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Sanctuary

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[BGM: Muse - "Map of the Problematique"]

Sanctuary

When he was little, Akaya was a wild and mischievous child. He remembered his uncle worked at a place strictly off limits to the public. In a laboratory, he called it. At that time, he had no idea what a laboratory was because his teacher hadn't taught his class that word yet in school. Or maybe she did teach them, and he and his friends were too busy goofing off to pay attention.

When you're a kid, rules and restrictions didn't matter to you because you don't know why they were set in the first place anyway. Even if you broke a rule, you could always pout and act innocent and everyone, anyone would forgive you.

One day, out of boredom and curiosity, he decided to sneak into his uncle's lab. He wanted to see why it was so mysterious.

He entered a world of white. At that time, the association he made with such a color (or void of colors), was the angel pictures his teacher hung around the classroom. She would always gesture to the pictures and tell them, her class, how angelic they were. But Akaya always found flaw in her claims.

The angels in the pictures were quiet and smiled gently and extended a helping hand to anyone in need. No one in the class was like that. They were always bullying each other and picking fights with others they didn't like. They were all too young to understand the meaning of aid.

As his eyes darted all around, he thought, if there were really angels on Earth, they must live in a place like this. Heaven. The setting must have made him more self-conscious, and he worried how his muddy sneakers would ruin the waxed floors he could almost see his own reflection in.

So he took off his shoes. He walked carefully on the clean floors. As he explored, he restrained himself and didn't reach out to touch anything. He was afraid to dirty anything, everything with his fingerprints. He was aware that maybe his carelessness and strength would break the fragile-looking setup in the place. The tanks containing transparent, light fluids. The pipes and tubes connected to them. Must be where the angels bathed.

Soon, he grew tired on his search for the angels he thought occupied this place. His mother had always been careful with him because, according to her, he had a heart condition since birth. His uncle promised his family to cure him, but he said it would take some time. In the mean time, he dealt with it, while wishing his uncle would hurry up because he hated it when the other kids made fun of how easily he got tired and all the times he couldn't join in their games.

Eventually, he came to a glass door. He leaned up against it, trying to see what was beyond.

In an all white room, bare of all furniture except for a bed and a simple desk and chair, a boy his age sat on the floor in the corner with his attention buried into a book.

He was the cleanest and most proper child he has ever seen. This must be an angel, he thought. He banged on the glass as to get the other's attention. He wanted to meet this angel. He wanted the angel to meet him as well.

The boy looked up from his reading. Then he came over, leaving his book face down on the page he left off at on the floor. The boy leaned against the glass door as if to mimic his gesture.

The two studied each other intently.

"Hi! I'm Akaya! What's your name?"

The boy with shoulder length auburn hair and clean, amber eyes looked questioning at him.

He repeated his name in a louder voice after realizing the boy didn't hear him.

The boy hesitated in a way that made Akaya realize that maybe the glass was thicker than it appeared to be.

Then, the boy opened his mouth and made a patch of translucent condensation on the glass. He scribbled a few letters.

R-e-n-j-i. Renji.

Akaya grinned. He liked the boy's idea. He copied him and wrote his name on his own patch of breath fog.

A-k-a-y-a. Akaya.

They smiled at each other.

But before they could make more clouds and scribble more dialogue on the glass, a hand on his shoulder stopped him.

Akaya turned. It was his big brother, Kuranosuke.

"You've been naughty, Akaya. Let's go before Uncle finds us, or else we'll be in big trouble." Being the wonderful big brother he was, he must have snuck out, followed him. He always covered for him when he got into trouble in the past. And now, he came to drag him out of trouble again.

Kuranosuke pulled him away. But Akaya kept looking over his shoulders. He just wanted to remember the angel, the new friend he made.

...

He awoke. The pure white hospital ceiling looked unfamiliar yet familiar at the same time.

Then he remembered his dream. Ten years ago, he snuck into his uncle's laboratory, and everything inside was the color (or void of colors) of the ceiling that he stared at now.

How did he get here? Oh, right. He was in the middle of a tennis match when his chest started hurting like a bitch, and all the air in his lungs seemed to be throttled out of him. Then he blacked out. And ended up here. In the hospital. Again.

Again, because he had been in the hospital setting so many times in the seventeen years of his life. He's used to it by now, but that didn't mean it didn't irritate the shit out of him.

There were faint whisperings and muttering at the door of his hospital room. His heart and lungs might be useless, but he heard the conversation clearly with his ears. It involved four people. His parents, his brother, and his uncle.

"The doctor said Akaya needs surgery ASAP."

"It's been ten years, why isn't it ready yet?"

"It is ready, but the clone needs to recover. He just had a donation a few days ago."

"Wasn't it just a small donation? It's only his eyes."

"We need that heart!"

"I understand. I will make arrangements for transplant as soon as possible, then."

"As it should be. I will be waiting for your notification, then."

The conversation confused him as much as his teacher's method of teaching English. It didn't help when he had no idea what 'donation' and 'transplant' were, either.

Footsteps approached his bedside. He figured he would ask whoever stayed to look after him.

Akaya opened his eyes and saw his brother's face.

"Nii-san." He greeted.

"Hey, kid." His brother forced a smile.

"What's going on? What's the plan?" He asked directly.

His brother paused as if considering whether to tell him the truth or not.

"Tell me, nii-san. I want to know everything."

The other must have been caring for him for a while and was fatigued from all the stress that he surrendered immediately. "The doctor's going to replace your heart with someone else's."

"Wow, I see." The possibility of that occurrence seemed to be like a miracle to him. He couldn't help but wonder. "So, uh, what's going to happen to that person."

Kuranosuke only smiled and stroke his hair. "Don't worry, kid. It will all be taken care of."

He sensed his brother hiding something. But he allowed himself to be comforted. On the surface. Because he wanted to give the other a break.

So he said instead. "Before anything, before I get the heart, would it be possible for me to meet the person who's being so generous?"

His brother seemed bothered, and didn't reply immediately to his request. He put his palms together and managed the puppy eyes he used whenever he wanted his way. "Please? Onii-san? I just want to thank that person. Please?"

The other sighed, rubbing his temples. "Fine. Just one word."

Akaya bobbed his head up and down. "Just one word."

...

The one word he promised turned out to be many words actually.

At first, when he saw the other again, he was shocked speechless.

His savior lied in the bed with pure white linen. The four walls, the ceiling all matching the color (or void of colors) of the covers he laid under.

A strip of bandage circled his head two times, covering his eyes.

Though it should be the first time he's seen the other, he knew this weak, defenseless figure laying in bed is the angel he encountered ten years ago. His auburn hair, his purity reminded him. Even though his height, his built, his covered eyes discouraged familiarity.

When he took a step towards the other, his brother reached out almost instinctively to stop him in his tracks. He had to reassure him, to beg him like he's always done in the past to convince his brother to let go. To let him have this interaction. To allow him to feel like he's touching heaven again.

His wrist slipped from his brother's loosened grip. The other didn't let him out of his sight. But he didn't care. All he needed was for the other to let him go. And he did.

So he approached the angel at his bedside.

He didn't know if his movement caused the angel to awaken. The angel turned to him, after deciphering the direction he came from. He couldn't see him.

"Hello." He called out. Akaya didn't know if it was a predilection of some sort or something that even the other's single, plain greeting appealed to him.

"H-Hi." He stuttered his own greeting.

The other, hearing that someone had answered him, peeled the covers off of him and sat up slowly. Even in his cross-legged position, his back was straight, erect and his hands resting on his lap. His position reminded him oddly of the picture of Buddha sitting on a lotus flower that his mom hung up at home. Taking the other's action as invitation, he sat down carefully on the other's bed.

"Akaya." His brother shot him a look of disapproval , as if he might be infected with some sort of bacteria if he chose to sit in such a spot.

Akaya returned with a reassuring wave of his hand. Then he turned his entire attention back to the other. The angel.

He studied what the ten years did to the other. It made him taller, broader. Then, he spotted a long, pink scar running from the intersection of his collarbones down between his chest until it disappeared into his gown and ended at a point unknown to him. Then he looked to his face, the majority which was concealed behind the gauze bandage. He longed to see the other's eyes. The eyes he knew that were no longer there because the angel gave them away to become someone else's savior.

His brother urged him to hurry. Both of them knew how much their uncle disliked people loitering here.

Akaya's couldn't come up with anything intelligent to say, so he spewed whatever crossed his mind in attempt to fill in the awkward silence.

"I think there's some sort of curse in our family. All my relatives and I are sick in some way, shape or form. Like, either we're born with some sort of deadly disease, or we get into accidents that make us really sick. First, it's my distant cousin, Akuto-niisan, who had to get a new kidney. Then, there is another cousin of mine, Genichirou-niisan, who had to get a new lung. My brother has something going on with his arm too that he had to get something done to. And then, there is my cousin, Seiichi. I heard he got his eyes replaced from an accident he got into a few days ago." He ranted, and glanced over to the other, who seemed like he was listening quietly. "I could go on forever, but that would just be boring. And we don't have time for that."

He took a deep breath.

"A-actually, I-I j-just wanted to thank you." Akaya managed after a few stutters. "Thank you for your gift."

His words must have caught the other by surprise. He paused for a period of time.

His brother finally got tired of waiting then and proceeded to drag him away that the other spoke.

"No, thank you." He said in his quiet but captivating voice. Though, Akaya couldn't figure out what it was about the other's plain reply that made his heart ache even though he wasn't engaged in any strenuous activity at the moment.

...

Two weeks later, a day before his scheduled surgery, Akaya found himself wandering to his uncle's laboratory again.

This time, he was surprised to see the angel out in the open, on the roof top overlooking the rest of the city that seemed to grovel at the magnificent, grand facility.

Excited, he entered through the entrance and nagged the employee at the front desk for elevator access. Emphasizing that he was a relative of the chief researcher helped much in the other's compliance.

And soon, he was on the roof top after riding up the elevator twelve stories.

Under the dimmed rays of the sunset, the lone figure in the distance seemed as if he could just take off to the red-orange horizon. He squinted so he could see where he was going as he approached the other.

He stopped beside him, and leaned against the guard rails in a comfortable position. Then he greeted, "Hey."

The other turned to him. The bandage around the circumference of his head gone. Both of his eyes were covered by patches of gauze. Akaya couldn't look into his eyes, so he stared at the other's lips when he returned the greeting. The soft structures' shade reminded him of the first budding cherry blossom in the arrival of spring. He didn't know how, in the other's tattered state, he could still find little bits of the other he pieced together slowly to form what he assumed to be the other's perfection.

He cleared his throat to make more conversation. "So... Uh, I'm surprised to see you here. I though... uh...they don't let you out..."

"Sensei granted me one wish before my due completion tomorrow. I requested to be here for the day." He explained.

"I see." Akaya nodded. There was a silence then, because he didn't know how to continue. He had felt the pressure to turn small talk into a long conversation. Like any average adolescent, he wanted to sound charming and intelligent in front of his love interest. Yet, the other wasn't like the girl friends he went out with in the past, so he didn't know how to talk to him.

As he struggled to pull something from the brain that's already betrayed him, the other commented. "I've always wanted to see what the world beyond these walls looked like."

"So, you're saying, you've never been let out anywhere beyond this lab?" The words let out made it sound as if the other was some sort of animal, but that was Akaya. Blunt. With nothing to hide, no sugar coats. Unlike this laboratory of a place.

Renji paused as if to give his question some serious thought. "I do not think so. I feel like I have seen other parts of the world, but logic tells me that what I feel to be so real might have all been from the books I read, the imaginations my mind created."

Akaya only thought. Or maybe, once upon a time, you ran out in the open as free as me, until they caught you. And now, heaven is just a place you can't go back to because they've already clipped your wings.

"Hey, what do you say, we run away together?" Akaya suggested boldly on whim. "I'll take you to see the world you say you've only read in the books. I'll take you to see the real thing. It'll be our own little adventure."

"What reason do you have to run away? You have a family, friends. This is where your home is. And plus, if you travel, it will only be more detrimental to your health." Renji stated things in an as-matter-of-fact manner. "Besides, what reason do I have to go with you. I can no longer see. And my selfishness would only result in your demise, will it not?"

Even as the other spoke the seemingly considerate words, Akaya wasn't happy, wasn't content. He knew the other's words probably resulted from the scientists' brainwash.

That Renji should just accept himself as human reservoir of organs and tissues and surrender his gifts, whenever they needed him to because it was the right things to do.

At the same time, his family, his relatives forced the same pressure upon him.

That, he, Kirihara Akaya, should accept the gift obediently so his parents didn't have to worry about him anymore.

"As human beings, we all have someone on this world who is important to us." Renji said. "So, please do not pity me. I am not as deprived and unfortunate as you think I am. I have had those who told me I was important and precious to them. I have had those who thanked me for giving them the gifts. If I received appreciation, then the act is not entirely considered theft, is it?"

Akaya stared hard at him. He swallowed. Though his mouth still felt as dry as ever. "But... You're going to die."

Renji shook his head. "We will all expire one day. At least I can say, fortunately, my life was defined before my demise."

"But... You never had the freedom of choice."

"I did. I could have developed many methods to die. But I chose to live, however painful and grueling it was."

In the end, they didn't take that little adventure, as much as Akaya wanted to do something, anything for the other.

In the end, he only looked at him, studied him, attempted to carve him into his memory as deep as possible. Instinctively, he reached out to embrace the figure thinner than him. He hugged the body slowly hollowing out, slowly exhausting itself from all its contributions, until soon, the other would only be left with emptiness.

...

When he awoke, he looked up at the plain hospital ceiling. For some reason, the ceiling looks like a familiar thing that he's seen a thousand times in the past. But at the same time, it was like he saw it for the first time.

Akaya sat up. Apparently, there was someone by his bedside as the other scrambled to prop him up with a pillow so he would be as comfortable as possible.

His brother, Kuranosuke.

"How do you feel, Akaya?" The other asked, scrutinizing him and not allowing a single detail to pass him by.

Akaya took a deep breath. His chest hurt sharply and it made him double over in pain.

"Ow." As much as he wanted to shout out in pain, he was still weak from surgery.

His brother patted his back in reassurance. "Is your incision bothering you? I'll get the nurse to get you stronger pain killers."

The other accessed the call bell. In a moment, the nurse emerged from the hallway and entered his room. His brother stepped aside to speak to her.

Akaya took the moment to looked down the over-sized collar of the hospital gown at his skin beneath. An incision, still pink and tender from recent infliction, ran down the middle of his chest. He saw the surgical suture holding the wound closed. It would be a while before the doctor could remove the stitches. But he was already getting impatient.

There was a knock on the door.

Everyone turned their attention to the door. A man stepped in. Akaya and Kuranosuke greeted their uncle.

Then, another figure, younger, more slender stepped out from behind the man. It was their cousin, Seiichi. The youth carried a bouquet of flowers into the room.

"Hope you're feeling better, Akaya." Seiichi smiled.

Akaya shivered. It was his body's natural instincts. He still remembered clearly how he used to make fun of this cousin for looking like a pansy, and the wrath that he experienced as the other's revenge humiliated him so much that looking at him just scares the shit out of him now. Regardless, he still managed a, "H-hi."

There was a brief and awkward silence as Seiichi took a seat by his bedside after he arranged the flowers in an empty vase he found. His uncle and brother actively discussed his plan of care with the nurse at a corner.

Mustering up the courage to break the silence, he lifted his gaze from the plain hospital covers to look at his cousin's face. It was the proper thing to do when speaking to someone. He knew his manners.

Then, even before he started his small talk, he stopped. His cousin's eyes made him stop.

Those were the orbs that looked like a seeing glass into an amber oasis. Clean. Pure. Though, somehow, they appeared artificial in the other's eye sockets.

Seiichi noticed the way he gawked at him. Contributing his trance to the side effects of anesthesia and the possible anxiety provoked by his hospital stay, Seiichi only smiled gently and comforted him with his mellifluous voice.

"It must feel like you're forgetting something, something really important when you first wake up. It was like that for me too when I first awoke after my eye surgery." Seiichi said. "But, everything will be fine eventually. You'll get used to it."

Akaya could only nod. Though the way his heart skipped a few beats seemed to be a way his body disagreed with the other's words.

Akaya merely dismissed the dysrhythmia as a side effect of the anesthesia as well.

[END BGM: Amano Tsukiko - "翡翠"]