"Will the birds really come?" Reisi asks, sitting cross-legged on the edge of the back garden pond as Suoh hammers the last nail into the birdhouse roof. He's using a clothespin to hold the nail in place -- a good thing, too, because he's missed more than once. Reisi's like his dad -- no good with tools at all, so his job was to plan and draw the layout. Plus his mother will get upset if he injures his hands two days before his first piano lesson.
"They'll come," Suoh says. "Even though it's a little crooked, it won't let in wind or rain."
"But how will they know it's a house for them?"
Suoh shrugs. "Instinct, I guess." He lowers the hammer to the grass. "There, all done."
"That's where it's gone," Reisi's mom says, striding out onto the lawn. "What are you boys doing with my hammer?"
"Sorry, mama," Reisi says. "You were on the phone, so I took the hammer without asking." Of all the days his mother needs the hammer would of course be the day that he and Suoh decided to use it.
"We built a birdhouse," Suoh lifts it up for her inspection.
"Oh, my! It looks very nice," she says, peering at it with interest. "But Rei-chan, you know you are supposed to ask permission. What if a neighbour looked in and saw you playing with a hammer, unsupervised?"
Reisi hangs his head. "Yes, mama, I'm very sorry."
"It was my idea, Auntie," Suoh says. "Besides, we weren't playing around."
"I know you weren't," Reisi's mom says, and though Reisi's still staring down at the pebbles circling the pond, he knows she's smiling. "The neighbours might have a different idea, though."
"Is it okay if we put it up on the other side of the pond?" Reisi asks, pointing behind him.
"Sure, but it's a little late to be putting up a birdhouse," she says. "Birds build nests when they want to have children, and the season for that is already finished. So there might not be any birds in it until next year."
"Oh," Suoh says with a disappointed look. "They don't just live in houses?"
She picks the hammer up from the ground. "I reckon they have no use for private property. They can fly, after all."
"Chisato-san, did you find it?" Reisi's dad calls from inside the house.
"Yes, dear, I'll be right there!" She sticks the hammer into the large front pocket of her apron. "I'll come back and help you put up the birdhouse, so wait for me, okay?"
"Okay," the boys chorus as she hurries back inside.
"You could've just blamed it on me," Suoh suggests. "I wouldn't have minded."
Reisi frowns in his general direction. "Of course I couldn't have. That would be a lie."
"What do you mean, so?"
Overhead, a cloud moves on, and Suoh squints against the sunlight. "So it would be a lie, what's the big deal?"
"We're inside the house, obviously there is no lying allowed," Reisi says.
Suoh blinks. "You're not allowed to lie inside the house?"
"Of course not," Reisi says. They've been friends for almost a year now, but sometimes Suoh asks the most surprising things. "Home is the only place where you can be honest no matter what, even if you've done something terrible, so you should always tell the truth. That way your heart will be at ease."
"It's not like that in my house at all," Suoh says. "Shit, if I couldn't lie to my mom, I'd be forever grounded."
Unable to help himself, Reisi giggles at the casual profanity. "Just how much trouble do you get into? I feel sorry for your mother." He's always thought that it made perfect sense that your outside face didn't belong inside the house. To tell lies, you must wear a mask -- to do so in front of the people you love would be disgraceful. It hasn't occurred to him that it was a Munakata family thing, not an everybody thing.
"Also, technically, we're in the garden," Suoh points out. "That's outside the house."
"Doesn't matter," Reisi says. "You can't reach the garden without going inside the house, so the garden still counts.
"So whatever your parents ask, you have to answer honestly?"
"If I don't want to answer, I can just say I don't want to answer," Reisi explains. "Or I can tell half the truth."
"Yeah, but let's say they ask if you ate the last piece of cake and you say you don't want to answer, isn't it obvious that you ate it?"
"Cake isn't a big deal, though," Reisi says.
"You take that back. Cake is serious business.
Reisi rolls his eyes. "It's more like when Mom was appointed as the police commissioner, she didn't tell Dad for a week. He asked her why she was spacing out sometimes, but she just said it was work related. Which was true. But she didn't want him to know the whole story right away for some reason, so she didn't tell him. That's not lying, because you tell the whole truth eventually."
"What's a police commissioner do, anyway?" Suoh asks. "Is Auntie like the last boss?"
"I think so," Reisi says, glancing somewhat guiltily towards the house. His parents never ask what he does at Suoh's, but he suspects they wouldn't approve of video games any more than they approve of manga. Of which Suoh also has plenty, though Reisi's never touched any of it.
When Suoh's mom comes to pick him up later and is dragged into the kitchen to be gifted with doughnuts, Suoh, shoes on and ready to go, tugs on Reisi's sleeve. "Can I follow the no lying rule, even though I'm not family?"
You are family, Reisi wants to say, because to him it's true; Suoh is all he's ever wanted in a brother. But he knows it would sound cheesy and probably embarrass Suoh. "Sure, if you want," he says instead. "But didn't you say it was a drag?"
"Your parents can't punish me, so it's cool."
Reisi opened his eyes and sighed at the ceiling. Did Suoh still remember the no-lying rule? Was that why he'd kept pressing Reisi for answers? In the past, Reisi could have easily dismissed the idea -- Suoh just hadn't been the wily, underhanded type; he did everything with heart wide open and spoke his mind, usually without regard for people's feelings.
But what he'd said to Suoh last weekend -- that Reisi wasn't the person who'd written the love letters any more -- could be said of Suoh, too. Reisi had never had a chance to get acquainted with the new Suoh, so all he had were conjecture and guesswork. Was he still in there somewhere, that brave, reckless boy who'd thought practical jokes too cruel but dick jokes the height of comedy?
What did it matter? And what did it matter if Suoh had insisted on an answer from Reisi because he knew Reisi wouldn't lie to him? Reisi had already decided on a life without Suoh. Why was he getting so wound up? Why was he so concerned about Suoh's reasons for anything? Why couldn't he just go back to the aching loss he had learned to push back into the recesses of his mind? That isn't up to me, he'd said when asked if he wanted Suoh gone, but the real answer had been yes. At that moment, he had wished Suoh would leave.
Now, in the soft pre-dawn light filtering through the half-shut blinds on Reisi's bedroom window, that felt like a lie.
He'd spent the past five days in and out of daydreams, finding himself wishing the weekend would hurry up with the mandatory half-day off on Saturday so he could see Suoh again. Suoh, not his mother. It filled him with a guilt he had never known before; as though he were choosing between his filial love and his feelings for Suoh, which did not appear the least bit interested in disappearing.
"I do wish I could cut them out," Reisi whispered to the ceiling fan, which seemed to decide that it was a command and began to twist lazily. Technology. Sometimes he shared his mother's suspicion of it.
Two days ago, he'd looked into the whereabouts of the memory-manipulating Strain who'd been running around with Adolf Weissmann before his disappearance. She was still running around, now with Miwa Ichigen's former retainer, but Reisi didn't see how she could help him. He'd have to let her see the past for her to erase it, but he would die before he shared any of this with anyone.
Anyone but Suoh.
He looked at the digital clock display on the wall across from his bed. Six seventeen; he'd been lazing around long enough. He dragged himself to the bathroom and brushed his teeth, thinking about the message light blinking on his home phone. He'd seen it last night, but he'd been too tired to check.
While the kitchen robot fixed his breakfast, Reisi listened to the message, which turned out to be from his mother.
"Rei-chan, I hope you're not bullying Mikoto-chan into going back to school. I didn't ask him because he's always been very respectful of the house rules, and I don't want to force him into telling on you." Pause. "Don't get me wrong, I think it would be nice if he went to university, but he should decide that for himself. Ever since you visited, he's been spending all his free time with a chemistry book of some kind; he even asked to borrow a kanji dictionary. Call me and tell me what's going on, please!"
"Your food is ready. Eat it before it gets cold, you country bumpkin samurai," the kitchen robot yelled.
Reisi saved the message and headed to the kitchen. He always saved his mother's messages; sometimes he listened to old ones just to calm down. Her voice did that for him, even if her words didn't always.
His breakfast tasted like nothing; he kept thinking about Suoh reading the letters, even going so far as to get a dictionary to make sure he understood everything. Back in high school, Reisi had developed something of a love affair with rare, archaic kanji that he tried to use at every turn until even the Japanese teacher was asking him to stick to the government-approved list.
Reisi wished he could see Suoh's face as he read, even once. He regretted his impulsive decision to hand the letters over, but he had had trouble keeping his composure that day, hadn't he? He'd even tried to pretend like everything had been a dream. But now that he knew Suoh was actually reading the letters, he couldn't stop wondering about Suoh's reaction, giving him another reason to wish Saturday were closer.
"Mother, it's me."
"Rei-chan! Good timing. I've just sent Mikoto-chan to the supermarket. Did you get my message?"
Reisi was temporarily distracted by a vision of Suoh, huge and intimidating as he looked, pushing a cart around their local supermarket and sending little old ladies running for cover with just a glance. "You sent him to our supermarket? By himself? Are you sure that's a good idea? He's kind of scary looking."
"Oh, he'll be fine. He's already gone twice before. Won't take any money, can you believe it? Says he's got plenty, but how much can he really have, coming back from... where was it that he went again?"
"Uh," Reisi said. "I'm not too sure." He had no idea what Suoh had told his mother.
"He's not in any trouble, is he?"
"Not any more," Reisi said. Then, quickly, before she could ask any more questions on the subject: "And by the way, I'm not trying to bully him into going to school, why would you even think such a thing?"
"Well, it just seems very strange that he started reading your chemistry notes right after you visited. I thought about sneaking a peek at the book, but he keeps it in his room."
"It's your house, you can go in the guest bedroom if you want," Reisi said, because that's what he was supposed to say. Really, he wanted to tell his mother not to look at the "Organic Chemistry" book under any circumstances.
"Mikoto-chan is not some lodger; he's like family," his mother said with steel in her voice. "Either way, I don't want to pry. If you're not putting him up to it, he must have his reasons."
"Yes, I suspect he does. Anyway, how have you been? Every mail I send you, you're writing back with Suoh this, Suoh that. Have you been taking your medicine?"
She sighed. "Yes, thanks to you. Mikoto-chan's been telling me to take it in the morning, even though it makes me so sluggish. He says it doesn't matter that I don't want to do anything after taking it, since he'll do whatever. I feel like one of those dignified old ladies from the moving pictures, you know, the ones with butlers? It's disgusting."
There she goes again, talking about Suoh. Still, she sounded happy, and Reisi felt happy that Suoh had heard what he'd said about Chisato, after all. "Sounds like a good deal to me. I wish someone would wait on me all day long."
"Oh, do you want to borrow Mikoto-chan? Well, you can't have him." She laughed.
Reisi sighed. "Mother."
"Yes, yes, I can see you rolling your eyes, or trying not to. I'd better let you get back to work. See you Saturday." Click.
Reisi stared at the puzzle piece in his hand and tried to picture the half-completed puzzle on his desk, but it was no use. His concentration had suffered all week, and he just couldn't remember every aspect of its shape the way he usually could.
His intercom buzzed. "Captain, I'm coming over there," Awashima informed him.
"I'll be waiting," Reisi said.
A minute later, she walked in, but she wasn't carrying anything. Reisi had expected her to be bringing some urgent memo or at least some paperwork to sign. Awashima Seri was not one to come over for a bit of small talk.
"It's come to my attention that Suoh Mikoto hasn't left Japan," she said. "I was cross-checking the dates for my expense report, and noticed that Satou Hajime had bought a one-way ticket to London the day we brought him back, but the plane left without him."
"Please, have a seat," Reisi told her, nodding at the spare chair.
Awashima sat down. "Have you already looked into this, Captain?"
"Suoh is staying at my mother's house," he said.
It was pointless to try and hide it from anyone within SCEPTER4: all entrances to the homes of all members and their immediate families were equipped with overhead security cameras; anyone within the organisation could access the footage, and Reisi had watched and rewatched the moment of Suoh's arrival at the Munakata residence so many times, he knew Suoh was perfectly recognisable. That wasn't why he had watched it, but that was what he would say if anyone asked why he'd accessed it so many times.
Awashima stared at him, unblinking. "I had anticipated any number of answers, but that one wasn't even a possibility, sir."
Reisi smiled. "No, I suppose not. We were childhood friends, you see. My mother is still very fond of him."
Awashima's eyes widened with shock. She covered her mouth. "And yet you--" She stopped speaking, lowered her hand, and assumed a neutral expression immediately, but it was enough.
Reisi had long suspected that Awashima at least had known what happened on the Ashinaka High island; namely, she had correctly guessed who had slain whom. Of all the decisions he'd made in reforming SCEPTER4, he'd always counted Awashima's recruitment as a clear victory. Convincing her that a life of crime beside Kusanagi Izumo would have served no one's interests had not been easy. But in the end, Awashima had chosen justice and duty over love.
Reisi had much to learn from her.
"What do you intend to do?" she asked.
"For now? Nothing," Reisi said. "He's got no special power of any kind, so he's no concern of ours. The identity he's using is flagged in the system. If he ends up in any trouble, we'll take care of him as a favour to His Excellency -- Suoh's something of a witness to an independent investigation." There was no need for her to know about the Silver King, at least not yet.
"Are you really all right with that?"
Reisi shrugged. "If he keeps his head low, what's another Satou Hajime or Tanaka Goro? We've got a bigger picture to worry about."
"Shouldn't HOMRA be notified?" Awashima asked, looking down at her hands.
"Of his continued existence? I don't know, Awashima-kun. He seems to have reasons for staying away from them. It is perhaps not our business to interfere in someone's private affairs."
Awashima raised an eyebrow. "Are you offering your opinion or issuing an order?"
Reisi glanced down at the puzzle and saw where the piece he held needed to go. He slid it into place. "Please consider it an order to not get involved at this time."
"Would you consider speaking to him about it?"
Reisi's heart went out to her. She was being made to choose between duty and friendship, or perhaps still love, once again, and she obviously didn't like it one bit. "I will try," he said, offering her a genuine smile. "But it has been a long time since Suoh's listened to anything I had to say."
Five whole days, his mother's voice reminded him. He listened to you about the medicine, didn't he?
Saturday finally came, but when Reisi arrived at the house, his mother was watching television in the living room by herself.
"Where's Suoh?" Reisi asked after greeting her.
"Asleep. He was painting the back fence all day, and I think the fumes got to him."
"I see." The instant of panic Reisi had felt at the possibility of Suoh having left this place was discouraging. He was supposed to be trying to chase Suoh from his mind, not developing expectations to see him.
"Sorry, Rei-chan, but could you cook tonight? I'm feeling a little off."
Reisi looked at her drawn face and opted against haranguing her about getting a kitchen robot. "Why are you even apologising? Of course I'll do it."
He made curry, and by the time it was almost done, his mother wandered into the kitchen to offer help. He chased her off, but she came back, and he finally acquiesced to letting her set the table.
"Why don't you go and see if Mikoto-chan is hungry?" she suggested.
Reisi gave back her apron and made his way towards the guest quarters. He peered through a gap in the sliding door to Suoh's room and found him on his back atop a futon, eyes closed, the journal with Reisi's letters open on his chest with the cover facing upwards.
Reisi's heart began to pound. He was tempted to sneak in and see what specific letter Suoh had been reading, but he remembered that although Suoh could fall asleep anytime, anywhere, he was an extremely light sleeper; a fly landing in his hair could wake him up.
He was about to withdraw when Suoh spoke. "Munakata?"
"Sorry," Reisi said. "Mother sent me to see if you were hungry. I didn't mean to wake you."
"Can you come in here?"
"I'd rather not."
Suoh sat up with an irritated grunt. The notebook fell into his lap, and he put it somewhere out of sight. "Don't go running off," he said as Reisi backed away from the door.
"Wouldn't dream of it," Reisi said. He was retorting, but it was also true. Being with Suoh just made him want to stay right there, and that wasn't part of his plans. He had to find a way to see his mother without seeing Suoh.
Suoh got to his feet and walked out into the hallway. "You could've warned me some of your letters were. Um. Explicit."
Reisi had forgotten about that. He'd forgotten that sometimes he would write really detailed descriptions of the things he imagined them doing together -- those had peaked around the second year of high school, just as Kusanagi had taken Reisi's place completely. Oh, if he'd remembered writing those, he would never have given the notebook to Suoh.
He cleared his throat and fought the heat rising in his face. "Well. Those were my feelings, too."
Suoh's lips parted. "Were?" he asked, taking a step closer.
"Don't," Reisi warned him. "Just don't."
Suoh sighed. "You had some imagination."
"I still do," Reisi blurted. Why would I say that? Why? I'm trying to get him to stay away from me!
Suoh's brows drew together. "Are you taken?"
Reisi wished he could lie. "If work counts, then yes, completely." Suoh's face cleared, and Reisi wished he didn't feel so goddamned happy about all of this: Suoh being obviously affected by Reisi's teenage fantasies, Suoh trying to get closer to him, Suoh visibly relaxing at the news of Reisi's nonexistent relationship status. I'm so fucked. "If you're quite done asking intrusive questions, please come and eat."
Suoh gave him an exasperated look, but Reisi wasn't going to have it. He turned around and let Suoh follow him to the dining room, where his mother already sat waiting.
"Feeling better, Mikoto-chan?"
"Much better," Suoh said, taking his usual place at the table -- the one he had occupied so many times when they'd been boys. The place next to Reisi, wherever Reisi happened to sit.
"Auntie's curry is still amazing," Suoh said as they started to eat.
"Actually, Rei-chan cooked today," Chisato said. "So it's Rei-chan's curry."
"You taught me how, so it's still yours," Reisi protested.
Suoh put his rice bowl down, grabbed Reisi's shoulder, and turned to Chisato. "I'm gonna marry this guy. Is that okay with you, Auntie?"
Reisi's chopsticks fell out of his hand.
"Hmph," Chisato said. "Took you bloody long enough, Mikoto-chan."