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"Yashiro-sensei." Satoru's voice was light, so full of youth and innocence. It was something that was signature to him, hence why Yashiro knew who exactly called out his name without having to see his guest.

"Yes, Satoru?" He turned around to give the young boy a smile before going back to the stack of paper on his desk. The boy wasn't exactly an unfamiliar visitor in the staff room, as lately he often dropped by to ask a question or two regarding the lesson that day, something that Yashiro deemed that more students struggling with their grades should take more initiative with.

The boy walked towards Yashiro who immediately flipped the paper he was grading upside down. "Is that the history exam?"

"No peeking!" The teacher smiled before leaning in to open the drawer and drew out a lollipop that he offered to his student.

Satoru gladly took the sweet with a broad smile and soon worked to rip the package. Popping the glistening red gem into his mouth, the boy hummed in contentment. He took a particular interest in what Yashiro was marking. "That's my paper, isn't it?"

"Maybe yes, maybe not," Yashiro chuckled as he placed his arm on top of the stack. "So, do you need something, Satoru?"

"Not really," He shrugged nonchalantly. "I just wanted some candy. Thanks." 

Yashiro laughed at the childish response he received, but that didn't stop him from taking three more and dangled them in front of Satoru whose eyes immediately sparkled with want. "I'll give you these if you promise to study hard for the coming math exam."

"Yes!" The boy snatched the sweets with such speed that Yashiro didn't even have the chance to blink. "I'll impress you, sensei."

Yashiro smiled fondly before a hand made its way to Satoru's head to ruffle his hair playfully. In the past few months, Satoru had really grown on him. If he wasn't careful, he'd start to do what no teachers should: play favourite. Although he was a quiet kid at the beginning with no particular ability that made him stand out from the crowd, there was something about him that screamed 'life' as made evident by the bright gleam in his eyes.

It was the way he smiled at Yashiro when their eyes met after he turned around from the blackboard to explain the lesson. The way he worked hard on his studies and homework, asking questions whenever necessary, resulting in continually improving grades. How he never caused a ruckus in the classroom full of kids whose rebellious phase had begun to kick in. He was the perfect student, the one that teachers wished they could have.

The boy laughed at the contact. Yashiro's fingers were long. They easily enveloped his head with warmth. When Yashiro retracted his hand, Satoru curled his lips, his full black eyes blinking repeatedly. "Sensei?" He muttered softly.

"Yes?" Asked Yashiro as he took a sip of his water at the most inopportune of time, as Satoru finished his sentence innocently with:

"When I grow up, can I marry you?"

The water that was inside Yashiro's mouth soon found itself out in the open, drenching the paper underneath him. Yashiro knocked his chair over as he stood up, frantically patting the exam answers dry with some tissues, his cheeks turning pinkish after what Satoru said sink in. Despite having already heard such question before, this time it took him completely by surprise.

"Sa-Satoru..." Yashiro stammered uncharastically. It was such a strange reaction, especially after he considered himself an expert at dealing with proposals regarding marriage from his students. "You can't say that..." He said after a long silence, thankful for the fact that no one was present in the room.

"Why?" Satoru cocked his head to the side.

"Because," The teacher scratched the back of his head while looking away. For once, he was at loss of words. When he glanced back at Satoru, the boy blinked back at him with puffy, pinkish cheeks and wide eyes. "Because kids should be playing and enjoying their life, not think about something so far in the future."

"I'm 11!" Satoru curled his lips. "The future isn't too far ahead!"

Yashiro wanted to say that, yes it is, but he only found enough strength to let out a nervous laughter. "Well, Satoru, why don't you start heading home? Your mother is probably waiting for you."

"You didn't answer my question," Satoru insisted when Yashiro changed the topic. "If I get a good mark for my maths exam, will you marry me?"

"Satoru!" Yashiro quickly cut him off before he could bury his head in his hands. What an odd sensation it was, to be rendered into a flustered mess because of an innocent question from a kid who most likely didn't know the supposed significance of marriage. After shaking his head, Yashiro once again ruffled Satoru's hair, this time with renewed calmness. "Just focus on your studies, okay? You're doing well."

Satoru could feel his heart skipping a beat at the compliment, and he eagerly nodded. "Yes, sensei!" He beamed, accompanied with a warmth that seeped into his cheeks. Suddenly forgetting about the original topic of marriage, he tugged on the straps of his backpack and tried his best to ignore the joy that bubbled from within. "I'll see you tomorrow!" 

"See you," Yashiro regarded with a smile and a wave in response to Satoru's. Only when the boy had disappeared and closed the door behind him that Yashiro let out the breath that he didn't realise he was holding. Spending time with kids must have made him soft, he sighed.

There was a momentary silence in the room, save for the ticking of the clock as background noise. With a troubled sigh, Yashiro moved his hand away from the damp stack of paper that he hoped wouldn't crinkle too much. Deciding to flip the exam he was grading, his eyes glanced at the neatly printed name on the top left: Fujinuma Satoru.

Yashiro's eyes flew to the bottom of the sheet where he smiled and drew a circle with his red pen before moving back to the top to write an A. Just a few months ago, Satoru's marks were average despite his efforts, but now he almost had straight A's in his subjects. It was as if he never took school seriously—no, it was as if this Satoru was a whole another person. He had a lot more presence in the classroom, he was gutsier, more adventurous and actively sought to befriend others. It was almost as if he was looking for something, and it wasn't acknowledgement.

What could he possibly be looking for?

.

Satoru wasn't sure the reason behind his sudden crush on Yashiro Gaku, or his gutsiness to admit it without holding anything back. Up to a few months ago, he only saw him as a teacher who was well-loved by his students, be it male or female. Now, he was convinced that Yashiro was made for him and only him.

It was such a strange feeling that Satoru had tried, but failed, to bury. It was as if one day the gods decided that it would be a mighty funny thing to implant the thought that Satoru couldn't live without Yashiro Gaku, and that soon, Yashiro also wouldn't be able to live without him, in his head. In the beginning, he tried his damnedest to deny it, that the rapid beating of his heart was nothing to be concerned of. It would most likely disappear just as suddenly as it hit him.

It seemed that this feeling of his had yet to cease, and Satoru decided to finally embrace it. Perhaps it was a premonition of the sort. Perhaps the gods only wanted to warn Satoru to not waste his chance, and that he should selfishly take what was dangled in front of him.

Satoru took a deep breath as he saw Kenya waiting for him in the hallway. His friend's eyes were sharply turned towards him. Then, he gave a small wave.

"Visiting sensei again?" He asked curiosly as the two made their way down the stairs. "You've been doing that a whole lot lately."

"I just have some questions about the English lesson we had today." Satoru lied. It was one thing to admit his feelings to both himself and its intended audience. He didn't want anyone else, especially Kenya, to know.

"Hm," The blond replied shortly, obviously not convinced. When they arrived at the gate, Kenya nodded at his friend. "I'll see you tomorrow for your birthday."

"See you!" Satoru waved his goodbye before sighing in relief. Kenya was far too perceptive for his own good, and sometimes Satoru felt as if his friend could read him as easily as turning his hand.

As he walked home, Satoru palmed the straps of his bag. The candy in his mouth melted on his tongue, leaving only the plastic handle dangling on the corner of his lips.

Although he had accepted the fact that he was head over heels for his teacher, he still couldn't figure out why exactly such thought popped in his head so abruptly. One day, he opened his eyes, and just like that, he whispered Yashiro's name. When he saw him at class, Satoru felt his heart surging with joy and warmth. Yashiro was there, looking at him, calling his name.

I can't live without you. You can't live without me.

But why?

Satoru was determined to discover the answer to that question.

.

Satoru wasn't the type to wake up in the middle of the night, save for his need to go to the bathroom, something that he sometimes failed to do, resulting in an exceptionally embarrassing morning with his mum breaking in laughter at her son's soaked pants and futon.

That was the reason that when Satoru's eyes fluttered open only to be greeted by darkness, he felt a little uneasy. The boy palmed his blanket in agitation, and eyes shifted to the wall where a wall clock hung. It was 2 AM, which explained why even though the heater was running, he could still feel the tingle of winter on his toes and cheeks. Satoru remained on his bed for a few more seconds. His eyes were wide open, and all desire to go back to sleep was no longer present.

He turned his body to the side to see his mother next to him, deep in her slumber. Then Satoru sighed before he looked towards the curtain where he could see the faint glimmer of the street lights through the curtain. It blinked as if beckoning him to come closer, and Satoru found himself entranced. With his eyes already adjusted to the dark, he pushed himself to a sitting position prior to slipping out of the futon.

Satoru's breathing was steady as he approached the window and parted the curtain just enough so he could see through it. Nothing seemed amiss, yet the feeling of unease remained. He only realised that he stared far longer than necessary when fogs started to form on the glass. 

In an attempt to stop himself from doing something impulsive like walking outside, Satoru's toes curled. However, his heart started to thunder in his chest the longer he prevented himself from following his external drive to put on his jacket and boots and follow the whispers that formed in his head.

With trembling fingers, Satoru closed his eyes tight only to snap them back open. This time, he couldn't stop himself from walking out of his bedroom and towards the entrance.

The knob was freezing to the touch, but not even that stopped Satoru from unlocking the door. Although he was clad in nothing but pyjamas and shoes, the wintry wind did not affect him. Satoru pressed forward as if following the song of a siren. He had given up trying to argue against his better judgement. Instead, he allowed the voice in his head to guide him to wherever it so desired.

He continued walking, cutting through the breeze only to end up in front of a familiar building. His hair whipped in the wind and snow coated his hair as his eyes observed the structure before finally settling on the name board next to the door.

"Hina... zuki...?" Satoru muttered curiously. His fingers twitched after he said the name. "Hinazuki?" The boy glanced to the side to see a small wooden shed, and his heart once again hammered in his chest. There was something very, very wrong, he could feel it. However, for some reason unknown to him, he couldn't bring himself to turn around and pretend as if he wasn't just led here by some voice in his head. If he didn't see this through, Satoru felt like it was going to be something that he would come to immensely regret.

What was in that shed? Did Satoru want to find out?

No. No. No. He didn't. Run away. Run away.

Satoru's fingers clenched, nails digging into the skin of his palm as he stepped forward. No. He didn't want to find out. He wanted to leave. He wanted to get away from the cold, and back into the safety of his own home. This was something he shouldn't involve himself with. This was something... different. Sinister. Vile. Something that would change his life forever. However, just like a moth to a flame, why wouldn't his legs stop moving towards it?

With shivering hands, Satoru pulled on the door and allowed the light from the street to illuminate the dark interior. When Satoru looked up, it was as if the cold that he seemed to be immune to hit him all at once.

"Ya..." His lips quivered, the rest of the sentence failed to escape from his chattering teeth. There was no mistaking it. Although he was clad in a hat and a coat that concealed most of his face, Satoru still noticed him. Yashiro. Gods, he wished he didn't. He wished he'd leave when he had the chance. Even with the sense of foreboding looming over him, he wasn't strong enough to follow his hunch.

On his feet was a lithe figure of a girl, bruised and battered. However, it wasn't Yashiro's doing. Satoru was sure of it. The next string of words that Satoru croaked surprised even himself.

"Don't kill her."

It wasn't a plea. It was a statement.

Yashiro said nothing for a few seconds, obviously bewildered at how well Satoru was holding himself. By the looks of it, he almost seemed like he expected Satoru to fall to his knees and wet himself. After all, he realised Yashiro's motive within a few seconds.

"Leave her alone." Satoru continued despite not understanding where the sudden burst of courage came from. However, it was only when Yashiro loomed over him that he flinched. He immediately closed his eyes, but when he heard the soft click of the door being shut behind him, he carefully opened his eyelids to come face-to-face with his teacher whose eyes almost appeared to be basked in red.

"I wasn't expecting to leave this place with two kids," He said in a soft voice, low and threatening, yet a little amused. "What a shame," Yashiro continued as he dropped to one knee so that he could look at the boy properly. "I really like you, Satoru." He offered a crooked smile that Satoru should fear, yet he felt nothing remotely close to intimidation.

"You won't kill me. You can't."

No. Run. Run.

"You can't kill me."

Run. Don't turn back.

Satoru was shaking in his boots, yet what he did instead of fleeing the scene was to take Yashiro's gloved hands and put them on his throat. He was dancing with death, but why wasn't he terrified? If anything, a sense of comfort gradually settled in his stomach, replacing nausea and nerve. It was almost as if he had expected to see this.

Yashiro tightened his grip on the boy's neck and watched as Satoru stared into his eyes with a decreasing hint of fear. Those dark orbs of his were ablaze with absolute certainty that Yashiro wouldn't dare to leave even a scratch on him even after witnessing a potential attempt on his friend's life.

It hurt. His throat burned when Yashiro's thumb pressed deeper into his larynx, effectively blocking his air flow. Why was it that even after it escalated to the point where tears welled in the corner of his eyes, he still felt nothing but peace?

The life in Satoru's eyes threatened to engulf him and burn him whole. Yashiro felt his hands being seared, and he twitched, then loosened his grip. His breathing was unsteady as Satoru coughed. Never in his life had his heart pound this loudly before. Satoru looked so full of life that it was Yashiro who found himself almost cowering in fear.

"Spice." He whispered softly, his hand dropping limply on his sides.

"Yashiro," Satoru said after regaining his breath. His mind was full of nothing but conviction that he was sure no normal human would have in a situation such as this. However, here he was, face-to-face with a murderer who was more than capable of overpowering him and ending his life, but his heart was filled to the brim with contentment. This was it. This made him feel whole, so complete. It was an emotion that he was aware existed and aimed at Yashiro, except right now it was amplified by a hundredfold. "I won't let anyone hurt you." He whispered.

The older male blinked back his surprise at the statement that he was not expecting, not by a long shot.

Won't let anyone hurt him?

Yashiro looked back to see Kayo still unmoving on her original spot, then back at Satoru whose eyes were closed and his body went slack as a ragdoll in a matter of seconds. Before his body made contact with the wooden planks, Yashiro jabbed his arms forward to catch the boy.

"You won't let anyone hurt me, Spice?" Yashiro chuckled, half in amusement and half in wonder. "Do you know who you are protecting?"

Except that Satoru did. Satoru seemed to know what Yashiro was capable of, yet he stood firm in the face of such danger.

With a rumble of his throat, Yashiro took the boy into his chest and carried him out of the shed.

Chapter Text

So you're a time traveller.

You have lived through this reality three times.

Did I kill your mother?

And that's how you managed to catch me?

What a relief. I thought I'd slipped up somewhere.

Well, I'm going to die, so what's the point of brooding?

...

I cannot be happier that you were the one who caught me.

...

You are a hero, Spice.

But you know that don't you?

You saved everyone.

Everyone that mattered, at least.

...

...

Hey, Spice,

If you go back in time again...

.

There it was again. The voice. It was the exact same one that whispered to him every day, be it at school, home, or in his dreams. They were nothing more than lingering thoughts that spiralled on the back of his head, foreign yet not completely unfamiliar. Its speech was soft, sometimes blotched with anxiety and agitation, sometimes it screamed at him, sometimes it wept for him, but most of the time it remained stagnant, silent yet ever-present.

Satoru tried to deny its existence, but he realised that such feat was no longer possible. The voice had wedged itself into Satoru's life and merged with him when he wasn't watching.

After a few months, Satoru learned how to deal with the whispers. If anything, he took great solace in indulging it. He wasn't sure if this voice was something that occurred in all children, or perhaps he was just a particular case of nuts. Although the more sensible part of him insisted that this wasn't normal, he refused to believe it. Consulting others ran the risk of being ridiculed, so that was out of the question too. Besides, it wasn't like the whispers were anything life-hindering.

The voice was a pleasant enough company when it was under control. Most of the time, it whispered nonsensical comments regarding the people around him or even about those whose name he didn't recognise. Other times, it decided to make itself useful by telling him the answers to his homework and exams—hell, it was probably the reason why his grades suddenly skyrocketed. When his mother was present, the murmurs would shift into how Satoru should appreciate her more, to thank her when she was still around and to not take her for granted. It was peculiar, but Satoru could see some sense in it. 

Odd as it might be, it was somewhat comforting. It was as if he had a second Satoru inside of him. One that was a lot more experienced and mature, one that had been through thick and thin. Even when he was alone, he was never truly by himself. This voice was the whisper of wisdom and initiative, so Satoru always endeavoured to follow it. He opened up in class, he befriended those whom the voice told him to (Kayo, for instance), and he even took it upon himself to study a little harder. For what? The voice insisted that this would allow him to take one step closer to Yashiro. Yes, Yashiro. These odd whispers were the reason for his infatuation with Yashiro.

He couldn't live without Yashiro. Without Satoru, there wouldn't be a Yashiro, and without Yashiro, there wouldn't be a Satoru. Their existences were two of the same, tied together with an unbreakable red string that not even time nor destiny could severe. No matter how much Satoru resisted it, they would eventually gravitate towards each other. 

The first time it happened, Satoru was confounded. He could feel his stomach lurching at the sight of his homeroom teacher, and nausea soon overtook him when Yashiro gave him that warm smile of his. No. Not warm. The voice insisted that Yashiro was anything but the perfect teacher who was well-loved by everyone, one who would stop at no end to ensure his student's well-being. It continuously pressed on, telling Satoru about how he was putting a front, that he was suffering inside, and that he needed to be saved. Yashiro was cold, cunning, distant, lonely.

Save him. Protect him.

From what? What could Yashiro Gaku possibly be suffering from? Who would dare hurt him?

Satoru wasn't confident he understood what the voice was trying to tell him, but one thing he comprehended was how strangely it behaved around Yashiro. One second it would yell at him, trying to get Satoru to keep his distance, that Yashiro was capable of many great sinister things that no child should witness. The next, it would pull him forward towards Yashiro as if in a trance. It would soothe Satoru, convincing him that Yashiro required aid, that he was just a victim of life's cruel agenda, and that he was a man worthy of salvation.

But from what?

Satoru didn't understand. Satoru didn't want to understand. The more he tried to think about it, the deeper he sank in the quicksand. Who was Yashiro? Why was the voice so agitated around him? It was as if he was trapped in a maze, blindfolded and alone, only with a continuously shifting and changing echo to guide him.

Clank.

Clank.

The sound of metal brought Satoru's consciousness back to Earth where he could feel a tingle around his right ankle. When he carefully opened his eyes, he was greeted with an unfamiliar sight of white ceiling, white walls and a ceiling fan.

Satoru groaned and shifted on the mattress. It was just the right level of firmness, and the blanket soft and fluffy around him that it almost lulled him back to sleep had it not for the sudden creaking noise. He immediately perked up and saw a man entering the room.

"Good morning, Spice," Yashiro greeted with a smile. On his hand was a plate filled with two pieces of toast slathered with butter, and a perfectly golden scrambled eggs with a side of cherry tomatoes and bacon. The dish was set on the nightstand, its smell stimulated Satoru's saliva gland. "Would you like some ketchup or pepper?" 

Satoru shook his head before eagerly taking the plate and started scooping the food into his mouth. "Hot!" He panicked, mouth open in an attempt to get some cold air in.

Yashiro laughed, then he sat on the edge of the bed and watched as Satoru continued his meal despite having burned his tongue. One of his hands made its way to Satoru's head, and he started to gently stroke the boy's hair. 

At the contact, Satoru dropped the spoon and pursed his lips together. He likes you. He likes you. Good. The voice whispered, making Satoru's heart to pick up its pace and for warmth to seep into his cheeks. 

He likes you. Good. He won't kill you. You can relax. 

Satoru's eyes widened as soon as those words chimed in his head. He set the half-finished breakfast to the side, making Yashiro blink and withdrew his hand, letting it hover in mid-air.

The sound of metal. The tingle on his right foot. Satoru tore the blanket away from his body and saw the glint of steel around his ankle. It winked at him, and when Satoru moved, it laughed at him. There was no mistaking it. He was cuffed to the bed by a murderer. 

"Oh, that?" Yashiro's voice was soft, but this time Satoru understood what the whispers meant by Yashiro putting on a front, what it meant when it said he should fear Yashiro. Amidst the tender tone, Satoru could hear the low growl of a dangerous man. "It's just a safety measure."

Don't run.

Satoru glowered at Yashiro and clenched his fingers tightly on the bedsheet as the memory from last night trickled into his brain. That was right. Satoru himself brought this upon himself. Why couldn't he just get back in bed and—no. If he had done that, Kayo would've...

The boy shuddered thinking about what could have happened to his friend. Would Yashiro have killed her had he not intervene—wait. Satoru's eyes immediately shot up from his chained ankle to Yashiro who still had the audacity to smile.

"Are you worried about Kayo, Spice?" As if reading his thoughts, the teacher sighed in amusement while he rummaged through his pocket to retrieve a metallic key. "I left her there." He said shortly after, then swiftly worked to unlock the binding around Satoru's foot. The younger male quickly folded his legs and hugged his knees as if it would bolster his defence.

Don't be scared. Yashiro won't hurt you. He won't hurt anyone if you remain with him.

There was that voice again. Always whispering, always keeping him company, always favouring Yashiro above everyone else.

"But that really surprised me!" Yashiro clapped his hands once, making Satoru's shoulders jump in surprise. "I never thought that my precious student would come to save the day. How do you feel, Spice?" The older man asked, his face mere inches away from Satoru's. What disconcerted him was the fact that Yashiro didn't look concerned or guilty in the slightest. If anything, his chuckles were full of mirth, and his eyes fuelled with burning curiosity. "Do you feel like a hero saving his damsel in distress?"

"You're sick," Was the first thing that came out of his throat. It was two words that evoked laughter from Yashiro. That courage wasn't what surprised him, however. It was the fact that he wasn't at all startled by Yashiro's reaction, and that his response wasn't to flinch away from Yashiro's closeness but to stare back into his eyes. Perhaps it was adrenaline. Perhaps it was the voice that held him together, continuously trying to convince him that Yashiro wouldn't dare to lift a finger to him. Perhaps a combination of both. "What did she ever do to you?"

Save him, Satoru.

Without changing his expression, Yashiro returned Satoru's personal bubble by leaning back. "To me personally? Absolutely nothing." Yashiro shrugged but kept his eyes on the boy, keen to see what he would do next. Oh, yes. Yashiro decided that he liked Satoru. It was especially true when he looked at him with those accusing eyes of his. Satoru seemed rightfully frightened, yet he didn't look repulsed, he didn't try to reject Yashiro with every fibre of his being like what any sane person would have done already.

"Then why?" Satoru croaked, leaning forward with a frown on his face.

"You're her friend, Spice," Yashiro smiled. "Have you noticed anything—"

"Stop calling me Spice." Satoru hissed although not quite understanding the meaning behind the nickname. One thing for sure though, he didn't want to feel that level of intimacy with a murderer.

"—wrong with her, Spice?" Yashiro continued with an emphasis on the last word as if he hadn't been interrupted. When all he received was a growl, Yashiro sighed, that amused expression finally faltering to give way to a more sombre one. "You don't want to marry sensei anymore, Spice?" Feigning sorrow, he murmured.

"You—" Satoru choked at the sudden shift in topic. "No! Who would marry someone like you?"

"Aww..." Yashiro pressed his finger on his lips and curled his lips, but a split second later, he laughed and ruffled Satoru's hair in the way that Satoru was, unfortunately, familiar with. However, this time it was a little different. When Yashiro's hand stopped moving, he leaned in close, close enough that Satoru was able to feel his teacher's cherry-fused breath against his cheek.

Save him, cried the voice. You cannot live without Yashiro Gaku. Yashiro Gaku cannot live without you.

"You are such a good boy, Spice," The older male smiled as he muttered softly. "Good, good boy."

Satoru hated how his heart soared with joy at the compliment; hated how warmth rose onto his cheeks; hated how he failed to be disgusted at Yashiro. "Get... get away from me." He finally managed to say, cursing his own powerlessness. This was wrong. Satoru should feel nothing but revulsion. However, tried as he might, he couldn't blame anyone but himself and the voice in his head. If it wasn't for the whispers...

Live for him. In turn, he will live for you.

No. No.

Satoru shook his head and pushed Yashiro away from him. Hard enough that the teacher almost lost his balance and fall off the edge of the bed. "Stop it!" He cried out. "Stop!" If it wasn't for you, I'd react normally. If it wasn't for you, I'd hate him! Satoru wailed in his head. 

"Spice?" Yashiro blinked at the boy's sudden outburst that didn't feel hostile in the slightest. In fact, Yashiro had a feeling that it wasn't directed at him.

"You're a murderer..." Satoru growled, his eyes glimmered with tears and repressed emotion. "You're a murderer!"

In response, Yashiro once again laughed. Such eruption of emotion was truly amusing in his eyes. "Spice, Spice, Spice..." He hummed.

"Stop calling me that!" Satoru screamed as he felt hot moisture started to trickle down his chin. There was nothing about this situation that should make him feel anything other than hate. Yashiro attempted to take his friend's life and—

Frame someone else.

—And blame someone else for the murder. Yashiro was a smart, charismatic man. If anyone could get away with a crime, it was him.

He will continue to live. Many others will die.

Then why? Satoru sobbed. If the voice inside him knew exactly what Yashiro was capable of, why did it insist that Yashiro was a good man worthy of forgiveness? Why would it try to enforce the belief that Satoru was a little bit in love with Yashiro?

"You said something interesting last night," Yashiro smiled, keen eyes never once leaving Satoru. The man knew full well that the boy was in a turmoil. Was it because of the sudden realisation that Yashiro wasn't just a kindly teacher that he once made him out to be, or was it something else entirely? Either way, he was more than happy to take his time deciphering Satoru's fascinating multi-layered personality. Behind the facade of an innocent kid in love with his teacher was something that piqued Yashiro's interest. "That you won't let anyone hurt me."

It was such a curious thing. Even after what Satoru witnessed, Yashiro felt no excess animosity radiating from the boy. Perhaps Yashiro was mistaken. Perhaps Satoru knew precisely what he was talking about when he brought the topic of marriage to the surface. After all, wasn't that the point of a wedding? It was a symbol of the fact that both parties were willing to overlook the flaws in each other, learn how to live with them and learn to love them. Well, murder was probably a tad more severe than snoring, but such was life. No one got to choose their bad habits.

Ah, was this the fabled unconditional love? He chuckled to himself at the thought. 

"Spice..." Yashiro sighed as he dragged himself closer to Satoru so their bodies almost pressed against each other. "Do you mean it?"

"I..." The addressed male stammered. No, he wanted to say. Fuck you, he considered voicing. However, he failed to stop the whispers from turning into loud howls, twisting and deforming his common sense into a mess.

Yes, it screeched. You mean it, Satoru. You will protect him. No one else will die. Not Hinazuki, not Hiromi, not your mother, not Yashiro.

Satoru's teeth clinked against each other, both of his hands clenching his forehead that felt like it was ready to burst. No, no, no. He didn't mean it. How could he bring himself to protect a murderer? What could he do to, to begin with? He was just a kid. A powerless, helpless kid with a delusion that somehow, he and his teacher was destined to be together, and that they were tied together by a red string of fate. 

If you leave, Yashiro will kill again. The blood will be on your hands as much as it will be on his. YES, Satoru. You mean it, Satoru.

Why couldn't he stop the murder from happening by reporting this to the cops? Surely, they would have enough resources to look into it. But would they believe the words of a child? A baseless statement that might arise from their desire to play hero? 

No. This was a nightmare. He would wake up in his bed in a few minutes with his mother laughing at how much of a noise he made during his sleep. He then would go shopping for his birthday dinner, prepare sandwiches, open gifts. Then he'd go back to school to see Yashiro again, his beloved teacher who was incapable of a feat as sinister as what he was about to commit in that shed. Yashiro, the teacher whom everyone loved, the one who always had a pile of delicious lollipops in his drawer and pockets, the one who always helped him with his homework, the one who would always listen to his long rants about his mother. 

The one meant for you. The one whom you will protect. Isn't that right, Satoru? You would protect Yashiro-sensei, won't you, Satoru?

"Yes..." He muttered, teeth chattering. "Yes, I will protect Yashiro-sensei." He repeated even before he had any chance to realise what exactly came out of his lips.

It didn't seem like Satoru was lying, but at the same time, it was as if he was forced to be sincere. How utterly fascinating. What could be the catalyst behind it? What kind of thought swirled inside that tiny little head of his? How Yashiro wanted to crack it wide open. But, he shouldn't. Satoru had no spider string. "Oh, Spice," Yashiro's expression melted as he ran his fingers on Satoru's hair once more, loving the way his silky strands felt on his skin. "You have no idea how happy that makes sensei." He whispered carefully as he still had yet to have a full grasp on the situation. However, he decided that for now, his secret was safe.

Satoru went dead silent after everything kicked in. What had he gotten himself into? Why would he say that? Why would he protect a murderer? Why?

Why did the whispers stop?

Without the voice telling him that he did the right thing, all Satoru felt was a growing sense of emptiness gnawing on his chest. Suddenly, he felt so powerless. His hands were limp on his side, and he could barely breathe. Did he make a fatal error? Was this not meant to happen?

Satoru wanted to cry at his own helplessness, but he couldn't even manage that much. He stayed still even when he felt Yashiro's weight on him as the man pulled him into a hug, one hand rested comfortably on the spine of his back while the other worked on his hair.

"You are such a good boy, Spice," He sighed. "And good boys get rewarded. You know that, don't you?"

Satoru sobbed in response, the tears that dropped from his eyes pooled on Yashiro's shoulder.

There seemed to be no fight left in Satoru. Although it was something that Yashiro deemed a little disappointing, he supposed it couldn't be helped. The poor boy was most likely fighting his conscience over his decision to protect a murderer. That volatility was something that evoked concern, and Yashiro had to be wary not to lose sight of Satoru. Killing him right here would be a safer choice, but where was the fun in that? He finally found someone who could pose a fight. It would be a shame to take his life away.

What would be entertaining was to watch as Satoru crumbled. When the time came, Yashiro would help him to finish the job. From the looks of it, the boy only needed a little bit of a nudge in the right, well, the wrong direction every now and then.

 

 

"Here," Yashiro rummaged through his pocket while slowly pulling away. Taking a stick of lollipop, he unwrapped it before presenting it to Satoru. "A present, Spice." He smiled, then pressed the hard tip on the boy's mouth. Satoru offered no resistance even when Yashiro slipped the sweet between his lips and rolled it on his tongue. The sweetness of the cherry lollipop he cherished did very little to snap him back to reality.

"Cheer up. It won't be that bad," He continued at the silence. "After all, you like sensei, right?"

Satoru shifted his head to glance at Yashiro. His eyes were swollen and devoid of emotion, yet the ember of life burned strong inside those dark orbs of his.

Magnificent, Yashiro whispered to himself and almost failed to resist a grin of delight when he saw a glint above Satoru's head. How had he not noticed it before? Of course. Of course, Satoru would have a string. It was well-concealed, but this breakdown of his laid bare the truth. Ah, what a beautiful gleam it produced. It shone just as brightly as the owner's tears and Yashiro could hardly stop himself from cutting it. Not now. Not yet. Perhaps, not ever.

Oh, Spice... Yashiro thought as he bit his lower lip. You are wonderful. And you will be mine. Mine.

"Spice," He whispered in the boy's ear. All he could hear in response was fading sobs and sniffles. "Your mother must be worried sick about you. Let's get you home."

Satoru's lips trembled momentarily as he looked into Yashiro's eyes that glinted with streaks of red.

"Would you like to go home, Spice?"

The boy nodded weakly, then said, "Yes."

Chapter Text

There were a few things that Yashiro could do that no other teachers could.

It wasn't something that Satoru noticed in the beginning due to his aloof nature. As a student, he would rather play with his circle than socialise with his teacher. Not that he ever could when all the girls always seemed to throw themselves at Yashiro at every opportune moment. However, when he started to pay a little more attention, he realised that there was a reason for his popularity among the students.

Although public speaking was an absolute requirement to be a teacher, Satoru never felt more comfortable and safe with Yashiro as his homeroom teacher. There was something about him that seemed genuine like he legitimately cared for those he was responsible for in a way that no one ever did before. Yashiro was always there, ready to lend a helping hand to those who needed it. He could always be relied on to be a trustworthy audience who would never betray a student's trust if they had anything that bothered them, no matter how silly it might sound like. Yashiro was wise, charismatic and had a way with words. He was skilled in dousing tension between the kids, and always managed to find a way to find a compromise despite the gravity of the situation. He was always willing to go above and beyond to ensure his students' well-being.

In the beginning, it was nothing more than a pure admiration that surfaced due to the sudden willingness of his head to pay a little more attention beyond his group of friends. He started to enjoy Yashiro's lessons and realised how much work he put into their structure. As a result of that decision, his marks began to improve little by little. Moreover, each time, he would see how Yashiro would smile a little before he said 'Satoru' with pride as he handed out the marked exam papers. Before he realised, his heart would thump loudly in his chest whenever Yashiro gave him that look, especially that sneaky wink that he would occasionally throw.

"Which one don't you understand, Satoru?" His voice was soft, just like the sound of wind chimes tinkling in a hot summer afternoon, and Satoru immediately felt his insides burning. Yashiro seemed to be oblivious to the effect he had on the poor boy as he leaned forward to inspect the open book.

Satoru swallowed thickly when he felt Yashiro's shoulder bumping his softly before the teacher took a small step to the side. It almost disappointed Satoru, but he was grateful for it. "This one. The answer sheet says 96, but I got 85..."

"Let's see," The older male hummed with a smile and quickly scanned the page while Satoru took the opportunity to glance at his teacher.

Such a nice smile.

Satoru shook his head and pursed his lips. No. What was he thinking, exactly? Platonic that must be it. His feelings for Yashiro must have arisen from his desire for a fatherly figure in his life.

Imagine his lips on yours.

Instantaneously, Satoru made a noise and buried his head in his crossed arms, alerting Yashiro in process. The teacher placed his hand on Satoru's shoulder and warily asked, "Are you okay, Satoru?"

"I'm fine," He mumbled, voice muffled. The spot where Yashiro's fingers lingered on left a tingling sensation. "Just have a stomachache."

"Do you need to go to see the nurse?" Just like the caring teacher he was, Yashiro's speech came out a little slurred due to the sudden spike of concern. "Do you want me to take you there?"

"N-no..." The boy moaned, wanting to be left alone with his impure thoughts. "I'll be fine, sensei..." He sighed in resignation. His mind had been in funny places lately, and he didn't know what to make of it. He was confident that boys his age kept their fantasy to the opposite sex, not the same, and certainly not to their teacher.

"Satoru," Yashiro said softly. "If you're hurting, you have to go to the infirmary."

"I..." The boy murmured before nodding tentatively. "Yes, sensei."

"Come on, I'll walk you there," He helped Satoru up with a smile, completely oblivious to the redness that swelled on Satoru's cheeks. Then, as he opened the door, he turned and said. "Keep doing your work, everyone! Sensei will be back in a few minutes." When the other students simultaneously said 'yes', Yashiro nodded and left.

The hallway was silent, as expected. All Satoru could hear was his soft footsteps and Yashiro's louder one echoing throughout. If he thought that being next to Yashiro was bad enough, walking with him alone was even worse. He didn't know what to say, so all he did was fidget with his clothes. Yashiro was so close to him and so concerned with Satoru's well-being it was flattering.

"What's wrong, Satoru?" Yashiro asked when he saw the boy falling behind. "Is your tummy getting worse?"

Satoru quickly shook his head. "No. Not at all!"

"Did you eat anything wrong yesterday?" The teacher continued, a finger pressed against his lips. When the boy shook his head once more, he nodded and allowed silence to take control before deciding to shift the topic into one that he had been wanting to address. "Satoru, you've been studying hard, haven't you?" Yashiro smiled fondly at his student, thinking back to the past few exams. "Sensei is really happy."

There were quiet, incomprehensible noises being produced and Yashiro blinked, then turned around to see Satoru's red cheeks.

"A-are you okay, Satoru?! You're beet red!" Yashiro fumbled in response, and he took Satoru's small hands in his to rush him along. They reached the infirmary shortly after to see that it was vacant. Yashiro scratched his head and crossed his arms. "Well, you can lie down until the nurse comes back." He walked inside the room and slid off the curtain surrounding a bed.

Satoru trailed after Yashiro obediently like a little puppy following its master, then he jumped on the bed and watched as his teacher looked around. He left only to come back with a glass of water that he offered to Satoru. "Will you be okay here by yourself?"

No, Satoru wanted to say. He wanted Yashiro to stay by his side, but at the moment, he had a feeling that such scenario would do more harm than good, so he said nothing. Instead, Satoru took a small sip of the water Yashiro gave him.

The older man smiled before leaning down to place a hand on his student's head to pat him. Satoru all but stopped drinking as he felt the warmth that soothed him from within. Yashiro's hand was soft, and it felt so right on him that he neglected to watch his surroundings. With his heart playing a tug-of-war between nerve and relaxation, Satoru didn't notice the candy that was dangled in front of him until Yashiro called out his name.

"I feel that you deserve this after working so hard," Yashiro grinned with a cherry lollipop twirling between his fingers. Satoru blinked but ultimately took the sweet without complaint. A gift from Yashiro was something that he would gladly treasure. "But don't overexert yourself, okay? Make some time to rest too."

Satoru nodded as he felt warmth rising once more. "Yes, sensei." He gingerly replied, only for Yashiro to ruffle his hair even harder with a broad grin. His heart hammered inside his chest as he watched Yashiro leaving the infirmary. At that moment, Satoru understood what having butterflies meant. His stomach tingled with pride and satisfaction at his teacher's compliments. Yashiro was sweet that much he followed, but Satoru had never once seen him giving anyone presents before. It made his heart soar with joy at the special treatment he received.

But of course, underneath the facade of a kind, loving teacher was someone—something else entirely. A monster who lied in wait for its unsuspecting prey, its fangs bared only for those unfortunate enough to catch it in action. Satoru learned that the hard way and he wish he hadn't. People were correct when they said that ignorance is bliss.

Satoru felt the car trembling underneath him as he twiddled with his thumbs. There was something wrong with the vehicle, and it wasn't because he was sitting next to murderer either. Because even after Satoru spent a few minutes conversing with that monster of a teacher, his heart absolutely refused to hold any disgust. Of course, he felt at unease, but it was never more than a lingering afterthought that dissipated into thin air as soon as he saw Yashiro's smile. That damned thing. No monster had a right to have a smile as sweet as the one Yashiro had.

"Why, thank you." Yashiro laughed, the end of the lollipop he sucked on dangled on the corner of his lips.

I said it out loud! Satoru slapped both of his hands on his lips and cursed his own carelessness. The last thing he wanted to do was to enable his teacher's homicidal behaviour.

"Ah, that's right," With his eyes still on the road, one of Yashiro's hands moved underneath him to unlock the glove compartment. When it was wide open, the man retrieved a box wrapped with pink paper and tied neatly with a beautifully done glossy red ribbon." It's your birthday. I thought I'd give this to you."

"I don't want it." Was the only response he received, and it made him chuckle. 

"Yes, you do. Here you go," When the present was placed on Satoru's lap, it was clear that Yashiro wasn't going to take no as an answer. "You've been a good boy, after all." He smiled, then turned around to see that Satoru had his arms crossed and that his aversion was slowly crumbling to make space for intrigue.

The boy pursed his lips pensively, then shifted his eyes towards Yashiro who only grinned. "You're sick." He muttered. 

Expectedly enough, Yashiro immediately burst into laughter. That moment, Satoru wondered if anything he said would ever pose an insult to the monster next to him. Well, not that he wanted to find out. He had a feeling that it wouldn't be pretty.

"That's a funny way of expressing your gratitude, Spice." The older man chuckled, a little impressed that even after what happened, Satoru still dared to talk back to him. It didn't matter. Patience was something that Yashiro was confident he had, and for Satoru, he would endure a lot more. Any insult regarding this bad habit of his would only serve to inflate his ego, after all, especially when he looked so irresistibly cute when saying it.

It took Satoru a few minutes before he finally sighed and ran his fingers along the gift. The voice still had yet to return, and he wasn't sure what the significance of that was. He was already accustomed to it telling him what he should and shouldn't do that when it left, Satoru was at a complete loss. It was quiet, and Satoru didn't like it. It made him uneasy. Without the voice whispering nonsense, he was forced to deal with this elephant in the room in the form of his homeroom teacher, alone. Satoru wasn't sure if what he said next would result in a knife in the chest or a pat on the head, and that uncertainty forced him to be docile. He hated it more than anything.

"You don't have to open it now, Spice. Do it when you're ready." Yashiro continued with a voice that was adorned with mirth. 

Satoru shook his head and steeled his heart. He didn't want to count the seconds for the courage to arrive to help him open the gift. Sooner was better than later, and Satoru pulled on the ribbon to let it drop. He carefully unwrapped the neatly done gift paper, then he gasped. 

"Do you like it? It was something that I got a few years ago. I wanted to throw it away, but something inside me told me not to. My hunch is usually right." Said Yashiro as he tapped on the steering wheel. 

"This..." Satoru's eyes glimmered with want before he took a deep breath. No. He shouldn't let the dam break. He shouldn't feel anything remotely close to happiness with Yashiro so close to him. Not even when he just gifted Satoru a limited edition Wonder Guy action figure that was sold out a few years ago. "...Thanks." He said despite his best effort not to express his gratitude, then regretted it almost immediately. So, he covered it up by asking, "But why?" before Yashiro could say anything cheeky.

"I told you that it's a reward for good behaviour," Yashiro sighed in contentment, eyes shifting to take a look at his student for a split second. "See, Spice? I'm not a bad person. I could have easily dispatched you, but since you're my favourite student, I'm giving you the benefit of the doubt."

"And you're threatening me. How nice of you," Satoru mumbled but couldn't stop himself from clenching his fingers around the gift. "I can just report you to the cops." He continued, unsure of why exactly he said it. That might put a nail in the coffin, but he was mistaken.

Instead of stopping the car in a fit of doubt, Yashiro grinned and moved to ruffle Satoru's head, but the boy was quick to duck and avoided his teacher's hand. In response, Yashiro shrugged. "You're a smart kid, Spice. You won't do anything that you will regret," There was a short pause. "Besides, you love your sensei too much to risk making him unhappy, right?"

Yeah, because you might kill me if I try anything funny, Satoru muttered silently. Deep down, however, he understood that he was the one to blame for this predicament. If he hadn't allowed the voices to get the better of him that day, what would have happened? Would Yashiro have killed both him and Kayo? Theoretically speaking, that was a worse outcome than this, but for Satoru, he was between a rock and a hard place. Although it was true that having nothing to do with this monster was a lot more beneficial for his sanity, would he be able to live with himself when Yashiro went back to murder other innocent people again?

However, if Satoru could divert all of Yashiro's bloodlust to only him, he could stop the needless murder from happening. Perhaps his voice was wise to insist that Satoru played hero. Then again, that voice was always the more sensible man. However, protecting a murderer... wouldn't that make him an accomplice? Satoru wasn't the best liar, and he was worried that he might let something slip, and then all of this would be for naught.

Satoru was lost. He was utterly and completely overwhelmed by the situation that it made his eyes burn. He didn't know what to do, and he couldn't consult anyone now that the whispers disappeared for the first time in months. He felt like a stalled car abandoned in a highway to nowhere. Who did he always turn to whenever he had a problem? His mother at infrequent occasions, maybe Kenya. And who did he trust the most with handling his life stories? All those dramas that happened with his mother, his studies, his relationship problems or even the newest episode of Wonder Guy he entrusted only to one man who was at the very core of his current predicament. The man who was humming nonchalantly to a song playing on the radio as if he hadn't just attempted murder on an 11 years old girl and kidnapped a boy of the same age.

Before he had any chance to ponder over what was next, Satoru felt the car coming to a stop in front of his residence. Yashiro was next to him with a smile that never once left his lips. It unnerved Satoru. How was he so calm? Satoru could easily approach the cops when Yashiro wasn't watching. It was as if he was certain that Satoru would never stab him in the back.

His heart thumped in his chest. Was that the extent of trust that Yashiro had for him? Was he a good judge of character or was he a fool? Satoru cursed himself because he knew exactly what the answer to his question was. The moron here was not Yashiro. It was Satoru for helplessly falling for his teacher because a voice in his head told him that they were meant to be.

But what if Satoru and Yashiro were meant to be?

The fact that Satoru failed to feel any revulsion for Yashiro's action could easily be explained by the fact that perhaps both of them were two peas in a pod, so apathetic about lives and their worth.

No! Tightening his eyelids, Satoru violently shook his head. He refused to be put in the same boat as this monster. He was Fujinuma Satoru: a normal schoolkid who loved his classmates, not some protégé of a monster. It must be a phase. In a few days, he would get over his abnormal crush on this murderer and he would learn to reject Yashiro with every fibre of his being.

Tap, tap, tap.

"Are you done, Spice?" Yashiro smirked, glove-covered fingers curled against his cheek.

"Shut up," Satoru said as he unbuckled his seat-belt. Just like that, he suddenly felt relief washing over him. Satoru wanted to wonder why, but he didn't want to stay with Yashiro even one second longer, so he simply hopped off the car.

Yashiro followed him towards the front door and was about to knock it when it was roughly yanked open to reveal none other than his mother whose face pale as a sheet. Her fingers were visibly trembling on the knob, and it took her a while to register the man standing in front of her.

"Fujinuma-san," Bowing his body as a greeting, he extended his hand to pull Satoru towards him. The response was instant. Sachiko whispered Satoru's name, then she swiftly rounded her arms on his small body.

"Where have you been, Satoru?" She sighed in relief, and when Satoru listened closely, he could hear how her voice trembled. "I was worried sick!"

This was his chance. Satoru glanced at Yashiro who he noticed hadn't ripped his eyes away. There was wariness written in those dark orbs. All he had to do was tell his mother that he witnessed a murder attempt and was kidnapped by the perpetrator in order to keep his mouth shut. Sachiko might come across as a joker, but she would never take Satoru's words lightly. If he could articulate himself properly, she would be able to help him and contact the police. Then, he would be free from Yashiro's grasp. He would be able to live normally again without having to worry about his back needlessly.

No...

Satoru bit his lower lip, fingers clenching tightly on the fabric of his mother's clothes. Doubt clouded his mind each second that passed by, each second he spent looking into Yashiro's warm eyes and smile despite knowing that they were anything but.

Satoru. He could almost hear that soft, comforting murmur in his ears. It was a sound that was signature to Yashiro, and he found his resolve waning enough to grasp the thought that Yashiro was a man who needed help, in his head. Could he do it? Was he up to the challenge? It would be much safer to come out with it, yet...

"I—" was taken by force by Yashiro-sensei. He cuffed me and told me to keep quiet about his attempt on Hinazuki's life. "I got a little too excited about my birthday and..." Satoru choked out. No, that wasn't what he wanted to say. He should tell her the truth about what a vile man Yashiro was, and how he deserved to be in the jail right this very moment. "...and I left in the morning. I even forgot my jacket." The boy laughed nervously while scratching the back of his head.

"And you found him, Yashiro-sensei?" Sachiko turned her head only to be responded with a calm nod of a caring and responsible teacher. "Satoru!" The concerned mother quickly focused her attention to her son whose shoulders jolted. "You have to apologise to your teacher for inconveniencing him."

"Why?!" The boy cried out defensively. Like hell he'd apologise! Yashiro should be the one to do that!

"Satoru..." Sachiko trailed off, clearly not pleased by her son's lack of manners.

"Ugh..." He muttered, then turned around towards Yashiro whom he swore was laughing at him. Those eyes were full of mischief, and his lips were trembling in an attempt to keep his voice down. "I'm—" He took a deep breath. "I'm sorry for the inconvenience, sensei."

"And?" Sachiko continued when Satoru stopped. 

"...And thank you for taking me back here." Mumbled the boy begrudgingly.

"You're welcome," Yashiro answered with a wide grin, not forgetting to tap him gently on the head. "I'll see you at school. Enjoy your birthday! See you, Fujinuma-san."

"Thank you, Yashiro-sensei." As Sachiko bowed, Satoru zoomed into the house, leaving his mother wondering what got into her son.

The boy was quick to head into the bedroom and cocooned himself with his blanket. There was no reason why he should lie. He was frightened, sure, but he wasn't so horrified to the point where he would keep this shut. He should tell her, or Kenya, or the cops. He should tell someone, but he couldn't.

"Satoru?" Came a familiar voice of his mother. "Are you okay?"

Tell her, Satoru muttered. However, what came out of his mouth was yet another cover-up. "My head hurts." He said half-heartedly.

"You haven't had breakfast, have you? Ah, and you walked outside like that!" She fussed as she moved to turn the heater on. "There's rice and eggs in the fridge. I'll heat it up for you."

"No, it's fine!" The food that Yashiro cooked for him was plenty filling, and he wasn't really in the mood to eat at the moment. "I think I want to lie down for a bit. I'm tired, and the party is in six hours."

"Huh," Said the female before she sat on the futon that was sprawled next to her son's. "What's this, Satoru?" She picked the action figure next to Satoru up.

"That's—!" The boy's hand moved so quickly to snatch the item that Sachiko hardly registered it. "Ya..." He inhaled, then tried again. "Yashiro-sensei gave it to me."

"He did?" With her eyes wide open, Sachiko grinned. "Seems like you two get along well. Did you thank him?"

"Sure," Satoru muttered before pulling the blanket to cover his head. Lying like that, he felt like he didn't have the right to face his mother. What kind of a sick bastard would be protecting a murderer, after all?

"He's a kind teacher." She hummed.

Far from it, Satoru sighed. The words, as expected, did not come out. It was as if he had a filter in his throat ready to jam any negative opinion from flowing out. It's okay, the boy assured himself. After a few days, he was certain that this sick infatuation would cease, and he would finally be able to let loose what he couldn't.

.

The whole trip home, Yashiro could hardly keep himself still. It had been a prosperous effort on his side not to let any unnecessary emotions loose, but now it was as if the glass finally cracked, and the water inside it burst out in a torrent. His fingers gripped around the steering wheel with such intensity that his knuckles turned white. There was no one inside the car, yet he still attempted to keep his face straight. He managed to do so for half the trip, but after that, he could no longer keep up the farce. A wide grin spread across his face, and a low chuckle escaped from his throat, one that soon morphed into full-blown laughter.

"Spice..." He whispered fondly, followed by a longing sigh. Because how long had it been since he felt this much tremor in his heart? Never before had he want to stake claim over a person before. Spice, his Spice. What a fantastic look he had on his face in that shed. So youthful, innocent, full of life, yet twisted enough to offer protection to a murderer. There were a thousand things that he expected Satoru to say, but none of them came close to what happened.

Yashiro pinched his arm to ensure that this was no delusion of his. When nothing had changed in his car, he buried his face in his hands while chuckles still echoed inside the interior.

"Spice..." He muttered once more, a little more drawn out, a little more affectionate. Ah, what must he do to bend and break Satoru's resistance? What would he look like when he finally crumbled? Would he weep for his loss of innocence, or would he look at Yashiro with that wildfire in his eyes, ready to engulf him whole? Yashiro felt himself shuddering, and he only managed to walk out of the car after taking one deep breath that stabilised his feet.

This must be the infamous honeymoon phase of a relationship—well, soon-to-be relationship. There was no doubt in Yashiro's head that Satoru would fall into his arms. His Spice. His. His.

As soon as Yashiro closed the door behind him, he leaned on it and began sliding down until he was fully seated on the floor. Satoru who tried his best to resist Yashiro lied to his precious mother. He could see it in his eyes, the ongoing turmoil. Satoru was so close to spilling the whole story and destroy Yashiro's life, but he didn't. Yashiro was almost certain that all of his attempt to play hero, to do the right thing, was immediately crushed as soon as their eyes locked.

Yashiro knew that Satoru harboured some feelings for him, but he didn't see that it went to that extent. What was the limit of his infatuation? If Satoru dared to lie to someone he loved the most to protect Yashiro, what else would he do? Would he hurt someone?

Would he kill someone? Would he murder if it meant he could run into Yashiro's arms?

The teacher chuckled in hysteria. How incredible. He wanted to uncover everything there was to know about Fujinuma Satoru and what manner of thoughts floated inside that pretty head of his. Ah, it was unfortunate that Yashiro had to take his sweet time before anything could happen. He couldn't afford a misstep here. Satoru knew his secrets, and it would be a shame to end his life. Well, there was something pleasant in the idea of slowly taking someone's hand and pulling them into the void. 

Yashiro's hand moved from his head down to his chest, to his stomach, and lower.

"Spice..." He moaned. What was this sensation that bloomed inside of him? It was like a kaleidoscope in his black and white life, a burst of colour amidst nothingness. Yashiro thought that this feeling was only a fiction developed by the pipe dreams of a fool. The world was cruel, so unforgiving, and Yashiro was crushed underneath it. For years, he was left to rot, but now, salvation had arrived. His heart soared with joy, and his adrenalin began pumping once more.

Murder didn't thrill him. Yashiro thought of it as his job, a side-occupation. It was an act of kindness that he offered to those who were unfortunate enough to be cursed with the spider's thread. Yashiro was a hero, but it didn't bring him this level of ecstasy. Not the degree of rapture that Satoru offered.

Yashiro panted as he felt himself reaching the peak of euphoria. His fingers pumped back and forth as he whispered out, "Spice," repeatedly. There were neon colours bursting inside his closed eyelids, just like a firework. This was it. All his life, he wondered what he was missing, but now he suddenly found his answer. He wanted someone who was innocent, so gullible, a white to taint with his muddy hands; someone who could pose a fight despite their pure outlook on the world. Satoru was a blank canvas wrapped with thorn, ready to be painted black and red and Yashiro hungered to create a masterpiece.

"Yes," He chortled. "Mine. Mine." Yashiro continued, his cheeks flushed and his movement became more rapid. "I'll make you mine."

Satoru would break, Yashiro was certain of it, but this was a part of the journey. The inner demon that resided inside the boy was dying to be set loose. Whatever it was, it wasn't Satoru. Well, perhaps it was. Perhaps it was a Satoru who had lost all sense of justice, a Satoru who was left with the aftermath of a disaster.

Or...

Or perhaps it was a Satoru whose sense of justice had been sharpened to the point where it couldn't handle its own edge. Now, it was a deranged mess who thought that it was wise to reach out to a murderer. Yashiro was beyond salvation. He doubted he could ever lift himself from this relentless quicksand. Ah, what would happen? Would he destroy Satoru first, or would Satoru be able to rescue him from the darkness?

It was a race. No matter what the outcome would be, Yashiro felt like he couldn't be happier.

"Spice..."

Chapter Text

Satoru wished he could fade away that day. All week he had been looking forward to this party, an excuse to go wild with his friends inside his house. Now, those feelings had been replaced with an ache, guilt and agitation. The present that Yashiro gave him was left on the drawer of his desk as a bitter reminder of his lack of courage to stand what for what he believed was right, and Satoru was unsure if he could live with himself while carrying that burden.

Where did the whispers go? Why did it disappear at a crucial time like this, one that was created by it, to begin with?

"Ugh..." Satoru sighed, his tears dried up after long hours he spent agonising over what could've and should've been. He was grateful that his mother decided to leave him alone, instead opting to do some grocery shopping, most likely for his party. He should've gone with her. Satoru had said a few days ago that he wanted to make sandwiches with his friends, after all. If only none of this happened, he would be able to enjoy his birthday.

Slowly, he peeled the blanket away from his body. It was getting far too steamy, especially with the heater on. Getting to his feet, Satoru glanced at his desk, and his hands immediately twitched. Before he did anything stupid like opening the drawer, his other hand shot to grasp his arm.

Stupid Satoru. You're an idiot, he cursed.

Satoru threw himself on the chair before burying his head in his crossed arms. He had no energy to do anything aside from sulk all day, not even when the party was only two hours away. Kenya, Hiromi and Kazu should be at the front door any time now since they seemed to be particularly hyped for this event.

"Aah!" Satoru screamed out as he slapped his hands on his cheeks. "Come on, this is your birthday," He muttered. "Just forget about Yashiro for one second and have fun with your friends!" That was right. His birthday was once a year, whereas this whole mess would only last for a few more days or weeks at most. There was no point in crying over spilt milk because once he wiped it clean, it would be as if nothing had ever tarnished the floor. This temporary torture shouldn't override the joy he should be feeling of celebrating with his friends. Gradually, he felt his heart becoming a little more stagnant, and he finally managed to take a deep breath.

Screw you, Yashiro! Satoru monologued. Even though that monster wasn't here to watch him suffer, Satoru still felt as if every second he wasted crying over his decision was each second he spent feeding Yashiro's amusement. That sick bastard. How could he do this to him, to Kayo?

"I'm not gonna let you do whatever you want!" Just like that, Satoru leapt to his feet and found himself face-to-face with his mother who only blinked at him. "Oh... I didn't know you're back, mum." He scratched the back of his head nervously while eyes looking at the floor, the wall, the clock, anything that wasn't his mother.

"I thought you were still asleep, that's why I didn't say anything. What's with you?" Although she was frowning, she was also visibly amused.

"Nothing!" Satoru zipped past her towards the kitchen where he saw a couple of plastic bags occupying the dinner table. "Are these for tonight?"

"Yeah," She said before trailing after her son and started to unpack, Satoru soon followed suit. "Are you okay, Satoru?"

The boy nodded gingerly in response, the bitter aftertaste of lying was still tangy on his tongue. However, he knew that Sachiko wasn't buying it this time around, as after she put a head of lettuce on the strainer that was sitting on the sink, she turned around with her arms crossed. "Are you sure?" She tilted her head.

"Mmhm!" Satoru said a little too quickly, which only made his mother that much more sceptical. After a long pause that was only tarnished by the constant movement of plastic bags, Satoru sighed. "I'm fine. Really." For now, at least, he wanted to be okay. Perhaps saying it out loud would help him achieve that.

Sachiko was not convinced, but she decided to brush it off. Kids were bound to have their own harmless secrets, right? "Well, if you ever need someone to talk to..."

"Yes!" The boy quickly voiced as he took out the last item in the bag, a pack of thinly sliced deli ham that made his mouth water even before he could smell it. The sandwiches were going to be so delicious, he just knew it. "Did you get cake too, mum? A chocolate one?"

"I put it in the fridge already," She smiled, then turned around to give her son a grin. "An ice-cream one."

"No way!" Without any delay, Satoru opened the freezer and spotted a white box resting comfortably between packages of frozen food. He then reached out to open it and saw exactly what his mother claimed she purchased: a chocolate ice-cream cake with a vanilla layer in the middle, topped with cherries.

An image of Yashiro popped in Satoru's head, and he felt the heat rising from his stomach to his cheeks before he managed to shake his head in an attempt to bury the fluster. This had to stop! Yashiro was not the kind teacher that Satoru made him out to be. He was just a monster, one big fat liar who was deranged enough to lift a finger to a helpless child, and no sane person would fall for someone like that.

Only then that Satoru remembered Kayo. Was she okay? He never bothered to check on her after he arrived at the house. Yashiro did say that he left her alone, but Satoru wasn't sure if he could trust that man ever again. Moreover, what exactly happened? Even under the dim lighting of the shed, he could saw the bruises that covered her entire body. Surely, that wasn't Yashiro's doing? Even a murderer like him should have limits, right?

Satoru puffed his cheeks and slammed the fridge door shut, surprising his mother. He took one giant step towards the door after he put on his jacket.

"Where are you going, Satoru?" She blinked, apparently bewildered by her son's odd behaviour.

"I'll be back!" Was the last thing Satoru said before he shut the front door behind him. All he could think about at that moment was Kayo. Those whispers were the reason why they were friends, to begin with, and he knew for a fact that nothing that that voice told him was ever pointless. This was no exception, he was confident of it. Whether he could help her or not, remained to be seen. 

His feet brought him to house next to the shed that he visited last night, and as if on cue, a shudder ran down his spine. Although he couldn't recall exactly what happened, he remembered enough to know that those bruises on Kayo were no laughing matter. If it wasn't his business then, it was now.

"Hinazuki!" The young male knocked on the door a few times, but even after waiting, there was no answer. So, he knocked again and again, the next one louder than the previous one. As he busied his hands, he kept chanting the girl's name over and over until suddenly, the door was roughly yanked open to reveal a woman who looked less than happy with the disturbance.

"What do you want?" She scoffed at Satoru, hands on her hips. She had eyebags, and her hair was messy. It seemed that she didn't get much sleep, and Satoru would've felt bad for her if only he weren't worried sick about Kayo.

"I want to see Hinazuki!" Satoru answered before pausing. If his mother were here, she would have hit him on the back of his head for his lack of manner. "Please." He decided to add.

"She's not here!" Said Hinazuki's mother with hostility. Just when she was about to slam the door shut, Satoru pulled on the leaf.

"Wait, please!" He panicked. "I just want to know if she's okay."

There was a pregnant pause with the door unmoving between the two before Akemi stepped forward, eyes a little shaken but that didn't make her any less docile. "She's fine. Leave, brat." She jeered.

"I saw the bruises," Satoru raised his voice in the hope that Kayo would be able to hear him if she was actually in the house. "What happened to her, Hinazuki-san?"

As soon as the question was shot her way, Akemi all but yelled at Satoru. Her eyes were wide open, and her knuckles turned white from the way she held onto the door leaf. "It's none of your business!" 

"But she's hurting, and as a friend, that makes it my business too!" Satoru insisted, his voice becoming louder each rejection he received. Yes, all right, he was causing a scene, but surely Hinazuki's own mother wouldn't deny the severity of those injuries. If there were a friend who was concerned for her, surely she would make an exception? 

She won't

Satoru immediately jerked his head at the voice. It was back. The voice was back, but what did it mean by that? An option would be Akemi didn't want to worry Satoru about the condition of her daughter needlessly, but that still left an odd aftertaste on his tongue. It just didn't seem right. What other reason could she possibly have? 

She's hurting Hinazuki.

No, that wasn't possible. No mother would ever lift a finger on her own child, and if Satoru dared to accuse her of something she didn't do, that would leave a negative impression on her friend's mother, something that he absolutely should avoid doing. Everything now boiled down to: between common sense and the voice, which one did he trust more?

Common sense didn't guide him to that shed. Common sense wasn't why he found out Yashiro was a murderer and a kidnapper. Would common sense be the reason why he didn't know that Akemi was abusing Kayo? While it was true that Yashiro was capable of murder, Satoru wasn't entirely sure that he would take pride in beating the helpless. It was such an odd thing to admit, and Satoru wished he could stop his train of thought from reaching such strange place, but somehow, he couldn't imagine someone so thorough and meticulous like Yashiro to abuse his victims physically.

What the hell's up with me! Satoru promptly chastised himself for feeling even the slightest hint of relief, as if he was justifying to himself that Yashiro was anything less than a scumbag. This must be his fault. Yashiro must have done something to mess with his head when he wasn't watching, because what other explanation could there possibly be?

"Hinazuki!" Satoru yelled out, determined to quench the thought out of his head. "Come out, Hinazuki! I know you're in there!" His hand was tightly grasping at the door leaf that Akemi was trying to slam shut. "Hinazuki!" He repeated once more as he was slowly but surely becoming overpowered by an adult's strength. Satoru cursed his lack of raw power. If he didn't let go, his fingers were at a risk of being broken.

"What's going on here?" Came a soft yet stern voice from behind Satoru, followed by the sudden loss in resistance that wasn't an outcome of Akemi giving in. When the boy turned around, he saw his mother holding the door open. "Satoru?"

"Hinazuki is inside!" Said Satoru firmly, confidently. "She's..." He hesitated, eyes a little shaken. "She's hurting and I want to see her."

At the vague implication of a foul play, Sachiko continued to stare into Satoru's eyes, and the kid nodded lightly. "Hinazuki-san, my son is just worried about your daughter." She said as calmly as she could. "Surely you can allow them a few minutes to talk?"

Satoru wanted to apologise for the ruckus he caused, but not to someone like Akemi, if what he assumed turned out to be correct. The two watched as Akemi clicked her tongue and yelled at Kayo to come out. Sachiko glanced at Satoru, her eyes mellow. It seemed that how she raised her voice did not help her image in the slightest in his mother's eyes.

When Akemi pushed the door open, stood a girl whose eyes were red and lips split. He could spot bruises on her cheeks that would fade away in a couple of days. Without thinking twice, Satoru took her hand and pulled her outside, ignoring Akemi's mumbled cusses.

"Hinazuki! It's... it's my birthday today. We're having a celebration at home, uh..." Satoru inhaled as he tried his best to not focus on her wounds. "Join us."

Kayo didn't say anything, but Satoru could see a glimmer in her eyes.

.

Five hours had elapsed since he let go of Satoru, and so far, no sign of cops on his front door.

What Yashiro did, no other of his kind would. What kind of fool would allow a witness to escape, especially with no leverage? All Yashiro could bet on was Satoru's fascinating infatuation with him, and that was far too volatile of a reason. However, it seemed like his bet was worth the risk.

Yashiro had an ear-splitting grin as he prepared material for the class on Monday, hands typing away on the keyboard. However, even after his best attempt at calming himself down, he found that his heart refused to slow down. It was as if years worth of adrenalin now pumped in his veins, and Yashiro feared that he wouldn't be able to fall asleep tonight. Ah, such an unfamiliar sensation. He was insatiable, and the only way his hunger could be quenched was by watching as Satoru slowly removed pieces of himself and offered them to Yashiro.

"Patience..." The man exhaled softly as he tried to control his breathing. "He will fall into your arms soon." Yashiro narrowed his eyes, tongue darting across his lips before he resumed typing once more.

Minutes soon turned into hours, and before Yashiro realised, he was finished for the day. What a productive day it had been, he mused as he glanced at the clock which pointed at eight. He leaned back in the chair after pressing print on the computer and grinned at himself for being able to forget about his source of excitement that day. He would have plenty of time to ponder on it later.

However, when Yashiro picked up the paper that his printer produced, his soft smile soon turned into a longing one, and he felt himself suddenly being overrun by thrill. It seemed that he was unable to completely rip Satoru away from his mind as he prepared for Monday's class.

"Undefiled," He smiled at the first kanji on the paper. Yes, his beautiful Spice, not yet besmirched by the cruelty of the world. He wondered how long it would remain that way the longer he allowed Yashiro the luxury of running his filthy fingers across Satoru's pure white.

"Guilt," Was the second kanji on the list. During his birthday celebration, did he feel guilty in the slightest for deceiving his mother, his friends? If so, was that guilt forcing him to continuously think of Yashiro even if he didn't want it?

"Precipitous," Yet another character that must have arisen from his state of mind. In developing a crush on his teacher, Satoru made a fatal misstep that sent him tumbling down the hill. How far would he allow himself to fall before he used his hands to stop the descent? Or, would he be too late and ended up landing in front of Yashiro who eagerly awaited him on the bottom of the slope?

Yashiro sighed, and he felt frenzy circling in his stomach as he stroke another kanji on the sheet. He chuckled darkly as he placed the paper on the table beside his keyboard, then he moved to sit on the corner of his bed. His eyes were wide open, and a finger pressed on his lips as if that would stop himself from being carried away by absolute hysteria. After a momentary pause, Yashiro opted to lie down on his bed, a hand reaching for the ceiling. His fingers curled and his muscles tensed. In front of him, he imagined Satoru with his neck covered by his hands, and right above the boy's head was a glimmering white of spider's thread, begging to be cut.

"I'll save you, Spice..." He sighed in elation. This was an opportunity for an experiment. Yashiro always wondered if ending one's life was the only way of snipping the cursed thread, of liberating the poor kids from their suffering. Executing Satoru, however, would be a shame. Perhaps he could kill him in another manner. Because the separation of the soul from the body was not the only death there was in this world. If that worked, Yashiro would no longer be required to dispose of such treasure. How beautiful it would be.

Domesticate.

.

The party was just as lively as Satoru imagined it to be, and he had to admit that for a few minutes, he became distracted enough to finally forget about Yashiro's existence. Here he was sitting inside his house with an ice cream cake in front of him, three of his closest friends and Hinazuki who seemed like she was having a good time as well. Satoru and Kenya had been considerate enough to not question the bruises on her face, and she seemed to appreciate the thought.

"You're distracted," Kenya approached Satoru calmly, making the boy turn his head and blink. "Is something wrong?"

"No, no," He shook his head. "I was just thinking about... Hinazuki." He sighed at the half-truth he muttered.

Kenya seemed to accept the answer and he nodded. "What do you think happened to her?"

Not wanting to baselessly accuse Akemi of anything, Satoru decided to shrug. In the back of his head, he knew that those bruises were produced by foul play, most likely her mother, but he still refused to admit it without clear evidence. Then, there was also Yashiro who wasn't in the clear. While Satoru dreaded to think about it, he should take into consideration that his teacher was a murderer. It was in the realm of possibility that he was the one responsible for Kayo's injuries.

"Is this the reason behind why you suddenly want to befriend her?"

Satoru pursed his lips at the question. As usual, Kenya's mind seemed to work in a different space compared to the rest of them. He couldn't possibly say that he did it because a voice in his head told him to. Kenya was far too logical for an answer as superstitious as that. "I... guess?" He stammered.

The blond seemed unconvinced if the way he cocked one of his eyebrows was something to go by. "Satoru..."

"Yeah," Said the dark-haired boy before Kenya could finish his sentence. "I would tell you everything if I could," He turned to his friend with soft eyes that signified his sincerity. "And I will. In time." He smiled, hoping that it would somewhat soothe Kenya's kind concern. The boy really was far too sharp for his own good, and while it frightened Satoru sometimes, he felt slightly comforted by it. It made him feel like he wasn't alone in this mess of guilt and crisis, and the small victories were something that Satoru badly needed in this losing fight.

After taking a few short seconds to gauge the truthfulness of Satoru's words, Kenya nodded firmly. "Still, I can't believe that Hinazuki has the same birthday as you."

"What?" Satoru practically gasped, then he focused his eyes on Kayo who was busying herself with the cake on her plate.

"You mean you didn't know?" Kenya scrunched up his forehead in a frown.

"No! I was just worried about her, that's why I invited her here. Ah, I'd better say happy birthday to her!" Satoru said before rushing to her side, leaving Kenya utterly puzzled. He watched as his friend bashfully talked to Hinazuki, then decided that he really was hiding something, after all. When did his odd behaviour start? A little over three months ago? Satoru who mostly kept to himself and his group of friends suddenly became chummy with everyone. Kenya kept it quiet for all this time because he wanted to see just what else Satoru would do, and sure enough, he was in for a surprise. What could the catalyst for this shift in attitude be?

Kenya pressed a finger on his chin thoughtfully. Despite his secrecy, Satoru was still easy to read. Perhaps he could figure out what was bothering him if he watched his friend closely enough. He knew for a fact that the person that Satoru trusted the most with his secrets was him, Kazu and Hiromi, however, he had been turning to someone else lately: their homeroom teacher, Yashiro. If Satoru were hesitant to tell Kenya about it, perhaps Yashiro would be his best bet for understanding what was troubling his friend.

Nodding in determination, Kenya made a mental note to approach Yashiro on Monday. Ideally, Kenya didn't want to pry, but his curiosity got the better of him. Besides, he wanted to help Satoru in any way he could. He was confident that Satoru wouldn't mind that.

"Satoru!" Kazu grabbed the boy by the shoulder and pulled him back, almost making him lose his balance in the process. "Your mum said that Yashiro-sensei gave you a Wonder Guy action figure?"

"What?" The boy promptly turned his head towards his mother who only smiled at him while putting the dirty plates on the sink.

"Really?" Hiromi beamed, his hands pressed together in excitement. "Can I see it?"

"W-Why do you want to?" Satoru stammered because if he gave in, all that effort he put into not looking at the gift would be for naught.

"Boo, Satoru is a cheapskate!" Kazu laughed before zipping past Satoru into the bedroom where he suspected the item was.

"H-hey, stop!" The boy immediately paced after his friend to yank on his clothes before he could reach the desk. "There's no action figure. Get out of my bedroom!"

"Come on, Satoru. I bet Hinazuki wants to see it too!" Said the spiky-haired boy mischievously as he laughed and dragged Satoru forward with him.

"Not really," Came a soft, feminine voice from the dining area.

"See, she doesn't want to see it. Just leave it alone already!" Satoru insisted despite being overpowered by the larger boy. Hiromi and Kenya stood by the door with matching entertained expressions as they watched their friends fighting it out.

"Now, where did you put it?" Kazu grinned while surveying the room. Satoru's desk was clean of clutter, and it wasn't placed on the bookshelf.

"In the drawer, probably," Kenya chimed in with mirth in his voice, and almost immediately, Satoru yelled out his name, clearly distraught at the correct assumption. "Lucky guess." The blond chuckled.

There was a noise of wood scraping against wood, and before Satoru could help it, Kazu found exactly what he was looking for.

"Woah!" He gasped, eyes glimmering with wonder before it soon turned into envy. "Yashiro-sensei gave this to you? But it's such a rare item! What did you do, Satoru?" He asked as he ran his fingers along the smooth and detailed surface of the collectible.

It seemed that Kenya wasn't immune to this, as he soon approached his friend to take a look at the figurine, then at Satoru who had his hands covering his face. How odd, he thought to himself. Although it was true that Yashiro was fond of Satoru, Kenya never imagined that their teacher would give Satoru a present for his birthday. No other teachers he could remember ever did that for a student before.

"It's..." Satoru murmured, voice muffled. Was it a good idea to say it? It would be less problematic to deny it, but then, it hit him. If his conscience wouldn't allow him to lie, perhaps he could drop hints here and there for Kenya to catch. He had always been an observant one, and sometimes Satoru thought that he could read minds. If it was Kenya, maybe he could understand the predicament that Satoru was in without Satoru having to explain it explicitly. "...For good behaviour, he said."

"Well, I guess your mark has really improved lately. Maybe that's why!" Hiromi continued although he didn't look any less impressed than Kazu. 

Satoru's silent cry for help almost went past Kenya's head, but much to Satoru's relief, it didn't. Kenya was quiet, a signal that he was deep in thought. However, after a few seconds, the boy merely ended it with a nod and a smile.

"Oh man! That means I have to study harder. Maybe Yashiro-sensei will give me this as well!" Kazu sighed in want at the thought of owning such a rare collectible.

"Y-you don't want anything from Yashiro-sensei!" Satoru shot his hand forward to grab the object and put it back into the drawer before he slammed it close and blocked it with his body. "Now, get out!" Waving his hands, he pushed his friends away from the desk and the room.

When the door was finally closed, and Satoru heaved a sigh of relief, Kenya decided to tap the boy on the shoulder and gave him a scrutinising look that made Satoru's heart hammered in his chest. Should he feel contentment that Kenya was starting to realise that something was wrong, or should he feel guilty for breaking a promise he made Yashiro—

No, why should he feel bad for Yashiro? That man deserved what was coming for him!

"Satoru," Kenya started quietly when everyone else had returned to the table to take some more sandwiches. The call of his name prompted Satoru to turn to face Kenya with uncertainty still residing inside of him. There was a pregnant silent before Kenya withdrew his hand, put it in his pocket and shook his head. "No, nothing." He said, then walked to sit next to Kayo who was engaging in a small conversation with Hiromi.

.

Satoru had his hands clenched tightly on the straps of his backpack as he walked to school with a heavy foot. He wanted nothing more than to sleep in, partly because he was still fatigued from yesterday's party, and the other because he didn't want to see Yashiro. It was a miracle that he was able to get some sleep yesterday night, and he had his friends to thank for it. If they weren't there to distract him, god knows what kind of a mess he would look like right now.

"Good morning, Fujinuma," There was a soft voice from behind him, and when Satoru turned, Kayo was there.

"Morning, Hinazuki," Answered the male weakly despite his best attempt to feign energy. The grip on his straps, however, weakened when he realised that the bruises on her face already faded away. "Thanks for coming yesterday even though it was such a sudden invitation."

Kayo nodded in response.

"Still, I'm surprised that your birthday is the same as mine." Upon entering the school, both students worked to take off their boots. There was no other word being muttered, but after spending some time with Kayo, Satoru knew that she was not a girl of many words, so he was fine with it. "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine," Kayo said shortly as she closed her locker with a soft clack. "Um," She inhaled quietly. "Thank you."

"If you ever feel like it, you can come to visit me." Satoru smiled while they made their way towards the classroom. Although Kayo didn't answer him, Satoru understood that she heard him loud and clear.

"Morning, Satoru!" Kazu, who was seated on a table, waved at him. When he realised that his friend wasn't alone, he grinned. "Oh, he's with Hinazuki." 

"They came together!" Hiromi's eyes sparkled, cheeks turning pinkish while Kenya only smirked at the sight. Unlike Satoru whose lips started moving frantically, Kayo ignored the surprised remark and instead opted to place her bag on her table and sat on the chair.

As if on cue, the bell rang. Satoru was still standing on the entrance when he felt a goosebump from behind him. His hands unconsciously curled on the fabric of his pants, but he couldn't bring himself to move even as he watched everyone scrambling to their seats.

Not a moment too soon, he felt a familiar presence behind him, followed by a large hand that gripped him on the shoulder. It was a sensation too familiar for him that he almost felt himself being ripped inside out from the wild mix of emotions.

"Good morning," The man said, his voice sending a shiver down Satoru's spine. Satoru was fully aware that he was in the way but tried as he might, he was unable to take a step forward. When another hand was placed on his other shoulder in an attempt to ease the boy forward, Satoru instead felt his breath hitching in his throat, eyes trembling. To everyone else, the greeting must have sounded like a casual, polite one, but Satoru could almost feel the bloodlust that tainted it. It was like he was being choked, thumbs pressing into his neck with the intent to kill.

"Satoru?" Continued the teacher gently.

Just like that, Satoru's shoulders sagged as if he was finally allowed to breathe once more. He used the chance to sharply inhale before turning around to see a man he was expecting. Yashiro loomed over him with a soft smile, and god forbid, it put Satoru's mind at complete ease. It seemed that no matter how hard he tried to not let emotion get the better of him, he always failed like his brain had been wired to associate Yashiro's smile with home and that resistance was futile.

Satoru didn't want to admit it. With a glare, he walked away from Yashiro. He would sooner die than admit that he was in love with someone as vile as him.

"Seems like someone didn't get a good night's sleep." Yashiro joked, making the whole class burst out in laughter.

Without ripping his eyes away, Satoru warily stared at each step Yashiro took until he reached the front of the class and opened the attendance book. His movement was flush and efficient with no sign of hesitation. It was very Yashiro. Even as he read the names of the students alphabetically, not a single second did he ever stutter, not even when he called out Kayo's name.

"Satoru," Yashiro said, but the boy was far too deep in his head to recognise that he was being called. "Satoru?" The teacher repeated once more, an amused smile finding its way to his lips when he saw that the addressed boy was drilling sharp little holes into him with those dark eyes of his.

It was a moment far too unreal for Satoru. Yashiro was acting far too calmly that it made him think that perhaps that night was merely a delusion of his, albeit an awfully realistic one. That warm smile, that friendly gaze, the fluidity of his movement, his soothing voice; they were all that Satoru found so charming about Yashiro, and none of those changed even after he was caught red-handed endeavouring to take a life.

Was it all a dream? One big nightmare? Yes, that must be it. There was no way Yashiro was a man capable of murder. Yashiro was a caring, loving and gentle teacher who would unfailingly support his students. A little eased at the thought, Satoru's fingers twitched and moved to the opening under his desk to retrieve a notebook that he forgot to take home last time. When he reached for it, he saw the end of a lollipop stick, still neatly wrapped in plastic. It was a lychee one.

"Are you awake, Satoru?"

The boy jolted on his seat before looking up to see that Yashiro was laughing softly at him, and so was the whole class. "P-present!" He fumbled, one hand up in the air.

"No sweets during class, please." Yashiro chuckled with his finger pressed on his lips, shoulders moving up and down in rhythm with his laughter.

After realising that he lifted a hand that was holding the lollipop, he turned beet red. "Oh... yes. Sorry." He muttered bashfully as he scratched the back of his head.

Yes, Yashiro was a kind and understanding teacher, the man whom Satoru was destined to be with. There was no plausible reason as to why Satoru should believe that he was a monster who would kill a child. It must have been one big hallucination conjured by his imagination. When the class finished, he would approach Yashiro and tell him all about it. He was certain that Yashiro would laugh at the product of Satoru's daydream, and he would perhaps threaten to not give Satoru a single candy anymore. Everything would be just fine.

Then, why did his blood felt so cold in his veins?

Chapter Text

Satoru stretched his body and arms as soon as the bell that signified lunchtime rang throughout the school. With a groan, he rubbed both of his eyes and yawned, then closed his notebook that was filled to the brim with writing. Behind him, he could hear Kazu whispering out loud to Hiromi, wondering what was in the menu for lunch that day. When Satoru turned around to add to the conversation, his eyes met Hinazuki so suddenly that his shoulders jolted.

A few seconds passed, and they kept staring at each other, unblinking.

Then suddenly, a loud clap snapped him out of it, followed by a familiar voice. "Satoru!"

Hinazuki immediately looked the other way at the same time that Satoru did, her hands fidgeting on the sleeves of her red jacket while the boy placed a palm on his chest to feel the loud beating of his heart. When he looked up, he was greeted by the familiar sight of Yashiro who had a thin smile on his lips.

"Se-sensei... don't scare me like that." Heaving a loud sigh, Satoru leaned on his desk as if he could no longer support his own weight. His heart, however, showed no sign of slowing down for reasons that Satoru was unsure of. That nightmare really was something that his imagination conjured, right? That could only mean that this unease was a product of his needless worry over what wasn't the reality.

Yashiro let out a chuckle as he pulled up a piece of paper just out of Satoru's reach. "I have to talk to you about your history exam." He said, expression slipping into one that bore no amusement, and it made Satoru reflexively sat upright.

He studied very hard for the exam, and he was confident he did well. Of course, there were a few questions that he was fifty-fifty on, but most of them were a breeze that he couldn't help but puff his chest out as soon as he handed in the paper to Yashiro. Did he make a fatal error somewhere in reading the questions? No, that couldn't be. He made sure to double and triple check the paper, and he found nothing noteworthy that he could alter. 

"You..." The teacher trailed off, eyes locked into Satoru who immediately shifted his glance at the windows, then at the students who walked into the classroom with their lunch. Yashiro exhaled, making his poor student purse his lips in anxiety before he decided to gently place the paper on the desk.

Satoru didn't want to look at it or Yashiro. Did he fail? Was Yashiro disappointed in him? His closed eyes trembled at the thought of seeing the frown on his beloved teacher's face. Letting Yashiro down was one of the things that Satoru dreaded the most. He wanted to see that proud smile again as if Yashiro was the one who achieved that high mark. That was the reason why he tried so hard, to begin with.

Satoru took a deep breath, heart pounding like a jackhammer, and after a few moments, he dared to open his eyes to see A+ written in a large letter.

"You did so well!" Yashiro laughed at Satoru's dumbfounded expression before leaning in to ruffle his hair.

"You're picking on me!" The boy curled his lips, but couldn't help his heart from soaring with joy at the compliment. "I studied hard for this, you know? If I failed, I wouldn't know what else to do."

"Sorry, sorry," He grinned apologetically. "But, Satoru, you looked so genuinely upset, it was hard to resist."

Satoru, not Spice, the boy murmured quietly. Yes, last night must have been one big nightmare. At the reassurance, he decided to lift his head and grin at Yashiro. Just a teacher, not a murderer. He couldn't wait until Yashiro hear about this dream of his.

"Sensei!" Called Satoru, effectively stopping Yashiro in his track. When the teacher turned around, Satoru smiled bashfully with a tinge of pink on his cheeks. "Can I talk to you later? I want to tell you something funny." 

"Something funny?" The man's eyes glinted in what seemed to be anticipation, yet Satoru felt his blood ran cold. "Sure." He nodded gently before walking away, leaving Satoru curling his fingers into a ball.

What were that goosebumps? Why did his smile remind him of the one that Yashiro from his nightmare had? It was sweet, yet curdled with insincerity and something far more sinister than simple politeness, like he was a hunter who was eagerly waiting for his prey to fall into his trap.

Satoru mustered up enough courage to look at the door just in time for Yashiro's shoulder to disappear around the corner. At that moment, it was as if all the impenetrable discord in the air vanished along with him, and it led Satoru to wonder: it was a dream, right? Even someone as charismatic and lax as Yashiro would act a little differently after being caught red-handed, wouldn't he? Surely, this sense of foreboding arose due to the realism of the dream and it couldn't be anything beyond that.

The raven-haired boy slapped his cheeks in an attempt to compose himself. Yashiro wasn't a monster. He knew it. He wanted to believe that his teacher was just an ordinary man, not a wolf in a sheep's clothing. Satoru wanted to believe in Yashiro, because—

You cannot live without him.

—Because Satoru and Yashiro were made for each other. He couldn't allow something as childish as a dream to get in between fate.

Satoru didn't realise just how much time had passed, yet the lunch in front of him was barely touched. Heaving a sigh, he glanced at Kenya's seat just to see the boy standing up and starting to move to leave the classroom, then at Hinazuki who was quietly putting a spoonful of rice and eggs into her mouth. Satoru turned back around to stare at his history paper blankly with his fingers clenching the fabric of his pants. Yes, he must be calm for now. After school finished, he would go to Yashiro and tell him all about it.

.

Although Yashiro was expecting some sort of resistance from Satoru that day, he decided that he wouldn't complain about what he witnessed either. The spider's thread was still there attached to the boy's head as clearly as to how it was yesterday, and the look of turmoil remained in the morning, albeit not for long. It almost seemed like Satoru was deep in his denial that he opted to overlook what he saw in that shed as a mere product of his imagination. As a result, Yashiro wasn't sure if he should be amused, distressed or awed at the kid's ability to disregard such a damning piece of evidence.

Yashiro twirled the pen in his hands a few times prior to setting it down, replacing it with a spoonful of food. On his meticulously clean desk lied an open book of lesson notes that he stared at, not particularly reading it. All he could think about that moment was how to best approach Satoru now that he was offered a blank slate, and a wide smile grew on his lips. Ah, he was worried over nothing. This would be much easier than he initially anticipated. In no time, he would have Satoru wrapped around his fingers and that thought made him shudder with excitement.

Patience, he sighed. This process could not be rushed. Satoru might be a kid, but there was something about him that triggered Yashiro's vigilance. His hunch told him that if he underestimated Satoru's mental strength, it might spell the end for him. First thing first, he must strive to—

"Sensei," Came a voice that pulled Yashiro back to reality.

"Ah, Kenya," In a click of a finger, he recovered. "You finished your lunch already?"

The blond nodded with a soft 'hm' of confirmation before he spoke. "I have a question."

"A question?" Yashiro's eyes widened in intrigue. Kenya was an intelligent boy, and it was rare for him to approach Yashiro for help regarding lessons in class, let alone in the teacher's office. This must be about something else.

"It's about Satoru," Kenya said quietly and watched as Yashiro's interest was piqued. So his hypothesis that Yashiro favoured Satoru proved to be correct. Well, not that he ever doubted it, especially after knowing that Yashiro gave Satoru a present for his birthday. "Do you know something, sensei?"

"Satoru, huh?" The chair that Yashiro occupied turned as he did. With one of his elbows resting comfortably on the table, he nodded. "He really has changed these past few months, hasn't he? I remember him not having that much presence in class, but now he's so full of energy." The teacher chuckled.

"Yes, there's that," Kenya smiled fondly. It wasn't a bad change, by any means, but it was a curious one. "Has he talked to you about anything lately?"

"Hm," Yashiro pressed the side of his index finger against his chin, then a cheeky smile grew as he thought back to how Satoru asked for his hand in marriage. No, Kenya didn't have to know that. "Not that I can think of. Why?"

The blond noticed that something was amiss, but he quickly brushed it off as a harmless thought on his teacher's side. "Yashiro-sensei, why did you give Satoru a present?" He asked in response to Yashiro's question, curious if maybe that was a clue to figuring out what was bothering his friend.

"Oh, that?" The teacher chuckled, a little flattered that Satoru decided to show that gift to his friends. "It was collecting dust at my place, and I was about to throw it away. Then, I remembered that it was Satoru's birthday yesterday, so I gave it to him instead. He likes Wonder Guy, doesn't he?" He smiled even though he knew full well what the answer to that query was.

"He does, but..." Kenya trailed off. "Never mind. How did you know his birthday anyway?"

Yashiro locked eyes with Kenya momentarily and was immediately put on guard. Was this a baseless suspicion of a kid, or was it something else? Satoru wore his heart on his sleeve, so it would be in the realm of possibility that he let out a hint despite not being able to talk about it out loud. Moreover, Kenya, he was a sharp boy. Of course, he grasped the fact that something was troubling his friend. The teacher did not once let his smile weaken as he quickly calculated the many options in his head. It was perhaps pedantic of him, but Yashiro felt like he had to tread with some care.

"Kenya!" He laughed, taking the boy off-guard. "I'm your teacher. I know everyone's birthday. Yours is the 7th of December, right?"

The blond widened his eyes in surprise at the spot-on guess; then he put his hands in his pockets. "Well, that answered why the present," Kenya thought to himself. So it wasn't a gift out of sentimentality, but out of convenience and the desire to not waste anything. He deemed it an acceptable reason and decided to move on.

"Are you worried about Satoru, Kenya?"

"Um, yes," He said shortly.

"Don't you think that..." Yashiro gave the boy a sweet smile. "Maybe he has a crush on Kayo?"

"Hinazuki?" Kenya narrowed his eyes and nodded to himself a split second later. True, he didn't consider that. That would explain the nerve that surrounded Satoru yesterday night, but was that really all to it?

"Sensei pays attention to everything that happens in class, you know? And I know for a fact that they have been stealing glances at each other." The man sighed as he shook his head. "Kids sure grow up fast, huh?"

"Uh, yeah," The blond shifted his eyes. "Thanks, sensei. Can you please let me know if Satoru says anything to you?"

Yashiro glanced at Kenya with feigned affection and gently said, "Taking care of your friend? You're a good kid, Kenya. Count on me. You'll be the first person to know if I find anything out."

"Mm," Regarded Kenya quickly prior to exiting the staff room, leaving Yashiro to gaze at his back.

How curious, Yashiro mused. Kenya would make a decent detective when he gets older, Yashiro could feel it, but for now, he wasn't much of a threat—simply someone to glance at every now and then. Well, no matter. Once he managed to rope Satoru closer towards him, the kid would surely be able to keep Kenya in check. 

When he returned to the class after lunch, his mind had been sharpened, and all thoughts of Satoru was put in a backburner although not in entirety. That would be impossible. After all, it had been so long since anything or anyone ever fascinated him, and he felt like it was his right to relish in every second of this foreign sensation until it was nothing more than a lingering afterthought, stale and forgotten. Whether or not he would tire of Satoru remained to be seen, but something inside of him told him that it wouldn't happen any time soon, if not ever.

As Yashiro read the content of the textbook out loud, he roamed around the classroom with one hand on his back. It looked like Kenya's concern was justified, as the whole time, Satoru's shoulders seemed rigid. What was he thinking about, Yashiro wondered. Most likely about last night, but he really couldn't blame the boy. Satoru appeared to idolise him, thinking that he was a do-gooder when in fact he was far from it.

Yashiro silently sighed with joy. Every second Satoru spent doubting Yashiro's true identity was Yashiro's chance to inch his dirtied and bloody hands closer towards his prey. When would he finally be able to wrap his fingers around Satoru's throat? What kind of noise would he make as he suffocated to death, as he watched as life slowly slipping out of him and fell while knowing that there was no longer any redemption? By then, it would be far too late for regret, and the only choice he would have was to remain by Yashiro's side. Forever.

The last bell of the day rang, and Yashiro was thankful for the distraction. What was he thinking, scheming in the middle of the class like that? He should learn the contain his adrenalin instead of letting it run amok like that. Ah, well, it was hardly his fault that he mustered so much excitement from finding someone so indescribably fascinating. 

"And that's all for today." Said Yashiro as he clenched his fingers and shut the book in his hand. 

"Stand up!" The class representative said. "Bow!"

After watching the students complying, Yashiro continued. "All right, remember to do page 43 for homework. I'll be checking tomorrow!" The teacher said out loud as the students busied themselves with packing up their supplies.

"Satoru, Satoru!" Kazu called out while the other kids started to leave the classroom. The spiky-haired boy glanced out the window before approaching his friend with a grin. "Let's go to the base today." 

Satoru took a second to consider the proposal, but then he shook his head apologetically. "I'll see you guys there. I have something to do." He retorted as he stole a discreet glance at Yashiro who just finished tidying up his books and started to make his way towards the door while talking to some girls. Yes, he had a lot to tell Yashiro.

"Okaaay," The other boy muttered, then strolled away to join Hiromi and Kenya.

Satoru felt Kenya's sharp eyes on him as if he was eyeing Satoru down from the tip of his hair to the bottom of his foot. Not wanting to stay there a second longer, Satoru rushed outside in a half-run. He'd have time to explain to his friend what was troubling him later. The priority, for now, was to tell Yashiro what happened so he could finally be at ease once more. He needed the confirmation that everything was just a nightmare, and only Yashiro can give him that. 

"Sensei!" The boy called out with a slightly uneven breath.

"Oh, Satoru," He threw Satoru a signature smile as a response, and the three girls with him turned around to look at their classmate. "No running in the hallway."

"Ah, sorry," Satoru replied as he took a deep breath. It wasn't that he ran out of stamina, but it was the nerve that weighed down on him as if he was running a marathon with 10 kilograms of weight around his ankles. "Can I—"

A loud rumbling noise. 

It took Satoru a while to realise what caused it, and that was only thanks to Yashiro who burst out in laughter that he recognised that the source of the noise was his stomach. With his face turning red, Satoru stammered, "I... I didn't have lunch, okay?!"

"Sure, sure," Yashiro chuckled before eyeing the others and said, "Okay, girls. Time to go home." They simultaneously replied with 'yes', then said their goodbyes prior to leaving. The teacher watched the kids walking away before turning his attention back to Satoru. "Wait for me in the carpark." 

"Eh?" The boy blinked at the odd request. 

Yashiro smiled at his student's apparent confusion, then threw a wink. "Let's eat out. My treat."

Satoru's heart skipped a beat at the innocent gesture that even when Yashiro made his way towards the staff room, the boy could not rip his eyes away from the direction where his teacher disappeared to. It was only when he felt kids pushing him out of the way that he realised he was standing in the way. Red-faced, Satoru scuttled towards the carpark and looked for Yashiro's car.

"Going home already, Yashiro-sensei?" Asked one of the teachers in the room upon seeing Yashiro packing up his bag.

"An early one today," He nodded calmly before proceeding to lie. "I have something to do at home."

"After that much overtime? You deserve it," She added with a giggle. "Have a good rest."

Yashiro excused himself, but not without glancing out of the windows where he noticed Satoru standing by his car, a hand combing through his hair like he was preparing himself for a date. With quiet laughter, he closed the door behind him and headed straight for the carpark. He couldn't keep his date waiting, after all. That would be impolite. 

When Yashiro arrived, Satoru was still busy straightening his clothes and jacket, his lips moving as if rehearsing what to say, and his cheeks pinkish.

"Sa-to-ru!" The man placed his hands softly on the boy's shoulder, effectively resulting in a jump and a gasp. "Did I keep you waiting?" 

"N-no. Not at all." He stammered with both of his fists curled on his side. Honestly, no human being could ever look as nervous as he did, and that evoked a small chuckle from Yashiro who immediately worked to unlock the car. To receive a blessing such as this, he must have done something right. 

Satoru wanted to get in the car, he really did. However, it was almost as if there was an invisible wall that stopped him from doing just that. His feet refused to move, they were rooted to the ground, and when he leaned forward to find the necessary strength, a cold sweat dripped from his forehead down to his chin. Just seeing the interior of the car made Satoru limp. This sense of foreboding was no laughing matter, and it was only elevated as soon as he heard the sound of the seatbelt being pulled. When it clicked in place, Satoru's shoulders jolted.

This was no standard response. It was as if his fight or flight response was triggered by... by something. Was it because the nightmare was still fresh in his mind? Or... 

...Could it be because it wasn't a nightmare?

"Satoru?" Came a melodic voice that snapped Satoru from his thoughts, and almost erasing the dense discord in the air. "Are you coming?" He continued softly, and Satoru found his heartbeat slowing down.

Satoru, not Spice. Satoru, not Spice. 

"Are you okay, Satoru?" Yashiro asked once more with a worried tone, and Satoru was lulled. Just like a sailor following a siren, everything seemed to stop all around him; his head was full of nothing but that comforting, soothing voice that reeled him in. Satoru's legs moved a split second later, eyes focused on the man who was destined to be his, and he couldn't say no to the reward dangled in front of him.

"I'm fine," He finally said with a forced smile.

Yashiro merely blinked when Satoru's hands shivered just when his seat belt was about to snap into place. It was only after a few seconds had elapsed did he lean forward and spoke. "Let me help you," His hand moved towards Satoru's.

The poor boy felt like he was about to collapse when Yashiro's hand brushed his, and all semblance of fear vanished just like that.

"There," Said Yashiro with a smile that he dedicated to the boy in his car, currently trying his best to not look his teacher's way.

"Thank you," He responded after a few seconds of silence that stretched while Yashiro turned on the engine.

"So," Before he drove, Yashiro moved to unlock the glove compartment on Satoru's side to snag a lollipop, then gestured at his student to pick one. "Why didn't you have lunch?"

Far too distracted at the smell of Yashiro's cologne, it took Satoru a good few seconds to realise that there was a question waiting to be answered. "I had a lot in my head... I guess." He muttered as he ripped open the plastic wrapper and popped the sweet into his mouth.

"You did seem uncharacteristically distracted in class. What's on your mind, Satoru?" Yashiro asked, not missing the studious glance that the addressed male shot his way as if gauging whether or not it was a good idea to tell Yashiro what was troubling him. Not that Yashiro needed to hear it.

After heaving a long sigh, Satoru glanced at his lap. "I had a dream." He muttered.

"A dream?" Yashiro raised his eyebrows in intrigue despite already knowing what was about to come after that statement.

The boy nodded with a quiet hum before lifting his head to look at the scenery, then everything struck him at once. Yashiro's gift for him. It was real, right? If it was, then that nightmare wasn't a fantasy. Satoru bit his lower lip in realisation. How was he too stupid to not realise it sooner? Now, it was far too late. This murderer of a teacher was driving him to god knows where and there was nothing Satoru could do about it.

"Yashiro, you—"

"Tsk tsk!" Yashiro puffed his cheeks with a frown that only looked comical with a lollipop stick dangling from the corner of his lips. "That's Yashiro-sensei, Satoru. We might be out of school, but that doesn't mean you can drop the honorific."

"Ya-Yashiro-sensei!" He raised his voice, unsure as to why he complied with the distracting request.

"Yes?" The man hummed melodiously, expression far too bright that it made Satoru hesitate momentarily.

Was it a dream, or was it not a dream? Yashiro seemed far too relaxed for it to be one, but what did he witness the last time he was sitting in this car? Satoru spat insult after insult, yet Yashiro showed no sign of bending. If anything, he became amused at Satoru's resistance. It was within the realm of possibility that Yashiro was taking Satoru as a fool, playing oblivious when in reality, he knew exactly what the topic was shifting into.

Not long after Satoru's eyes burned ablaze with a conviction that that was a reality, he unclenched his fists and let his hands rest limply on his lap. What if it was a dream, though? It would be unfair of him to accuse Yashiro of being such a sick lunatic when he was just an average, innocent teacher who wished nothing but the best for his students. He couldn't imagine how upset the baseless blame would make Yashiro, and Satoru didn't want to see anything except pride and love directed at him.

"What... what happened yesterday?" He decided to ask meekly.

"Yesterday?" Yashiro checked the side mirror before taking a right turn. "I found you laying on the snow and took you home. Geez, I was so worried, Satoru!"

"...You did?" The boy frowned as he tried to recall anything aside from the murderous intent that wrapped Yashiro tightly in its embrace.

"Yes, I think you hit your head on something because you were so out of it and kept calling me a murderer!" Claimed Yashiro defensively with a pout. "I was so upset that you have such a low opinion on me. Just because it's my job to give out homework doesn't mean I'm a villain."

"Oh, uhm, sorry?" He stuttered, now utterly bewildered at the contrasting story.

"You made your mother so worried too," The older man continued.

No, Satoru mumbled quietly. How could he remember the event so differently? Was Yashiro lying to him? The student glanced at his teacher who looked genuinely upset as he was telling the story. If Yashiro was not telling the truth, he was doing a terrifyingly superb job at it, because Satoru couldn't tell. However, that night was so realistic that he could almost feel the cold steel around his ankle and Yashiro's breath on his neck. No, it had to be true. Otherwise, how else would he explain this sense of apprehension that occupied him all day?

Satoru's extended silence was understandable. Trying to implant a false memory so drastically different like this was a risky gamble, and if Yashiro failed to execute it perfectly, Satoru would lash out at him and turned the advantage that Yashiro had over him into the contrast. Under normal circumstances, Yashiro would never even think of pulling off a scheme as bold as this, but Satoru was already second-guessing himself due to his affection for Yashiro that he decided to take the plunge. Would he hit rock bottom, or would he survive the fall?

"Did you enjoy your birthday?" Yashiro interrupted Satoru's thoughts before he could get any further. He couldn't afford to drop his guard now. He had to occupy Satoru's head to prevent him from overthinking and making his deceit fall apart.

The plan proved to be effective as Satoru nodded although still seemed to be a little disoriented. "It... it was good. I got Hinazuki to join in as well."

"Right! It was her birthday as well. I feel bad for only giving you a present, but again, you're my favourite student," Yashiro understood what would entail his statement: a stammering, red-faced Satoru, and lo and behold, he was right. Pressing his index finger against his lips, he turned towards Satoru and gave the boy a cheeky wink, followed by a pat on the kid's head. "Oops, don't tell anyone I said that!"

Satoru puffed out his chest in pride at the compliment, and he felt the hard candy cracked in his mouth as he bit into it with too much strength. "Am I really?" He blinked in surprise. In an instant, all of the weight that he carried on his shoulder faded away, and they were replaced with warmth. Yashiro just complimented him—

He likes you, Satoru.

—Yashiro liked him.

"Don't make me repeat it, Satoru. It's embarrassing!" Yashiro sulked, but a split second later, he glanced at Satoru with mirth in his face. "Unless you say that I'm your favourite teacher."

"Do you even have to ask, sensei?" Satoru shifted on his seat so suddenly that Yashiro almost felt the car shook. It must have been the spur of the moment, because he was elated at the heartfelt praise that with his small hands, he clenched his pants and claimed, "You're my favourite teacher ever, Yashiro-sensei!" 

"Satoru, geez, don't blurt it out!" Yashiro could not lie to himself that he felt a certain degree of satisfaction upon hearing such words coming out fo Satoru's mouth.

"You asked for it, though..." Lively laughter rang inside the car as Satoru sank back in the seat for the first time since he stepped foot inside the car.

"So, tell me more about this dream of yours." Said Yashiro after a short pause.

This time, there was no moment of silence as Satoru considered what to say. He continued laughing as he popped the cherry lollipop out of his mouth to speak. "You were scary, sensei. You tried to kill Kayo, you even kidnapped me."

A dream. It was only a dream. A nightmare conjured by his distrust of fate, a belief deep within him that tried to pull him away from Yashiro.

"I kidnapped you?" Yashiro widened his eyes in order to feign surprise, followed by chuckles. "Not that I wouldn't do that to you."

"Don't joke around." Satoru rolled his eyes as he inserted the candy into his mouth.

"I'm not! I mean, you're so cute, Satoru. It's hard to resist spiriting you away," Ignoring the boy who started to cough wildly next to him, Yashiro continued. "Do you think that murder is bad, Satoru?"

Hearing the strange query, the boy frowned. "Of course! Life is too precious to be taken away like that."

"Then, let me rephrase it," Yashiro smiled, his tone calm and composed. This was a tightrope he was walking on, he couldn't afford to slip even a little. If he did, it was game over. "Do you think there's such thing as a justified motive to kill?"

A justified motive to kill, Satoru thought. Was there any? He hummed contemplatively at the question, thinking about a real-life situation that would make him upset enough to want to wish death upon someone.

"There's no right or wrong answer," Continued the teacher as he took one good look at the string above Satoru's head. It twinkled under the dim winter light, and Yashiro had to use all of his strength to rip his eyes away from it. "Say you found a puppy lying on the road. It's blind and deaf, it can't walk and it has a hard time eating. What would you do, Satoru?"

Satoru's mind wandered to Wonder Guy, a symbol of justice. What would he do at that scenario, he wondered. Imagination was one thing that Satoru excelled at—hence the nightmare—and with the image of the poor, sickly puppy so clear in his head, he shuddered. If all it could do was lie on the floor as it attempted to survive in its condition, was it fair to keep it alive?

"What I'm saying is, sometimes life is a fate worse than death, and..."

Satoru froze at the bitter tone that slipped out of Yashiro's mouth. It was something that he never once heard from him, even when he was getting frustrated at the troublemakers in class. He tentatively glanced his teacher's way to see that his eyes had lost their colour, and it led Satoru to wonder if the topic of helplessness was one that hit close to home.

"Ah, what am I talking about?" Yashiro brushed it off as he unclasped his seat belt. "We're here, Satoru. Let's get something to eat, shall we?" With a smile, he unlocked the door and stepped out, not forgetting to pocket the car keys.

A justified motive to kill, huh? Of course not. Life was a precious, irreplaceable gem, and no one had the right to take the right of living away from others.

As Satoru trailed after Yashiro into a ramen store, the question that Yashiro posed started to gnaw on him.

Was there such thing as a justified motive to kill?

Chapter Text

Yashiro was driving through the thick snow that night with the digital clock on his dashboard displaying 2:21 AM in its light green colour. His wiper blades moved back and forth to wipe the snow off the windscreen to maintain a clear view at all time. It was such terrible weather, and Yashiro wished that he hadn't forgotten to purchase his weekly groceries. His fridge was empty, and it was only thanks to his carelessness. He really should have taken a small break from preparing for Monday's lesson material.

Squinting with his high beam on, Yashiro wondered just how much further the 24-hours convenience store was. It should only be another ten more minutes drive, he decided. It seemed like he would need to put more than a post-it note on his fridge. Next time, he'd set a weekly alarm, so this wouldn't happen again. Good thing it was Sunday, so he didn't have to worry about lack of sleep.

Milk, eggs, bacon, white bread, a whole chicken...

Yashiro's eyelids fluttered when he saw an unconscious body in front of a housing complex. Reflexively, his foot stepped on the brake to ease the car to a stop before jumping out to check on the lithe figure of a boy. He was only clad in a long-sleeve T-shirt that could hardly shield him from the snow that had started to pile on him.

As soon as Yashiro picked the boy up and put him in the car, he recognised him as his student, Fujinuma Satoru. His lips were shivering, and he could see that his skin had started to turn into a sickly shade of blue. He must have stayed there for at least ten minutes.

Yashiro quickly turned his heater up in the hope that it would warm Satoru up and bring colour back into his body. As he drove to the convenience store, he continuously glanced at the rear-view mirror that he had adjusted so that Satoru could be seen. His chest was covered with Yashiro's coat, and it was steadily rising and falling which instilled relief in Yashiro's mind.

He wasn't sure where Satoru lived, so he decided to make the trip to the convenience store. After making his purchase, he jogged back towards the car to put the plastic bags in the front seat, then walked around to check on Satoru. Yashiro sighed in comfort when he felt that warmth had returned on the boy's cheek. With a smile, he drove back towards his place where he decided he would let Satoru sleep for the night as he tried to find out where he lived.

Yashiro sat in front of his computer while chewing a chocolate chip muffin, only accompanied with the clicking of his mouse and the ticking of the wall clock. After accessing the school's database system, he jotted down Satoru's address, then finished the rest of his food before brushing his teeth and walking into his bedroom to ensure that Satoru was warm and comfortable. Satisfied with how Satoru shifted on the bed with a soft groan, Yashiro turned on the heater in the lounge room, then slept on the couch.

In the morning, he took it upon himself to cook an English style breakfast after confirming that Satoru was still fast asleep. When the sunny-side-up egg was finished, he placed it gently onto the plate before garnishing it with a sprinkle of salt, then made his way into the bedroom just in time to see Satoru sitting up. He looked disoriented, and his eyes nervously shifted from side to side in an attempt to gauge where he was.

"Satoru, I made you breakfast." Started Yashiro gently, hoping that a familiar face would bring comfort to the boy. 

Satoru all but flinched at the sight of Yashiro. He dragged his body into the bed and with his fingers clenching tightly on the duvet, he pulled it to cover his neck. With trembling lips, he yelled out, "S-Stay away from me!" 

"W-What's wrong, Satoru?" Answered Yashiro, stammering in bewilderment. He set the plate of food on the nightstand, then lifted both of his hands as a signal that he meant no harm. 

"Murderer..." Satoru continued, disgust clear in his tone. "Don't come any closer!"

"Huh? O-okay," Yashiro quickly sat back in his chair as to not alarm Satoru even more than he already had. "What are you talking about, Satoru? Who's a murderer?" 

"You!" The boy hissed while pulling his blankets closer. His teeth started to chatter the longer Yashiro looked at him with confusion, so the older man quietly closed his eyes and crossed his arms.

"I don't understand," He sighed after a few moments of silence. "I was just trying to help."

However, no answer was given as Satoru looked away, shoulders shivering despite the warm temperature that enveloped them. Yashiro tilted his head to the side to observe Satoru's expression, but the boy refused to spare his teacher as much as a glance.

"Satoru?" Yashiro reached his hand out carefully, which was responded with Satoru who only withdrew further away. "Did I do something wrong?"

"Leave me alone!" He lashed out.

"Okay," Yashiro abruptly retorted before sitting up straight once more. It seemed that he wouldn't get through to the boy at this point, so he decided to resign despite wanting to find out what exactly triggered such a hostile response. "I'll take you home. Come on."

There was no complaint from Satoru's side, save for the frustrated growls that remained even when he jumped into the car with Yashiro. The whole trip back was silent, and when Yashiro glanced at the boy, he noticed that he was already fast asleep. With a soft sigh and a puzzled expression, he scratched the back of his head and proceeded to reach for the storage box on the door to retrieve an object that he'd planned on giving Satoru.

He placed it on Satoru's lap and watched as it stirred the boy awake just as they reached his house.

.

One good look at Satoru and Yashiro knew that he had the boy believing his lies. It seemed that his attempt to tread with care had paid off, and for now, he managed to clear his name in his prey's head. Such an excellent start deserved a celebration that involved more than a bowl of ramen and a serving of gyoza that Satoru eagerly gobbled up. Well, he had time to think about it.

"You really are hungry," Yashiro blinked in fascination at Satoru's ability to quickly finish his food while Yashiro's remained untouched. "Do you want another bowl?"

"I'm a growing boy, sensei. Don't mock me." Replied Satoru, a little muffled due to his full mouth.

Drawing his body back to exaggerate surprise, Yashiro gasped. "Mock you? I would never!" When he heard Satoru's laughter, Yashiro grinned and pushed his plate of gyoza towards the boy. "You can have this."

Seeing the sight, the chef who was busy preparing more bowls of ramen chuckled. "Your son seems like he can stomach a lot of food. I like him! Do you want seconds, boy?"

Yashiro smiled fondly and rested his chin on his curled fingers, and his other hand made its way to Satoru's head. "I wish he was my son."

"Son?" Satoru curled his broth-covered lips, a piece of gyoza clamped by chopsticks suspended in mid-air just in front of his mouth. "I told you I want to marry you when I get older, sensei!"

"Sa-Satoru!" Yashiro stammered in response, especially when he realised that half the shop was staring at them. "What are you saying?" He all but gripped his student's shoulders tightly and turned him around, so their eyes met.

Yashiro's cheeks might be tinged with pink, but it seemed that he was no match for Satoru who looked to say everything in a spur of the moment, as redness quickly spread on the boy's cheeks as soon as it clicked in that he was talking a little too loudly. "I-I mean, I'm your favourite student right?"

"Yes, you are, but that doesn't mean—" A sigh. "People might get the wrong idea." As he finished saying that, he heard the chef's laughter beside him, followed by the giggles of the customers.

"Looks like you're popular with the students, sensei!" He threw the two a wide grin that Yashiro could only laugh nervously at. How embarrassing it was for someone like Yashiro to be outdone by a single love confession by his student. He wasn't as strong as a man as he had initially imagined, it seemed. It was worsened by the fact that his hunch said that he would never get accustomed to Satoru obliviously blurting out his affection.

"Satoru, you can't do that again, okay?" Yashiro crossed his arms with an expression as stern as it could possibly get, which was not at all. The boy laughed in response, then started coughing as he choked on his food. In a fit of panic, Yashiro leaned forward and ran his hand along the boy's spine, up and down. "Are you okay?"

After taking a large mouthful of water, Satoru managed to calm down and gave Yashiro a small smile, still warmth in his cheeks. "I'm fine; I'm fine."

"Don't make sensei worry so much like that..." He exhaled softly before finally digging into his food which had already started to cool down.

Instead of saying anything, Satoru used his chopstick to put another piece of the pan-fried dumpling into his mouth. He wasn't in any better condition in comparison to Yashiro, after all, regarding composure. Satoru cursed silently, wondering why exactly he ran his mouth like that in public. It was one thing to admit that he had feelings for his teacher, but it was a whole another thing to announce it to everyone. He hoped that there was no one he recognised in that shop, or he was in for some teasing in class.

Well, not that he would mind that too much, Satoru decided as he grabbed the bowl and pressed the corner to his lips so he could drink the broth. Maybe if everyone knew, those girls in his class would no longer approach Yashiro. Good riddance, Satoru thought before placing the bowl back on the counter and turned his head to look at Yashiro who was halfway through his noodles.

Feeling watched, Yashiro blinked and shifted his eyes towards Satoru who had his cheeks puffed up and eyes burning with a determination that made Yashiro chuckle. "What is it, Spi—" He cleared his throat. "Satoru?"

"Hm?" The boy seemed to snap back into reality at the mention of his name, and he immediately turned away. "Nothing! Are you done yet, sensei? I want to do my homework." He quickly covered up his embarrassment with a half-lie. Yes, he wanted to start on his homework, but at the same time, he wanted to spend more time with Yashiro. Decisions, decisions.

The teacher glanced around him. When he noticed that no one was paying them any mind, he placed one of his feet firmly on the wooden floor and lifted the stool underneath him just enough for him to close half of the distance that spanned between him and Satoru. Then, leaning forward so that his lips were only centimetres away from Satoru's ear, he whispered, "Are you embarrassed, Satoru?"

It was rewarded nicely with a flinch of Satoru's shoulders that almost hit Yashiro square in the jaw had he not withdrawn in time. Just as Satoru calmed down, he was once again hit with another wave of warmth.

"I'm just kidding," Yashiro grinned before getting up and putting on his suit jacket. "Let's go before it starts to snow, Satoru."

"Sensei," The boy started as he thumbed the glass of green tea in front of him. He didn't want to go home just yet. This was the first time Yashiro had ever asked to meet out of school, and it would be a shame to let it end so quickly. It was almost as if they were on a date. A date? Was this a date? Two people going out to a restaurant, having a conversation and teasing each other. He shyly eyed Yashiro who was fixing his tie before running a hand through his hair to brush his bangs out of his eyes. "I want dessert."

"Dessert, huh?" Yashiro smiled pensively. "Sticky date pudding would be nice." He glanced at Satoru while adjusting his collar. "I'll tell you what. I'm going to make that tonight. If you're a good boy and finish your homework by tomorrow, I'll give it to you."

Satoru's eyes all but glimmered at the reward dangled in front of him; then he eagerly nodded in agreement.

Yashiro grinned playfully before walking past Satoru where it quickly shifted into a smirk, and eyes expressing nothing but malice directed at the young boy who innocently trailed after him with a little skip in his steps. This was going far too smoothly that it pleasantly surprised Yashiro who expected a hiccup or two. Perhaps this was the extent of Satoru's crush on him. What exactly was the trigger for this affection? It almost seemed like it was within grasp, yet it kept eluding Yashiro.

As he closed the door to his car, he sighed. Honestly, he felt a little sorry for taking advantage of Satoru's heart like this, but he hoped that Satoru would understand him. He, of all people, should be able to. This was the closest Yashiro had ever felt someone's presence at an intimate level, and he would do anything in his power to not let it go to waste. Yashiro wasn't sure if this could be considered love. What would an average person dub his attempt to distort Satoru's young mind, effectively ripping him away from his bright future just so he could stay by a murderer's side? Brainwashing? No, that wasn't right. Hypnotism? Not quite.

Ah, yes. Indoctrination. That was the word Yashiro was looking for.

"Sensei?" Satoru broke through the silence as his teacher started the engine.

"What is it?" He smiled softly, affection spilling out of his words. His beautiful, beautiful Spice. How Yashiro longed to reach out and pull him into an embrace. His hands trembled in anticipation, but he ultimately brushed off the thought. Patience was something he needed more of. If he didn't learn to hold back, his plan to water the seed of contamination inside Satoru's head would not work.

"You..." Satoru started hesitantly when the car moved. "In my dream, you..." Once again, he stopped.

"Take your time." Said Yashiro soothingly.

Satoru sighed before thinking if this was a good idea or not. That word left a tingle in his tongue, and for some reason, he couldn't bring himself to ask Yashiro. Spice. What was the significance of that word, he wondered. No, it was a dream. It must have been something that bore no weight.

Glancing at Yashiro, he pursed his lips and gauged his options. If he didn't ask, it would keep gnawing on him which would most likely result in a lack of sleep. That nightmare still managed to make his skin crawl due to its realism, and he felt like this was the last thing he needed to confirm before he felt a sense of closure.

"Spice," He whispered, hating how it vibrated on his tongue. "What does it mean, sensei?"

Yashiro clenched the steering wheel firmly as he thought of an acceptable way to explain the significance of the name. "Where did you hear that, Satoru?" He asked back a little flatly.

"You wouldn't stop calling me that in my dream." Satoru shuddered at the memory, how Yashiro's eyes were fuelled with bottomless excitement as he recalled that moment. 

"I see," Yashiro exhaled softly, pinching the bridge of his nose as he did so. "I must have called you that when you were unconscious."

The smile on Yashiro's lips did not shine with the usual tenderness. In its place was something that looked an awful lot like sorrow and regrets that it made Satoru wonder if he had hit a soft spot.

"Spice is the name of an old friend of mine," Said the man after a long period of silence. "Spice was so full of life and energy, so strong despite his frail exterior."

After hearing the past tense that Yashiro used, Satoru stammered and twiddled with his thumbs. "Sorry, I asked something unnecessary." He quickly apologised. He still wasn't certain about its significance, but he knew that he sprinkled salt over his teacher's wound, and he wished he could take it back.

"It's fine. It happened so long ago," Yashiro smiled. "Spice reminds me of you, Satoru. You're such a strong kid. You were lying in the snow for so long, but you woke up without a scratch." A short pause ensued before the man continued. "Do you remember what happened before that?"

"Well..." Satoru trailed off while scratching the back of his head. "It's going to sound like I'm crazy."

"Try me," Yashiro chuckled despite his heart pounding loudly in his chest. He had been twisting his head trying to figure out what was inside Satoru's brain, and he was finally about to hear it from the boy himself. Somehow, he had a hunch that nothing Satoru said would be unbelievable. Yashiro was prepared to trust anything that came out of his precious Spice, after all. 

The boy started it with a soft exhale as he unlocked the glove compartment to take an orange-flavoured lollipop, then he passed a cherry one to Yashiro who gladly took it and unwrapped it. "For a few months, I've been hearing voices," He murmured. "It's harmless, but it seems to know a lot more than I do, and..." Satoru glanced at Yashiro. "Don't look at me like that, sensei!"

It was then that Yashiro realised he hadn't been paying attention to the road, instead opting to stare at Satoru. "Oh, sorry. I didn't mean to. Go on." He quickly looked away and focused on driving once more. Voices, huh? Could it be the catalyst for the shift in Satoru's behaviour all those months ago?

"I don't feel like talking anymore!" Satoru curled his lips and crossed his arms.

"Eeh?!" Yashiro practically whined. One of his hands moved to grab Satoru on the shoulder to shake him gently. "How can you do this to sensei?"

"It's your fault." Complained the boy as he brushed off Yashiro's hand half-heartedly. He buried himself in the leather seat while popping his lollipop out of his mouth only to let his tongue swivel around it.

It seemed that if Yashiro's voice was electric, his touch burned, and Satoru could feel the searing sensation that his palms left on his skin even through his jacket. Satoru felt blaze in his cheeks as he looked at the blurred view of buildings through the window. This was the reality. He really went out with Yashiro, just the two of them. They went to a restaurant, they had a drive through the city, they had a fulfilling conversation, they exchanged jokes, and god, Satoru didn't want it to end. He wanted to have more of Yashiro, more of his voice, more of his caring glance, more of his touch that it felt like he was going insane.

Perhaps it was unwise to fall for a man much older than he was, but who was he to defy fate? Maybe the voice in his head was the sole reason for this sick infatuation with his teacher, and maybe it was okay to stop resisting.

"Satoru, are you ignoring sensei now?" Asked Yashiro, still with a pout that Satoru couldn't help but laugh at. "And laughing at me, to boot?" He continued with a gasp.

"But..." The boy giggled after taking his lollipop out of his mouth. "Yashiro-sensei, you look so funny!"

"Let's see who's going to look funny when I give the class three times the amount of homework tomorrow!"

"What?!" Satoru raised his voice as he slammed one of his hands onto the seat just between his legs. "You're so petty!"

"I'm not," Yashiro shrugged with mirth. "I'm the best teacher in the world, and you can't complain because you already told me that I'm your favourite."

"Can I take it back?"

"Nope. No take-backs."

"Well," The younger male smiled. "I wasn't going to anyway."

In response, Yashiro choked on his spit and coughed violently, and he was grateful that the road was practically empty because he could count the number of times he should've crashed. Yashiro thought he could maintain a constant focus on the task at hand, but it seemed that Satoru completely negated his harmony. A whirlpool in his calm waters, a white in his black, and Yashiro only needed to reach out in order to be pulled away from the void. Satoru's small hands were so capable of saving even him, the hero that took the fall in order to set free many trapped souls, but Yashiro didn't want to be saved. Instead of letting himself be led into the light, he longed to pull Satoru into his world.

How sickening, Yashiro grimaced. If his killings resulted in permanent physical death, he knew full well that what he planned on doing to Satoru would result in a perpetual state of spiritual death. Satoru would be a vessel of his former self, unaware of the fact that the man whom he treasured had warped him into his image; a monster. However, he had no time to feel guilty. There was a single goal stamped in his brain, branded on the skin of his palms. Everything he did must be efficient to realise that intent, even this moment of peaceful banter.

"Satoru," Yashiro whispered with a quiet, tender voice that sent a shiver down Satoru's spine. "I wish you were my son."

Upon hearing that, the boy looked at his feet while twiddling his thumbs. The feeling that rose in his stomach was nothing less than a disappointment. "Why?"

"I've always wanted to have a child, but they are so much commitment," Yashiro smiled as he rotated the steering wheel slightly to the right. "But if my child was going to be like you, I wouldn't mind it at all. You are special, Satoru. For someone your age, you are very responsible and mature. I'm a good judge of character and I think you'll grow up to be a fine man."

There was a long silence that stretched between the two, only broken by the hum of the engine. Satoru bit his lower lips and thought, why couldn't they be more than family? If he really was so special, why did Yashiro not want to be with him?

"Sometimes life isn't fair, Satoru."

Great, I said it out loud, groaned Satoru as he slammed both hands on his mouth. However, when he tentatively glanced to the side, he was met by a sympathetic look from Yashiro, not one of ridicule.

"If someone finds out that I'm dating my student, they will try to take me away from you," Explained Yashiro calmly while he took a tissue from his pocket to wrap his lollipop stick in. "And I don't want to be separated from you, Satoru."

"Sensei," The boy whined, one hand moving to clench his teacher's sleeve. "Can I sleep at your place tonight?"

For the second time that day, Yashiro choked on his spit. His cheeks turned into an embarrassing shade of red in the process. If Satoru was any bolder, he would have swerved off the road and killed them both. "Absolutely not, Satoru!" He said a little too loudly that he had to clear his throat and take a deep breath. "I mean, don't say something like that. Your mother is expecting you."

"I'll tell her that I'm sleeping at Kenya's!" Satoru insisted, his eyes glimmering and cheeks red that Yashiro almost turned his car around to head for his place.

"No," He said, making the younger male withdraw his hands dejectedly and grasped the fabric of his pants instead. He looked like a kicked puppy about to cry, and Yashiro wanted to punch himself. "Not now, okay? Maybe in the future." Yashiro decided to add, immediately brightening Satoru's expression.

"Promise, sensei?" He beamed.

With a laugh, Yashiro ruffled Satoru's hair just the way the boy loved it. "I promise."

Satoru let out a giggle at the contact, then a sigh of contentment when Yashiro focused on the road once more. Yes, that blooming sense of comfort was the reason why he loved Yashiro. It was as if no matter how bad of a day he was having, Yashiro's touch and voice would unfailingly soothe him, and Satoru badly wanted to keep his teacher all for himself. It might be too selfish of a reason, but he discovered that he could not really care less.

That moment, Satoru wondered if he had the same cathartic effect to Yashiro the way Yashiro did to him. If the answer was yes, perhaps he had a chance, after all. 

It pained Satoru when the car came to a stop in front of his house because it meant that he had to say goodbye to his teacher for the day. It had been a wonderful day, an excellent one, and he hoped that tomorrow would come quickly.

"I'm home, mum!" Announced the boy loudly upon opening the door. He could hear the tell-tale footsteps signature to his mother as she made his way towards him. When she saw Yashiro outside the door, she widened her eyes in surprise. "Yashiro-sensei treated me to ramen." He said with a bright grin. "See you tomorrow, sensei!"

"Don't forget to do your homework, Satoru!" Yashiro called out before the boy disappeared into his room. "Good evening, Fujinuma-san. I hope I didn't inconvenience you by taking Satoru out."

"Not at all," She smiled softly, although she failed to conceal the small tinge of uncertainty. "Would you like to come in for tea, Yashiro-sensei?"

"Ah, thank you for the offer, but I have to start preparing for tomorrow's lesson. I'm a bit behind schedule already," The teacher replied apologetically, then decided to address the potential reason as to why she looked a little puzzled. "I thought I'd give Satoru a little reward for working so hard."

"Is that so?" She laughed. "Yes, he's been studying a lot more than he ever did before. Honestly, I was so surprised."

"He's a good kid," Yashiro nodded fondly, putting on an impeccable facade of a responsible teacher. "I have to apologise, Fujinuma-san. I have started to think of him as my son. I hope that doesn't offend you."

"No, no!" Sachiko grinned in response to Yashiro's statement that sounded sincere. "You see, Satoru never says it, but I think he longs for a father figure too. Maybe that's why he's so fond of you."

"Fujinuma-san, you have no idea how happy that makes me," The teacher's eyes sparkled at the retort. "I will make sure that Satoru stays out of trouble for you."

"Hah!" She threw her head back in amusement. "Please do, sensei. I'll be the most grateful."

"All right, I will take my leave now." Yashiro nodded after a short exchange of chuckle.

"Satoru!" Sachiko called out, and the boy stuck out his head from the bedroom, his cheeks still pinkish. "Did you thank Yashiro-sensei for treating you to an early dinner?"

Satoru paced towards the front door with small skips on his steps that Yashiro found utterly irresistible. It was a wonder how he managed to keep his cool. "Thank you for today, Yashiro-sensei." He said with a shy smile, a hope that he would be able to go out with Yashiro again one day was written all over him.

"Thank me by keeping your work ethic up, Satoru," With a soft exhale, Yashiro's lips curved to form a smile when Sachiko turned her back and started making her way towards the kitchen. "And don't forget about the homework," Yashiro bent one of his legs so he was on Satoru's eye level. Then, with one swift yet a careful movement, he leaned forward towards the boy in front of him. One of his gloved hands cupped Satoru's small cheek, and lips ghosting over Satoru's other cheek, but not quite close enough for it to make a contact. When he was right next to Satoru's ear, he whispered a short sentence that echoed inside Satoru even long after Yashiro left and the door closed behind him.

"What would you do to the puppy, Satoru?"

Chapter Text

Mix one tablespoon of flour and vanilla with butter and sugar. Stir until combined. Gently and slowly, add two eggs, then continue beating. After that, pour the mixture inside greased moulds and put the tray inside a preheated oven for 25 minutes.

Yashiro exhaled in satisfaction the moment he closed the oven door. He remained standing for a few moments to observe its now lit-up interior before nodding to himself and moved his hands around his back to pull on his black apron string, letting it come undone. While humming a song to the radio, he blew the flour off the recipe book on the kitchen table; then he gently closed it.

With nothing but time to burn, Yashiro walked towards the living room and sat on the dining table where there was only a pen, a ruler and an open notebook where he jotted down his notes for tomorrow's lesson that was so impeccably clean and symmetrical even other teachers envied how organised his materials were. Still with an idle smile on his lips, Yashiro continued working on it despite the moon rising higher in the sky. After all, he was in an unusually good mood that day, and he knew exactly the reason why.

The man finished the sentence he was writing before setting his pen down and leaned back in the chair, eyes cast to the starry wintry sky through the windows. Perhaps it was him who never bothered to pay it any mind, but in this area, the stars were plentiful, and each of them shone so brightly. Accompanied by the soft chirping of crickets outside his house and the humming of the oven from the kitchen, Yashiro sighed in contentment. He truly appreciated the solitude of cold weather: how a cup of tea could have such a calming effect on his body, how he felt a tingling sensation as he walked across the wooden planks, how the artificial warmth radiating from the heater wrapped him in a tight embrace.

Funny how he never noticed them before. No matter what season it was, he never felt anything close to fulfilment. Now, it was different, like, for the first time, his eyes were finally opened, and he now could see a purpose in his empty life. He was no longer someone who walked blindly in the dark as he sought out every reason to feel anything more than nothingness. For the first time, he could hear an echo, a small glimmer of light in the distance that beckoned him to come closer, and Yashiro was not about to disregard it as an illusion because Fujinuma Satoru was very real. If Yashiro reached out far enough, the tip of his fingers would be able to ghost over the boy's body; if he screamed loud enough, his voice would be heard; if he opened his eyes into more than a squint, he would be able to see that look of vigour and innocence.

However, the road seemed long and winded that Yashiro understood that his patience would be tested in this journey. Not only that, he had to be careful to keep his wits about him, as Satoru didn't keep helpless company. Kenya, for one, would be quite a nuisance, but not one that Yashiro couldn't handle. He was a kid, and there was only so much one lone boy could do.

The person to watch out for was Sachiko, Satoru's mother. Yashiro could tell that she loved Satoru with every fibre of her being, and he heard that a mother's hunch was a fearsome thing. It sounded a little superstitious, but he shouldn't let his guard down nonetheless. To not rouse suspicion, he had to lodge his foot in the door gently and welcome himself in Satoru's life. Sachiko seemed like an intelligent woman, and Yashiro felt like he needed all the subtlety he could get. If posing as Satoru's father would help, then so be it. Whatever manner of poison was slathered on the dagger, at the end of the day, Yashiro only needed to cause one small scratch before he could get his way.

Ding!

"Oh, the pudding is done." Yashiro immediately pushed the chair back and took a stand, his expression shifting in a click of a finger. He put on the white mittens that were hanging near the oven before he took the tray out of the appliance and set it to cool on the counter. When Yashiro took a whiff, he smelt the mouth-watering fragrance of freshly baked sticky date pudding. It had been a while since he last baked. Good to see that he hadn't lost his touch.

Yashiro shifted his eyes away from the dessert and leaned over the counter with his arms crossed. The room was filled with nothing but the quiet hum of the radio that was playing one old song after another. Closing his eyes, the man who was clad in a white button-up shirt exhaled softly, but not without a smile. Aside from the solitude of the night, he never noticed how lonely it was being alone in the house.

Ah, he was getting sentimental. For the past three days, his mind had been clouded with nothing but Satoru. It was quite a drastic change from his usual routine that involved sitting on the edge of his bed for hours on end just staring at the white wall, all while he twisted his brain in order to find the perfect plan to save those who were cursed with the spider's thread. It was never an easy task, but someone had to do it. If not him, who else?

Yashiro's fingers curled into his palm. Yes, he was saving those who were suffering. He understood full well what it felt like to not fit in, and how cruel the world could be to the innocent. In the classroom full of starry-eyed kids, he was rather glad to see that Kayo was the only one who needed to be freed. Well, he lost his chance now. All of those months he spent scheming was just a wasted effort. He doubted that he would get another perfect scenario such as the one in the shed that night.

It's okay, Yashiro nodded to himself. He might have let Kayo slip through his fingers, but in exchange for her life, Yashiro had Satoru in his sight who was slowly taking baby steps towards him. If Yashiro had liberated Kayo that day, Satoru would have tried his best to resist him, and he doubted that he would be able to wait any longer than this. If everything went according to plan, he could make his next move within three or four months; and to ultimately allow the delicate bud to mature into a tree of corruption, perhaps two or three years. A lengthy process, indeed, but it would be his greatest plan yet.

As he laughed softly, Yashiro's fingers clenched his arm as if he feared that if left unchecked, he would do something foolish. This is bad, he whispered to himself with his lips pursed together to conceal a grin. Moments later, he pushed himself off the counter and threw his head back, hands on his hips.

"Right, the sauce," He said out loud in an attempt to distract himself. "Can't forget the sauce."

.

"You're not hungry, Satoru?" Sachiko frowned upon seeing her son munching the same mouthful of rice for the past three minutes. His eyes were cast on the desk, uncharacteristically silent.

"Huh?" He blinked, head jerking up a little too suddenly. "Oh, no, I was just thinking about..." Satoru found himself pausing for a reason unknown to him like someone is trying to tell him not to say a single word about the truth. "...my homework."

"I thought you finished it."

"I can always improve on it!" The boy raised defensively before setting the chopsticks flat on the bowl and jumped off the table. "I'm done."

"Don't study too hard!" Sachiko said just before Satoru closed the door to the bedroom. "Never thought I'd ever say that." She smiled after a few seconds, then moved to take Satoru's half-finished dinner off the table. He must have been full after the ramen.

While his mother took it upon herself to clean up, Satoru sat on his desk and opened his book, but ultimately did nothing else aside from staring at it. Yashiro's voice from earlier that day still echoed in his ears, and in the process, the question that he posed with it.

For a few hours, he tried to find an answer to the deceptively simple query. It wasn't a matter of black and white, Satoru quickly realised. No matter which option he chose, he would always end up with a 'but' that led to another hour-long contemplation. Satoru's first answer, of course, would be to keep the puppy alive for as long as he could, because who was he to dictate other's lives? For as long as a creature drew breath, they had as much right to live as any other of its kind. To cut a life short because of an injury would be a dishonour to those who could only count the days to their end, but at the same time, was it just to prolong one's suffering because of his moral told him so?

What is moral, to begin with? Why does it define what is right and what is wrong?

Satoru groaned as he sunk his head into his arms. He couldn't get to a conclusion even after hours agonising over it, and now the voice had to lodge itself in his head. Even though he knew that Yashiro was going to give him all the time in the world to answer his question, Satoru didn't want to keep him waiting. In a way, his opinion was influenced by whether or not Yashiro would approve of it, which made it that much harder to decide.

"Aargh!" He cried out before throwing himself onto the futon face-first, then he rolled his body, making a cocoon with a blanket. Why was it so hard to come up with a satisfactory answer? What would Yashiro say?

At the end of the day, moral is just a social construct created to keep the everyone in line.

"I don't get it," He whispered out loud into his pillow. "Isn't it a good thing that we have standard? Just what kind of a world it would be if there are no rules?"

When there was no response, Satoru sighed and shifted on the bed, hands and feet sprawled. He closed his eyes despite assuming that he wouldn't be able to sleep any time soon. He was glad that he was proven wrong.

The next day couldn't come fast enough. Satoru came to school a little early that day as opposed to his usual five-minutes-before-class schedule. He hummed as he unpacked his books, mind occupied with the promise of a homemade dessert that he didn't realise that someone was running towards him.

"Satoru!" Kazu practically screamed as soon as he stepped his foot inside the classroom. When he reached his friend, he clapped both of his hands and said, "Can I please see your homework?"

"What?" The boy frowned. He wasn't even halfway done with unpacking. "What did you do yesterday anyway?"

"I was watching TV... I completely forgot about the homework. Hey, can I see it, please, please?" Kazu pleaded before a chop landed on his head. "Ow!" He yelped, then turned around to see Kenya who had his hands in his pocket.

"That's your problem, isn't it?" The blond muttered as he took a seat. "Don't show him, Satoru. He needs to learn to be more responsible."

"How could you, Kenya?" Kazu complained at the objection, but it died in his throat as soon as the start-of-class bell rang, followed by their homeroom teacher who strolled into the class while holding a book that he tapped against his shoulder. "Aw man, I'm in trouble." The boy paled as he retreated to his chair.

"Good morning," Yashiro smiled at his students before cutting to the chase and started to mark the roll. "Now, I hope all of you remember to do the homework." The teacher said as he closed the book and placed it on the desk.

Satoru nodded eagerly in response, then waited patiently as Yashiro made his round until he finally reached the boy who was trying his best to suppress a grin. Although Yashiro did quite well at masking his amusement at seeing Satoru's bright expression, Satoru could still see how the corner of Yashiro's lips trembled with mirth as he stood next to him.

"Satoru?" The teacher decided to start despite knowing full well that there was no way that his favourite student would leave his homework untouched.

"Yes!" Exclaimed Satoru as he presented his notebook with pride.

Yashiro skimmed through the two pages before nodding and smiling. "Well done," He said, then he leaned in ever-so-slightly, and in a hushed whisper to not be heard by anyone else, he murmured, "See me after lunch. I have a present for you."

One might claim that it would not be possible for Satoru's expression to be any brighter, but it did.

.

"Hey," Came a voice from behind Satoru, and when he turned around, he was greeted with the sight of Kenya who had taken it upon himself to carry his lunch tray to his desk. "What did Yashiro-sensei tell you this morning?" He casually asked as he pinched a pile of rice with his chopsticks.

"Oh, that?" The boy grinned, although he looked a little troubled. He wasn't sure how to tell Kenya that Yashiro promised him a sticky date pudding if he finished his homework, so he paused for a few seconds. "Nothing much. He just said that my handwriting is neat."

"Really?" Kenya narrowed his eyes at his friend who immediately resumed to eat his lunch, but not before he nodded at his friend. "You've been sticking to him like glue lately, Satoru."

"He's nice. I don't see why I won't get along with him." Shrugged the raven-haired boy nonchalantly with a slight hum in his tone. 

"I guess, but..." The blond sighed. "Never mind."

Ignoring the scepticism, Satoru continued stuffing baked fish into his mouth, then took a large gulp of his milk. He wanted to finish his food as quickly as he could because he couldn't wait to see Yashiro and eat the promised dessert. Yashiro did seem like the type of person who would be particularly skilled in the arts of cooking, after all. Even if the pudding tasted underwhelming, Satoru was confident that he would still like it, as it was a gift from Yashiro that was dedicated to him.

Kenya only stared at his friend gobbling up his lunch like he hadn't eaten in days, and he felt all of his appetite dissipating into thin air. He wanted so badly to ask him what was up with him, especially after leaving his food untouched yesterday, but he found that he barely had any opening to talk as the boy immediately took a stand as soon as there was nothing left on his plate.

"I lent my notebook to someone in class 5-2 yesterday. I'll be right back!" Satoru announced, then he returned his tray and left without even bothering to wait for Kenya's response. As a result, the blond frowned with his chopsticks hovering in mid-air.

"What's with him?" Kazu blinked in confusion, so did Hiromi and Kayo, although the latter did it in such a subtle manner that one would miss it.

Kenya shrugged as he leaned back in his chair. "Who knows. He's an enigma."

It was something that Satoru hoped he could come across as. Kenya was the last person he wanted knowing about his crush on Yashiro. Although his friend mostly left him alone with his decisions, Satoru always felt at unease under that scrutinising glance of his, like Kenya knew everything that Satoru didn't.

Oh well, whatever, decided Satoru as he skipped towards the teacher's office with energy. After knocking on the door, he pushed it open to see that Yashiro had turned around and threw the boy that warm smile of his. It seemed like he was in the middle of a conversation with a fellow teacher, but he quickly excused himself and approached Satoru.

"Satoru," He greeted in a soft voice. "You're fast."

"Am I?" The boy grinned bashfully, eyes moving towards the small container on Yashiro's hands.

The teacher noticed the stolen glance and couldn't help chuckling at Satoru's glimmering dark orbs. He really should stop condoning Satoru's sugar addiction that was caused entirely by him. "I have to heat this up. I'll see you near the gym storeroom?" He asked unobtrusively so that he wouldn't be heard picking a spot with the least foot traffic on purpose.

"Okay!" Satoru couldn't agree any faster, and he immediately made his way towards the specified rendezvous point with a bright smile.

"Are you pampering your student, Yashiro-sensei?" Yashiro's co-worker, Kubota decided to ask with small laughter as Yashiro walked towards the kitchenette to pop the food container in the microwave.

"Please, Kubota-san. I pamper all of my students." The black-haired male replied with mirth, eyes observing the golden glow of the appliance.

"I don't doubt that considering how much your kids seem to love you, but Satoru really is your favourite, isn't he?" The other teacher retorted as he straightened the stack of paper in his hands and turned around to glance at Yashiro's back.

"Well, I'd like to imagine he'd be anyone's favourite student," Yashiro smiled. "He's diligent and hardworking, he studies very hard, and he doesn't cause trouble. The perfect student that all teachers can only dream of, to be honest."

"I suppose so." Kubota chuckled, then turned around to tidy up his desk while Yashiro moved across the room and towards the door.

Good, good, Yashiro thought. Despite having already confirmed it yesterday, he was glad that Satoru bought his deceit. This is was an essential first step to further his goal. Obedience begot reward, and that was a belief that he had to plant in the boy's head for his plan to work. For now and for a while, it would be simple, mundane tasks, but there was no questioning that they would soon grow into something more. He wanted to see just how much he could push Satoru into doing whatever he wanted him to. The mere thought of that was enough to send a shiver down his spine. Never before had he felt more alive.

"Sorry, did you wait long?" Yashiro asked with a tap on Satoru's shoulder, making the boy turn around almost immediately.

"Not at all!" He beamed, then sat on the bench against the outside wall of the gym storeroom.

"You did well on your homework," The teacher smiled as he followed suit, the container of sticky date pudding he set on his lap. "Really, sensei is so happy that Satoru is working so hard!"

The boy laughed at the response with warmth already making itself comfortable in his stomach and cheeks. "Why does it make you happy, sensei?"

"Because!" Yashiro snapped his head towards Satoru. "It makes sensei feel like what I'm doing is not a waste. Sometimes students don't listen to the lesson, and it makes sensei sad. It takes a while to prepare for class, you know? Sometimes I even pull an all-nighter..." He sighed, but quickly changed his expression when he offered the sticky date pudding to Satoru. "Anyway, you're not here to listen to me rambling. Here's your reward, Satoru!"

"Oh!" Satoru took the container into his hand and took one deep breath at the steam that exited the dessert. It smelt sweet, as expected. Without any delays, Satoru pressed the small fork on the sponge cake and watched as the caramel that covered it glistened under the sun. It looked so delectable that he popped it into his mouth immediately.

Yashiro had an anxious smile on him as Satoru chewed the food, then relief washed over him when the boy moaned.

"Mm!" His eyes widened. "This is so good!" Then, he took another mouthful, and another, and another that it made Yashiro part his lips in wonder. How was someone so small able to eat that much food in quick succession, especially after he finished his lunch? "Sho ghood!"

"It's not that good, but you make it look good," He said in fascination. "Can sensei have a bite too? Aah..."

When he saw that Yashiro had his mouth parted and that he was leaning forward, Satoru stammered, face turning into a shameful shade of red. Was he seriously asking to be fed? Well, it wasn't that Satoru minded that, but they were in public, and it would be quite embarrassing to be caught red-handed being domestic with his teacher, and—

"I was kidding!" Seeing how flustered the kid was, Yashiro burst out in laughter until the corner of his eyes teared up. Ah, he would never get enough of teasing him.

"O-oh," Satoru stuttered, then took another bite of the pudding to cover his agitation.

Yup, that was a look of disappointment, Yashiro decided. He must be a little bit of a sadist to play someone's feelings like this, but he couldn't help himself. Not good, he smiled. The topic must be shifted before he lost control.

"So did you have a think about my question last time, Satoru?"

It took Satoru a few seconds of munching before he swallowed and answered, "I did..." A sigh escaped from the boy's lips, his eyes cast to the ground. "I still can't find the answer."

"You're not meant to overthink it," Yashiro leaned against the plaster wall with both of his hands pressed on the wooden bench. "The first thing that comes into your head is usually the right answer."

"Why are you curious, sensei?" Satoru glanced at the older man in sincere interest. It was a fortuitous question at best, but there must pose a significance if Yashiro decided to go back to it instead of forgetting. His teacher might come off as an overly polite individual who would engage in a small talk, but for some reason, Satoru had a feeling that there was something more to this open-ended question other than ice-breaker.

Seeing that it wasn't a question out of suspicion, Yashiro tapped Satoru on the head lightly before moving his fingers along his silky hair, completely aware of what effect it had on the boy. Yes, he had to pamper Satoru. He had to make Satoru feel special—well, he already was in Yashiro's mind, but it was a fact that needed to be cemented. "You have no idea how much a simple sentence can weigh. Sensei wants to get to know you better, Satoru, and your answer will help us grow closer."

"Really?"

"Yes!" The man in suit nodded firmly, a little amused that Satoru had a smudged caramel stain on the corner of his lips. "Don't you want that too, Satoru?"

"I do." The younger male's smile grew wide, but he found his breath hitching in his throat when Yashiro retrieved a handkerchief and moved his fingers until his thumb touched Satoru's lips. It was a small gesture that only lasted a couple of seconds, but for Satoru, time might as well froze because as the fabric swiped across his skin, he felt his heart beating in a slow-motion.

"There," Yashiro grinned. "Nice and clean."

Satoru bit his lower lips and looked away in an attempt to cover his face, but he realised that all of his efforts were in vain as soon as he heard the giggle that slipped out of his teacher's throat. When he scraped his fingers along the bench in a fit of embarrassment, he felt a prick on his index finger.

"Oh!" Yashiro jumped when he saw blood trickling out of Satoru's skin. There were bits of broken wood, and Satoru accidentally cut himself on it. The teacher took his bottle of water with one hand while the other moved to take Satoru's. With a swift movement, Yashiro poured some on the handkerchief to clean the wound. "We need to go to the infirmary to disinfect it."

"Ah, yes," The boy cleared his throat and took a deep breath. He knew that Yashiro meant now, but he wanted to finish the conversation they were having first. "W-what about you, sensei? What would you do?"

"Hm..." Yashiro trailed off, a finger pressed on his lips as he fell deep in thought about whether or not to answer the question. "I would choose to kill it." When Satoru didn't do as much as to flinch, the corner of Yashiro's lips tugged into a smirk that faded away in a blink of an eye.

"So you think it's crueller to leave it alive in its condition?" Satoru stared at what was left of the pudding as he contemplated on the given reply. "I suppose it is badly injured and it can't do anything to improve its condition..." He sighed. "Is it really the best outcome?"

"Think about it, Satoru," Yashiro shifted on the bench to face the boy who noticed the movement, and in turn tilted his head to meet Yashiro's eyes. "Even if it grows up, nothing will change. You are just prolonging its suffering, all because you can't empathise with its pain. If it wants to die, what right do we have to deny its decision?"

"But that's too sad!" Satoru objected, his eyebrows stooping. "Can't we take it to the vet? Shouldn't we encourage it to embrace its condition and live?"

Yashiro shook his head at the welcomed and expected resistance that did nothing to douse his excitement. If anything, it fuelled him even more, and he could feel that the ember inside of him slowly growing into a flame. "Life is valuable, Satoru, I won't deny that. However, I believe that one's life is one's responsibility, but we should always respect someone's decisions. To dishonour it means that we are indirectly telling them that they are not capable of walking on their own two feet. Don't you find that insulting?"

"What if..." Satoru muttered. "What if it wants to live?"

"It won't live," Yashiro whispered. "It will hold on, it will survive, but it won't truly live. Sooner or later, something will break its determination and you will have to live with the guilt of not helping it sooner."

"So by killing it, we are helping it?" Satoru blinked his wide eyes at Yashiro. They were so full of purity and white that it drove Yashiro insane with desire. His whole body burned for Satoru, and his heart pounded for him. Magnificent was not a sufficient word to describe Satoru whose mind so open that he didn't once stop to question Yashiro's moral. Children were always so influenced by their favourite superhero movies that it instilled a skewed perspective of justice. Anyone who killed was bad, no matter the reason. In fact, all the kids whom he had interacted with and asked this question to said no to killing the puppy within a heartbeat. Despite idolising Wonder Guy, Satoru took a moment to ponder over it. He even bothered to ask what Yashiro's view was, and it seemed that he took it seriously if that thoughtful expression was something to go by. 

"In my opinion, yes," Yashiro retorted firmly. "This is surprising, though! Most people your age would have told me how wrong and immoral I am by now." Voicing that statement, Yashiro expected soft laughter and nothing else, but what he received surprised him to the point that he was rendered speechless.

Satoru with his eyes cold stared at him without flinching and said a word that flowed out of his lips as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. "Why?" He tilted his head. "Isn't moral just a social construct designed to keep us in line? Why does it define what's right and what's wrong?"

Yashiro froze. Those weren't the words of an eleven years old boy.

Satoru seemed evidently puzzled at what came out of his mouth, as made evident by the way he blinked rapidly. "I understand what you said, sensei. It makes sense, but I think I won't kill the puppy," He looked away and in the process, that flat expression his face withered to make way to his usual cheerful one. "I'll find a way to save it!"

When Satoru tentatively glanced at Yashiro, he saw how stunned he seemed, and most importantly, how his eyes glistened with awe. Instead of feeling proud for instilling such emotion on his teacher's face, he felt his heart breaking a little. Was Yashiro talking about himself? Was it a silent cry for help, one that fell on deaf ears as he grew up? If so, how was it possible for him to grow up as a kind and caring man he was? It must have been excruciatingly painful.

"Sensei..." Satoru sucked in a breath, in disbelief at what he was about to propose. He wanted to make Yashiro happy. Yashiro deserved nothing but love, and it might come years too late, but Satoru believed that late was better than never. Perhaps this was the voice's true intention. This must be what it meant by saving Yashiro. "If calling me Spice makes you happy, I want you to do it."

That did nothing to make Yashiro budge, but Satoru was certain that his teacher heard it. He could only hope that Yashiro would take his hands and allow himself to be pulled out of the darkness.

Redness soon found its way into Satoru's cheeks, and he leapt off the bench in embarrassment. Not wanting to see or hear what Yashiro had to say, the boy took a deep breath. "I-I'll see you later, sensei!" He stammered before pacing towards the school, leaving Yashiro petrified on the bench.

A few minutes passed, and Yashiro finally stirred. His shoulders trembled as he let out a noise that sounded like a repressed snicker. 

"You are too good, Spice..." He moaned as he leaned against the wall. This was too much for him to handle, and he feared that he would need a few more minutes to calm down and rid himself off the excess adrenaline that pumped in his veins. Carefully, Yashiro's hand moved until it stopped just a few inches away from his face. On his thumb was a smudged red mark of fresh blood.

He brought his fingers closer to him and darted his tongue across the spot. 

Chapter Text

"See you later, mum!" Satoru waved his goodbye as he opened the door that separated him from the outside world. The first step he took resulted in a splash of water that startled him, making the boy curse silently at how he just avoided having the case of wet socks. He lifted one of his legs to observe it closer and was thankful that it was only the bottom of his pants that were affected by his recklessness. Satoru's fingers curled around the straps of his bag, and he tilted his head up to the sky.

The sunlight wrapped Satoru's small body in warmth, and the faint scent of budding flowers that started to drift in the air entered his nostrils. Taking one deep breath, Satoru found himself cracking an ear-to-ear smile. Winter really had come to a pass. In its place was the welcomed change of colour and fragrance. He could scarcely believe that days flew by him in a blink of an eye, but he supposed that tended to occur when one was having the time of their lives.

Satoru nodded to himself with renewed vigour as he took one step forward. From today on, he would attend the sixth year of elementary school, and he had promised to keep working just as hard as he had been for the past few months. That determination alone wasn't the only reason why he was practically half-running to school with steady eyes. During the spring break that lasted a month, he had little contact with Yashiro as they didn't exchange contact details, and Satoru had no idea where his teacher lived. It was a shame, but at least Yashiro took it upon himself to visit his house once during the holiday even though it was only a brief encounter. All Yashiro wanted to do that day was return the kanji workbook that Satoru left in his desk. Sachiko invited Yashiro for lunch in the house, but he kindly turned the offer down, saying that he had something to do, much to Satoru's demise. 

Well, no matter. He would be able to meet Yashiro again today, and Satoru prayed that he would be his homeroom teacher just like last year. 

Halfway towards his destination, Satoru spotted a girl clad a deep red coat in the corner of his eyes, and she was sauntering towards the school. The boy smiled and paced towards his friend, Kayo with an expression that wasn't short of excitement. He hadn't spent as much time with her as he would've liked during the holiday despite being close neighbours. "Good mo—" His words died in his throat when he saw a bandage on the side of her chin. "Good morning, Hinazuki." He continued tentatively when Kayo turned to look at him.

"Good morning," She regarded with a brief nod, then turned back around.

There it was again, Satoru swallowed. It was as if the wall that he thought he had chipped away regenerated during the days they didn't meet, and he felt guilty for letting it return. "Why the band-aid?" Asked the boy light-heartedly although it was anything but.

In the span of a few weeks, Kayo's mother must have snapped once more and Satoru cursed his own carelessness. He could've prevented it had he spent a bit more time with her, perhaps invited her to hang out with Kenya and the others. He hypothesised that because Akemi was almost caught red-handed, she wouldn't dare to lift a finger to Kayo and hopefully would try to make amends. Seemed like he was a tad too optimistic, and now Kayo paid the price. 

"I fell," Came the short, detached response, followed by another turn of the head away from Satoru.

"Hinazuki..." He mumbled quietly at the obvious lie. "If someone is bothering you, you can tell me, you know?"

There was a brief silence before Kayo parted her lips and spoke, "What can you do, Fujinuma?" Bitterness was evident in her tone as she walked faster as to flee from Satoru's needless concern.

"We can tell my mum or even Yashiro-sensei. I'm sure we can do something!" The boy raised his voice, all while picking up the pace to catch up to Kayo. "Hinazuki, why don't we go out after school today?" Kayo didn't say anything, and Satoru took that as an agreement.

"You seem busy," She said after a lengthy silence. "You always head home early the last week of school."

"Huh?" Satoru blinked at the response, then thought back to confirm whether or not it was true. As his mind went back in time, he slowly became redder and redder at the truth of the statement. It all started with the day Yashiro took him out for ramen on Monday, then on Tuesday when they went shopping for new notebooks and pencil case. It had always been something that Satoru thought of as a chore, as it reminded him that school wasn't over yet despite the month-long break. However, as he glanced to the side to see Yashiro who had a hard time deciding whether to get a blue or black pen, he decided that it wouldn't be so bad.

The day after, they spent revising kanji and maths in the teacher's office, followed by a night of pizza where Satoru learned that Yashiro was particularly fond of seafood, especially garlic prawn. On Thursday, they went to a small arcade in the city where they spent hours playing Space Invaders and failing miserably on the claw machines where Yashiro still seemed to be upset by came Friday. The last day of school was Satoru's cleaning duty, and he was surprised to see that Yashiro was waiting for him by the car. He said he needed to get some groceries and offered to drive Satoru back home—an offer that the boy gladly accepted. It turned out, Yashiro needed to restock on lollipops, so he bought three full plastic bags worth of candy, and Satoru never laughed that hard before.

"Are you okay?" Kayo asked with a slight frown, confused as to why Satoru started giggling to himself.

That was an effective way to snap the boy back to reality with a jolt of his shoulders. "Y-yes! Sorry, I was just thinking about..." He trailed off, then scratched the back of his head. "...school."

There was a pregnant pause before Kayo mumbled, "Are you stupid?"

Well, that wasn't an entirely unexpected response. In an attempt to change the topic, Satoru grinned awkwardly. "W-who do you think our homeroom teacher will be?"

Kayo shrugged.

"I hope it'll be Yashiro-sensei again! Do you like him, Hinazuki?"

The girl was silent for a few moments, then she glanced at Satoru whose cheeks were tinged with red. "Do you like him, Fujinuma?" She returned the question.

"What?" Satoru stammered. "I mean, y-yes, of course! Why wouldn't I? He's nice, smart, charismatic, funny, and... well..." He gripped the straps of his backpack hard enough to turn his knuckles white. And perfect, Satoru thought to himself.

"Hmm... perfect, huh?" Muttered Kayo flatly, and Satoru cursed his loose mouth once more because just how much was it planning to betray him this way?

"Anyway!" He cleared his throat in a vain endeavour to cover the warmth in his cheeks. Both of them walked past the school gate, towards the notice board where he saw a clump of bodies pressing against each other as they tried to see the papers pinned on it. Amidst the black and brown, Satoru spotted a yellow, and he immediately made his way towards it with Kayo following slowly.

It seemed that he was just in time for his friend to escape from the crowd with a mildly annoyed look on his face. "Oh, Satoru." Said Kenya concisely with a nod.

"Morning!" He gave the boy he just met yesterday a cheerful grin. "Are we in the same class?" It was a piece of information that Satoru needed to know, preferably without having to be crushed. 

"You're with Hinazuki in 6-3, I'm with Hiromi and Kazu in 6-1." Said Kenya with a faint smile when he noticed Kayo next to Satoru. "Seems like we're getting separated."

"What?" Satoru whined, his eyes moving to take a look at the paper which was too far away for him to read. Well, Kenya wasn't the type to lie, so Satoru resigned with a sigh. "And what about our teachers?" With his heart pounding in anticipation, he decided to ask. If not with his friends, he would like to be taught by Yashiro once more. That way, classes would be a lot more bearable. More often than not, students would generally be put in the same class once they moved on, and the teachers, too, in order to maintain that sense of familiarity. So, not all hopes were lost. 

"Hmm," Kenya glanced to the sky as he tried to recall the information he read. "I believe you have Michiko-sensei."

"Oh," Satoru's expression dropped. That wasn't what he wanted to hear, and his face might have conveyed what he didn't with words, as Kenya's eyes remained fixed on his. "Can't be helped, I guess. I'm with mostly different classmates and a different teacher." He sighed, then turned to look at Kayo. "At least we're together, Hinazuki!" 

The girl blinked and was silent even as she nodded, seemingly indifferent to whoever would be in her class.

"Well, we'd better get a move on before class starts." Said Kenya while walking towards the entrance where most students had scattered towards. Kazu and Hiromi joined them shortly as they made their way towards their new classes, then separated when they arrived.

Upon taking a seat, Satoru heaved a sigh. Kenya really wasn't lying to him, he realised when a female teacher walked into the classroom with a large folder that she set on the desk. She had short black hair and a kind smile, and Satoru got the idea that she would be a friendly teacher. However, he doubted that she would be as amazing as Yashiro. Resting his cheek on his palm, Satoru pursed his lips. He missed Yashiro.

.

Spring break marked the end of winter, which meant that snow was scarce, so the group constantly gathered in the secret base. It was one of the rare moments where no one went with their family outside the city, and they ended up making a holiday of their own which involved a lot of movie nights and sleepover. It was well and good, they had plenty of fun, but Kenya could tell that one of his friends was a little distracted.

Satoru was his usual self—if 'usual' meant this brand-new Satoru with his extroverted attitude, that was—except for the few rare occasions where he would stare blankly at the window as if waiting for, or daydreaming about someone. Kenya didn't notice it for the first couple of weeks, but he caught his friend in the middle of it one day and realised that it wasn't a one-time thing. He never said anything about it despite curiosity getting the better of him in the hope to deduce what exactly was the cause of it.

Kenya wasn't much of a meddler, but what he didn't express in words, he did in his mind. Involuntarily, his head started to lay out potential reasons as to why Satoru acted the way he did. 

Was it Kayo as Yashiro had implied? Although it wasn't a farfetched idea that Satoru had developed some semblance of infatuation towards the young girl, the idea just didn't sit that well on Kenya. It was true that Satoru paid more attention to her compared to any other girls in the class, and that sometimes he would turn red at the mention of him dating Kayo, but somehow Kenya was doubtful that it was the whole story. After all, with the amount of guts that Satoru showed as of late, wouldn't he try to include her in their clique at least?

Kenya twirled his pen as he listened to his homeroom teacher's lesson and thought back to Satoru who seemed evidently crushed that he wouldn't be taught by Yashiro. He was no idiot. He knew that kids his age were bound to develop some sort of crush on their teachers although mostly to the opposite gender. It was in the realm of possibility that the person he liked was Yashiro, seeing how close they appeared to be as of late. In fact, he caught a glimpse of them once in the new arcade in the city. It was a curious thing, especially how Yashiro almost seemed to humour his student.

Maybe he was just being pedantic and overthinking it. Satoru hadn't been the easiest person to read as of late, and when it came to him, Kenya started to doubt himself increasingly often. Perhaps he thought of Yashiro as the father he never had, and Kenya knew that Yashiro was without a spouse or child, so what they had might be a platonic affection and nothing more than that. Well, he hoped so anyway.

Subtly shifting back into reality, Kenya jotted down what was written on the blackboard. He wouldn't question Satoru about it, he decided. With how he acted lately, Satoru looked mature enough to make his own decision.

"Kenya, can you read page 5 for us?" Came a soft voice from the front of the room, and the boy immediately complied. He gently pushed the chair back and picked up his textbook, then spoke in a clear voice until he finished all three paragraphs. "Thank you." Said the raven-haired teacher with a smile.

Yashiro, huh? Kenya thought to himself. Sure, he was probably one of the best teachers that he ever had. His lessons were structured, obviously well prepared and showed much interest in his students' well-being, more than most teachers. It was no surprise that most were fond of him.

That's right, Kenya murmured as he glanced at the man standing in front of the blackboard. Satoru and Yashiro hadn't interacted ever since their sixth year of elementary school commenced—well, not that he knew of, and it had been one week. Yeah, it must have only been his feelings. Nothing was going on between the two, he smiled. 

.

It had been over three weeks since Yashiro's last encounter with Satoru, and he still found himself unable to tear the boy away from his head. He hypothesised that some time to his own would somewhat soothe his obsession while furthering his scheme, but it seemed to be of no use. It was perhaps for the best that he was no longer Satoru's homeroom teacher, or God knew when his patience would be chipped enough for him to act on his desire, especially with the blinding brightness of the spider's thread above Satoru's head. 

He wanted to see Satoru, but what he longed for more than that was the boy's initiative to seek him out. He had intentionally been leaving class on time and was barely ever present during lunchtime. If it was true that absence makes the heart grow fonder, what would have happened to Satoru in the span of weeks that they haven't talked to each other?

Yashiro was idly skimming through the paper on his desk detailing a list of students in his class when there was a soft, tentative knock on the door. The man glanced around the room to see that the last teacher had left, then at the clock that pointed at 5 PM. It was the first week of school, and it wasn't an odd sight to see that everyone had retired a little earlier. There were no pesky exams to prepare or mark.

He kept his attention at the paper to feign disinterest, even after the door was pushed open.

"Yashiro-sensei," From behind him was a familiar voice that he had been waiting for. It took Yashiro a few seconds before he turned around and smiled at Satoru, an elbow still resting on the desk.

"Good evening, Satoru. You're not home yet?" He asked calmly despite his heart throbbing with desire.

The younger boy had both of his hands on the doorknob and arms pressed tightly on his chest as he glanced up to meet Yashiro in the eyes with a shy smile. It was evident from the body language that he probably spent a good few minutes outside gauging whether or not it was a good idea to enter.

Satoru shook his head after a momentary silence; then he stepped further into the room to approach Yashiro. He wasn't sure how to start the conversation, and he cursed his rash decision. He should've thought about it more. "Uhm, thanks for returning my textbook." He said awkwardly as he rubbed the back of his neck.

"Huh?" Yashiro blinked. "Oh! Of course. That's fine, Sato—" He abruptly stopped, making the boy tilted his head at him in uncertainty. "Spice." He finished. Satoru's expression immediately shifted into that of discomfort, before it made way to the usual cheerful one. Of course, it didn't miss Yashiro's observant eyes, and he chuckled silently at the reaction. So it seemed that Satoru's hunch was potent enough for that nickname to pose distress, even only momentarily.

It was such a wonder that Satoru himself was the one to propose the idea of being called 'Spice', to begin with, even if it caused him uneasiness. Even now when Yashiro could vividly see the turmoil in the boy's eyes, Satoru still refused to back down on his words. It was an excellent sign that his patience was slowly coming to fruition. 

"I'll call you Spice when it's just the two of us, okay?" Said Yashiro with a voice that was intentionally lower than usual. He could see Satoru swallowing and looking away at the blatant teasing attempt.

"Uhm," He laughed nervously, a hand scratching the back of his head. "I... I want to talk to you about something, sensei."

Yashiro watched as Satoru fidgeted next to him, then he busied himself by straightening the stack of paper on his desk. "What is it?" He idly asked in curiosity.

"It's about Hinazuki," The boy exhaled softly before dragging a wheeled chair and sat next to Yashiro. "I think her mother is beating her. I thought I scared her off that one time, but I guess I didn't do enough..." He muttered in guilt. He should've been there for her. How could he let himself be lulled into a false sense of security?

"Oh?" The man widened his eyes slightly in surprise. That was an unexpected topic, but he supposed it was long overdue. He was more surprised that only now that Satoru decided to ask for help. "Well, yes. I noticed it too."

"You did?" Satoru looked up at his teacher with a glimmer of hope. "Is there anything we can do for her, sensei?"

Ah, yes, Yashiro smiled. It seemed that Satoru wasn't a hypocrite when he said that he would do anything in his power to save the puppy. It would be much simpler to stay out of it, especially if you were just a kid, but Satoru just had to take the mantle of hero for himself.

Now, what to do, what to do? His first reflex would be to offer aid and gain more of Satoru's trust. However, Yashiro felt like he had done enough of that for now. To persist in doing so would be counter-productive. Refusing to take part in Kayo's drama was also something that was out of the question. Yashiro mentally sighed. That poor girl; he should've killed her when he had the chance.

"What do you want to accomplish, Spice?" He decided to ask after a few seconds of silence. "There's always more than meet the eye. If you decide to jump in the mud, it won't be easy to climb back out."

"But—"

"You want to help," Yashiro quickly cut before Satoru could finish his sentence. Then, he leaned forward until his elbow rested on his lap with other hand reaching out to pat the boy in front of him softly on the head. In an instant, he saw Satoru's expression melting and his shoulders relaxing. Ah, if only he knew what manner of bloodied and dirtied fingers were touching him right now, would he have the exact same reaction? "You're a good kid, Spice," Yashiro smiled. "However, sometimes you need to stop to think about the consequences of your actions before you do anything rash."

"How can I do that when my friend is suffering?" Satoru insisted with a frown, his voice firm and resolute that for a moment, Yashiro suspected that nothing he could say would be sufficient to divert Satoru's attention away from Kayo. Unfortunately for the boy, Yashiro was gifted in the art of deception after carrying out his life as a caring teacher for a while.

Satoru's sentiment was met with a light-hearted chuckle. If this was considered playing with fire, Yashiro wanted to do more of it until he was lit aflame. He would never have enough of the look of determination that flashed in Satoru's eyes everytime he set his heart on a task. Perhaps this was also the reason why Yashiro almost appeared like he was playing with his food, toying with Satoru's feelings like this. It would be a simple task to push Satoru over the edge and ultimately break the boy in one swift strike, but that also meant that he would be rendering the boy's charm into dust. No, that wouldn't do.

"Kayo is a strong girl," Yashiro continued calmly, his fingers twitching for a split second as he looked deep into Satoru's eyes. "You have to trust her to get through this for now. We can't throw around baseless accusations. It will only hurt her and us if they turn out to be false." When Satoru gave a careful and tentative nod, Yashiro continued. "Do you know what will happen to Kayo if we find out that it's true that she has been abused?"

She will be taken away.

"She will be taken away from us." The younger male repeated the voice in his head.

Yashiro seemed to be impressed with the response as he nodded. How a kid knew a random piece of knowledge like this, he wasn't sure, but he already concluded that Satoru was no ordinary boy. "Yes, that's right. You won't be able to see each other for a long time."

At the rational judgement that his teacher expressed, Satoru lowered his head for a second before tilting it up to meet Yashiro's eyes. "Still, I can't leave her alone. You will help me right, sensei?"

Be careful, Satoru.

Ah...

Yashiro bit his lower lip at the persistence displayed by the frail boy sitting in front of him. For someone so intelligent, he really was naïve. Was this the reason for the spider's thread that hung above his head? Was Satoru's goodwill about to backfire? Well, Yashiro couldn't wholly refute that possibility since Satoru was already halfway there by indulging his beloved teacher. What else could it be aside from an attempt to shoot himself in the foot, albeit unconsciously?

Unintentionally, the hand on Satoru's head shifted. Slowly, carefully and affectionately it moved down to the side of his forehead to his cheek where the boy immediately burned. His eyes sparkled with both surprise and desire when Yashiro's thumb brushed against his skin. Satoru found himself leaning into the touch with a smile. This was no dream. Yashiro was showing him affection without Satoru prompting for it, and he felt his heart leap.

Yashiro observed Satoru who had both of his eyes closed like he was ready to sleep right there in his touch. Such innocence was practically begging to be tarnished, and Yashiro felt his restraint snapping one by one. A tongue darted carefully across his lips as his thumb was about to stroke Satoru's smart, smart mouth before plunging into the cavern. Would Satoru lick him like he was a piece of the sweetest candy?

A shudder ran through Yashiro's spine at the imagination that started to veer further and further away from decency. To stop himself from doing what he would regret in the long run, Yashiro abruptly withdrew his finger, turned to face his desk and cleared his throat all in one swift motion.

"Of course, Spice," Yashiro answered, half-purring. "You can trust me. You do trust me, don't you?"

Be careful.

"What are you talking about?" Satoru grinned. "Isn't that obvious? I trust you, sensei!"

Be careful.

"Aw," The teacher's expression melted as he crossed his arms and turned to face Satoru. "Sensei is so flattered! Okay, Satoru. Let's do our best to help Kayo."

The boy nodded eagerly, his feet swishing back and forth. It was like he was embarking on an adventure with Yashiro, and he had nothing but optimism. If it was him, they would be able to quickly resolve whatever was troubling Kayo at home. It might mean that she would be taken away from her house, but at least she would be safe.

Yashiro took a stand and slipped the stack of paper into his bag, then he took a deep breath. "Well, it's been a while. Why don't we go get something to eat?" 

Be careful.

Satoru couldn't look any happier as he bounced on his seat before leaping off to follow his teacher out of the office. The man glanced at Satoru over his shoulder with his index finger pressed on his lips.

"Don't tell anyone that you often go out with sensei, okay?"

Satoru pressed his thumb and index finger together and moved it across his tightly pursed lips. "My mouth is zipped, sensei!"

Seeing the childish gesture, Yashiro laughed, then put his palm on Satoru's back to push the boy forward gently. "You know, I love spending time with you, Spice. It's a shame that I didn't get to teach you this year."

"I know!" The boy curled his lips, cheeks red at the barrage of compliments he received that day. "Michiko-sensei is nice, but your lessons are easier to understand. I think my grades will drop at this rate."

"I sure hope not! You see, Spice," Yashiro locked eyes with Satoru as he said it. "If there is anything you don't understand, you come see me, okay?"

The student answered with a firm nod despite something nudging him from the back of his head, telling him to tread with care. It must be a falsely placed hunch, he decided. There was no reason why he should be wary of Yashiro, right?

Be careful.

.

Yashiro intentionally drove to a quiet, secluded shop that was far away from the city. He chose a rather unpopulated sushi store that served a decent variety of food and quite fresh despite its worn exterior. He understood that some had caught a glimpse of them before the holiday, and he didn't want to raise any more suspicion than he already did. There was an unspoken rule put in place regarding student and teacher interaction out of school, and if they were caught more than once, it would raise more than a few eyebrows. There was only so much his claim of seeing Satoru as a son could do, after all.

"Welcome!" The chef said when he heard the sound of the front door opening. Two male entered the restaurant and took a seat on the counter. There were only a handful of patrons inside, and they were no one Yashiro recognised. While still keeping his wits about him, he looked at the list of the catch of the day printed on a wooden plank on the wall.

"Order whatever you want, Spice." Resting his head on the back of his palm, Yashiro smiled kindly.

"Okay! I want the..." Satoru's eye moved from side to side before deciding after a few seconds elapsed, then put the order. As the chef busied himself, Yashiro took the opportunity to tap Satoru on the head. "Hm?" He perked up with a grin.

"It's like we're on a date," He whispered and watched as Satoru's face turned beet red. Classic Satoru, Yashiro chuckled. He would never tire of that response. "I'm kidding. We probably have to wait a few more years for that, don't we?"

Satoru pursed his lips and twiddled his thumb; his heart was hammering loudly in his chest. Yashiro sure was cruel, toying with his feelings like that. Well, Satoru understood that they couldn't afford to let their relationship be publicly known and that it was frowned upon for adults to have a romantic liaison with people his age, so he couldn't really blame Yashiro. He was just trying to do what was right while Satoru had the freedom to run his mouth, proclaiming his undying affection every now and then.

"Sensei," Satoru mumbled as Yashiro took a sip of the provided green tea. "When I'm older, will you go out with me?"

There was a tender look in Yashiro's face as he leaned on the counter, eyes twinkling with amusement. "And?" He asked quietly, making Satoru blink in uncertainty as to what the question was trying to imply. "So, we'll go out, and then what? What do you want, Spice?"

"I—" Satoru swallowed at the far-too-sudden query, and he found the gear in his head starting to turn. "I want... I want to hug and kiss... I want to go on dates with you, sensei."

"Hugs, kisses, dates," Yashiro nodded, still with a smile. So that was what Satoru wanted, he thought to himself. He had suspected such innocent reasonings, but to hear it from Satoru's own mouth was an excellent way to coax the confession and hammer that notion of a relationship in his head. This was a piece of information that would serve Yashiro well. "Okay!" He grinned. "Then, we'll wait a few years, okay?"

"Really?!" The boy snapped his head at the statement.

"Ssh!" Yashiro pressed his index finger on his lips.

Satoru nodded hastily, then turned around with his shoulders tense. Yashiro agreed to date him, Satoru screamed in his head. Was this a dream? God, he hoped not. Discreetly, the boy angled his face in a way so that Yashiro wouldn't be able to see his expression. Biting his lips tightly, Satoru took a deep breath. A few years was so far away, but it was a marvellous step forward. Deep down, there was a glimmer of hope that he would be able to fast-forward a couple of years into a couple of months.

Save him. Claim him before it's too late.

How would he go about that? He had to make Yashiro happy. He had to do something that would impress him enough to make him want to claim Satoru sooner than 'a few years'. That way, Satoru could ensure that no one else would take Yashiro away from him, because they were meant to be together. No one was allowed to come in-between.

He's yours. He will be yours. You fill the hole in his heart, and he fills yours.

Yes, that's right, Satoru mentally nodded. Yashiro and Satoru were meant to be. There wouldn't be one without the other, and even though Yashiro couldn't see it, Satoru could. Satoru could show Yashiro that there was no place for anyone else in their lives. This was their story, and no one was allowed to tear the pages apart.

Yashiro is dangerous.

Dangerous? Satoru frowned. No, like hell he is, he muttered. No matter what way you looked at him, Yashiro was just a harmless teacher with nothing but good intentions for his students. Yashiro liked Satoru, and he would always support him in whatever it was that he strived for. Yashiro would take his hands whenever he was about to tumble and would carry him when he couldn't walk. It was something that didn't need to be explicitly expressed because Satoru could tell that Yashiro was fascinated with him.

Tread with care, Satoru. Save him, love him, let him love you, but be careful.

Satoru closed his eyelids tightly. What was the voice talking about? No, there was no reason why he should put his guard up around Yashiro! No one vile had the tender gaze that he had, the comforting melody that his voice produced, the warmth that his touch offered. Yashiro was no murderer. It was only a fragment of his wild imagination most likely conjured by the voice in his head.

Don't let yourself be lulled into his trap. He's dangerous, he's—

No! Satoru gritted his teeth. Yashiro was his and not even the whisper was allowed to lodge a wall between them. Yashiro was a kind-hearted man who offered him aid in his endeavour to help Kayo out of her predicament. If Yashiro was anything but amiable, why would he do that? Why would he get himself into something so troublesome when he didn't have anything to gain?

"What's wrong, Satoru?" Yashiro blinked when he saw how tense the boy seemed to be.

Satoru took one large intake of air, then released it in time for his shoulders to sag as if a weight had been taken off of them. With a grin, he shook his head. "Nothing, sensei!"

The voice stopped.

 

Chapter Text

Despite sitting on the dining table with the intent to read the open magazine sprawled on it, Sachiko found herself unable to focus on anything but her son who had been zipping around the house for a few minutes now. The first time he emerged out of his bedroom, he had a bag that he put on the chair, then he went back inside to take a few pencils that he carelessly shoved in the said bag. A second later, it was three blank notebooks and a water bottle, then a jacket and a pair of socks.

"What's with you, Satoru?" Asked Sachiko finally as she took a bite of a store-bought rice cracker.

"I'm—" He inhaled, hands still busy shoving his books into his bag. "I'm going to the library to study for the upcoming kanji exam."

"Hmm," She hummed with soft crunching noise produced by the food in her mouth. "With Yashiro-sensei?"

"What?" His lips moved frantically as he stammered. "N-no."

Sachiko blinked, then she leaned forward to see that her son was scratching his chin and looking anywhere but at her face, even a fool would be able to tell that he was lying. "You so are!" She said through the deceit. "Since when are you getting a private tutoring session?" She asked with a hint of a well-placed curiosity. It was unheard of for teachers to show one of his students such favouritism, after all.

"It's not just me," Satoru mumbled as he zipped up his bag and put it on the desk. He then jumped on the seat to start putting socks on. "He's offering it to everyone who wants to come."

"Ah," She smiled in satisfaction. So it wasn't just her son. "That's very nice of him. How are you doing anyway with your subjects?" Sachiko continued as she flicked through her magazine. It was something that she hadn't asked for a while since she knew that Satoru hadn't slacked off ever since grade six started. Where exactly he had the motivation to suddenly keep his nose buried in his textbooks, she wasn't too sure, but it didn't seem that he was obsessed with studying to the point where he started to lose grip on reality. How very mature of him.

"Good," Answered the boy after a momentary silence due to the distraction of double-checking his bag. "You don't have to worry, mum."

"I know," She almost cooed at how lucky she was to have a son so diligent and responsible like Satoru. She must be the blessedest mother in the world, as she didn't have to pull the threat of the rattan to get her child off his ass. With that in mind, she rested her chin on her palm and smiled. "What made you decide to study this hard, Satoru?" 

Satoru turned around to put his backpack on his shoulders, making sure that the straps were straight. "Because I want to get good grades, obviously."

"That's not all there is though, is it?" She grinned cheekily, thinking back to when she was younger. Academic achievement wasn't exactly her passion. She only ever did the bare minimum to pass her classes. "Are you trying to impress someone?"

It was as if steam escaped from Satoru's ears as soon as his mother said those words. Sachiko could've sworn that the back of his neck even turned red, and it got her parting her lips in bewilderment before she burst into full-blown laughter. "Look at you, all grown up!" She said while slamming one of her hands on the table. There were tears on the corner of her eyes, and she feared that she wouldn't be able to stop even when her stomach was starting to cramp.

"M-mum! Stop that!" Satoru practically whined when she wouldn't stop laughing even after his display of distress.

"Who—" She grinned, calming down at last. "Who is the lucky girl, Satoru? Is it Kayo-chan?"

"Hi-Hinazuki?" He stammered. "No, it's not her! She's just... she's just a friend." Yup, there was no way he would say that he was in love with Yashiro despite his mother probably going to continue laughing hysterically instead of showing concern. In a way, that was worse.

"If you say so," She chuckled, then a took a deep breath as she wiped the tears from her eyes. "How is she doing nowadays? She hasn't visited us for a while."

"I've been taking her out with Kenya and the others. I think it's best if she stays as far away from her house as she can." Satoru answered with a slight frustration remaining, although it cracked to make way for genuine concern.

"Hmm..." Sachiko exhaled softly in understanding, clearly troubled by the tone that Satoru used. "Do you suspect that something is up, Satoru?"

The boy's response was immediate. "Don't you?" He frowned. "The way her mother acted was suspicious enough, wasn't it?"

"Yeah, but sometimes you need to know the full story to understand," She muttered while taking yet another piece of rice crackers. At the look of bewilderment that Satoru gave her, she continued. "Don't mistake me. I am worried, but we need to do a thorough investigation first."

"That's what Yashiro-sensei said." The boy mumbled rather impatiently. How long did Kayo need to wait before he could help? It had been two weeks after his plea for help, and all Yashiro told him was that he had been trying to reach the children protection service who would hopefully arrive soon.

Satoru pursed his lips tightly at the thought of Kayo. He had insisted for her to come to the study session today, but the girl firmly rejected his offer. Satoru could only hope that she was safe inside her house although his hunch said otherwise. 

"I'll tell you what," Sachiko gave Satoru a gentle smile at Satoru's display of kindness. "I'll keep an eye on her flat. They live near us," Her son parted his lips in an attempt to reply to her offer, but she cut him off before he could say a word. "Aren't you gonna be late, Satoru?"

"Crap!" Glancing at the clock on the wall, Satoru scrambled to the front door to quickly put his shoes on. "I'll see you later, mum!" 

With the summer break just upon them, came with it a barrage of quizzes that worried even Kenya. He had been on top of it regarding his studies, but these tests were arranged back-to-back that he feared he wouldn't have enough time to revise, hence his relief when his homeroom teacher said that he would be holding an optional revision class on Sunday. At the moment, he was sitting in the library with three others who had arrived early and Yashiro who was busy flicking through the textbook.

"Sensei, why did you schedule the quizzes so close to each other?" Whined a student sitting opposite of him.

"I want to see how well you do under pressure. Life isn't always smooth sailing!" Said Yashiro with his typical soft teacher-voice that everyone in Kenya's class had grown to love. "But at the same time I feel a little bad, so here we are." He chuckled as he tapped his index finger against the wooden desk. To his defence, he did sound a bit apologetic.

"Good afternoon!" When a familiar voice made its presence known, Kenya turned his head and waved at the welcomed sight of his friend skipping into the library.

"Good afternoon, Satoru." Kenya smiled at the boy while resting the back of his head on his crossed arms.

"Kenya, you're already here. Are Hiromi and Kazu coming?" Satoru blinked, but not without a grin as he set down his bag and nodded at Yashiro. "Hi, sensei."

"Good to see you, Satoru." Answered Yashiro shortly before he turned his attention to the girls standing next to him to indulge in their small talks.

"No, they're not coming. They said they need to go somewhere with their parents." Said Kenya while his fingers were busy with twirling the pen in his hand. He observed as Satoru settled down next to him, and other students started to spill into the library, filling the space with chitter chatter.

"I wonder if they'll be okay for the quiz," Satoru sighed with the background noise of his fellow sixth-grader exchanging greetings with Yashiro. "You're so lucky you have Yashiro-sensei this year. Michiko-sensei is nice, but her lessons aren't as structured."

"I think you'll be fine regardless." The blond shrugged nonchalantly, saying nothing but the truth. He had always known that Satoru was a bright kid, and the only thing he didn't understand was why it was only a few months ago that he decided to give school his all.

"All right, everyone! Settle down, please," Yashiro took a stand with his voice slightly raised. "I'd have to say that I'm pleasantly surprised to see so many of you turned up today." He smiled as he handed out a paper to each student who was still whispering among each other.

Satoru sighed at the sight of Yashiro. The more time he spent with him, the deeper he fell, and Satoru feared that nothing would ever douse his love for Yashiro. Even now, he could still feel the heat of Yashiro's palm on his cheek; how his skin tingled and seared at the mere thought of it. With their faces so close to each other then, Satoru noticed the look in his teacher's eyes that seemed an awful lot like desire—or hunger. Was it merely a hopeless dream that convinced him so, or was it Yashiro's true feelings?

"Here you go, Satoru," Yashiro called out, snapping the boy back to reality, who then muttered thanks upon receiving the handout. 

It didn't miss Kenya how Satoru had a repressed smile while watching Yashiro navigating around the tables, and how the boy avoided eye contact, save for the few stolen glances now and then. Under the table, his thumbs twiddled against each other, and his knees were raised like he was tensing his muscles in anxiety. Seeing that, Kenya looked away with a soft chuckle. So one of his assumptions was right. Satoru undoubtedly had a crush on Yashiro. Although it was unexpected, Kenya already anticipated it all the same. There was just no evidence that supported the theory that Satoru was in a puppy-love with Kayo. 

The first fifteen minutes passed by as Yashiro explained the content and purpose of the handout, and the next thirty minutes were spent in silence while the students busied themselves with filling out the questions printed on the paper. It was a change from the usual rowdy classroom. Here, it seemed that everyone was more keen to study than to fool around. Yashiro grinned to himself. If only everyone were like this, his job would've been much more straightforward. 

He made himself comfortable on the secluded table near the windows with a book in his hand. It was such an odd sensation, to not have a million things in his head, and he feared that he would never get accustomed to the silence. Perhaps it was why he became addicted to killing—saving those poor tortured children. It was like one big game for him, something that he could use to take his mind away from the void of his life. Would this murder be the one to hammer the nail in the coffin, or would he live to see another day? At some point, even that numbed his senses, and that indifference led him to seek more than a perfect murder. He never thought that the day would come that he set down the daggers that he aimed at the unfortunate kids who were cursed with the spider's thread. For that, he had Satoru to thank.

It was like all of his values were challenged. Before this day, Yashiro never played with his food. When he had a chance, he would strike and gave his preys their painless deaths. He loathed those who murdered purely because they could and those who tortured their victims. There should be a purpose to all actions, a drive that would motivate oneself to further perfect their craft. For Yashiro, it was to liberate the unfortunate and to fill a hole within him, that tried as he might, he was unable to close. In other words, there should be no reason why someone should risk their career by unnecessarily prolonging their victims' lives.

However, this... This was a game that he never realised he hungered for. All of the skills he picked up throughout the way was being put to the test. How well could he stalk, deceive and manipulate someone? It felt like for the first time since college; he was sitting for a final exam. Now, he wasn't the master of his craft. Now, he was only a student eager to prove himself much like those starry-eyed kids behind him, and he would give up anything in order to win the final prize.

Yashiro idly flicked through the book, and as time went on, more students approached him for a question or two. The afternoon went smoothly, and before Yashiro realised it, three hours had passed. The sun started to sink, and the sky turned grey. One by one, the kids stood up to leave after saying their goodbyes until there were only three people left in the library.

"No, I don't think that's right," Kenya insisted with a slightly raised voice. "You're using the wrong formula."

"No way!" Satoru pressed on with his original answer, his tone was taut and unflinching. "Look, this is clearly perpendicular!"

"Where did you get that from? This right here is a right angle and—"

"Ah!" The raven-haired male gasped in understanding before his friend could finish his sentence.

"Get it now?" Kenya sighed while Satoru nodded begrudgingly. 

"Time to take a break!" Yashiro put both of his hands on the boys' heads, making them jolt in surprise at the sudden intrusion. "You've studied so hard. Let's stop here."

"Huh?" Both kids blinked, then observed all around them to see that they were the only ones left. "It's 6 already." Glancing at the clock, Kenya stated while he started to pack up his belongings.

"I'll drive you two back home." Yashiro offered politely as he made his way towards the door.

The kids weren't about to refuse, so they hurried with the task at hand before half-running towards their teacher who had his hand on the light switch. After turning off the light and locking the door, they made their way towards the parking lot. 

"Where's Kayo, Satoru?" Yashiro decided to finally ask as he started the engine of his car. It was a surprise for him to see Satoru walking into the library without her, especially after the past few weeks. They seemed like they were attached on the hips with Satoru always trailing after Kayo that even his co-workers had a giggle talking about them in the teacher's lounge. And Yashiro, well, he was glad that everything turned out that way.

With Kayo next to Satoru, it would take some suspicion away from Yashiro when someone caught them together outside of school. Even if eyebrows were raised, Yashiro could simply deny the implication by saying that Satoru came after him to ask about tips on how to impress his girl-crush, and Yashiro had no power to refuse Satoru because he thought of it as sweet and borderline amusing that kids grew up so quickly. In a way, Kayo was the perfect scapegoat; and for the first time in a while, he was thankful of his decision to not snip her thread. 

"I asked her to come, but she kept turning me down," Satoru muttered with a pout, clearly concerned about her. 

"Ah, yes, she does seem like the type to do that," The teacher chuckled. When it was replied with a frown on Satoru's demeanour, he continued. "Playing hard to get, I mean. She must like you, Satoru."

"What?" The boy scrunched up his brows in confusion, unaware that he was being closely watched by his friend. 

"Isn't that why you came to me?" Yashiro asked, feigning ignorance. To his credit, he did an exceptionally great job. "You like her, don't you, Satoru? That's why you want to help her." 

"What?" Satoru repeated, now more confused than before. Didn't Yashiro already acknowledged his affection, and promised to date him in the future? "No, sensei! I thought—" 

"It must be nice, being young! You know, Satoru, everyone is talking about the two of you. I also think that you are adorable together! Right, Kenya?"

"Huh, sure," The blond muttered half-heartedly, as he was far too busy finding Satoru's one-sided affection amusing. If Yashiro were as sharp as he let on, he would know exactly of Satoru's feelings, and he was trying his best to turn the boy down. So it seemed that Yashiro's charm didn't only get into the girls, but boys as well, Kenya mused.

Understanding that he had Kenya believing in his act, Yashiro tugged the corner of his lips into a smirk. Good riddance, he thought. With this, the stage had been set, and the only thing left to do was to pull the red curtain so the show could commence. Finally, he would have some breathing space to work for his prize, away from most prying eyes.

.

It was finally the long-awaited summer break.

Sachiko smiled as she gazed through the window to see that the sun was high, and her son was at the beach with his friends. He even managed to convince Kayo to come with him, and Akemi had begrudgingly agreed to the request, no doubt because Sachiko was standing right behind Satoru with crossed arms. Her son was doing such a wonderful thing, to want to go above and beyond for his friend like that, and as a mother, she couldn't be happier.

It had been a few weeks since Satoru informed her that the bruises on Kayo had once again disappeared and that she had returned to how she was before the spring break: brighter and more cheerful. She could only hope that whatever Akemi was doing behind closed doors, would not happen again now that she saw how persistent Satoru was in involving himself in someone else's mess. Well, for safety measures, she still would like the child protection service to take Kayo, but it seemed that Satoru was reluctant to let her go. It was unfortunate that they arrived at the wrong time, so they couldn't find any evidence of domestic abuse. Sometimes law was such a frustrating thing. Nevertheless, she should still keep an eye open in hope to spot any evidence that would help Kayo's case.

She sat quietly on the dining table with her palms pressed together. Next to her, lied Satoru's report card that even now, she still smiled at upon sight. Satoru's marks were undoubtedly excellent, and she felt like the world's luckiest mother. No doubt that Yashiro's Sunday teaching session that one time had been more than worth it. 

Sachiko thought that for a teacher, Yashiro sure was considerate in a way that most teachers weren't. She remembered back when she was still attending school, most of her teachers kept a safe distance from the students, and would hardly ever inconvenience themselves for the kids' benefits. Initially, she was unsure as to what to think about it. Frankly, she was somewhat shocked when she discovered what a considerate teacher Yashiro was. After all, Satoru never talked about him, or any teachers for that matter. 

It went without saying that when Yashiro took an interest in Satoru, alarms blared in Sachiko's head. It might be her motherly instinct that caused such paranoia, but she felt like when it came to the safety of her son, she shouldn't take any chances. Even after a few months had elapsed, her suspicion never once faded away. It was a strange thing, especially when Yashiro didn't crowd Satoru. If he really meant harm, he would have taken it upon himself to visit the house more than once during the spring break, and for longer than ten minutes.

It was a possibility that they were meeting behind her back, but when Sachiko asked Satoru about Yashiro, the boy only curled his lips and said that they hadn't met ever since. She knew for a fact that her son was a horrible liar, so she never doubted him. That instilled a degree of relief within her, although for some reason, she was still unable to calm herself down completely.

However, now that the man himself sat calmly on the dining table, she suddenly felt at ease.

"This tastes wonderful, Fujinuma-san." Yashiro smiled with a voice so gentle that she found herself being lulled into comfort. Now she could see why he had a reputation for being the student's favourite. If he was her teacher back then, she probably would've crowned him as the best as well, because no one could fake such a comforting tone that didn't sound like it was only there for politeness. 

"Have some more!" Sachiko grinned as she put the plate full of cookies forward. It seemed that Yashiro had a bit of sweet tooth if the way he gobbled up the food was anything to go by. "Do you want any tea as well, Yashiro-sensei?"

The man covered his lips as he chewed the baked good and it took him a few seconds before he swallowed. "Please, don't trouble yourself," He said at last with a speck of chocolate on the corner of his lips. "I wasn't expecting to have something so delicious. This is already a treat in itself!"

"I insist. Do you take milk or sugar?" After getting to her feet, she walked towards the overhead cabinet to retrieve a saucer and a cup that clicked when it made contact with each other. 

"Sugar, please," He replied while still eyeing the plate of cookies. "Three teaspoons," Yashiro said, despite his preference of syrup instead of sugar.

Sachiko hummed in confirmation, then moved to heat some water using a kettle. It was only by coincidence that they met outside the house. Yashiro had two bags full of groceries and was heading for his car that he parked not far from there. He claimed that he was out of shape, and was trying to get more exercise, no matter how insignificant it might be. 

Out of shape, huh? Sachiko could only shake her head at that. For someone who claimed that he did nothing but sat all day, Yashiro was in a great shape that she couldn't help but wonder why he wasn't with someone already.

"Yashiro-sensei, pardon my rudeness," She finally decided to ask out of curiosity, hoping that this would give her closure for her unnecessary paranoia. "If you want a son so badly, why aren't you married?"

Yashiro drummed his fingers against the table with a small, distant smile. "My wife passed away in a robbery-gone-wrong," He answered, making Sachiko turn around in surprise. "I fear that even after all this time, I'm still unable to heal. Life sure is such a fickle thing."

"I'm sorry for your loss, and for bringing it up," She murmured, honestly feeling guilty for being inconsiderate. Setting down the cup of tea in front of Yashiro, she sighed. "It must have been terrible."

"It was," Yashiro glanced at his lap with darkened eyes. "She was a lovely woman." After a few seconds, Yashiro inhaled as to calm himself down, then he thanked Sachiko for the tea. "If I were to have a son, I would love him to be like Satoru. He is such a hardworking, disciplined kid. No doubt it's because of you, Fujinuma-san."

"Yashiro-sensei..." 

"Please, just Yashiro is fine, Fujinuma-san." The teacher smiled.

Sachiko returned the gesture, then tried again. "Then, Yashiro," She said, pausing for a few seconds before continuing. "You were telling the truth when you thought of Satoru as your son?"

Yashiro saw the glint of wariness in the corner of Sachiko's eyes and immediately realised that his hypothesis that she would be the person he had to watch out for, turned out to be correct. Well, no matter. It seemed that his act of grief had softened her enough for the next lie.

Yashiro nodded softly, then sighed. "Yes, sorry for being selfish."

It took Sachiko a few seconds to gauge the validity of that statement. Her hunch was still throbbing with doubt, but there was no denying the sincerity of Yashiro's words. Well, either that or he was one hell of a liar to be able to escape her observation. There were love and longing behind the answer, that was for sure, but at the same time, she could sense the coldness of his tone, like he was unable to express himself to the fullest extent. 

"What kind of woman was she?" Sachiko asked with one side of her face resting in her hand.

Yashiro offered a twitch of his lips, then sipped on his tea before answering. "Someone I don't deserve."

A very vague statement, Sachiko thought to herself. Was it merely grief that led to such short reply, or was it something else? "You must love her, don't you, Yashiro?" She exhaled softly, her eyes drilling into Yashiro's to find any trace of deceit. Much to her disappointment, the man kept his gaze steady on the table.

"I do," He murmured with a thin smile that Sachiko could tell was fake. As a news announcer, she had to pull such expression every day, after all. A short moment of silence stretched between the two until Yashiro decided to finally tilt his head up to face Sachiko. "Thank you for your hospitality, Fujinuma-san. I'm afraid that I have to get going now."

 "Oh?" The female turned to look at the clock which pointed at 2:58 PM. "I'll walk you out." She said as they both took a stand and made their way towards the door.

Was it an act, or was it the truth? She made a grave mistake of bringing up a sensitive topic, and now she wasn't sure if her hunch was to be trusted or not. More often than not, it always proved to be right, so Sachiko was inclined to take it at face value. However, Yashiro was a different story. That fake smile could easily pass as an attempt to mask his grief, or it could be that he felt no remorse, and was merely trying to form a sob story.

Sachiko shook her head discreetly. No, she must be getting pedantic. She really shouldn't overthink everything, or one of these days, she would get a sleep deprivation.

As soon as the door was closed behind him, Yashiro's expression shifted from his gentle demeanour into one that was far from it. He let out an annoyed sigh as he walked towards his car, bags of groceries in his hands. Fujinuma Sachiko. What a troublesome woman. It was clear that her suspicion was based on her hunch, and it would be fine had she not been such a sharp and unreadable person. Yashiro could feel the way she stared at him with scrutiny, seeing if there were any attempt of deceit. He was fortunate that she brought up the topic of his wife, so he had an excuse to not look at her in the eyes.

With a shrug, Yashiro set down the groceries in his car. Seemed like he couldn't afford to let his guard down just yet. He closed the door of his car and glanced at the passenger seat for a few seconds. Yes, this was something that he shouldn't rush, but he felt that if he took too much time, Sachiko would eventually ruin everything, and all of his effort and patience would be for naught.

Should he take the risk and sprint towards the goal?

.

"And, and!" Satoru had the brightest grin on his face as his hands flailed around in the air. "And then Kenya made this huge snowman. You wouldn't believe its size."

Kayo, with her fingers curling around the straps of her bag, smiled. "It sounds like fun."

"It was! You should come with us next time!" Stepping foot inside the classroom, Satoru let out cheerful laughter. "I can't get over how Kazu's snowman just toppled like that."

"Fujinuma," Kayo muttered quietly, in turn making Satoru turn his head towards her. "Thank you for taking me to the beach with your friends. I had fun."

Hearing the statement that came out of the blue, the boy stammered but ultimately nodded eagerly. "Don't worry, Hinazuki. I won't let your mother, or anyone, hurt you." He whispered softly as to prevent anyone from eavesdropping. Kayo might not say anything in return, but Satoru understood that for her to explicitly express her gratitude like that, he must have done one hell of a magnificent job.

Not a moment too soon, the bell rang throughout the school, and everyone scrambled towards their seats before Michiko walked in. Some students lingered for a few more seconds to finish their story, but after a full minute, everyone was seated with their kanji workbooks already open.

Satoru looked out the window where he saw the golden sun pouring in. It had been a fantastic summer, especially so after bagging a presentable report card that his mother stared at for a solid few minutes with her lips slightly agape in wonder. There was never any other answer when Satoru asked if he could go to the beach with Kenya and the others. She even gave him twice the amount of allowance!

He grinned to himself when he thought back to those few days ago. It was such a shame that the break ended so quickly. Ah, when lunchtime came, he would for sure find Yashiro and tell him all about it. After all, the only thing missing from his already perfect holiday was Yashiro. Had he been there, Satoru could stamp it as the best day of his life. It was kind of embarrassing to admit that even after a few months, he still failed to suppress his feelings for his teacher whereas Yashiro always seemed indifferent. That didn't stop him from desperately missing his presence, however.

Yashiro's soothing voice was like an oasis in an empty desert—something that Satoru would never have enough of. He felt like he had to work even harder than before so he could impress Yashiro. Perhaps then, he would be willing to accept the heart that Satoru offered.

"Where's Michiko-sensei?" One of the students glanced at the empty doorway, followed by the murmurs of others. It was uncharacteristic of her to be late, as she regarded punctuality so highly.

"Actually..." Someone said with a voice that wasn't short of agitation. "I heard on the news this morning that a teacher was found dead in front of her apartment."

"Don't say that! You're scaring me!" A girl chipped in with a high-pitched tone while looks of horror settled in everyone's faces.

"Really! My dad turned it off right after, but I don't think I heard wrong." She insisted. "Y-you don't think it's really Michiko-sensei, do you?"

"No way!" A boy quickly jumped in the conversation. "It's okay; she's probably just late. Don't talk about something so depressing like that. She must've overslept or something."

"Yeah... Yeah. You're right." Some others responded, although their words were forced.

Satoru could only blink with his heart thundering in his chest. Surely, that was just a baseless rumour, right? In a small town like this, murders were unthought of, and he was confident that there hadn't been a break-in in years.

Relief washed over him when he heard soft footsteps from the corridor that approached the classroom. Yes, there was absolutely no way that his teacher was dead.

"Settle down, everyone!"

Satoru's eyes snapped open in an instant. That wasn't Michiko's voice. That was...

"It seems that Michiko-sensei had to leave." Said the person who walked into the classroom. His voice was light and so, so familiar. When their eyes locked, Satoru could swear he saw a glint of red in those dark eyes. "I will be your teacher from now on. Most of you know me, and for those who don't, my name is Yashiro Gaku. Nice to meet you."

Chapter Text

Like a moth to a flame, a hoarse, fragmented and desperate moan was a melody that beckoned him to come closer. The warmth under his open, calloused hands—every shiver and tremble of desire was what convinced him that if there existed a guilty pleasure in the world, this would be considered such. There had never any good that came out of his fascination, and it seemed that today, that theory wouldn't be proven wrong. He hungered for little—no, there were little that could satisfy his parched throat, not even the sweetest nectar that the earth he walked on could provide.

Yashiro felt his eyes blinded by the desire to wrap his hand around the smooth, vulnerable throat of his prey; to watch as life slowly slipping away from those beautiful, glimmering orbs. At the enticing thought, he felt his fingers twitching and hands slowly moving until his thumbs pressed against the larynx of the boy seated obediently on top of him. The small but visible Adam's apple bobbed in his throat as he swallowed, knowing full well what was to come.

It's okay, he'd assure himself. Yashiro would not dare leave a lasting mark on his favourite prey. Even as those adult fingers put pressure on his neck, and he felt his head going numb at the lack of air, he stayed put. The boy clawed on Yashiro's chest with the thread above his head shimmering into and out of view, like it was trembling as it slowly came to its snapping point.

Satoru toppled forward, and would have fallen had Yashiro not pressed his palm on his shoulder to prop him up. The sight of his Spice, dishevelled with his eyes rolling to the back of his head, and saliva drenching his wrist, was more than enough to force a groan out of his lips. Fascination was not a word powerful enough to describe the wild throbbing of his heart whenever they touched, whenever they interacted. Love, yes, this must be love. It was a faraway and superficial concept that Yashiro had trouble admitting, yet it was crystal clear, and it felt so, so right.

It was not a difficult feat for Yashiro to tell when it had become too much. He let go just a second before Satoru was about to go limp, and watched as the boy took a deep breath. The corner of his eyes was flooded with tears that dripped down to his chin, and the string above his head returned to its original tautness, once again winking at him in a silent plea to be cut. No, Yashiro would not do it. He would keep stretching it until it snapped by itself.

Satoru could do nothing but moan as he felt life returning to his body, all while Yashiro's large hands grasped his frail waist to rock their hips in rhythm. It felt so wrong, but it felt so right like they were two pieces of a puzzle with its ends ripped so they could fit together. Their hands shouldn't be touching, yet they knew that they had no other option but to fall into each other. Yashiro, a broken man who had nothing else to live for except for his twisted desire to fill the gaping hole in his heart, and Satoru, a boy with far too much life for one person who longed to pull this murderer of a teacher into his embrace. They were their own poison, and eventually one would overwhelm the other. Which one would be left standing to revel in the aftermath once this was all over?

"I love you, Yashiro-sensei," Satoru gasped as his body arched. "I love you." He repeated with a loud, pleading moan that silently demanded more. Yashiro felt the ring of muscles around him tightening in a way that it was almost painful, but for Satoru, for his Spice, there was nothing he wouldn't bear. Pain was a temporary thing, and he was confident that Satoru would eventually thank him for the freedom he was granted from the curse of the thread. In Yashiro's arms, he was safe. In Yashiro's arms, he was home.

"Spice," The man grunted as he felt desire seeping from every crevice of his body. "Spice, you're mine. Only mine."

Yashiro stretched his hand forward to cup the boy's cheek and to wipe away his tears, but what greeted him was the sensation of nothingness. When he blinked, he was awoken from his slumber with no one else but him in the bedroom.

It took him a few minutes for everything to sink in that what he experienced was a mere fragment of his imagination. He glanced at his open palm with a fond smile, then let it crawl under his blanket and the fabric of his pants so his fingers could curl around his hardness.

"Look at what you've done to me, Spice." He murmured with a quiet voice, yet still managing to fuel it with drunken desire.

As Yashiro rode the wave of lust, his breathing became a little more jagged each time. There was nothing else but Satoru in his head, the Satoru who would eventually drop everything so he could be with Yashiro. That was how it should be. They didn't have anything but each other, and Yashiro would go to all ends to ensure that Satoru comprehended that.

This obsession was unnaturally high with no sign of slowing down. All time had done was to fuel his burning fascination for the boy who made him feel something other than indifference, the boy who made him feel alive for the first time in years. This must be it. Yashiro must have survived for so long so he could have a second chance at life. Who was he to deny the opportunity?

Yashiro laid on his bed with a glazed expression. He couldn't wait any longer. He needed to make a move now before anyone could stop him. Under normal circumstances, he would give it at least two more months so he could minimise all risk, but this was fine. He had done enough. One more second he spent playing on the safe side was one more second he gambled his efforts up until now to be dismantled. 

Yashiro's fingers curled into a ball as he sat up and let one of his feet touch the cold ceramic tile. Putting his coat on, he walked towards the front door and into his car.

"Michiko Rie." He whispered while firmly clutching the steering wheel. She was the one he had to take care of, first and foremost.

.

The day went by in a blur for Satoru and the other students who still had difficulty wrapping their heads around the assumption that their teacher was dead. It was only a few days ago that he saw her in the grocery store, and Satoru didn't recognise anything amiss. Yashiro had not said a word about the situation aside from a vague implication, which was to be expected. The only option was to ask him in private.

He scribbled notes into his book still with a disturbed expression. It was a miracle enough that he was able to somewhat focus on the lesson. No one could deny the fact that the disturbance was thick in the air like there was an impenetrable layer of fog that only reinforced as soon as the bell rang.

"Just in time!" Their teacher smiled as he closed the open book in his hand.

"Yashiro-sensei!" One of the students took a stand, clearly still shaken. "W-what happened to Michiko-sensei?" He stammered even though it seemed like he didn't want to know the answer.

"Hmm..." Yashiro hummed as he made his way towards the door. Judging by the dark eyes that the students possessed, lying would be counterproductive, so he smiled softly but didn't say anything else. It was one thing for them to think that their teacher was dead, but it was a whole another thing for it to be confirmed. Yashiro might be capable of murder, but he didn't think that it was right to break this tragic news like that.

The whole class was silent, but Satoru wasted no time to approach Yashiro when he turned the corner. He reached forward and grabbed Yashiro's suit jacket, making him stop in his track. However, he didn't turn around or give the boy even a second to say anything.

"See me near the gym storeroom, Satoru." Said Yashiro shortly with a flat tone that made Satoru freeze momentarily. When he snapped out of it, Yashiro was already out of his reach. He quickly made his way towards class 6-1 to check on Kenya, Hiromi and Kazu.

"Satoru," Kenya waved with a pensive look as if he already had everything figured out.

"Kenya, they changed our teachers around?" Asked the boy with his heart pounding loudly in his chest. When the blond nodded, Satoru pursed his lips. So it really was true, but it still felt so surreal.

"I have Yamamoto-sensei now. I believe they moved Yashiro-sensei to—" When Satoru dashed out of the classroom, Kenya frowned. "Satoru!" He called out, but the boy was already gone.

Satoru's feet moved as fast as they possibly could towards the gym despite the puzzled stares of other students. It didn't matter. He wanted to know the truth, and he was certain that Yashiro would be able to give him that. Reaching the storeroom didn't take much time, and as promised, Yashiro was there. He had a lollipop stick dangling on the corner of his lips, and he was looking up at the sky with a blank expression.

Despite the careful approach, Yashiro still noticed that the boy he was waiting for had arrived. Without turning to face him, the teacher parted his lips. "The cops might come to question you later today."

Satoru's shoulders jolted in surprise, but it soon went lax. He didn't do anything wrong. They probably only wanted information.

"You were the last person from school Michiko encountered before her death," Yashiro muttered with a dull tone. "As your teacher, the cops wanted me to let you know so you won't be surprised when they approach you this evening." That was a lie, though, he mused. He just overheard one of them talking outside the gate this morning, and was he glad for that information.

"Then, she's really..." The boy trailed off, his fingers curling into a ball at the truth.

"Did you know her very well, Spice?" Asked Yashiro with a tinge of idle curiosity. When his student shook his head, he pushed himself off the wall and sat on the chair next to him. He patted the surface with his eyes cast at Satoru as a silent request for him to sit. When the younger male complied, Yashiro took a deep breath. "Michiko Rie. A victim of child and domestic abuse." He said, noticing how Satoru immediately frowned. "She told me that."

At the silence, Yashiro decided to continue. "She had been battling with depression these past few years to no avail. The scars that her loved ones left was far too potent for her to bear. Don't you think it's unfair, Spice?"

Satoru nodded dolefully. "People can be cruel. It's disgusting." He sighed while clenching the fabric of his pants. He didn't want Kayo to bear the same burden.

"Yes. Yes they can," Yashiro said while letting his back lean against the concrete wall. "She's suffered so much, and she had no one by her side."

"I can't imagine that." The boy murmured, his mind forming images of his mother, Kenya, Kayo, Hiromi, Kazu and Yashiro. His life would most likely be a living hell without them. With legs swinging back and forth sluggishly, Satoru twiddled his thumbs. He could only hope that those people he listed knew how much he loved them. This talk of death made him realise just how fragile life was.

Yashiro smiled tenderly before placing one of his hands on Satoru's. He watched the exact moment Satoru's cheeks turned beet red at the contact, and his eyes shifting left and right in the process. "Spice," The teacher whispered low, forcing a tingle down Satoru's spine. "Do you trust me?"

Satoru felt Yashiro's long fingers intertwining with his smaller ones, and his face couldn't heat up any more than it did. Yashiro's palm was warm on his, so much so that he felt himself calming down. How he did it, Satoru wasn't sure. Biting his lower lip in a sorry attempt to repress a sigh, he nodded. "I trust you, sensei."

Dangerous. Dangerous. Dangerous.

Alarms blared in Satoru's head as soon as he tilted his face up to take a closer look at Yashiro. He was met not with that kind, caring look that he loved wholeheartedly, but with eyes that expressed insatiable hunger like a predator whose claws had been buried deep into his prey's neck, and he was licking his lips to prepare himself for the feast. Suddenly, he felt his blood running cold. The warmth of Yashiro's palm soon faded away, and Satoru could do nothing but tremble. This wasn't right. This wasn't the Yashiro he knew.

"Let me ask you again, Spice," He purred as he leaned closer to Satoru's face, enough that the boy could smell the sweet scent of cherry from Yashiro's lips. Letting his mask slip like that was bound to coax a negative reaction from Satoru who had grown to associate his teacher with kindness. However, he had waited months for this; months he invested to groom Satoru into a perfect pet who would stay by his side no matter the consequences. Yashiro could hardly stop himself from salivating at the thought of what was to come next. "Do you trust me?"

The shiver that crawled under Satoru's skin was far too real to be denied. It reminded him of the Yashiro of his dream, the one who loomed over a bruised and battered Kayo with no hint of remorse in his eyes. No, that can't be, Satoru stammered internally. That was only a dream. It wasn't real. Yashiro wouldn't—he wouldn't!

It wasn't real. It couldn't be.

Dangerous. Dangerous. Dangerous. The whispers cried out again and again, but Satoru couldn't find it in him to say no to Yashiro. Yashiro, the man whom he loved, the one who had been nothing but gentle to him. He couldn't possibly turn down any of his requests. If there was anything he learned all those months, it was that Yashiro valued his cooperation, always showering him with praises whenever he did right by him. And gods, Satoru didn't want to miss that look of pride dedicated only to him, not even once.

The dangerous glint of maroon in Yashiro's eyes should compel him to flee, yet it didn't. The mere thought of disappointing Yashiro was sufficient to make Satoru cringe in distaste. There must be something else to the question, more than what it implied. No, Yashiro did not kill Michiko. There had to be a hidden meaning behind the query, something that Satoru couldn't see. 

"I..." He stuttered, hesitating because the whispers had changed into loud howls that tried to convince Satoru to turn away. As each second passed by awfully slowly, it became quieter and quieter until it was nothing but an echo that soon vanished. With renewed vigour, Satoru steeled himself with a loud inhale. "I trust you, sensei."

Yashiro could jump up in triumph at that moment, but he somehow managed to keep his emotion in check. His eyes closed to revel in the moment of victory before he opened them once more and gripped Satoru's hand with both of his.

"I want you to tell the cops that I was with you yesterday."

.

Kenya was still in the classroom when he noticed three cops walking down the hallway towards class 6-3. It was four in the evening, which meant that most kids had already gone home except for those on cleaning duty, namely him and a few others.

When the news came in the morning that all the teachers would be shuffled around, Kenya immediately knew that something wasn't right. His suspicion was only cemented when he walked into Satoru's classroom where it was eerily silent. The kids were whispering amongst each other with some visibly trembling. Kayo explained what was happening upon questioning, and Kenya could only speculate that Satoru went after Yashiro to confirm the situation, so he looked around to find them.

He was fortunate to have spotted Yashiro from the third storey. The teacher walked around a corner towards a mostly abandoned gym storeroom. Kenya didn't waste even a second to run after him.

When he arrived at the site, he saw Yashiro leaning forward towards Satoru as if whispering something. He couldn't clearly see their expressions, but he felt goosebumps on the back of his neck. Something was gravely wrong. Even when Satoru left, Kenya couldn't find the strength to move his legs.

And now, he could only watch as Yashiro and Satoru walked into a car together. A sense of foreboding started to metastasise inside of him.

.

It was cold.

"Fujinuma-kun?"

Satoru nodded but kept his eyes steady on the hands that he rested on his lap. Despite the sun setting, the summer was still hot, but that didn't warm up the ice that ran in Satoru's veins. He could feel himself shivering in fear of what to come. This wasn't right, and he shouldn't involve himself in whatever Yashiro was planning, but what could he do when his moral was overshadowed by his desire?

Clenching his pants tightly, Satoru pursed his lips as he looked at the officer who took a seat in front of him. The cop mistook the gesture as the nerve of facing an authority, so he let out a comforting smile that did nothing to ease Satoru.

"My name is Shigeru. I'm just here to ask a few questions," He said carefully and waited to see the small nod of the head that he received within a few seconds. The man retrieved a notebook and a pen, then clicked on the end before scribbling on the paper. "Based on what information we gathered, you last met your teacher, Michiko-sensei yesterday at the nearby grocery store. Is this right, Fujinuma-kun?"

A nod.

"When you talked to her, did you notice anything strange?"

Satoru's eyes shivered, but that didn't stop him from asking, "What happened to Michiko-sensei?"

"She..." Shigeru paused to gauge his option, then sighed. This kid seemed to be a head above the others. There was something about him that made Shigeru want to treat him like an adult. "She passed away, Fujinuma-kun. We are trying to determine the cause."

"Was it murder?" The raven-haired boy tilted his face up to look at Shigeru right in the eyes. "Did someone kill her?"

The look of surprise was clear in the officer's face, but he quickly masked it. "We can't say for sure, but will you help us determine it, Fujinuma-kun?" At the tentative nod, Shigeru smiled. "So, what did you talk about with Michiko-sensei?"

"Uhm, about the summer holiday..." Satoru replied truthfully, his mind going back to that day. "She asked me if I've done my homework, but that's about it."

"Nothing else?" He asked when he was almost finished writing down the answer. When he saw that Satoru shook his head, he hummed contemplatively.

"She looked normal, from what I can remember, but I wasn't really paying attention, so I can't say for sure."

"I understand," Shigeru retorted with a finger pressed on his chin. "Do you recall anything at all that you think can help? Did she say anything about what she's been up to during the break?"

Satoru took his time picking apart his memory despite not being able to see or hear anything but Yashiro's voice. "She, uh, I think she said something about going to her mother's house later that day."

"Really?" Shigeru raised his eyebrows while jotting down some more notes. "Did she say with who, or how?"

"No, not really." The answer came out whispered that it took the officer a few seconds to catch it. There were a few more questions thrown Satoru's way that he mostly shrugged off because he could hardly remember anything. If he'd known that Michiko would be dead, he would've tried to let more details sink in, but alas, it was too late for regrets. Not to mention the sense of dread that had started to overtake him that led to him envisioning shadow crawling from underneath him—he could hardly think straight.

"Thank you very much for the information, Fujinuma-kun," Shigeru said as he closed his notebook and pocketed his pen. "One last thing," He pursed his lips while leaning forward. "Where were you last night?"

There it was.

Satoru immediately froze, his whole body was so numb that he couldn't feel the pain of his nails digging into his thigh through the fabric. He bit his lower lip with a heart that pounded like a sledgehammer. This was the one question that he dreaded most. He shouldn't lie. He should say that he was at the park, alone, not doing anything except gazing at the starry night sky while seated on the swings.

If Yashiro, indeed, murdered Michiko, it was the right thing to point fingers at him and allow the cops the liberty of arresting him. One's life wasn't something that anyone should toy with, and someone like Yashiro should know that! There must be a good reason why he did it. There was no way Yashiro would kill - if he really was the perpetrator - just for the sake of it. Then why? Michiko was just a normal teacher living an average life, from what Satoru could tell. She was—

His heart stopped momentarily.

She was a victim of child and domestic abuse. She had been battling depression for years.

In the analogy of life and death of the puppy, she was the puppy. And if he remembered correctly, Yashiro said...

"Even if it grows up, nothing will change. You are just prolonging its suffering, all because you can't empathise with its pain. If it wants to die, what right do we have to deny its decision?"

Was this what Yashiro meant by that? Had he been planning her demise since that day? Michiko was suffering, and Yashiro was there ready to save her from the cruelty of the world. Now, he needed Satoru to back him up. Was this what he meant by a justified reason to kill?

It terrified Satoru that he could see some sense in that. Just a few months ago, he'd always thought that no matter what, murder was a heinous crime worthy of punishment, but now, he started to doubt his own morality. Was this justified? Was it really the right thing to do? Wherever Michiko was, was she glad to be liberated in this manner?

No, that couldn't be. It was a plausible theory, but something didn't sit quite right. If there was anything he learned about Yashiro during these past few months, it was that he was crafty and meticulous. No matter what, Satoru couldn't imagine him leaving his jobs half-done without tying any loose ends. If he really was responsible for Michiko's death, he would've done it discreetly without needing any help from Satoru. Yes, Yashiro was no gambler. He wouldn't dare hint a secret as dark as this to his student.

"Fujinuma-kun?" Shigeru prompted curiously when he the boy remained tense on his seat, not saying anything. "Don't be nervous. I'm not accusing you of anything."

Satoru wasn't listening. His mind was clouded, and his judgement started to falter. Was Yashiro testing his loyalty with this absurd request? Regardless of the answer, Satoru couldn't bear to go back on his words and risk losing Yashiro. If they took Yashiro away, what would he do? The mere thought of it was enough to instil a feeling of longing in Satoru's heart.

"I..." He stammered. "I was with Yashiro-sensei last night. We met each other at the park by chance."

"Oh?" Shigeru raised his eyebrows. "What time was it?"

"Around six, I think. He took me home at about seven." The boy muttered softly.

"I see. Thank you for your time, Fujinuma-kun," The officer took a stand with Satoru's eyes following his motion. "Do you need a ride home?" 

Satoru immediately shook his head. "No, I'll be fine. Thank you, Shigeru-san. I have one more thing I need to do before I go."

"Hm? Okay. Take care." He waved, then walked out of the empty classroom.

Reality soon dawned upon Satoru as he exhaled. There was no turning back now. He lied to the cops, and if Yashiro turned out to be the man they were looking for, Satoru was an accomplice.

Wind slipped into the quiet room and stroke Satoru's hair with its gentle breeze. With his eyes closed, he could only hear the lull of the sunset and the soft flapping of the curtain. His heart which had been hammering loudly in his chest gradually slowed down until it was just a background noise that blended with the sound of the wind. Suddenly, the cloud in his mind settled, and he could think clearly once more.

It encouraged him to finally take a stand, and when he opened his eyes, he saw Yashiro standing on the door with a gentle smile. One of his hands was rested on the wooden frame as he tenderly gazed at Satoru, but there was only silence. The quiet that should be eerie, especially after the thought that Yashiro was a man capable of murder settled in his stomach, was nothing but comforting for Satoru. After all, he had kept his part of the promise, and he was certain that Yashiro was pleased.

The first footstep came. His leather shoes echoed as it clanked deafeningly against the ceramic tile, and Satoru found himself flinching momentarily albeit not for long. His eyes remained on Yashiro even as he stood right in front of him, looming at him with a height that doubled his.

There it was. Yashiro's warm, soothing palm on his head, stroking and running through his hair just the way he loved it. Unconsciously, Satoru closed his eyes just in time for Yashiro to close the distance between them to pull the boy into a hug.

Satoru couldn't breathe. His face burned at the pungent smell of Yashiro's cologne, and his heart thundered violently when he could feel the steady rise and fall of his teacher's chest. Yes, this was it. This was why Satoru did what he did. There was always a reward behind Yashiro's every request and this was no exception.

Then, Satoru felt something on his forehead. When he realised what was happening, Satoru felt like he could die happy. Yashiro had his lips on Satoru's forehead, and he could scarcely believe it.

"Spice," The man sighed with repressed glee. His voice was visibly shaking, and Satoru immediately understood that he had done his job perfectly. "You are such a blessing. Such a good, good boy." It was a momentous moment for Yashiro who had spent months upon months grooming Satoru into the boy in front of him. His plans went without a hitch, and he couldn't be any more delighted than this. Satoru executed his request without knowing what exactly it was that he wanted. It was a sign that Yashiro had finally left a mark of blood on the white canvas. His blood boiled in his veins, his adrenalin was sky high he could barely contain it.

"Yashiro-sensei," Satoru murmured quietly when Yashiro let go of him. "You didn't do it, did you?"

The teacher didn't say anything. He only blinked and let the wind blew between them as an answer.

"Michiko-sensei committed suicide. You didn't kill her. The reason why you asked me to lie to Shigeru-san is because you want to see how trustworthy I am."

That hypothesis might sound like it was a shot in the dark, but it was one that Satoru believed. Everything felt wrong when he assumed that Yashiro murdered someone so thoughtlessly like that. Now that his head was clear, he started to cement his own theory.

Yashiro, on the other hand, stood there unmoving with a smile that never once faltered. His hair blew gently in the wind, and he extended his arm forward.

"Let's go, Spice." He said, and he didn't have to wait long for the boy to reach out and take his hand. Together, they walked out of the classroom.

What Yashiro didn't tell Satoru was that his speculation was correct.

Chapter Text

It was summer, but the night wind was far too cold for it to be considered such. Yashiro could feel the prickle of the breeze against his cheek as he rolled down his car window to get some fresh air. The crescent moon was high in the black sky, illuminating the lonely road that Yashiro was driving through to get to his destination.

He popped the strawberry lollipop out of his mouth, letting his tongue linger over it for a few more seconds before he smiled to himself and focused on the task at hand once more. Only five more minutes, he duly noted upon glancing at the digital clock on the dashboard. It was getting quite late, nearing the time where parents would tuck their children into bed, and he intentionally chose a road less travelled, so the risk of being spotted was minimal.

Yashiro's eyes filtered out the view as his destination came into sight. It was a small, average-looking apartment with a few cars parked in front of it. The light was dim, some flickering, and the street light was completely busted. He eased his vehicle to a stop in the opposite corner of the road where lighting was minimal, but not completely off as to not arouse suspicion.

Leaning back on his chair with his eyes closed, he smiled. It had been a while since he last had to do this that he almost forgot just how exciting the prospect of prowling around his prey was. Like this, he could hear the steady beating of his own heart and the slight tremor of his hands. This time, however, he had something at stake. He couldn't afford to slip up and alarm the authority because that would mean losing Satoru.

Yashiro's eyes shifted towards one of the many balconies where he could see lights coming from. Being a fellow teacher, it was not a difficult feat to obtain information regarding her whereabouts, especially after the many conversations they had. Michiko was a lovely woman, one that Yashiro would gladly leave alone had she not been in the way. It was a mere inconvenience when he discovered that he wouldn't be teaching Satoru that year, but now it had developed into something more. Now, he had to have Satoru in his sight more than ever, and the first step was to erase what was blocking them.

Yashiro's elbow rested on the space next to the car window, his fingers pressed against his lips as he idly observed the silhouette wandering around the room - the fifth storey. The first step to any perfect murder was to have an understanding of his target's habits. It would take him a couple of months before moving on to the next step, even more, if his target was more extroverted. Good thing that he never had to chase after that type.

When he noticed movement towards the balcony, followed by the glass door being slid open to reveal a much-expected figure of Michiko, Yashiro narrowed his eyes. She remained there for a while, unmoving. Both of her hands were placed on the metal railing, and her eyes cast to the sky. Five minutes and ten seconds later, she relaxed her posture and swiped her arm across her eyes as if wiping away her tears. Then, she proceeded to pace around the small open space while nibbling on her fingers.

Eight minutes and thirty-two seconds later, she climbed over the railing and Yashiro watched as her body tumbled down and landed with a loud crash.

.

Satoru's heart could not stop pounding even after a few minutes he spent inside Yashiro's car. With his knees pressed together, he twiddled his thumb in an attempt to calm himself down. Yashiro, however, was idly humming to a tune on the radio while tapping his fingers against the steering wheel as if he hadn't just invited Satoru to his house. Satoru wished he could be as composed as Yashiro always seemed to be. That would make his life so much easier.

What would Yashiro's house be like, Satoru wondered. He looked like the type who would read a lot, so maybe just a whole lot of books? Would it be messy or clean? Somehow the thought of Yashiro leaving his place in a state of disarray almost sounded uncharacteristic, considering how organised he was.

"Something on your mind, Spice?" The teacher asked as he glanced at the rear-vision mirror out of habit.

"Nothing!" Satoru quickly answered. The nickname, oddly enough, still left a bitter aftertaste despite having been used multiple times. Well, Satoru was confident that he would get accustomed to it soon enough.

"Are you feeling okay?" Yashiro glanced towards the boy with a curious glance. "About what happened, I mean."

"About what happened to Michiko-sensei?" He sighed and took his time forming a proper response. It was odd how he had been shattered after hearing the news just this morning, but right now, they were a mere afterthought. He shuddered. Had he always been this insensitive before? "I'm fine," Satoru muttered, followed by a whisper of I guess,

The older male raised his eyebrows but ultimately failed to suppress the growing sense of satisfaction growing within him. Most might not be able to recognise the slight shift in intonation, but Yashiro had never been one to miss a single hint of change. Satoru's tone was flat, full of indifference yet fuelled with uncertainty.

"Sensei, what did you really do last night?" The boy then decided to ask. It was something that had been gnawing on him ever since he left the classroom, but never really dared to ask.

There was a sigh from Yashiro before he bobbed his head up and down lightly. "You said that Michiko-sensei committed suicide, didn't you?" When it was answered with a hesitant nod, Yashiro continued. "You're right."

"Huh?" The student blinked in surprise. So his hypothesis was correct. That realisation led to his heart slowly easing a little, as he now knew that he hadn't been lying to the cops for no reason.

"I told you, didn't I?" Yashiro said quietly yet with conviction. "Michiko-sensei was suffering from depression and suicidal thoughts, all because her parents and ex-husband abused her. Her child even left her. There had not been a single day where she was ever truly happy, and I know because I can read people, Spice. She might be all smiles on the outside, but she wasn't right on the inside."

Satoru nodded, eyes cast to his lap. It must have been harsh for her.

"And you, of all people, should be able to sympathise, though not empathise, with her. You are one of the most astute kids when it comes to the feelings of others, after all," Yashiro tapped the boy sitting next to him lightly on the head. "I feel that this is the best outcome that could've happened, don't you think?"

Satoru pursed his lips. He didn't know. He didn't want to know what his answer was.

The silence forced Yashiro to clear his throat, so he wouldn't be caught snickering at the indecision he helped create. "Of course, if she had done it all those years ago, it would've been over much quicker. If it's a choice between a slow, agonising death and a quick one, you would choose the latter wouldn't you, Spice?"

No response was heard. Satoru clawed on the fabric of his pants.

"I guess we can't blame her. Ending your life with your own hands is a task too mortifying for any teenagers or growing adults who still have a lot to look forward to," Yashiro tugged the corner of his lips into a smirk. "But if someone else was to feel any pity at all for her, the best thing they could do to help is to end it right there. It's the same outcome either way."

Satoru trembled, his shoulders tensing as his fists curled into balls. "No one should have to go through that."

Run away. Get out of the car. Leave. Don't follow him.

The worst part was that Satoru knew that none of what Yashiro said aligned with his moral or the rest of the world's for that matter, but he couldn't get the echoes of Yashiro's voice in his head. Slowly but surely, it drowned out the sensible part of him, fighting off the whispers that tried its damnedest to snap Satoru back to reality. He suddenly found himself in the middle of a losing tug-of-war.

He could see some sense behind what Yashiro said, even more than before. He still wouldn't dare to mark another, but he failed to frown at the crude principle although it sounded gravely wrong.

Don't fall, Satoru. You can't. Said the voice, its scream muffled.

Satoru took a deep breath to stabilise his mental state, but he remained silent. He started to see just what the voice was talking about when it said that Yashiro was dangerous, but tried as he might, he couldn't find it in him to walk away. If anything, he wanted to press himself closer against Yashiro; to find out where in the grey area his sense of justice lied. If Yashiro was nothing like the voice portrayed him to be, then it would be okay. If he was proven wrong, then Satoru would try his best to change Yashiro's twisted view of the world. Between losing Yashiro and sacrificing a part of himself to be with him, Satoru would gladly choose the latter, because he could feel it, a strong chain that connected both of them. It rattled as they desperately pull themselves closer to each other. The ground under their feet trembled, shattered and cracked to reveal what tightrope they were walking on. One wrong move and one would lose the other, worse yet, both of them would be dragged down into the bottomless pit with no escape in sight. However, Yashiro dared to move forward so Satoru felt obliged to return the gesture.

"All right, we're here," Yashiro said as he put the car in brake mode. Both of them walked out of the car, and Satoru watched as Yashiro opened the front door to reveal a small hallway. They put their shoes neatly on the shelves prior to venturing further into the house. "Well, this is where I live." Yashiro smiled, then he turned around to face Satoru who seemed to be rooted in the doorway just in front of him.

Oh.

It was then that everything struck Satoru at once. There was no mistaking it. The colour of the wall, the faint smell of flower that lingered in the air, the way the floor felt under his feet, and the shiver that ran his blood cold; they were all present and tangible in that nightmare all those months ago. His toes twitched at the memory of the hard steel around his ankle, his tongue pressed harder against the roof of his mouth when he recalled the slight saltiness of the omelette that Yashiro served.

They were real. They were all real. Yashiro lied to him.

An audible click from behind Satoru made him jolt in apprehension. When he tentatively moved his head to face Yashiro, he could see a smile—a smirk. Slowly shifting his eyes towards Yashiro's, he soon realised that Yashiro, too, knew that Satoru saw through his deceit.

Who are you to think you can change a man like Yashiro Gaku?

Satoru closed his eyes. The voice wavered in the regret of its decision to jam this infatuation deep inside his heart. Did it think that he was that frail? Satoru would not succumb into whatever Yashiro planned for him so easily. He had yet to lose grip of the chain. Instead of tucking his tail between his legs, Satoru found a surge of courage—one that stemmed from his recklessness or wisdom, he wasn't sure, but he was keen to find out. One thing he knew was that Yashiro would not let him fall and break.

Satoru, surprisingly enough, wasn't furious at Yashiro for covering up the truth. If not for that, he wouldn't be able to face him right now and would've most likely turned tail and ran. If it happened, what would be of Yashiro? He would be left alone once more, and wouldn't that mean Satoru failed to save him?

After the few months they spent together, Satoru came to the knowledge that Yashiro legitimately cared for him, and wasn't only here to take advantage of his feelings. Why else would he be treated with such kindness, otherwise? He wanted to give Yashiro a chance, murderer or not. He wanted to understand why exactly he did what he did because Yashiro was not the type to kill for fun. There must be something more than met the eye, a cause for this dark secret of his, be it a traumatic childhood, a delusion or an illness. And when there was a scar, there must be a salve.

The boy turned his body to face Yashiro, and with fire in his eyes, he took a deep breath. "I'm not going to run away, Yashiro."

Yashiro's expression was calculating, but not for long. In a matter of seconds, he concluded that there was no insincerity behind what Satoru said. It differed a little from how he imagined Satoru would react, but not entirely unexpected. If anything, it was better than what he anticipated. Yes, that look in his eyes—the searing, sharp glare that tingled his spine, it was a sign that Yashiro was doing everything right.

He tightened his grip on the doorknob before he could be completely overwhelmed with the desire to ravish the boy in front of him. It seemed that the sight of the hallway was enough to wake Satoru up from the illusion conjured by Yashiro, yet there was no sign of struggle. What else could it be aside from a sign of success?

No, Yashiro narrowed his eyes. That wasn't it.

"I'll save you," Satoru said with conviction. "I promised it that I'd save you."

"It?" The man raised his eyebrows in confusion.

"The voice." He continued as he moved further into the house. 

"Ah, yes," Yashiro nodded with a grimace. "You did say something about that a few months ago. Mind elaborating, Spice?" His strides were longer and bigger than Satoru, and he easily caught up with the boy. He placed a hand on the back of Satoru's neck and traced a line up and down his nape.

Satoru visibly twitched at the contact but soon relaxed. It seemed that the realisation that Yashiro was no innocent man wasn't enough to douse his affection, and Satoru silently cursed himself. Had he fallen for Yashiro's trap? No, he refused to believe it. He still had full control over his own urges, and he didn't want to think otherwise. The moment he admitted that he was powerless under Yashiro's influence was the moment he knew that his attempt to take the man away from the darkness that enveloped him was lost.

"It started last year. I don't know what triggered it, but there's always something that talks to me in the back of my head. It describes to me the events that have yet to happen, the people I have yet to meet and explains to me the lessons that you were teaching." Satoru said as he took a seat on the dining table with Yashiro crossing his arms next to him.

"I will make a cup of tea. Please keep going." Muttered Yashiro softly before moving into towards the kitchen. There was a large opening in place of a door, and Satoru could see Yashiro's back as he shifted around the area to grab some utensils. 

"You were planning on killing Hinazuki that day weren't you, Yashiro?" Asked the boy carefully. The thought of it was enough to make him shudder, but he was glad for that reaction. It showed that he had yet to be ensnared.

"Yes," Replied the man shortly, all while putting a kettle on the stove. "Did the voice lead you to her?" 

Satoru hummed in confirmation, head bobbing lightly. "Up until then, I've always tried to deny its existence though I follow most of its orders out of curiosity. In fact, most of what I did last year was because of the voice. Approaching Hinazuki, befriending everyone in the classroom, studying harder," He paused momentarily. "You." 

Yashiro seemed visibly taken aback for a split second, his shoulders twitching and his head tilting up. However, he said nothing aside from monologuing to himself. What exactly was this voice? It must be the reason why he had such look on him in that shed, why he always seemed to brim with life. It was as if... 

"It's like a whisper from the future," Satoru concluded. Yes, that was one way of saying it. Up until now, he had always considered it as a hunch albeit a potent one. However, it successfully deduced just how dangerous Yashiro was, and he had a feeling that it wasn't just his gut telling him so, seeing that he almost fell into Yashiro's Web. "And it wants me to save you."

"Like a premonition? A déjà vu?" Asked Yashiro calmly while he leaned his shoulder against the wall, arms crossed.

"Not really," Scratching the back of his head, Satoru sighed. "I think it's much more real than that."

"A part of you that has seen the future, then?" At the tentative nod, Yashiro chuckled. "That sounds about right. I knew that there's something different about you, Spice, like—" Interrupted by the loud whistle of the kettle, Yashiro paused. He then uncrossed his arms and removed the appliance off the stove before continuing. "Like you're untouchable. Not in a sense that most kids feel—their invincibility is just a product of their imagination—but really, really untouchable."

"That's what the voice tells me. It said that you won't do anything to me." Satoru replied as he grabbed a lollipop from the stack in the bowl in the centre of the table.

"I suppose it's right, then," Answered the older man once he emerged from the kitchen to place a cup of hot tea in front of Satoru, then a few milk capsules and a small jar of sugar. Yashiro placed both of his hands on the table and leaned towards Satoru with a crooked grin. "I would never do you any harm unless I'm forced to."

Something in the back of Satoru's head told him that yes, Yashiro would absolutely act on his threat if he dared to step out of line. It was far out of his reach, but it was certainly there. The boy swallowed thickly, then turned away to focus on the surface of his tea. It was a smart idea not to run.

"And how exactly are you planning to 'save' me, and from what?" Yashiro smiled as he took a seat in front of Satoru.

"I..." Satoru muttered hesitantly.

"You know what?" The older male chuckled, his voice full of confidence that he wouldn't be swayed no matter what. "Surprise me."

A vein popped in Satoru's head, and he curled his lips at the condescending tone. He might not understand what exactly he needed to do now, but given time he'd be able to bake a plan.

Yashiro smirked at the apparent confusion, but couldn't help feeling even more excited than before, his heart beating loudly inside his chest, and he could barely stop an ear-to-ear grin from growing. It really was a race between them, and whereas before only one party knew about it, now both of them did. In this tug-of-war with everything on the line, who was going to emerge victoriously? There was a fire in Satoru's eyes like he believed that he could pick up Yashiro's broken pieces and put them back together. He might have this voice of his supporting him, but at the end of the day, Satoru was just a naive kid with a delusion of utopia where neither of them had to sacrifice anything to be with each other. Yashiro knew firsthand that the world wasn't a kind place and there was no way that it would allow profit without a tribute of equal value.

Of course, Satoru didn't have to know that. Yashiro would gladly let the boy do whatever he liked so that he could see how crafty Satoru could be. He wouldn't stop him, all because he wanted to revel in Satoru's purity before it could get overwhelmed by the darkness.

And it certainly not because he longed to see the light, not because there was a part of him that possessed a slither of hope that Satoru would succeed.

"What do you want for dinner, Spice?" Yashiro decided to finally ask after seeing the time. It was almost seven.

"Can I have ice cream?" Satoru perked up just like this, even amazing himself at how quickly he recovered from this danger he charged head-first into.

"Dinner, Spice," He chuckled at the look of disappointment shot his way. "I have some cookies and cream ice cream in the fridge. Finish your dinner and I'll let you have dessert."

"You're like my mum." The boy scowled.

"That's not good," Yashiro laughed after getting to his feet. "What about this: I'll let you eat in the bedroom while we watch a movie?"

This was all for Yashiro's good, Satoru told himself as he tried to prevent any emotion from spilling out. Others might stamp him as insane to want to help a murderer, but Satoru thought he was far from that. He believed that Yashiro wasn't an inherently evil person and whatever made him into this must have been that traumatic. If anything, Satoru felt sorry for Yashiro, and he would do anything in his power to convince the man in front of him that he still had the opportunity to change himself. In order to do that, Satoru must get even closer to Yashiro. For now, he would just act as if he hadn't discovered this secret of his. That would lighten the burden in his head so he wouldn't feel pressured to act any differently. He knew that if he didn't tread with care, he might well lose Yashiro's fascination, and as a result, would have a dagger pointed on his back when he least expected it.

With a renewed sense of determination, Satoru nodded firmly; then he grinned with a tinge of pink on his cheeks. "Sounds good to me!" Yes, for now, he would forget about Yashiro's homicidal tendencies. Not that he had killed anyone as of late anyhow, there shouldn't be a reason why Satoru should feel guilty about indulging Yashiro.

Satoru took a deep breath as he watched the older man walked into the kitchen with an amused smile. There was no doubting Yashiro's plan to forcefully drag Satoru into the darkness, and now Yashiro knew of Satoru's resolve to be the one to take his hand instead.

It's a race then, the boy muttered quietly. Let's see who'll make it to the finish line first.

The boy hopped off the seat and headed towards the bedroom. It took him a few seconds of hesitation before he could take the first step inside. It was exactly how his dream—memory—portrayed it. A mostly empty room, decorated very minimally with a vase of fresh flower on the nightstand and some books stacked neatly on the desk.

He glanced at the bedpost where he could remember the chain that trapped him, now empty. It was enough to convince Satoru that it was okay to make himself comfortable. He tentatively sat on the edge of the bed, facing the wall-mounted TV in front of him as he waited for Yashiro to finish cooking.

The remote, the remote, Satoru murmured to himself while patting the bed and eyes scouring around the room to spot an object that looked like a TV remote control. When he opened the nightstand's drawer, his breath hitched in his throat. He found what he was searching for, but in the process, he also discovered a sealed box of condoms and a still-full bottle of lube that he wished he hadn't seen. Satoru quickly grabbed the remote and slammed the drawer shut.

That was nothing to feel embarrassed about! He exclaimed mentally. It wasn't like the box was even open! If anything, both objects seemed like it had been there for a while, fully untouched. However, even with the TV on, he failed to take his mind out of the gutter. The thought of Yashiro having sex with someone was enough to boil his blood in a fit of childish jealousy. Yashiro was his, dammit!

Satoru curled his lips in a pout before he took a deep breath and shook his head. No, no, he groaned while occasionally shifting his eyes towards the nightstand. He had to confirm it for himself, he decided. Slowly and carefully, his hand moved to the drawer knob to pull on its wooden surface. The two objects, expectedly enough, were still there. Satoru dared to observe them closely while running his fingers across the plastic container of the lube. It was dry, and the box of condoms was still wrapped neatly in plastic.

Yashiro intentionally chose something that was easy to cook, so he managed to finish everything in a little under forty-five minutes. By the time he arrived inside the bedroom, he saw that Satoru already made himself right at home, peeking into his almost-forgotten private stash like that.

Moving towards Satoru so quietly, he managed to sneak up on the red-faced boy and leaned into his ear. "What are you looking at, Spice?"

The boy leapt. He hit Yashiro square in the face, and both men yelped in pain. They took their time rubbing their respective head and nose until the sensation calmed down.

"Remind me to never sneak up on you like that again," Yashiro groaned while looking for a mirror to check if he was bleeding. "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine," Satoru mumbled, refusing to face Yashiro despite the mouth-watering scent of food radiating from behind him. He hugged his knees as he faced the wall. "Sorry."

"No, it was my bad," The older man laughed while pushing the drawer shut. "I forgot I have those in here. Satoru, are you mad at me?"

"No," The boy muttered in shame, fingers clawing tighter on his pants when he felt Yashiro's large hand on his shoulder.

"Let's eat, then. Why are you looking away from me like that? You're not scared of me, are you?" He shook Satoru lightly although he already knew the answers to his questions. It was fun to tease Satoru, after all.

"I'm not scared!" Satoru practically yelled out, turning his head so quickly that he slammed into Yashiro once more, making both of them groan in pain for the second time. It took them another few seconds to settle down, but when they did, Satoru looked all but resolute. "I told you that I won't run away," He stared at Yashiro in the eyes. "I mean it."

Yashiro would cry tears of happiness had he not been busy trying to calm his rising libido that started to swell in his pants. Ah, no, not yet, he reprimanded himself quietly. He must not lose control just yet. Satoru noticed his indoctrination attempt to some extent, so he couldn't afford to overextend his boundaries. It was his own fault for proceeding to this stage before everything could finalise themselves. If he hadn't done such a reckless move, Satoru would have been none the wiser and his job would have been so much easier. Alas, there was no use crying over spilt milk. He must take baby steps from now on to ensure that his prey was cornered before he moved in for the kill. Well, not like this race wasn't exciting in itself.

With a smirk, Yashiro turned to grab the plate of food from the counter and passed it to Satoru who gladly accepted it. Both of them ate as they watched a movie that happened to be showing on the TV.

Satoru gobbled up his food like he hadn't eaten in weeks, and that flattered Yashiro enough for him to stare at the boy in wonder. Really, how could someone so small eat so much food so quickly? 

"It's so good!" Satoru moaned as he scooped the last bit of rice off his plate and licked his spoon clean. When he turned to face Yashiro, he was greeted by a very stunned man. "What?" He sulked, feeling a bit embarrassed.

"Nothing, you looked like you enjoyed your food," He laughed. "I have to admit that it's been a while since I last had someone to enjoy my homecooked meal. It's rather flattering to see you demolishing it."

"W-well," Satoru scratched the back of his head when Yashiro took the dirty plate and placed it behind him. "Your cooking is so delicious, so..."

"S-Satoru, you have no idea how happy that makes me feel." Yashiro all but trembled in joy, his voice quivering.

"Oh come on, sensei! Don't cry!" The boy flailed his arms when he heard the tone that Yashiro let escape.

"But, that's the first time someone has ever said that to me!" Yashiro slammed both of his hands on Satoru's shoulders. "I'll cook for you whenever you want me to, okay? Just tell me what you want! Your wish is my command."

"Okay, okay, please let go of me!" Satoru groaned upon being violently shaken back and forth, but his heart blossomed with glee at the carefree interaction. Yes, nothing was going to change. If anything, this revelation of their secrets only served as a glue that would cement their bond.

Yashiro was not a bad man, Satoru was sure of it. There must be a reason why he chose to kill. No matter what, he wanted to figure out what chained Yashiro to the pit he was in. In time, he would be able to find a key that would allow him to save Yashiro. Not even the voice had any right to stop him.

"Aw, we missed the highlight of the movie!" Yashiro curled his lips as he leaned back on the bedpost behind him. "I have some VHS, though. You want to watch anything in particular, Satoru?"

"Hmm..." The younger male pressed his finger against his lips. "What about horror?" He grinned as he threw his stomach onto the bed, legs swishing back and forth while he scanned through the neatly arranged VHS underneath the TV. "This one!" He pointed at one of them and watched as Yashiro moved to put it on.

"You might want to tell your mum that you're staying over at your friend's. It's storming." Yashiro smiled after he made himself comfortable on the bed once more. The roaring of rain was audible outside his windows.

Hearing that, Satoru's eyes widened in surprise. He stared at Yashiro with an open mouth.

"Just this once, okay?" The man winked.

With an eager nod, Satoru grinned. "Okay!" Crawling next to his teacher, he felt his shoulder bumping against Yashiro's arm, and he sighed in contentment at the contact. "Sensei, can I have the ice cream?" He smiled.

"Of course, Spice."

Chapter Text

Run away. Get out of the car. Leave. Don't follow him.

The voice resounded in Satoru's head - it rang, and it echoed like the futile cries of a stranded man, of a broken record with no one around to hear it, so fell to deaf ears it did. It had been a while since Satoru decided to not listen to the erratic behaviour of the whispers in his head, and although it proved to be troublesome in the beginning, he managed to finally reduce it into a soft murmur that only bothered him when it was quiet. It wasn't a difficult feat, surprisingly. Perhaps it was because he had learned to live with it in the past year, so tuning it down wasn't that big of a deal.

Poor Michiko-sensei, Satoru sighed to himself. After trying to put himself in her shoes, he couldn't imagine going through what she did. Having no one by your side was one thing, but to have those who were supposed to love you turning on you was a whole another thing. As Yashiro had aptly put, it was a fate worse than death. However, could he agree to what Yashiro said about this being the best outcome?

Satoru pressed the bottom of his palms together, his fingers loosely intertwining with each other as he pondered over his own question. Despite already knowing where Yashiro stood in the whole save-the-puppy scenario and understanding where he was coming from, Satoru still had trouble admitting that perhaps Yashiro was right in saying that Michiko would be happy to leave her lonely life behind finally.

It must be the voice that was affecting his judgement. After all, for the past couple of months, it had been speaking nonsense about how Satoru must tread with care around Yashiro, that he was dangerous despite his soft exterior. How absurd. If the voice knew Yashiro's true nature from the beginning, why did it made Satoru realise that they were made for each other, then? Wouldn't it be better to keep quiet?

"We're here, Spice." The calm and familiar voice of Yashiro snapped the boy back into reality. It took him a few seconds to regain his bearing and another moment to unbuckle his seatbelt before jumping off the car.

Satoru too a deep breath as he watched Yashiro walking towards the front door while rummaging his pocket to search for his keys. It seemed that all of his efforts to develop a stronger tie with Yashiro had not been in vain if the past few months was something to go by. They had grown so much closer, and Satoru felt like now, he understood the man a lot better - his values, his morals, they all had a solid reason that supported his arguments. Although they didn't quite align with Satoru's view of the world, he decided that it was okay. No two people are the same, after all.

The younger boy took one big step forward, then stretched his hand to take Yashiro's. It was larger than his, warmer and more comforting he found himself smiling sheepishly.

Yashiro seemed evidently taken aback at the bold gesture, but when he tightened his fingers around Satoru's, the boy could barely contain himself. His mind was in a state of disarray, wondering where exactly he found the courage to make such a daring move that he neglected to watch his surroundings. He allowed himself to be led into the dining room. All he could see was Yashiro's hand on his, and all he could feel was the warmth that seeped into his mind as he sat down.

Yashiro pulled the chair opposite of Satoru, then sat down with his fingers intertwined together under his chin. His smile was radiant as usual with its entirety dedicated to the fidgety boy sitting in front of him. It seemed that his abrupt decision to make a move distracted him enough not to notice that he had returned to the house from his 'nightmare', and Yashiro wasn't sure what to make of it. It was certainly amusing to see that Satoru had once again defied his expectations, however. Bringing him back here so soon was a risk, but it appeared that it was one that reaped more good than bad.

"I'm glad that you don't look that sullen after what happened even when the rest of the class was terribly affected by it. You really are something else, Spice." He started calmly.

"No, not at all," The boy sighed sheepishly. "It's just as you said, sensei. Michiko-sensei was suffering, and it's for the best that, well, this happened. I... I can't imagine going through what she did."

"Yes, that's precisely right," Yashiro crossed his arms and nodded. "Now, do you understand what I mean about putting the puppy out of its misery? If we had done it before it had any chance of growing up, it would not have to go through its torture for years."

Satoru bobbed his head up and down tentatively. Yes, that was right. This was for the best and killing the puppy was the right thing to do. There should be no room for argument here, not when stone-cold evidence was laid out in front of him. How could he be so naive as to not think of this before?

"Thank you, sensei. If it weren't for you, I would have been inconsolable."

"Anytime, Spice. Remember, you're my favourite student," Proclaimed Yashiro proudly, his chest puffed forward and his eyes glinting with mirth. "So, does my favourite student want to have anything in particular for dinner?"

"Mm, let's see..." Satoru pressed his fingers against his lips. "Ice cream!"

Yashiro's grin was full when he nodded, chuckling as he did so. "Ice cream it is!"

Alone with Yashiro, talking about nothing in particular as they eat a copious amount of sweets that would surely cause stomach ache the following morning was like the scene of his dreams. Under the sheets, their toes touched while Satoru's shoulder bumped against Yashiro's arm. Slowly, they drifted closer together just like the voice promised all those months ago. It was a shame that the one thing that enabled him to see the hypothetical red string that connected him with Yashiro now turned against him in an attempt to convince him that his soulmate was a vile man. Sure, Yashiro's moral might seem to be grey, to say the least, but Satoru believed that he wasn't inherently a bad guy.

Yashiro said it himself: Satoru was more sensitive than most. If that really were the case, surely he would be able to tell the difference between right and wrong.

He wasn't sure when exactly they fell silent with the movie credit rolling on the TV screen. When Satoru snapped back into the reality that still felt surreal, he had his head just below Yashiro's shoulder, and when he looked up, he was greeted with his teacher who had his eyes closed with a thin smile on his lips. The only reason why Satoru knew Yashiro was awake was that he was busy drumming his intertwined fingers with a soft hum that sounded a lot like the music coming from the TV.

"Did you like the movie, Spice?" He asked, eyes slowly opening despite them being half-lidded. Sure enough, a second later, Yashiro let out a big yawn.

Without having to think twice about it, Satoru nodded. He watched as Yashiro gradually slid down the bed until his head touched the pillow and he felt that never before had he ever seen Yashiro so vulnerable before.

"Too much sugar..." Yashiro groaned in discomfort as he patted his belly but Satoru somehow didn't think that it was a complaint of regret. "I don't think I can drive you back, Spice," He mumbled, then he stirred to face Satoru with a weak grin. "Why don't you stay over?"

It wasn't really a request, Satoru soon realised when he felt Yashiro's arms pulling him close. He blinked, and the next second he was up against Yashiro's chest with the smell of his soap so pungent all around him. However, instead of breaking into a flustered mess, Satoru melted in the embrace. It was like all of his worries were merely a story of the past and the tension in his shoulders slowly untangled. This was a sensation that couldn't be faked. They belonged in each other's arms and no one had the right to rip this away from them.

"That's okay," Satoru muttered as he buried himself deeper into Yashiro's chest. "Mum is away on a business trip today and tomorrow."

"How convenient. It's like this day is meant to be." Yashiro chuckled, his breath whipping through Satoru's hair.

Meant to be, huh? That was one way of putting it. Just like every other thing that came out of Yashiro's lips, Satoru wasn't about to argue with it. "So warm..." He sighed in contentment.

"I can put the air conditioner up." Murmured Yashiro, followed with another quiet yawn that proved to be contagious.

"That's not what I meant." Satoru scowled when the older male burst out in laughter.

"I know. I'm just teasing you."

"You're mean, sensei."

"Eeh?" Yashiro whined although he still sounded amused. "I'm not!" He curled his lips as he withdrew just enough so he could pinch Satoru's cheeks. The boy groaned in discomfort at the sudden contact but did nothing to stop his teacher. If anything, he found himself laughing along. "I'll tell you something, Spice." The man grinned.

"Hm?" Satoru tilted his head up to look at Yashiro in the eyes.

"Whenever you want to calm down, just count to ten and think of a precious memory! Take a deep breath and release. It always does the trick."

So Satoru put the advice into practice. Deep breath in, count, deep breath out. Once again, he thought. Slowly, he felt himself relaxing, and the heat in his cheeks dissipated into thin air.

When both men settled, Yashiro once again pulled Satoru into his chest. When he spoke, he did it with a low and gentle voice, one that Satoru started to think that he wouldn't be able to live without. "I'm glad you're here."

Satoru smiled to himself. Yes, this was how everything was supposed to be. Just the both of them together, together. Nothing else mattered, not the opinion of those who didn't understand fate. It was a superficial concept to most, even to Satoru, but now, he wanted to believe that it existed, that it was within grasp. With that in mind, he allowed himself to be lulled deep into slumber only with the soft rise and fall of Yashiro's chest as a lullaby.

.

Tap, tap, tap.

"Even if it grows up, nothing will change. You are just prolonging its suffering, all because you can't empathise with its pain. If it wants to die, what right do we have to deny its decision?"

Tap, tap tap.

Satoru swallowed thickly as he advanced forward carefully but not too slowly, all while allowing Yashiro's words to repeat in his head over and over again. No matter how much he understood where the man was coming from, Satoru still struggled to accept the ideology as his own. It was far too different than what life taught him - than what Wonder Guy showed him. Human life was a valuable thing worthy of protection. He knew the reason behind Michiko's suicide - such action was justified due to how much she had endured in her life, but that was no justice. If Yashiro's opinion on justice was to help free the unfortunate, Satoru's sense of justice was...

Crack.

He jerked his head upwards when the floorboard creaked under his weight. Contrary how to loudly his heart was pounding, Satoru's mind was numb. His fingers twitched as it wrapped tighter around the object in his hand as if he was worried that it would slip out along with his courage. With soft footsteps that were barely audible to even his ears, he cut through the dense atmosphere surrounding him in order to carry out one task that would surely bring a smile to the face of the one he loved. 

This was the right thing to do. There were no doubting Yashiro's words. He was the wiser one, the kinder one, the more attentive one. He would know what he was talking about. If Yashiro believed in him, a mere kid, then it must be a well-placed faith, one that he couldn't risk tarnishing.

Yes, Yashiro told him that he was the only one who could help Kayo, so he wanted to do his best to live up to his teacher's expectations.

"You're a kind boy," He could hear Yashiro's soft voice lulling him into submission. It sounded so close to his ear that he could almost feel the cherry-scented breath that was signature to Yashiro, and he could feel a tingle on his neck as Yashiro ran his finger along his skin. "But you can't stay naive forever. You're the only one who can save Kayo. Don't you feel it, Spice? You are meant for this. You are meant to be a hero."

And for Kayo, Satoru would do anything to free her of the suffering caused by the people who were meant to love and treat her with nothing but kindness. She was a precious friend of his, and he hated to see any of his loved ones in pain.

No, that wasn't it, Satoru swallowed. It was something that he had trouble admitting, but deep down, he knew that his motive was anything but pure. Ever since Yashiro exposed himself to Satoru, he found that he was slowly but surely being pulled and chained under Yashiro. He felt so trapped and powerless under the man's domineering hand like he was a pliant piece of clay ready to be shaped into whatever Yashiro wanted him to be. However, Satoru didn't mind that at all. Yashiro was far more mature and wiser than he ever would be. He was astute and his judgement always backed by a convincing argument. There really was something about Yashiro that screamed maturity, and Satoru would gladly be led forward by his beloved teacher.

"I know that she's your friend, but you're a smart kid, Spice, one who won't stand to see his friend being trampled. There's always more than one way to save someone," Once again, Yashiro's soothing voice reverberated in his eardrums, and Satoru found himself stepping forward with more conviction. "There's your homework. If the CPS won't act without concrete evidence, there's no telling just how long it will be until Kayo's mother is brought to justice. You don't want her to end up like Michiko-sensei, do you?"

No, of course not. It was bad enough that she had to go through this. Satoru would never wish such fate growing up to his worst enemy. This was the right course of action, he nodded to himself as his fingers once again clenched around the plastic in his palm. He and Yashiro had gone so far, and he believed that this would seal the deal. After this night, Yashiro would not refuse Satoru anymore.

"Hinazuki..." Satoru whispered so quietly that he could hardly hear himself. The wind was strong outside, masking his already soft footsteps as he made his way towards the door at the end of the hallway. It was dark, save for the dim glimmer that radiated from the kitchen where there was no movement.

Satoru stopped just before he could reach the only light in the room. This was it. After today, there would be no turning back, but it was okay. There was no need for hesitation when he could run into Yashiro's arms.

Game over.

.

All Yashiro could see was red.

It wasn't something that he wasn't accustomed to, by all means, considering that this tended to be the aftermath of his second profession. However, to witness a brutal scene of bloodbath like this when it wasn't his doing was enough for his heartbeat to pick up in pace. It wasn't exactly how he'd prefer to handle things, but the person behind this was an amateur, so this was to be expected.

In front of him was the most-certainly-dead corpse of Akemi's boyfriend. He had a broken beer bottle in hand, the content mixing with his own blood that pooled on the floor. The thick, maroon droplet that he was no stranger to glimmered in the orange lighting of the area as it continued to overflow on the edge of the dining table, making a disturbing dense dripping noise. There were multiple stab wounds on the back of his head and one deep cut on his neck. It was sloppy but it did the job. 

Yashiro carefully danced his way around the murder scene, being conscious as to not step on any splatter of blood. Just to be sure, he had a dim flashlight in his hand that guided him to a room with its door slightly open. Upon closer inspection, he could hear a soft heaving of someone who held dear. 

"Spice?" Yashiro whispered as he pushed the door open with care. In front of him, lied a young boy whose face covered in blood that had started to dry up. Had it not been for the transparent disposable raincoat that he was wearing, he would have been soaked with the same liquid. On his feet, lied Akemi. Her throat had been cut open and a knife lied in the pool of blood that surrounded her, soaking into her futon and the pills that were scattered all over the floor.

This was it, Yashiro swallowed. He had succeeded in tainting Satoru's white with his red, and the boy had never looked so gorgeous before. Had he less restraint, he would have run and scooped him into an embrace. Alas, this was hardly the time or place for it. It was an unspoken rule for him to finish a job before the celebration.

Satoru looked up at Yashiro. Forget joy, his eyes were devoid of any emotion, not even one of guilt. With the moonlight spilling from the closed curtain and highlighting the corners of his soft complexion, he stood there in complete silence. 

Oh, Yashiro stopped. Did he mess up? 

Before the man could get his answer, Satoru turned away from him. With a glove-covered hand, he placed the hilt of the knife inside Akemi's open palm. Then, he took off his raincoat and stuffed it into a plastic bag that he retrieved from his pocket.

Once more, he turned towards Yashiro but this time with a smile. 

"How did I do, Gaku-sensei?" 

The breath that Yashiro didn't realise was holding was finally allowed to escape, and the time that seemed to stall started ticking once more. That was the look at he wanted to see. The one that Satoru always threw his way whenever he completed a feat worth Yashiro's remark like he just received a stellar A+ on his kanji exam.

With his shoulders sagging in relief, Yashiro chuckled. "A passing mark, I'd say." He muttered in a hushed tone.

From the corner of his eyes, he saw the exact moment when the twinkling thread above Satoru's head snapped in half. 

 

"You're going to Tokyo University?" Sachiko's eyes snapped wide open at the statement that came out of the blue. Her hands hovered mid-air, right above the half of the mango that she was cutting. Behind her, her son was busy flicking through a leaflet from school that detailed a list of universities. 

"My mark is high enough, so why not?" Satoru muttered despite not making any effort to tear his eyes away from the paper in his hand.

"I guess so..." She sighed, a little troubled that her beloved son was going to leave her. "Well, okay!" A split second later, she said. "I'll pay your rent, so you study hard, okay? What subject are you going to do?" 

"Teaching, probably," Satoru answered after a short silence that was only broken with the sound of a knife on a wooden board, a sign that Sachiko had resumed her interrupted activity. "Don't worry about rent. Yashiro-sensei offered to take me in. He lives nearby." 

"Hmm, Yashiro, huh?" She idly murmured, thinking back to Satoru's favourite teacher who left the town about three years ago. To this day, she still wasn't sure where the bad vibes surrounding the man came from. As far as she was concerned, he hadn't done anything wrong. Not to her son nor anyone else. "You still keep in touch with him?" 

"I e-mail him from time to time," Said Satoru calmly as he took a bite of his lunch. When there was nothing but silence, Satoru placed his chopstick on the table and rested his cheek on his palm. "Are you okay with this arrangement?"

"Huh? Sure," Sachiko said after noticing that she had fallen quiet a little longer than she would've liked. "You've always been close with him, haven't you, Satoru?" She said as she placed a bowl of cut mango in the middle of the dining table. "What kind of guy is he?"

"What do you mean? You know him well too." Satoru raised one of his eyebrows, thinking back to the few times all three of them had dinner together. His mum had never held back joking around Yashiro like they were two old friends. Sometimes she'd even go as far as humiliate him by telling Yashiro stories about when he was a toddler, things that Satoru never even heard of before that sometimes he suspected that she made everything up.

"You spend more time with him than I do, don't you?"

Satoru took a sip of water, then sighed. "He's a good guy."

"Is that it?" She frowned, clearly not impressed by the short response.

"What else do you want me to say?" Satoru groaned. "He'll take care of me, mum. Don't worry. I'll call you often, okay?"

"Yeah, yeah," She finally relented. "You have to study hard for the finals first, though."

"I got this, mum. I've kept it up for years. There's no reason I'll stop now." The male smiled. Three years, huh? It really had been a while since he last saw Yashiro. Although he highly doubted it, Satoru silently wondered if time had changed his partner at all. They parted on a good note, and even if it was something that they didn't express, Satoru knew that Yashiro was waiting for him in Tokyo.

This time, hopefully, they could stay together just like how fate would've liked it.

.

It was such a strange thing to be left to his own devices empty-handedly that he thought that he would never get accustomed to the emptiness. However, after a few years, he proved himself wrong. Nowadays, he took it upon himself to pick up a few hobbies. Piano, for one, had a cathartic effect on him. He wasn't great, considering that he only played casually, but he was good enough to not be a noise pollution in the neighbourhood.

He also tried to further perfect his cooking skills, this time expanding his boundaries beyond sweets and Japanese food. He learned French cuisine, for instance, all in hope to impress the one that mattered. The time was drawing close, at last.

Three years ago when Yashiro left the town, he feared that he wouldn't be able to live with the itch of wanting to lay his hand on the boy for such a long time. It was a miracle that he managed to keep himself distracted. His patience was finally about to pay off. Today was the day that Satoru's flight was supposed to touch down. He had prepared himself mentally and physically, even managed to thin out his workload so he would be able to leave a few hours earlier. 

As expected, his students and co-workers were quick to point out the slight skip in his steps and the strained grin on his lips. Ah, how could he resist having such reactions when the best thing that had ever happened in his life was about to be pushed straight into his arms? His beautiful Spice was about to come all the way to Tokyo to attend university while taking shelter in his humble apartment. There was no doubt in Yashiro's head that their reunion was going to be lively. 

Yashiro glanced at the silver watch on his left wrist. Just another five more hours until Spice's plane was scheduled to land. He had to find something to distract himself with during those long few moments. Brushing his hair back, he parked his car in the basement of the apartment building, then he made his way towards the elevator. 

From what he heard, Satoru passed his finals with flying colours, but that was to be expected. Even when Yashiro left the town, Satoru would constantly contact him for help through e-mail. It warmed his heart that even when estranged, they weren't truly apart.

With a soft sigh of anticipation, Yashiro unlocked the front door only to drop the bag in his hand.

"Hey," Came a voice that he had been thirsting for.

"Hey," Yashiro answered shortly. A pregnant pause stretched between the two as they observed each other from the tip of the hair to the bottom of their foot. There really was no mistaking it. This was Satoru, and he had grown so much taller, so much mature, yet still distinctly Satoru. "I thought you'd arrive later." He grinned.

At the response, Satoru scoffed, but then he took one big step forward and pressed his lips against Yashiro's. He tasted just like how he was all those years ago that Satoru felt like they had never been apart. Cherry lollipop. Their life was just getting started, and Satoru could see nothing but a ray of light that awaited them.

.

One, two. Take a deep breath.

Everything came as naturally as breathing. This sensation that felt so right on their skins, the quiet panting and jagged breathing were everything that he feared he would never get enough of. The feeling of roughness against his flesh, running up and down in a feathery touch that did nothing but coax a melody from his throat, was the world's most potent and addictive drug. His head never stopped spinning, his mind never once grounded as he felt a pair of strong hands on his waist that propped him up. Without them, he would tumble just like how he would falter had Yashiro not been there to support him.

"You have to stop."

Three, four. Let them out.

As they pressed their bodies together, Satoru could feel the exact moment where both of them melted into each other. It was a feeling like no other, to reap the fruit of your hard work like that. However, there was never any doubt that he would finally cross the finish line. It was worth all of the sacrifices he made and more. With Yashiro above him and his hands on Satoru's sides, he felt helpless yet empowered all the same. There were tinges of warmth on his body where Yashiro's lips and fingers had lingered, just like the residual fire of charcoal that refused to die out.

"There is a difference between killing to liberate and thoughtless massacre."

Five, six. Tense your shoulders and roll them back.

It was painful, but when it came to Yashiro, there was nothing that Satoru wouldn't endure. He felt stretched like he had never been before. It's okay, he'd assure himself. Yashiro wouldn't give him anything that he wouldn't be able to overcome. This pain was a temporary thing, one that would fade away as quickly as a small papercut would. So, he begged for more. He pleaded while feeling tears soaking his eyes and the pillow underneath him, he cried out until his voice fused with the air that enveloped both of them in its warmth.

"No matter how thorough you are, you always leave something behind. Sooner or later, they will turn their eyes to you."

Seven, eight. Close your eyes and do it all over.

Yashiro's voice was gentle like the way leaves sway in the wind during spring where the fragrance of flower was at its peak. Satoru wanted to wrap himself in it. Even as they rocked their bodies together in a frantic, erratic rhythm, their breaths synchronised as their fingers tangled. The closeness was almost embarrassing for Satoru who was still unfamiliar with the concept of physical love, but he knew that Yashiro would never judge him over such a trivial matter. He loved Yashiro. Yashiro loved him. That was all that mattered.

Yashiro was his. His. His.

"I can't cover for you forever. This needs to stop, Satoru. I don't like it."

Nine, ten. Open your eyes.

"I never thought that you were this dirty, Satoru." He smirked, voice so low that Satoru felt like he would spring back to life. It wasn't possible, of course. He was already far too exhausted to even keep his eyes open.

In response, the boy giggled weakly. "You made me like this."

"You made me like this."

One, two. It's so quiet.

There was no response except for a gurgling noise underneath him. He looked down and saw that someone was lying in a pool of blood, a sight that Satoru had become accustomed to in the past few years. There was a cut on his neck where thick, maroon liquid wouldn't stop spilling despite the hands that covered the wound. The man's lips quivered as his vision flickered in and out of life only to see his Spice looking down at him with a blank expression. There was no light in his eyes like he didn't even know what he had done. Dead. It was like staring into a mirror to see his pathetic life reflected back at him. Ah, this must be karma. Yashiro played with fire, basked in it, and now he was burned alive.

Three, four. It hurt.

With his legs suddenly going limp, Satoru fell onto his knees. His stomach was throbbing in the most painful manner. His fingers hovered over the tip of the knife that was buried into him.

"Gaku..." He muttered weakly, tears spilling out of his eyes when he realised that the corpse in front of him was no other than his lover.

Five. Six. He couldn't see anything.

Seven. Eight...

Chapter Text

Just before Satoru could turn around and leave the classroom, he heard a "Satoru, wait," from behind him. Unsure of what to expect, he looked at the one who called his name. His eyes were sharp, almost accusing as he continued with, "Where did you go last night?"

"What?" The raven-haired boy frowned at the sudden question. "I went home. Why?"

"You went home?" Kenya narrowed his eyes even more, and as a result, he metaphorically pushed Satoru against a wall. "No detour?"

"Well..." Satoru scratched the back of his head while looking away from his friend who seemed like he knew the entire story already. To be fair, he probably did. Kenya was not the type to throw out a biting tone like this unless he had a strong case for his argument. Truly the making of a future cop or detective. "I guess I did wander off a bit. It's nowhere special, though."

"Where did you go, Satoru?" With one of his eyebrows raised, Kenya continued to interrogate the fidgety male standing in front of him who obviously knew that Kenya was not to be fooled so easily. Especially not when he saw the truth with his own two eyes.

"I..." Satoru stammered in uncertainty. Would it be wise to tell Kenya the whole story? That would complicate everything, Satoru decided. However, it wasn't like he had any other choice than to blow his cover, not when Kenya had that look on his face. "I was with Yashiro-sensei."

"You were," He said before pausing for a bit. "So, what did you do with Yashiro-sensei?"

"Nothing interesting," With a brief response, Satoru prayed for the bell. It was unanswered. Judging from the way Kenya refused to rip his eyes away from Satoru, an elaboration was required to satisfy the condition to leave. "We just went to a restaurant. I wanted to ask him a question about class." He lied, a little startled that he was able to say it in such a convincing manner, and even more shocked that Kenya nodded lightly.

It went without saying that despite not being able to see any trace of deceit in the usually abysmal liar Satoru, something didn't sit quite right with him. He decided to ignore it for now in hope to uncover more pieces of the story. "Why not at school, then?"

"It was getting late and I thought I might as well get the ride home. I mean, it was so hot outside." Satoru shrugged in time for the bell to ring. A bit too late, but it was something that he appreciated nonetheless. He wasn't sure how much longer he could keep up the farce without risking any suspicion.

It was obvious that Kenya wanted to stop Satoru from leaving, but words died in his throat as soon as his friend quickly made his way towards the door and disappeared around the corner. Something was definitely amiss, Kenya was certain, but he didn't want to start pointing fingers when no concrete evidence was found.

With the rising suspicion in his head, he rested his chin on his palm and fixed his eyes at the blackboard when his homeroom teacher walked into the classroom.

.

Despite the inconspicuous manner in which his former student glanced at him, Yashiro understood that Kenya was no helpless kid with no brain of his own. Quite the contrary, he was a bright student who although was not the top of the school, was blessed with a sharp intuition and the thirst along with the capability to follow up on his hunch. It was the reason why Yashiro had never ripped his eyes away from the boy even though he had started to let his shoulders sag.

There had been times when he thought it wise to turn those searing eyes away from him and his prey, or even shut them down for good. However, that proved to be more troublesome than he could deal with now that he had his hands full with the little detective's best friend, Satoru. The very same Satoru who still had yet to disappoint him, the one who indulged him a bit too much that he failed to notice the fingers that had started to coil around his neck, ready to engulf him.

The very same Satoru who had his eyes closed, a melodic hum escaping from his throat as he unfailingly enjoyed being coddled by his teacher, someone whom he believed was destined to be his.

"Yashiro-sensei, that tickles." Satoru giggled when he felt Yashiro's lips close to his ear, his soft and steady breathing sending a shiver down his spine.

"This tickles?" The older male grinned mischievously while showing no sign of stopping. Instead, he let his hands wander towards Satoru's waist where he attacked. "What about this?!"

"N-no!" The boy flailed helplessly under Yashiro's firm grip. His feet kicked the bedsheet frantically until half of it spilled onto the floor. "Stop, please! Please!"

The torture lasted a few more long seconds, and as soon as Yashiro let Satoru go with a grin, the boy was red and was practically in tears. The sight of a dishevelled Satoru was enough to make his heart pound with excitement, but he quickly calmed himself down. Ah, he wasn't sure how much longer he would be able to hold back from ravishing and tasting his prize, but he wanted to hold on as long as he could. Such patience would make everything that much more rewarding.

Satoru rolled on the bed and curled as to defend himself just in case Yashiro decided to attack once more. He only had himself to blame for his own ticklishness. Before he had any chance of doing anything else, he felt a dip behind him, followed by a hand that gently caressed his hair.

"We need to head back soon," Yashiro whispered after noticing that it was already six.

"Can't I stay longer?" Satoru curled his lips at the thought of going home already. Being at Yashiro's was always a hundred times more fun than being alone in his house.

"Maybe next time," Was the teacher's response, slightly bemused to hear that Satoru's voice had begun to crack. Time sure flew by in a blink of an eye. Soon, Satoru would be attending high school, then university, then he would start looking for jobs. Yashiro couldn't suppress an amused grin. So this was what it felt like to watch someone growing up. Yashiro wasn't sure if he liked it, as it made him feel old. "Now, you have to go home or your mother would get worried."

"Do you worry about me when I'm not here, sensei?" Satoru blinked his wide-eyes with his lips pursed together.

Yashiro had to take one deep breath before he ruffled Satoru's head and pulled him up. "Don't be ridiculous, Spice. I worry about you all the time. Now, let's go." He all but hauled the younger boy towards the front door, his feet moving up and down as he struggled, begging Yashiro to put him down, a request that fell to deaf ears.

Well, Yashiro had to enjoy this moment. Satoru wouldn't be a child forever, and soon, he would no longer be able to do this to him.

When both males took a seat in the car, Yashiro started the engine. Putting a lollipop in his mouth, he glanced at Satoru who was swinging his feet back and forth as he felt the vibration of the vehicle. "Have you thought about what school to attend next year?"

"The same one, obviously," Satoru mumbled as he lapped his tongue across the piece of sweet in his hand. "That way, we can easily meet up."

"Aw, you're thinking about me," Yashiro grinned, followed by a smack on the shoulder that he momentarily flinched from. "Sorry, sorry. Teasing you is so much fun."

"I'm not a child anymore, sensei. You can't pick on me forever."

"Yeah, yeah," Yashiro laughed as he turned the car to the right. As much as he hated to admit it, Satoru was right. "Well, I have something to tell you, Spice." He inhaled, fingers clenching around the steering wheel.

Satoru popped the sweet in his mouth before turning to face Yashiro whose expression seemed to be pensive. "What is it?" He asked tentatively. His heart pounded in his chest. What could it be? Was Yashiro about to ask him out? Was he?

"I'm going to move to Tokyo."

Just like that, Satoru's stomach dropped. Not asking him out, instead, Yashiro was leaving him without first giving him an answer? That was unfair. Why did he keep silent until now? Tried as he might, Satoru failed to comprehend this scenario unfolding before him.

"W-what?" The series of stammer was the first thing that escaped his lips. "You're joking right, sensei? I thought..." Satoru's eyebrows dropped when Yashiro remained silent as a sign that he wasn't lying. "Why?"

Yashiro had a troubled look on his face as he exhaled loudly, one hand making its way to the back of his neck. "I got a good job offer from a school over there," He shifted his eyes to see the visible anguish in Satoru's complexion and he had to admit that it crushed him a little. "I'm sorry. Being an adult is horrible." It was a sincere apology, something that Yashiro didn't do very often that it surprised even himself.

If the way Satoru's shoulders tensed was something to go by, he was undoubtedly at a loss for words as was Yashiro. The tremble of the engine under them felt far too heavy and the noise deafening. Yashiro heard the light sound of the hard candy clanking against his teeth as he shifted it around from left to right, followed by Satoru's short breathing and the sliding noise of fabric on the leather seat.

"Spice..." Yashiro sighed at the thick tension in the air.

"When?" The boy murmured with a tone that was blotched with resignation, forcing a flinch from Yashiro. "When did you get it?"

"A few weeks ago. Sorry I didn't tell you earlier. I didn't know how to." He admitted, now a little concerned at how sentimental he was becoming. This was a feeling so foreign to him, he wanted to quickly brush it off. Although it had always been there in the corner of his heart, it was never something that he couldn't control. Now, it was like the sense of aloofness that he prided himself on was slipping out of his fingers.

The sun was starting to set on the horizon and Satoru remained quiet even as their destination drew closer. Although this wasn't the first time that they spent most of their trip in silence, this one started to gnaw on Yashiro who frantically tried to reach for a way to calm Satoru down. Adjusting his fingers, he cleared his throat and forced a smile that, to his credit, looked genuine. 

"I'll send you a letter every now and then. Don't be mad at me please, spice."

"I'm not mad at you," Satoru mumbled with his head turned to the window just like a child throwing a tantrum. However, as a matter of fact, he really wasn't. More than mad, he was puzzled as to why Yashiro didn't tell him this. Didn't he trust Satoru?

"I'll make it up to you, I promise. We have another couple of months before I have to pack up. Why don't we watch movies, go to the arcade and eat out more often?" He offered a few things that he knew Satoru wouldn't refuse. "I'll even let you stay over again." 

At that, the boy turned his head almost instantly. If Yashiro tried hard enough, he could imagine puppy ears on Satoru's head and a tail wagging excitedly behind him. 

"I'll take that as a yes. For now, you have to head back, Spice." The teacher grinned as he unlocked the car. Both of them walked towards Satoru's house knocked on the wooden door. It didn't take long for Sachiko to open it. 

"Yashiro-san?" She raised her eyebrows in surprise at the unexpected guest.

"Good evening, Fujinuma-san. Sorry I stole your son again." He laughed nonchalantly, a gesture that was returned by the mother.

"Yashiro-sensei took me to get some sushi today!" Satoru beamed as he made his way inside.

"I hope you're not too full to have dinner, Satoru," She turned around to watch her son strolling inside with no care. Then, she looked back at Yashiro with curious eyes despite what she said next. "Thank you for taking care of him, Yashiro-san. He can be a handful sometimes, I know."

"Not at all! Satoru is such a nice boy. He's a joy to have around." Yashiro replied energetically, trying his best to erase the suspicion that arose in her eyes.

Sachiko smiled in response although still not completely convinced. Yashiro seemed like a genuine, honest man, one that Sachiko couldn't find a flaw in. There must be a reason behind her hunch and she was determined to find out. "Will you join us for dinner tonight?"

"Ah, I really should get—"

"Yes, please!" Satoru's voice became audible along with the soft thud of his footsteps as he ran towards the doorway. "Can you stay, sensei?"

Sachiko seemed amused at the eagerness displayed by her son. She placed her hands on her hips as she grinned at Yashiro. "Well, I guess that's a yes?"

"I... I guess." He sighed, then walked inside while closing the door behind him. Well, this wasn't a bad outcome, by all means. Shrugging his hesitation off his shoulders, Yashiro put up the immaculate mask of a responsible teacher once more in hope to assure Sachiko that he was no one to be concerned of.

.

The night was getting colder and Satoru felt the tip of his toes shivering outside the blanket, so he tucked them in. Yawning in fatigue after a long, fun day, he turned to his side and grinned in contentment. Not only did he get to spend most of the evening with Yashiro, he even stayed for dinner. It looked to him that his mother enjoyed Yashiro's company, so that was a plus.

He heard the door being slid open behind him, followed by the familiar footsteps of Sachiko who turned off the light and lied next to her son. She didn't say anything for a few long moments after she landed a kiss on Satoru's cheek, which was quite uncharacteristic of her considering that she was always full of energy.

The boy didn't think much of it, so he shuffled on the bed and pulled the blanket up to cover his neck. Tomorrow, he had to start studying for the coming exams so he could enter high school with great grades.

At the thought, Satoru's expression dropped. That was right. Yashiro was leaving, wasn't he?

A loud sigh escaped his lips, one that awarded him with the sound of his mother turning her head to face him. "What's with the sigh?" She asked.

"Nothing," Satoru exhaled once more, which only contributed to Sachiko's curiosity. When the rustling noise became more audible, Satoru pursed his eyelids together tightly, understanding that he won't be allowed to sleep until he spilled it. "Yashiro-sensei is moving."

"Oh?" Sachiko's eyes widened in surprise. This was something that she didn't expect to hear, especially not when Yashiro seemed to genuinely love the school he was teaching at. She doubted that it was merely because a large sum of money was dangled in front of him because he didn't strike her as someone who would prioritise that over his own heart. "You're going to miss him then, Satoru?"

Despite the playful tone that was meant to tease, Satoru could spot a tinge of genuine interest. The boy pulled his blanket even higher up as he shuffled further away from his mother. "What are you talking about?" He muttered quietly. "He's a great teacher. I won't be the only one who'll miss him."

"He's that great?" Sachiko scooted closer to her son. "What does he do that's so great?"

"Can't you see it yourself, mum?" Satoru turned his head at the question. "He's so nice, friendly, wise and smart. He cares about his students not in the way that most teachers do. Like, he actually cares."

The female stared at Satoru wide-eyed at the lengthy description that came out in the speed of a bullet train as if it had been revised over and over. Then, she gave him a shit-eating grin. Ah, so that was it. "You sound like you have a crush on him."

"WHAT?!" Satoru jolted, immediately coming to a sitting position to glare at Sachiko who was laughing hysterically at him. "N-no! Yashiro-sensei is..." He swallowed. No one must know about their relationship, not even his mother. That would pose Yashiro nothing but trouble. "He's like a father to me."

After a few seconds, Sachiko managed to settle down. "Hmm, is that so?" She hummed with an evident scepticism.

"Yes! I can't believe you even suggested that, mum. I'm going to sleep now!" Satoru whined as he pulled the blanket above his head.

Sachiko took her time before settling back in the futon. She gazed calculatingly at Satoru's back. Despite finding this scenario amusing, it also spiked concern within her. Surely, Yashiro wasn't taking advantage of Satoru's naivete?

No, no, she sighed as she lied down. This was the third time, or so she had the chance to converse with the man, and once more, she failed to notice anything amiss. On the dinner table, he was pleasant enough, never once dropping the act of a responsible, caring teacher. He treated Satoru with respect and would chastise him on any bad table manner just like a father would.

And now, this. Yashiro was moving. If he really meant ill-will to her son, then he wouldn't do this. Her hunch insisted on one thing, but none of what Yashiro did made any sense. Well, she supposed none of it would matter if he did move.

With a sigh, she let her head rest against the pillow and closed her eyes. However, not even a second did her suspicion ever stop blaring in her head.

.

The moon was high.

Yashiro sat on the edge of his bed with his fingers intertwined together, index fingers tapping against each other as he shifted the candy in his mouth from left to right, right to left. With steady breathing, his chest rose and fell. His hand moved from his lap to his sides as he pushed himself further into the bed.

On his desk was a folder that consisted of the contract of his new job in Tokyo. Honestly, the pay was only slightly higher than what he was receiving, but of course, money wasn't the reason behind this abrupt decision. For there were no fish who would jump out of the water without a bait, so must he take one big step forward to ensure the completion of his scheme.

With the deafening noise of the clock echoing in his ears, Yashiro cracked a smile and brought a hand to cover his lips. It had been a while since he last sat for hours on his bed like this that he had almost forgotten how serene it was. Feeling the gear turning in his head was a sensation so relieving to him.

Yashiro took a stand and did one final flick through the stack of paper before he laid on the bed, eyes cast to the ceiling. As much as it pained him to admit, he didn't want to leave Satoru, especially not when the boy seemed so troubled by it. Of course, Yashiro expected such reaction. It was just a bit more heartbreaking after seeing that there weren't many tantrums that were thrown like Satoru had accepted the fact that he wouldn't be able to sway Yashiro. It should be a good sign; one that meant that Satoru was willing to part with his loved one because he had faith that they would meet again one day, but why did it leave such a bitter aftertaste on Yashiro's tongue?

"I'm growing soft." He muttered to himself in a slightly bemused tone. It must be because he had been hanging around Satoru for far too long that his sentiment started to get the better of him. 

He got closer to Satoru only to leave him in the hope that he had done his job correctly so his prey would come running at him. Had he bitten a bit more than he could chew, or would his patience be worth it in the end, he wondered. Even after over a year of being around him, the boy somehow managed to maintain his pure perspective on the world. It was almost like a miracle. Satoru was like a breath of fresh air in his stifling life, so it was only natural that he would allow the breeze to carry him along.

It wouldn't be much longer now...

.

"Woah!" Hiromi's eyes twinkled. "Satoru, you're amazing!" He circled around his friend after reading the paper stuck on the notice board. "You're in the top 10!"

"I guess all that studying is worth it." Satoru laughed, then glanced at Kenya who was still skimming through the list to find out where his friends placed.

"Still, you suddenly became so smart. I wouldn't have imagined that this would happen." Kazu added on top of Hiromi's comment. 

"What are you implying? Geez," Satoru shook his head at the innocent comment. However, he shared the sentiment. He, too, didn't think that the day would ever come that he would make it to the top ten of the grade. Initially, it was thanks to the voice in his head, the whispers that had been reduced into soft, muffled murmurs. Now, he felt more motivated than ever to study. Not a bad feeling at all.

Seeing the satisfied look on Satoru's face, Kenya softly sighed before calling out, "Satoru—"

"Ah, it's Yashiro-sensei!" Hiromi pointed at the man currently surrounded by students just like per usual. "Should we thank him too? He looks busy..."

"There's an opening. Let's go!" Tightly gripping Hiromi's wrist, Kazu pulled his friend forward, almost making him stumble in the process. Satoru and Kenya watched in wonder at the speed in which they left, then they smiled to themselves.

"Are you not going with them, Satoru?" Kenya put his hands in his pocket, leaning back against the wall behind him. The addressed boy slipped into the shade and followed the gesture.

"Nah," He shrugged. They would have plenty of time to say goodbye later, away from prying eyes. "I feel like I'll get squished."

Far too busy gauging the sincerity of Satoru's tone, Kenya nodded idly as if he wasn't listening to the response. If he seemed to be overly attached to Yashiro in the beginning, now it was almost like he had started to put distance between them that Kenya couldn't help but wonder if something happened. After that day where Satoru jumped into the car with Yashiro, he hardly ever saw them together again in the hallway. Something told him that even when prompted, Satoru wouldn't share any information.

"Don't you also want to say goodbye, Kenya?" Satoru smiled.

"It's not like we're going anywhere." The blond replied calmly with a short chuckle. Yes, the high school they were attending was just around the corner.

"I guess we aren't, but..." He sighed while glancing at his teacher.

"Is Yashiro-sensei leaving?"

That made Satoru's shoulder jerk in fright. He forgot just how observant Kenya was. "Y-yeah," He admitted in resignation and he felt the wound that he so desperately tried to close, now being cut open. "He's moving to Tokyo."

"Hmm..." He hummed in understanding. Could this be the reason behind the distance that was suddenly lodged between the two? Somehow, Kenya doubted it. Neither of them was the type to be so petty as to argue over something trivial. "Are you upset, Satoru?"

It took him a few seconds to respond. "No. Not at all." Yes, he shouldn't be upset over Yashiro's decision. If they really were meant to be together, they would find themselves in each other's arms eventually, whether they liked it or not. There shouldn't be a reason why he should needlessly worry. Satoru could tell that in the past few months, Yashiro had become much softer to him in a way that was different from his coddling before. They had gotten to know each other, their values and morals had been bared. Just as Satoru inevitably allowed some pieces of Yashiro to seep into him, he, too, could do the same to him.

"I see," Kenya nodded after seeing that there was no trace of dishonesty. "I know that this is prying, but is there anything going on with you and Yashiro?"

"Huh?" The boy grinned. "What's up with that question?"

Pushing himself off the wall to look at his friend dead in the eyes, he said, "This is no laughing matter, Satoru. Tell me the truth."

Soon, the smile faded away from his lips, replaced with a pensive expression. "No. Nothing is going on between us."

"You're lying," Kenya insisted despite being unable to find any hint of deceit from Satoru who had always been so easy to read before. It was as if each day that passed, the thicker the veil that separated them became. He was no longer sure who it was who was standing in front of him because he definitely was not the Satoru he knew. Impulsively, Kenya jabbed both of his hands forward to grab Satoru's collar and yanked him forward. "You're lying. Tell me the truth, Satoru."

"W-what do you want to know?!" Satoru pressed his fingers around Kenya's wrists in an attempt to push him away.

"You and Yashiro-sensei aren't..." He stammered. "You two aren't—"

"Kenya," Both boys gasped when they saw a larger hand on theirs, followed by another one that peeled Kenya's fingers off Satoru's collar. His eyes softened when they met Satoru's, then he walked around the boy to place his palms on the boy's shoulders. "Are you picking on Satoru?" He muttered low, almost like a hiss, and Satoru felt the hair on the back of his neck standing up. 

Kenya was speechless. His hand hovered mid-air as soon as he realised that he was on the verge of crossing a dangerous territory that he didn't realise existed. The stifling atmosphere led to him swallowing thickly. This wasn't right. In front of him wasn't his friend and his teacher, but a borderline possessive father and his son. No, he shook his head mentally. That wasn't the right description.

A predator and its prey. Satoru was in danger.

The rumbling sound of a throat being cleared snapped Kenya out of the trance. When he looked up, gone was the discord. Was it his imagination?

"I'm just kidding. I'm sure you were just having a friendly argument," Yashiro tapped both boys on the head. "Have you seen Kayo?"

"Yeah, she'll be here soon. She said she needs to tidy up her desk." Satoru replied with a grin.

"She's moving too, huh?" Yashiro sighed. "Will you be okay without her, Satoru? You two are very close, after all."

"I'll be fine. I keep telling you to not treat me like a child! Just you watch, I'll catch up to your height one day." He crossed his arms and huffed in frustration at Yashiro's endless coddling.

"Sorry, sorry. I can't help it," The teacher chuckled. "All right, I'll see you two some time. Congratulation for your remarkable marks, by the way!"

"See you, sensei!" Satoru waved as Yashiro walked away from them, all while Kenya remained rooted on the ground. With a firm hand, he leaned in to take Satoru's wrist.

"You have to stay away from him. Something's not right." He growled low. There was no way that was only his imagination. Like him, Satoru was perceptive. For him to act like nothing out of the ordinary had happened only meant that Yashiro had done something to him—something bad enough to desensitise his fight or flight response.

"Ow, Kenya! Let go!" Satoru groaned at the pressure that Kenya was applying on his hand. He forcibly ripped himself away before it bruised. "I can take care of myself. Don't worry." He sighed. In the beginning, he wanted Kenya to notice his silent pleas of help, but now he feared that he wished for the contrast. He had gone so far in now. He couldn't afford to have any third party influence that would ruin everything.

"Yashiro-sensei—"

"—Is fine," He cut his friend mid-sentence, then turned around to leave. "He's just a bit troubled, that's all. I'm trying to help him."

"Wait," Kenya trailed after Satoru heavily with more questions than before. "What do you mean troubled?" What are you hiding from me, Satoru, he wanted to ask. However, there was something that pushed him away. Despite the shift in Satoru's attitude in the past year, Kenya had never felt so alienated before. His friend was still laughing, still came with them to the base, but all of them knew that something was different. The Satoru now was not the same warm, excitable Satoru, but a cold and distant one who was intentionally trying to drift away from them. If Yashiro was the cause for this, then, he couldn't let it stand.

"Just leave us alone, Kenya," He said sharply. "Please." Added Satoru a second later when he realised that he sounded harsh. "Trust me, okay? I'll be fine."

Seeing that there was nothing about Satoru that was helpless, he felt slightly relieved although not completely. It was either Satoru was that confident or it could be that Yashiro had lulled him into a false sense of security. He didn't understand the whole picture, but he knew enough to deduce that Satoru was dancing with the devil and that Yashiro was not the man he appeared to be.

"Besides, Yashiro-sensei will never lift a finger to me," He grinned with his hands on the straps of his backpack. "I have to go now. Let's meet up later for Hinazuki's farewell party!" Not giving his friend any chance to say another word, he turned around and jogged off towards the gate, leaving Kenya in a state of uncertainty.

Chapter Text

It had been months since Satoru saw the sullen look on Kayo's face, and thankfully, any bruises as well. His insistent intervention must have scared Akemi enough. Despite feeling joyous that Kayo would be moving in with her grandmother, he felt a sense of loss too. Over time, he had grown to adore Kayo's presence in his circle of friends. She was quiet, but she was a soothing company to have around. Just when they started to become close, they would be ripped apart. What a shame.

Well, this was for the best. He didn't want to risk anything happening to Kayo. She had endured enough and a second time would be too painful.

Satoru didn't have much time to mull over anything, because soon, a large chocolate cake was placed in the middle of the table, making all of his friends collectively hummed in awe. It was neatly decorated with sprinkles, cut strawberries and tempered white chocolate and flakes that made his mouth water.

"Isn't this cake amazing?" Satoru's eyes sparkled with want as he turned to look at Kayo who had the exact same expression. "Do you think we can finish it?"

"You can try," Kayo gave her friend a small smile while Sachiko cut the cake into smaller slices and placed it on the plates. "Thank you, Fujinuma-san." She regarded upon seeing the sweet being placed in front of her.

"I'm going to miss you, Kayo-chan!" Sachiko grinned with hands on her hips. "You could've just lived here. I wouldn't mind that, and I don't think Satoru would either."

"Mmhm!" The boy chimed in with a mouth full of cake that one wondered if he was agreeing with the statement or if he was enjoying the food.

"Finish your food, then talk." His mother warned regardless.

"Thank you, but I don't think I want to inconvenient you. Besides, I'd like to see my grandmother." Kayo said as she cut through the slice of cake with a fork. She had to conceal a sigh when she felt how soft and fluffy the insides were. For her, this was a blessing that she promised she wouldn't take for granted.

"Of course, of course." Sachiko smiled when she saw the glimmer in the girl's eyes despite feeling a little mellow. The poor thing must not have much time to act her age and enjoy life. It made her that much prouder of her son for being able to stand firm in the face of danger.

"What's your home like over there?" Hiromi's gentle voice chimed in the background. There were chocolate stains all over his mouth as he talked.

Kayo couldn't help a small giggle upon seeing them but quickly answered. "I don't remember. The last time I went there was when I was two."

"Then you'd better send letters or Satoru will get lonely!" Kazu added with mirth, instantly turning his friend into a funny shade of red.

"W-what are you talking about, Kazu?" He cleared his throat before he could choke on his cake.

"Wouldn't you?" Kenya threw a faint smirk with his chin rested on his palm. Teasing Satoru was something he never wanted to miss.

"No! I mean, yeah, but..." He scratched the back of his head while keeping his eyes cast away.

"See? Case closed." The blond shrugged nonchalantly, followed by a round of laughter from everyone else that wasn't named Satoru. This sight instilled a degree of comfort within Kenya who had grown pedantic as of late with his tendency to suspiciously analyse every little thing that his friend did in hope to uncover anything that might point at Yashiro doing, well, distasteful things. It was safe to say that he hadn't found anything. Whether he should feel relieved or not, he wasn't sure. However, today, Satoru seemed like his usual self, and that was good enough for him to stop questioning everything. At least for the moment. 

Seeing the carefree grins on Kazu on Hiromi made him feel a little jealous. Had he been a little less inclined to listen to his hunch, he wouldn't have to be trapped in this awkward situation of wanting to help but not being able to. It didn't seem like Satoru would bend and spill the bucket any time soon, so it was up to him to figure out the root of the problem. What could he mean by Yashiro being 'troubled'?

His more sensible part argued that no, there was no way that Yashiro was up to no good. After all, in class, he always put on a mask of a perfectly responsible and caring teacher. He even helped them to investigate Kayo's case and even visited her together at some point to further discourage Akemi from abusing her. It seemed that a teacher's intervention proved to be a lot more effective than kids'.

Kenya exhaled softly, inconspicuously. No, this wouldn't do. Today was dedicated to Kayo, and it would be rude to not send her off with anything less than a smile. He could postpone this wild theory hunt for the moment.

.

Satoru refused to believe that this would be one of the last times he'd be able to feel the familiar tremble of Yashiro's car as they drove through a quiet lake in the corner of the town that still sent a shiver down his spine no matter how many times he looked at it. He ran his fingers along the leather seat underneath him with a steady breath. Although the thought of parting with Yashiro pained him, he refused to let it show. It wasn't only him who found distaste in this, hopefully, temporary goodbye, and he didn't want to make it harder on Yashiro.

"How was the party, Spice?" Yashiro started with a soft voice that made Satoru's heart skip a bit.

Twiddling his thumbs on his lap, he smiled. "It was good. We ate so much cake to last for a week! I think my mum won't like it if she finds out so you better not rat me out, sensei," He laughed. "Hinazuki looked like she had a good time too. We all had so much fun."

"A shame that she has to leave," Yashiro replied just as quietly. "But we both knew it was going to happen if you go down that path, which you did."

Satoru nodded tentatively with a soft 'hm' entailing. "I don't regret it."

It took Yashiro a few short seconds of observing Satoru's expression to smile. He ran one of his hands through the boy's silky hair and said, "I know you don't." 

"Did I do the right thing, sensei?" Satoru lowered his head despite having announced his belief out loud. "Will she be okay?"

"Stop doubting yourself, Spice," The older male muttered gently as the car came to a stop. "The world is a cruel place, and sometimes you need to create your own justice. If you chose this answer over the others, then it must be because you know it's one that's worth pursuing."

Hopping out of the car, Satoru allowed a smile to form on his lips. Yashiro was right. He always was. Just like that, Yashiro managed to quench the growing sense of concern inside of him. Satoru took long strides to catch up with Yashiro and to take his hand on his small one; then he squeezed it tightly. "Thank you, sensei." He said when the man closed the door behind him

Yashiro turned to face Satoru, then carefully examined his complexion. His eyes remained unchanged; they still had the same gleam from the first time Yashiro took notice of him. How could someone so frail survive unblemished in the face of cruelty that a murderer tried to implant in his head? A snow-white purity that refused to be tainted - Satoru was someone who shouldn't exist. His very existence defied the tenets that Yashiro had spent his whole life believing. Without that faith to hold on to, what else could he turn to?

"Spice," He slowly brought his body down until a knee touched the floor. With their eyes locked together, Yashiro inhaled. "Do you truly love me?"

"Yes. That won't ever change." He answered without even a hint of hesitation, his eyes unflinching.

"I see," Yashiro grinned. "Thank you for staying by my side, Spice." The suffering that he endured all his life all led him to this day. Had he known what strings fate would pull, he would have stayed put, patient, hands on the air. Perhaps he could even avoid the bloodstain that permanently dyed his fingers in red, no hope to be washed clean. However, if innocence and resignation were what he chose, would he wind up here with the one who loved him unconditionally?

No. The answer is no.

Had Yashiro been an average man with socially acceptable morals, he would not have considered being a teacher. That way, he would never have met Satoru, and he would never have felt the love that he was being drowned in. In the water, he couldn't breathe or think clearly. He could only hope that the wave would carry him home.

With his head miles away above the Earth, he didn't realise the softness on his lips until he opened his eyes to see Satoru's wide eyes right in front of his. They screamed with confusion but flooded with elation. Even after he sobered up, Yashiro still couldn't find it in him to pull away. Romantic or physical affiliation was one thing he never knew he hungered for. All his life, he thought he was searching for a spiritual bond, one where both parties understood every nook and cranny of each other's thought processes. The desire that swelled from within, he hypothesised arose due to this very same wishful thinking, but was he wrong to assume so? Because feeling Satoru's lips on his, his heart pounded so painfully loud in his chest, and not even his trained self-control could seize his body from the impulse that broke out of its cage. Ah, it seemed that without realising it, he had fallen. 

"Sensei..." Satoru's voice was almost breathless as he whispered out. 

"Ssh," The older male hushed before he leaned in once more to capture Satoru's lips in a tender kiss. One taste of the sweetness of Satoru's breath was addictive, so intoxicating, it wasn't enough. Yashiro had never been one to follow his impulses without first knowing what laid in store, but for once in his life, he cared not for such trivial matter. Not when the one thing he desired was finally wrapped around his fingers.

A sigh of contentment escaped from Satoru's throat once they parted, and he swallowed when Yashiro darted his tongue across his lips. "S-Sensei?" The boy stammered, not quite understanding what exactly just happened.

"Sorry, I've been wanting to do that for a while," Yashiro took a stand while rubbing the back of his neck, now a little nervous. "I hope you don't mind?"

"N-not at all! I mean..." Satoru grinned, his cheeks red with his chest feeling so tight like his heart was about to burst. "It was nice." That was a severe understatement, but he didn't know what else to add.

Yashiro chuckled at the response before he put one of his hands on Satoru's shoulder and led him inside the house.

.

Sachiko had just finished mopping the floor when she heard a knock on the door. Putting the cleaning equipment aside, she tiptoed towards the door as to not dirty more spots than necessary. Once she was close enough to the door, she smiled to herself and opened the door.

"Good evening, Fujinuma-san." Said a short-haired boy that she knew as Kenya.

"Kenya-kun?" She blinked in surprise at the unexpected guest. "If you're looking for Satoru, he's not home."

The boy seemed pensive for a moment with his finger pressed tensely against his chin. Then, he nodded with a soft sigh before looking at Sachiko with firm eyes. "Do you know where he went?"

"Yashiro-san picked him up just a couple of hours ago. They said they're going to the arcade." She answered, a little puzzled to see the usually composed male fidgeting.

"I see," Kenya mumbled under his breath. "Fujinuma-san, do you..." He continued but stopped halfway through his question. No, Satoru would not appreciate his mother being dragged into this. Should he play the sensible man card and keep this under a rug? For now, that sounded like a wise decision. "Never mind. Thank you, Fujinuma-san."

Sachiko watched curiously as Kenya walked off with his hands in his pocket. He definitely was about to ask something, but why did he stop? Kids certainly had their secrets that they didn't want adults to know, but somehow Sachiko thought that Kenya wasn't the type to needlessly keep something in without a good reason.

She went back inside the house and sat on the dining table while gazing idly out of the windows. Did he sense something wrong with Satoru and Yashiro's tight relationship, or was he simply frustrated that his friend now spent more time with his teacher than him? It was a matter of how mature she thought Kenya was, and unfortunately, she lacked the information to make that judgement.

Should she act on her hunch and rip the two apart, or would it be too rash? Yashiro hadn't done anything to deserve suspicion, not that she could see. Would her action be justified despite the negative repercussion that she would most likely receive from her son?

This wouldn't do. She had never been the indecisive sort and it had taken her far in life. Once Satoru came home, she promised to talk to him about it. She had always been able to tell when her son was lying, so to hear his side of the story would for sure put her anxiety to rest.

.

Satoru didn't exactly know what befell him, but the next thing he realised, he had a pen in his right hand and was scribbling over a scrap piece of paper that Yashiro left on the coffee table in the living room. In the kitchen, Satoru could hear the familiar hum of his teacher along with the soft classical music that spilled from the radio. It was a scene so serene that it made Satoru almost forget the fact that Yashiro would be leaving in a few weeks.

His hand stopped moving just in time for him to notice a presence behind him, followed by a large hand that pressed his shoulder gently. Satoru jolted in surprise, resulting in his pencil slipping out of his fingers and towards the floor.

"What are you doing, Spice? Ah," Yashiro blinked in enchantment upon seeing what laid in front of him. While Satoru was busy eyeing him with a tinge of pink on his cheeks, he saw what Satoru had done with the paper on his lap. "I never knew you were so good at drawing."

"I am?" He scratched the back of his head, then frowned when he saw a drawing of Yashiro on the paper. "Oh, I..." He stammered, unsure as to how it came about. Although he could draw, he had never been that good.

"You did this? This is fantastic." Yashiro leaned to take the piece in his hand. "May I keep it?"

"S-sure," Satoru muttered, still confused. "I didn't..." He pursed his lips in uncertainty but decided that it would be okay to let Yashiro know. "I didn't know how I did it."

The teacher never once ripped his eyes away from the drawing. "It's okay, Spice. You really are a special case. You don't have to explain anything to me," He smiled while pausing momentarily. "I know there's someone else inside you."

"Sensei..." Satoru twiddled his thumbs against each other. It was surprising how well Yashiro took his story, but that only made his heart ache for him even more.

"Like someone from the future," Yashiro said as he walked around the sofa to sit next to the boy. "A guardian angel of the sort. Whoever it is, they are watching over you. They keep you grounded."

"Mm," Satoru nodded tentatively, all while he allowed Yashiro's arm to drape over his shoulder. That was right. With Yashiro, there was nothing that he couldn't say no matter how ridiculous. Because Yashiro understood, and even when he couldn't, he would try. "Do you really think that it really is something from the future?"

"You said it yourself, didn't you, Spice?" Asked the older man as he pulled Satoru closer to his chest. "I want to believe in your hunch. If you think it's the Satoru from the future that's protecting you, then I want to think so too."

"Thank you, sensei. That... that means a lot to me." Said the boy with his eyes closed. In Yashiro's arms, he felt protected, he felt invincible like nothing could ever hurt him.

"Spice," Yashiro started, his fingers running through Satoru's hair. "Spice is the name of a pet hamster I own when I was little," He smiled when he felt Satoru shifting in his arm. "Such a strong thing, he was. Even when everything else died around him, he persevered."

There was a short silence that was only interrupted by the breeze of wind that stroke the curtains. "Do you ever feel so helpless you can't even cry, Spice? Do you ever think for a moment, that, no matter what you do, you will never make a difference? You are only one man and the world is a cruel place that will never stop taking from you, demanding more when you have nothing else to give."

Yashiro didn't receive any response except for the soft shake of the head.

"The death of a soul is a fate worse than a physical one. When you feel so numb that you feel indifference towards life and death, can you call that truly living?"

Satoru once again shook his head. "No," He whispered.

"And when one thing that's worth living for is dangled in front of you, what would you do? How far would you go to ensure the one thing that matters the most would never leave your grasp?" Yashiro pulled away, this time he placed both of his hands on Satoru's shoulders. "Would you lie to protect it? Would you abandon your morality to make it stay? How much do you think is too much, knowing that if you lose it once, you'll lose it forever?"

Satoru felt pieces of his heart breaking when he saw the void in Yashiro's eyes as he pulled Satoru's body onto his lap. And like a pliant puppet controlled by its puppeteer, the boy moved. He was right. Yashiro was not at all an inherently bad man. The world did this to him, and he wasn't to blame.

"Spice, tell me," Yashiro murmured with a tone that was almost hissy. "Would you trust fate to intervene, or would you take the matter into your own hands?" He continued, this time burying his lips on the crook of Satoru's neck. "If you'd lie, if you'd hurt," His teeth nibbled on the patch of skin that he could find, then pulled away after a few seconds only to push Satoru down on the sofa

The younger male was helpless under his teacher. Yashiro was so much bigger than he was, so much stronger, and he could do anything he wanted. However, just like that time in the shed, Satoru felt nothing remotely close to fear.

"Would you kill?" He whispered.

"Sensei..." The raven-haired boy let out short, erratic breaths as his stomach churned with a mix of foreboding, passion and love. Yashiro's self-control had finally crumbled, leaving only a broken man desperate for salvation; someone who was desperately holding onto a string that would slip the moment he turned away. Satoru noticed Yashiro's attempt to drag him into the pit, but now he realised that it was a mere attempt to chain him down so he would have nowhere else to run to.

Oddly enough, Satoru didn't resent Yashiro for manipulating him. If anything, he found himself aching to take some of Yashiro's pain away. Perhaps that way, they would be able to meet in the middle with neither completely destroying essence of themselves for the other.

"Spice," Yashiro panted, both of his hands intertwined with Satoru's. "If you stay with me, I'll never let you go. I swear it," He let out a sentence that sounded an awful lot like a plea. "So, will you be mine even if it means leaving everything behind?"

Chapter Text

Satoru's fingers stiffened under Yashiro's touch. They curled, twitched and shivered at the implication of what he just requested. Yashiro wasn't merely looking to cradle the heart that Satoru offered in his arms gently, but he planned on keeping it chained. From the sound of it, escape would no longer be an option once he let himself fall into Yashiro's arms. One, because as Yashiro said, he would never let go of Satoru; two, because he knew that once he made himself at home, he wouldn't again look back. Not only was Yashiro charismatic, but he also had a secure grip on his heart. And like a knife lodged into a body, pulling it out would only result in one's life slipping.

"I'll take care of you, I promise. No one will hurt you, and we will be together just like you want," Yashiro whispered into Satoru's neck, sending a tingle down the boy's spine. Under Yashiro's touch, he felt so feeble like he was a dry branch ready to be snapped in half. "If it's within my power, I'll give you anything you want, Spice. You won't have to be alone anymore."

There was nothing that Satoru could say. His mind was in absolute disarray as he felt the warmth of Yashiro's tongue all over him, and tensed when his fingers made their way to his waist. This was it. The finish line was within sight. All he had to do was take one last step across the white line to seal the deal. After that, he didn't have to worry anymore. Yashiro was a trustworthy man, and Satoru believed that he wouldn't go back on his words. They would stay together just like how two people destined to be together should, all while taking care of and loving each other until the end of time.

This was a dream come true. All of his efforts finally paid off, and he could reap the fruit of his labour. At least, it should be. Why was it that even though his heart pounded so loudly in his chest, it wasn't due to anticipation? In fact, he found himself being left with a growing sense of trepidation and the absence of satisfaction - a wariness like he was about to step into a bear trap.

The more he allowed Yashiro free roam over his body, the more he found himself pulled into the darkness, to the point of no return. Satoru let a moan out of his lips when he felt the warmth of his teacher's palm on his bare stomach, slowly gliding up, up, up. This wasn't wise, he screamed at himself. They shouldn't move so quickly. No, no, no. He needed more time to think it over. What did Yashiro say again? Leaving everything behind? Everyone? His friends, his mother, his school - everything. Was he ready to cut off a part of himself like that just to be with Yashiro?

Yes, Satoru wanted to run into his embrace where he was safe and sound, where no one would hurt him, where he belonged. However, if that meant sacrificing what made him Satoru, he feared that perhaps it was too much. No, it wasn't that he wasn't willing to do it either. It was just far too soon. If Yashiro asked him this in a few years, perhaps he would say yes without thinking twice, but right now...

Don't go with him. You are not a strong enough man to handle this on your own.

Hearing the voice that suddenly resounded firmly in his head as opposed to its usual meek volume, Satoru faltered. He found himself stopping right behind the finish line.

"Spice?" Yashiro's voice was low, soft and empty that it almost shattered Satoru.

"I'm sorry, sensei," He stammered, both of his hands were on Yashiro's shoulder in an attempt to create some distance between them. "I-I don't think I can. Not now."

Yashiro said nothing, but his lips parted slightly. Slowly, he pulled away until he was back on a sitting position. The disappointment was evident in his expression as he leaned back into the sofa. Satoru shuffled next to Yashiro, his fingers clenching the fabric of his sleeves.

"Will you wait for me, sensei?" He muttered with a gleam in his eyes. "I'm not ready yet."

"I..." He sighed. "Spice, I thought you loved me. Don't you want to be with me?"

"Of course I do!" Satoru practically leapt. "I love you, sensei, but I don't think I can commit like that right now. Maybe in a few years."

"A few years?" Yashiro's tone dropped into something that expressed a lot more desperation than he presumably would like to. "I don't think I can wait that long, Spice. We don't know what's going to happen when we part. I mean, what if you..." He sighed. "What if you move on?"

"I won't!" Satoru jumped to Yashiro's lap. "If you promise to wait for me, I won't turn away from you."

"You're still so young, Spice," The older male eyed the boy on him longingly. "There's no telling what will happen once you grow out of your puberty. Your hormone will be out of your control, and sooner or later, you'll forget about me, about us. You may say this now, but in a year's time—"

Yashiro was rendered silent when he felt Satoru's lips on his with fingers curling clumsily on the collar of his shirt. It was anything but graceful. The kiss was edged with youthful awkwardness although ridden with affection that melted his insides. Involuntarily, one of his hands tangled in Satoru's hair while the other pressing against the small of his back. He really couldn't wait any longer. While it would be simple to take Satoru regardless of his consent, he feared that it would do him more harm than good in the long run. Yashiro wasn't looking for a meaningless one night lay or a future where he jailed Satoru's heart through fear. What he wanted was for Satoru to open his arms regardless of his faults just like how he had done all this time.

"Trust me, Gaku," He whispered when they parted to take a deep breath. "Wait for me."

Yashiro felt like he was being choked. His breathing came out in shallow burst no matter how much he tried to calm himself. This feeling of yearning was far too potent for him to control; a result of years worth of emptiness and holding back. The thought that Satoru would never refuse his request clouded his judgement, resulting in a bitter sense of defeat when reality came falling down on him.

"Spice," Yashiro sighed, unsure of what he wanted to say. He should be convincing Satoru to stay. In this game of indoctrination, there was only one thing left to do when the prey backed away, but why couldn't he say it? This was the perfect time for it. All he had to do was enhance Satoru's guilt of pushing him away, and he would be able to turn the table. However, for some reason, his tongue was tied. "Okay." He sighed before letting the boy off his lap.

Satoru gave a small smile as he sat next to Yashiro and leaned his head on the man's shoulder. Both of them fell silent while they watch the rain that suddenly poured outside the window. It wasn't until about five minutes later that Yashiro heard the light snoring coming from next to him that he realised that Satoru was asleep.

Just like this, he could close his eyes while listening to the rain too. Wouldn't that be a perfect world? Just both of them together without having to needlessly worry about anything. Perhaps he should just take Satoru in his car and leave, he mused. It seemed like the boy trusted him too much for his own good. Yashiro, after all, was still considered a murderer. And it was common sense to always watch your back in the presence of a criminal.

"Well, your trust is well-placed." Yashiro sighed while shaking his head. To not come in for the kill was very unlike him, but Satoru was a special case. There was nothing Yashiro wouldn't do to make him happy. If waiting for a while longer was all it was going to take for them to eventually be together, he supposed that perhaps it was worth the wait.

This wasn't what he had in mind when he chose to let Satoru live. All he wanted to do was see sate his burning curiosity as to what might have been the reason behind Satoru's immovable guts back in the shed. However, now that he found out, he didn't feel anything close to satisfaction. If anything, it pulled him closer because there was more to Satoru than his innocence and overflowing life. Those attitudes were something so precious to Yashiro, something that he lacked and wished he have a sliver of. Exposing himself to Satoru like this, could he, too, finally find peace?

It sounded so farfetched for someone like him to stand still while feeling content, yet here he was, wanting nothing to change. If this was what Satoru meant by saving him, perhaps he had succeeded.

Hah.

Yashiro smiled to himself. No, that couldn't be. It was far too late for Satoru to pick up his broken pieces. He had been shattered one too many times that it would be futile for anyone to fix him. What could Satoru, someone who was so pure and gullible, be capable of doing a feat that Yashiro thought to be impossible? Perhaps it was the stubborn side of him that refused to believe that there existed a light so bright that it was able to cut through his darkness, but how could he think otherwise after all this time? If only Satoru were there with him all those years ago, then it would be a whole different story.

Yashiro didn't know how much time had elapsed, but the next thing he realised, he felt Satoru stirring in his arm with a soft groan that he found utterly adorable. It was followed with him stretching into Yashiro's chest while rubbing his eyes as if he just woke up from an awfully wonderful nap.

It took the boy a few seconds of staring at Yashiro to fully snap back into reality. When he did, he smiled. "I fell asleep." 

"You did," The older male grinned. "I didn't want to wake you up."

"What time is it?" He looked around to spot a wall clock that pointed at four-thirty.

"It's almost time for you to go. You woke up just in time," Hearing that, Satoru went limp and relaxed in Yashiro's chest as if he hadn't just woken up. "Come on, Spice." Yashiro laughed as he slipped an arm under Satoru's knees and one on his back. Then, he stood up so abruptly that Satoru yelped in surprise.

"I don't want to go yet!" Satoru curled his lips in Yashiro's arms. "Who knows how long it'll be until we can see each other again."

"That's why you come with me, Spice," The teacher teased while he walked towards the door, not forgetting to grab his car key on the way. "We can sleep together every day. I'll even cook you more sticky date pudding."

"This is called bribery!" Satoru playfully hit Yashiro on the shoulder.

"Hey, anything goes, right? I gotta use my own weapon too." Yashiro chuckled lightheartedly despite being dead serious about wanting Satoru to come with him.

Satoru sighed quietly at the playful statement that he knew wasn't entirely so. He wasn't certain why he was being difficult either, but he just felt like it would be unwise to leave everything behind to pursue one thing. "Sorry." He whispered. The doubt on the back of his head was something he didn't know existed, and he wasn't sure what to make of it. Was this a much-needed wake-up call that he shouldn't chew more than he could swallow or was it something bigger than that?

Satoru curled his arms around Yashiro's neck and pulled himself closer towards the man. He didn't want to part with Yashiro, yet he didn't want to go with him. Something told him that something big would happen if he took that step forward. Bad or good, he was content not knowing. All he knew was that his desire to save Yashiro still had yet to wane. Surely, he must be close to his personal finish line? Was he already there, or was there another thing he must do?

"I love you, sensei." He muttered into Yashiro's chest, forcing warmth into Yashiro's cheeks.

"I love you too, Spice," Was his reply as he set the boy down in the car, then pressed his lips against Satoru's forehead. "Now, your mother must be worried sick about you. Let's get you home."

.

A delicious, steaming cup of tea was something that Yashiro always looked forward to in the evening. Sachiko happened to make an amazing one.

"Thanks for taking him home. I hope he didn't bother you too much." Sachiko smiled with her hands on her hips when Satoru retreated into the toilet to have a shower.

"No, not at all. I always enjoy spending time with him." Said the male as he lifted the cup to take a sip. 

"You're leaving soon, aren't you? Satoru said in two weeks?"

Yashiro smiled, then swallowed the warm liquid that warmed his throat. "There's been a change in plan. I'm leaving tonight."

"Oh?" Sachiko raised her eyebrows in legitimate surprise. For Satoru to not know about this, was this meant to be a secret? "Are you planning on telling him? He will be crushed to learn that he didn't have the chance to say goodbye."

"I don't think I can..." Yashiro sighed, still with a smile. "Ah, I mean, I don't like saying goodbye. It feels so final. I apologise for being selfish."

"Sometimes you just have to be," Sachiko smiled with her chin resting on her hands. "I wish you success for your next job, Yashiro. The kids are going to miss you."

"I'll miss them too. They are such a wonderful bunch. Honestly, it's kind of touching to see them graduate," He chuckled lightly, followed by Sachiko. "It gives me an illusion of having kids of my own."

"You're not planning to marry any time soon?" She grinned, unsure as to why she suddenly became a little nosy. It must be because how easy it was to talk to Yashiro. Somewhat, she could start to see what it was that Satoru really liked about him. In his absence, she felt nothing but apprehension, but whenever he was around, Sachiko felt at ease.

"I just haven't found the right person," Claimed Yashiro as the thumbed the cup in his hands. "And to be honest, I'm a little too busy to be maintaining any stable relationships."

"Tell me about it... between my job and taking care of Satoru, I haven't had much time for anything else. It's only thanks to you that I have some breathing space," Sachiko chuckled, then her eyes softened as she gazed at the man sitting opposite of her. "You're taking good care of him, aren't you?"

"The best that I can," Yashiro assured with a smile. "I'll miss him. I wish I could take him with me." He laughed.

Before Sachiko had any chance to respond, she heard the bathroom door being opened, and Satoru walked out with a towel slung over his neck and his hair damp. "Sensei, you're joining us for dinner?" He beamed.

"Of course he is."

"I guess I am." Yashiro laughed as Satoru eagerly sat on the chair next to him. Even after puberty hit him, he didn't act any differently. It warmed his heart to see it, and he now began to regret his decision to move to Tokyo. This pointless journey to brainwash Satoru into his embrace, what came out of it? Most likely nothing. Not when Satoru was already infatuated with him, to begin with. If for a moment he had succeeded, the taste of victory must have blinded him. Because even now, there was nothing about Satoru that he could call his own. He was still Satoru; and Yashiro? What had become of himself?

Second guessing himself, feeling anxiety running his blood cold, self-doubt. Those weren't something that he associated with himself. No matter how rough the seas were, he never once faltered. However, now, it was like he was slowly losing grip of his own values. He was slipping, and underneath him was unfamiliar water that he was scared of plunging into.

All this time he spent trying to tie Satoru down had backfired. Now, it was him who could no longer live without Satoru. It was almost laughable.

"Sensei?" A voice snapped him back into reality.

"Yes?" He smiled as if he hadn't been spacing out.

"Nothing! Let's eat." Satoru grinned his brightest grin that Yashiro suddenly felt so small. Just how could one boy be so radiant that he had to squint? So brave, reckless, idealistic yet not foolish. How much longer after today did he have to wait to see that smile directed at him again? Really, now he remembered how painful being sentimental was.

"Sensei, there's somewhere I want to take you to." Said Satoru once they finished their food.

"Hm? What is it?" The addressed male placed his chopsticks down and thanked the two for the food.

"It's a surprise! I won't be long." Satoru leapt off the chair and walked towards the bedroom to take his jacket.

"All right, then I'll wait outside." He nodded at Sachiko who smiled at him, then left the house.

"Satoru," The female called out after a short period of silence. "Is Yashiro treating you right?" She muttered with a soft voice despite her heart beating faster than usual.

"What do you mean?" He frowned as he fumbled with his jacket that he was starting to grow out of. "He's nice if that's what you're asking."

"No, not that. I mean, does he ever, hm, look at you weirdly?" She asked while munching on some rice crackers on the desk.

So his mum realised, or suspected, some impure motives behind Yashiro's kindness. While she wasn't entirely wrong, it was something that arose due to her own son, and Yashiro wasn't completely at fault. If Satoru hadn't approached him, this wouldn't have happened.

"Nope." Satoru quickly answered, followed by their eyes locking for a few seconds.

Sachiko slightly narrowed her eyes, then she nodded. "If you say so. Take care of yourself." 

It worried Satoru how much better of a liar he had become. Ever since that day with the police, he noticed that he had actually succeeded in deceiving observant Kenya, and now, even his mother. Sure, it was convenient, but at the same time, it was a little troubling.

"I'm going now, mum. See you!" He said after putting his shoes on, then he left.

"Where are you taking me, Spice?" Yashiro asked, following Satoru despite not knowing what the kid had in mind.

"Somewhere cool. Just watch!" The two walked past the park near the school, then to the mountain not too far from it. The whole way there, they were silent, but neither of them minded the quiet. "Ah, it's snowing." Satoru blinked when a flake dropped on his nose.

"Are you warm enough, Spice?" Yashiro asked but took off his scarf anyway. Kneeling, he wrapped it around Satoru's neck before tapping him on the head. "We don't want you getting sick."

Satoru pursed his lips as he smiled, then he clenched his fingers around the black scarf that smelt like Yashiro. "Thanks, sensei."

Just like that, they continued walking toward their destination. 

"Will you be okay without me?" Yashiro muttered, suddenly feeling a little blue when everything once again dawned on him that he would be leaving later.

"I'm not a kid anymore, sensei. I'm in middle school now."

"I know, but you're still so small."

"I'll outgrow you one day!" Both of them exchanged chuckles after that sentence that sounded a whole lot like a challenge.

Yashiro took a deep breath, feeling the cold intruding his body when he looked up at the sky. The stars were so clear from that spot, and he could see the crescent moon that shone in the dark. "I wonder if I can see this in Tokyo too."

Satoru hummed in understanding but didn't say anything else. "Ah, we're here," Satoru grinned, then he paced towards the site. "Look, sensei!"

"Oh," Yashiro's eyes gleamed when he saw the sight. It was a tree with its branches bared and the moonlight shining through every gap. With the snow falling onto it, it almost looked like a makeshift Christmas tree.

"It's pretty, isn't it? I took Hinazuki here last year. It sucks that the two that I show this to end up leaving," Satoru chuckled nonchalantly. "But we'll see each other again, right?"

Basked in the moonlight, Yashiro's lips curved into a thin smile, then he allowed a soft sigh to escape. His eyes moved to the beautiful sight in front of him, appreciating the view for the first time, and for the last time for a long time. Slowly, his hand moved to pull Satoru towards him so he could feel the familiar, comforting warmth that he had begun to miss. He shouldn't have planned this so recklessly. Who was he kidding? Satoru was no idiot. He loved his friends and family far too much to abandon them, not even when the one thing that he worked hard for was dangled in front of him as a bait.

"Of course."

Ah, no use crying over spilt milk. He could just hope that Satoru's mad infatuation was potent enough that it would eventually make them drift together again. Hopefully, they can stay together next time.

.

.

.

"Satoru, do you have everything?" Sachiko frowned when she saw that her son was lying on the futon as if he had nothing better to do. "Why are you so relaxed?" She crossed her arms as the male turned sluggishly with his eyes half-open. It was clear that he didn't get a wink of sleep yesterday if the eye bags were something to go by. "That excited?"

"I'm not. I'm just..."

"Worried?" Leaning against the doorframe, she smirked rather condescendingly.

"Urgh," Satoru grumbled before grabbing the blanket and turned back around to face the window. Even at this age, she still treated him like he was twelve and it ground his gears sometimes. "I need to sleep."

"Your train's leaving in two hours. Surely you can just sleep there," She walked into the room to grab the blanket and tore it off her son who immediately groaned. "And Kenya is almost here. He might a good friend of yours, but it's still not polite to be asleep when the person you expected turn up."

"Yeah, yeah..." Satoru rolled his eyes, grabbed his glasses and dragged his feet towards the door and threw himself on the chair. Near the entrance were a suitcase and a small carry-on bag that he had packed yesterday. He wasn't really in the headspace, so he could only hope that he had everything he needed. As Satoru stretched his spine and yawned, there was a series of knocks coming from the front door.

"That must be him." Sachiko said while tending to the kettle of hot water that whistled.

Satoru moved lazily towards the door and opened it to see Kenya, Kazu and Hiromi. "Hey," He simply greeted, then turned his body to give his friends some space to walk in.

"You're all packed and ready?" Kenya glanced at the bags.

"I think so." Satoru shrugged while chuckling.

"Aw, you guys are leaving. It won't be as fun anymore here," Hiromi curled his lips, and Kazu nodded next to him. "Tokyo Uni, huh? The entrance exam was so hard..."

"You barely failed, though." Kazu slapped Hiromi on the back playfully.

"While you fully failed." Kenya jabbed at his friend as he set his own bag down.

"I know. Shut up." The poor boy rolled his eyes after hearing that for the hundredth time. He really should've tried harder, but then again, Tokyo Uni wasn't exactly where he wanted to go.

Sachiko placed four cups of tea on the table while she mused about how quickly children grew up. It felt like yesterday that they were only half the size they were that day. Now, they were all ready to go head first into the world.

"So Yashiro-sensei is picking us up from the station?" The blond started.

It took Satoru a few seconds to respond with an, "Uh, yeah. We'll be there by four, right? He said he should be finished with work already."

Kenya said something in response but Satoru wasn't listening. The thought of meeting Yashiro again after six years was a daunting thing. Had Yashiro changed? Would they still have the same chemistry that they did back then?

Six years was an awfully long time for him to sit and re-evaluate their relationship. Although they communicated through letters, it wasn't much. Without the physical contact, Satoru could clearly see just what drove their bond. And although the whispers had been long gone, he still felt empty without it. To this day, he still didn't know what caused it or where it originated from. He thought he came close to deciphering its mystery at one point, but it slipped out of his fingers.

Would seeing Yashiro again finally lead him to the answer?

.

"I need to use the toilet. Can you wait here for a sec?" Satoru's nod was a cue for Kenya to pace towards the nearby bathroom while his friend leaned against a column. His eyes nervously scanned around the station where bodies seemed to pile endlessly. Yashiro had never been someone who stood out, but he felt like he would be able to notice him even among the crowd.

Satoru swallowed when he saw a black-haired man wrapped in a suit of matching colour and a red tie. He looked just like how he did back then, except now with glasses. Their eyes locked for a split second, then a smile grew on the man's lips.

"Satoru," He politely greeted. Although he looked confident, there was a trace of hesitance in his body language. "You've grown."

"I hope so," Satoru grinned, his shoulders sagging when he heard the familiar soothing tone that was signature to his former teacher. He still had the same kind, genuine smile and the soft eyes that Satoru never tired of looking into. "Can't have you treating me like a boy when I'm eighteen. My mother already does that enough."

"Hah," Yashiro laughed. Then, the two stood there in silence as they gazed at each other in uncertainty.

Satoru inhaled softly. Yashiro was waiting for him. So, he took a big step forward to wrap his arms around Yashiro. It was answered with a sigh and a pair of hands on his back. They were large and warm, just like how he remembered them to be. In Yashiro's embrace, he felt safe and sound, and his heart that had been thundering for the longest time finally slowed down.

"I missed you, Satoru." Yashiro smiled.

"I missed you too, sensei." The younger male replied with a chuckle.

"You can call me Gaku. You're not my student anymore."

"I might be. You never know."

"I don't teach art, Satoru." Both of them laughed as they pulled away. This time, there was no hint of anxiety radiating from either man. They stood relaxed like they were two old friends who only parted for a few days. "What about a drink tonight?"

"As long as you pay for it."

"You know what?" Yashiro chuckled. "I like your twelve-years-old self better."

.

For his eighteenth birthday, Satoru went to a bar with his friends. However, it wasn't nearly as loaded as it was that night, and it wasn't even the weekend! It was a Wednesday! Satoru struggled to slip through the crowd, and even ordering drinks was a pain that he thought he'd never get one. Good thing Yashiro seemed used to the nightlife, so he could confidently grab some for the two of them.

"You come here often?" Satoru raised his voice as to be heard over the loud music. When Yashiro laughed, he realised just what he said. "I wasn't hitting on you!"

"I know, I know," The man in suit grinned. "Sometimes, with my colleague. Actually, almost every weekend. They always seem to be keen to get me together with someone."

"Any success stories?" Satoru scooted closer towards his former teacher, legitimately interested in hearing some tales.

"Sorry to burst your bubbles, but no. I always bail first. I think they get the point now, so they stopped trying."

"I was hoping to hear funny ones. You suck. Are all adults this boring?" He teased while twirling the cold glass in his hands.

"Welcome to my world, Satoru. In time, you'll be as boring as I am."

"God, I hope not."

"Here's to being boring!" Yashiro raised his glass with a loud laughter that Satoru never thought he'd be able to ever see. Yashiro had changed, that much was evident. In all those months he spent with him back then, he never once saw him laughing a laughter so free. It was like he was faced with a whole new Yashiro, one without any secrets to withhold. One who was more relaxed and genuine.

Then, all doubt was erased from Satoru's head. Yes, this was the answer that he had been seeking, now cemented. Now, he could step forward with confidence.

"Here's to hoping that I'll be less boring than you!"

.

Their faces were red, their movements were frantic and wobbly. They could barely make it into the taxi, and for some reason, the sensation made both of them more excitable than usual. Exchanging loud laughs, they finally settled in the cab. Their shoulders crashed against each other after they put on their seatbelts.

A few minutes elapsed, and they finally managed to take a deep breath.

"Gaku," Satoru started. "You're not calling me Spice anymore."

"No," Yashiro groaned as he brushed his bangs back. "It's kind of rude of me to call you the name I gave my pet hamster, don't you think?"

The younger male shrugged. "I don't mind."

"Satoru is fine. It rolls on my tongue a bit better," Resting his head on Satoru's shoulder, Yashiro sighed. "I... uhm."

"Yes?"

"I've been thinking," Yashiro exhaled once more. "About us."

Satoru stiffened. This was a topic he knew he had to approach, but even that took him by surprise. "Yeah, me too. Six years, huh?"

"Six years," The man nodded, then allowed a pregnant pause to settle between them. "You said something about saving me," He mumbled. "Satoru, I'm broken. There are too many pieces of myself on the floor, and I can't tell which one's which. How could you, someone who knows nothing about my past, could confidently say that you'd fix me?"

"Recklessness of youth?" Satoru chuckled, then his expression fell into a more serious one. "I believed that I could do it. I mean, the voice... the voice said that I can save you. Honestly, I don't really understand what it means."

"I don't like it," Yashiro mumbled. "I've lived my life resigned. I wasn't in the dump by choice, but it was so much easier to stay there. I thought it'd be easy to drag you down with me. You were just a gullible kid. All I had to do was," His finger moved to trace a line in the air. "Mark you like this. Did I succeed?"

"You did," Satoru admitted bitterly. It was something that he missed as a kid, but now, he could see it as clear as day. Had the whispers stopped completely, who knew where he would be now?

Yashiro's shoulders trembled as he chuckled, then he let his hand drop on his lap. "Good."

"What about me, Gaku? Did I succeed?"

Yashiro thought back to the years he spent apart from Satoru. It was harsh to live without his Spice. He felt so abandoned and shelved once more, no one there to hold his hand in the dark. Without him realising it, he had grown accustomed to the presence of Satoru's glimmering light, and without it, he was lost.

With a tired smile, Yashiro turned his head to gaze at his Spice, at Satoru. On his head, he could no longer see the thread. Not even the residue of it. It was as if it never existed.

"I guess so." He grinned.

As the taxi moved, they felt their bodies trembling along with their ride. The night was dark, and for a moment, Yashiro could see a star flickering in the polluted sky.