At precisely 5:43pm on a chilly Monday in March, Fujinuma Satoru plunges into the river.
Yashiro watches. A familiar thrill runs through his veins, fills his heart with joy, silences his thoughts and makes him whole. Satoru is screaming, beating the dash of the cheap rental car in a fury, but the seatbelt won't come undone. Yashiro has come too far, planned too carefully and lost too much to be undone by that kind of rookie mistake.
The air sends a chill down his spine. Satoru’s thread sways in the wind; it's a thin, fragile thing, gleaming white as it draws taught. Yashiro knows it won't snap yet, not as long as Satoru can keep his head above water. As long as he can keep screaming and cursing Yashiro to damnation.
This is new. Most of the children he's killed cried, some of them begged, and a fair few screamed. None of them declared resolutely that Yashiro would be defeated, arrested, burned in hell after his miserable life ends. When he kills adults, usually because they saw something they shouldn't have, he keeps it quick. There's no sense in prolonging a death when they might be able to fight back and hurt him—hiding defensive wounds is a pain in the neck. On the few occasions they had time to speak, they'd said things like this; I'll kill you or damn you or you bastard, son of a bitch, motherfucker.
It’s in character for Satoru. He's matured a lot recently, so it makes sense he'd die a prideful, defiant death.
The car jerks. Yashiro hears glass breaking, sees the car begin to buck under the dark water’s crushing weight. His breath puffs out in front of him like tiny clouds. Satoru screams, instinctual and terrified, and Yashiro chuckles. He turns to leave Satoru to his fate. He has a hockey game to get back to, and an alibi to secure.
Inexplicably, he hears church bells. The sound shudders through the earth and air, reverberating deeply in his bones. It’s loud and powerful and shouldn't be here, far past the city limits in the cold, desolate forest. The light snowfall around him explodes into an angry flurry.
"I know your future!"
His heart thuds. Sweat drips down his chin despite the cold. Yashiro turns back to the car, dread outweighing thrill for the first time he can remember. The euphoria drains from his heart, leaving it emptier than it’s ever been. Above the car, Satoru’s thread snaps.
He reaches out wordlessly. A spider crawls across his vision. The ground shifts violently, the church bells ring louder, and—
"I want to fill the hole in people's hearts—other's and my own."
Yashiro snaps into reality behind the wheel of a car. He slams on the break instinctively, bringing them to a screeching halt. His seatbelt knocks the wind out of him. In the passenger seat, he hears a resounding oof.
"Yashiro-sensei?" Fujinuma Satoru, pink-nosed and bright eyed and very much not dead, yelps. "Are you okay?"
Yashiro stares. The thread is still there, above his target's head, uncut. His eyes drift to his wrist watch. It's 4:56pm.
"Sensei?" Unease creeps into Satoru's voice. His eyes are darkened, regarding Yashiro with… distrust? Fear? Not of him, but rather, of—
“Sensei!” Satoru shouts. His little hands, so small compared to Yashiro’s own, point frantically at the receding food truck. “He’s getting away…!”
Yashiro’s heart thunders. His breath comes in quick gasps. He wishes he’d used his own car for this, or at least stashed a few extra lollipops in his pocket beforehand. He needs sugar, desperately. He needs balance.
He needs to touch Satoru, to make sure this is real and not a delusion sprung from the depths of his dark, confused mind.
“I know your future!”
Satoru’s skin is warm when Yashiro brushes his fingers against his cheek. He startles, but doesn’t jerk away like he’s scared or angry. Instead he stares up at Yashiro with a look of unconditional trust, then frowns.
“Come on, we have to go!” Satoru squirms in his seat. He pushes against the seatbelt, but it holds tight; of course it does. Yashiro fixed it himself. It won't come undone, no matter how fiercely Satoru struggles.
A lump settles in the base of his throat, heavy and unyielding.
Yashiro tentatively steps on the gas. The road is mostly empty, occupied by only a few slowly moving cars. Yashiro doesn’t bother following the road signs as he makes a u-turn, driving back in the direction of the Wakaba Gym.
“Yashiro-sensei!” Satoru tears at his seatbelt, grunting as he pulls and pulls. He’ll end up with bruises over his stomach and chest if he keeps thrashing like that. Yashiro takes a hand off the wheel, dropping it onto Satoru’s head—his hair is cold to the touch, cold but not wet, not iced—and pets him gently.
“Calm down, Satoru,” Yashiro says. “This game has gone far enough, don’t you think?”
“Normally I’d be fine indulging you, but at this rate we’ll miss Hamada’s game.” He taps his pointer finger against Satoru’s head. The boy doesn’t even flinch. “Misato is fine. She probably just went for a walk. You’ll see.”
“No,” Satoru gasps. “No!”
Yashiro ignores him. He takes his time getting out of the car when they roll into the gym's parking lot, triple checking the car is in park and the basketball is still in the back, far from the gas pedal. He opens Satoru’s door to find him flushed, frantic, his hands tugging at the seatbelt.
“It’s not coming undone?” Yashiro says. He frames it as a question, though he already knows the answer. There’s a box cutter in his coat pocket, just in case. Satoru doesn’t jerk away when Yashiro unsheathes the blade and cuts through the seatbelt. He could do it now, could slice through Satoru’s neck, spill his blood, listen to him gurgle and struggle for air. Killing in a public parking lot would be a bad idea, but he could do it.
Satoru tries to run. Yashiro grabs him by the shoulders and steers him towards the gym. It’s not hard to hold him back. For all his adult-like qualities, Fujinuma Satoru is a child with a child’s strength. Yashiro keeps himself strong for times like this, when it’s not enough to lull people into a false sense of security. He’s careful not to grip tightly enough to leave bruises as he guides Satoru back into the gym.
The game has already started. The girls Yashiro drove there haven't noticed his absence, their attention chiefly on Hamada and the puck sliding across the ice. Misato is exactly where he expects her to be, sitting alone far from her former friends. The cup he gave her earlier is gone, either finished or thrown away after her trip to the bathroom.
“See?” he says. He can feel Satoru relaxing under his hands, tension draining from his shoulders.
“I thought…” Satoru murmurs.
“Misato is safe.” Yashiro pats Satoru’s head again. The thread twirls between his fingers, elusive and beautiful. “Now, why don’t we relax and watch the game? I’ll give you a ride home afterwards, if you like.”
Satoru turns to him with a happy smile. For a moment, Yashiro can’t breathe.
This child is special.
He keeps his word and drives Satoru home after the game. He drops the girls off first, making the excuse that they should get home before dark, just in case. It doesn’t surprise him when Satoru agrees. He wants to protect these girls—not just Misato, but all of them. He doesn’t want any of them to be alone, not for the slightest moment, because he knows what Yashiro is planning.
No. He knows someone is planning. He doesn’t know it’s Yashiro.
But how? Satoru is only a child. It’s possible he’s heard about the abductions in other towns given his mother’s former career, but would he realize Ishikari is in danger, too? Children are funny things, lacking a sense of mortality for both themselves and others. It seems unlikely Satoru would assume these girls are in danger, just because those girls were. It just doesn’t make sense.
“It’s like you’ve seen the future.”
He still hasn’t ruled out the possibility he’s hallucinating. It wouldn’t be the first time. Sometimes, when the early morning sun peeks over the horizon just right, he sees figures in the shadows: Spice running in his hamster wheel, his brother swinging from the ceiling of his apartment, children with broken necks and blue lips darting around corners at school.
When he touched those phantoms they dissipated into thin air—Satoru remains firm and warm under his fingers.
“Um, sensei?” Satoru asks as Yashiro cups his chin, absentmindedly stroking along his cheek. They’re alone now, Yashiro in the driver’s seat and Satoru in the passenger’s, and Yashiro could kill him. Could drive him into the river. It’d be tough to get out of, since there are multiple witnesses who’ve seen him with Satoru this evening, but not impossible. His acting skills are quite advanced.
...maybe he fell into the river, too, and this is a fever dream playing out in his last moments of life.
Satoru squirms under his touch. “What are you doing?”
“Ah, sorry,” Yashiro says. His hand returns to the steering wheel, finger tapping furiously at the cold, lifeless leather. “You seemed upset earlier, so I thought you could do with some comforting.”
A happy smile stretches across Satoru’s face, uninhibited. “Oh. Thanks.”
The car grows quiet. Outside the windows, snow begins to fall, promising to blanket the town heavily overnight. School might be cancelled tomorrow. Yashiro taps away, struggling to think, struggling not to think, struggling to keep his eyes on the road and not on the thread shimmering elusively over Satoru’s head.
“Want some candy?” Satoru asks suddenly. He reaches for the glove compartment.
Yashiro grabs his wrist. “Sorry, Satoru, but there’s no candy in there—
because this isn’t my car.”
Deja vu is making him nauseous. Satoru blinks once, twice, but doesn’t yank his hand away or look at Yashiro with dread. “What do you mean this isn’t your car?”
Yashiro lets go. He swallows around unspoken words, the memory of past conversations. “My car was having trouble earlier, so I borrowed this one. I don’t know what’s in that glove compartment. It might not be something children should see.”
Satoru flushes. “I-I see.”
In truth, there’s nothing racy in that compartment. Only the car’s falsified title papers and a box of laxatives missing two pills. Yashiro knows because he’s the one that put them there. He also knows Satoru is sharp enough to notice the connection between Misato’s sudden need for a long bathroom break and laxatives in the glove compartment of the car Yashiro is driving.
Yashiro doesn’t want him suspicious just yet. For now, he only wants to watch.
They arrive at Satoru’s house a little after 7:55pm. As of now, Satoru has lived almost two hours longer than he should have. Sachiko opens the curtains wearing a yellow cooking apron. She looks relieved to see her boy home safe and sound, sharing a car with his trustworthy homeroom teacher. Satoru slides out of his seat, maneuvering around the tattered remains of the seatbelt, and just as he grabs the door handle Yashiro covers his hand with his own.
Such tiny hands. So soft and warm.
Satoru looks at him questioningly.
Yashiro picks up the remaining bento from Shiratori foods, bought for himself but left uneaten, and hands it over. “Take care, Satoru.”
Satoru’s smile falters when he reads the label. Fascinating. Utterly fascinating. “You too, sensei.”
The snowfall lessens overnight, and school goes on as planned.
Yashiro steps into his role as teacher with an unfamiliar enthusiasm, taking the opportunity to survey Satoru’s behavior. For the first time in his career, he makes himself late to class to listen in on Satoru and Kenya’s conversation in the stairwell. What he hears leaves him perplexed. He's certain Kenya knows nothing of his plans—he’s shown no signs of distrust and has, as far as Yashiro can tell, not actively gotten between him and his targets. And yet here he is, discussing a hypothetical child abductor in hushed tones with Satoru. Yashiro knows Kenya's father is defending one of his scapegoats. Maybe he’s fascinated by papa’s work and wants to play detective? Or is he simply following Satoru’s lead? He makes a mental note to consider the possibilities later.
During class, Satoru makes an effort to talk to Misato. Given the part he played in her isolation, it’s understandable his attempts at friendship are rebuked. She can only resist the weight of her loneliness for so long, though. At the end of the day, she leaves the classroom with Satoru at her heels. It’s only a matter of time before she joins him and his friends at their hideout.
With her now under careful watch, there’s no one left at either Mikoto or Izumi Elementary School who’s totally alone. No one who’s vulnerable, left out in the snow with nary a soul around to ensure their safety.
Except for Satoru himself.
Yashiro wonders if he notices it: how his new adult-like personality distances him from the other children, or the danger he’s putting himself in by brazenly chasing down a serial killer. It would be tantalizingly easy to kill him, to cut that thread which glimmers so much brighter than the others. Fujinuma Satoru would be mourned, yes, but with him gone Yashiro doubts he’d have anything to worry about. No one else suspects a killer is on the loose, and Satoru spends an awful lot of time at the Shiratori boy’s house. A few questionable books in his room would be all Yashiro needs to frame him.
“I know your future!”
He doesn’t feel the urge.
His heart is still dead, aching for joy and thrill and life, but his desperate desire to obtain those things through death has faded. Instead, Yashiro feels the hole being swallowed up by the simple act of observing Satoru. It reminds him of those two achingly short years he had with Spice, watching how eager the little hamster was to receive treats and affection from the person who tried to kill it.
He wants to hear that voice say his name sans honorific. He wants to know the shape of Satoru’s heart.
“When you said ‘your heroic efforts just couldn’t end in tragedy’... that made me really happy.”
A kind of 'happy' mere words can achieve. Yashiro did that.
He wonders what it feels like to hear such words.
Yashiro starts paying more attention to Satoru’s schoolwork. He has a few old worksheets, graded but forgotten at home, for comparison. Satoru's grades have remained more or less consistent, but now that Yashiro is looking closely he can see the discrepancies. He lays out two math assignments, one from yesterday and another from a month ago, and catalogues every inconsistency. The papers look like they were completed by two different students; the old assignment is covered in blocky numbers and too-firm handwriting, the paper tacky where Satoru furiously erased incorrect calculations. The new paper is neater, with light penmanship and no eraser marks betraying his uncertainty. Satoru still gets some problems right and some of them wrong, but it’s incongruous. No longer is there a clear trend of this being what Satoru is good at and that being what he’s bad at. Instead every other problem is wrong for seemingly no reason, even if Satoru solved it correctly in class the day before. It’s like he knows the answers and is getting them wrong on purpose. Like he’s specifically trying not to overachieve.
Yashiro did not become an elementary school teacher to grade papers, but at this moment it’s all he cares about.
He separates the graded assignments into piles. He decides to keep some of them, the written ones which contain lines upon lines of Satoru's unbroken handwriting. He draws his pointer finger over the pencil marks. In one spot, Yashiro swears he feels the indent where Satoru had written a kanji, erased it and put a line of hiragana in its place.
He tacks these papers onto the corkboard he keeps by his bed. If someone were to catch sight of it accidentally, they'd only see proof of a dedicated teacher keeping thank you notes written by his students and photos of them at academic and sporting events. One photo, placed innocuously at the edge of the board, shows his class in its entirety. Kayo stands far to the side, away from the others, her eyes downcast.
Yashiro fixes Satoru's assignment under it, a hidden message to himself. His target has shifted.
That weekend, Yashiro buys Satoru a belated birthday present. He selects a journal with the superhero Satoru likes on the cover and manga illustrations scattered throughout. He's used this trick in the past on kids without friends or family; they always stare up at him adoringly when he hands them the small trinket, full of trust and willing to follow him anywhere, no questions asked. It won't work like that on Satoru, at least it shouldn't, given the bounty of presents he received earlier in the month. He still wears the gloves Kayo hand-knitted for him every day; he'd nearly cried when he snagged them on the barbed wire fence encasing the school parking lot. Yashiro doubts his gift will be nearly as precious.
Yashiro wraps a red ribbon around the middle of the journal and ties it with a bow. After class, surrounded by other teachers, he calls Satoru into the faculty office and hands the book over.
His face lights up as he unties the ribbon to reveal the hero's masked face. "Thank you, sensei!"
"You should use this journal to record your heroic escapades, Satoru," Yashiro says. Satoru tilts his head in confusion. "You're the hero that protects the children of this town, aren't you?"
Satoru rubs the back of his neck, embarrassed. Yashiro feels less like he's looking at a sheepish child and more like he's seeing an adult, ashamed of their own excitement. How peculiar. "I'm trying, sir."
Satoru bolts out of the faculty office. Yashiro watches him leave the building from the window. The journal is clutched close to his chest, caressed by his baby blue knit gloves.
Yashiro goes back to grading papers, but his mind remains elsewhere.
A week later, when Satoru and his mother go out shopping, Yashiro breaks into their apartment.
He uses the key they keep stored behind the milk box to get in. It's cold and dark, an unassuming, unremarkable place, and Yashiro flicks open a lighter to find his way around. He takes in the neat placement of dishes on the drying rack, the plate of leftover rice covered in saran wrap on the table, the single corner of the bedroom which contains Satoru's personal belongings. Sachiko isn't wealthy by any means, but she keeps a good house. It's a fine place for a child to grow up. A safe place.
Less safe now that Yashiro has stepped foot in it.
Satoru's desk is low to the ground. A corkboard adorned with photos of his friends and a single red hero's mask sits on top of it. That they share the desire to display their interests prominently in their own space like this makes Yashiro shiver. They're really alike, the two of them. Very, very alike.
Yashiro opens the desk drawer and finds the journal. A stubby pencil rests on top of it. A brief survey of the rest of the drawer reveals nothing of interest; a stray poor assignment he’d stowed away to keep his mother from seeing, and the student composition book for their class. Yashiro sets his lighter down and opens the journal to the first page.
What he finds is nigh incomprehensible.
There's a list of names and dates connected to each other with lines and scribbles, the writings of a person frantically trying to make sense of their own thoughts. Kayo's name is at the top of the page with two dates—3/1 and 3/3—beneath it. Both dates have been crossed out, and the word SAFE written underneath.
March 1st was when he’d waited fruitlessly in the dark, cold park, and March 3rd was when he’d opened the shed to find it empty. Yashiro’s face splits into a grin.
Also written on the page are Sugita Hiromi and Nakanishi Aya; beneath Hiromi's name is "June" and beneath Aya's is "March." Around them are records of each child's daily schedule. A few scattered hours are marked “alone,” with more notes underneath; things like “at hideout with Kazu” and “at student center with Kenya & I.” At the bottom of the page is Yanagihara Misato, circled twice. Yashiro flips the page.
There's another list of names, this time of adults. Yashiro recognizes a few: Shiratori Jun's father. His own. They've been neatly organized into two lists, one labelled "suspects" and the other "safe."
His name is in the "safe" category.
Yashiro trembles. He can't stop the chuckle that escapes his lips, the burning need to rip Satoru apart and learn what he knows, how he knows it. Because Satoru, somehow, has seen the future. He's seen the web cast over this town, and the children caught up in it.
He just doesn't know who the spider is. Yet.
"I won't die until I see you destroyed!"
Is this why he was sent back, given this second chance? He was too blinded by frustration to see it before, but Satoru might be the only person in this world capable of understanding him. He’d never bothered telling anyone the truth about his brother or the girls he violated. None of them would’ve understood—they would’ve told him he was traumatized, or scared, or coerced. In truth his heart had been empty long before his brother started beating him.
Yashiro slips the journal back into place. He leaves the house, relocks the door, and drives home. Over the rumble of the car engine, he thinks about the river, about Satoru struggling to keep his head above water, hell-bent on survival. He thinks of Spice and Kandata doing the same by climbing over the bodies of the damned.
If Satoru had been willing, he could have climbed over Kayo and Aya’s corpses to escape that river. But he didn't.
Because he's a hero. The exact opposite of Yashiro in every way.
Fujinuma Satoru is 29 years old. It’s been a long time since he was in school, and he'd finally quashed those stupid nightmares about showing up to class wearing only his underwear just a year before revival sent him spiralling back to 1988. Not that this situation is anything like that, since he's only talking to his homeroom teacher and his clothes are all accounted for, but it's the principle that counts. He should not, for any reason, feel childish shame when facing down a man who is, in actuality, a year younger than him.
Yet he finds himself lowering his head all the same.
Yashiro-sensei had never been particularly harsh in Satoru's memories. Granted, he didn't remember him very well until revival, but what he's seen in this new time line is close to what he recalls from the old one; Yashiro Gaku is strict but kind, cares deeply for his students, and values hard work and honesty. He's a good teacher.
Which is probably why his "I'm not angry, just disappointed" look is so damn intimidating.
"Satoru," Yashiro says, and Satoru nearly jumps out of his skin. "Do you know why I've called you here?"
He doesn't. The faculty room is empty besides them, as the rest of the teachers have left for the day. Yashiro had explicitly asked for him to wait until the other teachers left before coming in, though he didn't say why. Satoru doesn't think he's done anything to get himself in trouble. He hopes he hasn't. The last thing he wants is to be grounded from watching Wonder Guy by his mom at age 29.
"I'm waiting, Satoru."
Satoru jumps again, and shakes his head.
Yashiro sighs, a resigned sound that cuts through the air like a knife. "I'm not going to scold you. I'm simply concerned."
"...about what, sensei?" Satoru can't imagine what he'd be concerned about. He has a good home life and plenty of close friends. He's been trying to match his old grades when it comes to homework and tests. Maybe he's been sloppy with it and Yashiro thinks he's cheating?
Yashiro folds his arms. His pointer finger taps idly against his forearm. "Would you like to tell me what you and Kenya talk about in the stairwell before class?"
Satoru feels himself going pale. Fuck. Yashiro has been late to class recently. Fuck.
"Uh," is Satoru's intelligent response.
Yashiro's expression takes on a more sympathetic quality. Somehow, it's worse than the disapproval, since that at least resembled the expression of a teacher. This one looks like the kind of face Satoru imagines a father would wear. "You told me you were playing detective, but you and Kenya didn't sound like you were discussing a game."
"That's… we're just taking it really seriously…?"
"Satoru. If you have any reason to believe someone in Ishikari is planning on harming children, please tell me. You’re only a child. This isn't something you have to grapple with alone."
Satoru weighs the pros and cons. On one hand, he has no definitive proof a child murderer exists. Yashiro could dismiss him, or worse, tell his mother about his "concerning" flights of fancy. He doesn’t want her involved in any of this, nor does he want to have to disobey her to protect everyone.
On the other, the things Satoru, Kenya, and Hiromi can do without an adult's help is limited. They don't have a car, their funds are minimal, and they wouldn't be able to fight back if they were attacked. An ally would be much appreciated, especially one with connections to the Child Consultation Center.
The real question is, would Yashiro-sensei believe him?
Satoru glances up to meet Yashiro's eyes. He appears to be waiting patiently, but the finger tapping erratically at his bicep gives away his unease. A faint memory flickers in the back of Satoru's mind, of a car receding into the snow, moving far faster than his little legs could carry him.
"So," he says, making up his mind. "It's like this."
Yashiro-sensei listens patiently as Satoru tries to explain. He doesn't bother bringing up revival, instead playing it off as some kind of gut instinct. His sensei nods along, keeping his face perfectly neutral, encouraging Satoru to continue when he trails off. After he finishes spilling everything, he wipes his sweaty palms on his jeans while Yashiro palms his chin, looking pensive.
"Do you believe me?" Satoru asks.
"It's hard to. There haven't been any strange incidents in Ishikari to back up what you're saying. I certainly haven't seen anything out of the ordinary, aside from what happened with Kayo’s mother. And such incidents aren't common in Japan." Satoru's heart sinks with every word. He’s resigned himself to being dismissed out of hand when Yashiro's face lights up with a smile. "I believe you."
Satoru's jaw drops. Huh? But why?!
Yashiro chuckles. "You said that out loud, Satoru."
Satoru's face burns, but his question still stands.
"I don't know why. I just want to believe you. Is that okay?"
The hole that has been occupying Satoru's heart closes up so suddenly and joyously it almost knocks him off his feet. His eyes mist over. He rubs at them furiously. "Thank you, sensei."
Yashiro smiles kindly. "Not at all, Spice."
Yashiro-sensei invites Satoru over to his house after school.
It only seems right to go. Yashiro has done Satoru a huge favor by choosing to believe him, and his help will be very, very welcome. He’s putting himself in the line of fire, too; the killer clearly has no problems murdering anyone who gets in his way. The memory of his mom lying on the floor of his apartment, still warm and covered in blood, returns to him in nightmares. He can only hope Yashiro will heed his warnings and stay as safe as possible. He’s just gained a father-figure; he doesn’t want to lose him so quickly.
His pleas seem to have been heard, since Yashiro locks the door as soon as they get inside. That’s one barrier between them and the killer, at least.
“Make yourself at home,” Yashiro says cheerily. He’s been in an oddly good mood since this afternoon, given he’s just agreed to help Satoru hunt down a serial killer.
Satoru takes off his shoes and drops his bag against the wall. Yashiro’s house is bigger than the apartment he shares with his mom, but considerably emptier. There’s almost no decoration, and barely any furniture. Satoru sits on the floor in the living room, in front of a low-lying coffee table, and looks around. There’s a tv, a small kitchen, and three other rooms he can see. Two doors are closed, probably the bathroom and bedroom, and the other opens into what looks like a small office. It’s dark, and Satoru can only just make out a desk and chair. Something circular and metal gleams from the shadows.
Yashiro returns from the kitchen with a steaming cup of coffee. The color is rich and dark, clearly unsweetened. Satoru blinks in surprise when Yashiro sets it down in front of him.
“I had the chance to speak with your mother the other day. She told me you’ve acquired a taste for black coffee,” Yashiro explains with an enigmatic smile.
Satoru takes the cup. “Thank you, sensei.”
Something about the coffee tastes off. It could be that Yashiro buys a different kind of beans than his mom, or that the mug wasn’t properly washed. He swallows it down so fast it burns his mouth. Yashiro rests his face in one hand, watching him intently. The air feels heavy for some reason, and it makes Satoru shift uncomfortably. He keeps drinking the coffee so he has an excuse not to say anything.
“You know, Satoru, I lied earlier,” Yashiro says suddenly..
Satoru startles. His stomach feels weird. “Huh?”
“I do have a reason for believing you. You see, I know there’s a killer targeting Ishikari. Want to know how?”
A cold sweat breaks out across Satoru’s skin. Is he getting sick? He sets the mug down and pulls his legs under himself, moving carefully to avoid upsetting his stomach. “I think I should go home now, sensei. I don’t feel too good.”
“Oh, my.” Yashiro stands. His height makes him loom over Satoru. A memory surfaces: Yashiro’s hands on his shoulders, effortlessly pushing him forward. A box-cutter, something he hadn’t questioned before, cutting through a seatbelt that wouldn’t come undone. The glint in Yashiro’s eyes that was always slightly too perceptive, too all-knowing, encaged in stylish glasses and covered ever so slightly by the tip of a hat.
Satoru can’t breathe.
His legs buckle underneath him. He feels sluggish, alien in his own body. He shoves fingers in his mouth, reaching for his uvula, but the world tips over and he slams into the ground with a gasp.
His vision swims. It takes him a moment to recognize the face hanging over him, the hands curling tight around his wrists. The space behind his eyes burn. Satoru’s stuttered breath turns into a whine.
“Yes, that’s it. That’s the expression I was looking for,” Yashiro-sensei croons. He looks every bit like the father Satoru has been longing for. “I knew it. The first time wasn’t right because it was only you. This time will be better, I promise.”
“What—” Satoru coughs. The air smells bad. It tastes like ash on his tongue. Behind Yashiro something flickers, bright orange-yellow licking up the walls of the house. Satoru’s horror spikes when he realizes it’s fire exploding from the kitchen, and he sees the imprint of Airi’s soot-covered face in the darkness behind his eyes. Yashiro’s gentle smile splits into a grin. He leans in so close it makes Satoru’s skin crawl.
“Don’t be afraid. Sensei will take care of everything.”
Yashiro snaps into reality right before he mixes the drug into Satoru’s coffee, and laughs.
yashiro: (i want to hurt you) come here (i want to cause you as much pain as i possibly can) i am a normal sensei
been working on this for a while now, feels good to get chapter 1 posted
Chapter 2: anxiety
oh my god this got way darker than i intended
WARNINGS for this chapter:
-frank references to/discussions of pedophilia/child sexual assault
-non-consensual touching (not sexual, but like, not platonic either)
-yashiro being gross, nasty, a horrible evil man (who wubs satoru)
-everything else you would expect from erased
i've raised the rating to mature. there will be no NSFW, i just felt that the themes warranted a higher rating than teen.
just a note, yashiro's ex-fiancee's name is never mentioned. the name i gave her was just out of convenience lol
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Satoru really shouldn’t feel so put out.
And yet, here he is, kicking his feet listlessly as whatever lesson Yashiro is giving goes in one ear and out the other. He hasn’t felt so useless since the last time he failed to save Kayo, before revival gave him another chance. It’s been nearly a week since Yashiro had agreed to help him; nearly a week of sitting still while he waits for Yashiro to finish his investigation in the library.
It’s almost funny how they both followed the same instinct. Satoru only spent one day researchig in Chiba, though. He can’t imagine what Yashiro is doing that’s taking so long in Ishikari’s comparatively small library.
His pencil traces over the same few words in his notes again and again. He’s supposed to be copying down what’s on the board, but he’s too preoccupied to pay attention. It doesn’t matter anyway. There’s nothing being taught in this classroom that he hasn’t learned before.
The longer this revival goes on, the more small things deviate from his memory. His mom hovers less and pries more. In his past life, she scarcely ever asked about his social life, probably because she knew he didn’t have one. It might be his imagination, but she seems less worried since the Kayo incident was resolved. Nothing suspicious has happened around her since she got involved, either. Satoru has to assume the killer isn’t targeting her out of anger for his stolen target.
They’re going to the hideout more and more these days. Satoru already found his lost gloves there, discarded on a dusty seat, and they’ve since been buried in the depths of his backpack. Osamu and Kazu have begun a fierce rivalry to become the first person to beat Hiromi at shogi. Misato has begun joining them some days, but only when Aya comes, too; something about not wanting to hang around with gross boys all day.
Satoru did catch Osamu eating his own boogers the other day, so she has a point.
Finally, the last new change in his life has come in the form of a new nickname. Spice. Yashiro calls him that infrequently, and only when they’re alone. When Satoru asked Yashiro what it meant, he just laughed.
The lesson continues. Kenya is called to the front of the class to answer some math problem or other. Satoru abandons his notes completely, angling his elbow so Misato can’t see as he writes the names again: Kayo, Aya, Hiromi, Yuuki: the victims. As for the suspects... well, Yuuki’s father is pretty much the only one. Sawada’s list didn’t contain any other names he knew. He hoped Yashiro would be able to add to the list, but he’s reported nothing back so far.
The other list had more than one familiar name on it, but he can’t exactly trust it. There’s no way his mom or Yashiro is the killer.
They’re in uncharted territory now. Without any more relevant information from the future, he’s stuck unless Yashiro discovers something. Satoru has no idea what the killer will do next, who’s on the target list. If the killer leaves town, if no other incidents happen in Ishikari, he’s too young to follow him. He’s staring down the possibility of either flashing forward to the future, not knowing what happened in the interim, or reliving the rest of his life in a sense of constant unease, wondering if the man who split his mother open is hiding behind every corner.
And what a life it will be. Going through middle school, high school, and art school again, struggling to find his footing in the manga industry again, going through puberty again—Satoru knows some people would consider it a blessing, but he doesn’t see how. He wants his life back. It was a depressing, boring life, but at least it was his.
(He didn’t have Kayo or Hiromi or Kenya, but he did have Airi. Airi, who hasn’t been born yet. Airi, who would never have wanted him anyway.)
“I’m disappointed in you, Kenya. You’re usually sharper than this.” Satoru startles. Kenya is standing at the front of the room, his eyes fixed on the floor. Yashiro’s admonishment has already sparked giggling from the rest of the classroom. “Let’s see, how about Satoru. Can you answer this problem?”
Satoru jumps up. Nerves make it hard to focus on the board at first, but—
It’s only a simple division problem. What was he nervous for? This is still elementary school. “Thirty-two.”
“Very good!” Whispers follow Yashiro’s praise, comparing him and Kenya. Satoru’s face falls when he sees a pout start to form on Kenya’s face.
He just messed up again, didn’t he?
After nearly 400 pages, the book ends in a fizzle of metaphysical posturing, utterly incomprehensible and useless. Yashiro tosses the science fiction novel onto the pile of discarded books next to him and gives his temples a good rub.
Over a week ago, after failing to kill Satoru yet again, he’d made a promise to help him with his hunt for the killer. The library has been his refuge, a place for him to think without risking Satoru seeing every thought on his face. Time spent away from his Spice is a necessary evil. It’s painfully boring, but Yashiro has to think of it as investment for the future. Their future.
Instead of researching his own crimes like he told Satoru he would, he’s been scouring anything that could give him an answer to what he’s experienced: science fiction, textbooks, the occult. Anything that could explain to him how one goes about traveling through time.
With his own experiences to prove the possibility, how could deny what’s right in front of him? Satoru must have gone through the same process he has. Prophetic visions or powers of divination or even a set of highly specific tarot cards wouldn’t account for the contents of Satoru’s hero book alone, let alone his newfound maturity and schoolwork. The Satoru who’s struggling to protect Ishikari must be an older Satoru in a younger body. Instead of going back minutes or hours like Yashiro has, he’s gone back years.
But how many? Five? Ten? And how has he done it?
The thought that god is simply playing games with them like Buddha did with Kandata has crossed his mind. He just doesn’t like the idea that his actions are being controlled by someone else. If they are, there’s no point to his murders. There’s no point to his very life.
Yashiro hoists up the stack of books and returns them to the shelves—he doesn’t want to leave them for the library staff to pick up and speculate about. The sun is starting to set, marking another day wasted on wild theory and fantasy. A quick walk to his car and he’s off towards the small house he bought years ago when he moved back to Ishikari. It's a few blocks away from the home he lived in when he was a child; it had sold for dirt cheap given the history, and while Yashiro was tempted to buy it, it would only look suspicious to anyone checking the property history.
Out of habit, he checks the park on his way home. Kayo has already left town, but the impression of her red coat against the snow still lingers in his mind. He'd become interested in her soon after meeting her. It was always easy to kill children with abusive or neglectful parents; they are so often alone, ostracized, and the scapegoat is right there for him to exploit. He only shifted away from her mother when he noticed how much time the Shiratori boy spent with the town's children. If the "culprit" had ties to multiple children, he could kill two, maybe three birds with one stone, so to speak.
He took so long with Kayo because it was remarkably hard to gain her trust. Then Satoru came along, and managed to do in only a few days what took him a year. The day Kayo appeared with Sachiko and Satoru to confront her mother, the faint thread above her head was gone. When Aya began spending time with Satoru's little gang, the thread disappeared from her as well.
From that day on, the only person Yashiro has seen the thread on is Satoru.
On a whim, Yashiro pulls over on the side of the road. He shoves a lollipop in his mouth and strolls through the park. Now that the snow has melted, colorful play sets and sparse grass are made visible by the street lights. Broken appliances and black garbage bags pile up at the tree line. Yashiro had planned to dispose of Kayo there, once he’d killed her. He’d chosen the place because of its convenient location, but looking at it now, it strikes him as a little crude. It wasn’t his intent to humiliate or dismiss her. He doesn’t dislike Kayo. He actually likes her quite a bit, as far as a man such as Yashiro can like someone.
“Are you talking about… a girlfriend?”
“Well, there are some similarities to a romantic relationship.”
Yashiro runs his fingers over the bark of the tree Kayo used to stand under. There’s a question he’s asked himself a few times over the years; does he love the children he kills? He’s not sure. He knows, intimately, that he kills children because of what happened that day in his parents' shed. He knows the only time he feels alive is when he kills. He knows he is, at heart, so very much like his big brother.
But he’s never had the urge to force himself on the children he’s killed. Sex is, at best, a means to an end for him, a physical act to solidify his appearance of normality. He doesn’t care about the morals of society, but assaulting a child would only get in the way of more lucrative endeavours. He’d much rather take a life than traumatize it.
As for romance, well. In all his past romantic relationships, he never felt as connected to his partners as he did to his victims. And for all his past victims, he's never felt as drawn to them as he does to Satoru.
Satoru makes him feel. He doesn't know what the emotion is, but it’s there. It's a blend of thrill and fear and physical sensations, heat flushing his skin, hands shaking, palms getting sweaty. Yashiro wants to savor this feeling.
He wants to savor the death.
Yashiro always assumed his own death would come in the form of a suicide. He has no interest in allowing society to punish him, and there’s no point in living once he grows too old and weak to carry out his plans. His second attempt to kill Satoru was the first time he ever tried to end his own life, but clearly something about it was insufficient. Killing Satoru, or killing himself and Satoru—neither are the direction his life is meant to take.
Yashiro crunches the lollipop beneath his teeth. There’s something he’s missing. Something important.
Something foundational to his very existence.
After school, Satoru stares at the library for a good ten minutes before he turns around, resigning himself to spending the afternoon unproductively at home.
April has brought with it the faint warmth of spring. The snow that crunched under Satoru's heels weeks ago has already melted. His puffy jacket is left at home most days, hanging neatly in the closet. The warm air brings a sense of calm to their sleepy town, a whispered promise that everything will be okay.
But it’s only an illusion. Spring and summer are no safer than winter; Hiromi was murdered in June in the original timeline. The killer is still on the loose. Satoru can’t let his guard down for a moment.
A chill runs down his spine. Then a hand grabs his sleeve.
For a brief, horrible second, Satoru's entire body goes cold. He jumps. The person behind him backs off.
It's Kenya. It's only Kenya.
Satoru tries to calm his breathing. “What’s up?”
Kenya eyes him worriedly. “I just wondered if you had plans tonight.”
“Oh.” Satoru frowns. Hiromi's parents got off work early, so he went home already; Aya and Kazu are on a date; Satoru already walked Misato home; and his mom is working a late shift. He can’t go to Yashiro’s house either, since he’s still holed up in the library. "Nothing, I guess."
“Do you want to come over to my house, then?” Kenya asks. “My mom wants me to watch my little sister tonight while she and my dad go out.”
Satoru stares in shock. “You have a sister?”
“Haven't I mentioned her before?”
“I don’t think so.” No matter how hard he thinks, he can’t recall anything about his friends’ families. Even in the original timeline, he’s sure he never met Kenya’s sister.
With how inattentive he is, it’s not really shocking he ended up alone.
Kenya clears his throat, looking horribly embarrassed. "Well, do you want to meet her?"
Things have been awkward between him and Kenya since Satoru inadvertently humiliated him in front of the class. He’s tried to bridge the newfound distance between them with jokes and games, even gotten a few problems in class wrong on purpose, but to no avail. Maybe this is Kenya extending the olive branch. If it is, Satoru can rest happily. Kenya isn’t a target, but that’s no excuse to avoid him.
(Misato wasn’t a target in the original timeline, either. The killer prefers girls, but it’s not impossible for him to target Kenya.
Satoru banishes that line of thought before his mind is able to conjure up an image of Kenya’s body laying in the dirt.)
Satoru has never been to Kenya's house before. To say he lives in a nice neighborhood would be an understatement—his house is massive, with a carport and a small manicured garden out front, the kind Satoru's mother always wanted. A mild-looking man and pretty blonde woman stand next to a sleek, clean car without saying a word. The man checks his wrist watch. Kenya runs towards him.
“You’re late,” the man says.
The woman, who must be Kenya’s mother, smiles. Kenya strongly resembles her, with their blonde hair and honey brown eyes. “It’s alright. Who’s your friend? Is he going to help watch Miyuki?”
“Yeah. This is Fujinuma Satoru,” Kenya says. “He’s my best friend.”
Satoru flushes. He said it without any hesitation—best friend. For some reason, it makes his stomach churn. “It’s nice to meet you, ma’am, sir.”
“Thank you for taking care of our Kenya,” his mother says. She adjusts the fit of her jacket. Kenya's eyes fall slightly, an almost petulant frown taking over his face.
They wave at the car as it pulls out of the driveway, then head into the house. Satoru almost does a double take when Kenya tosses his shoes aside in the foyer instead of putting them up in the cubbies. Conversely, Kenya doesn't so much as raise a brow when Satoru jiggles the door handle to make sure it’s locked.
The inside of the Kobayashi manor is minimalist, mostly white and beige with scant decoration. It strikes Satoru as efficient, well-crafted for the family of a serious defense attorney. Kenya hangs in the living room, glancing over at the staircase before he motions Satoru to come in close.
“Can I tell you something?” he whispers. He refuses to meet Satoru’s eyes, opting to look at the floor instead.
“Yeah, of course.” Satoru prepares himself for the inevitable horrible: Kenya found out the identity of the killer, or he noticed someone else at school is being abused, or his parents are refusing to buy him Super Mario Bros. 3 when it comes out in half a year.
"To tell the truth, I don't think my parents' marriage is going well."
Of all the things Satoru thought Kenya would say, that wasn’t one of them. "But they just went out on a date."
"They did, but didn't you see how my mom was dressed?"
Satoru blinks owlishly. He's not sure where this is going. "Uh, yeah? She looked nice."
"She didn't even dress up for their date," Kenya insists, his voice dropping in volume. "That can't be a good sign."
A spark of recognition lights up a deeply repressed memory in Satoru’s mind—a car driving away into the snow, faster than his tiny legs could carry him. His stomach turns to ice. The loneliness he felt, the guilt, wondering if it was his fault his dad left, his fault his mom had to struggle. Then like a switch had been flipped, the anger at being denied a normal home. Kenya must feel the same way now, without anyone to talk to about it.
Satoru just can’t stop messing things up.
"Kenya, do you resent your mom and dad?"
"What? No," Kenya says. "Why would I?"
"Because they're making you worry. You feel like you don't have a normal childhood, like the kids who have a mom and dad who love each other…" Kenya's expression becomes more and more confused the longer he speaks. Satoru trails off, ending his speech with a shrug.
"Satoru, are you—?"
A loud squeal interrupts them. Satoru catches sight of a blonde mop of hair before tiny hands wrap violently around Kenya’s middle, squeezing the life out of him. “Big brother!”
Just like that, the serious mood is gone. Satoru can’t help the relief that spreads through his chest. “Miyuki! We have a guest,” Kenya admonishes.
“Oh!” The girl—Miyuki—gasps. Her grip on Kenya’s shirt tightens. “Hello.”
Kenya’s sister takes after her mother as well, with shoulder length blonde hair pulled neatly into a ponytail. Satoru leans down a bit to greet her. “I’m Fujinuma Satoru.”
“He’s my friend,” Kenya adds.
Miyuki’s jaw drops in a childish display of shock. “You have friends?”
Kenya sputters, his face growing red. “Of course I have friends! What kind of question is that?”
While the two siblings bicker, Satoru stares at the floor. Does Kenya not hang out with the other guys after school? Has he never brought friends home before? Once, Satoru spent almost every day alone at home. He doesn’t think he invited anyone over in the previous timeline from middle school til… well, til Airi.
“Look, let’s just go play house or something,” Kenya says loudly, breaking Satoru out of his stupor. “You have finished your homework, right?”
Kenya’s eyes narrow. “Have you?”
“...I did most of it.”
“Not good enough. Go do the rest. If you need help, call for me.”
Miyuki stomps back up the stairs, grumbling. Kenya sighs with all the despair of a long-suffering mother. “I should have told her to do it in the kitchen. She’ll just play with her stuffed animals in her room.”
Seeing Kenya take on the role of a parent to his younger sister—it should make sense. It should be cute. All Satoru feels, though, is a growing sense of discontent, echoing in the form of a question he really doesn’t want answered: are you sure Kenya isn’t a target?
“Hey, why don’t we go do something?” he asks, voice about an octave higher than normal.
Kenya seems to notice his shift in demeanor. He frowns. “Sure. Let’s go to my room.”
Kenya and Miyuki’s rooms are both upstairs, right across from each other. Miyuki’s door, adorned with faded floral stickers and yellow sign bearing her name, is half closed. Behind it Satoru can faintly hear her hushed voice acting out a fantasy story. Despite his earlier complaints, Kenya doesn’t scold her, opting instead to go into his own room.
Kenya’s door is plain, as is the room it conceals; a bed, a desk, a closet, and a chair. The only thing suggesting the bedroom belongs to a child is a teddy bear dressed in camo overalls sitting on the bed. One of its arms has been ripped off; stuffing spills out of the open wound.
Satoru stares at it for a moment too long. “Do you have a dog?”
“Then, did Miyuki do that?”
“She didn’t.” Kenya glances at the doorway, like he’s afraid she’ll materialize there and hear. “I, um, had a bit of a fit.”
“You had a tantrum?!”
Satoru drops his voice to a whisper. “You had a tantrum?”
“I did not,” Kenya says indignantly.
The tension in his shoulders resides a bit. The destroyed bear was only Kenya’s doing. Not someone else’s.
(Kayo's mother had destroyed her things, leaving her with little to take to her grandma's house. Satoru had watched her toss torn books and broken pencils in the trash can and regretted not letting her grab anything before he kidnapped her.)
Satoru lets himself smile. “Okay.”
Kenya’s face is red as a tomato. Satoru does his best not to humiliate him further by laughing. “What d’you wanna play?”
As it turns out, Kenya has a famicom; it’s not something Satoru should be excited by as a twenty-nine year old, but he finds himself bouncing excitedly in place. Even in 2005, when he had his own disposable income, he was never wealthy enough to waste money on gaming consoles. They play for a few hours, Kenya effortlessly kicking Satoru’s ass, only stopping when Miyuki peeks into the room to announce her homework is finally complete. Kenya invites her in to watch them play.
Satoru finds himself glancing over at her. She can’t be older than six or seven, but she’ll be closer to their age in just a few years. She should be safe, being the daughter of a wealthy lawyer with an older brother to look after her. She should be.
(She’s closer to the killer’s ideal target than Kenya. Satoru has to stop himself from asking if she spends too much of her time alone.)
By the time the Kobayashis come home from their date, it’s gone completely dark outside. Satoru helps Kenya put the famicom away in his closet, thanks Kenya's mother for having him over, and declines an offer for a ride home. He wants to survey things while he walks back, look for anything out of the ordinary. There are obviously things he’s still missing, and this is his last revival. He can’t afford to make any mistakes.
Hiromi, Aya, Misato; Kenya and Miyuki; Yuuki; his mother—they’re all counting on him.
No matter what, he has to protect them.
For the next week, Satoru patrols the town every evening. Though spring has made the days warm, the nights are still chilly; Satoru finds himself shivering as he makes his way through the shopping district. His mom tried to get him to wear a jacket before he left for the evening. He should have listened to her.
A fair few people are out at this hour—a family going grocery shopping, a teenager walking their dog—but no lone children. Satoru stares a little too hard at a toddler holding hands with an adult man outside a convenience store. Probably her father. He can't help but be reminded of the attempted abduction his mother witnessed in the park, the event which led to her murder. So many things are different; this girl is too young for the killer, the man too unbothered about being seen. Still, there's a possibility.
The longer he looks, the more details pop out at him. The slight breeze moving the girl’s ponytail. It’s blonde, the same color as Miyuki’s. The man readjusts his grip on her tiny hand every few moments. She rocks back and forth on the balls of her feet. Each motion feels wrong, distorted. Satoru steps forward and takes a breath.
The shout dies in his throat when the girl runs to a woman exiting the store, yelling “mama!” The man greets the woman with warmth, taking one her bags. Heart thudding in his chest, fingers twitching with unused adrenaline, skin suddenly hot against the cold air, Satoru watches the child skip away, holding each of her parents' hands.
He gulps. “What’s wrong with me?”
The cold douse of self-reflection does nothing for his adrenaline rush. Wheels screech on the road behind him and Satoru whirls around, imagining shadowy hands reaching out to grab his arms, force him into the car. He’s terrified. Why is he terrified?
It’s only Yashiro-sensei, after all.
Yashiro frowns at him. Satoru tries to steady his breathing, make himself appear less freaked out than he already is. When Yashiro leans over to pop open the passenger’s seat, Satoru jumps in eagerly. Eyes burn into his back, faceless strangers watching in curiosity or concern. None of them try to stop him from getting in the car. He doesn’t know how he’d react if they did.
The engine hums as Yashiro steers them away from the shops. He pops open the glove compartment, and suddenly there’s a lollipop waving in Satoru’s face—caramel apple, his favorite flavor. He takes it. Soon its light, fruity taste is spreading on his tongue. His saliva turns into sugary syrup. For a long time, Satoru’s lips moving against the candy is the only sound in the car.
“Want to tell me what that was about?” Yashiro asks.
Satoru glances out the window. They’ve been driving around aimlessly for a while now, passing the same buildings again and again. Maybe Yashiro thinks the rumbling of the engine will soothe him. “I don’t know. I can’t explain it.”
“I’m just…” paranoid? Jumpy? An adult in a child’s body, trying to stop his mother’s murder? “...scared.”
Satoru flushes. “Just a little!”
“It’s okay if you’re scared.” Yashiro’s voice is unexpectedly soft. He sounds fatherly. “This situation would be scary for anyone, no matter their age.”
“Thanks, sensei.” Warmth spreads through Satoru’s chest. He looks out the window again, sees the wildflowers springing up on the side of the road, pretty yellow and pink bundles of spring. Airi once showed their manager a polaroid she’d taken of the spring flowers in Chiba. Satoru had wanted to take the excuse to sidle up next to her, but he was never the type to make the first move. If he’d approached her confidently that day, like he’d done with Kayo, would he have become more than just a “friend she respected”?
Satoru can feel is expression becoming glum. He doesn’t want to go home yet. He’s too sentimental today, and his mom is too perceptive. Besides, if he catches a cold, she’ll scold him. “Sensei, can we go to your house?"
"Of course." Yashiro makes a sharp turn. Satoru leans his head against the window, letting the rumble of wheels over gravel reverberate through his skull.
They arrive at Yashiro's house within a few minutes. The sky above them rumbles; storm clouds blot out the setting sun on the horizon. Satoru takes in a deep breath, tasting the humidity in the air.
"Sure you don’t want me to take you home?" Yashiro says, though he’s already unlocking the front door. His house is less ostentatious than Kenya's, a simple, small home sized just right for a bachelor in his twenties. Its the kind of home Satoru would have chosen, could he afford one. "The rain might make it hard for you to get home tonight."
"It's fine." With all his running through Ishikari's snow drifts during February and March, a bit of rain hardly seems like an obstacle. He left his schoolbag at home, so no need to worry about his homework getting drenched. "I’ll just call my mom if it gets too late."
Yashiro's friendly smile levels into an unreadable expression. "Right."
Satoru pauses in the doorway. He's only been to Yashiro's house once before, that night they had coffee and made plans for the future. "Am I imposing?"
Yashiro's smile returns. "Never."
(Airi welcomed Satoru into her home once. It didn't end well for her. It’s late to be considering this now, but—
“Maybe I shouldn't…”
"Don't be silly. Come in before it starts raining." Yashiro takes him by the shoulders. "You could never bother me, Satoru."
The door closing behind him, the lock clicking into place, the quiet solitude surrounding the two of them—
Satoru has never felt safer.
It's so, so difficult not to just kill Satoru.
How can he be so smart yet so stupid? He perfectly anticipated Yashiro's plans, thwarted his abduction attempts with ease, and yet he's so trusting. It's almost worrisome. What if some other predator appeared to take advantage of him? The thought of it makes Yashiro want to squeeze him tighter and tighter, until he crushes him.
Satoru settles down with his child-sized sketchbook while Yashiro makes coffee. The drugs are still in his medicine cabinet, unused. Every day the open packet taunts him while he gets ready for work. This time, he saves the coffee for himself, and grabs a juice box and a package of crackers for his young guest. Satoru's smile flattens into a grimace when he sees the childish food, but he doesn’t refuse it.
Yashiro has been thinking. He’s decided their little time travel escapades have been the result of their own will, desires locked deep within their hearts forcing back the clock, giving them another chance. The only question now is what to do with this new life. Shall he kill Satoru, let him live… become the father he always needed? Should Yashiro take his time cultivating that trust before he destroys it utterly?
Of course, it’s also fun to simply observe. Yashiro savors the way Satoru eats, quiet, dainty chewing and tiny licks to clean the crumbs off his fingers. It reminds him of watching Spice munch away at the sunflower seeds Yashiro would drop in his cage. "You eat very quietly."
"Most of your classmates chew with their mouths open and smear half their lunch on their face. You really are very grown up, aren't you, Satoru?"
Satoru's embarrassed smile is infectious. "Thank you, sensei."
The rain picks up, beating against the roof; its soft hum fills the silence as Yashiro watches Satoru eat. He knows he looks rather suspicious right now, but Satoru has scarcely, if ever, shown any wariness towards him. Yashiro rests his face in his palm, finger tapping against his temple.
He decides to push it a bit further. "Looking at you makes me want to smoke again."
"What the hell does that mean?" Satoru’s face quickly goes from indignant to embarrassed to horrified. "I'm—I mean—!"
"Don't apologize. You just make me feel nostalgic."
Yashiro pats Satoru’s head. “No, thank you, Spice.”
They sit a while longer, Satoru eating, Yashiro watching. The light rain turns into a torrential downpour. Satoru glances over at Yashiro every few moments, trying to hide his churning thoughts. Watching his expressions change is so very entertaining. Yashiro would love to lock him up in a cage where he can poke and prod at him all day long, see those eyes widen with fear then darken with hatred, again and again and again.
Satoru is the one to break their comfortable silence. "Sensei, can I ask you something?"
"Like I said, I'll tell you when I find something. Be patient."
"It's not about that."
Yashiro raises a brow. "Then I'm all ears."
"It's a bit of a weird question."
"In case you haven't noticed, I'm a bit of a weird guy."
Satoru doesn't laugh. He doesn't even smile. Yashiro is sharply reminded of a years old conversation, one that began with "where were you on the 22nd of last month?" and ended with weeks of pretending to grieve a woman who had been little more than an annoyance to him.
If Satoru suspects him, what will Yashiro do? Kill him, or keep him?
(Or kill him again and again and again, turning back the clock to savor that sweet betrayal. There are so many methods he wants to try, some painful, some peaceful, all with Satoru, Satoru, Satoru—)
"What if there was someone you really wanted to meet," Satoru says haltingly, "someone really important to you, but you weren't sure if fate would let it happen. What would you do?"
Yashiro blinks. "Are you talking about Kayo?"
"No," Satoru mumbles. His ears flush red. Yashiro's breath stutters.
What a little flirt.
The words that come out of his mouth next are out of his control. It’s all Satoru’s fault, really. Satoru’s fault for teasing him. Satoru’s fault for toying with him. It’s Satoru’s fault, so Yashiro isn’t to blame for what he shamelessly suggests, for the sick show he’s planning.
Satoru deserves this.
Everyone deserves a return on their valiant efforts. It would be so sad if Satoru never got to meet the person he’s so desperately searching for, after all.
"Hey, Satoru. What do you think about coming to the library with me tomorrow?"
After school the next day, Satoru marches into the library at Yashiro's heels. Everything looks so much larger in this tiny body, so much more imposing. The woman at the counter greets them with a sight bow. She clearly recognizes Yashiro—he has been here every day for the better part of a month. In a rather uncharacteristic move, Yashiro walks past her without even throwing out a greeting. Satoru jogs after him, struggling to keep up as they make for the records section.
The spot they stop at is a secluded corner of the library’s second story. Bookshelves surround a small table and chair, sheltering them from watching eyes. A window adorns the wall. A thin layer of dust rests on the shelves. Satoru covers a sneeze as Yashiro goes through the newspapers, picking them out one at a time and laying them down on the table.
“Start looking through these,” he says, gesturing to the stack. “You might find them interesting.”
Satoru drops his backpack on the floor. He opens the first paper, dated May 1972, and immediately sees why it caught Yashiro’s eye. On the front page in bold font reads Missing Girl Found in Family’s Shed, Suspect Commits Suicide . It’s similar to the killer’s M.O., but…
This is wrong.
“This is wrong.”
Yashiro’s reply jolts Satoru out of his thoughts. He coughs discreetly into his fist. “The suspect wasn’t arrested, he committed suicide. Besides, the killer doesn’t rape his victims.”
Yashiro smiles enigmatically. “How do you figure that?”
“Um.” Satoru scratches his cheek. “Just a feeling.”
Yashiro pushes another bundle of papers towards him. “Look at these next.”
A bouquet of dead children lay before him. Two years, 1983 and 1986, and four dead girls. Each victim has a perpetrator behind bars; a father, a teacher, a vagrant. Someone conveniently close, conveniently suspicious. Conveniently denying their guilt, making themselves look guiltier in turn. The defense lawyer for one of the cases is listed as Kobayashi Takanari.
Satoru feels sick.
"There are more than just these, I'm sure. Our killer is awfully efficient."
Satoru nods. Another paper finds itself in his hands. It’s from 1987, only a year ago. Three girls went missing in quick fashion; two of them sisters, who disappeared together, one of them a loner who vanished from the school playground after dark. The suspect, a local with considerable debt, was arrested a short time later. Draft letters for ransom notes were found on his computer. Though he professed innocence, the evidence was against him, and he was found guilty.
(No one locks their doors in rural Hokkaido.)
Satoru feels sick.
Yashiro sits at the table. Satoru turns to him, prepared to discuss motive, victimology, and the timeline thus far. His words fail him. Yashiro is holding a paper in front of him, his expression almost sickly. Satoru nudges his way between his arms to catch sight of the headline.
Child Psychiatrist Commits Suicide in Sapporo
Satoru cranes his neck back, trying to catch sight of Yashiro’s dark eyes. “Sensei?”
“Here.” Yashiro grabs his hand, tracing his fingers down past the headline—to the body of the article, where a certain sentence catches him off guard.
“‘Ikeda Yuuko, age twenty-four, was found unresponsive at 10:23pm after having jumped from her apartment balcony. Testimony from her fiancé…’” Satoru’s stomach drops. “Her fiancé…”
“‘Testimony from her fiancé, Yashiro Gaku, indicates she was under immense stress at her hospital job. He stated in his police report that Ikeda suddenly became erratic and inconsolable before throwing herself from the balcony. Injuries on Ikeda’s wrists and Yashiro’s arms corroborate his testimony that he attempted to prevent the suicide, only to be overpowered. Ikeda was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital at 10:31pm,’” Yashiro finishes. “Hard to believe it’s already been five years.”
“Why aren’t you married, sensei?”
“Actually, I went through a painful experience once, so maybe I’m proceeding with excessive caution.”
That Yashiro didn’t tell him the whole truth should bother him. Yashiro is his teacher, and Satoru is, at least on the surface, an eleven year old boy. His sensei shouldn’t be relying on him.
But Satoru wants him to.
He wants to fill the hole that exists in Yashiro’s heart, like Yashiro did for him. He wants to find the right words to say, like he did for Airi. Satoru turns around, still caged in Yashiro’s arms, and tries to find something to say. Anything. Something that will lessen the pain.
And yet, like with Satoru’s manga, the words don’t come. He’s still too afraid to look inside himself. He’s still too afraid to look inside other people.
No matter how hard he’s fought, he hasn’t gotten anywhere at all.
Yashiro laughs humorlessly. “You don’t have to say anything. It was a long time ago.”
“Five years isn’t that long,” Satoru says, mouth dry. Five years was how long he’d spent drawing manga professionally. Five years got him a video game series adaptation and the ability to draw perspective a little better. Five years isn’t long enough for anything.
Yashiro shakes his head, smiling despite the reminder of his almost-wife’s suicide right in front of him. “That’s a weird thing for a kid to say. Five years is half of your life, isn’t it?”
“It’s only about a fifth of yours.”
“Very good.” Yashiro tosses the newspaper on the table. His arms wrap around Satoru, pulling him close. “Oh, Satoru, Satoru, Satoru. Spice. What am I going to do with you?”
Satoru squirms. “Sensei?”
“All those little lives. Gone in an instant. Their ‘killers’ jailed, then forgotten about. How very sad.”
Oh. Satoru wraps his arms around Yashiro’s neck, submitting to the hug. “I’m sorry for involving you, Sensei.”
“Don’t be sorry. I was already involved.” Yashiro buries his nose in Satoru’s hair, takes a deep breath. It tickles. “I’ve been thinking about what to do. There has to be a solution, only it’s so far out of my ordinary line of thought I can’t see it. I’ve been thinking about you, too.”
“You. Such a small thing. So easy to break, to hurt.” Yashiro’s grip tightens. His grip restricts Satoru’s airflow the slightest bit; he shoves back, trying to create space where there isn’t any. “I haven’t felt this alive in ages.”
“Sensei, let go. You’re hurting me.”
Yashiro crushes him. “Tell me, Satoru,” he says, unbothered by Satoru’s hands pushing at his chest, his breaths coming out as gasps, “how old are you?”
Alarm bells are ringing. Satoru looks up instinctively, but instead of the blue butterfly all he sees are cobwebs clinging to the ceiling. Twenty-nine. One year older than you. “Eleven. You gave me a birthday gift, remember?”
“Sure did. Should I give you another? I’ve missed so many. How old are you?”
“I told you, eleven—!”
“Hush, now. We’re in a library, you shouldn’t be making so much noise. What if someone comes to check on us?” Yashiro’s finger taps against his back. “How old are you?”
“Twenty-nine—” Satoru’s eyes snap open wide, noticing the mistake far, far too late. “E-eleven.”
A fatherly smile blooms on Yashiro’s face. He lets Satoru go enough for him to breathe, enough for him to feel his heart shudder in his chest, pumping blood faster and faster to fuel the flight or fight instinct flooding his head. Then Yashiro nuzzles Satoru, brushes their noses against one another, and for the first time Satoru realizes, dully, that this is not how a father touches his son.
“Twenty-nine,” Yashiro says, his voice full of wonder. “Alright. That explains things.”
“Sensei,” Satoru breathes. His whole body is trembling. “Let me go.”
“No. I don’t think I will.” There’s a flash of silver illuminating the space between them. Satoru glances down, sees the box cutter Yashiro used to cut him out of his car, a weapon he hadn’t questioned the existence of—
—a seatbelt that wouldn’t come undone, fire consuming Airi’s house, his mother, lying dead on the floor of his apartment, a knife lodged in her gut and the man he’d seen on the stairs, red eyes, so red—
—Yashiro’s eyes look red, in the light of the setting sun.
“If you’re a good boy and keep your mouth shut, I’ll let Kenya and Misato live. If you aren’t, well,” Yashiro laughs good-naturedly. “It’s not like anyone will believe you anyway.”
In his dreams that night, Airi collapses on the cold, wet ground as he's led away in handcuffs. Her expression is one of pure agony.
Yashiro-sensei watches from behind the yellow tape, laughing.
good news, the cat is finally out of the bag! bad news, it was schrodinger's cat. it's dead now.
The next day, Satoru comes to class late. He walks in slowly, his head bowed. Dark circles hang heavy under his eyes. When Yashiro tells him to take his seat, he flinches. The poor thing must be so afraid. Yashiro is surprised he showed up at all; he'd thought for sure his favorite student would beg his mother to stay home for at least a few days.
He really has to stop underestimating him.
The look on his face is familiar; betrayal, loathing, fear. But hesitation, too, and in that moment Yashiro knows Satoru is struggling to come to grips with the truth. There is a killer targeting children in Ishikari. The murderer is experienced, efficient, and patient. He's also the one person no one will suspect.
After all, everyone knows Yashiro-sensei cares so deeply for his students. Like they’re his own children, really.
He claps his hands to attract everyone's attention. Satoru turns away. Kenya watches him, concerned.
Yashiro smiles pleasantly. "Shall we begin?"
Today's morning lesson is writing. Yashiro writes simple kanji on the board for the class to copy, then walks through the aisles, supervising the work. Satoru declines to even try, instead sketching over his paper, black lines of graphite illustrating messy faces. Among them Yashiro recognizes Sachiko, Kayo, and Kenya. At the center of the page is a girl with long, dark hair and a friendly smile. Satoru covers the drawings with his arms when he walks by, as if hiding a secret. When they break for lunch, he crumples the paper and shoves it deep into his backpack.
Morning slides away, and soon enough afternoon comes. It ticks by second by second. When Yashiro calls on Satoru to answer a question during their math lesson he glares mutely, only to protest when the problem passes to Kenya instead. The school day finally ends as it always does, with his cute female students begging for attention, pretending not to understand even the simplest of concepts. Yashiro leans far into their space to look at their books. The girls giggle in delight. Behind them, Satoru snaps his pencil in half.
So much rage and jealousy, all for him. Only for him. Yashiro never wants Satoru to look at anyone else with such an expression.
He never wants him to look at anyone else at all.
He sends the kids home that day without incident. And the next day. And the next.
On the fourth day, Satoru bites his nails down to the wick, and Yashiro takes him to the nurse’s office. He’s gentle as he wraps those tiny fingers in band-aids. Satoru’s hands shake. The smell of blood tickles Yashiro's nose, and he indulges a long inhale before letting go.
He's quite certain Satoru won't say a word to anyone. With how perfectly he's protected Kayo and Aya, Yashiro presumes he must have gone ahead with killing them in whatever future Satoru has returned from. How unfortunate that they're still alive this time around.
No crime, no criminal, no police. No recourse for a frightened child.
Sometimes after class, when he's feeling particularly empty, Yashiro thinks about killing Satoru. He imagines closing his fists around that delicate neck and squeezing tightly. Satoru would choke, try to scream, kick against Yashiro's stomach and pull at his wrists. Then he'd go silent, saliva dribbling out of his mouth as his pupils blow wide, face turning blue. And then. They begin again.
But something always stops him, halts him in his tracks even as he turns towards the direction of that silly little hideout, is this—what if they don't?
What if this time it's over?
When Spice died, Yashiro was at school. He'd come home to find his room quiet. He found Spice in his cage on his back, legs stiff, beady eyes unfocused. Yashiro wrapped him in a blanket and buried him in the backyard of his grandfather's house without a second thought. By the time his mother came home from work, he'd already discarded the cage and feed, keeping only the wheel as a memento of his departed pet.
If Satoru died—permanently—what memento would Yashiro keep? How would he preserve the memory of Satoru's fear, his joy?
The original Spice had already been an unusual creature, but this Spice, who’s thoughts are beyond Yashiro’s imaginings, is a complete enigma. Yashiro wouldn’t be satisfied just with having a pair of blue knit gloves or a hero’s journal. No singular item could encompass the entirety of Satoru; the only way to do so would be to enablem him in a jar, like a fetal kitten dead before it was born.
No. Killing Satoru isn’t an option. Not until he understands everything. Not until Satoru is his.
He starts his flirtations simply. It takes no effort whatsoever to call Satoru into the faculty office. The boy looks wary, but no longer terrified. Pens click and papers shuffle around them as Yashiro’s colleagues work. The presence of other, safer adults must be reassuring to Satoru.
After everything, he’s still so trusting. Yashiro is certain at least one of his coworkers has unsavory thoughts about children. It wouldn’t be hard to persuade him to ‘help out’.
But. That would require giving Satoru to someone beside himself. And he’s never going to do that.
(Satoru’s thread is, as always, beautiful.)
“Do you know why I’ve called you here today?” Yashiro asks, just for the pleasure of watching him squirm.
“No, sensei,” Satoru spits the honorific.
“Can you take a guess?”
Watching ire blossom on Satoru’s face is enchanting. “....no, sensei.”
“It’s about your schoolwork. I’ve noticed you haven’t been trying your best lately.”
“I’m so sorry,” Satoru says.
Yashiro can’t help the way his smile splits into a grin. He adores this side of Satoru, the jaded adult hiding in the skin of a child. It’s positively alluring. He takes a graded assignment out of his folder, one he's been keeping at home for analysis. Yashiro doesn’t let go at first when Satoru grabs it; he lets Satoru tug on it for a brief moment. Reminds him just what the difference in their strength is.
In a rare moment of impulse, Yashiro rummages around in his pocket, procures a lollipop— blueberry flavor, the wrapper crinkled from where he’d hastily put it back on earlier, and if Satoru licks it he’ll be tasting Yashiro’s spit and isn’t that a nice thought? —and sticks it behind Satoru’s ear. “It’s important we always try our best, Satoru. Remember that, okay?”
After he escapes, Satoru throws up in the bathroom. He tears the lollipop out of his hair and flushes it down the toilet with his vomit. He considers ripping up the assignment and disposing of it in the same way, but he can’t risk it. If there’s a chance Yashiro has written something of worth there—a motive, or an explanation, or something he could sneak to Sawada on the chance he stops by the Fujinuma household—he has to read it.
Even if he doesn’t want to. Even if looking at Yashiro’s handwriting makes him sick.
He runs all the way home without speaking to his friends. Kenya calls out after him, even tries to catch up, but Satoru is faster. Yashiro threatened them. He threatened to kill Kenya and Misato. It isn’t safe for them to be associated with Satoru anymore, but it also isn’t safe for Satoru to leave them alone, but even if he does stay with them it’s not like he can tell them to avoid their teacher.
(Yashiro has, since that day in the snow, been more than a teacher to Satoru. Does he know? He must know.)
Satoru grinds his teeth, fists his hands in his hair, and holds back a scream.
The apartment is empty when he gets home. His mother is still at work, but maybe it’s better this way. Yashiro doesn’t have much of a reason to target her in this timeline. Not unless Satoru gives him one. He locks the door three times, twisting the deadbolt in and out of place, then checks every window in the house, the door to the verdana, and the vents. He looks under the kitchen table, in the closet, in every nook and cranny someone might be able to hide, and then the places they couldn’t. It’s only after he’s deemed the apartment is as safe as it can be that he collapses on the floor of the bedroom, curtains drawn tight over the window, and cries.
It feels like he’s cried a lot recently. Most of those tears were shed without his knowledge, little betrayals he could attribute to shock or tiredness. This… isn’t that. This is intentional, sobs and whines he indulges because if he doesn’t it feels like something inside him is going to burst. Like an unspeakable grief is drowning him from the inside.
Satoru would stay there forever if he could, wallowing in his own hurt and betrayal, but he can’t. Now that he knows who the killer is, stopping him is more important than ever. He should have known it was a teacher, someone who knew which students were ostracized, which were abused, which were vulnerable. Yashiro had all the time in the world to earn his students’ trust. It would be easy for him to take Kayo from her mother’s shed, or lure Hiromi to the Shiratori warehouse. Satoru wonders, now, if Yashiro had been lying when he said he’d called Child Protective Services on Kayo’s mother. If he’d only acted because Satoru forced his hand.
But he can’t dwell on the past, not when the future is still uncertain. Satoru doesn’t think Yashiro would be rash enough to kill now that his secret is out, but—would he? Would it matter what one child had to say, when all the evidence will inevitably point far from Yashiro Gaku? His testimony didn’t matter when it was Yuuki in handcuffs. If anything, they’d write Satoru off as a disillusioned troublemaker, angry that his teacher gave him a bad grade or something.
A bad grade. The assignment is still crumpled in his fist.
With uneven breaths, Satoru uncurls his fingers. The paper has become wrinkled and torn. Blood stains its edge. For a horrible moment Satoru thinks it's the blood of a fresh victim, until he feels the paper cuts stinging across his palm.
Breathe in, breathe out. Calm thoughts. Satoru licks away the blood on his hand and looks down at the grade.
It’s spectacularly average, a 72%. Yashiro has written Keep working hard, Satoru! in the top margin. Perhaps it’s only in Satoru’s imagination, but it looks like the kanji of his name has been crafted with elegant care.
The page's margins are littered with notes, a far cry from Yashiro’s typical minimalist grading style. If Satoru got the answer right, he's drawn a little smiley face or written good job! If Satoru got it wrong, there’s a sly remark like how sad you’ve graduated high school without learning basic math or can't a twenty-one year old do better than this? His eyes fall to the bottom of the page with a mixture of anticipation and dread, preparing himself for the end of… of whatever this is. The conclusion to Yashiro’s haphazardly written letter.
I know homework hasn’t been the first thing on your mind lately, Satoru, but your education is important! I’ve let it slide because of the incident with Kayo, but now that she’s safe and sound, don’t you think it’s time to refocus yourself? I’m always here to help if you have troubles or concerns. Your sensei cares for you deeply.
Gaku. Gaku. Yashiro-sensei’s given name. Satoru has never called him that, has never heard anyone call him that. Logically, he knows there must be someone close enough to use that name, but it feels… wrong. He always pictured Yashiro alone in his head, even before he knew the truth. Deep inside the teacher he always looked up to was a loneliness that couldn’t be hidden.
“Ikeda Yuuko, age twenty-four…. her fiancé, Yashiro Gaku….”
She would have called him ‘Gaku.’
(Marks on his arms. Did he kill her? He must have. He was gloating. There was no other reason for him to show Satoru that article.
But. The other one. The middle school student who raped and killed an elementary school girl, then hung himself. Yashiro was neither the perpetrator nor the victim, so how was he involved? Why did he show that paper to Satoru first?)
He's still sitting in the middle of the floor, clutching the paper in his hands, when the front door clicks open.
Satoru scrambles to his feet. His eyes dart around the room, searching for anything he could use as a weapon. Memories replay over and over in the back of his mind; when Yashiro grabbed him by the shoulders and herded him into Wakaba gym; when Yashiro trapped him effortlessly in the library; when Yashiro held him in place using only a piece of paper earlier that day. He was too weak to resist then. If Yashiro is here to force him out of the safety of his home, he won’t be able to do a single thing about it.
(Rationally, he knows that isn’t Yashiro’s M.O. The killer would never risk such a sloppy, violent abduction. If he’d wanted to kill Satoru then… then…
Then that day at the gym would have been the perfect time. Sweat beads on Satoru’s neck. How many times had he climbed into the passenger seat of Yashiro’s car without questioning it? How many times had they been alone together, away from any possible witnesses?)
A hand falls on his head. From behind him, a voice asks, “what are you doing, Satoru?”
The voice is teasing, affectionate. So much warmer and softer than Yashiro’s. Satoru folds the assignment and hides it up his shirt.
If he hadn't cried so much earlier, he's sure he'd be swimming in tears now. “Mom…”
His mother is at his side in an instant. Her hand slips under his bangs, expression pinched tightly in concern. “Are you feeling alright?”
Satoru gnaws on his lower lip. If he says no, she might let him stay home from school—it’s Friday tomorrow, so he’ll have three days to re-orient himself before he sees Yashiro again. On the other hand, he feels like he has to keep an eye on his enigmatic teacher, like he owes it to Kenya and Misato to guard them and everyone else Yashiro may target in his absence.
Either way, he’ll get two whole days to figure out what to do. What’s a few hours tomorrow?
“I’m okay,” Satoru croaks.
“If you’re sure,” his mom says, narrowing her eyes inquisitively. Satoru turns his head away.
They eat dinner in silence. It's alright; Satoru isn't in the mood to talk. Knowing that his mother’s would-be killer is close at hand, hiding in the skin of someone she trusts, has him committing every detail to memory; the taste of miso on his tongue, the twitch of her lips as she chews her food, the gentle warmth of the heater chasing away the cold. She watches him carefully. Satoru imagines he looks downright haggard.
“By the way,” his mom says casually, “I ran into Yashiro-sensei at the store.”
The food in his mouth turns to ash. Satoru swallows it down like a lump of coal. “R-really?”
“Yeah. He told me something interesting, too.” She crosses her arms and gives Satoru an assessing look. “Something about you slacking when it comes to your schoolwork.”
Blood rushes in his ears, his heart thuds painfully, but no blue butterfly appears to save him. “Ah…”
“He said he’d be willing to tutor you on the weekends,” Sachiko continues with an encouraging smile. “I think it’d be a good idea.”
Satoru’s head is spinning. No. Hell no. “Um, I was actually going to go to the science center with Kenya on Saturday…”
“Satoru,” Sachiko says firmly, “I'm glad you're spending time with your friends, but going to Yashiro-sensei’s house to study once a week won't hurt you.”
He feels like the air has been punched out of his gut. “But…”
“Your education is important, too.” The words so closely mirror what Yashiro wrote on his paper, it seems for a moment his mother is a puppet, a skin-suit for the killer to hide in. He must have used that line to get her to agree to this farce. Shit. Shit!
“Yashiro-sensei was very kind to offer to tutor you on his days off, it would be rude to turn him down. Besides, I don’t have the money to send you to cram school.”
Satoru bites his lip so hard it turns white.
Sachiko grins. “Just kidding!”
He stays home sick the next day after all.
“Is there any particular reason you don’t want to be at Yashiro-sensei’s house?”
Sachiko’s voice is sharp and perceptive outside Yashiro’s front door. He pauses with his hand resting on the frame, eager to listen to whatever excuse Satoru comes up with. Will he accuse Yashiro of being a pedophile? Say his sensei touches him in places that make him queasy? Or will he tell Sachiko the truth, that Yashiro is a serial child murderer, that he’s likely to take a knife to Satoru’s throat the moment they’re alone?
“No,” Satoru says, and a thrill runs down Yashiro’s spine. That’s right; this is their little secret. No one but Satoru knows Yashiro’s true form.
And if Satoru tries to tell anyone, no one will believe him.
“So you’re just lazy and trying to avoid doing your homework?” Sachiko teases.
Yashiro can almost see it, Satoru’s uncomfortable squirm as he clings to his mother’s hand. The shiftiness of his eyes. The rabbit-fast beating of his heart beneath his ribs, frantic with false memories of drowning in the river.
Yashiro opens the door. "Good evening, Fujinuma-san, Satoru."
"Good evening." Sachiko scarcely looks like a woman with a child; her face is as beautiful as ever, still flush with the confidence of her long past teenage years. Her hair lays fluffed around her face in silky black tufts. Satoru looks very much like her, from the shape of his eyes to the color of his hair. There are some added features, though, remnants of a father who's no longer in the picture.
Yashiro knows this because Sachiko told him. On Satoru's first day in his class, she'd said, secretively, that Satoru sometimes cried in his sleep. She was the one who asked if he could play papa to her child.
While not a role Yashiro was initially keen on, he’s now thankful he hadn’t declined her request.
Sachiko pushes her son towards the door. He shoves his hands into the pockets of his jacket. "Don't mope, Satoru. I'll pick you up in a few hours, okay?"
"'kay," Satoru says, his eyes downcast, and then they're alone.
"Make yourself comfortable."
Satoru pointedly ignores the coat rack next to the door, instead plopping in front of the table without removing his jacket. "No thanks."
Yashiro thinks he prefers Satoru's adult mannerisms, but this childish petulance is cute, too. "Suit yourself."
He makes coffee. He doesn’t add any sugar, instead offering it to Satoru black. Satoru stares suspiciously at the cup, mist swirling over his face, then turns his glare to Yashiro.
“It isn’t drugged,” Yashiro says. “If you’re worried, I’ll prove it.”
He takes the mug back and downs a fourth of it. The coffee burns along the back of his throat, bitter and unrefined, cheap beans he’d bought at a discount from the convenience store. When he hands the cup back to Satoru, his lips have made a moist impression on the rim. Satoru wipes it away in disgust.
“You could've put in a small dose. You wouldn't need as much to knock a child out.” Satoru slams the mug down on the table, causing the hot liquid to slosh out over his hand. His yelp of pain is pure music.
Yashiro chuckles. “You seem to be hurting yourself quite a lot these days. One wonders if it’s on purpose. Should I call the Child Consultation Center?”
“Fine. Go pretend to call them and act surprised when they never show up.”
Oh, so he's caught onto his little white lie about Kayo. Smart boy. “Okay, okay. No need to get upset.”
Satoru turns away to cradle his hand. The skin has gone red and slightly shiny.
“That looks painful. I’ll get a salve from the medicine cabinet.”
“I don’t need it.”
“You shouldn’t be so willful—but then, I can’t say I find that part of you unattractive.”
Satoru’s mouth falls open in shock. Yashiro is so tempted to touch, but. No. Even if Satoru is older than he looks, even if he’s likely to understand exactly what Yashiro is doing and unlikely to say anything about it, he shouldn’t push things too far.
He doesn’t have an alibi for this evening. If Satoru does something reckless and say, tries to stab him, it would be a pain in the ass to cover it up.
Yashiro takes his time rifling through the medicine cabinet in the bathroom. Anticipation settles deep in his gut. Will Satoru be gone when he comes back? He deftly picks out the burn cream and turns it over in his hands. He has a wide selection of drugs and medicines: sleeping pills, pain relievers, salves for all sorts of ailments.
He pockets the burn cream and a box of gauze, wets a clean washcloth, and goes back to the living room. Satoru is sitting right where he left him, cradling his hand against his chest.
Yashiro shivers. “Good boy.”
“You’re disgusting,” Satoru spits.
“You’ve become awfully rude lately.” He sits closer to Satoru than strictly necessary, but the boy doesn’t budge an inch. How brave of him. “Perhaps I should talk to your mother.”
Satoru grabs his shirt collar and yanks him down violently. A memory comes to mind—his ex-fiancée used to do this, pulling him into ruthless, passionate kisses whenever she pleased. Yashiro always thought of it as nothing more than a necessity for preserving their relationship. This time, with Satoru, he feels positively giddy. “Stay away from her!”
That’s quite a reaction. If Satoru knows what he is, and Yashiro believes he does, he should realize Yashiro doesn’t go after grown women, no matter how girlish and pretty their faces are. Perhaps he did something to her in the future. Sachiko was always unusually sharp; a former investigative reporter, if he remembers correctly.
Like mother, like son.
Yashiro wrenches Satoru’s injured hand away with minimal effort, and raises the washcloth. Satoru's demeanor changes in a second, and he scrambles away.
“...You think it’s chloroform, don’t you.” He laughs. “You really do think the worst of me.”
“You haven't given me a reason to think otherwise.”
Yashiro chooses to ignore him. “It’s only cold water. Hold still while I clean the burn.”
Satoru flatly refuses. He squirms around, yanking his arm out of Yashiro’s grip, even slapping him in the shoulder once. Instead of annoyance, Yashiro feels almost gleeful. It reminds him of those first few days with Spice, when the little hamster was afraid of him. He’d bite Yashiro’s fingers through the bars of his cage, spilling blood over his soft bedding.
The thought of his blood on Satoru’s teeth is an intriguing one, but he has plenty of time to arrange such an occasion. Today his goals are far from violence.
“Satoru,” Yashiro chides, grabbing both of his wrists and pinning them to his chest, “would you like to know what will happen if you keep struggling like this?”
“You’ll let me go?”
“I’m afraid not. If you go home with an untreated burn, your mother will start asking questions. She may even begin to suspect me. And if that happens, well, she might just have an ‘accident’ on her way home from work one day. Hit-and-runs are so very tragic, aren’t they?”
That has Satoru freezing in place, his eyes growing wide, then narrowing in anger. “Don’t you dare threaten her,” he hisses.
“It’s not a threat, merely a casual observation of your mother's future if you keep this up.”
“Considering your father is out of the picture, aren’t you more of a bastard than I am?” Yashiro says, not bothering to mention that his own parents are also divorced. Satoru’s fists start to shake. “Now, be a good boy and give me your hand.”
He does, albeit reluctantly, his uninjured hand tucked firmly in his pocket. Yashiro washes the burn gently, then applies the cream. It must sting, but Satoru makes it a point not to show any discomfort. His insistence on glaring at Yashiro's face the entire time is quite adorable. Yashiro holds his gaze as he massages Satoru's hand.
Finally, it's over. He lets go of Satoru long enough to wipe his hands on his pants and grab the box of gauze. “Okay, time for the bandages,” he says cheerfully.
Satoru snatches the box away. “I can put it on myself.”
“It would do you good to be less stubborn, you know.”
“It would do you good to be less of an asshole.”
“Honestly, Satoru, I haven’t even done anything.” Not yet, at least. “I’d think you’d be happy! You discovered the identity of the kidnapper. Aren’t you pleased with yourself?” Satoru presses his lips into a thin line. “Truly, you should be proud. Never have I been so thoroughly cornered. In fact, I believe you deserve another reward.”
“I don’t want anything from you.” Satoru spits.
Yashiro leans over casually, resting his head in his hand. “Not even guaranteed safety for you and your loved ones?”
For only a moment, Satoru’s eyes light up—then they harden again, becoming even more closed than before. “I already said I don’t trust you.
"You don't really have to trust me. After all, I hold the cards here." He stands up, just to see what Satoru will do when confronted with the difference in their height. Satoru rises to his feet smoothly. His moves are unexpectedly confident. He must have some sort of trump card, but Yashiro is content to wait and see what it is. He's so passive when it comes to Satoru. It's quite alarming. "All you can do is take my word for it when I say I won't harm anyone, as long as you keep your end of the bargain."
Satoru doesn't deign to give him an answer.
"I won't ask anything difficult of you." Yashiro steps aside, wrings his hands. He's never felt so full of anticipation, as if he'll be burned alive by all this pent up energy. All these new sensations Satoru is giving him—he wants to keep feeling them. "I'm open to compromise as well. All I ask is that you become 'Spice.'"
"Spice," Satoru mutters. "What does that mean?"
Yashiro looks to his home office, where Spice's hamster wheel sits on a bookshelf, gathering dust. "Spice was my pet hamster when I was your age. He was given to me by a classmate, along with seven others. I put them all in a jar of water at home, and left them to drown."
He hears a faint sound of disgust behind him. Yashiro closes his eyes.
"I don't think I wanted to kill them, exactly. They were a bother. I didn't have any money of my own due to… other expenses… and my parents would hardly have agreed to pay for cages and food for all of them. I could have given them away, but that was a pain, too, as it meant I would need to interact with my neighbors. When I came back to my room that night, though, I saw something very special. Would you like to know what it was?"
There's shuffling behind him. Satoru's voice peeps up closer than before, hoarse and small. "Tell me, sensei."
"One of the hamsters," Yashiro says, "had survived. He was right there, standing on the waterlogged corpses of his brothers and sisters. I couldn't look away. It was the most fascinating thing I'd ever seen… until you."
"What makes me special?"
"I'm afraid you haven't earned that yet, but don't fret. I'm sure you'll get there someday. For now, all you need to know is the terms of the deal I'm offering; you become my Spice, and I—"
Pain. Sudden, inexplicable pain. An ordinary breath breaks into a gasp as his spine explodes into flame, an inferno burning deep into his mid back. Then the air is punched out of him as something sharp and wet slides out of his flesh. Yashiro falls hard. Black spots swim in his vision. He struggles to turn over, and his hands slip in the hot, sticky blood pooling underneath him. Pain rises and falls with the beating of his heart. He shoves at the floor and rolls onto his back. The tidal wave of white hot agony is worth it. Standing above him is Satoru, bloody knife in hand, mouth agape.
"Sa—" Yashiro gasps. "Satoru."
"I'm sorry, sensei," Satoru says. His voice, his hands, his whole body is shaking, and what a sight it is to see. "But I don't belong to you."
His thread is gone.
Of course. Yashiro's lips quirk up into a smile. That's it. That's the answer. Satoru's life isn't for him, not to take, and not to own.
It's the other way around.
"I'm sure," he murmurs, "that I was born to meet you."
And, like Kandata gazing at the Buddha as he fell back into hell, Yashiro dies looking at Satoru's face.
After it's over, Satoru throws up on the floor.
There was never a chance of him making it to the toilet. He hadn't expected—he didn't realize—he didn't understand. What it was like watching someone die. What it was like to murder someone.
Did Yashiro feel this unbalanced, this nauseous, this awful, every time? Satoru doubted it. The man had smiled at him mere moments after stabbing his mother, sat back and watched as a little girl was beaten every week, even thrown his own fiancée from the balcony of her apartment. Satoru would be surprised if Yashiro Gaku had ever felt guilty about anything.
He looks over to where it is on the floor. The crisp white dress shirt is ruined, dyed crimson and torn. Smears of dark blood soak the floor beneath it. Yashiro’s head rests against the hardwood in an awkward position. Satoru can’t see his eyes from this angle. He should… he should close them, right? And cover the body. If only so he doesn’t have to look at it anymore.
It feels like he’s learning to walk again. Gravity conspires against him, making him trip and stumble over every groove in the floor. The room is spinning. Satoru shrugs off his jacket and shivers when cold air brushes against his skin. The stillness is oppressive, fighting against him with every step.
When his feet finally stop next to Yashiro’s head, he doesn’t look. He stares down, inspecting his worn socks, the black hair strewn about next to them. His hands shake. Slowly, as if his body is made of glass, he looks. And shudders.
Yashiro’s eyes are cold and empty. And.
Smiling. Like he did on that snowy day in March.
Above their heads, a butterfly creeps out of its cocoon, and prepares for flight.
"I want to fill the hole in people's hearts—other's and my own."
Sator’s lips fold around the words slowly, tenderly. His vocal cords vibrate with the sound. A car engine rumbles gently all around him. Snow swirls in the air outside his window. Just before the world snaps back into perfect focus, an iridescent blue butterfly, wings wet and flush and new, flutters past his head and lands on the face of the man sitting in the driver's seat.
Yashiro slams on the breaks. The car lurches forward. Satoru's seatbelt catches him before his face slams into the dash, throwing him back into his seat with enough force to knock the wind out of him.
Yashiro is staring. Satoru meets those dark eyes on instinct. They cycle through emotions: surprise, recognition, and finally, mirth.
(He’s alive. He’s alive and Satoru is not a murderer. Thank god. Thank god. Thank…)
"Goddamnit!" Satoru shouts, banging his fists on the dash.
Yashiro stares incredulously. "Did you just… stab me?" His voice is wondrous, like a child discovering candy for the first time.
“Shut up or I'll do it again,” Satoru snaps. He’s hyperventilating, now. Just when he'd decided to do what had to be done, just when he’d finally stopped being a coward, of course he'd go through a revival. And that means stabbing Yashiro, killing Yashiro, is the wrong way to go. It’s not the future fate wants.
(It’s not the future he wants either. He thinks. But a migraine is starting to bloom behind his eyes and thinking is hard, so files that away into things to consider later, and focuses instead on the fact that his life is in imminent danger.)
“You did. You stabbed me,” Yashiro whispers reverently. “I was right. I was born for you. And you were for me.”
Satoru moves his fists from the dash to his eyes, trying to block out the headache pounding away inside his skull. He can’t deal with this crazy sensei right now. He really can’t.
Run away. Run now. Run!
A gloved hand brushes against his forehead (gloved because of the cold? Or to avoid leaving fingerprints?). “Are you trying to blind yourself?”
An unpleasant shudder takes Satoru by surprise. He knocks Yashiro’s hand away. “Don’t touch me!”
Yashiro looks down at him blankly. The earlier elation is gone, replaced with a calm, calculated mask. His hand hovers in the space between them. Satoru leans away from it, reaching down to tug pitifully at the seatbelt catch. The world slows to a standstill as they sit there, staring at each other, two would-be murderers reckoning with the not-so-distant past.
A car horn blares behind them, reminding them that they’re still in the middle of the road.
Yashiro eases off the break, pulls them off to the side where they aren’t obstructing traffic. His eyes flick back across the road; Satoru can see the calculations firing off in his head, anticipating how he should adjust his plan to alot for this new development. Satoru’s hands work frantically on the seatbelt, pressing against the buckle fruitlessly. He can’t die here, doesn’t want to die here. If he does, Yashiro will keep murdering children. Hiromi and Aya will disappear.
His mother will cry.
He bites the inside of his cheek so hard it bleeds. The brief shock of pain shakes him out of his panicked state. He has to stay calm, has to think rationally. There’s no breaking this seatbelt with his own strength. Yashiro has a boxcutter in his coat, but Satoru doubts he’ll be able to wrestle it away from him. That leaves only one option.
His hand finds the button controlling his window on the center dash, pressing it down until his finger bends back in pain; it slides open with a low whirr, letting in a rush of cold, damp air. Satoru takes in a deep breath, filling his lungs before he opens his mouth and screams.
A low curse escapes from Yashiro’s mouth. He slams his fist down on Satoru’s hand. The scream breaks off into a gasp as tiny bones shifts and breaks under the pressure. Yashiro’s big hand envelopes his own, squeezing the broken finger to keep him incapacitated with pain as he rolls the window back up. A brief survey of the street tells Satoru it’s probable no one heard his cry for help; he desperately tries to snatch his hand away, but Yashiro squeezes again, grinding the broken bone around in place.
“Now now, Satoru, behave yourself,” Yashiro chides, as if disciplining a child in his classroom. “I’m not going to hurt you, so calm down.”
“You already hurt me!” The broken finger is starting to throb now, shock ebbing away in favor of a deep, aching pain. Yashiro looks down at it with surprise on his face.
“Sorry,” he says, withdrawing his hand. Satoru cradles his wounded finger against his chest and glares with as much contempt as he can muster. His finger is already swelling, an ugly, shiny red, and it’s bent crookedly. “It was instinctual. I didn’t mean to.”
"That's not an excuse," Satoru says weakly.
It's a noncommittal, barely there answer, and Satoru knows Yashiro is just trying to placate him.
He nurses his broken finger while mentally checking his options. Yashiro will be extra watchful from now on; he can't risk running unless he's sure he can make it, or he might end up with more than just a broken finger. The box cutter is still an option. Yashiro doesn't know he knows it's there, so—
Yashiro remembers what happened before revival.
Satoru gulps. There's no precedent for this, no rules, no way he can anticipate what will happen or why. The one advantage he had over the killer has been taken away from him. He turns back to Yashiro and finds him still watching with those enigmatic eyes, quietly observing.
Think. Yashiro is a creature of desire, doing what he wants only because he wants to, without concern for anyone else. Yashiro wants something from him that isn’t his death. Satoru doesn’t know what that something is, but it’s a card in his hand and he’s got to play it as skillfully as possible. Fear won’t get him anywhere except pinned down somewhere with Yashiro leering over him. Think!
There’s only one real option. Satoru gulps.
“Gaku.” He says the name softly, trying it out in his mouth. Yashiro startles, mask broken for a brief second. You can do this. You can do this. “Since fate obviously wants us to work together, do you want to make a deal with me?”
each and every chapter. i say "this time i'll reply to comments!!" and then. i do not.
i really am reading all of them, i promise, i'm just a dysfunctional nut