Kida is lying on the warehouse floor.
(This is not how it's supposed to go.)
Kida is lying there with a crack in his skull, micrometres away from an epidural hematoma, as the nurse will tell Mikado later, and concussed enough for it to be a problem when Mikado finds him.
Mikado can't quite look at it as he gathers his friend in his arms and hauls him outside with Anri's help into Kadota's van. It is en route to the hospital that tries to--starts to--process it, this talk of Blue Squares and Yellow Scarves and colour and transparency. The colours swirl in his head, become a sharp, putrid green and he has to lower the window because his stomach feels suddenly sick.
The first thing Kida does upon waking is laugh. There's a crack and a cough in it but it is still very much Kida or, at least, the face and the sound that is supposed to be Kida when the world is looking in.
Mikado, who generally tells himself that he does not have a single violent bone in his body, wants to smash something and then take apart whatever is left of it, slowly, painstakingly, with his bare hands.
Kida doesn't miss it because Kida doesn't miss anything, never mind that he's brilliant at pretending, at playing a complete idiot when he needs to, and this unnerves Mikado even more. He doesn't wait for the question, doesn't think he can take another fake smile and lilted sound of his name, not when it's paint and plaster over everything else, not when in his mind, Kida is still bleeding and bleeding in a warehouse and--
"You could have died."
It takes a moment to register that the words are his, dry and papery in this sterile room. They don't sound nearly as weighted as Mikado would have liked them to. As a rule, they seldom do.
And it's as if something has resonated because Kida spares him the bullshit when he says, rather evenly, "That was sort of the plan."
What about me, is what he wants to say but can't choke it out because this is a recovery room and his best friend is supposed to be recovering. The last thing they need in here is selfishness and guilt, what with there being enough of it outside, filling the city air, and even so, Mikado can't help it.
It's not like he doesn't know--didn't need Celty or Simon or Anri or anyone to tell him once he'd come upon it. Kida had rushed in headlong to meet his end, all for him. They would have come after the oblivious idiot who led the Dollars, undoubtedly, eventually, and Kida wouldn't have that. Before Mikado has a chance to start with any of that--
"There's this girl," says Kida, "on the floor below. The one I told you I wanted to see when I got here. I don't know why I'm telling you this but she got hurt a long time ago. I couldn't help her and I blamed myself for it every day. But today? I bet I look like crap and that could have turned out way better." He tries to laugh but a wince cuts him off. He forces it out anyway because he's persistant like that. "Today, I feel good, you know? Really, really good right now."
Mikado would tell him that he's insane but somehow he doesn't think it would have the desired effect.
"Well that makes one of us," Mikado says, and gets the hell out of that wretched room. He needs to breathe and there is no breathing room in there.
It's an awful move on his part. He should be in there with his friend, never mind that his friend feels like he could be someone else right now, might have been someone else all along.
Her name is Mikajima Saki and Mikado finds her in Kida's room the next time he steps in. After awkward introductions all around, it is her that Kida speaks to mostly.
And then, days later, it is her that he leaves with, vanishes into the sunset with, like some stupid action hero or fairytale prince or any number of clichés they had grown up narrating to one another.
Mikado tells himself that he has Anri. It is, strictly speaking, true. He has her in a way that's there even if it is different than before.
It should be enough.
He's not sure if it's the realization that she will never really want him like that or, the much belated one, that he doesn't want it either, that should have felt more alarming. Instead, it is an anti-climax. What a waste too, he thinks, without any real regret in it. Anri was a catch and they could have been one hell of a story.
It occurs to him only now that what he wanted from the start, from the day he set foot into this glorious, dizzying city, was company and maybe something like excitement. It feels like he has had a lifetime's worth of the latter, lights and noise and feeling and commotion, too much in too short of a time. The former still leaves him feeling empty, unsated.
Anri is quiet. She is also kind, soft-spoken, beautiful, and, underneath all of that, a little bit terrifying. Then again, with that last one, there isn't a person he's met in this city who isn't and so he doesn't think much of it anymore.
They have been spending a lot more time together since Kida left, both in and outside of school council. She listens and listens but seldom speaks. The negative space is ever-palpable even if neither of them know how to bring it up.
One night, she's bold enough to voice it but just barely. She tells him it's okay, and if it isn't just yet then it is going to be.
Mikado smiles and nods and doesn't ask her what she means. It's just noise, he wants to say. He'd never realized it before, never really had the opportunity to.
He wonders if, like a phantom limb, Anri feels it too.
Mikado loiters around Russia Sushi in the middle of the night, tries to catch snatches of conversations, Walker and Erika gushing over a mangaka, Kadota and Togusa bickering about another scratch on the van.
He doesn't care for the gossip. He can get that from the board. It's just that the silence does him in these days.
It takes something like six months before he returns like Mikado knew he would.
There's a small scar above his brow, covered by his fringe, but Mikado can see it on windy days because he knows where to look.
His hair is growing out now, darker at the roots. His laughter is the same and also not the same, still outlandish if a bit less contrived.
His jokes are still awful even if he doesn't try as hard.
Mikado still adores him, has never adored him more.
The old Kida would never talk about it.
This Kida tells him about Saki and how people once bound to Orihara Izaya are forever bound to him in one way or another. He says it with a weariness that sounds far too old on him, but lately, they've all been feeling much older than their years. There's something about this city, parasitic almost. It hums with life through the night while it drains you of it during the day.
"I'm sorry," says Mikado, and means it, mostly. He didn't really know her but he thinks that might have been for the best.
Kida deflects again so he hasn't changed all that much. "So~" he singsongs, rather abruptly. "How much did you miss me?"
Mikado rolls his eyes and lets Kida throw him into a headlock.
He huffs in time with Kida's chuckle and lies through his teeth when he says, "I barely noticed you were gone."
A month passes and a vending machine shoots up into the sky, making a perfect parabola when it lands some blocks away from where they stand.
Kida grabs his hand then and they run.
Mikado knows that rationally he should be wary but instead his head is full of laughter and exhilaration. The city is a blur of light and sound and motion and oh he has missed this.
They stop to catch their breath by a fountain, few streets up from the train station.
"You wanna go home? Or we can stick around, if you like," but Kida's fidgeting with the charm on his phone as he says it, thumbing the beads on the string like a rosary.
On days when it gets dark early, Kida has become much more twitchy. Or maybe, it was always there and Mikado had never bothered to notice. He's beginning to realize that there are many, many things about Kida, about this city, abouthimself that he'd never noticed, things that are now suddenly coming into focus and refuse to be cast aside by his senses any longer.
Just like how, even in this weak light, he can't keep his eyes off the the scar above Kida's brow.
Mikado wants to say a hundred different things. He can't touch you now and I've got the city at my fingertips and maybe, more than anything, I've got your back, Masaomi.
Part of him worries that he will always be wanting but will never be able because for all his perception of power, he's never been all that great with words, not even with his best and oldest friend.
"Home," echoes Mikado, and doesn't let go of Kida's hand.
Mikado has never held such a personal vendetta against anyone before, least of all a toothpick of a man in a fur-rimmed coat. Then again, no one has broken Kida Masaomi like this before so Mikado believes that there could be a first time for everything.
He knows (and hates that he knows) that something about Kida is always going to be on edge as long as that man is alive and even vaguely around. Heiwajima Shizuo is usually enough to keep him at the periphery and, often, Mikado wonders why the man doesn't get some kind of public service award for volunteering himself to the job.
There are nights where he dreams vividly of drawing a gun on Orihara Izaya.
He only ever gets to the drawing part; too much always goes wrong.
Sometimes it plays out with Orihara calling him out on his shaking hands, telling him that he isn't made of gunpowder and steel, and to go back home and hide behind his computer screen like the kid he is.
Other times, the man uses Mikado's hesitation to his advantage. He moves and, in a flash, he has knocked Mikado a few feet back, disarming him, blade flipped out and open, held lovingly to Mikado's throat.
Sometimes, he manages a clean cut, and Mikado feels the burn of his own splitting skin, waits for it to slice through fascia and find some critical vessel, to bleed him out for nothing--but that wouldn't be entirely true now, would it?
Orihara would say: Everybody bled for something, didn't they?
The worst is, by far, when the man just laughs and laughs, bordering on demonic, and it makes Mikado wonder if Celty and Saika aren't the only supernatural beings in this city because it wouldn't be such a stretch.
And then, Orihara would speak and Mikado would drop his gun.
His nightmare would say to him: What an interesting twist. People don't kill people for their friends. Not even their best friends.
To which, Mikado's dream-self would counter, Maybe I just hate you.
Or maybe, Orihara would singsong, so different from when Kida does it, so airy and knowing and ominous, just maybe, someone here is a little bit in love.
"Hey Masaomi," Mikado asks him one day, not even all that seriously and doesn't know what compels him to do it. He knows there are other people, better people, to say this to, but something keeps him going, unable to stop once he's started. "Say someone wanted to get a hold of a gun, like for safe--"
He doesn't get to finish before Kida's fist meets his face.
"Just so you know," Kida mutters under his breath, rubbing his knuckles. "I don't ever want to do that again."
"I didn't mean me!"
Kida laughs, bitter and unlike himself. "I'm an idiot I know but I'm not that big of an idiot."
Mikado bites in his, Actually, you kind of are, and throws him a scowl. "What would I even do with it?"
"Don't know, don't care." Kida looks right at him, could be looking into him when he says, "You were my way out. I am not going to be your way in."
Later, he figures that the honour should go to Heiwajima-san anyway. Heaven only knows how long the man has been waiting for his moment.
When the day comes, Mikado will personally send him the biggest, most obnoxiously colourful bouquet he can afford. Or write his name in the Ikebukuro sky with fireworks. Or both.
Anri frowns when she catches sight of the bruise blossoming high on Mikado's cheek, starts to ask about it when Kida cuts in with an extravagant, "Oooh, did he not tell you how he pissed off the big bad bartender the other day?"
Anri doesn't seem to buy it but she doesn't generally bother with most of their shenanigans of the Kida-and-Mikado variety so it's of little surprise when she lets it go.
"You're a terrible liar," Mikado says to him later.
"Oh? Would you rather I told her the truth?"
"That you nearly gave me a black eye because you lost your temper? Why not? She seems to have this mistaken impression of you as a good guy, even after everything."
Kida laughs and this one is real. This one is truly his and Mikado can't even stay mad. "Chicks dig battle wounds. Besides," he ruffles Mikado's hair, "that was a love-tap."
Mikado presses his finger to the spot, winces at the pressure and pain. He gets why Kida did it, the age old adage of don't ask stupid questions and you won't get stupid answers put into practice. "Next time, try for less abusive PDA maybe?"
"Right," and he's still grinning. "If I had meant it to hurt, trust me, you'd know."
He says it so breezily, like he says grilled cheese or look at that girl in her short-shorts, but it hangs in the air and weighs itself down in Mikado's lungs.
Most of the time, Mikado can forget what it means, a yellow scarf and a crowbar--
What it meant, he keeps reminding himself. The past tense now.
His mother had always said that kids seldom end up bloody and beaten without reason before he'd left for Ikebukuro. She'd told him to steer clear of trouble, told him that trouble begets trouble.
Mikado presses his palms against his eyelids until he sees stars. It's either that or feeling ill, too close to the air in the van that day, the smell of Masaomi's blood filling the air, like a life ending, and his own life, coming apart at the seams.
"So," starts Mikado, casual, out of the blue, and thinks that maybe it was better for everyone when he wasn't actually saying things, just thinking of saying them.
Today, the sun hangs bright and high in the sky. It's a beautiful day and quite a shame too because Mikado's about to ruin it.
He turns to Kida and asks, "You ever kill anybody?"
Kida looks at him, eyes wide.
Even if it feels like impending execution in that they know instinctively what's coming, there's an urgency here. Mikado's tired of the suspense, the cloaks and daggers even if both are very much real things he's seen with his own two eyes. Mostly, Mikado just wants to get it over with.
Kida says, very slowly, "You know, sometimes I think I left this stupid city so that I wouldn't have to answer that."
Mikado feels his stomach sink but in a dull, dull way. Nothing hits him all that sharply anymore. Perhaps, he thinks, he has spent far too long preparing himself.
Kida can't meet his eyes for a moment but when he does, it's as if they are asking, So how much do you hate me, huh?
Not as much as I should, Mikado thinks, and then tries not to think too hard about what that means. It does him no favours, he knows, but he doesn't really know what would make him hate Kida the way Kida so fears.
"I meant what I said. You were my way out." The words are simple enough but Mikado doesn't think he will ever know what to make of that.
It is the only time they ever talk about it.
Another projectile shoots into the sky, a parking meter this time, and Mikado bites his lip and gets ready to bolt. This time, it's Kida who grabs his wrist and holds him in place.
"We're not running," Kida says. It might as well mean, I'm not running, and Kida is, in all likelihood, saying it to himself.
Orihara makes a stop in front of them for all of thirty seconds. It's enough time for him to throw in a smirk, a stage-bow, and an interested "Oh," at the sight of them.
Mikado realizes belatedly that Kida is still holding onto his hand and that they have not moved an inch from their spots, have barely breathed. Heiwajima-san turns the bend with Simon in tow, and Celty whizzes by, all within subsequent seconds.
Finally, simultaneously, they both exhale, something in between a breath and a laugh.
They walk along the roadside, wander into a park and then into the back streets. The echo of Celty's motorbike carries from miles away.
Kida still hasn't let go of his hand and this is becoming a thing now. It's a thing he doesn't really mind even if he doesn't know what to make of it.
"You know..." Kida falters, then tries again. "You could have called. Back then, I mean. It's not like I went to the North Pole or anything."
Mikado says nothing even if part of him wants to shout a defiant: So could you. The rest of him knows better. It got complicated. Way too complicated. And maybe it was his own fault for knowing how to manage an underground city-wide network better than knowing his best friend.
And Kida cuts into his thoughts with, "We managed long-distance before, remember?"
"It was different before," Mikado grits out, sharp and maybe a little bit vindictive. "Back in Saitama, you weren't trying to get yourself killed."
Kida drops his hand.
"The thing is," "Kida says, flippant, "sometimes, you don't know a single thing about your friends."
And it stings like it was meant to. Mikado does not kid himself. Of course, it was meant to, and maybe this is the change in his friend. This Kida has claws--No, Mikado amends. He always had claws. It's just that now, he doesn't feel the need to hide them around you.
Mikado doesn't know when or how they became this, all fondness and laughter and affectionate touches at the front and biting lies and secrets and resentment at the back. Which is why, instead of flinging caustic barbs in return, Mikado knows that he needs to be the one to break this sick cycle before he has nothing left, or before Kida takes off again, and they may as well mean the same thing.
"Hey Masaomi." He lowers his voice because this matters. "You knew everything about me."
Kida scoffs. "Really now?"
"Everything that mattered."
"You're saying that Dollars didn't matter?"
"I'm saying that Dollars didn't matter."
He doesn't realize he's said it as loud as he has, not until after, when it echoes in the alleyway. (He then hopes to hell that no one is around to hear because, well, that could go sour a hundred different ways.)
Nor does he realize that he has meant it.
"Liar," says Kida, and Mikado's about to get upset, about to say, You should talk, but Kida's also smiling at him, faint and a little crooked, looking nothing at all like the boy who could cut down a city.
It should be enough, and yet--
"I came to this stupid city for you," Mikado says, fists his hands in this stupid boy's stupid uniform and shuts his eyes tight. Sometimes, Kida reduces him to such a needy little child. Sometimes, Mikado hates him so fucking much.
"And I left you." He can hear the frown without having to see it, can feel Kida's arms coming around him. Even with Kida being as tactile as he is, it's the kind of hug they never really do between the two of them. He absently wonders why they don't.
"Hey, Mikado?" It's mumbled into the cotton of his jacket, said so soft that Mikado can barely hear it. "Stay in this stupid city for me, yeah?"
And really, it is only ever Kida Masaomi who can do this to him, ask this of him.
Mikado's grip tightens around him in return.
"Shut up, Masaomi."
It rings in his head like the end of a story, some long-forgotten lyric, a childhood promise:
I'm not leaving if you're not leaving.
It's a windy day when Kida, in the middle of an idle conversation, leans forward and kisses him.
He tastes like the city, like secondhand smoke, like street-side grill and dizzying heights and a boy in love.
It should take Mikado by surprise.
Instead, Mikado runs his hands through Kida's hair, brushes it back from his forehead and traces the scar with the pad of his thumb like a road traveled a hundred times over.
It should not be this easy.
It is the easiest thing in the world.