The evening before the Mikotobas and Naruhodou were to set off back home for Japan, Asougi passed by a bookstore. In the front window, there were an arrangement of different books on display. For some reason, the books caught his eyes. Specifically one in particular that was tucked away in the corner. It was The Little Mermaid, a children’s fairytale he had read a few years back. Usually, books like that weren’t his first choice. He wasn’t a child, and he usually read heavy law books for the sake of his career rather than something more lighthearted and imaginative like a novel or a children's book. But in high school, while just beginning his studies of the English language, he had been tasked to read children’s books as a way of understanding simple vocabulary and sentences. While he had been made to read a bunch of European fairytales and short stories, he remembered this one standing out in his mind.
Probably because he considered it to be rather dismal for a children’s book.
While all of the other fairytales he had been made to read usually had some kind of morbid element to it, this one took the cake. With the other ones, at least they usually ended happily. Sure, Cinderella’s stepsisters cut portions of their feet off, and in Snow White, the evil queen was forced to dance on fiery embers until she died but in both cases the protagonist lived happily ever after and usually whoever suffered brutal punishment at least deserved it a little bit.
The Little Mermaid was different. She lost her voice and lived in tremendous pain all to die for nothing, and Asougi remembered he couldn’t wrap his head around it. What was the point? What was the lesson here, exactly? Having dreams is foolish, as you are destined to fail? Following your heart is pointless and you deserve to be punished for it? What exactly were children supposed to take from this? What was anyone supposed to take from this?
But despite his negative opinion of the book, he found himself drawn to it. And before he realized what he was doing, he was walking into the bookstore and buying it. He didn’t really know why he was doing it, but if anyone asked, it was for decoration. His flat was a dismal, empty little place and at least this book would be one of the few things in it that actually belonged to him. He purchased the book and put it in his bag and headed home for the night to try and get some rest so he could get up bright and early tomorrow. But honestly, he doubted he'd be getting much sleep.
Early the next morning, when Naruhodou and the Mikotobas were to set off, he brought the book with him and flipped through it on a bench not to far away from the pier. He got there early but kept his distance so they wouldn’t see him when they arrived, still debating whether or not he should rear his ugly head to them at all. He had found out through Susato that they’d all be leaving today, not even a whole week after Gregson’s trial had ended. If he was being honest with himself, he was pretty upset. Of course he refused to voice it and let Susato go with a nod and a polite smile, but he was deeply saddened to hear that they would be going. He had hoped that after things settled down a bit they could just… return to normal, and go back to the original plan they had about a year ago where the three of them would get to enjoy England and pursue their careers together, as friends.
But he supposed he was foolish to think that way. Why in the world would things work out that way, especially after what he had done? He had let his emotions get the better of him and had proven to the both of them how much of a worthless monster he was, too blinded by rage to acknowledge the truth. They probably hated him now. They probably wanted nothing to do with him now. Susato even showing in the first place to let him know they were leaving was nothing short of kindness on her part, kindness he didn’t deserve. So why would they take the time to say goodbye to him? Chances were they never wanted to see him again after this. And he had no right to even be upset about it; it was his fault in the first place, after all. They were likely going to forget all about him the moment stepped on the ship. And honestly, it was for the best. They’d be happier that way, with him far from their memories.
When he glanced down at the book he was thumbing through, he realized he had stopped on an illustration at the end of the story, of the mermaid dissolving into sea foam; a smile on her face, content with dying if it meant the prince was alive and happy.
He paused and stared at the picture, then flipped back to the beginning of the book to read it in earnest this time. As he actually read the words and paid attention, he was beginning to realize that perhaps the reason he had been so drawn to the fairytale in the first place was because he and that hopeless mermaid had quite a deal in common.
Just like the mermaid, Asougi was just a child once, one who one day got a childish dream too big for someone as pathetic as himself to handle. His dream was simple: he just wanted to know what happened to his family. He wanted to know why everything was taken away from him and he’d do anything to find that out. But just like in the story, he would come to realize a little too late that it often took complicated and awful means to make a simple, childish dream come true.
In exchange for getting closer to his dream, he had given his voice away to an awful, evil person. It was hypocritical of him, looking back on it now. He remembered when he read the fairytale in high school he had sort of looked down on the mermaid for doing the same. Why would she give up her voice if it was so precious to her? Sure, it was for love, it was for her dream, but he simply couldn’t understand it. She needed her voice to get what she wanted, so why would she give it away? He couldn’t imagine doing the same. His voice was important to him; it was one of the few important things he had left to him. Not that he cared for the way it sounded, necessarily. It was just what he could do with it. His quick wit, his passion, his knowledge, his spirit… almost everything important to him he could really only convey with his voice. Everything that made Kazuma Asougi who he was he showed with his words. Without it he was basically nothing; a still, creepy, unmoving statue who just observes from a distance.
And yet he still did it, bargaining away one of the only things that made him who he was all for the sake of making his stupid dream coming true.
He remembered the months he spent living here in England in complete and utter silence were agony to him. The fact that he was so close to what he wanted but was unable to do what he needed to actually get it was pure torture. To pursue his dream, he needed to talk. He needed to ask questions, to investigate, to start arguments, to pursue truths and keep going… even without his memories he knew that, and without his voice, he couldn’t do any of it. He had to stand there in submissive silence and watch and wait and simply hope that what he wanted would just come to him. Just like the little mermaid did; and everyone knows how that worked out for her.
Of course, he had tried to change that. Asougi wasn’t one to sit there submissively and let awful things happen to him if he could do something about it. But of course he had quickly and swiftly been taught his lesson.
At that point, Asougi had gotten a little farther in the book, his finger having landed on another illustration, this time of the little mermaid dancing for the prince, who was completely unaware of the pain she was in as her feet burned and bled, yet another agony she willingly put herself through for the sake of her dream.
Asougi, as usual, was much the same. He remembered Vortex’s words when he had sold his voice and freedom away to him. He had told him that if he broke any of the rules imposed upon him, his punishment would be severe. Initially, he had mentally rolled his eyes at the lecture, and figured nothing could be worse than what he was already going through. Giving his voice away and living for the service of others, being forced to dress head to toe in a cloak that robbed him of his personhood, having nothing to him at all, not even his name… wasn’t that all punishment enough?
Apparently not. A month or so after his arrival in England, he got fed up with his rules and finally spoke up for himself. It wasn’t anything big; he just decided to talk to one of the witnesses while investigating a case with Van Zieks and some of the police. Of course Vortex had found out about it, and when he pulled Asougi into his office for a talk, that just infuriated him even further. He told Vortex he wasn’t going to put up with this. How was he supposed to do anything without his voice, standing submissively from the sidelines? He demanded to know what his purpose here was as a prosecutor in training who couldn’t speak. Of course, Vortex didn’t take too kindly to that. And he, calm as ever, was sure to remind him of his place.
Honestly, Vortex would fit in amply in those morbid fairytales. He was an old fashioned and cruel man; he overpowered Asougi quickly and calmly and it seemed he favored a whip.
In between lashings he was sure to tell him, again and again, just how worthless he was. He was here only because he had allowed it. Were it not for him he would’ve let him get deported and sent away from what he wanted, and then what would’ve happened to him? Someone like him with no name or memories… he had nowhere to go but here, and he should be grateful for his hospitality. Vortex was giving him a place to stay and a job and he was asking for very little in return, so he should be grateful. No matter what was taken from him, no matter what pain he was put through, he had no choice but to be grateful.
So just like the little mermaid, he forced himself to be grateful and bore through the pain.
While that was the worst time he was beaten it wasn’t the only time. But despite any suffering he went through and any pain he endured, he buried it deep down and refused to give himself a voice to complain, lest he make it worse. He needed to focus on what was important here. He needed to focus on the fact that he was here in the first place, that whatever his true purpose was, he was getting closer to it. If the price to pay for what he wanted was to have no voice and allow his skin to be shredded apart, it was a cheap price to pay and he would suffer in silence if it meant being even remotely closer to his dream coming true. He just had to wait and endure for as long as it took, because soon enough things would work out, right? These things always had happy endings, didn’t they?
He just had to believe that before he got to the book’s ending.
At this point, Asougi heard some talking down by the pier. When he looked up, he noticed that Naruhodou, Susato, and her father had all arrived at the dock. Sherlock Holmes and Iris accompanied them, and it seemed they were all giving one another their final goodbyes. Iris looked pretty upset, giving Naruhodou and Susato hug after hug and even from his spot on the bench, Asougi could hear her asking them again and again to remember to write her and keep in touch and to visit soon, if they have the chance. While he was quieter about it, Asougi could tell Holmes was upset, too. He was having a final conversation with Professor Mikotoba, smiling at him gently as they spoke, but once Professor Mikotoba turned his attention to someone else, Asougi could see the way Holmes’ eyes saddened as he gazed at his beloved partner. It seemed he didn’t want him to go either, but not wanting to impede on his happiness, chose to remain silent about it instead. Asougi could understand that entirely; after all, that was why he remained still on the bench, still debating whether or not he should go over there at all.
After all, the three of them looked so happy.
Professor Mikotoba, whose health was often poor, was probably looking forward to going back to the calmness of home after this whole troubling ordeal. Susato looked excited for the journey ahead of her, likely eager to begin her career as the full-fledged attorney Ryuutarou. And Naruhodou… well, Naruhodou just looked happy. He was happy to be going back home after such a long, often trying journey. He was happy to be returning back home to the people and the language and especially the food he missed so much. He was happy to pursue his new career, realizing that practicing law was something he was good at and enjoyed doing. He was happy to be moving forward with his life, leaving all of the awful things that had happened here behind him.
Awful things like… Asougi.
The more Asougi thought about Naruhodou’s life the past few months, the more he felt guilty and ashamed. Even if Naruhodou seemed satisfied in pursuing a new career in law, that didn’t change the fact that he had put him through so much. This entire ugly ordeal was all Asougi’s fault. He had been the one to force Naruhodou to stow away on this journey. His stupid accident on the ship had caused Naruhodou to be framed for murder yet again. Then he proceeded to spend so much time here living in guilt, feeling obligated to carry on a dead man’s spirit when said man wasn’t even dead to begin with. He had been forced to go on this long journey without ever knowing the reason why, and he learned that reason in the worst possible way imaginable.
Asougi often wondered how Naruhodou would react to his true mission once he told him about it. A foolish, naïve part of him had always thought that perhaps it wouldn’t change Naruhodou’s perspective of him. He had always hoped that once he told him about the awful mission he had been forced into, he’d be sympathetic and worried for his sake, wanting to stop at nothing to help him find a way out of it. An especially idiotic part of him had figured Naruhodou might weep when he find out, and maybe even want to hold him in comfort. But of course, that hadn’t happened. Asougi, too caught up in his own ways to confide that information, had waited until the very last minute to reveal the truth. And by then, he assumed, Naruhodou had already lost all faith in him.
Upon hearing the mission he had been forced into, Naruhodou hadn’t felt a shred of sympathy. He had already believed that Asougi was a bloodthirsty monster who was capable of murder; it didn’t matter what had led him to this point and he likely wouldn’t have believed him or cared if he told him he was truly manipulated into it. Asougi had completely ruined his trust in him, even if he hadn’t killed anyone. Naruhodou likely didn’t believe he was above it and probably only felt disdain for him at this point. He was likely happy to be leaving him behind, if the fact he was leaving without saying goodbye was any indication. Naruhodou hated him, and Asougi couldn’t even blame him for it. If he were in his shoes, he’d likely feel the same way. Naruhodou was justified in hating him, and Asougi wasn’t going to say anything to try and change his mind.
But that didn’t make it hurt any less.
As Asougi put the storybook away in his bag, he offhandedly wondered if this was how the mermaid felt as she watched the prince happily marry someone else.
Asougi wasn’t sure if he believed in the fairytale notion of love at first sight but he remembered always feeling strongly for Naruhodou, ever since the moment they met. He wouldn’t call it love at the time, but rather admiration. He admired the way this kid whom he had only vaguely remembered as being in one of his English classes could so quickly transform from a shy, anxious boy into someone who spoke with such confidence and clarity in front of a large crowd of people. He remembered he had admired how eloquently he had been able to speak when he himself had stuttered so badly through a speech that he was booed offstage. But that admiration quickly turned to adoration as he grew closer to the man behind that confident voice.
He loved Naruhodou; that he had known for a long while now. He loved his shyness; how the tiniest compliments often left him red and flustered. He loved how kind he was; Asougi wasn’t used to someone worrying over him so earnestly, or having someone eagerly wait up so they could walk to class together each day and chat along the way. He loved how affectionate he was, too. Asougi remembered that often when they talked, Naruhodou’s hand would wind up on his shoulder; and he had the cute habit of dozing off in class, his head resting upon Asougi’s shoulder. One night, while the two of them had been a little tipsy, Asougi had kissed him. He immediately regretted the action, worried Naruhodou would be horrified; but Naruhodou just smiled and kissed him again. While Asougi had never asked him directly about it, not wanting to be presumptuous, he knew deep down that the two of them had something special, and Asougi loved it.
It had been such a long time since he had let anyone get close enough to him to become his friend, and being friends with Naruhodou reminded him of how much he loved and missed it. He missed having someone he looked forward to seeing, to talking to, to simply being with. He missed loving someone, and he quickly began to realize that he could envision himself with some kind of future with this person he cared for so dearly.
Too bad he had swiftly ruined any chances of that future.
He had loved Naruhodou, and because of that, he had been too afraid of upsetting him with his problems to even trust him with knowing them. He hadn’t wanted to bother him, he hadn’t wanted to hurt him… and look where that mentality had lead him. His secrets would have to come out eventually, and of course when they did it was in the ugliest way possible, and Naruhodou was quick to abandon him over it; simply not loving the person he truly was. And Asougi felt stupid for even being upset about it. It wasn’t Naruhodou’s fault for hating him; he was just simply an unlikable person, and he had been too caught up in his love for Naruhodou that he hadn’t wanted to think about the possibility that things might not work out.
Just like that stupid mermaid.
She had been so caught up in her dream of being with the prince that she hadn’t even considered the possibility that he might not fall in love with her in turn until it just didn’t happen. And she was left heartbroken, voiceless and in pain as she watched the man of her dreams live on happily, leaving her behind in the process. Asougi felt the same way. Learning that Naruhodou was leaving for good and had no interest in catching up, let alone saying goodbye, had shattered his heart into pieces. Asougi knew this was his fault, that he had scared Naruhodou away when he had gotten desperate and emotional… but still. He had still thought that things could work out. He had believed that after a week or so to cool off, they could meet up for lunch or something and chat like the old days, about good things, happier things, and they could laugh about the hardships of the past and learn to trust one another again and realize their friendship was still there, even if it had been tested, and the whole ordeal would make them grow closer now that they knew more about one another and their struggles and what they had been through but… no. As usual, Asougi was wrong. Now that Naruhodou knew him he hated him. And there was nothing left to do but say goodbye.
He just had to remember to be like the mermaid. His dream was dead but that didn’t matter anymore. He needed to be like her and be grateful that he had been given the chance to dream in the first place and he needed swallow the pieces of his broken heart and bury them deep away inside himself and ignore them, just like he did with his missing voice and his aching body. What mattered right now wasn’t him; in the grand scheme of things, he had never mattered. What mattered was Naruhodou, it mattered that despite this whole, awful ordeal, he was happy, and that he was going to continue to be happy, even without him. His happiness was all that mattered, and Asougi just needed to be happy for him, no matter how much he was hurting.
So he got up off the bench and put on his well-rehearsed smile. Just like the mermaid, he would smile at Naruhodou, at his prince, in agonized silence; ignoring any pain he felt in his body and in his heart, long since giving up the voice to convey any of it anyways. He was happy for Naruhodou; and Naruhodou’s happiness was all that mattered to him now. And he would convey it to him with a smile so bright he’d never notice the broken heart and the silent, desperate voice that lay unused behind it and he could forget all about him happily.
After Asougi said goodbye to the Mikotobas and Naruhodou, he stood at the end of the pier with Holmes and Iris and watched as the ship departed. He didn’t say anything to the two of them, as usual not finding the voice to say anything. They didn’t seem to mind, however. They too were watching the ship depart in silence. And despite Iris’s cute jumping and waving as the ship drew farther away, the atmosphere was still rather heavy. It was clear they all weren’t pleased with what was happening but knew better than to try and change things. The Mikotobas and Naruhodou were their own people, and it would be nothing but cruel for the three of them to attempt to hold them back. Even if that’s what they wanted, deep down. While Iris jumped and waved, she called for Susato the most; it was clear she had grown to love her older sister figure deeply, and was already beginning to miss her. She clearly didn’t want her to go. Holmes had smiled and waved at them all too, but had since stopped when he knew the three departing likely wouldn’t be able to make out the details anymore. Once it reached that point, his smile had vanished, and his sad eyes were locked on Professor Mikotoba. He seemed to be humming something solemnly under his breath; Asougi imagined it to be a song the two of them used to dance to. It was obvious that Holmes desperately wanted his dear partner to stay with him, but knew better than to ask and had to simply deal with his loneliness.
Asougi was much the same, staring at Naruhodou with silent longing and a heaviness in his heart. Just like Holmes and Iris, he hadn’t done a thing to try and change Naruhodou’s mind. He wanted him to be happy, and he wanted to be a good friend and a good person and not tell him what to do with his life. He had said his goodbye with grace and dignity, never once giving away the fact that his heart had been shattered to pieces.
Again, again… just like the mermaid.
In her story, she had been given the chance to do something about her dismal situation. Obviously, her situation was a deal more morbid than his was. Her dream was dead and she had nothing left to do but die a painful, miserable death. The only way to combat that was to use a dagger given to her by her sisters and plunge it into the prince’s heart. If she killed him, she could return to the ocean and to her family and keep on living. But she had chosen not to. She had chosen instead to die; her dream of being with the prince was dead, but she wasn’t going to kill it further by killing her broken heart’s one desire. The prince was happy and in the end that was what she wanted, even if she couldn’t be a part of that happiness. If she had to choose between his happiness and her life, she’d choose the former, again and again. She could never hurt him and she died happily, knowing that he was happy and well.
Asougi sighed as he gazed at the departing ship. He had the chance to do something about this ending, but he hadn’t. He could’ve asked Naruhodou to stay, he could’ve begged him and groveled… but he didn’t. For the sake of his dignity as well as Naruhodou’s happiness, he didn’t. He didn’t want to pressure him, let alone scare him again, so he held his tongue and chosen instead to give his heart away. Karuma… his heart, his soul, his most treasured possession. He had told Naruhodou he was giving it away to remove temptation from his tainted, dirty heart. And while that was partially true, there was more to it. He wanted to ensure that the only important thing left of the Asougis was in safe, capable hands, just in case anything happened to him.
Because for some reason, Asougi got the feeling his story was coming to an end.
He knew it was foolish and dramatic to think this way, but it was the truth. His whole life had been spent on working towards his dream. All he had wanted for over a decade now was to know what happened to his father and prove him innocent. He had fought and lived for that dream… and now that he thought about it, that was likely the only thing he had ever really been living for. Because now that it was over, now that the case was closed, and it wasn’t even solved by his hand… now what? Now that he thought about it, he had never envisioned anything past this point. He had been focusing so hard on that one singular goal that he had never once thought about what he’d be doing once it was over. Honestly, he had never wanted to think about it. Because no matter what he did, his family wasn’t coming back. The love and affection that had filled his life with such joy as a child was gone for good, and nothing he could do would change that. So what was he to do now, exactly?
He could remain as a prosecutor. He already had the title, technically, though if he was being honest he really didn’t want to keep it up. It wasn’t what he had set out to do and he didn’t want to keep working as Van Zieks’ subordinate. Even if he had agreed he’d be more cordial to him, the thought of being stuck in his gloomy, bat-filled office for the next couple of years and dealing with being called a stupid oriental by his boss anytime he slipped up was anything but appealing. He could give up his title as a prosecutor and become a defense attorney. It was technically what he was sent here to do, and he already had the training for it and would actually like to do it for once. But it would be so depressing to do it alone, without Naruhodou or Susato there by his side like they had initially intended. So what was he going to do?
If he was being honest, he didn’t really want to do anything.
He wasn’t certain what this feeling was, but it was something he had never felt before. He had always had a flame burning inside him; he had always felt the drive to keep pushing forward and to keep going, no matter how rough the going got. But now… now he didn’t feel like doing anything anymore. Now that everything was said and done, he felt like he had served his purpose and didn’t need to be around anymore. His future was blank and empty and he simply couldn’t picture anything in store for him. His story was coming to a close and he felt as though he would end with it.
Maybe he’d die, maybe not. It wasn’t really like he was planning on killing himself, at least not at the moment. He just felt as though something was going to end his story sooner or later. Perhaps he’d get into a freak accident and get hit by a carriage and die in a few weeks, his blood quickly washed away from the streets and forgotten about. There was a chance that he’d fall ill with some sort of sickness unheard of in Japan and would waste away alone in bed while the world moved on without him. Maybe in a month or so, those mobs that would sometimes hunt him and Van Zieks down would succeed in their hunt and finally kill him while Van Zieks looked on with utter apathy.
Or maybe his body would simply dissolve into sea foam; as his life had served no purpose and there was nothing left for him to do but disappear, just like the mermaid.
The boat was getting further from view, so Asougi figured it was finally time he take his leave. Whatever bleak and dismal future awaited him would come. He’d just have to wait and see what happened. But whatever happened wasn’t important anymore. His story had come to an end and he figured soon enough, so would his life. But that was okay, because Naruhodou wouldn’t be here to witness it and worry over him kindly like he always tended to do. For him, Asougi’s life was a story that had come to a close; it was a dull and unhappy chapter in his life that he could thankfully move on from and forget about, like a childhood story buried deep in the back of his mind and forgotten about. He wouldn’t be thinking about Asougi anymore; he would remember this story as ending here on this pier, with Asougi smiling at him and handing him his sword and wishing him goodbye, never once realizing that a happy ending for one could be interpreted as a tragedy for another.
But whatever, that didn’t matter now. His story was over. The end. Just like the mermaid, his story had reached its conclusion and there was nothing important left for him to do but go. He turned around and started to continue on into whatever unwritten, empty story was awaiting him, but he didn’t get very far. He stopped and turned around at the sound of Iris’s scream. She and Holmes were staring in shock and disbelief at the retreating boat… or more importantly, at something that fallen off of it into the water. No, not something, Asougi realized as he got a better look himself. Not something, but someone, struggling desperately to keep their head above the waves.
Without another thought, Asougi quickly dropped his bag and his heavy saber and jumped off the pier into the ocean after him.
Sometimes, stories don’t come to an end. History repeats itself; an eager child will ask to hear the story told again from the start, even before it’s finished.
The little mermaid rescues the drowning prince.
The evening after returning from the pier, Asougi was laying in bed in his flat. After rescuing Naruhodou from the unsteady waters he hadn’t really gotten the chance to talk to him. He was too busy coughing up seawater himself and by the time his throat was done burning, Holmes and Iris were already fussing over Naruhodou instead and they quickly insisted he go home with them. He was soaked to the bone and the chilly early morning weather certainly wasn’t helping. Holmes bundled him up in his jacket and began to walk the poor, freezing thing home. He had offered, at the last minute, for Asougi to come with them; surely he must be freezing too after his plunge into the ocean. Asougi was too shocked by his hospitality to say anything and eventually just shook his head, muttering something about his own flat not being too far away and he didn’t want to bother them when they should be worried about Naruhodou first and foremost. Holmes didn’t argue with him, clearly in a hurry to get Naruhodou someplace warm before he fell ill or froze and they all went on their way. Asougi went back to his own flat to take a bath and warm up.
He had taken today off, wanting a break after all that had happened this morning as well as in the past week. Van Zieks, shockingly, seemed to understand and let him. That, or he was glad for an excuse to not have him around. Either way, Asougi appreciated it and took the day to warm up and think and try to relax. Maybe he’d come up with something to do with his future but for now, all he really wanted to do was rest. Maybe his drive for life would come back to him after he slept for a while. At the very least, he had to hope it would. However, in the early evening, after having no success with sleeping for hours now, a knock at his door startled him. He considered not getting it, but the knocking was relentless so Asougi forced himself out of bed, curious as to who in the entire country would want to bother to see him.
The moment Asougi opened the door he was just about tackled in an embrace from Naruhodou. Asougi hadn’t been expecting that in the slightest and the two of them fell to the floor with a thud.
“Oh, I’m so sorry!” Naruhodou exclaimed. He quickly got up, looking embarrassed. “I didn’t mean to knock you down! I was just so excited to see you that I… um… Sorry.” He held his hand out for Asougi to take. “Are you okay?”
Asougi was silent for a moment, stunned by the predicament before him. Why was Naruhodou of all people here? He had figured after that mishap on the boat he’d spend the whole day resting and would be gone bright and early tomorrow on the next ship out. So what was he doing wasting his time here?
And Asougi simply couldn’t believe that Naruhodou was excited to see him of all people.
Finally, Asougi answered his question with a nod and anxiously took Naruhodou’s hand. Much to his surprise, Naruhodou didn’t drop him in disgust the moment they made contact and instead helped him to his feet. Once there, Naruhodou graced him with a sweet smile before pulling him into a proper hug this time, much gentler than before, careful not to knock him down again.
“I’m so glad I found you! I didn’t get the chance to thank you properly after you pulled me out of the water this morning. I was so worried I wouldn’t get the chance to; none of us had any idea where you lived! Thankfully, Iris-chan and I were able to figure it out.”
Asougi just gaped at him, still too shocked to speak. He wanted to come here? He had actually gone out of his way to do so, too? His silence just made Naruhodou all the more anxious, and he said,
“Sorry I didn’t come by earlier. I was going to, but Holmes-san insisted we go shopping first. Almost all my things were on that steamship, so if I’m going to be staying here for awhile, I’m going to need more than just the clothes on my back.”
That just confused Asougi further. He was staying? What for? There’s no way it was because he had wanted to. He had been clumsy and must have accidentally fallen off the ship while waving goodbye to Holmes and Iris. It wasn’t intentional. And maybe he was just stuck here because the next ship to Japan wasn’t departing for a couple weeks at least. He wouldn’t be surprised; he doubted most people in London had any desire to go to Japan. Naruhodou must be trapped here, that’s it.
Naruhodou must have noticed Asougi’s pessimistic look because he placed his hand firmly against Asougi’s back and said,
“Hey, don’t give me that look. I know you’re judging me for not thinking ahead but not everyone can be as on top of things as you always are. Besides, I just wanted to…” He trailed off suddenly, drawing his hand away from Asougi’s back, his eyes wide and startled. When he looked down at his palm, there was fresh blood on it. “A-Asougi… I think you’re… um…”
Asougi just nodded and quickly headed to his bedroom and shut the door behind him. That fall to the ground had hurt a little, and he did have some scars on his back that were still healing… being accidentally pushed down must have busted one of them open. He sighed; this pajama top was one of the only tops he had that didn’t have blood on it. But whatever. He tossed it to the side and went to the bathroom to clean himself up. Once he got a look at it, all things considered, it wasn’t too bad; he had been in worse shape before, and this wouldn’t take too long to clean up. He just wished Naruhodou hadn’t been here to see it. What must he be thinking now? He was probably piecing things together in his head, determining how Asougi would up with scars like that. He probably realized that Asougi had been impulsive and stupid as usual and had gotten himself into something awful again and had brought it all upon himself. He was beginning to bet that once he left his bedroom, Naruhodou was going to be gone, having realized how pointless it was to come here in the first place, remembering how awful and pathetic his former friend was.
After stopping the bleeding and putting on a new shirt, Asougi stepped out of his room where he found, much to his surprise, that Naruhodou hadn’t left yet. He had gone to the kitchen and was working away at the stove. When he noticed Asougi had returned he flashed him an anxious smile.
“Are you all right?” He asked.
Asougi just nodded in response, not really wanting to discuss it.
“R-right. That’s good to hear. I’m, uh, making us some tea. I hope you don’t mind. It’s just a little chilly out, you know? After this morning, both of us could use it. Besides, Iris-chan and I bought some pastries while we were out, and I made sure to get some for you, too. Just sit tight for a second. It’ll be ready soon.”
Asougi still couldn’t comprehend why Naruhodou would go out of his way to do such a thing, but he wasn’t about to argue with his hospitality. So without a word, he took a seat on his couch by the fireplace. Sitting on the coffee table in front of him was the storybook he had bought last night, forgotten about after the events of the day. Not wanting to bother Naruhodou with his conversation, he chose to thumb through the book again instead. As he reached the ending of the dismal story, he heard the teakettle go off and Naruhodou soon joined him, placing a tray with the teacups and a small plate of sugar cookies on the table in front of them. Naruhodou quickly got to work dumping spoonful after spoonful of sugar into his tea, and Asougi had to bite back a laugh at it. He supposed old habits died hard; even if Naruhodou had come a long way from the shy, anxious English student he used to be, it seemed that insatiable sweet tooth of his wasn’t going anywhere.
“Oh, I remember that book. I think I had to read it in my first year English class.” Naruhodou said after a sip of his tea. He rested his head upon Asougi’s shoulder so he could get a better look at the page he was reading. Asougi immediately froze up at the sensation. Sure, Naruhodou had done this to him many times before when they were in class together, but it had just been such a long time since Asougi had been touched, let alone in a way that was gentle and kind. He couldn’t help but instinctively tense up, his subconscious preparing for the worst.
But nothing happened of course. Naruhodou just kept his head on his shoulder and glanced at the page. He was at the end of the book, where on the page just besides the ending of the story, there was an illustration of the little mermaid dissolving into sea foam, a smile on her face.
“I remember this story made me cry the first time I read it. I felt so bad for the poor mermaid. She lost everything and went through so much… and she didn’t even get a happy ending.”
He sighed and stuck a cookie in his mouth.
“Speaking of the story… thanks for helping me after I jumped into the water this morning. I didn’t have the chance to say it earlier with Holmes-san and Iris-chan worrying over me so much, but… I would’ve drowned if you didn’t help me. So, thank you.”
Asougi just stared at him, his heart skipping a beat. Naruhodou… jumped off the boat? It wasn’t an accident? He had come back on purpose? Why? What for?
“Don’t give me that look,” Naruhodou said again, “look, I’ll admit it: I didn’t really think ahead there. I just realized I didn’t want to go yet and jumped. In hindsight I should’ve just left Karuma with Mikotoba-san, or not stepped foot on the boat in the first place, but… I couldn’t help it! I have a hard time saying no to people and I don’t even know what I’d say to Professor Mikotoba-san to sway him. I don’t want to go home yet? I’d just sound like a whiny kid. So I waited until the very last minute and… yeah. Sorry for making you go through that with me.”
Asougi still didn’t say anything, completely and utterly confused. Naruhodou chose to come back. He actually, really, had decided not to go. Instead of sailing off into his own story, he had come back into Asougi’s rather than letting it end right then and there. Why would he do such a thing? Asougi couldn’t comprehend why.
Why was Naruhodou here? This wasn’t how this story was supposed to go! The mermaid was a fool whom nobody wanted and was doomed to die and be forgotten. That was supposed to be what happened here. Naruhodou was supposed to sail away and forget all about him. So why was this happening? Why was Naruhodou sitting here in his flat, sharing tea and cookies with him and chatting as if they were still friends, as if Asougi were someone still worth caring about? That didn’t make sense!
“Hey, are you okay?”
No one cared about him. No one wanted him around. He was worthless. Vortex had been sure to remind him of that fact again and again and again when he robbed him of his voice and tormented his body and Naruhodou and the Mikotobas wanting to leave as soon as they reunited with him was only proof that his words rung true. No one wanted him around unless it was to hurt him or make him do something horrible. He existed to dream foolishly then suffer for his hopes then die before he do something awful. That was how his story was meant to go. So what was Naruhodou doing here? What did he want? This wasn’t what was supposed to happen, and Asougi couldn’t help but fear the unknown.
Asougi was pulled from his thoughts when Naruhodou gently grabbed ahold of his trembling hands. He looked dreadfully worried, but he kept his demeanor calm and firm; much different from the shaking, anxious boy he used to be. He stared at Asougi and told him,
“You need to breathe.”
Asougi nodded and did as told. He shut his eyes and just breathed, slowly, in and out. It worked, eventually; and though he was still anxious, he could feel his racing heart begin to slow and his hands began to still in Naruhodou’s hold.
“Better?” Naruhodou asked.
Again, Asougi nodded. Naruhodou still looked troubled, and slowly brought his hands to Asougi’s face, giving him ample time to move back if that was what he wished. Asougi didn’t move however and let Naruhodou cup his face in his hands before pulling him in for a soft, chaste kiss.
“Asougi,” Naruhodou said gently, “you know you can talk to me, right?”
The kiss was like magic to Asougi and all of a sudden, he swore he could feel the seawater that had filled his lungs dissipating and he finally remembered that he was no longer under Vortex’s curse and that deep inside his throat he actually had a voice and that he was allowed to use it.
“Naruhodou…” He finally spoke, his voice weak and quiet from going unused for so long. Naruhodou’s hand remained on his cheek and he leaned into it, savoring the sweet, kind affection that he was so unused to. “Thank you.”
“For reminding me that I have a voice.”
“Asougi…” He looked deeply concerned by this. “What happened to you?”
“You already know what happened. I showed up here one day with no memories or name. Vortex... took me in. Promised me I could stay so long as I did what he wanted and never spoke. Now that he’s gone I can speak again. I guess after living in silence for so long… it’s just easy to forget that I still have a voice I can use.”
“What about your back?”
“…What about it?” Asougi averted his gaze away, choosing instead to sip at his unsweetened tea.
“It was bleeding…”
“It’s not important.”
“You’re important.” Naruhodou asserted. “Look, you don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to. But I’m worried about you.”
Asougi, again, didn’t say anything; not sure of what to say that wouldn’t upset him. But one look at Naruhodou’s concerned, caring eyes was enough to give him a voice again.
“Vortex told me not to talk. He wanted to make my existence as small as possible hence the whole cloak and mask. I think he had plans for what I was to do here, if my initial mission was any indication. That, and he wanted to ensure that I never spoke out about anything that was happening to me. I don’t think it’s legal to keep someone with no identification or anything here and force him to do whatever you want or run the risk of throwing him out. But… I’m kind of an idiot, Naruhodou. I was too stupid to just keep my head down and I talked. When Vortex found out, he…” Asougi sighed, idly running his hand down his back. “He made sure to remind me to remember my place. While the first time was the worst of it, anytime I broke any of his rules he’d hurt me. I had some scars still healing and when I fell down earlier it must have busted open. That’s it, really. I’m fine.”
“Asougi…” Naruhodou looked horrified at his, his face paled. “I’m so sorry.”
“It’s not your fault. You were just excited to see me. You didn’t mean to knock me down. Besides, it didn’t hurt that bad.”
“Not that. I meant… what you’ve gone through. It’s horrible. I’m so sorry you were put through that. You didn’t deserve it.”
“It’s fine. Like I said, it was my fault. It was because I couldn’t keep my stupid mouth shut. I brought it upon myself.”
“No, you didn’t. Asougi…” Naruhodou reached out for him again and slowly wrapped his hands around him. He made sure to hug him higher, closer to his neck, lest he run the risk of touching his scars. “Please don’t say that. It wasn’t your fault; I mean it. No one deserves to be hurt like this. And I’m so sorry you had to go through it alone.”
Alone… that got Asougi thinking. Of course he had gone through it alone; why would anyone else care? He had figured that Naruhodou would have no sympathy for the story. He’d hear that Asougi had been warned beforehand but ignored it anyways and suffered the consequences. So why did Naruhodou care? Asougi had brought it upon himself. And again, why was Naruhodou even sitting here in his flat in the first place? Asougi was supposed to be here alone. He was supposed to spend the rest of his story alone. That was how his story was supposed to go. So why… why…
“Why did you come back?” Asougi blurted out suddenly, pulling away from him. “You said you jumped off the boat on purpose – why? Why would you do that? Why would you do something so reckless just to come back here? You had so much going for you! You were going to change your studies and pursue your career and live your life happily so… Why? Why would you choose to come back to this dismal place?”
“Well…” Naruhodou paused for a moment; as if he hadn’t thought about it until now. “Actually, leaving so soon was Professor Mikotoba-san’s idea. He told me that technically, I no longer needed to be here anymore. Initially I was smuggled here illegally by you. I was only allowed to stay because you died and I was to be your replacement. Now that the world knows that you’re not actually dead, you can fulfill your exchange trip and I’m still not supposed to be here. For legal reasons, it was best that I go home.”
He sighed, and took a sip from his sugar-saturated tea.
“I thought I wanted to leave at first. I miss home, and I want to see it again. But… I quickly changed my mind. When Mikotoba-san told me she was coming with me and that she told you she was leaving for good… it got me thinking. Do you remember that day when I took you out for lunch, just before I was accused of Professor Watson-san’s murder?”
“Vaguely.” Asougi replied. “I’m sorry; I’m afraid my memory’s still a little scattered.”
“That’s all right. Anyways, while we had lunch, I remember you telling me how excited you were to go to England. Looking back on it now, knowing what I do about your mission here, I’m sure you were scared. Or at the very least, anxious. But still, despite that, you didn’t show that to me and instead chose to tell me how excited you were about all the things we were going to do together once we got here. I remember you told me that we were going to raise hell here and have a blast, and you were smiling the whole time while you said it.”
He smiled too; it was clear this memory was one he held onto fondly.
“Ever since Professor Mikotoba-san told me I should leave I haven’t been able to get your excited voice out of my mind. Once upon a time, you were so eager to spend your abroad trip with me, no matter what it took to get me here. And I was excited too once; after all, I told you yes and allowed you to stow me away when normally I’d never, ever risk it. I just… liked you too much. Your excitement was contagious. And despite my fears I found myself wanting to come here and spend time with you, too.”
He placed his hand on Asougi’s gently.
“But… we never got to do that, did we? You ‘died’ before we arrived here, we spent about a year apart, and by the time we reunited there was so much going on so quickly that we never got the chance to just… wind down and spend some time together. I guess I just wanted more time to do that. I want to be able to spend time with you and have fun here, just like we had planned. I mean… when’s the last time we’ve been able to just talk as friends, Asougi?”
“I… I don’t remember.” Asougi replied. He thought to say on the S.S. Alaclaire, the last night they spent together before he had been supposedly killed, but he held his tongue. Because he vaguely remembered on that night that he had tried to tell Naruhodou of his true mission, but had been too cowardly to do so. Now that he thought about it, he had spent a great deal of their relationship hiding things from him, too scared that it would sour Naruhodou’s perception of him and make him hate him. He had never told Naruhodou that he was an orphan, that he was living with the Mikotobas, that the world believed his father to be a heartless murderer and that the reason he was so adamant about law was because he wanted to clear his name. Had he told Naruhodou anything about himself before now? Had they really ever been friends at all? “…Naruhodou?”
“Are we still friends?”
“…What? Of course we are! What makes you think otherwise?”
“…I don’t know.” He shook his head. “I guess I just kind of figured you hated me. I mean… why wouldn’t you hate me? Van Zieks hates me. I get the feeling the Mikotobas kind of hate me now. And I hate me, too. So why wouldn’t you? You’ve seen how awful I am. You’ve seen how angry and impulsive and emotional I can get. So why in the world would you want to be friends with someone like that? Why would you come back to see me when everyone else had the right idea and left me behind? I just… I don’t understand.”
“Asougi…” He looked deeply saddened by this and scratched the back of his neck anxiously. “Honestly… this is kind of why I didn’t want to leave yet. We left off on a bit of a sour note, don’t you think?”
“You could say that. But it was all my fault. I’m really sorry for what I did, Naruhodou. I was stupid and rash and I scared you away. That’s entirely on me.”
“I disagree.” Naruhodou said, shaking his head. “Nobody’s perfect, you and I included. Listen… I need to apologize to you, too. I’ve been treating you unfairly. I’m starting to realize that I idolized you too much before this all began.”
“Why would you need to apologize to me for that? If anything, I should be the one to apologize for proving just how awful I am by acting like that.”
“No, that’s not true. You’re only human. Asougi, I idolized you too much. Back at school, I just thought you were so cool… D-don’t get me wrong! You’re still really cool! It’s just… you never let me see any of the problems you were struggling with. You were always so cool and confident and cheerful that I kind of just assumed you never had any problems at all and you were always that smug, happy Asougi that I knew. So… once I learned all the terrible truths you had been hiding… and once I saw how much they hurt and affected you… that perfect image I had of you began to crumble. And that made me uneasy. I had never seen you so raw and broken before. I had never seen you get so upset and angry. Seeing that side of you… it scared me. And I began to feel disdain for you, a little.”
His gaze wandered to his hands, which he was anxiously fiddling with. If Asougi didn’t know better, he would think Naruhodou almost looked… guilty.
“I guess I felt betrayed. It was like you were a totally different person, and I was hurt that you didn’t just go back to the perfect Asougi I knew. I was beginning to worry that perhaps that person was gone for good; maybe he really did die on the S.S. Alaclaire all that time ago and the Asougi before me was some kind of monster with my dear friend’s face. It was like I didn’t know you anymore.” He shook his head and placed his hand on Asougi’s again. “But… after I had some time to cool off and think about it… it was cruel of me to think that way, wasn’t it? It wasn’t that you had become a completely different person. It was just that I never really knew you that well to begin with. You’re Asougi; no matter how you’re feeling. Even when you’re mad or upset or scared… the parts of you that I fell in love with – your passion, your kindness, your determination… they’re all still a part of you, no matter what. You’re not the utterly perfect person I thought you were… but you’re certainly not a monster, either. You have a good heart. And if you can love me even when I’m at my worst, when I’m cowardly or anxious or lazy, then I can do the same for you. I want to love every part of you, Asougi, even the parts you don't like. As long as you’ll let me.”
For a moment, Asougi was rendered speechless yet again. However, this time the lump in his throat wasn’t from forced subservience or from a fear of being reprimanded. This time, the heaviness in his throat was accompanied with tears pricking at the corners of his eyes, threatening to fall. He took a deep, shuddering breath to keep them at bay and find his voice again, and finally, he said:
“S-so… even after all I did… even after how horribly I acted… you forgive me?”
“Oh, of course I do. I already have, a long while ago.” Naruhodou said gently, leaning against him. “I just hope you can forgive me, too.”
Asougi figured he didn’t need his voice to answer that one and pulled Naruhodou in for another hug. He held him close, resting his head upon his shoulder, and he didn’t let his tears fall until Naruhodou held him in return and stroked his back gently.
Oh, how he had missed this. He missed having friends, having someone he felt close to, someone whom he loved and knew loved him in turn… and how he had figured that this would never be a reality for him ever again. He had been so lost in the hopelessness of his own story that he had never considered that maybe, just maybe, once all was said and done, perhaps he could actually have a happy ending after all.
“…Hey, Asougi?” Naruhodou asked quietly, still not pulling away from their embrace. “I was thinking… I’m kind of hungry.”
“When aren’t you?”
“Hey, be nice! What I was trying to say is… would you like to come over for dinner tonight? Holmes-san and Iris-chan said you could come over whenever you please. They want to meet you… really meet you, outside of the courtroom, someplace nice and warm and comfortable, where they get to see the real you when you’re calm and relaxed and hopefully happy and not dealing with the troubles of the past.”
“Are you sure?” He hesitated for a moment. “Do you think they’d like me?”
“I’m sure they will. Iris-chan loves everyone. And Holmes-san… well, he can be a bit aloof and strange at times, but he has a good heart; I’d trust him with my life.” He pulled away from him finally, and smiled. “You don’t have to if you don’t want to, but they want to meet the dear friend I’ve told them all so much about. So what do you say?”
Honestly, Asougi was a little skeptical about meeting new people. If his time in England had taught him anything, it was that new faces usually didn’t like him at best or at worst wanted to hurt him. But things were different now, weren’t they? He wasn’t living under Vortex’s orders, he had no awful mission imposed upon him, and he wasn’t dressed head to toe in a cloak and creepy mask, a target for people's violence. He was just Asougi; spending time with his dear friend Naruhodou, and getting the chance to meet his family, like he had done before. Just in a different place this time. And god knows Asougi wanted to experience the kindness and comfort he had missed so much. If Naruhodou could love these people like family… then Asougi would just have to trust him.
“Sure, Naruhodou.” He said with a smile. “I’d like that.”
That night, after having dinner with Holmes, Iris and Naruhodou, Asougi wound up staying the night at 221B Baker Street. They had insisted that it was late and he shouldn’t have to walk home in the cold and the dark when there was plenty of space here for him to stay. Naruhodou had been right; these were kind people. They had treated Asougi like an old friend and quicker than expected, he found himself coming out of his shell and actually talking to them.
Before he knew it, they were actually making plans together. Iris seemed to take a liking to him and asked if he and Naruhodou would like to have tea with her sometime. She said she’d like to get to know Narudie and Susie’s friend better, and had already taken to calling him a nickname, too: Kazumie. Asougi couldn’t remember the last time anyone had called him a nickname, let alone referred to him so casually; he couldn’t help but smile at it.
Holmes, on the other hand, had remarked that he wouldn’t mind investigating a case with Asougi. He remembered Asougi having a keen eye and was very observant and analytical the one time he had seen him in the courtroom and figured he’d be a great help… just in case of the off chance that he overlooked something. Asougi had honestly been shocked to hear it; he thought the only impression Holmes would have of him was that he was impulsive and stupid and obnoxious, but here he was, thinking he was someone of worth after all.
This family was just as kind as Naruhodou had said, and it made Asougi’s heart melt to be treated with such kindness, merely hours after assuming he would never get it again.
Asougi slipped into bed beside Naruhodou that night. He had offered to sleep on the couch or stay in Susato’s old room, but Naruhodou had asked him if he’d rather sleep beside him. Asougi wasn’t about to turn that down and joined him. He was comfortable, wearing a spare set of pajamas lent to him by Holmes. They were a little bulky on him but they were soft and he felt like he actually might get some sleep tonight. Naruhodou began to doze off quickly; he always did. Asougi remembered him being quite the sleepyhead and often sleeping in class. Honestly, it was cute, and Asougi smiled at him as he finally shut his eyes.
“Asougi?” Naruhodou whispered, after a few minutes of silence. “Are you still awake?”
“I didn’t wake you, did I?”
“No, you’re fine. What is it?”
“I was wondering… do you have any plans this weekend?”
“Mmm… no, not that I can think of.”
“Well… I was wondering if you wanted to do something, then?”
“Whatever you want. I figured we might as well get ahead on our plans of raising hell here, don’t you think? And since you spent so much time here not having a say in anything… I think it’s only right that you get to choose.”
“Hmm…” Asougi thought for a moment. “Let’s go to the beach. I know it’s a bit too cold for a swim, but I’d like to at least walk along the coast with you. I remember I used to live by the ocean when I was a little kid, and sometimes I miss the sound of the waves crashing against the shore and smell of the sea. …But only if you want to. After this morning, I can understand if you don’t want to be around water for awhile.”
“It’s fine, Asougi.” Naruhodou replied sleepily. He reached out and quietly grabbed Asougi’s hand under the sheets, lacing their fingers together. “Anywhere is fine, so long as it’s with you.”
Asougi just beamed at that. He was going to say something more but Naruhodou looked very exhausted and once again he knew he didn’t need his voice for this. He leaned forward and gave Naruhodou a sweet kiss.
“I look forward to it.” He said once he pulled away. “Now, get some rest.”
“Mmmkay.” Naruhodou replied, shutting his eyes. ”I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“…Yeah.” He smiled at that, the promise of a tomorrow with the both of them in it making his heart swell. “Good night, Naruhodou.”
Naruhodou fell asleep quickly but despite that, he kept a loose hold of Asougi’s hand. Asougi shut his eyes again and began to doze off, amazed that in just a few hours, he could go from seeing no future ahead of him to actually having plans for tomorrow. He went to sleep grateful that his story hadn’t come to an end yet after all, and he was actually excited to see what future was going to be written for him; with Naruhodou by his side.
Once upon a time, there lived a little mermaid.
The mermaid had a simple dream he’d do anything for. And on the way to that dream, he saved a prince and fell in love with him.
The mermaid would do anything to make his dream come true, even at the cost of his voice and his body. He suffered any pain and torment that came his way; too desperate to get what he desired to care about what was happening to him.
In the end, the foolish mermaid’s dream doesn’t come true, and he despairs; seeing nothing ahead of him but to disappear into sea foam.
But in this version of the story, that doesn’t happen.
In this version of the story, the prince kisses the mermaid, and the mermaid gets his voice back.
In this version of the story, the mermaid isn’t forgotten as he fades away into a dismal death.
In this version of the story, the mermaid doesn’t die at all; and though his dream is dead that doesn’t mean he has to die, too.
In this version of the story there is someone out there who loves him, who he loves in turn, and his dream dying just means he can find a new one and will have another story to tell one day. This time, hopefully, a happier story. And though the little mermaid hasn’t reached happily ever after yet, for the first time in his life, he actually feels like it might be there waiting for him. He’ll just have to wait until the day he gets to see it himself, hand in hand with his prince.