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There's a place in the dark where the animals go

Chapter Text

 

The tiny police station made Takemichi feel claustrophobic.

 

 

He looked at the clock on the wall. 1:46 AM.

 

 

He looked down. Up. Down again.

 

 

Then, Takemichi took one more look at the device, even though not even twenty seconds had passed since he last checked it. It was still forty minutes past one. Fuck.

 

 

Worry grew stronger in his chest, and with each little tick of the clock, the pressure on his lungs became more and more unbearable. Increasingly paranoid, he felt as if that damned clock was twisting into a monster that watched his every move intently, hoping to devour him whole.

 

 

He breathed in sharply. He was unable to calm his nerves, once again. He got up to get a glass of water, just with the only pretense of having something to do.

 

 

It was one o'clock in the morning and Mikey-kun still showed no sign of life.

 

 

Takemichi noticed how Draken, sitting on the other side of the short corridor, moved his leg nervously. It was inevitable. Even someone as stoic as him couldn't help but get nervous if his best friend disappeared out of nowhere.

 

 

Mikey had disappeared the day before. No one at Toman knows exactly when, but, according to Emma's comments, the boy had never arrived home after the gang meeting ended. The reasonable conclusion was that Mikey went missing right after they parted ways. That was yesterday at 4 PM. More than a whole day had passed without anyone seeing Mikey.

 

 

Takemichi couldn't stop his nerves from gnawing at him; he couldn’t say that he didn't expect such a thing from his eccentric commander, but even in his worst scenarios, Toman members had always been able to track him down and bring the matter under control. This, of course, wasn’t the case.

 

 

Mikey just... vanished into thin air.

 

 

At least, that's what the police said to them. One moment he was there, and the next, boom, he and his motorcycle had vanished from the map.

 

 

Takemichi still couldn’t understand how such a thing was possible, or how it had happened. Had it been an accident? Was it an attack by an enemy gang, or by random criminals? UFOs??

 

 

In any case, he couldn’t even conceive how they had managed to keep him from resisting. Their commander was an imposing force, an immovable figure capable of standing up to the violence of the world and nature. A rock in the face of adversity. He was strong, unpredictable, and lethal. That is why Takemichi found it so hard to imagine how such a boy could have simply disappeared from the face of the earth, without putting up any resistance.

 

 

Besides, Takemichi would be lying if he said this issue didn't hit him close to home. Truth be told, he was feeling a little... Guilty. There was no other way to describe his feelings. The reason for this guilt was rooted in the fact that he had been the last person to have any contact with Mikey.

 

 

Just before his disappearance, Mikey had insisted that he had to go with him for a ride on his bike. Of course, by ‘just a ride’, Mikey meant that they would spend the whole night out, goofing around the city.

 

 

In a strange act of selfishness very unbecoming of him, Takemichi refused to follow his commander's whims. At the time, Draken had congratulated him for resisting. Looking back on it now, would Draken still feel the same way...?

 

 

Be that as it may, that day Takemichi rejected Mikey. Instead, he decided to go on a date with Hina.

 

 

"If only I had agreed Maybe he...", Takemichi whispered to himself, once Emma confirmed to them that Mikey had not returned home.

 

 

"Don't even think about it, Takemitchy," It was Draken who told him that. He had put his hand on the shorter one's shoulder and, despite the warmth he conveyed, he knew Draken was even more frightened than he was. "None of what's happening is your fault. There's no fucking way you would have known this kind of shit would happen."

 

 

Takemichi just looked at him. He already knew that, and yet he could t stop the torturous feeling from taking over his mind. He could not forget Mikey's eyes that afternoon. In light of recent events, they seemed almost as if they were begging him not to be separated from him.

 

 

They became aware of Mikey's disappearance when Draken couldn't find him the next day when they had to go to school together. At first, the tall boy assumed that his friend had simply overslept and wouldn’t be going to school that day so he didn’t pay much attention.

 

 

Draken began to get worried when Takemichi told him that Mikey hadn’t come to bother him in the afternoon. Normally, Toman's commander always arranged his sweet time so that he could go visit the little crybaby. More than missing school, this alarmed him even more. Draken knew that Takemichi had become the drug his best friend needed to subsist on day today. He would never waste precious time with his favorite weakling.

 

 

From then on, things only got worse.

 

 

It turned out that no one in Toman had seen or heard from Mikey in all that time. The last person to see him was poor Takemichi who, in tears, recounted how the commander had left in anger for not wanting to go with him.

 

 

Emma just gave the sentence that sealed the group's insecurities. Mikey hadn’t returned for dinner that night, nor was he answering her phone calls.

 

 

All this led them to the situation they were in now: in a tiny waiting room at the police station, where they were waiting for Shinichiro to finish processing the missing person's report.

 

 

No one could believe it yet.

 

 

But the surprises were far from over that night.

 

 

"Guys," Shinichiro said as he walked out of the captain's office. His face was pale, his dark circles under his eyes pronounced. Takemichi noticed that he was still wearing his work uniform, though it looked wrinkled and dirty. If Mikey's disappearance had been a heavy blow to all of Toman, the blond couldn't imagine how difficult it must be for the former commander of the Black Dragons. "It won't be necessary to file a complaint."

 

 

That left everyone in the room confused.

 

 

Draken, who all that time had had one of his hands resting on Takemichi's shoulder in support, strengthened his grip until it hurt. The rest seemed just as shaken as he was; there were many implications scattered through everyone's minds, of what may or may not have happened. The lack of confirmation from the adult only made them even tenser.

 

 

Even Takemichi himself had not been immune.

 

 

If there was no need to file a missing person's report it had to be for one reason only... right?

 

 

Because there was no longer a missing person to look for.

 

 

"...What do you mean, Shin-san? ," it was Mitsuya who broke the ice. He appeared mature, but Takemichi could see how his hands were shaking.

 

 

Shinichiro looked at him. Then he looked at his hands. He was searching for the words.

 

 

Takemichi could feel tears forming around his eyes, and he closed them tightly. He expected the worst.

 

 

"There's no need to file a report because Manji is not missing..." announced Shinichiro, tears running down his eyes.

 

 

Draken, petrified, spoke, "It can't be true, no... Then, do you mean that he...?" The tattooed boy cut himself off but made the implications clear.

 

 

Takemichi couldn't see it because he kept his eyes closed, but Shinichiro shook his head fervently. Tears were still streaming down his eyes.

 

 

"Mikey...he's not dead, no," he announced in a broken voice. He laughed like a fool and dropped to the floor of the police station, letting out little hiccups amidst the laughter.

 

There was a sigh of relief in the room. Takemichi was finally able to open his eyes, his cheeks were also soaked. But Shinichiro had not finished speaking.

 

 

"Mikey is not dead, but... The police found him pretty badly hurt. He was lying on the side of a nearby road, in a hidden ditch. It looks like... he had an accident while riding his bike and, since it's a little-traveled area, no one saw him until a couple of hours ago..."

 

 

Takemichi breathed in, distressed. So, Mikey had gone motorcycle riding after all.

 

 

"I haven't been able to see him yet... I have to go to the hospital now, to make sure everything is in order. Emma is there, next to him. The officers said he doesn't have too many severe injuries... They say that... His condition is mostly… to a psychological shock. From... well, from being abandoned for so long. "

 

 

"So, the son of a bitch is alive," Baji shouted, angry. He pretended to be annoyed, but deep down everyone knew he was relieved. "So, when do we get to see him for once?"

 

 

"Hey, have a little more consideration, will you? Mikey is most likely still unconscious. Shin-san should go see him first, it's his family.", replied Mitsuya, who approached Shinichiro and comforted him. He was always so considerate.

 

 

The next to speak was Peh-yan, who, to everyone's surprise, said in a calm voice: "Just tell us if Mikey needs anything. We'll be sure to be there to help with anything. Seriously. "

 

 

Shinichiro seemed touched by the appreciation that all of Toman had for his younger brother, even though he already knew that they were very close. He thanked them for their efforts with a broad smile and promised that he would be in touch soon to give them more information about Mikey's condition.

 

 

This restored some peace of mind to the gang, who, after several hours of searching, could breathe with ease.

 

 

In the parking lot, before Shinichiro left, Takemichi slipped away to talk to him for a moment.

 

"Shinichiro-kun," he said. He couldn't look him in the face, so he concentrated on watching his feet. "I would like to apologize... I should have been there beside him; I should have accompanied him... I... Maybe I could have done something. I can't think how much Mikey must have suffered, being alone... I'm so sorry..."

 

 

The adult looked at him apprehensively. Takemichi thought he would hit him or something, but instead, Shinichiro just messed up his hair.

 

 

"Takemichi-kun, nothing that happened is your fault. You don't have to worry about it.", he tried to comfort him, but Takemichi wasn't convinced. "But, if you’re so desperate to make Manji feel better,  I'm sure he would love to know that you're willing to go on as many bike rides as he wants once he recovers."

 

 

The blond looked at him, stars in his eyes. He still didn't feel much less guilty, but knowing there was something he could do for Mikey comforted him.

 

 

"Shinichiro-kun, um, I know this must be a very difficult time for you... But, um... Do you think you could let me know as soon as Mikey is feeling better? I'd like to... See him soon, and help him recover."

 

 

Shinichiro patted him, and with a smile assured him, "Of course, child. As soon as Manji wakes up, I'll let him know how much you want to see him... God knows he'll be overjoyed."

 

 

With that, Shinichiro finally bid him farewell and rode off on his motorcycle, leaving behind a trail of dust and a determined Hanagaki Takemichi.

Chapter Text

 

The next few days in Takemichi's life passed in a constant haze of events. So much had happened in such a short time that it was hard to process it all. The news of Mikey's disappearance, then the reunion with him, and now the fact that the boy still had to stay in the hospital for two more weeks. The news just kept coming, and he had his hair standing on end waiting for the next thing to happen.

 

 

Fortunately for him, the next two weeks passed in blissful quietude, with no major incidents to report. As for Mikey's mood... Somehow, he managed to become even moodier than before. That had provoked mixed feelings into Toman’s ranks. On one hand, they were all relieved that the trauma hadn’t been so severe as to outright change their commander. On the other, they really wished it had been so since his behavior was unbearable at times.

 

 

For Takemichi's part, he was just happy to hear that Mikey was (more or less) safe and sound. He was glad to see him and to know that the incident didn’t escalate when it could have ended very tragically.

 

 

If there was something that made him uneasy, it was the feeling that there was something beyond Mikey's capricious attitude. Shinichiro had told them that Mikey had gone through a severe trauma since he felt abandoned for so many hours, and Takemichi knew that something of that magnitude didn’t go away overnight as his friend wanted to make it seem.

 

 

That's what he told Draken, and they both concluded that the childish attitude Mikey had adopted was nothing more than the result of the trauma. Fortunately, not many other members (beyond the usual perceptive ones) seemed to have noticed. It was for the best, Takemichi supposed. He didn't think Mikey would like the idea of everyone finding out.

 

 

Many times, Takemichi had wanted to comfort him into the idea that it was okay to feel weak, but Mikey didn't want to hear it.

 

 

Anyway, all his friends could do was surrender, sigh and comply with any request Mikey made. The fucker knew this well, and he took advantage of them.

 

 

The biggest casualties of this implicit pact had been Draken and Takemichi, who had adopted their roles so naturally to the point that it frightened them.

 

Draken had become Mikey's errand boy. Whatever his commander's whim, he had to fulfill it. From dorayaki and taiyakis to ice cream and candy, Draken had to see to it that he lacked nothing at all. Of course, everything came out of his pocket. More than once Takemichi had had to convince him not to kill Mikey. It’s getting harder with each passing day.

 

 

Takemichi, for his part, had been the one to take over as his caretaker. Other members, such as Draken or Mitsuya, had insisted that he shouldn’t place the entire burden on himself; but it was impossible: as soon as Mikey discovered the possibility of spending weeks, perhaps even months enjoying Takemichi's presence alone, the commander became as firm as a rock and didn’t let anyone else take care of him.

 

 

Thus, Takemichi was in charge of keeping him company. Feeding him, combing his hair, and making sure he was comfortable became his day-to-day tasks. Takemichi wasn't sure if what he was doing was the right thing to do, as he felt he was taking Mikey's family's place. His doubts were dispelled when Emma assured him that she was more than okay with him taking Mikey's place as "no one in this family can handle his capricious ass" (Emma’s textual words).

 

 

Luckily, no one else would have to take care of their commander's "capricious ass" for much longer. It had been two weeks since Mikey had been hospitalized and he was expected to be discharged in a few days.

 

 

That awakened memories in Takemichi. The day Mikey woke up was a day of celebration and happiness.

 

 

The commander awoke two days after he was found. By that time, visits had been allowed and Toman had been keeping him company for some time.

 

 

The doctors said it was a miracle. They had never seen a case like Mikey's, as it was rare to hear of a person who had crashed at such speed and not been left in a coma or, worse, dead.

 

His friend's doctors said it was a matter of pure luck, but Takemichi knew better. They didn’t know Mikey like Toman; they didn’t know his true potential. If Mikey had survived for so many hours alone, it was not a matter of miracle or mere luck. It was simply because Mikey had decided to do so. Because he was determined to live.

 

 

Still, Takemichi felt that he should give the doctors some credit. Even with the knowledge that Mikey was some sort of superhuman, even he wouldn’t have been able to walk away from the accident unscathed.

 

 

That's why it was surprising to see him as Takemichi did at that time.

 

 

That day had been one of many when Takemichi had to stay behind to take care of his commander. Shinichiro-kun was available for the first few days of his hospitalization, but soon the pressure became too much and he had to return to work. Emma was the one who sometimes offered to take care of her brother, but the boy was already determined to have Takemichi as his caregiver. Still, she would come by from time to time to bring him fruit and make sure her brother wasn't behaving like a barbarian.

 

 

"Shesh, Mikey," Emma sighed as she set a basket of apples on the little table next to her brother's bed. "You know Takemitchy has a life outside this hospital, don't you?"

 

 

Her brother looked at her, pouting. "Mm. What could be more important than me in his life? I’m his commander!" said Mikey very proudly, as if that last statement put an end to any possible argument on his sister's part.

 

 

Emma watched him bite into an apple with airs and graces. She sighed again. Then, she looked at Takemichi with something akin to pity. The blond just stared in amusement at the girl's reactions.

 

 

"You see, Emma? There is no one more important in Takemitchy's life than me!"

 

 

"Mm. It's okay, Emma-chan," assured the alluded one, as he stroked the back of his neck somewhat embarrassed by what his friend said. "I don't mind taking care of Mikey. I want to help... Besides, this is partly my-"

 

 

"Don't you dare say it!” Emma silenced him, pointing at him with one of her sculpted nails. The girl had had enough of hearing him always tell the same story. 'Sometimes he can be as annoying as my brother.'

 

 

"Arg, you two are so frustrating!" the girl shouted but nonetheless sat down next to them to start peeling some apples. "Especially you, Takemitchy. I'd expect anything from my idiot brother, but you can't be that dumb! Do you forget that you have a girlfriend waiting for you out there? Did you even let her know where you'd be? I bet Hina-chan must be heartbroken at this very moment..."

 

Takemichi went blank. The apple he had taken fell from his hands, letting out a thud.

 

 

Damn. Damn. He had really done it. He had completely forgotten about Hina. Oh, hell. Was he the most despicable being in the universe? Probably. He was disgusting as a boyfriend... The boyfriend of such a wonderful person as Hina!

 

 

Emma seemed to read the train of thought Takemichi was going through.

 

 

"Wow, I meant it as a joke, but it seems you’re as bad as they say... Hell, Takemitchy, Hina-chan sure deserves better than you."

 

 

The boy agreed. Hina was a sweet and brave girl, who was usually too patient with him. Even at times like this, Takemichi was sure she would forgive him with a smile on her face and a comforting hug. Had he been a war hero in his last life or something?

 

 

But things were not supposed to be that way. She shouldn't have to force herself to understand a scumbag like him, she shouldn't have to be the one to always sacrifice herself for the sake of their relationship. It just wasn't fair.

 

 

While all their argument was going on, Mikey watched them with an annoyed look on his face. He even dared to glare at his sister. He didn't appreciate the fact that the attention was no longer on him.

 

 

Deviously, he took another apple from the basket and, pretending to inspect it, said in a venomous tone, "Well, if she has so much trouble putting up with you, maybe you should just break up. You know, if there's that much conflict in a relationship... Maybe they're not for each other, as so many seem to believe. "

 

 

Takemichi watched in horror at those words. Break up! Mikey was right. Takemichi had always assumed that Hina-chan would forgive him no matter what, but even girls as sweet as her had their limits... If Hina-chan wouldn't forgive him, then the wisest thing to do would be to... End it?

 

 

"Mikey, keep your jealousy to yourself, will you? ," Emma broke into the conversation. The girl also thought Takemichi was a terrible boyfriend, but she could still recognize the deep affection he held for Hinata. For that very reason, she decided to throw him a lifeline. "Takemitchy. Hina-chan is too good for you," Shit! "But, she's also a kind-hearted idiot. I'm sure she'll forgive you if you tell her what happened."

 

 

"Should I call her...?"

 

 

"What are you, an idiot?" the young blonde exclaimed, dulling the "no" her older brother had mumbled. "You ignored her for two weeks and the best you can come up with is to call her? You must take her on a date, a date!"

 

 

Mikey let out an angry snort. Takemichi then looked at him, somewhat dismayed. Although he had been mostly unharmed, one of his legs was still encased in a heavy cast. The young blond wanted to make amends with his girlfriend, but he wasn't sure about leaving Mikey alone either…

 

 

"But Emma-chan... Um. What about ?"

 

 

"Don't worry about him! The idiot is just pretending it hurts more than it does. Don't pay attention to him and make sure you ask her out."

 

 

Still, Takemichi wasn’t so sure. Mikey was giving him a pitiful look from his spot on the bed, making doggy eyes at him in the rain. The last time Takemichi had failed him, Mikey had been in a terrible accident, and while he wasn't someone who could help Mikey in emergencies, at least he would have the confidence that he had been there for him to support him.

 

 

"Tell you what. If you're so concerned about my brother's welfare, I'll come over tomorrow and take care of him. As soon as you finish your date with Hina you can come back and make sure he's alive, just like you left him. How about it?"

 

 

The blond looked at his commander, undecided. But Emma was right, Hina had already been too patient. Dubitatively, he nodded. He felt so guilty that he had to look away from the older boy, which was a shame. Perhaps, if he hadn't, he might have seen how those deep black pupils quivered furiously until they took on a look that was far from human. Emma hurried over and covered her brother with a sheet.

 

 

Instead, he simply apologized to Mikey for his absence the next day. It was an awkward and hesitant apology, but a sincere one. As soon as he could, he said goodbye to the pair of siblings and left.

 

Only an enraged demon and his caretaker remained in the room.

 

 

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

 

Takemichi and Hinata agreed to meet at a café near the hospital. Of course, the girl wasn't aware of this, but Takemichi had managed to make it so that it didn't take him so long to return to his friend's side. God, he really was a terrible guy.

 

 

Seeing Hinata after they had spent so much time apart provoked in Takemichi a series of contradictory feelings. Seeing her as beautiful as every day, being able to once again appreciate her kindness and angelic loveliness, made his heart fill with a feeling of warmth that was hard for him to explain. There was something else there, a dark feeling that reared its ugly head among the flowers, but which the blond would do his best to ignore.

 

 

Hinata Tachibana entered the shop as if she had the sun in her pockets and suddenly Takemichi's morning seemed to light up completely. The boy was so stunned that all he could do was weakly wave at her from his seat. He didn't even get up. Takemichi is sure Emma would have hit him if she had witnessed his lack of manners.

 

 

As usual, Hinata gave no thought to her boyfriend's lack of consideration. It had become a habit.

 

 

Once they were facing each other, things became awkward again. Neither of them knew quite what to say, so they kept looking around. The waitress came, took their orders, and left. There was no longer an excuse for not looking into each other's eyes.

 

 

"...," Hina smiled at him and, as always, took the initiative. Always so cute. "I heard Mikey-kun is hospitalized."

 

 

The young man ignored the pang of guilt he suddenly felt in his chest. "Hm. Yes. The doctors want to make sure there's nothing wrong with him... But he's a bit better now!"

 

 

The awkward silence once again dragged on. Takemichi supposed it was his time to set the record straight, he could no longer act like a coward.

 

"Hina-chan, I... I'm so sorry. Hm. I know, well, I know quite well that what happened to Mikey is no excuse... For having ignored you for so long. You're my girlfriend and, as worried as I was, the right thing to do was to let you know... To explain to you what was going on." He swallowed dryly, his throat aching with the urge to cry. "... You shouldn't have found out from others. For that, I'm so sorry Hina-chan. I know I'm a terrible boyfriend... I'm so-"

 

 

"Don't apologize, Takemichi-kun! ," exclaimed Hina.

 

 

The aforementioned raised his head, which until then he had been bending down in humiliation. He met the shining face of his girlfriend who, as if she were an angel, looked at him mercifully.

 

 

The girl abruptly stood up from the chair in excitement, almost knocking over the drinks served on the table on her way. She slapped the surface with her palms, and exclaimed, "You shouldn't apologize for taking care of your friend! Nor for supporting him in complicated times!" What was the use of being a good friend if he was a terrible boyfriend? "It's just your nature, Takemichi-kun. I knew it from the first day I met you and I knew it when I decided to be your girlfriend. You have a kind heart... And you constantly manage to help your friends in one way or another. This is no exception."

 

 

"Hina-chan..." Takemichi felt like crying. He did just that.

 

 

"I would have been surprised if you'd left Mikey aside-you wouldn't be the guy I fell in love with!" She smiled at him.

 

 

Takemichi really wanted to kiss her at that very moment, but he was sure the other customers would complain about it. Instead, he just reached out his arm and took Hinata's hand between his own.

 

 

"Hina-chan..." Don't cry. Don't cry. Don't cry. "Thank you so much... I don't know what I would do without your support."

 

 

But their happiness was short-lived because as soon as the waters calmed down, Hina took the opportunity to lecture Takemichi about what a good boyfriend should not do. Like, for example, leaving his girlfriend forgotten for more than two weeks without answering her messages or calls. Takemichi didn't remember receiving either but nodded anyway. He could no longer provoke the inner demon he had awakened.

 

 

The day passed quickly for both of them, in a haze of youthful love, happiness, and a little (just a little) fear from Takemichi for his girlfriend's temper.

 

 

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

 

A few blocks away from the saccharine scene, there was a boy. Or, rather, in a hospital near the café, there was a little monster. The monster was very, very angry because someone had thwarted the plans he had worked so hard for. The memory of a sun that could have been his made him even angrier. If only he had managed to convince him...

 

 

You see, it so happens that the little monster has a precious treasure. That treasure is beautiful, priceless, and (most importantly) his alone. Or at least that's what the little monster had wanted to believe during those weeks.

 

 

The truth is that, inside the little monster, there is a sadness that he cannot understand. Sometimes things don't work out the way they should. The little monster believes that his treasure should always be by his side, but it is not. He believes that the world should follow his wishes, but it doesn't. He believes his destiny should be happy, but all he has experienced lately is sadness.

 

 

The little monster is a little tired of the way things are going.

 

 

However, there is nothing he can do. As much as he would like to (and he wants to, very much), the little monster can't clip his treasure's wings. He can't even move a couple of blocks to shout to the world (and to her) that his treasure is his treasure.

 

 

All he can do is stay locked in that tiny room, letting his feelings boil inside his chest like a pressure cooker. He wonders when it will explode.

 

 

"Don't be a bad influence on Takemitchy, " scolded the little monster's sister. He loved her deeply, but right now he wanted so badly to devour her.

 

 

He grumbled, "I'm not a bad influence on Takemitchy, I'm an amazing influence! He's very happy by my side..."

 

"You know well that's not what I mean," Emma continued. That day she had brought taiyaki to share, and not apples. A consolation prize of sorts. "Stay out of Takemitchy and Hina's relationship."

 

 

Mikey averted his gaze to the window. The clear blue sky reminded him of Takemitchy's eyes. "I'm not meddling in their relationship, why would I? I'm simply doing what any good friend would do... If she's having so much trouble understanding Takemichi, then maybe she doesn't deserve him."

 

 

His sister frowned. After a few seconds, she relaxed her face and sighed. "You don't want Takemitchy as a friend, Mikey-nii."

 

 

Mikey turned away for good. He didn't want to talk about it anymore. He just ended the conversation with a final sentence.

 

 

"... So what?"

Chapter Text

Takemichi, contrary to what people used to say about him, was not an oblivious idiot. No, sir! He was very attentive to the details of everything around him. That's why, when he returned to his role as Mikey's caretaker, it didn't take him long to notice the obvious change in his commander's mood.



Of course, this caused great concerns in the boy.



Everyone in Toman knew: Mikey was basically a little boy. If he was in a good mood, then he would be mischievous and even as innocent as a child. However, as soon as something didn’t go according to his wishes, he would become disproportionately angry. The worst thing didn’t stop there, because, unfortunately for everyone, an enraged Mikey was a Mikey who wouldn’t hesitate to make a "scene". “Scene" being a euphemism for “Mikey won’t hesitate to throw a tantrum”.



To Takemichi's misfortune, this was one of those moments. One of the moments when his commander was about to throw a tantrum.



There was no time to question why his commander was in such a mood (and, even if he had had all the time in the world, no one could understand how his mind worked). Mikey was already showing the signs of an imminent temper tantrum.



As soon as the youngest came through the door to relieve Emma of her responsibilities, he could see it with total clarity. It froze his blood.



Mikey was pouting .



To a normal person, this might not seem alarming. However, to someone who had been through the MPT (Mikey post tantrum) sickness experience, that simple facial gesture brought back old war memories. Takemichi began to shiver just remembering the last time they had to calm one of Mikey's tantrums; he could still feel the occasional twinge of pain in his arm that had been broken.



The situation was so serious that even Toman had had to organize to make a chart of the disaster. It was a way to make sure the catastrophe didn’t escalate. The scheme worked more simply; with numbering from 1 to 5.

 

Mikey was now in phase three. The pout. Takemichi knew it, he could feel his own body reacting, cold sweat pouring down his back. Mikey might seem harmless at this very moment, but it was only a matter of time before he started throwing objects in the air and attacking the nurses.



To Takemichi's good fortune, even stage three was reversible. Besides, he had already come prepared for disaster. He hadn't expected his absence the day before to have gone unnoticed, he knew quite well that Mikey would have a negative reaction. He could sometimes be very jealous of those he loved. Draken had warned him, too. But the bastard decided not to take charge of anything and, instead, let the whole heavy burden fall on him.



The younger blond sighed; for this kind of situation, there could only be one solution. He looked down. Between his hands was a steaming bowl filled with freshly baked dorayaki.



"... Mikey-kun," Takemichi said as a greeting. He deposited the dorayaki next to him, on a small table nearby. With a smile, he pretended not to see the fleeting glance of desire his friend was giving the desserts.



For a long time, Mikey didn’t respond to his greeting. He was looking out the window. Takemichi felt that his friend was making an effort not to address him, for there wasn’t much to see outside. The day was awful; it was one of those times when the weather turned strange, and it was unclear whether it was scorching hot or about to start a terrible storm. The sky was covered with dark clouds, but the hot humidity caused him to feel exhausted.



When Mikey spoke, all he said was:



"I see you're crawling back like a rat, back to your burrow. " His voice was full of venom, Takemichi shivered slightly because he didn't know if his friend was joking or not. He liked to think so. "What, did your little girlfriend release you already and that's why you're here? I thought you finally forgot about me. Or maybe you were so bored that you suddenly remembered your commander. "



That hurt him more than it should have. The cruel words felt like arrows aimed straight at his heart. He couldn't stand the tone in which Mikey was speaking to him, and he didn't like the fact that he was on bad terms with him either.

 

"Mikey-kun, I was only gone for an afternoon! ," Takemichi excused himself. But his words didn't seem to be enough to appease his friend's fury. He really would have to. He didn't like what he was about to do, but he had no choice... He had to start with the drama. "Also, Mikey-kun Hum. You know very well that I could never f-forget abouty you" Kill me. Just. Do it.



The commander's eyes were filled with a special glow, but Takemichi couldn’t see it.



"You are one of my best friends!,” exclaimed Takemichi happily.



Ah, fucking hell. That sentence dropped like a stone in the little monster's stomach. Not only had he been demoted to best friend status, but he was just one of many. Even  in that, he couldn't be his only exception.



But one thing had to be remembered: Mikey was, before anything else, an idiot in love. That was why, despite the obvious beating that his little crybaby had unconsciously given him, he was able to see hope in his defeats. Even if he didn't possess the special place in Takemichi's heart that he wanted to occupy, Mikey already had a place in Takemichi's heart. Now it was just a matter of moving up from there.



"... Don't you ever leave my side again, you absolutely can't! ," Mikey ordered, after a few seconds. It was unavoidable. As much as he wanted to, he simply couldn't resist the dejected doggy eyes Takemichi was giving him.



"Yeah, yeah, I won't." ... Although he had a date with Hinata the next day. Oh well. That’s a problem for Takemichi of the future.



"Will you... will you promise, 'Mitchy?"



"... I promise, Mikey-kun. I won't leave without your permission."



Only then did the commander deign to look at him. Although rather than looking at him, Mikey passed him by and went straight to the bag of dorayakis that Takemichi had brought as a peace offering.



Takemichi wasn’t fooling around. He wanted to make peace with Mikey, and that was why he had personally prepared them. He may not have been the best in the kitchen, but he liked to think that the enthusiasm he had put into them would make them taste better.



He hadn’t returned so late from his date with Hina the day before, so he decided that the best thing he could do for his friend was to cook him one of his favorite desserts. Pah chin and Peh yan had accused him of being an evil manipulator, and Takemichi had been unable to defend himself against the accusations.



Because, deep down, the reason for his actions was nothing more than the feeling of guilt that nestled inside him. Takemichi was a coward and a liar, who preferred to deceive himself rather than admit the conflicting feelings boiling inside him.



It is true that he admired and loved Mikey, but what drove him to make those dorayakis was not his affection or admiration. It was the pangs of guilt he felt every time he closed his eyes and remembered Mikey's hurt look. That look that begged him to go for a ride with him, the same look that asked him not to leave him alone in the cold corridors of a hospital.



The look he would continue to fail. He wondered if he would give him the same look when he told him he had to go back to Hina the next day.



Takemichi was a coward, and because he was a coward, he decided not to keep thinking about those complicated feelings. Instead, he brought the bag of dorayakis closer to his friend so that he could attack them like a hungry dog. In his excitement, Mikey had gotten crumbs all over his chin.



Gently, Takemichi reached out his hand and wiped them. Mikey looked at him happily, then thanked him with a big smile. The younger blond thought once again of the similarities his commander bore to a child. Something inside him made him unable to not spoil him.



"You brought me dorayakis! Yei! Takemitchy, you are the best in all of Toman! Marry me!"



"Yeah, yeah, whatever you say, Mikey," he agreed without paying much attention to him, as he cleaned up the bed.

Mikey pouted. He hated it when Takemitchy didn't take him seriously. But then again, who would? Having such a perfect girlfriend by his side…



Don't think about it, don't think about it, don't think about it. Takemichi is with you now. Don't think about it anymore, damn it!



"Ow, my arm hurts soooooooo much! I don't think I can eat all these dorayakis by myself...," Mikey cried, holding his right arm in a supposed grimace of pain.



Takemichi looked at him in disbelief. Then, he looked at the container he had brought. More than half of the dorayaki were gone. He looked at Mikey again with a distrustful grimace. "Mikey-kun, your arms are completely fine."



"Huh? That's not true, I fell hard on my arm!"



"Mikey-kun... that was your left arm."



He pouted. "Who was in the accident, you or I? Now hurry up and feed me at once!"



The younger boy sighed in surrender; he could never win against Mikey. Well, it turns out it's true that they say you can never win an argument against a child.....



Takemichi supposed it was okay if it only was for this one time... Although he also knew perfectly well that he would fall for his commander's tactics again, sooner rather than later. With each passing day, Takemichi was getting more and more used to the idea that coddling his commander was simply second nature to him. At least he wasn't suffering as much as the rest of Toman in doing so.



Either way, Takemichi gave up and started feeding Mikey.



"Mm~" Takemichi watched Mikey's lips savor his first bite of the dorayaki and had to make an effort to stay calm. Get out of me, horny urges!! He's my best friend and I have a girlfriend! "Mitchy, tis iz so yummy!"



The blond smiled. Despite everything, he was relieved. "I'm glad you liked them, Mikey- kun. I prepared them especially for you."

 

His friend's eyes widened like two saucers in surprise. Mikey swallowed as best he could, and exclaimed, "Did you cook these dorayakis yourself? Amazing!"



"Mm. Well... Yes. I wanted... Uh, for you to eat something delicious." Takemichi felt embarrassed. Normal guys didn't do this sort of thing for their friends, but he had always been a bit more sensitive and motherly than the rest.



The commander watched him with stars in his eyes. "Takemitchy! They're delicious, you're amazing! Since Takemitchy went to the trouble of making them for me, I'll savor them with all my soul!"



Takemichi wanted to act disengaged, but his red cheeks told another story.



- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -




The rest of the afternoon passed in the same way. Mikey acts like a despot king, and Takemichi goes out of his way to please his whims.



He was ashamed to admit it, but Takemichi felt that there was also a certain beauty in the evenings he shared with Mikey. In a twisted parallel, they reminded him of his times with Hina. That comparison was so wrong, it was something he would never confess to anyone.



But he could not help it. In those hours when the sun was setting, when the golden light bathed everything and everyone, Takemichi felt that his chest was also blessed with that glow. When he watched Mikey smile like a child when he heard him laugh nonchalantly... He felt as if they were the only two people in the world, as if only the two of them existed forever, in that small room. He found that it didn't bother him in the least. He didn't mind the idea of staying for the rest of eternity next to the man he admired the most, the one who occupied more and more space in his heart every day. He wouldn't mind fulfilling for what was left of her life all the whims of that boy, he wouldn't mind putting up with his tantrums and his jokes... His hatred and his violence as well.



Those feelings used to frighten Takemichi, and that very afternoon they did too.

 

It was inconceivable, within his mind, such duality. He couldn’t understand how his heart could be so treacherous. How was it possible that he, being Hina's boyfriend, longed for the warmth of hands other than those of his lover? How could it happen that he betrayed the trust of the sweet, innocent Hina in such a way? How could it happen that he irremediably corrupted the friendly relationship he had with Mikey?



That is why Takemichi kept all those feelings deep inside him, in a small chest that would never be opened. He wasn’t brave enough to face them. He was a coward, the only thing he could do was to wait for things to work themselves out. And try to be faithful to Hina in the process.



Takemichi was grateful that Draken had arrived sometime in the afternoon. He didn't know how to act in those depressive pits; he didn't feel like responding, but he was also aware that he couldn't leave Mikey unattended for too long or an accident would happen.



"For the love of all that's holy, Mikey! You're old enough to feed yourself. I can't believe you're forcing Takemitchy to feed you like you're a baby." Draken-kun was always so considerate of everyone.



"Huh~? And why not, I'm a poor convalescent! Do you know that? Mitchy is just giving me his help like the good Samaritan he is~"



"Arg! Seriously, you're so" He sighed. "...Ah, whatever." Even Draken wasn't able to find logic in his leader. "Takemitchy, don't be guided by his whims. If you get careless, you'll end up becoming his babysitter, okay?"



"... Just like you, Ken-chin?"



Takemichi could see the promise of war in the vice-commander's eyes. Before things got worse, he decided to ask Draken what he was doing there.



"Emma told me to come and inform you about something. She can't come tonight to look after you, you have better things to do. You'll have to stay alone."



Before Mikey could make another comment about the "activities" Emma was supposed to do, Takemichi covered his mouth.

 

"That's a pity. I hope you have a good time on your date, Draken-kun."



"Oh, thank you." Heh. I knew it. "Wait, how the hell?"



Takemichi just smiled, somewhat mischievously. He wasn't as dumb as everyone thought. Good thing a crisis had been averted. Now, what to do about the excited gleam in Mikey's eye...



"W-well... Maybe Shinichi-"



"Stay with me tonight, Takemitchy!"



Oh hell. Not King Mikey making another one of his demands.



"You idiot, Takemitchy isn't even your family! He can't stay and take care of you!" Oh thank goodness , Draken is my knight to the rescue.



"Hey, what the hell are you talking about you bastard? Takemitchy is my wife, of course he can stay by me!"



Draken rolled his eyes. "Takemitchy isn't your wife, you idiot. Besides, unless he's in the hospital records, there's nothing you can do to stop him from leaving.



Takemichi was relieved that Draken was there... Mainly because he had a date with Hina tomorrow, and he didn't know if he could escape the clutches of his commander.



"Well, good thing he is, then there won't be any problem."



Both boys let out a noise of exclamation. It couldn't be true, could it?




- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

But it was true. Takemichi was listed as Mikey's partner. Shinichiro had had something to do with the whole thing. Against all odds, it seemed that Takemichi was in for a long night.



"Mmm... Mikey-kun? I... uh, I understand that you don't want to stay alone at night, but is it really necessary for us to, uh, sleep like this?



Takemichi was lying on the uncomfortable hospital bed, only inches away from Mikey. Their faces were so close that he could feel the other's breath gently caress his cheek, which was red, very red.



"What's the matter, Takemitchy~, are you ashamed?" his commander would never miss a chance to put him in an awkward situation. Damn, Shinichiro-kun, I hope you suffer from erectile dysfunction for the rest of your days.



"No... It's not like that! I'm simply worried about your leg, uh... I wouldn't want you to get hurt much more than you already are."



Mikey looked at him incredulously but played along. "Uh-huh. Well, no worries. You couldn't hurt me even if you wanted to, with your little noodle legs."



The younger blond looked at him offended, but he couldn't say anything in his defense either. It was true that he had noodle legs and that, no matter how hard he tried, he would never be able to hurt Mikey. Therefore, Takemichi just sighed resignedly (he didn't know how many times he had already done it that week) and let himself be carried away by the whims of his leader.



It's going to be a long night. Thought the young man as he settled deeper into the arms of his commander, who had wrapped him in a tight embrace to prevent him from escaping. From his place between the cage of limbs, he could feel Mikey's faint heartbeat lulling him into a premature sleep.



I can't fall asleep... I'm supposed to... make sure he's okay...



With the same hands that he used to take down gangs and destroy enemies, Mikey gently caressed Takemichi's hair. An action loaded with so much tenderness and care that it almost seemed alien to the one who in the streets is called the invincible Mikey.

 

It was too much for Takemichi. The warmth transmitted by the body next to him, the continuous rumbling of a heart right at his ear, and the soft hands reassuring him that he wasn’t alone, had created the perfect environment to make him feel like a man who never wanted to wake up again.



It wasn't the first time he had imagined dying next to Mikey, but this time the feeling was more immeasurable than ever.



"Takemitchy, are you awake?"



He couldn’t respond with words. He couldn’t force himself to do so. He merely mumbled.



"Takemitchy... Do you love me?"



That question caused Takemichi's heart to stop for a second. It roused him completely from sleep and tinged his cheeks with a crimson hue.



"Of course I love you, you are one of the most important people in my life." Confessed the boy. The room was dark and Takemichi prayed to all the gods that Mikey would not distinguish his blush.



"I knew it. You...you're sweet like that."



They both waited in silence for a few seconds. The only thing that could be heard in the room was the lazy movement of the fan above them and the summer cicadas.



"Takemitchy," Mikey called back.



"Mm."



"Thank you... for being with me today. No, thank you for being with me always."

 

Takemichi looked at him, his eyes filled with an indescribable feeling. Mikey could not look at him; his rosy cheeks indicated that he was embarrassed.



"You know something...? The truth is, I'm weak."



"Mikey-kun..."



"I am. That's why I admire you so much... Because no matter how many times I kick bad guys' asses, at the end of the day I can't even deal with the smallest problems. Sometimes I feel like... If there's something inside of me. Like my skin is nothing but an annoying coat, that I want to rip off."



The Mikey in front of him was a vulnerable one. Takemichi wondered for a moment how he should feel. However, he realized that he loved this version of his friend as much as any other.



"This feeling inside me... It's something I can't shake, no matter who I'm with. Not Ken- chin, not Shin-nii or even Emma... Not even in Toman. But when I met you... When I saw you all bloody and defeated, thrown away like trash. When I saw your eyes for the first time, I..."



The lights were suddenly turned on. Both boys stood up, startled. Mikey hissed as he felt a twinge in his leg.



It was a nurse, who looked at them with an unfriendly face. She was smoking... Takemichi was pretty sure she couldn't do that here.



"... The caregivers can't sleep with the patient," the woman reluctantly announced, as she tossed the cigarette aside. "I'm going to have to ask you to go back to your chair and not make a fuss. If you just came to the hospital to cuddle with your boyfriend, I'm going to have to ask you to leave."



Takemichi's cheeks flared even more, but he obeyed immediately. Mikey looked at the woman as if he wanted to slit her throat, but she didn't seem to be afraid of him. In fact, she seemed to play along.



For the poor lady's sake, Takemichi decided to avoid another syringe fight to the death.

 

"Mikey-kun, it's ok! It's ok! Um... I'll stay here, nice and close... By your side, okay?"



Mikey nodded, but at no time did he stop looking at the nurse with narrowed eyes. For now, you've won bitch. they seemed to say.



When the nurse left, the atmosphere became a little uncomfortable. But Takemichi was grateful for the interruption, for a moment he had been too wrapped up in Mikey's aura. He knew that if he kept going on like that, he would end up doing something he was going to regret.



I have a girlfriend. Takemichi has a girlfriend. You have a girlfriend, Takemichi! The young man kept repeating to himself in his head. He couldn't get carried away with whatever was going on with Mikey! Besides, his attitude was disgusting. Mikey was having a moment of confession and trust with him... He shouldn't hue his friend's feelings with his stupid emotions. He would end up twisting his words.



Despite his conflicting thoughts in his mind, Takemichi held Mikey's hand for the rest of the night.



At some point, Mikey began to drift off in his sleep. The blond took the opportunity to tell him the news... It was dirty, but it was the only way he would have enough courage.



"Mikey-kun... Um. I know I promised you I wouldn't leave your side, but I have a date with Hinata tomorrow and I really must go."



Having accomplished his goal, Takemichi was satisfied. Suddenly, however, he felt a deep pain in his hand. It was Mikey, who was holding it too tightly.



The previously relaxed, sleepy eyes now stared darkly at him, injected with fury.



"What the hell, Takemitchy, you promised me!"



"I-I know, but I also promised Hina..." Alas, the pressure hurt.

 

"What, are her promises worth more than mine? You told me I was important to you too!"



"And you are!" shouted Takemichi, unable to control himself. He looked forlornly at the door, hoping that no nurse would come.



"It's not true... It's not fucking true. If you cared about me, if you really loved me..."



His hand hurt more and more, to the point of kneeling down from the pain. "Mikey-kun, you hurt me..."



"How can you be so faithful to her? Is she the one who is hurt?"



No...



"Is she the one who was lying for hours in some random ditch, forgotten by the world?"



Mikey-kun...



"Was she the one you rejected? Was she waiting for you while she was dying?"



I... It's true, this was all his fault.



"Takemitchy... I... I'm so scared. I hate being alone." Mikey's voice cracked. "Please don't leave me."



Tears were streaming down Takemichi's eyes, at some point he had burst into tears. The blond nodded his head and, as much as his hand felt as if someone had run a steamroller over it, he took Mikey's trembling figure in his arms and held him.



I won't leave, Mikey-kun... I won't leave you alone again.



Between his arms, Takemichi could never see the dark eyes of the beast.

Chapter Text

Life can sometimes be horribly ironic. A man winning the lottery only to die the next day, a pair of fated lovers who just happen to meet the day before their deaths... A young girl who ends up dead because she plays at love.

 

 

Life can be funny. Its twists and turns. Its labyrinths. Its circles turn one on top of the other like endless passages. That's what life is. The confusion itself, the irony at times. We enter the labyrinth without knowing at which corner tragedy will be there to attack us.

 

 

Hinata Tachibana's death was like a flash.

 

 

One would think that, with the passing of such a cheerful and friendly young woman, so full of life, so loved by all those around her, the situation would be more tragic.

 

 

However, her death was pathetically short. It was a simple whack! and the life of that innocent young girl had vanished like a candle blowing out. Perhaps it was for the best, the evil tongues said, for, unlike the victims to come, she would suffer the least at the hands of the beast. In a way, young Hinata died as she lived: in a utopian bubble, believing that all would be well.

 

 

Ah. So that was the reward for her goodness in life. To die in ignorance was the gift God had given her.

 

 

She didn t catch a glimpse of the beast's sharp fangs, nor did she see its crimson bloodthirsty eyes. She had time to run for her life, but, still, she died thinking she was heading home like any other day.

 

 

Maybe, just maybe, while the terrible claws of that monstrous being pierced her thorax to tear it to shreds, the girl was savoring a happy memory. Perhaps she was thinking of a family that loved her. Maybe she had dedicated thought to the boy who drove her crazy. Perhaps she had dreamed of a future with him, one that could never be.

 

 

What was running through her mind will never be known.

 

 

There goes another irony of life. Because beyond her aspirations, her fantasies, or her thoughts, the only thing that remained of that girl was a cold urn and a headline that read:

 

 

"Horror in Tokyo City: The body of a young woman was found dismembered at the banks of Tama River."

 

 

***

 

 

Miles beyond the horror, someone knocked on the door of a hospital ward.

 

 

Takemichi woke up groggily, and immediately groaned from the pain. 'The consequences of sleeping all night on a chair, I guess.' He looked over to the bed, Mikey was still asleep and didn't seem to show any signs of wanting to wake up any time soon. As best as he could, he lifted his cramped body. He had to find something for breakfast soon or Mikey would be in an awful mood.

 

 

"Good morning, Takemichi-kun." It was Sano Shinichiro who had entered the room. Takemichi guessed that he did so after asking permission. Truthfully, he was feeling so sleepy that he didn't even hear him enter the room. Also, uh. He had quiet feet.

 

 

"Mornin’... Shinichiro-san...," he replied lazily. He looked at his flat wallet. To nobody’s surprise, it was empty. Was that a fly coming out of there...?

 

 

The adult seemed to understand his distress while looking at him with an affable smile. He reassured him that it wouldn’t be necessary for him to buy Mikey breakfast again. Takemichi pretended that the notice didn’t affect him as it did.

 

 

"The doctors were debating, and they think Manji is now well enough to come back home. That's also why I'm here." Shin explained, with a wide smile. Too wide for six in the morning, but Takemichi knew it was because he was exceptionally happy. Shinichiro laughed at his unfriendly face. "It's early, isn't it? The truth is, I had to get up early to do a little work, and since I was already awake, I took the opportunity to process Manji's discharge."

 

 

Takemichi nodded while scratching his head lazily. "I see, Mikey-kun didn't tell me anything... I thought he was staying for a while longer here. I guess we won't be seeing each other that often anymore, haha..." The blond looked down at his hands somewhat nostalgically but quickly changed his expression. "Oh, though of course, I'm glad to hear that Mikey-kun is already much better!"

 

 

Shinichiro was benevolent and ignored his comment. He just gave him a knowing smile, as if he could read right through his feelings.

 

 

After that, they both headed to the hospital buffet to buy a couple of coffees. The older brother told Takemichi that he planned to organize a surprise party for Mikey's return "to life" and they were discussing ideas about what kind of celebration would be best. Takemichi agreed to help with the organization, and Shinichiro was more than happy to accept his support.

 

 

He commented something about how ecstatic Mikey would be to hear that Takemichi had thought so much of him, but he let it pass as just big brother delusions. He already knew Mikey would be happy that he did something for him, he just... didn't want to face it yet. What you won't admit doesn't exist, right?

 

 

Before leaving, Takemichi wanted to take one of the free newspapers offered by the hospital staff to its patients, but Shinichiro stopped him. He placed his hand - much larger in comparison - on top of his own, and smiled widely at him. Takemichi looked at him in confusion. Shinichiro’s grip was firm, but not enough to cause him pain.

 

 

When he asked what was wrong, Shinichiro said, "It's nothing, Takemichi-kun, it's just that... Well, this morning on my way to the hospital, I heard that a terrible accident happened nearby..." The older man scratched the back of his neck nervously, his grimace one of absolute seriousness. It almost scared him a little. "Please don't think I'm a scaredy-cat, but the truth is that I'm quite worried about how Manji might react to the news... The person who passed away also... well, it also took a long time to be found. I'm worried that Manji will identify with them... The doctors said that all the after-effects were psychological, so we have to be careful."

 

 

Takemichi understood what Shinichiro was getting at. After Mikey’s confession the day before, he felt he understood his friend better. All this time he had seen him as a figure of constant strength, but the truth was that Mikey was a child like any other. A boy who loved candy, his blankie, and sleeping all day.

 

 

Seeing him cry, conflicted by his own feelings, had revealed a more human side of the commander that Takemichi could never forget. It had also made him feel more aware of the presence he had in his life. But if there was one thing he knew, it was that, from that moment on, he could no longer leave Mikey on his own.

 

 

Shinichiro realized the awkward atmosphere he had created and decided to change the subject in a hurry.

 

 

"So, how did my little brother behave last night?" he asked playfully, making a hint with his eyebrows.

 

 

Takemichi sighed, "Where should I start...?

 

 

***

 

 

Takemichi looked worriedly at the clock on his cell phone. It had already been forty minutes since seven o'clock in the evening. Once again, the young man turned his gaze to the door of the cafe he was in. He was excited every time the door opened, but every time was a new disappointment.

 

 

Hinata was late for their date, which was extremely strange. Of course, rationally, there were many reasons for this to be possible. It could be because of her strict father, or traffic, or some little stray kid who needed her help…

 

 

However, there was a certain feeling of anxiety weaving inside his chest. He could not explain it. It was simply a tightness that made him feel breathless. It was the feeling

that something was terribly wrong. He didn't know exactly what was wrong, just that something was.

 

 

He felt increasingly desperate. The other customers in the shop had started to look at him very strangely. He knew why; it was probably because he couldn't help biting his nails, or maybe it was because of the incessant movement of his leg. He was staring like crazy at the entrance of the café, and then at the table. He had already repeated that sequence about ten times, at least.

 

 

He called Hina again. The answer was the same as the other eleven times. "The phone you have dialed does not correspond to a customer in service. Please leave "

 

 

He looked at the door again. No one came in, again.

 

 

The evening sun was streaming through the windows of the cafe and gave the whole situation a macabre tone. Reds, pinks, and oranges tinged everything around them and Takemichi felt suffocated by the atmosphere itself. He was unsettled by how much those colors resembled blood.

 

 

But why would he be thinking about blood right now? Why was he feeling so restless? It was true that Hinata was usually very punctual, but it wouldn't be unusual for her to be late... Wouldn't it? And if it was this way, why couldn't his hands stop shaking?

 

 

Takemichi got up from his seat shakily. He could wait no longer. Whether Hina had never been able to leave his house or had gotten lost somewhere along the way, he would find her. He rushed out of the shop, he had only just moved, but he was already having difficulty breathing.

 

 

For starters, the best thing to do would be to contact his girlfriend's parents... If anyone knew anything, it was them. Which meant he should visit the apartment where they lived.

 

 

When he arrived at the compound, sweat was pouring down his back like a waterfall. The shirt he was wearing was soaked through and his hair, which he had gone to so much trouble to comb a few moments earlier, was a mess. He had run the whole way, and he was sure that along the way he had lost one or two of his belongings. He didn't care. He had to get rid of this uneasy feeling as soon as he could, he had to put his doubts to rest. He had to confirm that Hina was safe and sound, somewhere. That his paranoid mind was doing nothing but playing tricks on him.

 

 

He played once, twice, three times.

 

 

Knock.

 

 

Knock Knock.

 

 

Silence. No one was home? Takemichi became even more desperate.

 

 

Knock knock knock knock knock.

 

 

He heard hollow footsteps on the other side. A sob. The sound of a latch being released. Then a small face peered through the crack in the door, which was not open all the way. Those eyes, puffy and red, looked at him.

 

Takemichi swallowed dryly, and in a trembling voice said:

 

 

"...Naoto-kun." The other didn't answer. "Naoto-kun, sorry... to interrupt. Hina-chan... Uh, she didn't make it to our date and... I wanted to know if she was, okay? She... uh, she's sick, isn't she? That must be it"

 

 

The boy's eyes turned vicious and looked at him, almost evil. Takemichi shuddered at being subjected to such violent scrutiny. He said nothing, he was afraid. Afraid because he could read between the lines. Afraid because he wasn’t an idiot.

 

 

Soon, the little boy's gray eyes relaxed. Or, rather, they stopped looking at him. He could still feel the fire burning behind them, but they seemed to have dismissed him as the culprit.

 

 

"You don't know yet." It wasn't a question.

 

 

"...Know what?" asked Takemichi. Something inside him already knew the answer. But, as usual, he preferred to play dumb. Naoto didn't answer, he simply stared at a distant point in space. "Know what, Naoto?"

 

 

"My sister is dead."

 

 

And everything went black.

Chapter Text

 

Takemichi Hanagaki stood motionless in front of the funeral parlor doors.

 

 

Strangely, no one had insulted him or hurried him out of the way. The teenager assumed that kind of place prompted more understanding from people.

 

 

He found himself unable to move. His feet felt as if they were made of cement. His entire body was dominated by a numb feeling. If he closed his eyes, he could almost pretend that everything that was happening was a bad dream. He could convince himself that once he opened them, he wouldn’t be at the doors of a funeral home to see his dead girlfriend, but in the safety of his room.

 

 

To his misfortune, Takemichi wasn’t imaginative enough to pretend that this was so.

 

 

A voice caught his attention in the distance, urging him to get going. It was Akkun. Or so he thought. The truth was that since Naoto had told him the news, the faces and words had warped into an amalgam difficult to identify.

 

 

He exhaled a sigh. His eyes burned as if they were on fire, as did his throat. It hurt so much to breathe that he couldn't help but let out little hiccups.

 

 

He began to walk, but everything in front of him felt as if it were part of a movie. The faces, so familiar, yet at the same time alien, made him feel tiny. Enclosed. He wondered if he was also being blamed for Hinata's death. He hoped it wasn't this way, but what right did he have to wish for anything?

 

 

They hadn't told him much about how Hinata passed away. He hadn't wanted to hear too many details either.

 

 

It seemed so silly. Simply, one day she was there, next to him... And the next they would find her body on the banks of a river as if her existence was nothing more than an insignificant fragment. Every time he thought of her, he felt helpless. Not only had she been taken from this world so prematurely, but in an extremely cruel and dehumanizing way. Humiliating. Just lying there. Like a trash bag. She, Hinata.

 

 

His friends had tried to understand his anger, his sadness, his frustration. They had tried to keep him from blaming himself, but how could he not?

 

 

Hinata had died the night before her body was found, forensics had revealed. She was returning home after buying decorations for a gift. The manager of the store she had visited just before her death commented that she had seen her very excited.

 

 

She would give a surprise gift to her boyfriend for their anniversary.

 

 

The cause of death had been an animal attack. Deep fang marks had been detected around his arm (the one they could find) and on part of his waist, which had also been split down the middle by what forensics described as claws. No one had explained as to how this had been possible.

 

 

No one yet understood why on earth a wild fucking beast would wander into downtown Tokyo, unseen, to attack an unsuspecting young girl.

 

 

It just didn't make fucking sense.

 

 

Takemichi had too many questions, but too little desire to answer them. When he heard the official version of the event, which sounded like something out of a horror movie, he was so mentally exhausted that he just nodded his head. And cry. A lot.

 

 

He did not dare to approach the Tachibana family. Nor could he take a step toward the coffin where his girlfriend's body had been laid out. He was a coward... He was afraid to do so and that nightmares would take over him; it frightened him to think how it would feel to be haunted for the rest of eternity by Hinata's ghost.

 

 

He was an idiot. He was already being tormented.

 

 

On his way out, he met his friends and the rest of Toman.

 

 

Mitsuya and Chifuyu had offered him a shoulder to cry on. Yamagishi, Makoto, and Akkun had tried to distract him a little from his thoughts, but there was no use.

 

 

Everyone looked at him with sorrowful eyes. Takemichi wondered if it was him they should be looking at with such sorrow, considering that a beautiful family had just been destroyed due to the death of their daughter.

 

 

He ignored them. He didn't have the mental energy to say a word. All he managed to do was force a sad smile, to try to convince them that everything was fine. Of course, they wouldn't let it go.

 

 

Mikey had tried to approach him. Takemichi did not want to look him in the eye. He couldn't face him, not yet and much less in the state he was.

 

 

"Takemitchy..."

 

 

He didn’t look at him.

 

***

 

 

Takuya Yamamoto had always been known as an observer.

 

 

Ever since he was a child, he was a ghost. He had always been there, and yet he wasn’t. Sometimes it got to the point that even his parents didn't notice his presence. When he was next to them.

 

 

Takuya thought of his invisibility as a blessing. He was sure that even if he lived in a fictional world about badass gangsters and someone made a Wikipedia article about him, his description wouldn't span more than two paragraphs.

 

 

And he was genuinely happy about that.

 

 

The reason he could mimic so well the figure of the reader, the observer, was because his dream had always been to go unnoticed. What he wanted most in his life was to live a long and peaceful life with the person he loved.

 

 

Now, being a ghost had other advantages as well.

 

 

For example, to know everything about the people he loved. Their little tics and obsessions, their gestures, their features... He devoured everything and everyone.

 

Takemichi Hanagaki was the living embodiment of that.

 

 

He had been the first person to discover him in the crowd, to see the child behind the sheet. He would always be grateful to him for that. Takemichi also became his first object of observation. He got used to himself in becoming a shadow of Takemichi, in sticking to him so silently but constantly to the point of mimicking the boy.

 

 

Many people didn't seem to know it, but Takemichi and he were the best of childhood friends. People used to make the mistake of believing that crybaby's closest friend was Atsushi and (more recently), Matsuno Chifuyu.

 

 

Takuya wasn't upset that everyone made that mistake. In fact, he was grateful. It was because he was so insignificant that he had been able to grow as attached to Takemichi as he had. If anyone had noticed how he grew on Takemichi, how he expanded on the boy almost like a vine... He certainly wouldn't have been able to make it this far.

 

 

Anyway, what we were getting at.

 

 

Takuya was an observer by nature. He knew everything about everyone. Their gestures, their tricks, their secrets, their fears…

 

 

Occasionally, his skill proved advantageous.

 

 

One of those many occasions happened right after Hinata's death. Takuya didn't know that young girl very well, but he certainly felt sorry for her. Is that how it feels? To be burned by flying so close to the sun?

 

 

It's not like he regretted her death either. Not really.

 

 

Who did regret, of course, was Hanagaki Takemichi. His childhood best friend. The sweet,  innocent Michi.

 

 

That was the perk of his job. Now that Takemichi was heartbroken, Takuya used his magical abilities to comfort him. Of course, why wouldn't he be? Everyone knew it. Only he was the one who knew him the best. That's why, of all his friends, he had been the one chosen to come to accompany him in these difficult moments.

 

 

That fourth-rate commander had spewed fire from his mouth upon hearing that he would be the only one to visit. Takuya would have been genuinely scared if it wasn't for the small fact that he was internally jumping for joy. At the end of the day, no matter how many "fakes" pretended to be Takemichi's best friends, he was the only real one.

 

 

Standing right in front of the Hanagaki home, he rejoiced in the fact that he was a good observer. Today, like so many others, he would plant his vines a little further into Takemichi. That way he could spend the rest of his days with him, just as he was doing now, quietly, observing him.

 

 

Knock, knock.

 

 

His hand did not tremble. There was no response from the other side, but Takuya knew Takemichi was there. He hadn't gotten out of bed in weeks.

 

 

Knock, knock. He insisted. He wasn't going to give up so easily. Besides, it was only a matter of time. Takuya knew Takemichi extremely well, he knew that no matter how broken his heart was, he would never be able to ignore his friends. Silly boy.

 

 

He waited a few seconds. And, just as he guessed after a few moments faint footsteps were heard from the other side of the door. Hesitant, faint, heavy footsteps. It was undoubtedly his friend.

 

 

That much he knew, however, whoever opened the door for him almost seemed like a stranger. Had it not been for those sky blue eyes, Takuya would have thought that his dear friend had been replaced by a complete stranger.

 

 

His face was sunken as if he hadn't eaten in days. Most likely he had. His eyes were puffy and red. That was to be expected, knowing his best friend, he must have spent the last few days crying inconsolably.

 

 

He looked down at his lips. Yep. They were dry, as Takemichi most likely didn't even bother to drink water. Now, he was pretty sure that was bad for his health considering how much he tended to cry…

 

Takuya realized that he had been contemplating his friend for a long time. He snapped out of it. Luckily, Takemichi hadn't noticed the strangeness of his attitude, which was good enough, for being strange was synonymous with attracting attention.

 

 

Oh, he didn't want to make his friend uncomfortable either, of course.

 

 

"May I come in?"

 

 

"..." Takemichi looked at him lazily, without uttering a word. After a few seconds, he stepped aside to let his friend in.

 

 

The house, of course, was a mess.

 

 

His parents didn't usually spend too much time at home, so he supposed that had made it easier for him to let himself be. Takemichi wasn't usually the neatest person in the world, per se, but this was a whole new level of mess.

 

 

Of course, like all the things that were happening lately, this was also a consequence of Tachibana Hinata's death.

 

 

His friend was a particularly sensitive soul. To everything, in general. Of all the people Takuya had ever had the opportunity to observe, Takemichi stood out as the most empathetic and kind.

 

 

Sometimes he couldn't help but compare him to a puppy. His innocence, his trust in people, his inherently well-intentioned attitude…

 

 

As well as the ease of being manipulated. As a puppy, Takemichi could also be trained. That was all.

 

 

Being an empathetic and considerate person brought as a consequence a constant commitment to the feelings and needs of all those around him. Takuya knew it was a weight on his friend's shoulders; the imperative obligation to save everyone around him.

 

If he had been a better person, maybe he could have convinced him that it was okay to rest once in a while. That he didn't have to sacrifice himself for others the way he did.

 

 

But that's the crux of the matter.

 

 

No one around Takemichi was a good person.

 

 

Without another word, Takuya pulled Takemichi to his chest in a tight embrace.

 

 

"Idiot," he whispered in his ear. "You had all of us worried."

 

 

All he received in response was the soft wetness of tears on his shirt.

 

 

The brown-haired man forced him to sit at the table. Once he made sure that his friend wouldn't screw up (as if he were a child), he set about preparing the meal. Takuya wasn't as talented as Yamagishi when it came to making food, so Takemichi would have to settle for fried rice.

 

 

Once he finished preparing lunch, he sat down at the table in front of the blond. The steaming plate of rice, placed right in front of him, gave off a pleasant aroma.

 

 

Takemichi gave him a tired look. He was asking him to give up. Takuya didn't, instead, he pointed his head at the plate of food.

 

 

"That won't eat itself."

 

 

There was a growl from a hungry stomach, which made Takuya smile and the blond blush in embarrassment.

 

 

Weakly, he lifted his fork and began to eat.

 

 

"You shouldn't have come to see me." Takemichi's voice sounded raspy as if he hadn't spoken in days.

 

"Why?"

 

 

"...You shouldn't worry about me."

 

 

"Why?"

 

 

"I... I don't deserve it."

 

 

Takuya frowned. "What are you talking about? You're practically an angel, you idiot. Of course, you deserve it."

 

 

Takemichi stirred his food with disdain.

 

 

"No, I’m not." The blond looked up. Tears were beginning to form in his eyes. "I'm a shitty person."

 

 

"Michi... That's not true." Takuya tried to hold his hands between his, but Takemichi avoided his touch as if it burned.

 

 

"Yes, yes, it is!" He threw the plate of food aside, full of rage. The object fell to the ground, shattering into pieces. "I'm shit! A good-for-nothing, that's what I am!"

 

 

"Takemichi..."

 

 

"A damned, useless, stupid..." Tears were streaming down her eyes. "A scumbag who can't even protect his girlfriend."

 

 

Takuya approached him, tried to hold him in his arms, but was again rejected. Pretending that his best friend's rejection didn't hurt, he assured in a soft voice, "Takemichi... It's not like that."

 

 

He moved closer to him. This time he didn’t try to touch him.

 

"Hina was the happiest person when she was with you, I'm sure she loved you very much... She must have enjoyed every minute together with you." Well. If Takuya was projecting his own feelings onto the deceased Hina, there was nothing wrong with it. She was dead, anyway.  "About what happened... There's just nothing you could have done, do you understand?"

 

 

Takemichi shook his head. "No... That's not true if only I..."

 

 

"If only you what, Michi? If only you had been with her twenty-four hours a day? If only you had been devoured by that beast as she was? Takemichi..." He held his shoulders. He was ecstatic to notice that the blond did not move away from his touch. "There is nothing you could have done. There's no way you could have known what would happen."

 

 

He peeled away from his touch. His hands burned.

 

 

"The only thing you can do now is to always keep her in your memory." Takuya wasn’t a good person. "But she's not coming back anymore, you understand that, don't you?"

 

 

Takemichi collapsed to the ground. Takuya grabbed him in his arms and took advantage of the shattered state of mind his friend was in to sniff his scent indiscriminately.

 

 

His dick was hard. It had been for quite a while now, ever since he saw how broken his friend was. Takemichi's best view was of him crying.

 

 

Takemichi kept whimpering in his arms, unsuspectingly. His tears wet Takuya's clothes, conveying a warmth that the boy wouldn’t forget for a long time. The boy felt safe, for there was no way for the other to know. There was no way, in the state he was in, that he would notice the hard erection between his legs and how each disconsolate sob made it harder.

 

 

Ah, he was going to touch himself that night. Perhaps, if he was smart enough, he could take advantage of this opportunity a little longer…

 

 

"It's okay, Takemichi." He sniffed the boy's hair once more. He could feel the warmth of his cheeks. His pupils were dilated. "I----------------------- we're right beside you. It will pass."

 

Takemichi just pressed harder against him. Takuya almost let out a moan.

 

 

"Say, what do you say I stay over tonight?"

 

***

 

The little boy moved through the streets of the city in a hurry. His red hood gave him a certain air of innocence, of childhood... He was like a little boy running through the forest, not knowing at what moment he would meet the big bad wolf waiting to devour him.

 

 

The boy stopped suddenly when he saw him. Him, the tall shadow. He wasn't a wolf... Not exactly.

 

 

The eyes of that shadow, that being who had long ago distanced himself from the path of humans, watched him attentively. Calculating. Not as one who looks at potential prey, but rather as one who calculates the steps he must take for its sacrifice.

 

 

The boy's crystalline orbs met in direct contrast to the empty sockets of a man devoid of human feelings. He smiled, but the little boy didn t smile back. The boy merely squeezed the paper envelope he carried between his trembling arms... Ah, were those tears peeping from his eyes?

 

 

The crooked man knew why he was there. He didn't need to read the contents of that envelope to know what they said. He had been there himself, after all.

 

 

"I know what you did to my sister," the pup s voice came out steady. It didn't show the fear the man could smell on his body. Gee, he should give the poor thing some credit.

 

 

In response, he smiled at him. That seemed to infuriate the boy, who once again rebuked him violently. He said many things... "I'm going to tell on you," "Everyone will find out what kind of monster you are," blah, blah, blah.

 

 

To his ears, it sounded more like the shrieks of a pig about to be slaughtered rather than a human voice. He really couldn't stand loud noises... well, not lately.

 

 

He quieted the child by resting his hand on his snout. The little boy must have felt it like a slap, but he had tried to be as careful as possible. He couldn't leave any marks.

 

 

"Listen, little boy," he said as he smiled. "This... It's not something I like to do, you know? Ah, yes... You should understand it better than anyone..."

 

 

The tears that until a while ago had been gathering in the boy's eyes began to run rampant down his cheeks. He could feel their warmth through the gloves he was wearing.

 

 

"Well, it's just the way it is... Oh, but don't worry. I won't kill you, not yet."

 

He lifted the boy into the air. He was thinner than he expected, and that almost made him hesitate. But he was an experienced hunter, he knew well that he could not hesitate. He looked to his side, at the river. It looked like a bad joke, really.

 

 

"You know something, kid? I'll give you some advice." He moved the boy to the edge of the railings surrounding the stream. The little piggy's legs were shaking, he had peed himself. "Next time you run into someone you know is dangerous... Be more careful, okay?"

 

 

With that, he dropped it. His screams were muffled by the strong current of the river. The smile had not for a moment been wiped from his face. It was a shame. It wasn't something he liked to do....

 

 

Oh, well.

Chapter Text

 

"The ice cream is melting..." said Takemichi to himself. However, he took no action to prevent what was about to happen. He was... mentally exhausted. No matter how many hours he slept or how long he "rested", he simply couldn’t kill this feeling of heaviness that was crushing him with each passing second.

 

 

When he thought he was feeling better, nightmares enveloped him. The uncertainty was killing him, the lack of certainty... The sickening morbid desire to know what Hinata's last moments were like.

 

 

There was nothing he was sure about anymore. Was it right to react the way he was reacting? Was it what was expected of him, as a boyfriend? Or was he behaving insensitively towards the Tachibana family, who had closer ties to Hinata? He wasn't sure of anything. For now, pathetic as it was, he would just lie back on his bed and let his tears fall.

 

 

The ice cream had almost completely melted. Takemichi hadn't had a bite since Yamagishi bought it for him, obviously to make him feel better. But he had no appetite, so he just accepted it with a lukewarm smile and pretended to be excited by the idea.

 

 

He stayed that way for a few moments. Breathing. Blinking. Imagining macabre scenarios in his mind.

 

 

His trance was interrupted when he heard the doorbell ring. He groaned. He had to go answer the door, he couldn't afford to worry his friends any more than he already had.

 

 

His legs felt tired and numb. He hadn't used them in a long time. His only exercise, lately, was going from the bedroom to the bathroom and from the bathroom to the bedroom. Reaching the entrance to his house felt almost daring, for he was so exhausted that he couldn't keep his eyes from involuntarily closing. More than once he bumped into some piece of furniture or other.

 

 

When he finally opened the door, he expected to meet the sorrow-filled eyes of Akkun or, perhaps, the worried gaze of Chifuyu and Mitsuya. Instead, he was greeted by two dark pools staring deeply into his eyes…

 

"Mikey-kun." His friend smiled. It was a soft smile, the kind only he knew how to make. Almost imperceptible to the untrained eye, but Takemichi knew it was there. "...What are you doing here?"

 

 

The blond looked indignant at his question. Before he could answer, another voice broke into the conversation.

 

 

"Good morning, Takemitchy-kun." It was Sano Emma, Mikey's little sister. She was also looking at him smiling, though he could tell by the red tinting her eyes that she felt otherwise. Ah, right. She and Hina are... they used to be friends. "Forgive my brute of a brother. I told him it was still too early to come, but the idiot doesn't understand the reason."

 

 

Takemichi nodded. He gestured for them to enter his home, and both brothers hurried inside. The house was a mess, but he hoped they didn't mind.

 

 

"Wow, Takemitchy, your house sucks."

 

 

... Of course, Mikey didnt understand basic etiquette. Takemichi sighed but said nothing. Instead, he headed to the kitchen to prepare tea.

 

 

"Mikey, don't be an idiot! You know what-"

 

 

"I know, Emma. I just wanted to... Change the subject."

 

 

The house fell into an uncomfortable silence after that. The only thing that could be heard was the faint beeping of the water heating up.

 

 

"Thank-thank you for worrying about me, guys," he said. He didn't look them in the face, instead of fiddling with his pajama sleeve. "But it wasn't necessary. I'm... I'm better now. I'm just still a little... uh, shocked."

 

 

They both looked at him with something akin to sorrow. Takemichi couldn't lie and say he didn't hate how that feeling was reflected in Mikey's eyes.

 

 

He brought the tea, and the three of them sat in silence. When Emma excused herself for a moment to go to the bathroom, Mikey again rebuked him.

 

 

"Takemitchy..." The boy's gaze cut deep into his being. It was a look that could strip him of all his false defenses. "Don’t lie, 'mitchy."

 

 

He pretended not to know what he was talking about and shook his head. But his lips were trembling and his throat burned with unreleased tears. His gaze was beginning to tremble, as Mikey's figure was distorted by his tearful perspective.

 

 

"Mitchy..." Mikey looked stunned. Hurt by what he saw in his eyes. Seeing Hanagaki Takemichi cry was a common occurrence for any Toman member, but seeing him so broken was something else... "Did I tell you about the time Shin almost died?"

 

 

Takemichi turned his gaze towards him or at least tried to. He was holding back his tears so tightly that he could no longer see anything. His body felt weak, almost liquid on the chair he was sitting on.

 

 

"It was horrible. I... It was like being in the dark. I didn't know what had happened, or how. The only thing I was aware of was that my brother was there one moment, and the next, an ambulance was happily taking him away." Mikey stopped for breath. He came to his side. "I didn't understand anything. I was so lost. I didn't know what was right or wrong. All I knew was that my brother could leave me at any moment, and I couldn't do anything to stop it. People were passing around me, trying to reassure me. But it was like being sunk in deep water, I couldn't hear them. In those moments, I thought... " The blond wrapped his arms around himself, forcing his head to rest on the older man's chest. "I thought I would lose myself. I thought... My brother was so important to me, almost like a god. And if I lost him... "

 

 

Takemichi could feel his tears falling and soaking Mikey. The pressure around him felt pleasant. He wrapped his arms around Mikey's waist, unable to hold back the moans that came from him. Mikey began stroking his hair, waiting for him to pull himself together.

 

 

"But I was wrong, Mitchy. I was so wrong. I was so desperate I couldn't see. I had forgotten that around me there were still people I loved and could still protect. My grandfather, Emma, Draken... Hell, even Izana! I was surrounded by people who loved me." Mikey released him to kneel to his full height. He placed both hands on his shoulders and drew their foreheads together until they collided. "What I mean, Mitchy is… You still have people around you who love you, who care about you if you keep that up."

 

Takemichi wanted to distance himself, wanted to say it wasn't true, but Mikey forced him to stay.

 

 

"I... I love you, Takemitchy." Mikey's cheeks were red. "Let me be one of the people who push you to live."

 

 

He collapsed. He couldn't take it anymore. His legs were weak, but as best as he could he clung to Mikey. He cried what seemed like seas, he cried his heart out. He let out all the corroded feelings he had been harboring all that time and allowed himself to forget, if only for a moment, his pain.

 

 

During all that time, there wasn't a moment when Mikey left his side. The arms around his trembling body were an anchor that brought him back to reality.

 

 

As the hours passed, they moved from the kitchen floor to a couch. Emma came and went, making them hot tea and telling them she would be there if they needed her, then leaving to let them enjoy their private moment. She didn't want Takemichi to feel uncomfortable.

 

 

Mikey put a boring movie on the small TV in the living room.

 

Takemichi fell asleep lulled to sleep by the rhythmic beating of Mikey's heart and the dull lines of a clichéd love movie.

 

***

 

It's amazing how human beings cope with the bereavement of loved ones. The pain, which at first resembled a sharp stab to the heart, diminishes to nothing more than an annoying bee sting.

 

 

Three months passed that way, three months in which the pain Takemichi felt gradually diminished. At first, he found it hard to accept. Sometimes, on haunted afternoons, he could almost feel Hinata's delicate figure approaching him to tell him trifles. In time, he learned that these illusions were nothing more than delusions of his mind, desperate to return to the way things were in the past.

 

 

Once he was able to accept Hinata's departure, a small weight left his heart. He knew she would never leave him, not really. But he found himself comforted, for it was far better to remember her as the wonderful person she was and not as the rotting corpse that haunted his dreams.

 

When he was freed from the fog in which pain had plunged him, he began to see everything in a new light. Those around him, those he loved, everything seemed to be new to him. During that time, he found in his friends a soother for the suffering. He replaced lonely nights with sleepovers, depressing afternoons with trips to the movies, and endless mornings with laughter.

 

 

Now, Takemichi would be lying if he said that Mikey had not played a vital role in his recovery.

 

 

Ever since that fateful afternoon when he poured out all his feelings of anguish, Mikey had become a figure to look to for shelter and support. Whereas in the past Takemichi saw him as a strong and unstoppable leader, the vision he had of him today was more that of a playful, somewhat childish, and capricious young man, but, above all, that of an understanding and loyal person.

 

 

Nor had he managed to stop all these new feelings that had been welling up in him. His cheeks flushed at the thought.

 

 

It was one of those afternoons when he met Chifuyu who ended up finally accepting him.

 

"Chifuyu... I think I'm in love with Mikey."

 

 

His friend looked at him in exasperation, as if he had just said that the sky is blue. Takemichi looked away, embarrassed, was it that obvious?

 

 

His friend tried to sound surprised. "No way! Really? Who would have known? I wasn't expecting this... Not after he gave you all those stuffed animals, or went rabid dog every time I came near you, not even the time he 'accidentally' left a hickey in your neck. Wow, surprising!"

 

 

Takemichi looked at him, annoyed. Look at him calling the pot a kettle

 

 

"Ugh! You know better than me that I haven't exactly had much time to think about it since...!" What he wanted to say remained unsaid, but Chifuyu understood it anyway. His expression changed to a more sober one.

 

"Well, I already knew you were an idiot." Chifuyu took a potato chip from the bag they were sharing. In the background, he could hear the dialogue of a romance novel his best friend was forcing him to watch. "So, what are you supposed to do, now that you've had the revelation of the century?"

 

 

Takemichi rolled his eyes. "It's already a big step that I admitted it, don't you think? Give me some credit." The image of a beautiful young woman flashed through his mind at that moment. "I don't know... I, I don't think I'm ready for another relationship... Not yet, at least."

 

 

Chifuyu looked at him, somewhere between sympathetic and annoyed. Takemichi was really getting tired of those looks.

 

 

"I understand, partner." He reached out to clasp Takemichi's hands. "Whatever you decide... You know I'll be by your side."

 

 

That brought a big smile to his face. Sometimes it was a really good thing to have a person like Chifuyu by his side, even when he was teasing him.

 

 

"For now...," Chifuyu continued with a mischievous smile, "Why don't we plan a date with your sweetheart, hm?"

 

 

Takemichi changed his mind, Chifuyu could sometimes be a pain in the ass!

 

 

***

Draken wondered, really, could there be a vacation from social relationships? A retirement? Be that as it may, he was damned well in need of one of the two.

 

 

He sighed for what seemed like the hundredth time. He definitely wasn't getting paid enough for that... That was because that fucker Mikey wasn't paying him a goddamn cent, dammit! Seriously, the last thing he was glad about being dragged to the Sano residence was that he'd get to see…

 

 

No one. Nothing made him glad to be part of his best friend's ridiculous plans.

 

Nuh-huh.

 

Draken sighed yet again. His idiot commander hadn't even bothered to tell him what he had planned this time.

 

 

"Ugh, Kenchin, you're seriously not helping!" shouted Mikey, who was currently rummaging through the piles of untidy clothes in his closet.

 

 

Draken swore he could feel his blood pressure rise. Murder is illegal, murder is illegal   "Well, Mikey. If maybe, oh, I don't know, you'd tell me what kind of shit I should help you with, then maybe, just maybe, I'll be able to do it."

 

 

His best friend made a little "o" with his mouth. His eyes sparkled like two diamonds and he could almost feel the headache coming on. If Mikey's eyes were sparkling like a schoolgirl in love, then this whole thing could only have to do with…

 

 

"Takemitchy!" exclaimed Mikey between giggles. Draken didn't know if the urge to punch him was because of how cheesy his best friend was acting or because of the bitter taste he left in his mouth to know that an idiot like him had had a chance with his crush. "I almost forgot to tell you, hehe." Here we go. "Mitchy asked me on a date~~"

 

 

The taller one opened his eyes in surprise. This was an expected scenario, and yet he didn't think it would happen so soon. The way things were in Takemichi's mind (and heart), he found it hard to think that he would have dared to take such a step.

 

He looked incredulously at the blond. He seemed to sense his suspicions and pouted, drawing to himself a hideous t-shirt that looked like it had been through a paint war.

 

 

"Well~ He didn't exactly mean it in those words... But, hey, isn't "friends outing" just another way of saying "date"?"

 

 

"Friends outing means exactly what it implies, Mikey," Draken sentenced in the most serious tone he could muster. "An outing... of just friends. "

 

 

"Are you looking for me to kill you, eh, you bastard?"

 

 

"Ha! You and how many others, you little shit?"

 

Mikey was about to introduce Draken to his creator when a flying slipper interrupted their scuffle. At the entrance to Mikey's room was the surprise attacker, who also happened to be his little sister.

 

 

"Mikey, could you stop acting like a child for just two seconds?" she asked annoyed. "I can hear you screaming from the kitchen."

 

 

"Emma." Draken could feel his cheeks flushing against his will. "Uh... Hi."

 

 

Smooth, really smooth Draken.

 

 

Mikey looked at him jokingly and imitated him in a mocking voice, but a strong punch to his stomach ended his joking mood. Before another small battle could begin, Emma interrupted the pair of friends again.

 

 

"Please, please tell me you won't go dressed like that to your date with Takemitchy," Emma sentenced, looking with a grimace of disgust at the worn t-shirt Mikey was holding.

 

 

The blond held up the garment, puzzled. "What's wrong with it, it's my lucky t-shirt, I wore it the day Takemichi first hugged me! I haven't washed it since then, hehe."

 

 

Both the girl and his best friend looked at him, dumbfounded. They couldn't believe that Mikey had said the last line in a non-ironic way. The young girl sighed, frustrated; her brother was hopeless.

 

 

With a (fearsome) strength Draken didn't know she possessed, Emma ripped the garment from her older brother's hands. She proceeded to throw it out a window. Mikey gave a piercing scream and threatened to throw himself out there too, but Draken stopped him in time.

 

 

The girl started pacing back and forth across the room while biting her fingernail. Both friends looked at her puzzled and (why not) a little terrified.

 

 

"Ah," sighed Emma after coming to what seemed to be a drastic conclusion. "All right. Desperate times call for desperate measures." She pointed a beautifully sculpted fingernail at her brother and sentenced, "Sano Manjiro! Today the Gods have taken pity on your poor soul. Thank them right now for having a wonderful sister like me, I will keep you from making a fool of yourself in front of Takemichi!"

 

 

The boy swallowed hard, his face pale from what was about to happen. Nightmares of the distant past, in which he had become his sister's doll, populated his mind... Emma was a Sano.

 

 

"Oh, why so terrified? You don't even know the worst part yet..." said Emma with a ghoulish tone. "Do you think you have nice clothes, huh? Of course not..."

 

 

"We'll have to get Izana involved in this."

 

 

Mikey wanted to scream. Draken, for the first time in a long time, did feel sorry for his friend.

 

***

 

The mall was crowded with people. Takemichi felt watched. It was the first time in a long time that he had been out alone... Well, not exactly alone.

 

 

He shook his head. He could feel his cheeks reddening. Although he had finally admitted the feelings he had for Mikey, it was still too soon to take the next step. Perhaps he was being too hesitant, but Chifuyu had assured him that he was capable of controlling this kind of thing and that the most important thing about starting a relationship was to feel ready for it.

 

 

Takemichi still did not feel ready.

 

 

As much as he had already managed to come to terms with the idea that Hinata had left to never, ever to return, he could still feel the icy hands of her conscience clinging to his heels. He knew that this kind of guilt slowed his pace of coping, but he wasn't callous enough to simply let her go.

 

 

If he wanted to start a new relationship he first had to put an end to his ghosts, Takemichi decided.

 

 

Before he could sink further into a depressive pit, a strong tap on his shoulder brought him out of his musings. When he turned his gaze to whoever had interrupted him, he couldn't believe his eyes.

 

Takemichi knew, rationally, that Mikey was attractive. Hell, he could even say he was hot. However, no other experience had prepared his poor brain to process what he was observing at that moment.

 

 

In a resounding one hundred and eighty degrees turn from his usual disheveled appearance, Mikey looked... well, he looked splendid. The light brown coat he was wearing gave him a certain air of maturity that caused him to lose his breath; paired with the light gray overalls gave him a casual but surprisingly elegant look. Takemichi didn't know anyone could look so good in a sweatshirt. He swallowed dryly, trying to control his foolish heart. The feat didn't go so well, as seeing how Mikey had lost his half-tail in favor of loose hair nearly gave him a heart attack.

 

 

Oh... Oh, my... Were those .shoes?!?

 

 

He knew this was Emma's doing, he would be sure to thank her for the eye candy later.

 

The handsome appearance of his da--- Friend, made him feel a little embarrassed in comparison. Even if Takemichi had dressed in his best attire - a white jacket and his best jeans that "made his tiny waist look appetizing" (Chifuyu's words) - he knew he paled in comparison to Mikey.

 

 

He looked down at the floor, somewhat self-consciously.

 

 

"Do you like what you see, Ta-ke-mit-chy~?" asked Mikey playfully when he noticed the look he was giving him.

 

 

Takemichi could feel his cheeks reddening, but he managed to nod fervently. He did look very gorgeous. At some point, Mikey invaded (even more) his personal space and he couldn't help but wonder at what point they had become so comfortable with each other.

 

 

"A-anyway, Mikey-kun...," Takemichi decided to change the subject while avoiding his friend's gaze, "W-we should go buy the popcorn, don't you think? Uh- you said you wanted to see a movie, so I went ahead and bought the tickets."

 

 

That seemed to make Mikey desist from his desire to torture the poor boy, instead, he adopted a calmer smile and dragged him to the small store next to the entrance of the movie theater. From the excited gleam in Mikey's eyes, Takemichi could already sense that his decision would make his pockets ache. He didn't think much of it, for if it made Mikey happy, he didn't mind spending all his savings.

 

 

Wow, he had become what is known as a simp, huh?

 

 

Fortunately, the line to shop was not very long. Takemichi was particularly grateful for this, forever since he had arrived at the place he had been suffocated by a deep sense of discomfort. Wherever he went, he could feel people's eyes watching him, judging him. He tried to concentrate on the trivia Mikey was telling him, but he couldn't help but feel like a stranger in his skin.

 

 

The worst moment came when he could see how a group of girls approached them. Takemichi had seen it coming, he had seen the indiscreet looks the girls were giving to his commander and knew instantly that they would be approached at any moment. He tried to mentally prepare himself for the conversation; he tried to imagine his words so he wouldn't look like a fool and the face he should make so Mikey wouldn't realize how uncomfortable he was. He tried to rationalize it. He wasn't an idiot. He knew what those girls wanted: Mikey.

 

 

However, as much as he tried to rationalize what was about to happen, Takemichi had, deep down, a sensitive heart. So, when he heard the damn words come out of the mouth of the most attractive girl in the group, he could feel his facade slowly cracking. He instinctively pulled away from Mikey, as he didn't want to embarrass him. As best he could, he tried to make herself as invisible as possible. He resorted to scratching his arm to relieve the anxiety he was feeling.

 

 

He turned off the words of the conversation, as he decided they were none of his business. They weren't there for him, but for Mikey... and Mikey had every right in the world to do whatever he wanted. Of course, his friend was too good to abandon him, but he didn't want to be an obstacle for him. In those moments he couldn't help but remember his true nature, that of a lone wolf. He had forgotten that the only person who had ever harbored feelings of love for him was dead and that it would be rare for anyone else to have such feelings for him.

 

 

Hell, he wanted to cry.

 

 

"I asked you what the fuck they want," Mikey's deep voice snapped him out of his musings. "You got a death wish, mm? Get the fuck lost."

 

"My...Mikey-kun!" he exclaimed in surprise. His friend didn't respond, instead, Mikey grabbed one of his hands tightly and dragged him away. "Mikeyy-kun, st...stop!" he looked at the girls they had left behind, he could almost feel the daggers they were throwing at him with their gaze. Takemichi wanted to apologize, but Mikey gave him no time at all.

 

 

The blond didn't give him time to do anything else, and in a matter of minutes, they were outside the mall again.

 

 

This is all my fault... Damn it! I'm such an idiot. I shouldn't have reacted that way... I ruined our date.

 

 

"Takemitchy," Mikey caught his attention once again. His brow was furrowed. Takemichi waited for the worst. "What are you waiting for, babe? Get on the bike."

 

Mikey must have seen on his face that he didn't understand what the hell he was talking about because he soon clarified: "Ah, those girls already ruined my afternoon. Besides, going to the movies is a fucking bore. So get on the bike, I have a better idea." Mikey said that last sentence with a smile planted on his face, but Takemichi had his doubts.

 

 

His date rolled his eyes. With a sharp movement, he lifted him into the back of the vehicle. Takemichi, for his part, sighed in defeat. He knew very well that the battle was lost before it began: there was nothing to be done when Mikey was told. Be that as it may, he would always end up doing what he wanted.

 

 

Mikey climbed over the front and, with a playful wink, signaled him to hold on tight. Takemichi thought that was a bit over the top. He soon found out how wrong he was when Mikey sped up his babu to full speed.

 

 

The bastard seems to enjoy it, Takemichi thought to himself.

 

 

After a few moments, he managed to relax. His state of alarm had disappeared and, once again, he had only Mikey to thank. The wind against his face gave him a strange sense of peace that he could not explain and the monotonous sound of the engine made him feel sleepy as if it were a lullaby.

 

 

He leaned his head against Mikey's back. He didn't notice the slight speed bump his action caused.

 

 

Quietly, in that little utopia that enveloped them, he allowed himself some time to think. Lately, he was having a hard time processing his own life. The events that had happened, and the ones that were about to happen. Sometimes, in the dark nights, he wondered how he made it through. It felt a little wrong to keep walking when so many terrible things had happened around him.

 

 

Draken's assassination attempt, then the incident of Mikey's disappearance and ... Hina's death.

 

These were all things that had undoubtedly happened and, even if they were not on the surface now, that they still had to continue to deal with. He could feel it. He saw it every time Draken flinched if someone approached from behind without warning, he saw it during all the evenings when he had to assure Mikey that he wouldn't leave him alone…

 

He kept feeling it every time he turned his face and Hina wasn't there beside him. Every time he instinctively dialed her cell phone number and got nothing but dead silence.

 

 

Takemichi wondered, several times if it was okay to go on as if nothing had happened. But, at the same time, he was relieved. He was relieved to know that despite how much everyone had suffered these past few months, they could still keep smiling.

 

 

He opened his eyes as he felt the bike stop running. He was surprised to see that they were on the beach when he looked around. He let out a little yelp of surprise, and Mikey turned slightly to smile at him. Then, he got off the motorcycle and offered his hand for him to do the same.

 

 

Without saying a word (or answering Takemichi's questions), Mikey led him to a secluded side of the beach. It was a small improvised dock, made of huge rocks piled one on top of the other. His commander dragged him until he reached the end of the path; there, they both sat and quietly watched the waves lapping monotonously against the beach.

 

 

Takemichi breathed in, admiring the beauty of the view. Even though it was almost autumn, the sun felt warm on their skin and a warm wind enveloped them. The days were getting shorter and shorter, and even though it had been little more than an hour since their meeting at the mall, they could already admire the colors of the sunset bathing everything in its path.

 

Neither said anything for a long time, simply enjoying the sun's rays and the gentle sound of the ocean. Poetically, Takemichi could almost feel the sea taking his worries to the bottom of the depths, in a place too far away to pay attention to anymore.

 

 

The atmosphere made him feel light, almost uninhibited. It was dreamlike. Mikey's beautiful profile, with his eyes closed and his face relaxed, looked like that of an angel coming to save him from his constant hesitations.

 

 

That beautiful face smiled. Mikey playfully opened one of his eyes and looked at him. Seeing himself uncovered, Takemichi couldn't help but blush. He was thankful that the sun was so strong, for he could use it as an excuse for the heat he felt on his cheeks.

 

 

"Takemitchy."

 

 

"Yes, Mikey-kun?"

 

 

"Takemitchy."

 

 

"What's going on?"

 

 

"Takemitchy."

 

 

This time, Takemichi did not respond. Sometimes Mikey was weird like that.

 

"It's nothing," the blond explained. "I just felt like saying your name."

 

Again, silence. It did not last long.

 

 

"You know? This is my favorite place," Mikey resumed. "When I was a kid, my older brother used to bring me here often and talk to me about a lot of things I didn't understand." Mikey looked down at his hands, thoughtfully. He smiled. "Now that I'm older, I understand them better."

 

 

Takemichi thought Mikey sounded almost mature, and that made him feel a little put-off. He supposed that, like others, this was one of his facets that he didn't let many others discover.

 

 

"...Thank you for bringing me to this place, Mikey-kun," he whispered softly, just loud enough for Mikey to hear. "It's really beautiful."

 

 

Mikey gave him a deep look that iced his bones.

 

 

"Yes, it is."

 

 

***

 

In the evening, Mikey accompanied him to the entrance of his home. Something embarrassing happened then. It looked like a cheap romantic movie, and they were both idiots for staring at each other like they were out of their minds.

 

 

The discomfort was too much, but neither was willing to give in.

 

 

Takemichi, for the first time in a long time, decided that he would do something that was not like him. He would be brave. For that, he turned off his brain. Then, all he could think about was how red Mikey's ears were; to the warmth, he could feel the closer he got to him and the beating of his heart, to the point where it ached.

 

 

He felt the oh so longed softness of Mikey’s lips on his. The other mouth breathed in, surprised, but it didn't take long to reciprocate. Two hands joined his own, clasping his and making his heart do more flips.

 

Takemichi wondered if this was how all those shojo manga protagonists that Chifuyu loved to read so much felt.

 

 

Oh. Speaking of which.

 

 

"U-um... Eh..." It was the first time Takemichi had seen Mikey without being able to say a word. He was flushed from head to toe, and his eyes were shining as if he had just made a mind-exploding discovery. "S-So... Uh... W-Well, uh, see you tomorrow?"

 

 

Takemichi smiled playfully. There went another side of his friend that he didn't know he had.

 

 

"Of course, Mikey-kun." He surprised himself by not hesitating. Even he had unfamiliar sides.