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The Verge of Tomorrow

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Reisi's scrolling through his address book for a recently saved contact when Suoh's name catches his eye. His name alone is enough to make Reisi forget what he was trying to do; he flushes with shame. He thinks about the gleam of mirth in Suoh's eyes as he asked if Reisi took him for his boyfriend. He thinks about the messy floor of Suoh's bedroom and the chair Reisi toppled. He thinks about how he vibrated with excitement on the train trip to HOMRA and how he almost missed his stop on the train back after his life was rearranged.

It's been almost three months since then, but he feels as though it happened last week. He hopes he will not always react like this whenever Suoh is brought up. But in the meantime, he might as well do something about it.

Warning: if you block this contact, the number and associated email address will be deleted from the address book and all prior message history will be erased. This operation cannot be reversed. Continue?

Yes.

The phone displays a bug-eyed little frog hopping from wooden crate to wooden crate as it works. The crates turn grey as the frog leaves them, indicating deletion progress. Reisi should really change his phone theme to something a little more adult-like.

Messages and logs have been successfully deleted.

A pang of regret sings in Reisi's chest: that's more than a decade's worth of correspondence gone. It feels like a waste, even though the mails they sent each other have never contained much substance.

Reisi picked up the remote and turned the TV volume down. "I didn't know you were here," he said, feeling ridiculous. Had he really just spent most of the last twelve hours coming to terms with Suoh never returning from HOMRA? He was so unaccustomed to jumping to conclusions that he hadn't even realised that was what he'd been doing.

Suoh walked into the living room, scratching the side of his head. "If you kept your phone turned on, you'd know. Sorry for borrowing your place without asking," he said between unconcealed yawns.

Reisi frowned. "You called me?"

Suoh nodded at the TV stand, where a phone Reisi didn't recognise lay plugged into the extension. "I tried calling you but it kept saying it couldn't connect. I sent a mail later, didn't you see it?"

Oh. Even though Reisi had switched phones three times in the last couple of years, he'd migrated all his data, so the block on Suoh's number must've remained in effect all this time. Should I tell him?

Reisi pulled his phone out and decided there were things Suoh didn't need to know. The minutiae of how Reisi had coped with his loss, in particular. He navigated to the blacklist -- not much of a list, with only one number on it -- and removed the block.

Add number and associated mail address to contacts in addition to unblocking?

Yes.

"I must have missed it," he said out loud as he typed in Suoh's name. "I get a lot of mails." That much was true.

Suoh sat down heavily next to him, and in this light Reisi could see a fresh bruise blooming beneath his right eye. "What happened to your face?"

"Izumo was pretty pissed," Suoh explained. "So I let him hit me."

"I see he didn't hold back." Good. Reisi had wanted to deck Suoh more than once over the last two months, and he wasn't sure the urge would ever vanish.

"More importantly, that looks good," Suoh said, leaning over Reisi's shoulder to sniff at the nira-tama on his plate. His breath smelled sour, and the rest of him gave off the aroma of a man who'd taken a bath in a vat of whiskey and forgotten to rinse.

"You stink," Reisi told him, pocketing his phone. "There's a new toothbrush in the cabinet above the sink. Go and brush your teeth at least."

"If I do, will you make me breakfast?"

Reisi checked the time: forty minutes until Shimizu's arrival. "I'll think about it. Go on."

*

"I can't quite figure out how your return to HOMRA went," Reisi told Suoh as they were finishing breakfast and the weather man was back on the TV screen.

"Fine," Suoh said. "Thank you for the meal."

Reisi glanced at the bruise on Suoh's cheek. "Fine?" Looks like he doesn't want to talk about it.

"This is nothing," Suoh said. "Mostly we just got drunk."

"You and Izumo?"

"Yata was there too, and Kamamoto." Suoh wrinkled his forehead. "Chitose, plus a couple of new guys. Anna went to Honami's place."

"Honami-sensei?" She had taught English at their high school; might've even been Suoh's homeroom teacher.

"Yeah. She's Anna's aunt." Suoh got up and picked up their plates. "Anyway, I didn't want to lug that stuff home all drunk," -- he gestured at three sealed boxes stacked by the window -- "so I borrowed your place."

"You could've just stayed the night at HOMRA," Reisi pointed out. He had been so distraught upon arrival that he'd noticed neither the boxes nor Suoh's phone. Failing to pay attention to his surroundings in this way both worried and irritated him.

"That's not my place any more," Suoh said and left for the kitchen.

As Reisi listened to Suoh washing dishes, a sense of unreality crept in on him. Was he really sitting in his living room after finishing breakfast with Suoh, about to head into work for the day? It was difficult to believe, even though he could clearly hear Suoh in the kitchen. On the other hand, it had been so easy to assume that Suoh had chosen HOMRA without any real evidence. What did that mean?

You know damn well what it means.

"Reisi?" Suoh called.

Reisi's heart leaped upwards. Reisi? Did he just--? "What?"

"How does the coffee maker work?"

Reisi got up, turned the TV off, and went to join Suoh. "It's just a regular drip type; you put the coffee in the top part with a filter, pour water in here, and push the button," he said as he pulled the coffee container out from a cupboard. "I was out of line asking you about HOMRA. I apologise."

"You're not out of line," Suoh said as he filled the carafe in the sink. "I didn't like lying to them is all."

Reisi stared at him. "What did you lie to them about?"

"You," Suoh said, shutting the water off and carrying the carafe to the coffee maker. "I didn't tell them anything about you. Because you don't want people knowing your business. Anna knows to keep quiet about it, but I'm not sure about the rest."

"I-- thank you, Suoh."

"I thought you said that if I used your first name, you'd use mine too."

Reisi glanced away. "That was then."

Suoh moved closer and peered into Reisi's face. "What is it?"

Reisi met Suoh's eyes. "I thought you were never coming back. Last night."

Suoh sighed. "Why would you think such a thing?"

"Because I don't trust you." Reisi had thought that saying it out loud would make him feel better, but it didn't. The look of disappointment that crossed Suoh's face made him feel even worse.

"Okay," Suoh said. "Fair enough."

"It's not, though," Reisi said. "It's not fair. I-- what if I can't trust you again? Ever?"

"Then you won't," Suoh said with a small shrug. "I can't ask you to."

Despite himself, Reisi smiled. "This should be the part where you make all sorts of promises and try to reassure me, you know."

Suoh gave him a level look. "You can't eat a promise. That's what Mom always said."

Reisi's smile faded. "So she did."

Suoh put a hand on his shoulder and pulled him closer. Reisi's heart began to race, but it wasn't excitement -- his stomach roiled and he felt as though his airways were closing off. Then Suoh's other hand landed on his other shoulder, and Reisi's was back amid snow falling on fresh blood -- Suoh's blood. His sword hand curled around the hilt of a sabre that wasn't there, and that arm buzzed with the strength of the blow he'd delivered -- a clean stroke right through ribs, flesh, gristle, heart. The sudden chill in the air hit him so hard his body trembled.

Blue Aura surged up and through him the way it did whenever he was injured. Restless, it saturated every part of him, living lightning trapped in mortal flesh. But I'm not injured. The thought was distant, as though put forth by someone else, some other Reisi from some other world; the real Reisi was a crow in a tree a squirrel in the bushes not there not in this body with its dry mouth cramping chest shaking hands dizzy head.

He heard Suoh's voice from somewhere past the curtain of tears veiling his eyes -- when had that happened? -- past the heartbeat pounding in his ears; he pushed and freed himself and fled, the way he'd wished he could have fled from the Ashinaka High island, from his duty to kill. I have to get away or I'll die too, that other Reisi whined from his own world.

Stairwell, pavement, side street, a cat prowling through a maze of garbage bags. Its yellow eyes flashed out of the grey of the morning and startled Reisi into stopping, into trying to catch his breath.

He pressed his forehead and both hands against a wall; the stone was cool against his skin despite the late summer heat creeping into the city -- the stone was real. Reisi was real. The nightmare wasn't. His fingers dug uselessly into the spaces between bricks -- solid. Real. Slowly, his throat opened up, his breathing and heartbeat slowed, and his stomach gave up trying to empty itself.

What just happened to me? What the hell was that?

His phone buzzed.

"H-Hello?"

"Boss?" It was Shimizu. "Are you going to be much longer? This parking robot is cursing my ancestors even though I have your exemption sticker on the dash. It's making me a little nervous."

"Yes," Reisi said, straightening his back. "I am on my way. I am very sorry to have kept you waiting."

*

Doctor Harada shone a light into Reisi's left eye, then into the right.

"Physically, you're fine," she said after typing something into a tablet held aloft by an orderly-robot. "From what you have described, you suffered a panic attack. I'm guessing you've never experienced anything like this in the past."

"Never," Reisi said.

"What were you doing when it happened?"

"Just talking with, ah, a friend."

"Has this person ever hurt you? Behaved abusively, for example?"

Reisi's first impulse was vehement denial, but he wouldn't get anywhere by pretending like Suoh had nothing to do with what had happened that morning. "I wouldn't call it abuse, just a rather complicated past."

"I see. Well, the good news in your case is that it's unlikely to happen again, whatever the cause," Harada said. "Blue Aura will take care of you as long as you take care of it; that doesn't just apply to illness and physical injuries. Now that you've had an attack, Blue Aura should have rebalanced your brain chemistry as needed to prevent another one."

"Is that certain?"

Harada looked at him over the top of her glasses. "You know the answer to that better than I do."

Reisi smiled. "I suppose that's true, isn't it?" In truth, he had no idea. If Blue Aura could protect him from the ghosts in his mind, why hadn't it stopped the nightmares? Why did it let him suffer through losing Suoh -- to HOMRA, then to death? But telling Harada about those things was out of the question.

"You're very lucky, you know. Having this thing protect you from everything."

"That's what you say every time, Harada-sensei."

She clicked her tongue. "You say that as if you're here on a regular basis. Speaking of which, you missed your annual check-up again, so since you're already here, go and get some bloodwork done sometime this week. I'm sending the requisition to your PDA."

Reisi started to put his shirt back on. "I don't suppose I've got a choice in the matter."

"Not even a hint of one," she said. Then, looking up from the tablet, she gave him a very serious look. "These kinds of incidents are quite common, though less severe than in your case, but most people are so embarrassed that they don't seek treatment. If it does happen again for whatever reason, please be sure to see me about it."

Reisi finished buttoning his shirt and pulled on the uniform jacket. "Oh, is there a medicine that can prevent such things from happening?"

"I'd recommend psychotherapy, actually. The available medication only works to relieve symptoms, not treat the underlying cause."

Therapy? If I'm going to disclose my feelings to an outsider, I'd rather go to Nozomi-san or that cat child and have them wipe my memories away. "I'll consider my options; thank you, Harada-sensei. Let us hope that your hypothesis is correct and no treatment will be necessary."

He had Shimizu drive to the apartment after they left the hospital, to retrieve his weapon. Upon arrival that morning, he'd placed it on its stand near the entrance the way he always did. During his panicked flight, the sabre had been far from his mind.

The weapon was where Reisi had left it. Suoh was gone, so were the three boxes. The part of Reisi's mind that had convinced him Suoh would never be back from HOMRA insisted that Suoh had given up, had decided he wanted nothing to do with someone as broken as Reisi.

The phone in Reisi's pocket had a different idea.

You okay?

The message had come through about an hour after Reisi had arrived at the office and asked Awashima to book him an appointment with Harada.

Reisi hadn't known how to respond; still didn't. He'd been tempted to just block Suoh's number all over again to avoid more mails -- or worse, a phone call. But Suoh didn't need to call him to reach him.

Sabre back where it belonged, Reisi returned to headquarters and was unsurprised to find it abuzz with rumours about his hastily scheduled hospital visit.

"I thought he couldn't get sick," one of the Minato brothers -- Reisi could tell them apart by face, but not by voice -- was saying as Reisi walked past the intel office.

"Someone said that he used so much power bringing Suoh Mikoto back from the dead that his Weissmann level's on the brink now," Kamo put in.

"I have not brought anyone back from the dead, Kamo-kun," Reisi said, stepping into the room. Six clansmen turned to him, identical looks of dismay on their faces. "I assure you that my Weissmann level is nowhere near dangerous. Unlike Suoh Mikoto, I use my power with great discretion. Please get back to work, all of you."

"You made the Captain mad," someone muttered as he left the room.

There was another can of worms Reisi had never wanted opened. Suoh's return had been the talk of the morning until Reisi had booked the appointment with Doctor Harada. Soon enough, they would all know that SCEPTER4 had been instrumental in returning Suoh to Shizume City. Reisi would have to find a way to address the matter so that the anti-Gold Clan faction didn't do anything rash. As nice as it was to have people fanatically loyal to the Blue in his corner, their displeasure at being essentially puppets dancing at the Gold King's slightest finger-twitch exceeded even Reisi's own, and too many of them did not share his cautious nature.

Reisi reached his office and took off his glasses, placing them on the desk atop his unfinished puzzle. He put his face in his hands and tried to focus on the right words to say at the next assembly, but all he could think about was Suoh. What had he thought when Reisi had pushed him away so violently and rushed out? What was he making of Reisi's failure to reply to his mail?

A nasty little voice inside him maintained that Suoh deserved to see the ugly side of what he had wrought, but it was a voice easily quelled. Reisi didn't want Suoh to be unhappy. Until now, he hadn't even realised how happy it had made him to have Suoh back, even if they just sat in the Munakata living room together, Suoh working the remote as though training for an Olympic channel-surfing event, Reisi reading the daily activity reports and occasionally glancing up at the screen.

But beneath the peace lay pain suppressed and ignored for so long it had become a friend. Would Reisi ever get to a point where he stopped doubting everything Suoh said and did? I don't trust you, he had said, but it wasn't even that simple. Trust could be rebuilt. His wariness of Suoh was like the clothes on his back: he shed them occasionally as needed, but he'd never think of leaving the house without them.

"Captain, I've got those-- oh, I'm very sorry."

Reisi looked up, wondering what kind of face he would be making if he hadn't slapped a smile on as soon as he'd heard Awashima's voice. "No trouble at all, Awashima-kun. I was just trying to think about how to deal with the internal fallout from the Suoh matter. Please, let me make you some tea."

It would calm him down, excessive amounts of azuki paste or no.

*

His mother was fiddling with the light fixtures again, and she wasn't alone, but Suoh wasn't her companion this time.

Kushina Anna sat next to Chisato, watching her pore over a diagram of some sort. Pochi hovered nearby, rearranging multi-coloured pieces of cardboard and muttering to itself.

"Rei-chan!" Chisato said. "Sorry, I'm a little busy trying to make sense of the wiring here."

"Hello," Anna said, her eyes calm. "Are you sad because I'm here?"

Taken aback, Reisi forgot the politician's smile. "Of course not. I am only a little bit surprised to see you again so soon."

"If you're allowed to have friends over, then so am I," Chisato said without looking up from the diagram. "Right, Anna-chan?"

Anna gave a nod so tiny someone not watching her very closely would have missed it.

"Pochi, be a dear and warm up Rei-chan's food for him, will you?"

"I am grateful for the work," said the robot. It gathered up the cardboard collection and rolled out.

Reisi smiled. "Oh, am I in the way?"

"You are if you know nothing about motion sensors," Chisato said. "Which you don't. Mikoto-chan said he'd put it up later, so we're getting it ready."

"Where is he?" Reisi asked.

"Went off somewhere with that smooth-talking friend of his who brought Anna-chan over," Chisato said. "He'll be back soon. Now quit distracting me and go eat your dinner."

Shaking his head with rueful amusement, Reisi left the room.

"Why is the King so sad?" he heard Anna ask. He paused to listen.

"Eh? Wasn't he smiling happily?"

"That wasn't a happy smile at all, Granny."

"Is that so? Maybe I have forgotten what a happy smile looks like, so why don't you show me one right now?"

Reisi continued on his way. He wondered if Anna could sense his inner turmoil without the aid of her marbles. If so, her powers must have increased significantly over the last six months, and he would not be able to put off dealing with her for much longer. A Strain with such powerful sensory abilities would be a target for all manner of unsavoury types wanting to use her. Such people hung around the HOMRA bar far too often.

Sad, she had called him. Is that what I am?

"Do I look sad to you?" he asked Pochi when he reached the kitchen.

"As you think, so you shall become," Pochi replied. Reisi shooed it towards the microwave.

Sad. Why would Reisi be sad? Frightened, perhaps. Confused. Embarrassed. But sad? He wasn't sad.

"Two can brave what one cannot," Pochi opined, rolling up with the food.

Reisi's throat constricted, and he realised why Anna was right. He'd known all along -- he just hadn't wanted to think about it. Performing the tea ceremony had given him the mental stillness necessary to see his way to a resolution.

His inner toddler demanded that he should think it over more, maybe perform the tea ceremony another thousand times. But no matter how long he waited, the answer would remain the same.

He couldn't make Suoh happy.

The clarity was almost blinding. Yes, he could let Suoh have what he said he wanted -- Reisi's hand, Reisi's heart, Reisi's bed. But Reisi was too weighed down by the past; it would never be far from his thoughts. As intoxicating as they found each other now, the excitement would fade; that was how life went. People became used to good things until they seemed like regular things.

After that, Suoh's happiness would wear away like ice inside a warm room. Even if they, out of sheer stubbornness, stuck it out alongside each other, they would both be bitterly unhappy until the end: Suoh because waking up from pleasant dreams is always a disappointment, and Reisi because all he had were nightmares.

No matter how much the past burdened him, he had a clear view of the future.

Sad.

The lump in Reisi's throat grew painful.

Never cry alone, his mother's voice urged.

Reisi got up from the table, his food untouched, and left the house. He was not going to cry, now or ever -- the best way to ensure it right now was to go out in a public place.

He walked aimlessly through streets he had once known, expecting to barely recognise anything but finding that not much had changed at all. Maybe it was always like that on the outskirts of any big city: life moved a little slower, time was a little gentler.

He passed the entrance to the temple where many years ago there had been a New Year's Eve festival and two little boys had become friends. A few people wandered the grounds, but it was very quiet, just the sort of place Reisi had wanted to find to calm his mind and let himself breathe.

As he neared the Hill of Tears, Reisi spotted a No Trespassing sign at the foot of the stairs. When had it gone up? He hadn't been here in too long.

If they didn't want people using these stairs, they shouldn't have put them here, Suoh's young voice echoed in his head.

Reisi sidestepped the sign and climbed the stairs. The railing was still broken, though someone had bound it to the intact portion with chicken wire. It must have been done a long time ago -- the wire was rusted brown, the same colour as the flecks in the snow on the day Reisi and Suoh had had their first grand adventure.

If only all of our past were so nice to remember.

Reisi gazed out towards the horizon. If he stood here long enough, he could see the sunset. That would be nice.

His phone rang -- Munakata, the call display read; his entry for the house line. Mother must've noticed that I'm gone. "Yes?"

"Where are you?" Suoh asked.

Did he call from the landline because he thinks I won't pick up if I know it's him?

What did it matter?

They had been well-met here on a lovely winter's day. It was good that it should all end here on a lovely summer evening. A clean break.

"Hill of Tears," Reisi said. "Do you remember it?"

"Yeah."

"Why don't you come too? It's a beautiful view."

Suoh showed up ten minutes later, a bit winded. "Didn't take you for the sort to disobey no-entry signs," he said. "What a nostalgic spot."

"I can't marry you," Reisi said.

[to be continued]