do that.”

“Who?”

“The source of all my problems.” After a moment of hesitation, he adds, “Hold on, I shouldn’t say that. The source of all my problems is a fu— uh, a mean guy named Uso. The guy you look like is just making everything more complicated. His name is Mabu.”

“Is he a mean guy, too?”

“Not at all! He’s my soulmate— or at least, he was.” Reo’s phone rings yet again and sighs. “That’s him calling now, actually.” He looks down at his phone, where Mabu’s smiling face looks back at him. Reo lets it ring and puts it in his pocket without answering. “He lost his memory, but I think I can restore it. But if I do, I’ll hurt him. He and I had a happy life together, but then something bad happened and he got taken away. Some mean people did terrible, terrible things to him, and if he remembers what happened to him, he... he’ll...”

“Does he want to remember?”

“I think so.”

“Then you should tell him,” the boy says simply. “Even if it hurts for a bit, he’ll know who he is. And he’ll have happy memories, too, and he’ll remember you, right?”

“Yeah, but—“

“Well, then what’s the problem with that? He should—“

“It’s because of me that he got taken!” The boy’s voice falters at Reo’s sudden outburst. “It... it’s all my fault... if I’d just kept my stupid mouth shut then they wouldn’t have.... they wouldn’t have...” Reo furiously wipes at his eyes, trying not to cry in front of the kid.

“You think he’ll blame you?” Reo nods.

“I— I caused him so much p—pain and suffering,” Reo sniffles, “he— he’s going to h— hate me—“

“I’m not so sure.” Reo looks over at him. “It’s not like you wanted anything bad to happen to him, right?”

“God no! Why would you even suggest something like that?!”

“Just tell him that. He’s your soulmate, right? He should understand. My mommy says you should always be honest.”

“Even if it hurts?”

“Yeah. Because even if it does hurt, at least you’ll know, right? You won’t have to keep worrying about if he’ll like you or not.” The boy smiles and says, “I like you, though. You got me really good food.”

“Heh, I guess so...” Reo manages to give the kid a smile. “Thank you.” He’s made up his mind now. Tonight when he gets back from work, he’s going to tell Mabu exactly who he was. Reo isn’t going to hide any longer— he’s going to face the consequences of telling Mabu, no matter what they are. “We should probably get you back to your parents, huh?”

Reo sits down in front of the boy, who eagerly climbs on his shoulders. “Wow! I can see the whole world from up here!”

“Can you see your parents?”

“Hmmm.... oh! There they are!” The boy guides Reo through the crowd until they reach two adults and a familiar red-eyed boy.

“You!” Kazuki turns around at the sound of Reo’s voice, then gives him a glare. They have an intense stare-off for a moment until the boy starts climbing off of Reo.

“Mommy! Papa! Kazu-chan!”

“Haruka!” The man and woman rush forward and hug the little boy. “Are you alright? We were so worried!”

“He was by the bridge,” Reo tells them, still glaring at Kazuki. “You know this kid, Haruka?”

Haruka runs over to Kazuki and gives him a hug. “This is my big brother, Kazu-chan!”

“Big brother, huh...” Just his luck. Reo rolls his eyes. As he walks away he says, “Keep a closer eye on your kid next time.”

~ ~ ~

After what seems like an eternity, Reo’s patrol is over. It’s a good thing too, because if Reo doesn’t tell Mabu soon, he feels like his heart is going to explode.

He speeds through Tokyo as fast as his motorcycle can take him, ignoring the angry honking of the cars around him. Before he reaches his apartment, Reo sees a flower shop and screeches to a halt, running inside to pick up some orchids, Mabu’s favorite flower. He wants to scream at the clerk who is being way too slow, but decides it’s not worth his time.

When he finally gets to his apartment building, Reo flies past the reception desk and, not wanting to wait for the elevator, sprints up the stairs. Throwing open the door, he shouts, “MABU! There’s something I need to tell you!”

Reo is surprised to see that Mabu didn’t turn any of the lights on, even though it’s  been dark for a couple hours now. At first, he thinks Mabu must have fallen asleep while it was still light out, but as Reo’s eyes adjust, he sees a dim red glow pulsing softly through the apartment. He slowly creeps inside until he finds the source of the light and freezes.

Mabu is lying facedown on the floor, motionless. A mix of potatoes, onions, and carrots litter the floor from a dropped bowl. With a jolt, he realizes that Mabu must’ve been out for a while, and suddenly, he can move again. He kneels besides Mabu and shakes him violently.

“Mabu? Hey, Mabu! Wake up!” Flipping him over, Reo can see that the source of the light seems to be inside of Mabu’s shirt. He quickly looks Mabu over to check for injuries, but there are none. He noticed the phone in Mabu’s limp hand and his heart drops to the pit of his stomach. Feeling sick, Reo pulls out his phone. One missed call from Mabu Akutsu, it says, and one voicemail. Reo taps the screen frantically until he hears Mabu’s voice.

“Reo?! Reo, something’s happening to me,” Mabu says from his phone. Reo can hear the panic in his voice. “I was making the stew and then— my heart, something’s wrong with my heart! Reo, my legs stopped working all of a sudden, and I could barely reach my phone, and my arms aren’t working now and my vision’s fading and— Reo, please! Please say something, please tell me I’ll be okay,” his voice says with a sob. “I’m scared, Reo.... please...”

Reo takes a deep breath and tries not to panic. He looks at the red glow emanating from Mabu’s chest. “Your heart...”

He picks Mabu up and rushes over to his bed, where he rips Mabu’s shirt off. A red circle of flesh is giving off the eerie glow, illuminating the hideous circular scar Reo knows so well. Reo braces himself for what he’s about to do, then reaches out and touches Mabu’s chest.

His fingers pass right through Mabu’s skin and Reo yelps, yanking his hand back. For a moment, Mabu’s torso is completely transparent and he can see Mabu’s still heart. He grabs Mabu’s wrist and waits to feel his pulse. In one minute, Mabu’s heart only beats twice— but that’s enough for Reo.

“You’re still alive,” he breathes, kissing the side of Mabu’s face. Reo takes another look at Mabu’s chest and squints. “I’m going to save you, Mabu, don’t you worry.”

Slowly, Reo reaches into Mabu’s chest and gently cups the mechanical heart in his hands. Mabu shudders and lets out a small groan, still not opening his eyes.

“It’s okay! It’s okay, Mabu,” Reo tries to reassure him. “It’s me. It’s your Reo. I’m here.” At a snail’s pace, Reo pulls the heart out of Mabu’s chest. He notices a tiny display screen under what looks like a small clock. Small letters scroll across the screen.

“MAINTENANCE REQUIRED,” it reads. “LOW POWER MODE ACTIVATED. 18:23:37 UNTIL SYSTEM FAILURE.”

“‘System failure’?! What the hell is that supposed to mean?!” The same message displays, only this time the last set of numbers has changed to 29. So what, he’s just going to die in eighteen hours?! Is that what you’re telling me?!”

18, 23, 21.

“I’m not letting you leave me behind again! Especially not like this!”

18, 23, 13.

“Dammit, Mabu! Wake up!” A drop of water falls on top of the display.

18, 23, 5.

“You wanted to see the world, didn’t you?! With me by your side?!”

18, 22, 57.

“Well you can’t do that if you don’t WAKE UP!” Reo’s vision becomes too blurry to make out the numbers, and he leans into Mabu’s neck, breathing in his scent.

“Please, Mabu,” he sobs. “Please wake up. I don’t know how to fix you. The doctors won’t know what to do with you, I can’t take you to my people, I need... I need...”

A blue glow illuminates the whole room. Reo looks up to see his computer screen has lit up. As if in a trance, Reo approaches the computer, hearing a quiet whisper coming from the speakers.

“Usso...”

Chapter Text

A dark shadow crosses the computer screen, taking the form of an otter. It floats around the screen a bit then focuses its red eyes on Reo. “So you’re the one who’s been causing so much trouble. Usso, who would have thought that the pesky little policeman Niiboshi was, in fact, the very same man who my sweet little doll desired?”

“You’re... you’re him,” Reo stammers. “You’re Kawa Uso.”

“Tch. I expected more from you. Mabu always spoke so highly of you.”

“Mabu...” Reo suddenly leaps forward and grabs the screen, shaking it roughly. “YOU! You did this to him!”

“Why, I have no clue what you’re talking about. I saved him.”

“You stole him,” Reo snarls.

“Now I’m the one who stole him? If I recall, you were the one who took him away from me. And look at him now.” Reo turns to see Mabu lying motionless on the bed, the red glow still pulsing from his chest. “He’s going to die because of you— again.” Reo’s shoulders jump upwards at that last word.

“No...”

“Luckily for you, I don’t want Mabu to die any more than you do.” Reo looks up, not daring to speak. “You’re going to maintenance Mabu’s heart.”

“Wh— What?” Reo can’t believe his ears. “I don’t know how to— I can’t—“

“Of course you can’t do it on your own. I’ll tell you how to fix him, that way even you can’t mess it up.”

Reo mutters, “Are you always this condescending?”

“Yes. You’ll get used to it. Mabu did.” Reo shudders and walks back over to Mabu. He tucks a stray lock of hair behind Mabu’s ear and gently kisses his cheek.

“This is for you, my love,” Reo murmurs. He still doesn’t know if he can trust Uso, but it’s not like he has much of a choice. Taking a deep breath, Reo reaches into Mabu’s chest and pulls the ticking heart out once more. “I’m ready,” Reo says to Uso. “What do you need me to do?”

~ ~ ~

After an hour of painstakingly handling the tiny gears and bolts in Mabu’s heart, the display screen folds into a small chamber and the red glow fades. Reo puts the heart back and wipes his forehead with the back of his hand, then looks at Uso anxiously. “Well?”

“He should wake in about six hours.” Reo lets out a cry of relief and falls on top of Mabu, squeezing him tightly.

“Mabu, my Mabu,” Reo sobs, stroking his hair. “I’m going to tell you everything when you get up.”

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” the voice from Reo’s computer says. Reo looks up from Mabu’ shoulder and glares at the shadowy otter.

“I didn’t ask for your opinion.”

“So rude, usso... you do wish to keep Mabu alive, yes?”

“Of course! And he’s going to remember everything, and we’ll live together happily after I get rid of you for good!”

“And how exactly do you plan to keep him alive?” Reo pauses, which makes Uso laugh harshly. “Without maintenance, Mabu won’t survive more than a month. I’m surprised he lasted this long, usso. It’s best to do his maintenance every two weeks so he doesn’t collapse, but of course you wouldn’t know that. You really don’t know anything. You say you want him to remember? Usso, you might as well just stop his heart right now.”

“The hell are you talking about?!”

“I’ve shut off part of Mabu’s hippocampus to block his memory— I couldn’t risk him escaping and exposing my secrets, usso. If too much electrical activity occurs in that area, Mabu’s heart will explode.” Reo stares at the screen in horror, then looks down at Mabu, who is sleeping peacefully. “So go ahead and have him remember, if you really must. Although I imagine it’d be quite hard to get his blood off those white walls you have, or to get all the little bits of him out of your carpet—“

“Stop it! You’re lying,” Reo shouts, covering his ears.

“It’s not... a lie. Even if you don’t believe me, do you really want to take that risk?” Reo starts to claw at his chest with one hand, pulling at his hair with the other. Tears gush from his eyes.

“Why... why are you telling me this?”

“I want my Mabu to be in good condition when I get him back.”

“You,” Reo spits, “will never take him away from me!”

“I won’t need to,” Uso says in a mocking voice. “You’ll end up driving him away eventually. He’ll come back to me all on his own.”

Blood boiling, Reo grabs the nearest weapon he can find— a kitchen knife. He shoves it through the laptop screen and drags it through the glass, creating a horizontal slash through the computer. The screen goes black, leaving the room completely dark.

Panting, Reo leaps in bed next to Mabu, clinging to him as tightly as he possibly can. He turns his head to the side and buries his face in his pillow and starts to scream. He screams until his voice gives out, then sobs hoarsely until he falls into a fitful sleep, haunted by visions of Mabu’s gentle smile, his soft hair, and his beautiful eyes getting ripped to shreds from the bomb locked inside his mechanical heart.

Chapter Text

Reo lies in bed next to Mabu, almost completely buried under his blankets. Rays of morning sunlight illuminate Mabu’s features and Reo is struck by how beautiful he is, even with his bedhead and a small strand of drool on his chin. As he watches, Mabu’s eyelids flutter open.

“Wha...” Mabu looks around, looking confused. His eyes focus on Reo and his face relaxes into a smile. “Reo...”

Reo is so relieved he could cry. “Hey, Mabu,” he whispers, cupping Mabu’s cheek with a hand. “You have no idea how happy I am to see you awake.”

“Mhn, ‘id I fall asleep? I ‘on’t r’member...” Mabu thinks for a moment then lets out a gasp. “Oh! My heart—“ He starts to squirm in Reo’s grasp and reaches for his chest, but Reo grabs his wrist before he can touch his heart.

“Shhh, Mabu. It’s okay,” Reo reassures him. “I was able to maintenance your heart.”

Mabu blinks. “You... you saved me? Thank you...!” He latches onto Reo and squeezes him tightly. “I— I was so frightened... I thought I was going to d—“

“I was scared too, Mabu,” Reo interrupts, not wanting to hear him say that word. “But you’re okay now. Everything’s going to be fine.” Reo looks over to see his computer, which still has the knife in the screen. He’d hoped that part was just a bad dream. “Everything’s going to be fine,” he repeats, less sure of himself.

“There’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you,” Mabu says, pulling away from him. “I’ve been having weird dreams again, but this time... this time, they’re about you.”

Reo stiffens. “Oh?”

“They’re pleasant dreams, don’t worry,” Mabu says quickly. “In one dream, I’m in the rain with you, but you’re a kid and I think you stole something from me, but then I end up leading you away and buying you food, and there’s another one where we’re at some sort of festival in the summertime... Reo, you said I might have had a life before Uso, did we... know each other?”

If Mabu had asked him this twenty-four hours ago, Reo wouldn’t have been able to keep the truth from him any longer. But if what Uso said about Mabu’s heart was true...

“Are you kidding? I already told you, I don’t do connections— never have, never will. You probably were grown in the lab after all.”

“Oh, I— I’m sorry,” Mabu says, swiftly looking away from Reo.

“Now get off of me. I need to go to work.” Even though all Reo wants to do right now is snuggle closer to Mabu, he instead pushes him away and gets out of bed. If seeing Reo is what’s bringing back Mabu’s memories, maybe it’s best for Reo to keep his distance for now. At least until he figures out if Uso is lying or not.

Reminding himself that this is only temporary, Reo pretends not to hear Mabu’s sniffling as he walks out the door.

Chapter Text

It’s been a few days since Mabu’s emergency maintenance and Reo is still acting cold towards Mabu. This morning, Reo didn’t even say goodbye before he left for work. He’s tried to make it up to Reo, but he won’t give him a chance. Mabu doesn’t know what he did wrong.

He tries not to think about Reo and walks down the hall until he reaches room 549. Otone asked him to come over today because she wanted to talk to him about something. Mabu knocks on the door and waits.

Instead of Otone or Enta, an elderly woman who Mabu doesn’t know opens the door. “Ah! I’m sorry,” Mabu says, sweating a bit. “I thought this was the Jinnai’s apartment.” Mabu frowns and looks down at his feet, wondering why he can’t do anything right lately.

“This is. You must be Mabu,” she says.

“How do you know my name?”

“My granddaughter and grandson talk about you a lot. Why don’t you come inside? I’ve just made some tea.” Photos of Otone, Enta, and Jinnai-san hang all over the walls. When he looks at them, Mabu’s heart starts to hurt. He quickly walks away and sits down at the table.

As she pours the tea, Jinnai-san asks, “You live with Niiboshi-san, right? I never thought I’d see the day when he brought someone new home, after what happened with his partner.” Mabu looks up, surprised.

“His partner?” Jinnai-san nods. After taking a quick sip, Mabu says, “I didn’t know he had a partner.”

“It’s hard to imagine with the way he is now, but yes, he did. They were quite happy together. Why, you’d never see Niiboshi-san without a smile on his face.” Mabu can’t help but envy this partner. “I’ve never seen two people more in love.”

“She must have been a lucky woman,” Mabu sighs. Jinnai-san looks at him funny.

“Woman? No, Niiboshi-san is a homosexual.” Mabu tilts his head, not knowing the meaning of that word.

“Homo-what?”

“He’s attracted to people of the same sex. His partner was a man.”

Mabu gapes at her and says, “I— I didn’t know that was possible. For two men to be in love, I mean.”

“Any two people can fall in love, Mabu-san.” Mabu isn’t sure why anyone would want to fall in love, anyways. In all the books he’s read and the few movies he’s seen, it always ends up being more pain than it’s worth— a lesson, it seems, Reo learned the hard way. Even though Reo should have known better, it still makes Mabu sad to think about Reo’s broken heart.

“So... what happened to him?”

“I don’t know. One day, they both just disappeared. After a couple of years, Niiboshi-san re-emerged, but he wasn’t the same. For a time, there were rumors that he killed his partner—“

“Reo would never do something like that! Why is everyone convinced that Reo is evil or something? He’s kind, and sweet, and he takes care of me, and I... I care about him... a lot...” Jinnai-san gives him a knowing smile which Mabu doesn’t quite understand.

“What I was going to say was there’s no truth behind those rumors. But if you really want to know what happened, you should ask Niiboshi-san.”

“Grandma, I’m home!” The apartment door opens and Mabu waves to Otone.

“Hello! I’m here too,” Mabu says.

“Ah! Sorry to make you wait, Mabu,” she says, brushing a stray hair away from her face. “There was an unexpected meeting after school.”

“No worries,” Mabu says cheerfully. “I was just having a nice conversation with your grandmother. So, what did you need me for?”

“Oh, right! Mabu, do you want to be a coach for the soccer team?”

“Wha— me?!”

“Yeah! The boys love you, and you picked up the rules of the game pretty quick. We have a pretty good team this year, too— we might even make it to the playoffs!”

“Alright,” Mabu says, still a little shocked. “Yeah, I’d love that!”

“Great! The boys are down at the field already, let’s head down there and tell them.” Mabu grins and starts to follow her outside, but turns back in the middle of the hallway.

“Thank you, Jinnai-san! I think I’m going to try and do what we talked about,” he calls back to her.

She smiles back at him and says, “Good luck, Mabu-san.”

~ ~ ~

“Mabu, I’m home,” Reo says, making Mabu jump. “Oh, you made dinner again? You know, you really don’t have to...” Mabu’s shoulders slump, but Reo is quick to reassure him. “Ah, don’t worry, it’s not that I don’t like your food! It just seems like a lot of work for you to do every night.”

“But I like making you food, Reo. I like making you happy...” Mabu trails off, realizing that he’s blushing. “Never mind! Just go ahead and eat.”

As Mabu watches Reo eat, he starts to run his thumb across his index finger, although he’s not quite sure why. As soon as Reo is done, he pushes his seat back and says, “Well, I had a long day at work today. I’m going to bed.” Before he reaches the door, Mabu grabs Reo’s arm.

“Wait!” Reo turns to look at Mabu, clearly surprised. “Reo, I— I need to talk to you.”

“What, did you have another nightmare again? I already told you they’re nothing more than dreams, Mabu,” he scoffs, jerking his hand out of Mabu’s grasp. “Now would you quit asking me about your past?”

“It’s not about my past, it’s about yours! I heard you used to have a partner, is that—“

Reo stiffens. “That,” he says, voice tense, “was a long time ago.”

“What was he like?”

Reo is quiet for so long that Mabu thinks he didn’t hear the question. Just as he’s about to ask again, Reo whispers, “He was perfect. In every sense of the word. He wasn’t just my partner, he... he was my soulmate.”

“...What happened to him?”

“He died.”

“Oh... I’m sorry...”

“Good night, Mabu.”

“Good night...”

Chapter Text

When Reo wakes up the next morning, Mabu is washing the dishes and humming quietly to himself. His shoulders are slumped forward and his eyes are downcast.

“Hey, Mabu,” Reo says softly, putting a hand on Mabu’s back. “Everything alright?”

“Oh! Good morning, Reo. I made you pancakes and some ningyouyaki for later, so...” Reo notices several ningyouyaki in the trash as well as a few pancakes. “I— I wanted to make sure they were perfect for you!”

“Thanks... heh...” Reo fidgets nervously as Mabu intensely watches him eat.

“Is there something I can make you for dinner?” Mabu’s green eyes are fixed on Reo.

“Uh...” Mabu is obviously expecting an answer, so Reo blurts out the first food he can think of. “Crab!”

“Crab?”

“Crab,” Reo says, nodding. Mabu hits the palm of his hand with his fist and gives Reo a quick nod, then rushes out of the apartment.

“Well that was weird,” Reo mutters. Shrugging, Reo decides that it’s just Mabu being Mabu and completely forgets about it until three hours later.

He’s crossing the Azuma bridge when he notices a cluster of people staring and pointing at the river. Irritated by the disruption, Reo starts to shove people aside to get to the railing. “Hey, get a move on! You’re blocking the bridge,” he shouts.

“Hey, policeman! There’s some guy in the river,” someone says. Reo frowns and glances over the railing, not seeing anyone. He looks back at the person and raises an eyebrow. “Eek! Why are you looking at me like that?!”

“No one’s there,” Reo says with a glare.

“He— he just went underwater! Haha... uh... oh look! There he is again!” Sure enough, when he looks back over, Reo sees someone in the distance swimming in the river.

“What the hell?” He watches as the tiny figure disappears under the surface of the water and pops back up again a few moments later.

“He’s catching crabs,” a woman says, offering Reo a pair of binoculars. Peering through them, Reo sees two large plastic buckets on the shore. As he watches, a small brown crab crawls out of one of them and escapes into the river.

“Hmph. Who the hell goes fishing for crabs in the Sumida River, especially in the middle of March? What a moron.” He looks back over to where the person dove under the surface. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees a splash and shifts the binoculars to see the person. “Wait a minute...” Reo squints through the binoculars, then gasps and throws the binoculars back at the woman. “That’s MY moron! MABU!” He sprints off the bridge and over to where the two buckets are. Panting, he watches Mabu resurface and catch sight of him.

“Reo?”

“MABU, GET OUT OF THE WATER THIS INSTANT!” Mabu quickly swims over to Reo and steps out of the river, pushing his wet hair back with a hand. Reo blushes and looks away.

“What, did you see a shark?! I thought sharks didn’t live in rivers!”

“Huh? No, no— what are you doing here? Why are you in the river?!”

Mabu looks down at his feet shyly and mumbles, “I, uh...”

“What the hell were you thinking?! Look at you, you’re soaking wet!” Reo starts unbuttoning Mabu’s shirt, then starts wiping Mabu dry with his sleeve.

“I thought you said undressing in public was a bad thing,” Mabu says. “Reo, people are staring...”

Reo glares up at the street, where a few people have gathered to watch. He bares his teeth at them and covers Mabu with his jacket, shouting, “Get lost!” As the crowd scatters, Reo shivers and looks back at Mabu, who’s staring at him. “Aren’t you cold?!”

“Hm? Not really, no.” Sighing, Reo pinches the bridge of his nose.

“Mabu, why would you...” All of a sudden, Reo remembers what happened this morning. “This... Are you doing this... for me?” Mabu doesn’t meet Reo’s eyes. “Because I wanted crab?”

“...Maybe...” Mabu scratches at the back of his neck. “I’m sorry,” he finally sighs. “I noticed you’ve been upset ever since you had to do my maintenance, so I— I wanted to make it up to you somehow. I thought maybe if I made you the best meal you’d ever had, things would go back to normal. The only thing I’m really good for is making food, after all... Huh? Reo, please don’t cry!” Mabu frantically wipes at Reo’s face and says, “Oh no, I’ve just made things worse, haven’t I? I’m sorry, Reo, I’m sorry I’m so bad at everything—“

“No!” Mabu jumps back at Reo’s sudden exclaimation. “How can you say that, Mabu?! Even though I’ve been awful to you, you still want to make me happy... I should’ve known, huh.” Reo shakes his head, remembering when he and Mabu were children. Despite all of Reo’s attempts to drive him away, Mabu had stayed by his side. Why did he expect things to turn out differently now?

“Sorry...” Mabu’s beautiful green eyes start to fill with tears. Gently, Reo cups Mabu’s cheek and turns his face so he’s meeting Reo’s eyes. He puts his other hand on the other side of Mabu’s face, then pulls on his cheeks. “Whaphbhrrbhurh?”

“Sorry, I couldn’t help myself,” Reo says with a chuckle. “You just looked so cute like that—“ Realizing what he just said, Reo claps a hand over his mouth. “Agh! I mean—“

“I’m... cute?” Mabu’s face starts turning red and he puts a hand over his heart. “I— I— uhm—“ For the first time in years, Reo starts laughing— really laughing. He lifts Mabu up and spins him around, laughing and grinning like an idiot. Once he puts Mabu down, Reo wraps an arm around Mabu’s waist and starts playing with his hair, pressing his forehead against Mabu’s.

“You’re not just cute, Mabu. You’re adorable.” Reo gives him a pat on the head and Mabu smiles. “Now come on, let’s get you and these crabs home.”

“Huh? But don’t you have work?”

“I’m working right now. A police officer should help a lost citizen find his way home, especially if said citizen has been causing disruptions throughout the city.” Mabu looks at him dubiously and Reo shrugs. “I take my job very seriously, you know. Most of the time.”

“Well, I don’t want to keep you. Let’s go home quickly.”

“You’re always so cautious, Mabu. There’s no harm in taking the long way.” Reo leads Mabu through the city, enjoying his company.

“Every time I think I’ve seen it all, you show me something new! I’ve never been here before,” Mabu says, smiling.

“Really? I come down here all the time, why wouldn’t I bring you?” Reo frowns, thinking. “There’s a great soba shop down here, too...” He trails off, catching sight of a fenced-off green space. In a trancelike state, Reo walks over to the gate and pushes it open.

“Reo, where are you going?” Mabu follows him to the gate and asks, “Oh, is this a park?”

“No,” Reo whispers. “It’s a cemetery.” He carefully steps forward until he reaches a small, unmarked grave. A bundle of wilted roses lies at the foot of the grave— Reo had left them here on Valentine’s Day, the last time he was here.

Reo feels Mabu’s hand on his shoulder. “Is this... his?” Reo nods and Mabu kneels down next to him. “Uh, those flowers are nice,” Mabu says awkwardly, gesturing to a fresh wreath of black and red roses resting on the grave.

Reo narrows his eyes at the wreath and says, “Something isn’t right...”

“Hm? What is it?”

“I didn’t leave this here for him. No one else has left anything for years, especially nothing like this.” He notices a small card attached to one of the roses and opens it, reading what’s inside.

Is this really all you have for him? Otterly pathetic. For someone who claims to love him, you don’t seem to care all that much. At least he’ll be mine again soon enough. Until then, I’ll be in touch.

-Uso

Chapter Text

Reo shrieks and drops the card, feeling like he’s going to throw up. “Reo, what is it?! Wha— Woah!” Before he can finish his sentence, Reo latches on to Mabu’s hand and sprints out of the graveyard. “My crabs!”

Despite Mabu’s protests, Reo doesn’t slow down until he reaches his motorcycle parked four blocks away. Finally, Mabu breaks free of Reo’s grasp and shouts, “What’s gotten into you?! Why—"

“There’s no time to explain! Get on!” Something in Reo’s voice must have convinced Mabu, because he jumps on the motorcycle without complaint. 

They reach the police box and Reo leaps off of the motorcycle with Mabu in tow. Pushing the door open, he rushes towards the elevator, shoving a couple of new officers aside. On the way, he spots the one coworker he trusts, Tsubomi. “Niiboshi? What the hell—“

“You! Watch him for me!” Reo shoves Mabu at her and runs into the elevator. He takes a shaky breath and wipes his sweaty hands on his shirt, trying to calm himself down. Once the door opens, he quickly goes through security and bursts through the office door.

“Niiboshi. I didn’t ask for you,” Reo’s boss says.

“Boss, it’s Uso! He was here!” He stares at Reo, unimpressed. “Well, he wasn’t here here, but he was nearby! He was at the graveyard, he— he left flowers on my partner’s grave—“

“You’re sure it was him.”

“Yes! He left a card—“

“Show it to me.” Reo digs around in his pockets, coming up empty handed.

“I— I must’ve dropped it—“

“Niiboshi, you’ve been working very hard lately. You’ve been doing your daily patrols as well as participating in the data analysis of the files we recovered from Uso’s base.” Usually, Reo doesn’t bother with data analysis because he can’t focus on paperwork for long amounts of time. But ever since the maintenance, he’s been digging through the files in search of any reference to Mabu’s heart. So far, he’s found nothing.

“So what if I’ve had a few sleepless nights?! I know what I saw!”

“There’s no reason that someone like Uso would waste his time on such trivial matters, unless... unless you have something of his,” he says, looking at Reo with new interest in his eyes. “That boy you brought home with you.”

Reo gulps and asks, “What about him?”

“If what you say is true, he must be the cause of this behavior. Perhaps it’s time that we take custody of him.”

“No,” Reo blurts out, “no!” Realizing what he just said, Reo starts to backpedal. “I mean— if we bring Mabu here, Uso wouldn’t dare try and get him. Keeping Mabu in a position where Uso thinks he’s vulnerable might give us an advantage. He’ll get sloppy, I know it. And that’s when we’ll get him.”

Reo’s boss is silent for a moment, then says, “I like the way you think, Niiboshi. The boy will remain in your custody for now. But remember, do not let yourself get attached to him.” Reo breathes a sigh of relief. “You’re dismissed.”

Walking out of the office, Reo still feels uneasy. Quickly, he steps out of the elevator and looks around for Mabu. Reo spots him sitting nearby on a plastic chair, fidgeting uncomfortably. “Mabu!”

“Reo! You’re back!” Mabu jumps up to greet him with a hug, but Reo pushes him away.

“Come on, we need to get you home,” Reo says, leading him outside. He tries not to notice how Mabu’s shoulders slump when he rejects him. 

When they finally get home, Reo closes the apartment door behind him and slumps against it, finally letting himself relax a bit. “Phew...”

“Hey, are you alright?”

“Mhn... ‘m fine...” Reo yawns and realizes how tired he is. “I just need a few minutes...”

~ ~ ~

After a hard day of training, Reo and Mabu arrived at their new apartment, ready for some fun. Before Reo could even open the door, Mabu had already started making out with Reo.

“Mhn... hey! Let’s get inside first,” Reo said, face flushed.

“I can’t help myself, Reo— you’re just so beautiful.” Mabu’s laughter filled the air as Reo’s face turned even redder. Taking Reo’s hand, Mabu walked inside and asked, “So, are you hungry?” With a swift glance at Reo’s pants, he laughed and said, “Hm, I guess that can wait. Do you want to be on top tonight or should I?”

“You can’t just casually ask that!!”

“Why not? It’s just us,” Mabu said, rolling his eyes. “Are you going to answer?”

“...Can you be on top tonight, please? I know we usually do it the other way, but I— I like the way it feels when you’re inside me.”

“Well why didn’t you say so?” Already mostly undressed, Mabu reached into the second drawer of his nightstand and started coating his fingers with lubricant. Once he was naked, Reo got into bed next to him. Slowly, Mabu eased a finger inside him.

“Nngh... Mabu, it’s cold!”

“I would have warmed it up a bit, but you seem to be in a hurry.” Reo shivered and moaned as another finger slid in. “Of course, I could go and heat it up now, if that’s what you really want.” Mabu pulled both of his fingers out and stared down at Reo, crossing his arms. “I could go make stew too, since that’s what you wanted apparently.”

“Wh— you’re still mad about that?! That was— Mhn— three days ago!” Mabu started to get up but Reo grabbed his wrist and begged, “Wait, don’t just leave me like this! I p— promise I’ll ask for your curry next time, just— haah— please, I need you, Mabu.” Mabu grinned down at Reo and, having got what he wanted, continued to stretch Reo out.

“I’m going to put it in now,” Mabu said calmly. Reo clenched his fists and gritted his teeth as something warm and wet slid inside him.

“Aah!” Reo bit his lip, trying to hide his moaning.

“You’re s— so tight,” Mabu whispered, kissing the side of Reo’s face. “You need to relax, love. I’m here. I’m not going to hurt you— as long as you eat my curry, that is,” he said with a grin. Reo couldn’t help but giggle as Mabu gave him another kiss. “That’s it, Reo, just like that...”

As Mabu started to thrust inside of him, Reo let out several small moans and whimpers. His fingernails dug into Mabu’s back as he cried, “Agh—! Mhn, Mabu, my Mabu— harder, please—“

“If you insist,” Mabu said, panting. “Haah... Reo—“

Mabu’s warmth brushed up against something inside Reo and he whined loudly. “Right there, Mabu— AHN!” Reo cried out as Mabu hit the spot a second time. As Mabu made contact with his prostate again and again, Reo was reduced to a shivering mess of screams and moans. 

It didn’t take long for Reo’s orgasm to hit, and Mabu wasn’t far behind. Reo lay flat on his back, breathing heavily, while Mabu got up and stood at the foot of their bed.

“Reo,” Mabu says. “There’s something I need to ask you.”

Reo grumbles, “If it’s about curry, I swear—“

“What was the reason for my death?”

Suddenly, Reo is standing at the cemetery gate, peering inside. Mabu is sitting on his own unmarked grave, staring at Reo with mournful eyes. Blood has soaked through his shirt and drips on the ground beneath him. Mabu smiles at Reo sadly as a dark rift opens underneath Reo, pulling him inside. “Wha— Wait—

“Mabu!” Reo falls onto a cold cement floor, landing on his hands and knees. He scrambles to his feet, gasping for air, and quickly looks around. He’s in the middle of a long hallway that he recognizes. “I’m... in Uso’s hideout?”

“PLEASE, SOMEBODY HELP ME!” Hearing that unmistakable voice scream like that sends a chill down Reo’s spine. 

“Mabu?! MABU!” Desperately, Reo sprints through the hall, throwing open any door he sees. “Where are you?!” Another bloodcurdling scream pierces the air, and Reo rushes towards the source. He spots a light at the end of an adjacent hallway and shouts, “Mabu, don’t worry, I’ve found—“

“I hate Reo.”

Reo stops dead in his tracks. He’s only heard Mabu use that word once before.

“Such a good boy, usso. Now would you scream for me again? You know how I love it when you do.”

”Anything for you, love...” Reo peeks into the room, dreading what he’s going to see.

Mabu is sitting on Uso’s lap completely naked. He has both of his hands on Uso’s face and is kissing him passionately while Uso strokes his heart in one hand. Reo watches as Uso’s other hand creeps up Mabu’s leg, up towards—

Reo wakes up to a sharp pain in his chest. He looks down at himself to see four red lines on his chest. When he looks at his right hand, he sees blood under his fingernails. Groaning, he climbs out of bed and lumbers into the kitchen.

“Oh! There you are,” Mabu says brightly. “I was starting to get worried. You passed out right when you got inside, so I put you in bed, figuring you must’ve been really tired. The good news is that the crab is ready— I might have to warm it up a bit, though—“

You,” Reo growls. Mabu finally looks away from the stove and at Reo. His happy expression quickly turns to a concerned one.

“Reo, you’re bleeding! Let me—“ Before Mabu can do anything, Reo grabs him by the collar of his shirt and shakes him roughly.

Why would you do this to me?!” He pushes Mabu back and he falls over. Reo digs his nails into his chest, making the scratches even deeper. Mabu gets to his feet and extends his hand to Reo.

“What? Reo, you’re—”

“Don’t touch me!”

“Ow!” Jagged red lines and red droplets appear on Mabu’s outstretched hand. Mabu looks at Reo, down at his hand, then back at Reo.

“Don’t come near me,” Reo hisses, expecting to scare Mabu away. Instead, he takes a deep breath and wraps his arms tightly around Reo. Squirming, Reo yells, “Piss off! Just leave me alone already!” This only makes Mabu hold him tighter. Reo tries to break his grip, but it’s no use. “Let go of me!”

“It’s okay, Reo! It’s okay. I’m here,” Mabu says. Slowly, Reo stops struggling. His breath starts to come in short hiccups and he sniffles. “Everything’s going to be okay. Let’s get you cleaned up now, okay?” Reo nods and allows Mabu to lead him back to the bedroom. As Reo wipes his eyes, Mabu starts to gently clean Reo’s wounds. 

“Your— your hand,” Reo says through tears. Mabu grins and waves at him. Two light pink lines are all that remain of his injury, and as Reo watches, even those fade away. “How—“ 

“I found out the other day that I heal a lot quicker than most people. Now the soccer team is even more convinced that I’m a superhero,” he says with a forced laugh. 

“I shouldn’t have done that to you,” Reo mutters, staring at his feet.

“It’s okay! You must’ve had a reason— I’m sure I did something to deserve it,” he says cheerfully.

Feeling even more guilty, Reo says, “No, you didn’t do anything wrong, Mabu. I just had a bad dream.” God, now he’s punishing Mabu for something he did in a dream? This is a new low for Reo. “I really am the worst,” he mutters.

“What?! No way, Reo, you’re the best!” Mabu grabs Reo’s hands and pouts.

“Yeah, and you’re biased.”

“I mean it, Reo! Your dream rattled you and you weren’t acting like yourself, that’s all. It happens.” Reo touches Mabu’s cheek and Mabu leans into his hand, letting out a little sigh. He seems relieved.

“Thank you, Mabu,” Reo says, managing a smile. 

“Anything for you, Reo,” Mabu says fondly. “So, uh... do you want to eat the crab now?”

Wrapping an arm around Mabu’s shoulder, Reo replies, “Yeah, I’d like that.”

Chapter Text

Reo wakes up the next morning with a killer headache. Groaning, he drags himself out of bed and stumbles over to the toilet. “Ugh... Mabu? Are you here?”

“Yeah,” Mabu calls from the other room. “What’s up?”

“Can you help me? I’m not feeling great...” Mabu steps into the bathroom and gasps.

“Reo, what happened to you?!” He grabs a towel and gently wipes off Reo’s face.

“I, uh...” Reo replies. When he tries to stand, black spots dance across his vision. Mabu puts an arm around Reo’s waist to support him. Pushing him away, Reo mumbles, “I’m fine,” and attempts to walk away. Instead he falls directly into Mabu’s chest. 

“No, you’re not,” Mabu says, frowning at Reo. Reo makes a face up at him. “You’re sick, aren’t you? Hmph, it must be because you’ve been working too hard. People can get sick from doing that, right?”

“I’m not—“

“Shh.” Mabu presses a finger against Reo’s lips, making him blush. “You’re sick, you’re not thinking straight.”

“Technically, I’m never thinking straight,” Reo mutters. Mabu tilts his head at Reo.

“Anyway... let’s get you to the couch!” Mabu picks Reo up and carries him under an arm, much to Reo’s surprise. Dumping him on the couch, Mabu quickly gets Reo a glass of water. “Do you want some soup? That helps make sick people feel better, right?”

“That... actually sounds really good. Do we have all the ingredients?”

“Probably not, but I can go get some! I’ll go to the store now!” Mabu excitedly starts bounding around the apartment, throwing one of Reo’s sweaters on and grabbing his wallet. 

“Wait,” Reo croaks, trying to stand. “I— I’m coming with you—“

“No,” Mabu says firmly. He lightly taps Reo’s chest, making him fall back on to the couch. Reo tries to get back up with no success. 

“Mabu, no! It’s too dangerous for you to go alone,” Reo says, seeing that wreath of black and red roses lying on Mabu’s grave. “Please...”

“Don’t worry, Reo. I’ll be back before you know it.” Mabu gives him a little wave and walks out the door, leaving Reo all alone. He realizes that it’s the first time he’s been alone in the apartment since he brought Mabu home. Starting to get uncomfortable, Reo wishes he could move around without feeling like he’s going to throw up.

“Mabu... come back...!” The silence is unbearable. Tears pool in Reo’s eyes as he claws at his chest, gasping as his nails dig into raw, unhealed skin. He curls up under his blanket and buries his head under his pillow, starting to sob.

“Reo?” A hand presses against his back and he feels the blanket lifted off of him. He rolls over to see Mabu staring down at him, visibly concerned. “What happened? I was only gone for a few min— oh!”

Reo lunges at Mabu in the middle of his sentence and crushes him in a hug. Burying his face in Mabu’s shoulder, Reo sniffles, “You— you came back...”

“Of course I did,” Mabu murmurs. Reo feels Mabu’s warm breath against his ear and sighs, letting himself relax. “Did you think I wouldn’t? That’s just silly, Reo, where would I even go?”

“Back to Uso?” Mabu gasps and pulls away from Reo, then frowns at him.

“You must be sicker than I thought if you’re saying things like that,” he says, pressing his hand against Reo’s forehead. He puts his hand on his own forehead, then back on Reo’s. “Hm, you’re definitely warmer than me. Here, take this.” Mabu hands him a small box and says, “It’s a thermometer.” Reo frowns down at the box for a moment, then gently whacks Mabu’s head with it. “Hey!”

“This,” Reo says, raising an eyebrow at Mabu, “is a pregnancy test.”

Mabu glances back and forth from the box to Reo. “Huuh?”

Sighing, Reo says, “Look, it says right here. It’s a pregnancy test.”

“Oh shoot! I’m sorry, Reo, I was in such a hurry to get home, I must’ve grabbed the wrong thing. It does look like a thermometer though, right?”

“Heh, yeah.” Smiling a bit, Reo wipes his eyes and pats Mabu’s head. “Don’t sweat it. I have a thermometer in the bathroom, second drawer on the left.”

Once Mabu retrieves the thermometer, he hands it to Reo and waits for the reading. Reo looks down at it and groans. “Thirty-nine.”

“Oh, that’s higher than normal, right?” Reo nods. He closes his eyes as Mabu walks over to the counter, listening to the clinking of dishes.

“Here,” Mabu says, touching Reo’s shoulder. He pushes Reo’s bangs back, which makes Reo let out a soft sigh. Mabu places a damp towel on Reo’s forehead and asks, “Do you want to watch some TV?” After Reo says yes, he adds, “I’ve been watching a lot of food network lately and I really like those competition shows.”

“Oh? You thinking of trying out?” Mabu turns red and starts stammering a reply, but Reo cuts him off with a laugh. “You’re certainly good enough.” With an indignant huff, Mabu turns back to the stove. After a few minutes, he sits down on the floor in front of Reo. “Is it almost done?”

“What? No, it’s going to take a while. I want it to be good,” he scoffs. “Unlike this guy. Look at him, he’s ruining that beautiful mahi-mahi.” Mabu gestures at the TV and yells, “You should have cooked it with the skin on!”

For the next few hours, Reo contentedly binge watches several competitive cooking shows while Mabu comments on how the contestants could have made their food better. Every once in a while, Mabu gets up to check on the soup or get Reo some water. 

Finally, Mabu comes over holding two bowls and Reo gasps, trying to sit up. “Careful! We don’t want it all coming back up, now,” Mabu says, pushing Reo back a little. He watches as Reo slurps down his first spoonful. 

“Holy shit, Mabu,” Reo moans, ditching the spoon to drink straight from the bowl. “There’s just— slurp— so many layers— slurp— to the flavor— slurp slurp— it’s like comfort in a bowl,” he says, finishing it off with one last gulp. Mabu hands him the second bowl and Reo looks at him gratefully.

“Well, it’s a good thing you like it because I made plenty. Since you don’t seem any less sick, maybe you can stay home tomorrow and we could heat it up again?”

“Yeah. Yeah, alright,” Reo mumbles, stifling a yawn. 

“Hum, you should get some rest, right? That’ll help you, won’t it?” Now that his belly is full, Reo’s eyelids start to droop. Mabu gently scoops Reo up and says, “Let’s get you to bed.” He sets Reo down in bed and starts to walk out of the room but Reo grabs his wrist.

“But Maaaabu,” Reo whines, “I want you to stay here. With me.” He’s feeling uncharacteristically relaxed right now— it must be the soup, or the sickness, or maybe just the fact that Mabu is here taking care of him.

“Okay, okay. Just let me clean up the kitchen.” He walks out of the bedroom door.

“Maa~buu~~” When he doesn’t get a response, Reo calls out again. “Maaaaaabuuuuu~~~” Getting annoyed, he shouts, “MABU!”

“What?! I’m here!” Mabu bursts through the door and Reo smiles at him.

“Hi.” After staring at Reo for a moment, Mabu’s face relaxes into a smile.

“Hi, Reo,” Mabu replies, climbing into bed next to him. “How are you feeling?”

“I feel... happy,” Reo says, surprised. “For the first time in ages, I... I’m happy.” He cuddles up close to Mabu and starts playing with his hair.

“If you’re happy, I’m happy as well.”

Chapter Text

After a week of being bedridden, Reo is finally feeling better thanks to Mabu. He steps out to the kitchen where Mabu is making breakfast and hugs him from behind. “G’morning, Mabu,” he says, snuggling into him a bit.

“Wh— hey, you shouldn’t be up!” Mabu sets his spatula down and turns around, pushing Reo back into the bedroom.

“I’m feeling better today!”

“That’s what you’ve said every day, Reo,” Mabu sighs exasperatedly.

“But I mean it this time!” Mabu gives him a look, and Reo puts the thermometer in his mouth. Once it beeps, he pulls it out and hands it to Mabu. “See? I’m at thirty-seven! That’s normal! I’m alright, Mabu,” Reo says, cupping Mabu’s cheek.

“Hmpf, fine. So what, are you going back to work then? At least eat breakfast before you go,” Mabu says, handing him a plate of pancakes.

“Relax,” Reo scoffs, sitting down at the table. “I don’t have to go to work right now. But tonight...”

“What? What’s tonight?”

“My team is gonna raid one of Uso’s hideouts tonight.” Mabu drops the plate he’s holding and grabs Reo by the shoulders, taking him by surprise. “Hey, what—“

“You can’t go there!” Fear fills Mabu’s eyes as he stares down at Reo. Reo raises an eyebrow at him questioningly and Mabu says, “You said he could do mindwipes and other things I can’t even begin to imagine, what if— what if he catches you and takes you away? And he could make you one of those kappa zombies that you mentioned, or maybe he’ll p— put you in a cage and m— make you do tricks for food—“

“Whoa! Mabu, hey, it’s okay!” Reo quickly stands up and hugs Mabu, who has started to bawl. “I’ve done this before, Mabu, I’m going to be fine. If I hadn’t done it before, well, I wouldn’t have found you.” He tilts Mabu’s chin up so that he’s looking in Reo’s eyes and gives him a reassuring smile.

“I— I know we haven’t known each other all that long, but... you’re important to me, Reo. If anything happened to you, I don’t know what I’d do...”

“Heh, don’t worry. You won’t get rid of me that easily,” he teases, giving Mabu’s head a pat. “Now how about we watch some more Food Network?”

~ ~ ~

A few hours later, Reo is in the middle of an abandoned complex with a few of his coworkers. “Well this was a complete waste of time,” he grumbles, crossing his arms. By the time they’d arrived, all of Uso’s guys had already cleared out, taking most of their stuff with them. The last couple members of Reo’s group trickle into the main room and he asks, “Did you find anything?” After receiving a collective no, Reo sighs and says, “Alright, we’re done here.”

As he walks out of the building, Tsubomi catches up to him and whispers, “Niiboshi, you might want to see this.” He glances down and sees one of Uso’s magazines in her hand and scoffs.

“A porn magazine? Nice to know that’s what you think of me—“

“Reo.” She grabs his wrist and stops walking, making Reo turn towards her. Her expression is grim, and he swallows hard.

“Right, uh...” He looks back at the rest of the group and says, “You guys head to the station. We’re going to stay for a bit longer to see if anyone comes back.” Tsubomi leads him into an empty room and Reo tries to bury the dread welling up inside him.

After a moment, she closes the door and says, “I found it on the floor and started looking through it, just in case there was anything useful. And guess who’s right here on the inside cover?” Reo’s heart hammers in his chest as she flips the cover open.

Deep inside, Reo already knows who he’s going to see there— Reo has known ever since he told Reo about his dream, where Uso called him his “doll”. Reo has been denying it and trying not to think about it ever since, but he knew. But seeing a broken and bruised Mabu staring defeatedly up at him from that page finally confirms Reo’s worst fears.

“I’m sorry, Reo. But you needed to know.” Reo takes the magazine from her and flips through it weakly, seeing page after page of his sweet, sweet Mabu being groped, whipped, violated... it makes Reo sick. But by far the worst part is how pained and humiliated Mabu looks in each and every picture. Reo falls to his knees and starts clawing at his chest, tearing his still-healing skin open.

“Wh— why... he didn’t d— deserve this at— at all...” Realizing he’s still in front of Tsubomi, Reo forces himself to straighten up and pull himself together. “Uh... thanks for telling me. And thanks for not doing it in front of the others. Now if you’ll excuse me, I—“ Reo’s voice cracks, and he coughs to try and cover it up. “I need to go home.”

“Sure. I’ll take care of everything back at the station,” she says. Reo gives her a grateful look and quickly walks outside. He jumps on his motorcycle and recklessly drives home, not caring about anything but getting home to Mabu.

When he arrives at the apartment complex, the receptionist looks at him funny and he growls, “What are you looking at?”

“N— nothing! I just thought I saw you walk by earlier,” she says with a nervous laugh. Rolling his eyes, Reo breezes past her and punches the elevator button.

He reaches his apartment and his heart skips a beat when he sees the door slightly open. As he steps inside, he can hear a voice coming from his bedroom.

“You look like you’re in otter agony, Mabu,” it says, sending a chill down Reo’s spine. “You’ve been kind enough to pleasure me, so in return, I’ll maintenance you...” A red glow lights up the apartment and Mabu’s loud, breathy moan rings in Reo’s ears.

Blood boiling, Reo sprints into the bedroom and screams, “Get away from him! What the hell do you think you’re doing to Mabu?!” A completely naked Mabu is pinned down on Reo’s bed by a stranger, who’s holding Mabu’s mechanical heart in a hand. As Reo’s eyes adjust, he notices something odd about the other man. “You’re... me?” Without looking at him, the other Reo laughs harshly. Mabu looks over at Reo and, with a jolt, he notices a sticky white liquid coating Mabu’s face.

“Not hardly,” Other Reo says, turning to face him. Piercing blood-red eyes stare back at Reo from his own face, which is twisted into a cruel smile. “But it sure looks like it, doesn’t it? Ah, I love it when my experiments work. Just like him,” he says, gesturing to Mabu.

“Wh... What’s habbenin...” Mabu looks around, clearly confused. His eyes are half-closed and his speech is slurred as he looks back and forth between the two Reos. “Why’s there tw— AAAGH!” Mabu cries out loudly as Other Reo slowly licks his heart.

Hearing Mabu make that kind of noise knocks Reo out of his stupor. He grabs Other Reo by the collar of his shirt and screams, “WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO MY MABU?!”

“‘Your’ Mabu? I believe you’re mistaken. I’m the one who resurrected him, after all.” Reo’s grip loosens, and Uso smiles at him.

Reo steps back and stammers, “You... How did you get— Why do you look like— No, wait, why’s Mabu acting like that?!” Currently, Mabu is a pitiful bundle of shivers and moans beneath Uso. Kneeling down in front of him, Reo turns Mabu’s head so he’s looking at him. “Hey, Mabu,” Reo murmurs softly, wiping his face with his sleeve, “can you hear me?”

A small “Uuungh” is the only reply that Reo gets. When he looks into Mabu’s eyes, they’re completely blank.

“He won’t understand you. He’s in maintenence mode,” Uso says matter-of-factly. “A feature, I might add, you will enjoy greatly.” Mabu whines loudly as Uso licks his heart again.

“Stop that! Can’t you see you’re hurting him?!”

“You and I both know he’s not in pain.” Vaguely, Reo remembers something Mabu said back in the hospital about how it felt when someone held his heart. “But don’t just take it from me. Mabu, would you like me to stop?”

“St— stop..? No, I... I don’t want that— haaah... p— please... I— I need you...” Mabu’s eyes stare at nothing, and a bit of drool slips down his chin. Reo feels like he’s going to be sick. He turns Mabu’s face back towards him and looks pleadingly into his eyes.

“Mabu, c’mon, snap out of it,” he begs, brushing a soaked strand of hair away from Mabu’s face. Mabu lets out a little whimper and Reo turns to Uso, disgusted. “What the hell did you do to him?”

Uso sighs, clearly annoyed. “If you insist on talking, I’ll have to wait on Mabu’s maintenance.” He puts Mabu’s heart back in his chest and slides off of Mabu, sitting on the edge of the bed. “Sit,” he says to Reo, patting the bed next to him.

Meekly, Reo takes a seat next to Uso. It takes all of his willpower not to punch him or pull out his gun and shoot him dead, but he knows he has to keep his cool for Mabu’s sake. He tries to ignore Mabu’s cries from behind him, but they keep growing louder. Finally, Mabu grabs Uso’s arm and moans, “Reo, d— don’t just leave me like this—“

Before Reo can even react, Uso strikes Mabu across the face and he falls backwards. Reo shrieks and pulls Mabu close to him, leaning him against his chest. Already, a red handprint is appearing on Mabu’s left cheek. Mabu groans and grabs Reo’s hand. “Wha— Mabu!!” Mabu pulls Reo’s hand so that it’s resting on his crotch, where Reo feels a hard lump. Feeling something in his own pants, Reo blushes and jerks his hand away.

“I suppose we’ll need to keep him entertained,” Uso murmurs, reaching into Reo’s nightstand. “It’s this drawer, right?”

“Wait, don’t—“ Smirking, Uso pulls a vibrator out of Reo’s second drawer.

“Pervert.” Without warning, he shoves it inside of Mabu, who screams, then falls limp in Reo’s arms, sobbing quietly.

“Why would you do that to him?! Why— Why would you do any of this to him? He doesn’t deserve this— any of this,” Reo says, trying to keep his voice level. So many emotions are swirling around in Reo’s head that he struggles to even put his sentences together.

“No, he doesn’t. But I don’t care.”

“You’re a monster,” Reo whispers weakly.

“I brought him back to life. I can do what I want with him. You’re the one that wants to own Mabu, but what have you done for him?”

“You bastard, I saved him! You kept him locked up in the same room for years and made him think he was grown in a lab, and you— you forced him to be a sex slave and profited off of him!” Mabu shudders and Reo adds, “And now you’ve made him suck you off, and— and—“ Unable to control himself any longer, Reo bursts into tears. “Please... just make him go back to normal...”

“Oh? Is that truly what you desire?”

“Of course it is!”

“But while Mabu’s like this, you can do anything you want to him. While he’s in maintenance mode, he can’t form new memories.” Reo stiffens at these words.

“You mean... he won’t remember any of this?” Uso shakes his head, and Reo looks back down at Mabu. His face is flushed as he clings tightly to Reo, moaning.

“I know what you want to do to him, Reo. It’s what you’ve wanted ever since you got him back, right? You want Mabu to make these kind of faces for you. You don’t even care if he’s in pain, you’re just using it as an excuse to cover up your jealousy.”

“Wha— That’s not—“

“You’re aroused right now, aren’t you?” When Reo doesn’t answer, Uso laughs. “Wow, you really are just like me. Well go on,” he says, gesturing to Mabu. Reo stares at Uso, not understanding. “He obviously wants to have sex with you. Why deny him?”

“I know what you’re trying to do, and it won’t work,” Reo growls. “He’s gonna remember everything and blow up, isn’t he? Everything he’s remembered so far is somehow related to me, so if I do something like that to him... he’ll...”

“Hm, I’m shocked you figured out that much on your own. It’s true that you are the key to Mabu’s memories, but just being around you isn’t a danger to him. Frankly, I’m offended you have such little faith in my abilities.” He crosses his arms and pouts, then laughs cruelly. Reo hates seeing his own face look like that. “No, Mabu will be fine living alongside you— as your friend.”

“...What?”

“Despite everything, Mabu’s love for you was so strong that I couldn’t erase it completely without breaking him. If you express your feelings for Mabu, his memory will return and his heart will explode— that is, if he’s not in maintenance mode. While he’s being maintenanced, Mabu has very limited brain function, almost as if he’s been drugged. He can barely even remember who he is.” The pathetic form in Reo’s arms squirms and reaches up to touch Reo. Reo sees his own tears make little pathways on Mabu’s soiled face.

“R— Reo...”

“But of course, he still remembers you. Mabu really is quite an interesting subject—more than I ever imagined. I’m glad I chose to revive him.”

Mabu leans in and presses his lips against Reo’s, making him freeze. Mabu’s hand reaches up and starts playing with his hair as he slips his tongue into Reo’s mouth. Reo wants so badly to reciprocate, but instead gently pushes Mabu away from him. Mabu tries to speak but Reo puts a finger over his lips.

“I know you think you want this, Mabu,” Reo murmurs sadly, “but I can’t. I can’t use you like this.” He stands up and backs away from the bed, meeting Uso’s eyes. “You... just do what you need to for him to be back to normal. And please, stop making yourself look like me.”

“You think I want to look like this ?” Uso glares down at himself, clearly disgusted. “As if. He tosses something at Reo and says, “I’ll contact you using this when it’s time for Mabu’s next maintenance. If you don’t want me coming back, you’d better not break it. Now get out. You existing in the same room as me is distracting.”

Chapter Text

Mabu opens his eyes to see Reo standing over him. Realizing he’s lying on Reo’s bed, he starts to ask “What happ— Ugh...” He groans in pain and Reo stares down at him worriedly.

“What’s wrong?! Are you okay?!”

“Ah, I’m fine,” Mabu reassures him, “I just have some maintenance cramps.” Reo stares at him blankly so Mabu explains, “Usually after I get maintenanced, my whole body gets really sore. Especially my hips, for some reason.” At that, Reo shudders a bit but Mabu doesn’t understand why.

“So, uh... what’s the last thing you remember?”

Mabu frowns and thinks back to earlier. “Well, after you left, I couldn’t sleep so I kept watching TV. But I wasn’t really focused on that and kept worrying about you, so I got my Reokappa plush and hugged him, which made me feel a bit better. Then you came back and I was so happy! I ran over and hugged you and then... and then...” Mabu shakes his head, unable to recall anything after that. He reaches to scratch the back oh his head and winces. “What happened?”

“You passed out in my arms and I had to maintenance you.” Mabu feels his face heat up and he looks down at his feet.

“Sorry... Sometimes when I have really strong emotions, things get kinda weird— I promise it won’t happen again!” Mabu feels a pang of guilt as he remembers how distant Reo became after his first maintenance. Trying to sit up, he says, “I didn’t mean to, I swear—“

“Mabu!” He’d started to slip backwards and would have hit his head if not for Reo. “Hey, it’s alright,” Reo says softly, cupping Mabu’s cheek. Mabu sighs and leans in to Reo’s hand, savoring the feeling of warmth against his skin. “I’ll take care of you.”

“No, you don’t have to do that,” Mabu protests. “I’m enough of an inconvenience as is—“

“Don’t talk like that. The truth is, I... I really like having you around, Mabu.” Mabu blinks. That’s the nicest thing anyone has ever said to him. “You know what makes me feel better when I’m sore? A nice, hot bath in the jacuzzi tub. Do you think you’d like that?”

“Oh, um... I’ve never really used a bath before,” Mabu admits sheepishly. Truth to be told, he’s a little intimidated by all the different buttons and settings on it. “I only had a shower in my room, so...”

“I think you’ll like it,” Reo says with a soft smile. But there’s a sadness in his eyes that Mabu doesn’t understand. Before Mabu can ask about it, Reo continues, “While I get everything set up, you should have this.” He hands Mabu a bowl of reheated soup, which he happily slurps up. But as he pushes the sheet off of himself, Mabu notices something.

“Hey Reo,” he calls out, “why am I naked?”

For a moment, the running water is all Mabu can hear from the other room. “Well, uh,” Reo says, “when you passed out, you fell pretty hard. I wanted to make sure you didn’t get injured anywhere.”

“Oh, that makes se—- heeeeh?!” When Reo walks out of the bathroom, he’s naked as well.

“What?!”

“You’re, uh— you don’t have clothes on,” Mabu stammers.

“Yeah? I’m going to take a bath with you. Er, I mean, if you’re comfortable with that? Sorry, I didn’t mean to assume anything, but I thought maybe I could help you wash your hair and make sure you get all cleaned up, but if that makes you uncomfortable—“

“No, it’s fine,” Mabu replies calmly. “It’s just I’ve never seen you naked before. You’re really beautiful, you know,” he says frankly. Reo’s eyes widen and his face turns as red as a beet. “Ah, sorry, I didn’t mean to offend—“ While Mabu is speaking, he tries to get out of bed but almost falls over. Fortunately, Reo catches him and scoops him up bridal style.

Tucking some of Mabu’s hair behind his ear, Reo says, “Let’s get you cleaned up, okay?” Mabu nods and thinks he’d like for Reo to hold him like this more often. Reo carries him over to the tub and gently sets him down in the water, then slides in next to Mabu.

“Aaah...” The hot water feels great against Mabu’s skin, and he can feel his aching muscles start to relax. “This is amazing...”

“Oh, but it gets better,” Reo smirks, pushing a button. Mabu gasps as the jets in the tub burst to life. “Try sitting with your back against one of them. It feels like a massage.” Mabu does as he suggests and leans his back against the tub.

“Wow, this feels great!” When Mabu speaks, his voice bounces around. Upon hearing him, Reo laughs. It starts out as a soft giggle but evolves into a full-on belly laugh, which is music to Mabu’s ears. Starting to laugh as well, Mabu reaches out and gives Reo a hug.

As soon as their laughter subsides, Mabu says, “You should laugh like this more often, Reo. It suits you.” Reo blushes and tries to look away, but Mabu won’t let him. “You don’t need to be embarrassed— it’s just me. I’m not going to judge you or anything.” Reo starts to wash Mabu’s hair, running his fingers through the soft strands. Mabu enjoys the feeling very much.

“You’re too nice to me, Mabu. What if I’m actually an awful person who wants to harm you? I’m going to rinse it now.” The warm water washes over Mabu’s head and he sighs contentedly.

“You’re not an awful person, Reo, and I don’t know why you think so.” Mabu shifts around until he’s looking at Reo. “When we met, you could’ve just left me to die. Remember how scared I was to come outside? I don’t think I would have if it weren’t for you. But you didn’t give up on me, and you still haven’t, and I’m so, so grateful.”

“But Mabu, I hurt you. I— I was mean, and callous, and I acted like I didn’t care, and—“

“It’s okay, Reo,” Mabu says soothingly. He grabs some shampoo and starts to massage it through Reo’s scalp. “I think I understand now. Why you push everyone else away, but you let me into your heart. Even though you pretend like you don’t, I know you care about me. It’s because I remind you of him, isn’t it?”

“Wh— What?” Reo stiffens up at Mabu’s question. “Who are you—“

“Your partner. I can see it in the way you look at me, with all the sadness of the world in your eyes... I know you’re trying not to get too attached to me because you’re afraid you’ll get hurt again, but I promise, Reo, I’ll never leave you.” Mabu pushes Reo’s bangs back and smiles. “Huh, you have a widow’s peak. I didn’t know that.”

Reo sits quietly for a few minutes, not meeting Mabu’s eyes. Starting to worry that he said something wrong, Mabu continues to wash Reo’s hair, humming to himself to fill the silence. Finally, Reo lets out a barely audible whisper.

“Thank you, Mabu.”

Chapter Text

The first of April brings a new experience for Mabu— rain. Large drops of water land on Reo’s window as Mabu watches, mesmerized.

“You wanna check it out?” Reo’s question takes Mabu by surprise.

“Wh— what?! No, I— I think that’s too much excitement for me today,” Mabu stammers back. “I don’t know how the rain will affect my heart, and— and isn’t there something called acid rain? What if—“

“Hey, don’t worry, Mabu. Do you really think I’d do anything to hurt you?” Reo opens the door and the new home security system beeps. Mabu still isn’t sure why Reo was so insistent on having it installed, but if it makes Reo feel content, Mabu is content as well. “I have a funny feeling that you’ll really like the rain.”

Hesitantly, Mabu follows Reo downstairs and watches as he confidently steps outside into the pouring rain. “Reo, I— I’m not sure I can—“

All of a sudden, Reo takes Mabu’s hands in his own. He asks, “Do you trust me?” Mabu gulps and nods, feeling his heartbeat speed up. With a mischievous grin, Reo pulls Mabu out onto the sidewalk.

“Reo!!” Mabu winces and squeezes his eyes shut, expecting his flesh to start melting off of him. He opens one eye and looks down at his arm, surprised to see that his skin is still there. “It’s... okay?”

Reo laughs and puts a hand on top of Mabu’s head. “You’re so dumb sometimes,” he says, mussing up Mabu’s hair.

Upon seeeing Reo’s sunny smile, a strange new feeling starts to blossom in Mabu’s chest. It grows and grows until it warms Mabu’s entire body up, despite the chilly rain drenching him. Overwhelmed by the new sensation, Mabu can’t help but smile and laugh along with Reo. Mabu thinks he’d like to feel this way more often.

~ ~ ~

The second time Mabu experiences this feeling is a couple days later, on another rainy day. The rain had started as a gentle patter against the window but quickly began to fall in sheets. Mabu had watched, fascinated, until a blinding flash of light and a loud bang startled him. The next thing Mabu knows, he’s cowering under Reo’s sheets in the fetal position.

He feels something tugging on the sheet and shrieks, “Don’t look at me! Get away from me!”

“It’s just me,” Reo’s voice says. “I— I thought you heard me come in, I didn’t mean to scare—“

Another flash pierces the air and Mabu screams. He curls up even tighter and sobs, “Please, no— I don’t wanna be used like this again...” The blanket over Mabu’s head is slowly pulled away and he looks up, terrified.

Reo’s green eyes widen when they meet Mabu’s, then quickly fill with concern. “Hey,” he murmurs, “I’m here. What’s wrong, Mabu?”

“Reo...?” Before Mabu can say anything else, another lightning bolt illuminates the room. Mabu flings himself at Reo and squeezes him as tight as he can. “Agh— Reo! Reo, please, please don’t let them take me away again, I— I can’t do this—“ Mabu breaks down into Reo’s chest as the loud roar of thunder fills the air.

“Woah, Mabu! Mabu, it’ll be okay, I won’t let anyone take you...” Reo wraps his arms around Mabu and whispers soothingly to him. Slowly, Mabu starts to calm down, but each lightning bolt makes him flinch. Pulling away from Mabu, Reo says, “I’m going to turn the lights on now, alright?” With a little sniffle, Mabu nods.

Once the lights are on, Reo settles down next to Mabu, putting an arm around him. “You don’t have to talk about it right now, Mabu. I just need to know one thing: did anyone come in and try to hurt you?” As far as he can remember, no one entered the apartment, so Mabu shakes his head. “That’s good. Deep breaths, Mabu, I’m here...”

As Reo quietly speaks to him, Mabu finds himself calming down. As soon as he can speak again, Mabu sighs, “Thank you. I— I don’t know what came over me.”

“You said something like ‘they’re gonna take me away,’” Reo says softly, stroking Mabu’s hair. “Who are ‘they’?”

“I don’t know, but when I saw the flashing lights, they made me feel like someone was trying to look at me when I really didn’t want to be looked at.” Starting to pull at his hair, Mabu groans, “I— I know this feeling but I can’t— why can’t I remember?!”

“Hey, it’s okay! It’s okay,” Reo says again, voice wavering. When Mabu looks at him, it seems like Reo is saying that more for his own sake than Mabu’s. He gets the feeling that Reo isn’t telling him everything, but decides not to pursue the notion.

“I think watching some TV would make me feel better,” Mabu mumbles. Reo jumps out of the bed as if he was sitting on a spring.

“Right! I’ll turn the TV on. And uh, do you mind waiting in here for a minute? I’ll make you some yakisoba!” Without waiting for an answer, he jams down a button on the remote, throws it at Mabu, and bolts out into the kitchen. Mabu tilts his head and raises an eyebrow, confused by Reo’s behavior.

A few minutes later, Reo comes back in the bedroom with two bowls of yakisoba. His eyes are red and his hand trembles a bit as he hands Mabu one of the bowls. “Reo, are you al—“

“I’m fine,” is the short reply. With a twinkle in his eye, he says, “You know, this will taste a whole lot better if I feed it to you. There’ve been studies done,” he insists.

“That sounds fake,” Mabu says, frowning. “I’m not sure th— mmph!” Before Mabu can finish his sentence, a bite of yakisoba is shoved in his face. Reo doesn’t quite make it into Mabu’s mouth and pokes his cheek instead, leaving a couple of noodles stuck to Mabu’s face.

“You won’t know until you try it,” Reo laughs. Feeling his face heat up a bit, Mabu starts to experience that warm sensation again. As he and Reo attempt to feed each other, the feeling fills Mabu up until he’s about to burst.

With his belly and heart full, Mabu sighs contentedly and leans up against Reo. “Can I sleep in here with you, please? I don’t wanna be alone...” With a smile, Reo nods and pulls his blankets over the two of them, and Mabu thinks to himself that life can’t get any better than this.

~ ~ ~

On the next rainy day, Mabu is sitting alone on the couch when he hears a knock on the door.

A couple weeks ago, Reo had mentioned that he’d like a scarf, so ever since then Mabu has secretly been learning to knit, with a little help from YouTube. He’s just stopped to admire his work when the knock interrupts him. Opening the door, he says, “Silly Reo, did you forget your keys again?”

“Mabu-sama, it’s you!” A small, soaked form rushes inside and clings tightly to Mabu’s legs.

Recognizing that voice, Mabu says, “Kazuki? What are you doing here?”

“I’ve decided something— from now on, I’m gonna be living here with you.”

Chapter Text

Mabu gapes at Kazuki, surprised by his matter-of-fact statement. For a moment, the two stare at each other until Mabu comes to his senses. “Oh! Look at you, you’re soaked! Let’s get you inside,” he says, leading the boy into the apartment. “Sorry that it’s a bit of a mess in here, I didn’t expect any company...”

“That’s okay, Mabu-sama! And don’t worry about me, I brought a few different outfits.” Mabu realizes that Kazuki has a little red suitcase with him as well as a backpack. “I also brought a few hundred yen, and a sleeping bag— I forgot to bring snacks, sorry, I was in a bit of a hurry...”

“Don’t worry! I’ll make you some ningyouyaki, okay?” Kazuki nods eagerly. “You just relax, and go in the other room and change into some dry clothes. I’ll take care of everything.” Mabu quickly whips up a batch of the treat and sets down a plate in front of Kazuki, which he scarfs down. “Er, Kazuki...”

“Yeah?”

“I— I’m not so sure that you’ll be able to stay here— it’s just that Reo doesn’t play nice with other people sometimes. Let’s get you back to your family—“

Kazuki jumps up and shouts, “Those people aren’t my family!”

Just then, the front door opens. Reo strolls in and says, “Good news, Mabu! I got done with the paperwork early today, so—“ He freezes whenever he sees the little red-eyed boy standing by his table.

“Ehehe... hi,” Mabu says, waving awkwardly to Reo.

“What,” Reo growls, slamming the door, “is he doing here?!” He picks Kazuki up and shouts, “It’s you, isn’t it?! If you think I’m gonna keep falling for your tricks, that’s not happening!” Reo’s face is centimeters from Kazuki as he says, “Listen here, you piece of shit. I know you think Mabu belongs to you, but—“

“I never said anything like that,” Kazuki protests. “Mabu-sama is his own person, even though you don’t seem to think so! And he’s a good person, too— unlike you! That’s why I came to live with him!”

“This is my house! Mabu wants to live with me!” As Reo and Kazuki continue to scream at each other, Mabu feels more and more overwhelmed. He squeezes his eyes shut and starts pulling at his hair. Something’s wrong with him, he can tell— his shirt feels too tight all of a sudden and adrenaline is coursing through his veins— but he doesn’t know what it is, he can’t concentrate because of all the yelling—

Shut up! ” Mabu slams his fists down on the table, which snaps in half. Reo and Kazuki turn to look at him, shocked. They seem smaller than normal, but Mabu doesn’t care. “I need something, but I don’t— I can’t remember—“ Mabu looks at Reo, and something stirs within him.

Falling. Mabu was falling, tumbling through the darkness alone. He wished he could fall forever, because he knew the fate that awaited him was far worse than death. Something beneath him lit up, and Mabu briefly saw a few floating rings of light before plunging into a pool of dark blue liquid. As soon as he hit the surface, Mabu could feel his body starting to transform, changing into something that wasn’t him. As his consciousness faded away, Mabu’s last thought was...

“I want to see you, Reo.”

Chapter Text

To put it simply, Reo was in shock. He’d suspected that Uso tried to make Mabu a kappa zombie, but seeing his former fiancé grow a meter taller in the span of a few seconds and break his table in half was... well, unexpected.

Instinctively, Reo reaches for his gun, then hesitates. There’s no way he’s going to shoot Mabu, even if he is a kappa zombie. But as Reo looks a little closer, he realizes that Mabu is like no other kappa zombie he’s ever seen. For starters, most of the zombies are around five meters tall, with the shortest being 4.86. Mabu’s head is well below Reo’s three and a half meter high ceiling, making him by far the tiniest. Although Mabu’s skin has the signature pink marks and starry appearance of a kappa zombie, Reo can still see some of his regular skin color.

Before Reo can do or say anything, Mabu looks at him with those unsettling pink zombie eyes and promptly collapses.

“Mabu!” Reo rushes to Mabu’s side with Kazuki hot on his heels. Desperately, he grabs Mabu and starts shaking him. “No no no, Mabu, wake up! You can’t do this to me again! Dammit, say something!”

“Niiboshi-san, stop! Look at his skin!” Reo stops for a moment and Mabu’s head lolls to the side. He notices that the starry patches on Mabu’s cheeks are fading away, and as he watches, even the pink circles on his face are becoming lighter.

“He’s... being cured? But... but...” Reo has so many questions he doesn’t even know where to begin. He looks to Kazuki for some kind of explanation only to find the boy crying. “Oh! Uh, don’t worry, Mabu’ll certainly be fine.” Reo has never been less certain of anything in his life. Kazuki is still bawling uncontrollably so Reo adds, “And uh, sorry for how I acted earlier, I— I thought you were somebody else—“

Before he can say anything else, Mabu stirs beneath him.

Chapter Text

“Ngh... what...” Mabu starts to move a bit, not opening his eyes.

“Mabu-sama, are you o—“ Suddenly, Mabu remembers the fall and bolts upright. He screams and scrambles away from whoever was holding him until his back hits a wall. Two shadows approach him and he puts his arms protectively over his face.

“Please, no! I can’t die like this— Reo’s going to be all alone, I need to find him!” Mabu looks around wildly, not knowing where he is. “REO! REO, WHERE—“

“Mabu!” Someone’s hand grabs him by the shoulder and forces Mabu to look into a pair of green eyes. “Mabu,” Reo says again, cupping Mabu’s cheek. “Mabu, it’s me...”

All the tension drains out of Mabu’s muscles as he slumps against Reo. “I don’t want to die,” he whimpers, starting to cry. “Reo, I— I don’t wanna die, I don’t wanna die, I don’t wanna—!”

“Shhh, Mabu! You’re alright,” Reo whispers, pulling Mabu into a tight hug.

“I don’t wanna die,” Mabu repeats, snuggling into Reo.

“You’re not going to die, Mabu. I’ve got you. It was just a bad dream. Just... focus on the sound of my heartbeat, okay? It’ll be okay...” As Reo continues to whisper soothingly to him, Mabu slowly calms down. He looks around and sees Kazuki staring at him with wide eyes, then notices the remains of the table.

“What happened...?”

“What do you remember?” Mabu frowns at Reo’s question, thinking.

“I was upset because... that’s right, because you two were arguing. I started feeling sick, and then all of a sudden I was falling into a pool? I was scared...” Mabu looks down at his hands, which have several small splinters in them. Tears pool in his eyes, but he’s not sure why. “Reo, is there something wrong with me?”

“Not at all, Mabu.” Reo tucks a loose strand of hair behind Mabu’s ear. “Sure, living with you is a bit of a learning curve, but I can handle it. So what if you pass out occasionally or break a table every once in a while? Having you by my side makes it all worth it because I— I...” He looks away from Mabu and clutches at his chest. “Never mind that. Let’s get those hands taken care of.”

“Um, excuse me,” Kazuki pipes up, “Are we gonna ignore what just happened?” Mabu looks back at him quizzically. “You know, the whole thing where you turned—“

“Turned to grab a glass of water and then fell. That’s what happened, Mabu— you really should try to be less clumsy,” Reo says calmly, patting his back. “Kazuki, you’ll need to keep an eye on him if you’ll be staying here.”

Mabu blinks and says, “Wait, you mean he can stay?”

Kazuki echoes, “I can stay? But Mabu-sama—“ Kazuki quickly shuts up when he looks at Reo, but by the time Mabu looks over at him, Reo has that soft smile he usually reserves for Mabu.

“Sure he can stay,” Reo says, smiling, “but weren’t you going to get some clams for your soup tonight?”

“Oh, right!” With all the commotion, Mabu had forgotten about the soup. He looks up at the clock and sees that it’s 5:40, twenty minutes before closing time. “I can still make it if I hurry!”

“Wh— Wait, your jacket! At least put your jacket on before you go!” In his rush to put the black raincoat on, Mabu knocks a pile of papers off Reo’s desk. “And here’s my wallet—“

“Thank you, goodbye!” Mabu dashes outside and runs for the stairs.

“Hey wait,” Reo calls out, “your jacket’s on inside out!” But Mabu’s already too far away to hear.

Chapter Text

Reo sighs and closes the apartment door, then leans his head against the wall. He’d rushed through his paperwork at the station in hopes of having a lovely afternoon with Mabu in the park. He wanted to surprise Mabu by taking him on a picnic. Even when he’d realized it was raining, Reo was still undeterred and decided he’d stay in and show Mabu a few of his favorite movies.

But everything changed when Reo saw that kid standing at his table. At first Reo had thought Uso broke into his house again, but he can tell that it’s really Kazuki in front of him. Which honestly isn’t much better, especially with what Mabu just did.

He sighs again and walks over to the window, where he can see Mabu rushing down the street. As he watches, Mabu runs out into an intersection, nearly missing a car. “Idiot,” Reo hisses. “You’ll get hit one day if you’re not careful.” Turning to Kazuki, he says, “You and I need to talk.”

“Whatever you’re doing to Mabu-sama, you’d better stop it right now!” Reo blinks, not expecting that outburst.

“Huh?”

“You may have convinced Mabu-sama that you care about him, but I know better! You’ve made him into a kappa zombie!”

“Wh— You think I did that?! And what the hell do you know about kappa zombies?!”

“Enta says his sister was almost kidnapped by one! He told me what they looked like, with the starry skin and pink marks, and he said that the kappa zombie almost ate his soul!”

Pinching the bridge of his nose, Reo says, “They can’t eat souls, kid. Now would you shut up and listen for a moment?”

“NO! I’m gonna call the police! The REAL police!” Reo freezes at these words. If anybody else finds out about Mabu’s condition...

Before Kazuki can reach the door, it swings open and Mabu walks in, sweating and panting. Triumphantly, he holds up a bag of clams. “I made it!”

“Mabu-sama, we need to get out of here! You’re in danger, you’re a ka—“

Mabu tilts his head at Kazuki, frowning, then snaps his fingers. “You’re right! I forgot to pay! Oh no, they’ll think I’m a shoplifter!” As quickly as he appeared, Mabu runs off again. Having regained his senses, Reo grabs Kazuki by the shoulder and slams the door shut.

“Are you out of your goddamn mind?! You can’t tell him that he’s a kappa zombie!”

“Why not?!”

“If you tell him that, he’ll get so upset that he’ll change back to a zombie again!”

“And how do you know that?”

“I just do!” Truthfully, Reo isn’t sure about that, but he doesn’t want to take that risk. Plus, if Mabu knows that he’s a kappa zombie, he might do something stupid like tell someone. “Listen, I know you don’t care about me. But please, for Mabu’s sake— don’t tell anyone, especially not him.”

“I don’t want to lie to Mabu-sama! I’m going to tell him as soon as he gets back, and that’s that!” Kazuki crosses his arms, pouts, and plants himself on the couch. Reo decides to switch tactics.  “You said something about finding your birth family, right?” Reo says. “You need me for that or else it could take you months. If you promise not to tell anyone about Mabu, I can get you to them in a couple of weeks, tops.” Kazuki glares at Reo so Reo glares right back at him. “Or, you know, I could turn you in to the cops as a runaway. Even if you try and tell them about Mabu, it’ll be your word against mine.” Of course, Reo doesn’t mention the fact that most of his coworkers are already suspicious of Mabu, or that his boss is just waiting for an excuse to take Mabu away. Reo swallows hard, hoping Kazuki doesn’t call his bluff.

After a tense moment, Kazuki looks away and mutters, “Fine, I won’t tell anyone. But I’m not doing it for you.” At this statement, Reo lets out a sigh of relief.

“Okay, I got everything taken care of,” Mabu says, bursting through the door. His disheveled appearance makes Reo chuckle. He ruffles Mabu’s hair and leans into his shoulder, breathing in his scent. “Hello, Reo.”

“Hey Mabu,” Reo replies, smiling a bit. “I’m glad I didn’t have to arrest you,” he says playfully.

“It— it was an accident, I swear! Please don’t put me in prison, the people there’ll hurt me!” Reo laughs and cups Mabu’s cheek.

“You’re so dumb sometimes,” Reo says fondly. To Reo’s surprise, Mabu’s cheeks turn pink and he looks away.

“Kazuki,” Mabu says, suddenly noticing the boy on the couch. “I think I interrupted you earlier. Were you trying to tell me something?” Reo tenses up and stares at Kazuki.

“No,” he says after a moment, “I wasn’t. I guess I just wanted to thank you for letting me stay here.”

Chapter Text

A couple days after Kazuki comes to stay with him, Mabu hears another knock on the door. “Hello, Yasaka-san.” Mabu notices the dark circles under her eyes and asks, “Are you alright?”

“Have you seen Kazuki anywhere? We’ve asked the police to help us look for him, but they said to ask people we knew because he might have gone to them.”

“The police? What’s going on? Is Kazuki in trouble?”

“He ran away, Mabu-san,” she says. Mabu’s eyes widen.

Before he can say anything, Kazuki calls out to him. “Mabu-sama, who’re you talking to?” He walks up next to Mabu, takes one look at Yasaka-san, and tries to run back into the bedroom. Mabu catches him by the back of the shirt.

“You didn’t tell Yasaka-san that you were coming to live with us?!”

“Why would I?! I don’t want to see her ever again!” He glares at her, says, “Sorry, Mabu-sama,” then bites Mabu’s wrist. Mabu yelps and lets go of Kazuki, and this time he successfully makes it to the bedroom, slamming the door behind him.

Looking back and forth between Yasaka-san, who’s now crying, and the bedroom door, Mabu desperately tries to figure out what’s going on. “Uh... Uhhhh... here, come inside,” he says, leading Yasaka-san over to the couch. “Uh, would you like some, um...” Mabu frantically digs around through the fridge, pulling out the first thing he finds. “...eggs? Oh wait, you can’t eat those raw... um... oh! Here’s some leftover soup I made,” Mabu says, offering her a bowl. She gratefully accepts it, and Mabu spends the next few minutes awkwardly trying to comfort her.

“I’m sorry you got caught up in all of this,” she finally says. “Kazuki didn’t tell you much, did he?” Mabu shakes his head.

“He came here and said he was going to be living with me from now on, and he said something about finding his real family? I’m sorry I didn’t tell you he was here, I assumed you knew,” he says. “If you don’t mind me asking, what does he mean about his ‘real’ family and why does he need to find them? Aren’t you already right here?”

“That’s not my real mom, Mabu-sama! Don’t let her trick you,” Kazuki’s voice says from the other room. Mabu tilts his head.

“I’m sorry, I don’t... I don’t understand...”

“My father-in-law died three days ago,” Yasaka-san says.

“Oh, goodness, I’m so sorry,” Mabu stammers, not sure why she’s choosing to tell him this. He’s also not quite sure what a father-in-law is, or how it differs from a regular father.

“The last thing he did was point to Kazuki and say, ‘Your mother is a whore.’” Mabu blinks, visibly taken aback.

“That’s... not a very nice thing to say about you,” he manages. She laughs softly and shakes her head.

“You still don’t get it, do you? I’m not Kazuki’s biological mother, Mabu-san. Before I married my husband, he was with another woman. They had a son.”

“Kazuki,” Mabu murmurs. Yasaka-san nods.

“Soon after Kazuki was born, the two of them separated. My husband took custody of Kazuki and we raised him together. We were hoping to tell Kazuki about his birth mother when he was a little older, but when my father-in-law said that, well... Once Kazuki realized that we’d lied to him about his mother, there was no reasoning with him. We brought him home and he stormed up into his room. I understood that he needed some space and didn’t knock at his door for a while, but after a few hours I started to get worried. When I went to check on him, he was gone.”

“That must’ve been terrifying. Reo gets worried when I’m not home with him even if he knows where I am, and we’re not even family.” Mabu sighs and runs a hand through his hair. “I would tell Kazuki to go home with you, but he seems really insistent on staying here... I’m not sure what to do,” he admits.

“I’m not going back with you,” shouts the voice from the bedroom. “I’ll call the police!”

“Kazuki, don’t worry. I won’t make you do anything you don’t want to,” Mabu says soothingly. “How about you come out and we figure this out together? If you want to find your birth mother, I think Yasaka-san will be able to help, right?” Mabu turns to her for an answer.

“I don’t want her help!” Mabu looks pleadingly at Yasaka-san, but she just sighs defeatedly.

“Okay, Kazuki. I’ll leave,” she says. Mabu gapes at her. “I understand that you must be angry, and you need some time away from us. Mabu-san, you said Kazuki could stay with you, right?” Mabu quickly nods and she continues, “Okay. Kazuki’s on spring break for the next couple of weeks, so you won’t have to worry about school. The other person you live with is a police officer, right?”

“Yes, why?”

“Hopefully he can help you find Kazuki’s birth mother. I don’t know anything about her— not her name, what she looks like, or where she lives now. I— I’m sorry I can’t be of more help to you.”

“Don’t worry, it’s okay! Please don’t cry,” Mabu says as she starts to wipe her eyes. “You don’t have to let him stay here if it makes you sad.”

“But I do.” She turns back to the door and says, “I’m going to go now, Kazuki. I love you.” Mabu wrinkles his nose at that word and turns away. Kazuki doesn’t reply.

Chapter Text

Mabu is still thinking about what Yasaka-san said the next time love comes up in a conversation. He’s making macaroni for Reo and Kazuki as well as Toi and Enta, who he invited over for dinner after a soccer win. The boys are still buzzing with excitement  from the match, which seems to irritate Reo.

“Watch it,” Reo growls as Enta accidentally elbows him. “Now I see why you guys and Mabu get along so well. You’re all so happy all the damn time.”

“Reo, be nice,” Mabu scolds. “You’re just upset because you’re hungry.”

“I don’t know how you stand him, Mabu-sama,” Kazuki says, glaring at Reo. Mabu sighs and shakes his head. It’s been a little over a week since Kazuki came to stay with them, but he and Reo still aren’t getting along well.

“Isn’t it obvious?” Mabu raises his eyebrows at Enta’s question and places a big bowl of macaroni on the table.

“Whaddaya mean by that? Hey!” Kazuki glares at Reo as he snatches the bowl out of Kazuki’s hand.

“Reo!” Mabu crosses his arms and pouts at Reo, who resentfully hands Kazuki the bowl.

“See? That’s exactly what I mean,” Enta says confidently.

“Well spit it out, Jinnai,” Toi says, helping himself to the pasta.

“The reason Mabu-sama stays with Niiboshi-san is because they’re a couple.” At this statement, Reo starts to choke on his macaroni.

“Reo!!” Before Mabu is fully aware of what he’s doing, he jumps across the (new) kitchen table and punches Reo in the gut, making him spit something out. Reo’s chair tilts backwards and Mabu falls on top of him.

“What the hell was that for?!” Mabu lets out a sigh of relief and smiles down at Reo.

“You’re okay,” he says, tucking some of Reo’s hair behind his ear. “I’m sorry if I hurt you, I just wanted to make sure you didn’t choke.” Reo’s cheeks turn pink as he stares up at Mabu.

“Oh— I, um—“

“See? They are a couple,” Enta says triumphantly. Reo leaps up suddenly, shoving Mabu off of him, and starts angrily stuttering gibberish at the boys. Meanwhile, Mabu tilts his head and stares at the ground, thinking.

“A couple of what?” he asks, making everyone stare at him blankly. Mabu quickly looks back down at the ground, feeling self-conscious all of a sudden.

“You and Niiboshi-san are a couple, right? You know... two people in love?” All of a sudden Reo’s face looks deathly pale, and Mabu knows why.

“What?! There’s no way I’d ever be a ‘couple’ with Reo!” Turning to Reo, Mabu says, “Don’t worry, I would never love you.”

“Wh— What?” Instead of reassuring Reo, this statement seems to deeply upset him. Tears pool in his eyes as he scratches at his chest and looks away from Mabu.

“Huh? Reo, don’t you know I’d never disrespect you like that?” Addressing the boys now, he says, “I know you don’t like Reo, but accusing him of loving someone is just mean.”

“Mabu-sama, what are you talking about?”

“Mabu,” Reo says slowly, turning Mabu’s face to look at him. “What exactly do you know about love?”

“Love is just a way that evil people would manipulate others. If you make someone fall in love with you then you have complete control of them and can use them however you want. Loving someone... is the worst way to hurt them. And you three know I would never hurt anyone, least of all Reo.” A couple of tears spill from Reo’s eyes and Mabu isn’t sure why. “It’s okay, Reo. I’d never use you like that.”

“Is that really what they told you love was? Oh, Mabu...”

“Love isn’t anything like that, Mabu-sama! My nii-san says kisses are the devil, but I know he loves me. And my parents love me, too. Don’t you love your family, Mabu-sama?”

“I don’t have a family,” Mabu says simply. “I was grown in a lab.”

“You know, I always thought love was something for adults,” Kazuki says.

“It doesn’t have to be,” Enta pipes up. “Love is when you put someone else’s needs before your own.” Mabu frowns, not convinced.

“You’re wrong. All of you,” Reo says quietly. He slowly leans back in his chair and a tender smile crosses his face. “Love is gentle and warm. It’s waking up next to your partner and knowing that you’re the luckiest man in the world to have him. When you have a hard day, your partner knows exactly what to do without you having to say anything. He knows you better than you know yourself.

“But love is also a burning, intense feeling. Your partner is a part of you, and it’s almost scary how much you love him. And if you lose him...” Reo looks up at Mabu with that deep sadness in his eyes, then turns towards the kids. “You can’t even begin to imagine the pain.” Mabu puts his arm around Reo’s shoulder. Kazuki crosses his arms.

“What would you know about love, Niiboshi-san?” Reo flinches at Kazuki’s question and clenches his fist.

“I’ve loved more deeply than you could ever dream of!” Reo stands up quickly, causing his chair to fall backwards again.

“Reo! Reo, it’s okay,” Mabu says, hugging him tightly. “Kazuki... I don’t think you should have said that. A long time ago, Reo had a partner that he cared for very much, but his partner died suddenly.” Reo slumps down in his chair and covers his face with his hands.

“Oh,” Kazuki says meekly. “Sorry...”

“He... he’s everything to me. It should’ve been me,” Reo mumbles. “I’d do anything to keep him safe.”

Mabu tilts his head and asks, “Still? Even after what he did to you?”

“What do you mean by that?”

“He left you, Reo! And by doing that, he hurt you. Badly.” Mabu puts his hands on his hips and says, “Hmph. After what he did to you, maybe he deserved what happened to him— agh!” Out of nowhere, Reo grabs Mabu by the collar of his shirt and pulls him down until their faces are almost touching.

“Shut the fuck up,” Reo growls. He starts to violently shake Mabu as he says, “You have no idea what you’re talking about, you piece of shit. He didn’t deserve any of what happened to him! My Ma—“

A plate of macaroni hits the side of Reo’s face and he drops Mabu. “Leave Mabu-sama alone, or I’ll throw more macaroni,” Kazuki says defiantly. Reo looks back and forth from his hand to Mabu, then covers his mouth with his hand and runs out of the room. Mabu sighs as he hears the door slam shut, then looks back at the boys.

“I’m sorry,” he says. “Reo can have a bit of a temper when it comes to his partner. You guys finish eating— I’m going to go talk to him.”

Chapter Text

“Reo, may I come in?” Mabu stands outside of Reo’s door, waiting for a response. Hearing an indistinct grunt, Mabu says, “I’ll take that as a yes. I’m coming in now.”

Mabu sits down on the bed, where Reo has bundled himself up under all of his blankets. For a few minutes, the low hum of the heater is the only sound in the room.

“I’m sorry,” Reo finally says.

“Me too. I didn’t mean to insult your partner. I care about you a lot, Reo, and I was mad at him for hurting you.” While this is true, Mabu was also a little envious of how happy Reo seemed when he was talking about his partner. Shame burns inside of him. “I’m sorry, Reo.”

“You didn’t do anything wrong, Mabu. I should have known that Uso would’ve lied to you about what love is. And then I was horrible to you again... dammit, I’m just a horrible person.” Reo buries his face into his pillow and starts to cry.

“Reo, I think you have PTSD.”

“...What?” Reo lifts his head and stares at Mabu.

“Post-traumatic stress disorder. It happens when—“

“I know what it is, but why do you think I have it?”

“You said you watched your partner— no, you called him your soulmate— die right in front of you. Witnessing even a stranger’s death can cause PTSD, so if you saw the person you cared about die... well, I’d be shocked if you didn’t have it.”

“I don’t know what you’re on about, Mabu. I’m fine.”

“That’s just it,” Mabu says, nudging the lump of blankets. “Any time I mention him or ask about him, you clam up. I don’t even know his name, Reo.”

“There’s a reason for that,” Reo mutters.

“Yeah— talking about him is a trigger for you, right? It digs up all these emotions in you that you’ve locked away.”

“So what?”

“One of the symptoms is avoiding talking or thinking about the event. There are other ones that remind me of you, too— negative worldview, self-imposed isolation, blaming yourself for what happened, nightmares—“

“I don’t have nightmares,” Reo protests.

“You always toss and turn when you sleep, and when you wake up, you’re scared and disoriented. You always try to act composed in front of me, but I’ve seen it when you’ve thought I was asleep. Oh, and you talk in your sleep. You say my name a lot, but you always sound devastated.” Reo’s face turns pale as he stares fearfully up at Mabu. “It’s okay, Reo. You have dreams about losing me in the same way, don’t you?”

“I— Wait, what? Oh, I mean— yeah! That’s what it is,” Reo stammers. Frowning, he says, “You know a lot about this.”

“I had a few books on cognitive disorders in my room, and I read them all at least a hundred times. Oh, also, you seem to have some symptoms of ADHD, too.”

“Well okay, Doctor Mabu,” Reo says sarcastically, “how am I supposed to fix this? And you’d better not tell me to get a therapist, ‘cause that’s not happening.”

“I’m no doctor, but usually treatment for PTSD is either therapy or medication. Although, support from friends and family is supposed to help, too. You’ve already told me you don’t have friends, but do you have any family you can talk to?”

“No, but I do have a friend now.” At this, Mabu perks up.

“That’s great news! Who is it?” Laughing, Reo pokes Mabu’s chest.

“It’s you, idiot.”

“M— me?!” Mabu gasps as he feels that warm sensation in his chest again, stronger than before. The heat spreads from his chest up into his face and Reo laughs again.

“You’re blushing, Mabu.”

“A— am I?” Mabu quickly looks away, which makes Reo laugh even harder.

All of a sudden, there’s a knock on the bedroom door. Kazuki peeks in and says, “Hey, I wanted to apologize for earlier. I was pretty mean.”

“It’s okay,” Mabu says instantly.

Reo huffs and rolls his eyes. “Is that all you’re here for?”

Kazuki looks down at his feet, then says, “We’re out of macaroni...”

Chapter Text

Reo heads in to the police box with one goal: to find out about Kazuki’s mother. He’s been putting it off for the past couple of weeks because it wasn’t all that important to him, but now living with Kazuki has become unbearable. The kid hogs Mabu’s attention, teases Reo, eats a lot, never cleans up his messes... Reo’s list of complaints goes on and on. So he decided to check in an hour before his patrol, in hopes of at least getting a lead on her.

He starts by searching for Kazuki’s father’s records and immediately notices an anomaly. “A restraining order?” Reo frowns and clicks on it. It turns out Kazuki’s father had a restraining order sanctioned against a woman a few years ago. In another tab, Reo searches for Kazuki’s birth certificate and grins. The mother’s name matches the woman in the restraining order.

After digging around, Reo thinks he knows what happened. Kazuki’s father had a brief relationship with his mother which reached its bitter end soon after Kazuki was born. After an ugly breakup, Kazuki’s father took custody of the child and got the restraining order. A little more digging gives Reo her current address in the Suginami district, where she lives with her husband and a young daughter. Reo writes down the address and her name on a slip of paper, then folds it and puts it in its pocket before heading out on patrol.

~ ~ ~

As Reo is walking home from work, he spots a familiar figure.

“Mabu?” Sure enough, Mabu is standing at a crosswalk holding a bundle of white chrysanthemums. Reo watches him as he starts to cross the street, stops, and turns around, not catching sight of Reo, who decides to see where he’s going.

Reo follows him all the way to the sobs shop he likes and, with a jolt, realizes that Mabu is going in to the cemetery where his tombstone is. Quickly, Reo climbs over the fence and hides behind a big tree.

“Um, hello,” Mabu says, scratching the back of his head. He kneels down and puts the flowers on his own grave. “I brought you these. Uh, I didn’t know you, but you were important to someone I care about. I’m sorry, but I don’t know your name...” Mabu sighs. “Look, I’m no good at this. I don’t even know if I brought the right flowers. But I... I needed to talk to you in whatever way I could.

“A few days ago, I said something I shouldn’t have. I said that maybe... maybe you deserved this. Maybe you deserved to die. But after thinking about it, I realized I was terribly mistaken. Part of it was that I didn’t understand what love is— honestly, I still don’t— but it seems to be like caring about someone except a lot more intensely than normal. That’s how Reo felt about you.” Mabu lowers his head.

“I’m sorry I said that about you. You made Reo very happy, so you must have been a good person.” He pauses for a moment then says, “I wish I could make Reo happy the way you did, but I’ll never be able to no matter how hard I try.”

Stepping out from behind the tree, Reo says, “Mabu? Is that you?” Poor Mabu jumps about a meter in the air at the sound of Reo’s voice. He spins around and meets Reo’s eyes. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you. What’re you doing here?”

“N— nothing,” Mabu says quickly. “How long have you been here?”

“I just saw you from across the street and thought I’d say hi,” he lies. “What’s with the flowers?”

“I wanted to pay my respects to your partner,” he admits. “He was such an important part of your life, and without him, I would’ve never met you. So I owe him a lot.”

“Not as much as you might think,” Reo mutters to himself. “That’s sweet of you, Mabu.”

“I feel bad, though. He was so special to you, but I don’t even know his name.” Reo freezes.

“Hah. Yeah, he had a name. It was a great name.” Mabu tilts his head and stares at Reo.

“Well, what was it?”

“His name was...” As Mabu continues to stare at him, Reo feels a drop of sweat slide down the back of his neck. “...was... Mub.”

“Mub, huh?”

“Mub. Mub... Sudoku.” Reo forces a smile as Mabu keeps staring at him. After what seems like an eternity, Mabu smiles back at him.

“That’s a lovely name,” he says.

Phew. I forgot he was an idiot Reo thinks to himself, relieved. “Yeah, it really is.” He sits down in front of the grave, and Mabu follows suit. “You know, I never got his name engraved, even though I wanted to.” Now Reo is glad he didn’t.

“Why not?”

“You know how expensive it is to die in Tokyo? It took me four years to save up enough for this rock.” Reo gives the tombstone a light knock. “But even after I started making more money, it didn’t feel right to get it engraved. When they killed him, Uso’s guys took his body away. I was hoping that in one of my raids, I’d find some bones or something of his. I didn’t want to put his name here if at least part of him wasn’t actually here.” Also, Mabu’s death would have felt so much more real if his name was on the tombstone that Reo isn’t sure he would have been able to come anymore.

“It was Uso who killed him?”

“You didn’t know that? I thought I told you,” Reo says, surprised.

“No, but that makes a lot of sense. Is he the reason you’re so obsessed with finding Uso?”

“I’m not—“ Mabu gives Reo that knowing look and Reo scoffs. Even with no memory, Mabu still knows him so well. “Okay, maybe I’m a little obsessed. But no one takes my Ma— er, Mub— from me without paying the price.” Mabu looks down at the flowers and frowns. “What?”

“If I were him— no, never mind,” he says, looking away. Reo leans closer to him.

“Go on,” Reo encourages.

“No, it’s silly to compare myself to Mub. He seems pretty different from me.” It takes all of Reo’s willpower not to burst out laughing at this statement.

“You’re more alike than you might think. What were you gonna say?” Mabu still won’t answer, so Reo says, “Your opinion matters to me, Mabu. I’m not gonna make fun of you or anything.”

“Well... if I were him, I wouldn’t want you to go after Uso.”

“Oh? And why not?”

“I know it’s silly, but I wouldn’t want you to waste your life chasing down the guy who killed me. I would want you to be happy, Reo.” Reo feels tears beginning to prick at his eyes. “Even if Uso had killed me, I’d want you to keep living your life in peace.”

“Ahaha... That’s such a Mabu thing to say...”

“Ack! I’m sorry, Reo, I didn’t mean to make you—“ Reo squeezes Mabu as hard as he possibly can before burying his face in Mabu’s chest. “—cry?” Completely incapable of speech, Reo clings desperately to Mabu and lets out a series of pathetic whimpers. “Reo... I’m sorry, Reo. I didn’t mean to upset you. I’m sorry...”

Reo wants to tell Mabu that he did nothing wrong. That hearing what Mabu said filled him with so much emotion, Reo just couldn’t cope with it all. But what he wants most of all is for Mabu to remember. “M— Mabu, I— I lo—“ Reo has to bite down on Mabu’s shirt to keep those words from escaping his lips.

“Reo, are you trying to tell me something? What is it?” Mabu’s questions only make Reo cry harder, and Reo can feel him tense up. “Oh! Oh, hang on— give me a second,” Mabu says, pulling away from him. He quickly takes off his jacket and covers Reo with it. “I know you get embarrassed sometimes, so...”

Reo snuggles into Mabu’s chest and listens to Mabu’s mechanical heartbeat. He’s alive. That’s all that matters. Eventually, Reo mumbles, “Thank you.”

“Anything for you. What do you need?”

“You,” he chokes out. “I need you. Please...”

“I’m here, Reo. I’m not going to leave you.” Mabu shifts a bit in Reo’s arms. “Should we go home? It’s starting to get dark.”

Home? No, Reo can’t go home— he already is home. When he’s in Mabu’s warm embrace, he knows he’s safe, stable, and most of all, loved. Even though Mabu doesn’t know it yet, Reo can tell that Mabu is falling for him all over again. And deep down, he knows there’s nothing he can do to stop it.

“Not yet,” he murmurs, stroking Mabu’s hair. “Mabu...” Reo sighs and closes his eyes. He wants so badly to tell Mabu how he feels and hear those sweet words in return. If only the bomb was in Reo’s heart instead, he’d tell Mabu in an instant— but no, then he’d be leaving Mabu all on his own. All he can do is pull Mabu closer to him and pray that one day, they’ll be free again.

Chapter Text

Mabu squeezes Kazuki’s hand tightly and asks, “Are you ready?” Kazuki nods and Mabu knocks on the door.

A woman opens the door and immediately Mabu is struck by her resemblance to Kazuki. “Hello,” she says to Mabu, not noticing Kazuki at first. “Is there something I can do for you?”

“Yes, are you—“

“MOM!” Kazuki leaps at her and hugs her legs.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Mabu says sheepishly. “This is Kazuki and uh, someone told us you might be his birth mother?”

“Kazuki...?” She kneels down and cups his face in her hands. “Is that really you? I haven’t seen you in years... Here, come inside.” Mabu follows them into the house and awkwardly sits down on a couch, moving aside a couple of baby toys. “My new husband is out with the baby right now,” she explains.

“So... you’re really my mom?” The woman smiles and nods, then looks over at Mabu.

“Who exactly are you?”

“My name is Mabu. I’ve been taking care of Kazuki for the past couple of weeks, ever since— er, Kazuki, would you like to explain what happened?” As the two of them continue to talk, they become more comfortable with each other, so much so that Mabu starts to feel left out.

“If you’ll excuse me, I think I need to step outside for a minute,” Mabu says. Once he’s outside, Mabu sighs and starts to wander around the unfamiliar area. Eventually he finds a nice cafe to eat at, where he sits down at a table and starts to look over the menu.

“Excuse me sir, could you take our picture?” A woman is standing next to Mabu’s table with a phone in her hand. She gestures over to another table where two other women and a man are sitting with four kids. Mabu nods and takes the phone. “My wife’s sister  and her family are visiting all the way from America,” she explains as she leads Mabu over to the table, then sits down and smiles. “Say cheese!”

Mabu snaps a few photos and hands the phone back to her, then sits back down at his own table, still looking at the family. His eyes are still fixed on them when his waiter approaches the table. “Are you waiting on someone or are you ready to order?”

“No, it’s just me,” Mabu replies. “Could I have a hot chocolate and pancakes, please?” As the waiter walks away, Mabu takes a look around and realizes he’s the only person dining alone. Feeling self-conscious, Mabu shrinks in to himself.

“I wish Reo was here,” he murmurs to himself. The only reason Mabu knows how to act in a restaurant— or do anything, really— is because of Reo. Mabu always feels so much more confident when Reo is around, and he starts to wonder how he ever lived without Reo.

Mabu sighs and traces the two black circles on his wrist. He still doesn’t know why he has them or why Reo has the same markings on his right arm, but they’ve become special to Mabu. Whenever he looks at them, Mabu feels connected to Reo in a way he can’t explain. But right now, they make Mabu realize how alone he is. Mabu looks out the window and is surprised at who he sees.

The three Yasakas, Kazuki, and his mother are standing at the street corner just outside the cafe. After Mabu pays for his meal, he steps outside into the midst of an argument.

“What do you mean you won’t let me stay with you?!” Kazuki is shouting at his mother when Mabu joins the group.

“Kazuki, your father and I had our disagreements and while I’m upset that he kept me from seeing you, I understand why he did.”

“I was wrong to do that,” Kazuki’s father chimes in. “I realize that now. I’m sorry. We can work something out where you can visit—“

“‘Visit’?! She’s my mom! I should be living with her!”

“No, Kazuki,” she says, smiling at him. “You should be living with your family. Your parents love you very much, and so does your little brother.” Kazuki pouts and, unable to get anything from the others, turns to Mabu.

“I think she has a point, Kazuki. You should stay with your family, even if they’re not all related to you by blood.”

Kazuki clenches his fists and screams, “What would you know about family?! You don’t even have a family!” Those words cut in to Mabu like knives and he steps back, clutching his chest. “I hate all of you!”

Kazuki darts across the street, quickly making it to the other side. “Kazu-chan, wait!” A truck races towards Haruka as he runs into the middle of the street, his small legs carrying him as fast as they can. But they’re not going to be fast enough, Mabu realizes.

Before he can think twice, Mabu sprints out into the street, grabs Haruka by the shirt, and hurls him backwards towards the Yasakas. For an instant, Mabu sees the grille of the truck, then feels the most intense pain he’s ever experienced in his life, accompanied by several cracking noises. His eyes meet the truck driver’s for less than a second before he gets thrown through the air and skids across the street, finally slamming against a lamppost.

Mabu tries to scream but starts coughing up blood instead. Through a red haze, Mabu sees a couple of people running towards him and attempts to sit up, but quickly falls backward. “H— help,” he chokes out, reaching out a hand.

“Don’t worry,” someone says. It sounds like they’re speaking to him through a wall. “The ambulance is on its way.”

“Reo,” Mabu murmurs, starting to cry.

“What’d you say?”

“Reo,” Mabu says again. “Want... Reo...” Somebody picks Mabu up and he screams Reo’s name again and again as the pain shoots through his entire body. A breathing mask is placed over Mabu’s face and he feels his consciousness slipping away. Before he blacks out, Mabu’s last thought is that he wants to see Reo again, just one more time.

Chapter Text

Normally, Reo’s line of work keeps him in Asakusa, but today he finds himself in the Suginami district. They’d gotten a call about a stash of drugs in a nearby building and gone to investigate, but almost as soon as they got there, a truck flew out of the nearest parking lot and shot towards the west. Fortunately Reo had managed to shoot a tracking bullet into the side of the truck and they were able to follow it all the way to Suginami, where it finally stopped after it hit some guy.

“I feel kinda bad for the guy, but it’s good for us that he got run over.” Tsubomi glares at him and Reo says, “Don’t look at me like that, we were all thinking it. If that guy’s blood hadn’t gotten all over the windshield, our little druglord here wouldn’t have crashed into the railing.” He opens the door to the truck and says, “Isn’t that right?”

Immediately, something sprays Reo in the face and he gets knocked to the ground. Reo’s eyes start to burn as he yells, “Son of a bitch! He’s got pepper spray!” As Reo stumbles around blindly, he hears someone call his name. “Huh? Who said that?”

Someone grabs his shoulder and Reo jumps. “Niiboshi, relax. I’m going to clean you up now.”

As Tsubomi wipes Reo’s face he asks, “What happened? Did you get him?”

“No, he jumped into the river after he sprayed you. Now there’s a ton of lollipops floating in the water. Can you see anything yet?”

“No, I—“ Reo is interrupted by a cry of pain. “What’s that? What’s happening?”

“They’re moving the guy who got run over to the ambulance. He’s in really bad shape, I think I see some bone sticking out of his arm—“

“REO!” He hears the voice but Reo doesn’t know where it’s coming from.

“Mabu?! What are you doing here?!” Mabu cries out for him again and Reo says, “Don’t worry, I’m okay! I can’t see, where are you?” When Mabu screams again, a sickening possibility occurs to Reo. “Tsubomi,” he says quietly, “I’m talking to the guy on the stretcher, aren’t I?”

“Yeah, you are,” she says. “Is that the boy you rescued from Uso? I didn’t recognize him.”

Reo swallows a growing lump in his throat and asks, “It’s really that bad?” Mabu has stopped talking, which makes the tightness in Reo’s chest grow. “Dammit, you’ve gotta tell me what’s happening!”

“They’ve just put him under and they’re loading him on the ambulance now.”

“What? They’re taking him away?” Reo knows he can’t let that happen, so he tries to stand up on his own and fumbles in the direction he last heard Mabu’s voice coming from. He hears an engine start and the ambulance sirens begin to go off, which sends Reo into a panic. “No, stop it! Stop the ambulance!”

“Niiboshi-san? What are you doing here—“ The voice sounds vaguely familiar, but Reo doesn’t care enough to identify it.

“MABU!” A bit of Reo’s sight has returned, so he can see the vague shape of the ambulance as it turns behind a building and disappears. He manages to makes his way over to the building, but when he looks down the road, there’s no sign of the ambulance. Reo turns on his heel and is about to ask where the nearest hospital is, but one look at the scene knocks all the breath out of Reo.

Somehow Reo had failed to notice just how much blood there is— blood on the truck, blood on the street lamp, blood all over the street. Even though Reo has investigated several traffic accidents and murders, he’s still surprised by how much blood can come out of a human body. Reo usually couldn’t care less about whose blood it is— after all, nobody mattered to Reo until two months ago. But no, that’s not just anyone’s blood, that’s his Mabu’s blood, it’s Mabu that’s splattered all over the place—

Reo curls up into the fetal position and presses his forehead into the sidewalk, pulling his hair with one hand and shredding the skin of his chest with the other. As Reo screams wordlessly, he remembers the last time he felt this helpless...

Chapter Text

2008

Reo woke up not knowing where he was. He tried to sit up, but he realized he couldn’t move.

“He’s awake,” a voice said, catching Reo’s attention. A woman’s face appeared above him.

“Hello,” she said. “Can you move at all? Try wiggling your toes.” Reo couldn’t even see his toes, but he tried his best to follow her order. “Hm... I suppose it’s good enough that you can even open your eyes. You know what you were hit with?” As she started to go into a long-winded explaination about something called curare, Reo tried to recall what had happened to him. “You’re lucky that someone found you in time, or else you would have suffocated all alone.” All alone? No, that wasn’t right, he was with...

Mabu. Everything suddenly came rushing back to Reo— getting taken by Uso’s men, staring down the barrel of the gun, the red splotch on Mabu’s shirt, watching the life drain from Mabu’s eyes—

“Why’s his heart rate spiking?!”

“Shit, get an IV in him!” The nurse looked down at him and said, “Don’t worry, you won’t be paralyzed forever.”

I don’t care about myself, Reo wanted to scream, all I care about is Mabu! He’s all alone out there and I need to find him! Reo thought of how terrified Mabu must be, alone in a cold, dark cell— or no, maybe they’re keeping him in a cage— or maybe he’s dead and they’d got his corpse on display and were in the process of mutilating it— No, Mabu can’t be dead. He promised me he’d never leave me behind. As Reo drifted off to sleep, over and over again he thought, He promised...

The next time Reo woke up, it was nighttime. His throat was raw, making him cough as he sat up— he could sit up. It took him falling out of the hospital bed with a loud thump to realize he still couldn’t move his legs. Dragging himself through the halls, it wasn’t long before Reo found a few nurses. “Help,” he croaked, attracting their attention.

“You’re the Curare guy,” one of them said, rushing to help him up. “How are you up?”

“Mabu,” he choked out quietly, “where’s Mabu? He— he was with me when we were attacked...” A couple of the nurses exchanged glances and Reo felt his heart drop to the pit of his stomach.

“There was no one else brought to the hospital with you—“

“But they— they shot him in the heart! He has to be here,” Reo insisted.

“You were alone at the crime scene but there was blood all over. Everyone thought you were dead at first, you’re lucky that—“

“I don’t care what I am! Tell me what happened to Mabu,” he begged, feeling tears form in his eyes.

After a moment, a nurse said, “They found the bullet covered in heart tissue a few meters away from the pool of blood. It went straight through him, and the odds of surviving a shot like that point blank... This ‘Mabu’, he... he’s dead.”

Dead.

Reo already knew this— so why was he so surprised? Still, upon hearing that word, Reo felt like he was the one shot in the chest. “Dead...?”

Never again would Reo come home and be greeted by the scent of Mabu baking something delicious. He’d never feel the warmth of Mabu’s embrace, or have another night out with him, or hear that wonderful laugh of his ever again. Every rainy day from now on would be spent alone, waiting for a phantom of happier days to return...

All of a sudden, Reo lost control of his entire body. He couldn’t move his arms, legs, he couldn’t even breathe. As the nurses rushed to get him back to his bed, he couldn’t even feel the tears falling from his eyes anymore.

Reo spent the next two months in the hospital, paralyzed from the neck down. Apparently Uso’s men had stuck him with some sort of extended release Curare device that was triggered when Reo was agitated. At first the doctors wanted to cut it out of him, but it had latched on to one of the nerves in Reo’s neck, so he was left to wait until the poison ran out. During his stay, Reo flitted between sleep and waking, unable to decide which was worse— the crushing agony of being awake and all alone or the haunting visions of Mabu’s death which grew more gruesome each night.

After a particularly dreadful dream, Reo woke up to see a blurry figure standing over him. Closing his eyes, Reo asked, “They sending nurses in the middle of the night now? I’m not in critical condition anymore, you know.”

“I know, Reo.” The sound of that voice made Reo’s blood run cold. When he looked up, his eyes met a pair of brilliant green ones. “Hello, love,” Mabu said, smiling down at him.

For a moment, Reo was rendered speechless. “M— Mabu,” he finally stammered. “You’re here... but you’re... you’re...”

“Dead?” Reo gulped and nodded. “Yes, I am.”

“But how are you...”

“This isn’t real, Reo. You’re hallucinating.” Reo stared blankly at Mabu as he stood up and wiped his hands on his white yukata. “Walk with me.”

“I— I can’t, I had something put in my neck—“

“We both know that poison wore off weeks ago. You can’t be crippled by your grief forever, Reo.” Slowly, Reo sat up and swung his legs off the side of the bed. His joints creaked as he slid out of bed and clumsily started to follow Mabu, who ended up sitting in an empty room, staring out a window. When Reo sat next to him, he noticed his own reflection in the window as well as Mabu’s lack thereof.

“So you really aren’t here,” Reo murmured. He reached out for Mabu’s hand, but felt nothing. Reo opened the window and stared down at the ground eight stories below him. The nauseous feeling he usually got from being high up was strangely absent. “I could end it right now, you know.”

“You could,” Mabu said nonchalantly.

“It’d be so easy,” he whispered. “I could just get up on the windowsill, lean forward a bit...” Reo reached out the window and felt a couple drops of rain on his hand. “Then I’d be with you again, Mabu. Mabu, I love you so, so much, I can’t do this without you.”

Mabu turned to face Reo and said, “So you’re just going to let the people who killed me run free?”

“Huh?”

“You have to kill every last one of them, Reo.”

“Mabu, I don’t... why are you saying this? This isn’t like you,” Reo said, concerned. “You’d be telling me to control my temper, to show mercy—“

“‘Mercy’?! It’s a little late for that, don’t you think?” Mabu pulled the side of his yukata to reveal a hideous red bullet wound in his chest. Reo shuddered and averted his eyes. “I was only twenty years old, Reo. My life— no, our life together— was just beginning.”

“I don’t want a life without you,” he said, trying again to take Mabu’s hand. What he wouldn’t give to hold him again...

“I didn’t either. That’s why I protected you.” Mabu smiled softly at Reo and said, “Bring them to justice, Reo. Then we can see each other again.”

“What are you—“ Reo blinked, and Mabu was gone. Reo froze, staring at the spot where Mabu had been. “Mabu? Mabu!” He started to look around but realized it was pointless. Mabu was gone. For good. “Mabu...”

As Reo started to claw at his chest, the crushing grief that had paralyzed him for the past two months started to transform into something else. A fire started to burn in his chest— a familiar fire that first started when Reo’s family was murdered. After years of living with him, Mabu’s love had quenched that burning desire within Reo— but now that his Mabu was gone, taken from him in the exact same way his family was, there was nothing on Earth that could stop the blaze. Slowly, Reo pulled the gold wedding ring off his finger and placed it in his pocket.

“I’ll kill them, Mabu,” he vowed quietly. “From now on, that is my sole purpose. I’m going to kill all of them, no matter what it takes.”

 

2009

“What do you mean, I’m not right for this job?!” Reo stood up and slammed his fist against the wall, glaring at his interviewer.

“You’ve spent the last seven months out of work, and even if you had been working, you wouldn’t have nearly enough experience for this kind of job.”

“So train me then!” The interviewer sighed and put his hand on Reo’s shoulder.

“Kid, listen to me. Even if you make it through the training, you have to be prepared to kill. If you hesitate for even a second, these people will murder you without a second thought.”

“I won’t give them the chance,” Reo said firmly.

“You’re not just putting yourself in danger— they’ll come after the ones you love, too. Why not just be a normal officer and live out your life?” At this, Reo let out a low chuckle.

“My life? I have no life. The only reason I’m still breathing is because I need to kill Uso, and I won’t let anything get in my way, least of all you!” Reo closed his eyes and took a few deep breaths. “You’re worried that I’m going to hesitate, or that they’re going to use someone I love to hurt me. Is that right?” The interviewer nodded.

Reo leaned forward until he was inches away from the other man’s face. “When I was six, the yakuza burnt my house to the ground,” he whispered. “I was the only one of my family to survive. I met the love of my life when I was eight and lived with him for the next thirteen years. He proposed to me on August fourteenth last year. The next day, Uso’s men shot him in the heart and took his body away with them. Today would have been his twenty-first birthday.

“I would kill any one of those people in the blink of an eye. And as for their little threats? Those only work on people who have something to lose. But me? I’ve already lost everything.” Reo turned on his heel and started to put his coat on. His hand was already on the doorknob when the interviewer’s voice stopped him.

“Your training starts tomorrow.”

 

2010

Reo stared through a thick sheet of one-sided glass and frowned, brow furrowed. “We’re gonna need another place to keep him.” The creature on the other side of the glass roared and punched one of the walls, making a fist-shaped dent. “What the hell is he?”

“He’s a kappa zombie,” Reo’s boss said, crossing his arms.

“Is that supposed to clarify things?”

“No. But that’s what Uso called him.” At this, Reo’s ears perked up.

“Uso did this? How?”

“We don’t know. The DNA tests show that he used to be human, but it seems that he was exposed to some sort of intense radiation.” Reo shuddered a bit and looked back at the monster in the cell. If Uso could do this, what else was he capable of...?

 

2015

“Niiboshi, wait!” Reo ignored his coworker’s cries as he ran through the hallway of the new kappa zombie storage facility, seeking its newest inhabitant.

“You said that this man worked for Uso,” Reo said, not slowing down. “Now that we know how to turn them human again, I can talk to him.”

“That’s only a temporary solution, he’ll only stay human for half an hour or so! And we’ve tried talking to him! He doesn’t remember anything!”

“Yeah, well maybe he will when I break every bone in his hand, one by one. If he still doesn’t remember, I’ll move on to his other hand. I’m sure I’ll be able to jog his memory.” He stopped and turned to face the other officer. “Do you have a better idea?” Reo took her silence as an answer and said, “Thought so. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have work to do.”

Smoothing his hair back, Reo stepped inside the cell. The man inside looks up at him and says, “Hello. Would you mind telling me where I am?”

Reo grinned at him, knowing that this was exactly who he thought it was. “Hi,” he said, squatting down to be at his eye level. “Do you know who I am?”

“No, sorry. Can you take these chains off, please? I’m not sure why they put these on me.”

“Are you sure you don’t know me?”

“I haven’t the faintest clue,” he said, smiling innocently at Reo. “But I don’t know who I am, either. I’m sorry, have we met?”

“Once,” Reo said simply, then tapped the man’s nose. “You don’t remember anything, do you?” Reo knew the answer to this question, and knew the man would never regain his memory, no matter how much Reo tortured him. He knew it was a fool’s errand to try and get information out of him.

“Nope,” the man said with a small laugh.

“Not even killing Mabu?” Reo’s question took the man by surprise. Before he could reply, Reo grabbed one of the man’s fingers and bended it backwards until he heard a loud pop. At the sound of the man’s scream, Reo’s grin grew even wider. “Oh, this is gonna be so much fun.”

 

February 14, 2019

“Hey Mabu, guess what? It’s Valentine’s Day,” Reo said. He set a bundle of red roses down on the grave in front of him. “Remember how you would spend all day making chocolates for me? You hated the store bought chocolates with a passion, so you’d spend hours and hours trying to make me the perfect treat. You never realized it, but the best treat of all was being around you.” A dull ache resounded deep in Reo’s chest.

“I’m going on a raid in a few days,” Reo said, burying the pain inside him. “It’s gonna be different from the others. This place is out in the middle of nowhere, but the security on this place is insane. Maybe... Maybe this’ll be the day when I finally catch him. Maybe I’ll finally be able to be with you again.” Reo stood up, kissed the tip of his fingers, and pressed them gently against the tombstone. “I love you, Mabu. I’ll see you again real soon.”

 

February 21, 2019

Reo sighed and said, “Well, this sucks. I thought we’d get to kill some people, not rescue them.”

“These people have suffered a lot, Niiboshi,” Tsubomi said. She had been Reo’s assigned partner for the operation which, so far, had been a bust for the two of them. All that was in their section were a few people who’d been enslaved by Uso. “Can’t you at least try to be compassionate?”

“Ugh, fine. I’ll be nice to the next victim we find, promise. Now let’s go.” Reo started to walk away but Tsubomi grabbed his arm and pointed.

“Look.” What had seemed to be a giant mirror was actually one-way glass. Reo could see some simple furniture inside and looked at Tsubomi. “You think he could be—“

“Only one way to find out,” Reo said, pulling out his gun and shooting the glass. “Ladies first.” Tsubomi glared at him as she stepped through the broken window.

“Looks like this is just another one of his test rooms,” she said after a moment. “Doesn’t seem like he’s in here.” Reo frowned and went inside the secret room, carefully avoiding the bits of glass on the ground. Something was telling him to stay and investigate.

“You go ahead, Tsubomi,” he said slowly. “I’ll check this room and make sure it’s clear.” She nodded and walked away, leaving Reo alone in the dark room. As he poked around, Reo muttered to himself, “Jeez, how many rooms does an evil scientist need?”

He had just started to flip through a book when a voice shouted, “Hey! That’s private!” Reo jumped back and almost shit his pants. He scrambled for his gun and pointed it at where the voice came from— a quivering mass of bedsheets. Feeling foolish, Reo put his gun down and slowly approached the bed.

“You must be one of Doctor Uso’s test subjects, right?” Reo tried to pull the sheet away, but as soon as he touched the blanket the person shrieked and scrambled off the bed, toward the broken window. Reo winced as they hit the ground and said, “Ah, careful! There’s a lot of broken glass over there.”

“I noticed,” the person muttered. Normally if someone talked back to Reo they’d be seeing the back of his hand, but he found himself laughing. Something about this person made Reo feel at ease— maybe it’s their voice? It sounded familiar, but Reo couldn’t place it. “Please forgive me! I didn’t mean to talk back!”

“You must’ve been here a while,” Reo figured. “You’re trained to expect punishment. How long has it been for you?”

“My entire life,” was the reply. “OtterBot says it’s a toxic wasteland outside and that I’ll die if I go outside of this room. Are you a radioactive monster?” Reo had to suppress a snort at this question.

“No, I’m not. Are you?”

“Why would I be?! I’ve been safe in here this whole time!”

“Kid, I hate to be the one to bring your world crashing down on you, but Earth isn’t like that. Uso lied to you.”

“Don’t call me that. When I was made, I already had the body of a twenty year old man. So I’m not a kid.” Reo frowned at this statement. He could tell that he was speaking to a man based on the voice.

“You were already twenty, huh? You must’ve had a life before all of this, then. Friends, family—“

“No!” Reo was surprised to be interrupted by an angry outburst from the man. “I was created here, and I’ve never been anywhere else. I’ve always longed to meet other people, like they do in books, but that’s not in the cards for me. This... this is a dream, isn’t it? It has to be. I’m going to wake up, everything’s going to be normal, and I’m just going to be disappointed. You can’t fool me, I know I’ll never be able to connect with anyone...”

“Even though you want to?” Reo wasn’t quite sure why he asked that— he wasn’t this guy’s goddamn therapist, Reo didn’t care about him at all. But something about that voice had caught his attention.

“More than anything.” His voice was full of longing. “I was designed not to have emotions, but I don’t think it worked. I’ve always felt like I’m missing something, but I don’t know what.”

Before Reo could stop and think about what he was saying, he said, “Don’t let go of your desires.”

“...What was that?”

“It’s something my partner told me a long time ago. You have a choice to make; you can stay in here where you know it’s safe, or you could journey into the unknown. Even if it is just as bad as you think, at least you’ll know.” Reo waited for a response but didn’t receive one. Impatiently, Reo sighed and said, “Look, if you’re not going to come out after my motivational speech, I don’t know what else to tell you. Hey, are you listening to me?”

“Don’t let go... of your desires?” The guy pulled out of the sheet a bit and Reo realized he was in tears.

“Ah, why are you crying?! I didn’t mean to—“

“I— I don’t know,” he whispered. Reo slowly walked towards him in an effort not to scare him, crunching a couple pieces of glass under his boots.

“Hey, it’ll be alright,” Reo said soothingly. Taking another step towards him, Reo adds, “I didn’t mean to scare you or anything, sometimes I just come off really angry, sorry about that— oh, shit! You’re bleeding!” Upon noticing the red fluid dripping down the man’s left arm, Reo kneeled next to him and grabbed his wrist. He started to wrap the wound with a scrap of the sheet but caught sight of something that made his heart skip a beat.

There were two interlocking black circles inked on that pale wrist and suddenly it all clicked for Reo. Why that voice sounded so familiar, the man saying he was twenty years old when his life started, why Reo’s words had made him cry, and now the rings— there was only one person this could be— but no, that would be impossible—

“I’ve had those markings ever since I can remember,” that beautiful deep voice said. “OtterBot says—“

“It can’t be,” Reo whimpered. Hardly daring to breathe, Reo slowly reached up to the man’s face and began to turn it towards him.

This is crazy, Reo thought as he did it. It’s not him. What am I doing? Why am I getting my hopes up? He’s dead. He’s dead, Reo, he has been for over ten years, you’re just gonna feel even more empty than before, it’s not him, it’s not... The light finally hit the man’s face and Reo’s heart leapt into his throat.

Mabu.

It was him.

The sight of Mabu’s wonder-filled green eyes staring back at him was enough to bring every emotion Reo had buried away for the past ten years to the surface. Tears welled up in his eyes as he ran his thumb along Mabu’s cheek. There were a million questions he wanted to ask Mabu and a million more things he wanted to say but all he could manage was a weak, “It’s you...”

“I— I think there’s been some sort of mistake,” Mabu stammered, leaning away from Reo. “I don’t know who you are.”

Reo felt like he’d been shot. “Of course you don’t know who I am,” he said, quickly recovering. “I should’ve known better.” Of course Uso would have wiped Mabu’s mind, it’s what he did to all of his victims. It was stupid of Reo to think he’d spare Mabu from that fate.

“I’m sorry,” Mabu said, clearly confused. “I didn’t mean to upset you.”

“Don’t worry. I could never stay mad at you, Mabu.”

Mabu blinked and asked, “How did you know my name?”

Reo shook his head. “Never mind that. We need to get you to the hospital and make sure there’s nothing wrong with you. Will you let me take you there?”

He stood and offered his hand to Mabu who, after a moment of thought, hesitantly took it. The warmth of Mabu’s hand in his own was enough to send the tears spilling down Reo’s face. He quickly turned away from Mabu and led him through the broken glass and out of his prison.

Mabu... my hand that is connected to yours will never, ever let go.