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Keito is dreaming. In his dream, he hears a muffled noise, distant but urgent, like a corpse, buried not burned - still alive and calling, with its final shrinking pocket of breath, for someone to dig it out of the earth. But the corpse doesn't run out of air, it keeps crying, louder and louder and louder again until Keito wakes up because suddenly that's Eichi calling for help -

Keito rolls over and fumbles to find him in the dark, digging through confused blankets with hands gone sweaty with fear. He’s too slow - Eichi makes another unintelligible noise, the distress in his sleeping voice as clear and painful through the nighttime silence as a knife in the stomach. Here is Eichi's arm, his shoulders, disturbingly bony, fragile and unreal, as always - Keito shakes him as hard as he dares, and yells in his ear, trying to save him from whatever monstrosity plagues him in sleep.

In the darkness Keito sees a trace of movement - Eichi's eyes opening. He feels a grip on his wrist tight enough to hurt -

“Keito?” With the hand that isn’t clenched like a vice Eichi feels clumsily against Keito's face in the dark, clammy fingers brushing against his cheekbones and nose.

“Yes, it’s me,” Keito replies.

Slowly now, cold as snow, Eichi's fingers drift down his jaw. “Just like you promised,” he whispers. Even coming down from his confused dream-panic Keito can put together what that means, and it makes him sick.

“No. No , Eichi, you are not dead. I’m not here because of any promise.”

Eichi flinches and goes silent for a long, uncomfortable few seconds, digging his fingernails into the skin of Keito’s arm. Then he lets go.

“Silly Keito,” Eichi’s voice is breathlessly, sharply awake now, but there’s a tremor in it, “stating the obvious - obviously I’m not dead. If I were dead, you couldn't feel this.“ He pinches the end of Keito’s nose. “You have so many pointless bits of dialogue.”

“Stop that,” Keito tuts, and manages to disengage himself for a moment, grab his glasses from Eichi's dresser. It's a summer night but he tucks the blankets around Eichi carefully, smooths the strands of hair that stick to his face into their usual spot. Hesitates a moment before pressing a kiss to his chilly forehead. “Don’t tease me to distract me,” he murmurs. “You were having a nightmare.”

“Mm, the first in a long time. Just unfortunate you happened to be staying over.”

“What was - can - Do you want to talk about it?”

Eichi laughs thinly. “You already know everything. I died early, I woke up.” And what can Keito say to that?

Eichi’s been miraculously, dreamily healthy for awhile now: so much that he’s actually preparing to debut in the adult idol industry, as he’s always talked of doing. He and Keito argue endlessly over their strategy to transform the entertainment world: one that will be beautiful, and not drown gardenfuls of innocents in blood, because neither of them can forget what happened last time they tried this. And one that will have the greatest impact in the shortest time, before Eichi dies. It's daunting, to take on the world, and success seems impossible in a single lifetime, let alone such a painfully abridged one.

“Eichi… “ Keito says, trying to collect his scattered thoughts in the darkness, explain what he feels so clearly. “You know it’s not how it was before. You know that this world will not end along with us, with you. We’ve passed on our dreams; there are others to continue our legacy.”

“Mm.”

“Death won't be the end of anything.”

“I know,” Eichi says. “Keito, you’ve never taken death seriously enough. It’s one of your oh-so-few good points.”

“I said don’t tease me to distract me,” Keito grumbles. He can tell, though, that Eichi was being truthful - he does understand what Keito was trying to tell him. What it’s his role to remind Eichi of, even when the worry eats at him personally: death is just part of life.  And what more can Keito possibly say to comfort him about it?

“You don't need to say anything,” Eichi declares. “Go back to sleep. I’m going to, anyway.” He rolls onto his side, and falls quiet. But in the silence his breathing is stilted and uneven, and Keito knows his muscles are tense, his mind still locked in a waking dream Keito can’t protect him from.

He feels the familiar urge, to tell Eichi to just sit down and rest, not to trouble himself over the ugly things in the world; but there Eichi is, already lying next to him. There’s nothing for it, Keito decides. He slips out of bed, finds his trousers and sneaks out past the winking lights of the medical machines to make a phone call, because he only knows one person who could shock Eichi out of a dream like this.

 

--

 

Keito's blood pressure has risen dangerously by the time he hangs up, although it was a short conversation, as his conversations go. He ignores the tug of irritation that makes him want to stay, just to disprove that comment - don’t bother opening the door for me, I can walk through walls - instead he sets out through the labyrinth of Eichi's house in search of a hot drink. One good thing, at least - there are no servants about at this time of night. He’s free to shuffle about in the kitchen as he pleases, and take his time. He cradles his stinging-hot mug of coffee tightly, when it's made, and inhales the strong smell before beginning to drink. It seems like an eternity before he finishes the cup, forcing down scalding sips until he’s burning all the way through and wide awake as can be.

With nothing better to do, he decides to head to the Tenshouin personal library, always his favourite. It has hundreds of dusty books of every genre and language, from the thesaurus where he first learned the word incorrigible to the translation of Alice in Wonderland that he first read together with Eichi. It’s easy to get lost there.

Focusing on this thought, he hurries on through the sleeping house, eager to escape the room after dusty dark opulent room that this place is built out of, like cells in a beehive. Or rooms in an art gallery, or the long corridors of a catacomb, he’s always thought, with portraits of the long-dead interred on every wall. He's distracted enough he doesn't realise where his feet have led him until he nearly trips on a slice of yellow light on the carpet. Of course - he came back to Eichi.

That heavy door to his right is a crack open, just as he’d left it, but now it sways slightly in an unfelt breeze, and it’s bright inside. There are low voices just out of sight. He lets himself pause for just a few seconds, eavesdropping long enough to hear the interplay between the two voices, though he can make out nothing beyond their tones: Eichi as soft as ever, no matter what he might be saying, and Hibiki - matching Eichi, soft, intimate.

Although it's a relief, Keito is going to pretend he never heard that. He turns deliberately and heads back down the corridor, making sure he's really going to the library this time.

 

--

 

He’s back in the kitchen, the sun is rising, and he’s sullenly rattling cereal into a bowl when he hears footsteps behind him, and turns to see Hibiki standing in the doorway. He’s wearing a hoodie and jeans, his hair is a loose tangle down his back; he looks like he might live here himself.

“He’s sleeping,” Hibiki says quietly. He retrieves a second bowl from a cupboard and, on request, Keito passes him the box of cereal.

“Oh? There's something else in here,” Hibiki says blandly as he takes it, and pulls a bag of chocolate chips out of the box, half of which he dumps into the bowl. Keito watches, faintly despairing, as Hibiki makes an exaggerated thinking face before pouring in the rest of the bag too.

“Where did you even get those?” he complains. “You rushed here in your pyjamas and still managed to bring sweets with you?”

“I merely left them here last time I visited.” Hibiki has the human decency to add just a little bit of cereal to his chocolate, and then milk. He slides the carton across the counter for Keito to use.

“I disapprove of you filling this household with junk food,” Keito remarks without real fire. He rummages through the oversized drawers for spoons, and then they trail out and into what counts for one of the many living-rooms in Eichi's house. It's huge, from the heavy furniture to the tall windows; its emptiness almost presses them to sit closer together. Hibiki clicks on the TV, which looks tiny in its place on the wall, though it would probably dwarf any other room.

“Keito-kun.” Keito looks up and meets Hibiki's eyes, familiar purple muted to clear grey in the dim light from the television screen. “I’m not often in town like this. I’m going to Tokyo to start rehearsals on Sunday.” His tone is too mild.

“Then you and Eichi will have to use a phone to talk like normal people instead of all this breaking and entering,” Keito replies.

“Eichi,” Hibiki looks down, stirs his cornflakes around the bowl absently, “can take care of his own nightmares, as he’s done until now, can he not? I am merely a good distraction anyhow.”

“You’re not - you're Eichi’s focus, inspiration, not his distraction,” Keito corrects awkwardly, because he knows it's true and it always has been. Hibiki’s eyes widen silently. “But yes. He can take care of himself.” Keito stares straight ahead at the flickering TV screen and tries to forget the afterimage in his brain, of Eichi desperately clinging onto him in those first few moments. It's set to a news channel, but at this hour there are only reruns of yesterday's stories, for the most part, and he’s read about them already, endless anecdotes and incidents and disasters-

There’s a light touch on his hand. “Hibiki,” he starts, and turns, but Hibiki isn't looking back at him. Keito cuts himself off, glances away too and uncurls his clenched fist. He squeezes Hibiki’s hand and Hibiki squeezes back, quietly, and for the first time in hours Keito starts to wind down from a tension he had barely accepted was even there.

“Eichi was rather annoyed you left him all alone, you know,” Hibiki says randomly.

“He--” Keito makes a noise of disbelief. ”He’s the one who made me do that! He’s not allowed to complain about it now!”

“Oh? He also complained that you were the origin of his nightmares to begin with.”

Keito hmph s. “He’s been saying I give him nightmares since we were boys. He told me I had the voice of a demon and that he heard my lectures even in his good dreams.”

Hibiki laughs quietly. “What a cute pair of children you must have been.”

“Don’t laugh. My point is he got all sulky and told me not to talk to him. I should be the annoyed one.”

“I believe that’s exactly what Eichi thinks too.”

“Tch. How incorrigible.”

Hibiki laughs louder at this and Keito feels a twinge of embarrassment. He hadn't meant to use his catchphrase. It had just slipped out.

“Aah, Amazing,” Hibiki sighs, and wipes a false tear from his eye with his free hand. Keito glares at him. A second catchphrase within the space of thirty seconds is just overkill. “Well, regardless of whose fault your little tiff is, I must convey my overflowing gratitude. I do so enjoy hoodwinking the security systems here, it’s such wonderful exercise - and such wonderful architecture to climb.”

“So you admit you broke in. I could call the police on you for that - no, I should . The trouble you’d cause if you got caught is unthinkable. Not to mention you were putting yourself in mortal danger.”

“Oh, but did I fail? Was I caught? No, for I am the world's very own Wataru Hibiki, defying all known laws for the sake of love…! A master thief who steals into a gallery just to admire the artwork! An escape artist who can even reappear inside the locked room! A con man who can fraud his very own identity!”

“The metaphors you choose to describe yourself with are beside the point. If you just walked up to the gate like a regular person I would have come and let you in. It’s not an unreasonable course of action.”

“Ah, but did Romeo not scale the wall of Juliet’s orchard to speak with her? Did Orihime not run across a bridge of magpies to Hikoboshi? Such are the hallmarks of romance…! Open your glasses to the world of fancy, search for the end of the rainbow with me Keito-kun...”

Never .”

Hibiki’s voice has regained some of its usual perverted bounce now, which Keito hates. The vivid chirping of birds’ morning chorus filters in through the walls to accompany their arguing, and it’s almost light outside now.

 

--



Sometime around noon Keito finds himself ambushed by a floppy, incredibly heavy pile of laundry. It drapes its arms around his neck and flips his laptop shut, solidly interrupting whatever work he had been trying to do at noon on a Sunday.

“Don't be such a nuisance,” Keito says automatically. “If you want my attention just say so and wait patiently. You're always so childish...”

Eichi giggles softly into his ear. “ You're always so childish.”

“Am not. That was a shoddy comeback.”

“You are though,” Eichi says stubbornly, and refuses to explain any further. Keito stands up and twists around in Eichi's arms to hug him properly. Eichi’s body is still cold, but he hugs back tightly, and sighs into Keito's shoulder, and his breath is warm. Absently, Keito reaches up to pat his head.

Eichi draws away then, and looks at him with unusual seriousness. “Keito, I’m sorry for worrying you,” he says, and then he starts to smile, presumably because of whatever indignant face Keito made in response to that line. “Really, though. You couldn't get back to sleep, could you?”

Keito sighs. “Eichi, I had a full lecture prepared to wring that apology out of you, and now you’re just waving it in my face. You’re infuriating. You’re not even apologising for the right thing. What I get worried about is not your business.”

“Your forehead is definitely my business. You worry way too much - if I don't meddle you’ll get wrinkles before you hit forty. Look, you're frowning now.”

“I deserve to get wrinkles if I have to deal with you.” Keito stares at Eichi and frowns harder.

“No you don't.” Eichi shakes his head. “You didn’t deserve that. I just - I didn't want you seeing that shameful, desperate side of me.”

“No, Eichi, I am the one at fault. I was useless, I failed to comfort you, and so I ran away -- ”

“Useless - I don't want you to be useful , Keito, I don't want your pity or your comfort, I just…” Eichi looks away. “Oh, I want your chair,” he says, a neat hairpin bend into cheerful, sidestepping Keito and stealing the seat from behind him. Keito turns and raises an eyebrow.

“Keito.” Eichi looks up at him steadily and Keito can't resist the chance to smooth the golden strands of his hair back into place again. Eichi wrinkles his nose and bats Keito's hand away. “I was talking to Wataru - you know, we had this whole argument, but actually inviting Wataru over is always the best option, I have to say - “

“It's not always the best option, he’s a contagious walking disaster.”

“Yeah, and so am I, that's why you can’t leave us alone.”

“I have better reasons,” Keito says perhaps a touch defensively.

“Anyway, that's when I realised why my dream was so scary. For you see, in my dream I died without a single regret. Like a flower picked in full bloom.” Eichi spreads his hands. “And yet it was terrifying.” A dreamy expression fills his face as he speaks. “I wanted to stay longer in that garden, Keito, feeling the warmth of the sun, smelling the spring breeze, growing day by day among all the other plants, flourishing - And I wanted to wilt away too.”

Keito nods, understanding. “You - “

“Yup,” Eichi says, pink, suddenly fiddling with the edge of the tabletop.

“I’ve no idea why you choose this point to start getting embarrassed, Eichi,” Keito says, with the entirely justified air of someone who is embarrassed by his childhood friend all the time. Then he realises for himself how sappy it is - Eichi wants to grow old together with him - sappy and unrealistic , it is, and Keito wishes he had a tabletop of his own to dig fingernails into.

Hibiki’s voice at that moment is as loud as the siren of an ambulance careening into a glass storefront. “ Whaaaat’s this? A tense hush as the audience waits for the main act to take the stage? Wait no longer, for it is I, the one and only Wataru Hibiki!” He wails this obvious fact with pleasure as he leaps into the room, bearing dishes in each hand and on one foot too.

“You're too noisy,” Keito says reflexively -

“Wataru, you came to break our awkward silence!” Eichi cheers over him.

“Oh my! Was I interrupting something?” Hibiki twists to glance at the two of them, socked toes wiggling as he rotates on one foot.

“Yes, but I’m being sincere,” Eichi says solemnly.

Hibiki swivels his other foot up above his waist and gently sets all the plates down before bouncing around the table to Eichi’s side. “That’s wonderful, Eichi, for I do so love to interrupt,” another obvious fact that is, “but ah, some people simply don't show appreciation for this work of mine... Why, I should be the grateful one!”

“No need for gratitude. My affection is freely given, as you know.” (Hibiki's smile softens at that for a split second - ) “Oh, this is no excuse for you to interrupt more often, mind. Behave yourself,” Eichi adds playfully.

“Oh, please, Eichi, as if! I’m always on best behaviour for you… Mm, except I did thieve some ingredients from your fridge to conjure us lunch.”

“What about breakfast?” Eichi asks petulantly.

“Eichi, if you get up at lunchtime it's unfair to expect anything but lunch,” Keito scolds. “Hibiki, put that foot down.” Hibiki has been on one leg all this time, like a wading bird caught mid-step.

“Why, Keito-kun, I thought you would never ask,” Hibiki says warmly, and refuses to change his pose.

“Don't do things just so I’ll tell you to stop,” Keito says, all his indignance rising to the surface despite how pointless it is. “Sit down, will you.”

They sit down exactly as anyone would expect, which is to say that Eichi sits at the head of the table, Keito sits to Eichi's right-hand side, and Hibiki produces a fourth impossibly large dish to lie in, proclaiming himself the main course and beginning to describe the various odd ways he had been cooked. Only by agreeing to “save him for dessert” can they get him to navigate the workings of a chair.

“You should stay over too sometimes, Wataru,” Eichi complains as he eats. “When you have a chance - you’re going to be so busy now…”

Hibiki waves a hand. “I can clone myself as many as three times before I run out of material, so you need only say the word - or get your secretary over there to call me again, of course - and I shall materialise, have no fear.” Secretary over there is a new low even when it comes to Hibiki's obnoxious nicknames. He kicks Hibiki’s leg at full force under the table, which only elicits a wide smile.

Eichi sighs in exaggerated regret. “No, Wataru, even one-third of you would be wasted if I were to keep you all to myself when you should be working. I’ll be attending all your movie and theatre premieres anyway, obviously, so I’ll see you there.”

All of them? How ambitious - although perhaps not for someone of your means. You need not make the prospects of our meeting sound quite so bleak, I think… but what about dear Keito-kun? Will you be first in line at my next fan-signing, hmm?”

“Even if I had the slightest interest, I’m busy,” Keito says with satisfaction. “Never mind Eichi's debut, Akatsuki is still active. We can't just sit around going soft while we wait for Kanzaki to join us. We have a reputation to uphold and a fanbase to please.”

“But no matter how busy you are, you’ll have time to come to my big live shows, won't you?” Eichi teases. “You’ll worry too much to stay away, right, Keito?”

Keito raises his eyebrows. “Well now, are you able to manage the preparations for a such a big event on your own, Eichi?”

Hibiki ooh s. Eichi laughs. “You wait and see. Even without your hovering over me I'll succeed - oh, and I’ll surpass Akatsuki too, in no time at all.”

“Hm. I highly doubt it.”

“Well, there's only one way to find out. We’ll be meeting on the battlefield again, it seems,” and Eichi has that irresistibly mischievous smile playing across his face, one Keito can't help but grin back at as he replies:

“You won’t stand a chance .”

Hibiki rubs his hands. “My my! If it’s coming to this, I shall have to think of a way to sway the match in Eichi’s favour, I suppose… Shall I start with a smear campaign, or sabotage, or perhaps infiltration…?”

“You wouldn't.”

“Oh, but I would .”

“You wouldn't because I would sue you,” Keito confirms.

Eichi nods. “I would have to sue you too, Wataru, and then you’d be in real trouble. I’m glad to see your rivalry alive and well, though.”

“Rivalry is a lifelong bond - ” Hibiki says.

“There was never a rivalry - ” Keito says at the same time. They look at each other.

“We’re competitors?” Hibiki tries.

“Acquaintances,” Keito offers generously.

“Nemeses.”

“People who occasionally meet.”

“The huge expanse of middle ground you’re ignoring is fascinating,” Eichi remarks. He looks terribly amused by this impasse, which is the important thing, really.

Keito rolls his eyes. “Eichi, we’re probably in the middle ground right now.”

“What, people having lunch together? Well, I’m glad together we could brainstorm the most boring answer of all time for you to use, Keito, it just wouldn't be the same if you settled on something interesting or original,” Eichi sighs.

“Aha, but I myself only deal in extremes! If you propose such a notion, I may have to stage a desperate exit.”

Eichi manages to change the topic at this point, mercifully preventing Hibiki from dashing out the door and returning in disguise or some such nonsense. Unfortunately the topic he changes to is Hibiki's potential as a housewife, including skill with children, and then it’s onto adoption and wedding ceremonies and cloning and property fraud and no matter how hard Keito protests against all of it some truly disturbing mental images have started to form in his mind. Well, it's the inevitable result of Hibiki being present to enable Eichi’s bizarre imaginative fancy at every turn. And, well, not a jot of their discussion is realistic , but Keito can let that go, for now.

 

--

 

Perhaps the most impressive result of the day is that Hibiki actually agrees to let a chauffeur take him home, and walks down to the servants’ entrance door to leave, instead of jumping out a window again. Keito catches him in the hallway, and says thank you , and stops right there, because he’s already broken about twenty internal rules just to get the words out. Hibiki fills in the rest of the sentence with laughter as warm and ticklish as a down feather.

“Amazing,” he says, and whirls in a flurry of iridescent hair to turn a gleeful smile on Keito. “But how strange, Hasumi Keito-kun! Do you also thank the grass for growing or the birds for flying? Have you lost your wits at last? You see, my end goal is always to get you to lose one or two of your marbles, but as for the whole bag at once - this is groundbreaking - breathtaking - miraculous - “

“Shut up and get out then if you're going to be so insufferable, I’ll be glad to see the back of you,” Keito says shortly, adjusting his glasses out of relieved and irritated habit. Hibiki laughs louder and brighter, like every word Keito says is fuel for some infernal furnace powering his sheer force of annoyingness.

“Surely you know I’m always this unstoppably insufferable…!” he crows.

Keito shakes his head. “Yes. And I know I’ll never be lucky enough to really see the back of you either, will I.”

“So long as you keep on fighting quite so hard against me,” Hibiki agrees.

“As if I have any other choice. I can’t just ignore you, after all.”

“Ah.” Hibiki is quiet again, suddenly. “I’ve received the highest of praise from Keito-kun.”

It takes Keito a second to decipher that one. He rolls his eyes. “Honestly. This is exactly what makes you such an irritating character - nobody else would take that as a compliment. Even you shouldn't take it as a compliment - ”

Hibiki cuts him off before he can begin the lecture properly, bowing deeply as he intones, “This has been Wataru Hibiki, live at the Tenshouin mansion! Thank you very much for your support...!”

“Oi, Hibiki, listen to me - “ Keito catches at the air but Hibiki disappears with a bang, leaving behind a packet of rainbow sprinkles that falls to the ground with a thud. Probably intended for his next cereal topping.

Keito picks it up and looks around the hallway, wondering pointlessly whether there might be some clue as to how Hibiki had performed his vanishing act - and realises something.

“You were so close to a normal exit!” he yells into the empty air. “We were just two metres from the door! Damn it, Hibiki!”

But of course there’s no reply, except the faint smell of roses and the memory of a laugh. How typical.