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We're Never Coming Back (To Your Filthy Halls)

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Thirteen years ago, two brothers have an irreconcilable fight.

They yell at each other, and come to blows.

“Why did you even come back here if you’re just going to continue to shame the family?” the elder brother shouts.

“I don’t know! I don’t know why I thought I could ever reason with you!!” the younger brother shouts back.

“You’re a disgrace,” the elder brother says, in disgust.

“Funny, I was thinking the same thing about you. I’m ashamed we share the same blood,” the younger brother says, equally disgusted.

“Get out of my sight. I never want to see you again.”

“Believe me, you never will.”

Their two young sons, who that day had spent an enjoyable time playing with one another, look at each other in silence. Young as they are, they both know they are most likely never going to play with each other ever again.

*

Nine years ago, a boy and his friend bid each other farewell.

“I don’t understand why you have to leave,” the boy says. “I don’t understand why we can’t—”

“Because we can’t,” his friend says harshly. “I have to get stronger. And we’re too different, we practically live in different worlds. We always knew that.”

“I don’t care. I am always going to be your friend,” the boy vows. “Understand? No matter what, I’m never going to stop being your friend.”

*

Four years ago, seven children escape the lab that created them. Four years ago, the world changed, and impossible things suddenly entered the realms of possibility.

*

Four years ago, another set of children watch as the world changes.

They watch the TV silently, they watch the yellow-haired child enter the arms of the soldier who rescues him. They watch as these children gain their freedom.

“I want that too,” one says suddenly. “I want to swim free.”

The others stare at him, wide-eyed and silent.

After they process it, the tallest of them says, “Alright. Let’s do it. Let’s swim free.”

*

One year ago, another boy gains his freedom.

He’s obeying an Order—Run, Live—and he’s trying desperately to survive. His life has been altered forever; he has lost everything he ever knew, even his name.

He doesn’t expect to find family or love in the ocean, but he finds both.

*

One week ago, a young man tells his cousin, “Don’t come here. I don’t want you here,” and hangs up on him.

*

Four days ago, three fishermen haul their net to their boat, and discover a body.

At first they are appalled, believing that they have brought a dead body in with the daily catch. Such occurrences are not unheard of in the sea.

But then the body moves, and they all let out a shout, and then they stare.

No one wants to be the first to say it, but finally someone does:

“My God, we’ve caught a mermaid.”

*

Now, Kasamatsu Yukio is on a train; tired, too worried to sleep, and anxious about his destination. His boyfriend twists in the seat next to him and takes selfies.

“Oh ho ho, Midorimacchi is vicious with his threats,” his boyfriend crows, his phone vibrating with angry texts. “Not to mention, really creative with his swearing! You wouldn’t think it, but that guy has got a serious potty mouth. OK, Senpai, now I’m going to take one while sitting on your lap—”

“Quit it,” Kasamatsu says, shoving the younger man back down. “Also, stop taunting your friends. One of them might actually kill you, and I’m going to let them.”

“Senpai,” Kise Ryouta pouts, “You don’t mean that.”

“They’d be justified,” Kasamatsu returns.

Kise laughs. “So far, Midorimacchi wins most creative threat. Kurokocchi was the most eloquent, and Murasakibaracchi, the most succinct—he just wrote ‘I’ll crush you,’ which is not very imaginative at all.”

“Seriously, Kise, knock it off.”

“But I’m booo-ooo-reeed,” Kise whines. “This train ride has been forever and you wouldn’t make out with me. I had to entertain myself somehow. Although, if you’ve changed your mind…” he presses in close, bats his eyelashes, sending Kasamatsu a slow “come hither” look that would normally be very hard to resist.

“I told you, I’m not going to make out with you when you look like that.”

Kise huffs and returns to his seat. “But you’re also the one who told me I should wear a disguise,” Kise continued to whine. “Senpai, you’re being very unfair.”

“I didn’t tell you to look like Takao Kazunari, did I? Or Kagami, or Himuro.”

Kise just grins at him. It’s a distinctly Takao Kazunari grin, which is not all that surprising, since it is Takao Kazunari’s face, but it is still somewhat unsettling to see on his boyfriend.

Kise Ryouta couldn’t really go out in public without attracting a lot of attention. For one thing, he was a very popular model and high school basketball star, so he had a lot of fangirls. For another thing, he was also a Miracle, one of the mutant children who had escaped from Teiko four years ago. The Miracles, by nature of their strange colored hair and eyes, and the knowledge that they all possessed superpowers, attracted a lot of attention wherever they went. Kise, more so than the rest, partly because of the aforementioned model thing but mostly because Kise liked the attention, and would usually pander to his adoring fans.

Kasamatsu, who for various reasons, was hoping to make this trip as quietly and surreptitiously as possible, had suggested Kise wear a disguise. Since Kise’s ability was “Perfect Copy” and enabled him to shapeshift into whoever he wished, he took that as reason to promptly shift into Kagami Taiga and take selfies as he posed with Kasamatsu. Kagami, Kise decided, attracted as much attention as a Miracle, since he was often mistaken for one because of his hair color and height. He then shifted to Himuro Tatsuya, took more photos, deemed Himuro “almost as pretty” as his own natural form and thus still attracted a lot of stares, until he finally settled on Takao as the most non-descript option.

It was only later that Kasamatsu realized Kise was texting all the photos he had taken to Kuroko Tetsuya, Murasakibara Atsushi, and Midorima Shintarou—fellow Miracles and, more to the point, the boyfriends of the people whose appearance Kise had decided to co-opt.

“Out of curiosity, why did you leave Akashi out of this?” Kasamatsu asks idly. “You never Copied Furihata Kouki.”

Kise makes a face. “I’m not suicidal.”

Kasamatsu snorts and hunches down in his seat. He’s seen the other Miracles when they were angry; Kise was definitely playing with fire, even without getting Akashi Seijuurou involved.

“Senpai,” Kise starts, his voice shifting to a more serious tone. “Why are we doing this? I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’ve been waiting for years for you to say, ‘run away with me on secret romantic adventure’—”

“That’s not even remotely close to what I said.”

“—It’s what I heard,” Kise dismisses. “So I am super thrilled to be here with you! I am always happy to do whatever it is you want! I’m just, uh, a little confused as to why this was so secretive. I mean—we’re just going to your uncle’s memorial, right?”

Kasamatsu sighs and drums his fingers against his knees. All things considered, Kise had been remarkably supportive of Kasamatsu’s sudden request that they travel to Iwatobi. He hadn’t pried for more details, he just instantly packed his bags and left with him. Kasamatsu does feel like he owes his boyfriend an explanation, but the situation is so muddled in his own mind that he doesn’t know how to explain it in a way that makes sense.

“My father didn’t want me to come,” he starts, feeling like that at least gets to the heart of the matter.

Youji-san?” Kise exclaims, and Kasamatsu winces. His father has never been one for strict discipline or setting down rules, and Kise knows that. In fact, Kasamatsu is usually the one telling his father that he needs to be more firm, and Kasamatsu has always been the one to discipline and guide his two younger brothers.

The idea that Kasamatsu Youji would forbid his eldest son from doing anything was actually kind of laughable. And the fact that Kasamatsu is disobeying is a very strange situation to be in.

“Dad...is not close with his family,” Kasamatsu says. “He’s kind of the black sheep, although I never exactly understood why. He’s been estranged from them for years, so it’s not all that surprising that he didn’t want to go to his brother’s memorial, I just wouldn’t—his reaction—I wasn’t expecting how opposed to the idea he would be.”

That was an understatement. Kasamatsu is still trying to make sense of his father’s reaction.

*

When Kasamatsu found out his uncle had died, he was sure Youji didn’t know, and he felt it was his responsibility to tell him. He had only met his uncle once, back when he was only six, and never again. He’d later come to understand that it had been the first attempt to reconcile after a long estrangement, and the reconciliation attempt had failed miserably. No such attempt had ever occurred again, as far as Kasamatsu was aware, but he still felt like Youji should know about his brother’s passing.

He had approached the subject as gently but as forthright as possible, not seeing much point in hedging.

“Uncle Seiji died last week.”

Youji didn’t even look up from the newspaper he was reading. “Oh? Good. I hope he burns in hell.”

Dad,” Kasamatsu said, in strangled disbelief.

Youji did look up then. “I know, I know. That reaction was entirely inappropriate. We’re not even Christian.”

Kasamatsu continued to gape, half-thinking his father must be joking, but also certain that this wasn’t something even Youji would joke about.

“Still. If there is a hell, I hope he’s in it, and that it’s very painful,” Youji considered, conversation-like.

“He was your brother,” Kasamatsu exclaimed. “He was family.”

Finally, Youji grew serious, looking at his eldest with a rare gravity. “No, Yukio. He was not. We might share blood, but that man was not family. If you learn nothing else from me, I hope it is that family is not always connected by blood.”

“I do know that,” Kasamatsu said instantly. “But…” He knew very little about his father’s family, only that Youji had two brothers. Since Kasamatsu also had two brothers, it was hard not to see parallels there. And he couldn’t imagine a rift between his brothers—the very thought made him unimaginably sad.

Youji followed his train of thought with surprising perception and gently said, “You and your brothers are different. Whatever happened with the people who raised me—it’s not something that could ever happen to you. It has no bearing on you at all.”

“How can you even say that?” Kasamatsu burst out, frustrated. Whatever this was, it was his history, their history.

That man does not deserve your consideration, Yukio,” Youji said vehemently, so much so that it startled Kasamatsu out of this thoughts. “He doesn’t deserve a passing sympathy—he wouldn’t give you one, so just let it go.”

Kasamatsu stood back, feeling like he was seeing a different version of his father—someone he had never known before. “What did he do?

His father had told him difficult things before. Hard things that perhaps fathers shouldn’t tell their children, even if their children are old enough to hear them. But Youji had always respected Kasamatsu’s maturity—Kasamatsu thought he had his father’s trust. But when his father’s eyes grew distant, hard, removed, Kasamatsu knew he wasn’t going to get an answer.

It came somewhat as a surprise when Youji did start explaining. Or at least, part of it.

“When your mother died, Seiji called,” Youji’s voice was thick—detached but also somehow like he was near tears, in a way he always sounded when he talked about Kasamatsu’s mother. “I thought he was reaching out—offering his support.

“But he called to tell me that Hinami’s death was her just punishment for not staying at home to be a mother to her sons.”

Kasamatsu reeled back, surprised by the surge of fury and sadness that could still course through him, raw and fresh, even though his mother had been dead for nine years.

“That—wasn’t the worst thing Seiji did. It’s not even the most horrible. Seiji was not a good man—and he wasn’t even as bad as the rest. But it was by far the most unforgivable. I would spit on that man’s corpse before I ever forgave him for what he said.”

Youji pinned Kasamatsu down with his stare. “Promise me that you won’t go down there, Yukio. I don’t want you to have anything to do with those people. They’re not—they’re not people you should know. Please, Yukio. For my sake, stay away, just promise me that.”

But Kasamatsu very deliberately did not promise anything.

*

“Wow,” Kise says, when Kasamatsu is done talking. “Wow, OK.” He leans back in his seat, his nose scrunched up in thought. “So… why are you going to your uncle’s memorial? He sounds like a real dickface.”

Kasamatsu sighs again—it’s been a sighing kind of week. “Because of Sousuke. My cousin,” he clarifies, at Kise’s confusion. “We used to be close when we were younger. We kept in touch, even when our dads disowned each other. We used to email and call each other pretty regularly, but, I don’t know. I guess we stopped around the time high school started. We both got pretty busy, I guess. Even if his dad was a dick, Sousuke was always a good guy, and I want to be there for him.”

“Even though you haven’t talked in a couple years?” Kise says doubtfully.

Kasamatsu shrugs and looks away. “It’s hard losing a parent.”

Kise doesn’t have anything to say to that. A few seconds tick by in silence before Kise lurches forward again. “Hey, wait a minute, I thought you said this guy’s name was Yamazaki!” At Kasamatsu’s frown he continues, “You did! You said you were going to see your cousin, Yamazaki Sousuke, I made sure to remember—”

“Yeah?” Kasamatsu says, confused by Kise’s indignation.

“Well—you said his dad was Youji-san’s brother.”

“Yeah?” Kasamatsu says again.

Kise scowls. “So, what, are they half-brothers or something?”

Oh,” Kasamatsu says, Kise’s point finally sinking in. “No—you don’t know?” Kise had been living with their family for over a year now, and he’d been on pretty close terms with Youji ever since he escaped from Teiko. Kasamatsu had assumed it had come up at some point.

“Kasamatsu was my mother’s family name,” Kasamatsu explains. “She was an only child and her parents died in a car crash when she was sixteen. It was important to her to keep the family line going. Since my dad had been disowned and he hated his family, he took her last name when they married.”

“Wow,” Kise says, sounding impressed. He thinks on it and says, “Although if my name had been ‘Yamazaki Youji’ I would have changed it too. Hey, that means you were almost ‘Yamazaki Yukio.’ How weird is that?”

“No,” Kasamatsu says quietly. “I don’t think that would have ever been the case. Even if my dad had gotten along with his family, he still would have taken her name. He loved her a lot.”

Kise’s eyes study him meditatively. It’s a bit strange, since he still looks like Takao. Kasamatsu, to his knowledge, is the only one who could ever recognize Kise no matter who he Copies, even when Kise is actively trying to pretend to be someone else. But it’s still a bit strange to see someone else’s face look at him with a distinctly Kise-like intensity.

“What was she like? Your mom? I tried asking Youji-san once and all he would say is that she would have loved me and that she was a lot like you.”

“I try to be like her,” Kasamatsu corrects. Hinami would have loved Kise—but it would have been a hard love. She had zero tolerance for flighty behavior. She would have encouraged the best in him while acknowledging the worst, and all things considered, Kise would have benefited a lot from having someone like Kasamatsu Hinami to guide him and be a role model.

“When I was about seven, we went to this grocery store,” Kasamatsu starts, recalling one of his most vivid memories of his mother. “There were a lot of moms out with their kids that day. And then all of the sudden, this guy just started screaming at this woman. I can’t remember why, exactly. She was different from other women in some way, I know that. And he was just—yelling at her. I thought he was going to hit her—it was really scary.

“And my mom—she just got between the man and the woman. She started talking to the woman first, ignoring the guy. And when he started yelling at her she just looked him square in the eye and said, ‘Sir, you are making a scene.’

“The thing is, she could have kicked his ass, easy. She was military too, you know? Taking him down wouldn’t have been a problem. And I think he must have sensed that, because he backed off. Later, the other women at the store started grumbling, saying things like how they would have stepped in, but their kids were there—implying that my mom was a bad mother since she put me in danger.

“And my mom just said—‘It’s because my son is here that I had to intervene. I don’t want my children to ever think it’s OK to stand aside while someone else gets hurt.’”

He had to swallow then, awash with the intensity of his own memory.

“Hmm. She does sound just like you, Senpai. It actually explains a lot about you, actually. I wish I could have met her.”

Kasamatsu nods, mostly to himself. Yeah, he wishes Kise could have met her, too.

*

When they finally reach Iwatobi it feels like they’ve been on that train forever. Kasamatsu feels exhausted just from the journey, but he feels a spike of anxiety as he knows it’s only the beginning.

Kise was quiet through the rest of the trip—either thinking through what Kasamatsu had told him or realizing that maybe Kasamatsu needed to be alone with his thoughts.

It’s been a long time since Kasamatsu has been in his father’s home town. He wonders if it means anything that Youji grew up near the ocean and even when he disavowed everything from his past he still lived near the sea.

“Hmm,” Kise says. “Cheery.”

The flatness of his voice draws Kasamatsu out of his thoughts, and he looks first to Kise, who has a very hard expression, and then follows Kise’s gaze to see what the younger boy is looking at.

Kise is, against all odds, looking at a picture of himself. It’s one of his advertisement spreads from his modeling gig, plastered on the side of a bus stop. Except, spray painted over Kise’s smiling picture are the words:

FREAKS MUST DIE.

*

Kise, of course, had only laughed it off, and refused to even consider getting back on the train and going home when Kasamatsu suggested it.

“It’s nothing, Senpai. Just graffiti. You can’t get rid at me that easily, not when you finally invited me out of a romantic getaway.”

Kasamatsu had scowled, knowing that Kise was trying to change the subject. He hadn’t wanted to drop the matter, but they needed to check in to their hotel and get to a funeral.

*

Kasamatsu and Kise keep to the very back. A few people stare at Kasamatsu, frowning, but no one questions him being there. Kasamatsu thinks he must look enough like a relative (which, stands to reason, since he is) that no one thinks too hard about why he’s here.

He hadn’t fully understood just how deeply uncomfortable it would be for him to sit through this. He’s a stranger here, and he doesn’t belong. He scans the crowd and picks out Sousuke, sitting near the front, easily enough. It’s been years since he last saw his cousin, but somehow he still looks so incredibly familiar he has no trouble recognizing him.

When it’s his turn to pray in front of the deceased’s photo, he’s not sure how he’s supposed to feel. The photo depicts a man who looks a lot like Youji, only his face is stern and his eyes cold. He looks so much like Kasamatsu’s father it’s eerie—because it’s like Youji, only if Youji had never smiled, or loved anyone.

Kasamatsu prays the man found peace.

*

“What are you doing here, Yukio?”

It’s not exactly surprising that Sousuke sought him out immediately after the ceremony was finished; and the anger isn’t surprising either. He’s just not fully sure he knows what he’s going to say yet.

He stands up straight (only slightly jealous of how tall his cousin is) and meets Sousuke’s gaze. “I’m here for you.”

“I told you not to come!”

It’s how genuinely angry Sousuke sounds that makes Kasamatsu think it really was a mistake to come here. Even now, he’s not sure why he bothered.

“Don’t be like that, Kasamatsu-san was really worried about you!”

Takao’s wheedling, jocular tone startles Kasamatsu, not expecting the Shutoku Second Year here, and forgetting that Kise hadn’t shifted back.

“Who are you?” Sousuke eyes Kise with disgruntled hostility.

“Takao Kazunari,” Kise says instantly. “I’m Kasamatsu-san’s kouhai in basketball. It’s nice to meet you!”

Sousuke doesn’t accept Kise’s outstretched hand. Instead, he just focuses back on Kasamatsu. “You don’t belong here, Yukio. Just leave, OK? I don’t want to see you.”

Sousuke leaves before Kasamatsu can get another word in.

“Wow, that guy is pricklier than Shin-chan.”

“Stop that,” Kasamatsu jerks, panic rising suddenly.

“What?” Kise’s eyes flick back to him, surprised.

“Acting like Takao. It’s freaking me out.”

Kise opens his mouth and then closes it, pensive. It’s possible he didn’t even realize he’d called Midorima “Shin-chan” instead of “Midorimacchi.”

“Takao notices things,” Kise says enigmatically. “I’m thinking it’s actually a good thing I came as him.”

Kasamatsu definitely wants to pursue that further, but not here. Not among the mourners who don’t want him intruding on their grief.

*

“You know, I feel distinctly cheated. Whenever this happens in TV, there’s only one room left and it only has one bed,” Kise remarks, flopping down on the bed nearest the window. “Where is my one bed?”

“Here in the real world, there were plenty of vacancies and I booked a room with two beds,” Kasamatsu says, sitting down on the unclaimed bed.

Kise pouts at him. In the privacy of their own room he’s shifted back to his own form, and Kasamatsu feels like he can’t admit how much of a relief it is to see Kise’s face. “I’m beginning to think you haven’t thought this romantic getaway through at all, Senpai.”

“This isn’t a romantic getaway,” Kasamatsu says half-heartedly. He appreciates Kise’s efforts to distract him, but he doesn’t really feel up for distraction. “God, I don’t even know what I’m doing here. This was stupid.”

“You’re here because you care,” Kise says, his voice incredibly fond. The affection there warms Kasamatsu and he thinks for just a second how lucky he is to have someone like Kise who is so supportive.

Then Kise bounces on the bed, and he’s there at Kise’s side, staring down at him with a wicked expression. “You’ve had a long day, Senpai, and you need to relax. I can think of a few things we can do to relax you.”

Kasamatsu swallows, feeling heavy with the intensity of Kise’s focus. He’s never known what to do with Kise looking at him like this and now, now when the day has been long, and he feels drained from all the emotions that have been fretting through his body, he thinks how nice it would be to just lose himself. “Kise—”

“I know where we can go!” Kise says, bouncing up again and pulling a startled Kasamatsu with him. “I saw it just as we were coming in to town. Come on, Senpai, you’re going to love it.”

They’re out there door, with Kasamatsu having no idea what just happened.

*

“Kise.”

“Yes, Senpai?”

“Are we at a night club right now?”

“Yes!” Kise says, sounding extraordinarily pleased with himself.

Kasamatsu rubs his eyes and regrets his life choices. “How did you even—never mind. We’re both under the drinking age, so we won’t be able to get inside. Especially if you still look like Takao.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Senpai, the trick to getting into anywhere is confidence.”

*

And somehow they do get inside; there’s loud music and flashing lights and bodies everywhere, and Kasamatsu is definitely regretting his life choices now.

“Kise—”

“Best call me Takao,” Kise says, pressing up against Kasamatsu’s body. “Come on, dance with me, Senpai.”

The offer would be a lot more tempting if Kise didn’t currently look like one of his friends.

“This is dumb,” Kasamatsu says, pulling away. “I’m not sure why you thought this is something I’d ever want, but—”

“Just one dance,” Kise says, pulling on Kasamatsu. “I’ve always wanted—” he breaks off abruptly.

What?” Kasamatsu snaps, losing the last of his patience.

“Huh.”

“Oh, for the love of—”

Kise turns Kasamatsu towards what caught his gaze. Kasamatsu stares.

There’s a young man submerged in a large tank of water near the stage. He has gills at his side, webbing at his feet like fins, and by all appearance, is breathing underwater.

“Huh,” Kasamatsu says.

*

“He must be from Teiko,” Kasamatsu hisses. “The second Teiko.” He shakes with barely contained rage as he thinks about it. Some poor kid was abducted and experimented on, and now he’s kept in some jar for entertainment. He is so going to call his father about this—he wants to bring the entire wrath of the JSDF down on this stupid club and the stupid people who have put this man on display.

“Yeah, maybe,” Kise says, off-hand.

Maybe?” Kasamatsu exclaims.

“Probably,” Kise allows, but he sounds doubtful. His eyes are fixed on the tank, thoughtfully.

“We have to get him out of there! I’m going to call my dad—”

“Wait,” Kise says, stilling Kasamatsu’s hand as he reaches for his phone. “I’m not sure that’s a good idea. Not yet.”

Why?” Kasamatsu snaps. Kise—and the other Miracles—sometimes hesitate when it comes to asking for help from outside authority. And Kasamatsu gets it—the Miracles weren’t raised to depend on other people, they were trained to only count on themselves. But after everything that’s happened, Kasamatsu would hope by now they’ve come to realize that they don’t need to do everything alone.

“There’s something weird about this town.”

Kasamatsu bites back his automatic exclamation; Kise has this speculative serious look that isn’t quite him. It’s more like the look of someone who is a trained Point Guard and a keen observer.

Takao notices things.

“What do you mean?” Kasamatsu asks quietly.

Takao’s hawk-like eyes flick across the thrum of dancing bodies, to where a lone figure sits, staring intently at the boy in the tank. “He’s been sitting there this entire time and he hasn’t stopped staring at the tank.”

“That’s not so unusual,” Kasamatsu says. The man Kise’s talking about looks around his own age—not really all that suspicious. Handsome, with striking blue eyes.

“He’s military trained,” Kise says. “And it’s like he’s on a mission. I’m going to go talk to him. You better stay here, Senpai.”

“What?” Kasamatsu whips his head back to his boyfriend. “No—what are you planning on doing?”

“Nothing dangerous, I promise,” Kise says. And he presses a quick kiss against Kasamatsu’s lips and darts away.

*

Kasamatsu figures that he could pursue Kise, and have a few choice words with his boyfriend about leaving him behind. But Kise had looked so serious—and worried. Kasamatsu thinks about the graffiti that had greeted them when they got into town, and he figures maybe there is something weird going on.

Kise and the mysterious stranger have disappeared anyway. (Kasamatsu isn’t going to worry about that—not yet). So without much else to do he moves closer to where the merman is in his tank.

There’s a crowd there already.

“—It’s so wild. I wonder how he’s doing it?”

“It looks kind of real, don’t ‘cha think?”

“No way, it’s just a stunt.”

“I heard some fishermen brought him in.”

“Stupid! Of course that’s what they’re saying, it’s all for publicity.”

Someone giggles. “If they make them that fine in the ocean then I need to take up fishing, because damn.

It’s not hard to see what the admirers were fawning over—the young man in the tank is incredibly good looking. Even if Kasamatsu wasn’t gay, he’d still have to admire the very nice broad chest and handsome features.

Up close, Kasamatsu thinks the merman is not as old as he thought—maybe not that much older than himself. He’s tall and wearing swim shorts, but his legs and back have black and white markings, like an orca whale, and his feet elongated into flippers, with webbing between his fingers.

He has brown hair, and incredibly sad green eyes. The man looks frightened, Kasamatsu thinks, and he feels a surge of anger all over again for the people who brought him here.

Kasamatsu pushes his way through the crowd, so that he reaches the tank. The merman’s eyes widen at the sight of him and he swims back—if had anywhere to hide, he would be hiding. Kasamatsu places a hand against the tank, pleading—he wishes there was some way he could convey that he was a friend, that he was here to help, but all he can do is stare desperately.

Something must come through from his face, because the merman swims forward, looking curious. Green eyes meet his and Kasamatsu doesn’t dare look away.

I’m going to help you, he thinks. I’m going to free you.

The merman smiles then, kind and sad, like he could hear what Kasamatsu was thinking.

Then the merman jerks suddenly, like he’s in pain. He turns his back and presses up against the other side of the tank, tapping against the glass. Kasamatsu hears a keening, echoing sound, like the kind a whale might make when hurt.

And he has a bad feeling about where Kise is.

*

Pushing his way through the crowd once again, Kasamatsu reaches the back exit. He bursts through the door and immediately hears sounds of a scuffle.

Kise, who has reverted back to his own appearance, fights with the black-haired stranger, and it would be clear even without Kasamatsu’s background knowledge of the military that both men are trained fighters.

“Kise!” Kasamatsu shouts. Kise flips the stranger and pins him to the ground by his throat. It had been clear from the three second glimpse that Kise was by far the superior fighter, and there’s an edge to him—he has that same look he gets whenever Teiko intrudes onto their lives in some way.

“Kise, stop!” Kasamatsu shouts. He moves to restrain Kise’s arm.

“Senpai? What—”

“I don’t think he’s the enemy,” Kasamatsu says, just as the stranger begins to shift underneath Kise. The man’s hands change, as webbing appears, and gray markings appear on his legs that now end with fins.

“Oh,” Kise says, taking a step back.

The man makes a series of clicking sounds, like a dolphin, and he glares at Kasamatsu in a murderous way.

Kise notes the direction of the man’s stare, and some of his earlier hostility returns as he moves to stand in front of Kasamatsu.

And then people in the night club begin screaming.

*

The man shoves Kise away, his merman appendages disappearing as he gets up.

“Makoto!” he yells.

—Kise’s priority in the split second after the screams began was to cover Kasamatsu, hearing (better than Kasamatsu could, as it was later explained) the sounds of the flash grenades, smoke bombs, and glass breaking.

With Kise pressed up against him as a shield, Kasamatsu can only dimly see the figures bursting out of the night club. They’re dressed up in black army gear and masks, and they’re dragging the still form of the merman. They also, he manages to note in the dim light, carry guns.

“Makoto!” the blue-eyed man shouts again, leaping to his feet and taking off after the armed men. The weight surrounding Kasamatsu abruptly disappears as Kise jumps up and takes off in pursuit. Kasamatsu struggles to his feet, really only processing that Kise is pursuing armed men and feeling the need to kick some sense into his boyfriend who is clearly an idiot.

But when he catches up to Kise again, the armed men are long gone, and Kise is once again fighting with the blue-eyed stranger.

“This is your fault!” the stranger yells, as he grabs Kise’s collar and shoves him against the wall.

Kise isn’t fighting back, so he at least must have come to the conclusion that this man isn’t a threat, no matter how angry he is. “Hey, you attacked me first, remember? I just wanted to talk!”

“Both of you, calm down,” Kasamatsu snaps. “We need to—”

The stranger’s expression hardens, shifting his attention to Kasamatsu like he’s moving to hit him, but Kise intervenes, quickly shifting the situation so that he’s now the one in charge, with the other boy’s back to the wall. “See, now, it was when you were moving to attack Senpai the first time that I started fighting back. You don’t want to keep making the same mistake, do you?”

Before the angry merman can respond shouts interrupt all three of them. “Haruka-senpai!” “Haru-chan!”

Kise whirls again, so that he’s positioned in front of Kasamatsu, and the stranger takes the chance to bound away. The three newcomers don’t look like threats—they don’t look any older than Kise, and there wouldn’t be anything remarkable about them at all, except for the fact that they all have strange colored eyes, and the girl even has dark red hair, and Kasamatsu has come to associate that with something very particular.

The newcomers aren’t really looking at Kise or Kasamatsu, though. Their focus is on the blue-eyed boy.

“Haru-chan,” the short, blonde-haired boy with reddish eyes says. “Did you find him?”

The blue-eyed boy, Haru, clenches his fists and shakes his head. “I was too late. They have him. Archer has him.

The red-haired girl gasps, putting her hands to her mouth. The blonde-haired boy slumps. The black-haired boy in glasses looks like he’s about to cry. “It’s my fault,” he says. “I slowed everyone down. If—”

“No, Rei-chan, Haru-chan shouldn’t have took off without us,” the blonde-haired boy says.

“Who are you people?” Kise demands.

It’s only then that the three newcomers notice Kise—and by extension, Kasamatsu. And Kasamatsu thinks it must be his imagination, but the red-haired girl and the blonde-haired boy both seem startled when they see him, both taking a step back with eyes widened in fear. (But surely that’s just his imagination. Why would they be afraid of him?)

Only the boy wearing glasses fixates on Kise. “You’re a Yellow Six.”

This catches the attention of the other two (the angry, blue-eyed boy only scowling further, and deliberately looking everywhere but Kise).

“No way,” the blonde-haired boy says. “You’re Teiko?

Kise’s eyes narrow. “And you’re not. Who the hell are you? What are you?”

Kasamatsu jerks back slightly, wondering what it is that Kise saw that he didn’t, wondering how he could be so sure those four were not from Teiko.

It’s the blonde-haired boy who answers, “We’re Samezuka,” like that should explain everything. When it doesn’t and Kise just looks at them, confused, the blonde haired boy tilts his head and says:

“What, you didn’t really think Teiko was the only facility making superhumans—did you?”