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Yashiro counts the days since he left Satoru to disappear into the river.

Day one, five hours after leaving Satoru to drown, Yashiro is consumed by rapturous delight. Finally he could continue his work. There would be no meddlesome pup, waiting in the wings, watching his every move—no child’s all-seeing eye to destroy his plans.

Satoru’s words, “I know your future” resound in Yashiro’s head, and Yashiro is blinded by a sudden, inexplicable dread. His limbs seize up, and then the foreign feeling is expelled out through a blind rage. His hand collides with a stack of papers, sending them crashing to the floor. He elbows aside his desk chair, kicks out at the crumpled stack of books near the desk. He’s breathing heavily when his hand crushes into the nearest box, and then he reaches forwards, fingers curling around a familiar hamster wheel, and he throws it to the floor.

Yashiro runs his fingers through his hair, panting, wild-eyed, but then he pauses, watching in fascination as the wheel spins a final moment before stilling. The wheel is miraculously unharmed, and Yashiro kneels to pick it back up from the mess he’s made of the floor. He caresses the side of it lightly with his finger, tilting his head at the faded gray coloring of the steel.

When his phone goes off he doesn’t startle. Instead, he puts the wheel back in its place and reaches out a hand to pick his phone up, calming his heartbeat; he centers himself, glancing at a mirror on the wall and watches the smile he’s perfected in years creep back onto his face, “Yashiro Gaku speaking.” He says into the receiver.

“Yashiro-sensei,” it’s Fujinuma Sachiko’s voice, she sounds distressed, Yashiro can hear it in the lilt of her voice, “have you seen or heard from Satoru recently? It’s very late and I haven’t heard from him yet.”

“I apologize, Fujinuma-san. The last time I saw him was at Hamada’s game.” Yashiro keeps his voice light, but concerned. Its child’s play these days, faking the emotions he doesn’t feel, settling into the persona of the concerned elementary teacher. “I assumed he went home to you afterwards.”

“No. No, he isn’t here. Please let me know if you hear from him.” She sounds increasingly more worried as the reality of her son’s disappearance settles in. Yashiro smiles maliciously.

“Will do.” He hangs up before she can say more.
-------

Day Two: They found Satoru. He’s not dead.

Yashiro doesn’t know what to think at first. He’s stunned, mostly, how could that brat have survived? he thinks and he has to excuse himself from the presence of his fellow coworkers to calm himself down.

He reaches the bathroom, makes sure the stalls are empty, before he grasps the nearest sink with both of his hands and stares into the mirror. He sees his face, pale and eyes wild, but he also sees the moment when Satoru had looked at him with all that fear in his eyes when Yashiro had revealed his intentions. He remembers the look, tries to channel it back, that feeling of triumph he’d felt upon finally, finally winning.

But the image dissolves quickly and is replaced by the determined, hateful gleam of Satoru’s eyes when he’d cursed Yashiro in a tone too old for an eleven-year old to have. “I know your future!” repeats in Yashiro’s mind and Yashiro pulls back his fist. It collides with the wall—the mirror would be too conspicuous, not to mention idiotic. Yashiro is smarter than that—he feels a sharp pain in his knuckles but he leaves no skin on the wall, nor any sign he’d punched it—perfect. When he raises his head back to the mirror his breathing hitches.

Satoru stands behind him in the mirror, eyes reflecting the same, dark shine they’d had before he’d disappeared into the water. Yashiro whirls around to face him, mouth open to shout, but Satoru says, “You couldn’t kill me. Now what will you do, sensei?”

Yashiro shivers. He knows this isn’t the real Satoru, they’d just been discussing only ten minutes before Satoru’s comatose state. This is nothing but an illusion, a hallucination, Yashiro’s mind playing tricks on him.

Yashiro rationalizes, and instantly calms. That’s right! This is just a mind trick, nothing more. “You’re just in my head, Satoru. You can’t threaten me.”

Satoru tilts his head, as if to think, but his eyes never leave Yashiro. “You told me you’d leave this town. What are you still doing here?”

“It’s not that simple.” Yashiro isn’t sure why he’s conversing with a figment of his imagination, let alone out loud where anyone can hear him, but he doesn’t stop yet, he has to prove to Satoru—this Satoru, any Satoru—that he won. “I’m their teacher, I have to see there last year here through to the end.”

He’ll wait out the rest of the year, watch his students graduate—because they are his students, his beautiful, flawed, students—and then he’d make good on his promise and leave Satoru’s city. The boy had earned it, after all. But that didn’t mean he’d stop killing.

Satoru scoffs, lips pulling into an expression Yashiro has never seen the boy make before. It’s a testament to Yashiro’s imagination that the replica of Satoru would hold characteristics of Yashiro’s own psyche, “now you choose to be their teacher, instead of their murderer.”

Satoru approaches Yashiro until he’s standing directly in front of the man, head tilted up to look directly into Yashiro’s face. His eyes are hot, fire hot with rage, betrayal, hate. “You won’t escape.” He says. “They’ll catch you, I’ll catch you, because sensei, you couldn’t kill me, could you? You failed.”

Yashiro moves like lightening, hands wrapping around Satoru’s throat. The boy struggles in his grip, gasping for air. His fingers clutch and scratch at Yashiro’s hands. “I won’t fail next time.” Yashiro spits, just as Satoru goes limp in his hands.

“Sensei?” Yashiro looks up, startled, at the sight of one of Yashiro’s coworkers peering into the restroom. Yashiro looks back down at his hands and sees that Satoru has vanished. “We need you back in the lounge. We have to decide what we’ll be telling the children.”

Yashiro stands up straight, hiding his shaking hands in his pockets and smiles easily, if a bit tight. His coworker doesn’t notice. “Of course, lead the way.”

-------

The next few months go by. Yashiro counts the days.

Yashiro’s class finally settles after the “distressing” news of Satoru’s coma. Satoru’s friends go through all the usual stages of grief, mind, some don’t quite leave it. They almost seem to… come together under the influence that is their shared friendship with Satoru. It makes Yashiro sick to see it.

When it’s finally the day of their graduation, Yashiro stands at the podium, catching each and every one of his students’ eyes. He’s packed all of his belongings and sent them ahead of him already. The last final ties to this place are being severed today.

“There have been many fun things, sad things, successes and failures. Today you graduate from elementary school, but there is still so much that is missing. That goes for me, too. And yet, I think filling up that missing something is what life is.”

“I wanted to fill the hole in my heart. Mine and others’.” Yashiro nearly slips up when he hears Satoru’s voice. He doesn’t make a sound, move, or turn his gaze to the side, but he knows that Satoru is standing next to him with that same gleam in his eye.

Once the ceremony is over and the children have exited the classroom, Yashiro rounds on Satoru who stands, hands in his coat, looking the same as he always had. Yashiro hasn’t hallucinated seeing Satoru since the incident in the restroom. He’d figured he’d mastered his brain by this point, enough to banish such illusions.

“Sensei,” Satoru says, turning to fix his gaze on Yashiro. “Are you beginning to worry, yet? Do you understand?” Yashiro stares into Satoru’s heated gaze. “I know your future.” He speaks those dreaded words. Yashiro can’t think straight, he lunges forwards to wrap his arms around Satoru’s throat like he’d done before. Satoru dodges him this time, however, sidestepping and then rushing into Yashiro’s personal space. His tiny hands wrap grasp him by the jaw and force him to look deep into Satoru’s eyes.

“You will never win against me.” He says.

------

Day 75: since Satoru disappeared into the river, Yashiro visits him for the first time in the hospital.

Fujinuma Sachiko sits beside her son’s bedside, hair a wild tangle and her eyes exhausted but fierce. She hasn’t given up on her son yet. “Thank you for coming, Yashiro-sensei.”

“I couldn’t not visit one of my students.” Yashiro replies, taking a seat beside her. He doesn’t look at her, however, his eyes are only for Satoru, lying limp on the bed. He looks pale but alive, eyes closed and breathing even. The mask on his face puffs ever so often as Satoru breathes. The boy looks more or less the same as he did the last time Yashiro saw him, the same as his illusion.

“I know it means a lot to Satoru that you’ve come.” Sachiko says, taking one of Satoru’s limp hands and squeezes.

“If it’s alright with you,” Yashiro says, finally turning his gaze away from Satoru and landing on Sachiko. She glances up at him. “I’d like to tell Satoru about all he’s missed these last few months. About his friends, for instance.”

Sachiko smiles, looking relieved. “Yes, they’ve come a few times to visit as well. They are all such strong kids.” She rises, letting Satoru’s hand go. “I’ll go get some food while you’re here.”

Yashiro nods and watches her leave. Once he’s sure that she’s gone, he turns his eyes back to Satoru’s form on the bed. Satoru doesn’t move when Yashiro leans over him—he doesn’t expect him to, he’s in a coma after all—Yashiro’s hand reaches to brush a lock of hair away from Satoru’s eyes.

“You’re so still.” Yashiro whispers, one hand in his pocket while the other rests on the side of Satoru’s face. “You wouldn’t make a single noise if I were to just end it right here and now, would you?” Yashiro pulls his hand out of his pocket, revealing the knife he’d managed to sneak in. He moves it over Satoru’s throat, poised, ready.

“I win.” Yashiro says, arms tensing.

“You won’t do it.” Yashiro freezes at the familiar voice. He looks up at Satoru standing on the other side of the bed, looking down at himself. “You can’t do it.” He says. Yashiro keeps his hands on the knife, but he does lean back to regard the illusion.

He doesn’t usually indulge this fantasy, but he figures there’s no harm in asking his subconscious such a question, “Why do you think so?”

Satoru looks up, meets his eyes, and says perfectly easily, “Because you need me.”

Yashiro scoffs, “I don’t need you. You’re just a lucky boy.”

“I thwarted your plans. I escaped death. I played you, sensei,” Yashiro bristles but Satoru continues, “And you need me because I’m the only one who can make you feel alive.”

To fill the hole in my heart, Yashiro can’t help but rewind to Satoru’s words to him in the car, to the illusion’s words at the graduation a few days ago. Yashiro feels his resolve weaken.

Satoru smirks. “See, sensei? I’m all you have left.”

-------

Yashiro leaves the town, leaves Satoru behind, but Satoru still follows him anyway.

Every time he hears Satoru’s “sensei” it sends a strange shiver down his spine. Even as the days, weeks, months pass, Satoru remains the same boy Yashiro knew. Yashiro continues his plans. He lures children away, he kills them, but he finds that it doesn’t elicit the same thrill it used to. It’s only when he glances up and sees Satoru watching him that he feels any semblance of anything. He can feel Satoru’s eyes staring at him, taking in everything he does, every act he makes—it’s the only thing that makes him feel alive.

Satoru was right. He needs him.

“Sensei,” Satoru calls, one night after Yashiro has killed another child. He’s lying on his bed, reliving the moment of the murder in his mind. He memorizes the details: the slice of a knife or the colder, quieter deaths with no spilled blood. But what Yashiro focuses on is Satoru’s presence behind him, standing with his eyes on Yashiro, judging him.

“Sensei,” Satoru calls again and Yashiro finally answers him, “Yes, Satoru?”

When Yashiro looks up, Satoru is standing beside the bed right next to Yashiro’s face. Yashiro could reach out and grab him, if he wanted to. The soft dark hair on his head falls in wisps and his dark eyes are bottomless. He wants to touch, he realizes. Yashiro reaches out and catches Satoru’s hand. The illusion doesn’t pull away, so Yashiro sits up and pulls him forwards until Satoru is bracketed between Yashiro’s legs. Satoru looks up into Yashiro’s eyes, expression inquisitive.

“Satoru,” Yashiro whispers, taking Satoru’s face between his hands. Satoru doesn’t say anything when Yashiro brings their foreheads together. Yashiro breathes out a sigh of relief, a fluttering wholeness settles in his chest.

“Sensei, have I filled the hole in your heart?” Satoru asks, his breath ghosting across Yashiro’s cheeks.

Yashiro nods. “You have, Satoru. You most definitely have.” His hands curl into Satoru’s hair, cupping his face tenderly. “You have become a part of my heart, Satoru. Mine. You’re mine, Satoru—no Spice.” He speaks the name of his hamster, the one hamster who lived. It feels right when he calls Satoru that name. My Spice, my very own Spice.

Spice makes a noise of assent when Yashiro presses a lingering kiss against his temple. “My Spice.” Yashiro whispers, reverently.

------

Day 450: more than a year after Satoru disappeared into the river. Yashiro visits him in the hospital again.

Fujinuma Sachiko is not there this time. All the better, Yashiro thinks, as he’s able to take Satoru’s hand in his and looking upon the face that has filled his heart ever so much. Spice lingers behind Yashiro’s shoulder, watching the exchange without a word.

“Satoru, it’s good to see you again.” Yashiro breathes, “You look well.” Satoru is paler than before, from lack of sunlight, and his hair is getting longer. His face hasn’t changed much since the last time Yashiro saw him. Spice retains the beauty of Yashiro’s last moments with Satoru, but Yashiro finds this Satoru more beautiful.

Yashiro runs gentle hands across Satoru’s face, lingering across cheekbones and Satoru’s lips. “My beautiful Spice.” He sighs. “I’ll always need you.”

Spice steps forwards then, wrapping his arms around Yashiro’s frame from behind. “Sensei.” Yashiro shudders at the address. “It’s time to go.”

“Yes, I’ll be back, Satoru.” Yashiro coos, letting Satoru’s hand go and stepping away from the bed. Spice keeps his fingers wrapped around one of Yashiro’s sleeves as Yashiro leads the way out of the hospital.

It won’t be the last time Yashiro visits. He’ll make sure of that. But he hopes to see Satoru wake up soon. There’s so much he wants to tell him, do with him, enjoy with him.

Once they exit the hospital, Spice steps in front and stands on his tiptoes, reaching upwards. Yashiro kneels so Spice can take his face between his hands. His eyes are the same, heated with a fire unquenchable like how Yashiro had seen them in the car that night. They’ve never changed since then, always the same wisdom and burn. “Let’s go, sensei.” Spice says.

Spice leads and Yashiro follows.