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after the insects have made their claim

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11.

Satoru wakes up after three months, lungs gasping for air, air, air, fighting against water that isn’t there. He doesn’t want to die, he doesn’t want to die, he doesn’t want to-

He thinks somebody is talking to him, but he can’t make out the words and it’s the killer and it’s danger and he shouts, shouts at the top of his lungs and screams for somebody to come and help him, save him, make it stop.

Something sharp pricks his neck and the adrenaline leaves him and sleep comes.

The next time he wakes up, he’s much calmer. It’s slow, easy, calm when he wakes up, and it panics him far less than the sudden jolting of before.

The steady beeping of hospital machines is strangely familiar and Satoru knows where he is in an instant. It looks like he’s gotten himself in trouble again.

“Satoru,” he hears, a gasp of relief beyond belief, and he looks- his mom is there. She looks like she wants to cry, wants to hold him and never let go- and Satoru is 11 and never had that good of a grip on his emotions, so he sobs and hugs her and lets her smother him with kisses.

They hold one another close for hours.

12.

He was cleared out of the hospital quickly enough, all things considered. He had a few appointments with professionals and specialists, alongside a counsellor, but that was to be expected.

His mom was a little different- kinder in some ways and softer than before, and far harsher in others. She’d allow him small liberties- he could spend more time relaxing, but she didn’t like him going out anywhere alone.

It made sense, even if it was annoying. After all, he was less than a year out from a coma, from somebody trying to kill him. That person was still out there, though there hadn’t been any more murders in Ishikari.

Satoru couldn’t remember much from around that time frame- remembered sensations, feelings, little snippets and a vague idea of the events that occurred. He couldn’t remember anything in much detail, couldn’t hold onto some names and faces, couldn’t remember his motivations and reasonings. His heart yearned for something his mind was ignorant of. It was one thing to not know the identity of a killer; another to not know yourself.

13.

The therapy thins out after a while. He doesn’t have anything new to tell them. Kayo, Kenya and Hiromi look a little on edge when he tells them that, but he waves off their concerns. It’s been two years and nothing has happened outside of nightmares and half-memories, so it doesn’t make sense for him to keep up his bi-weekly sessions.

Things are still off with him. He knows things he shouldn’t yet, predicts future events. Things that are held as fact in his mind are wrong, only to become fact again a few months later. It’s like he’s psychic.

The nightmares he has are worse than he'd ever had before, and non-sensical, yet they seem to repeat on an infinite loop. He sees a house on fire, the bloody body of his mother collapsed on the floor, handcuffs, a feral smile. He sees a vague shadow of a man in a hat, the same grin on his face and gloves on his hand. He feels tsunamis and ice, mind blipping out like an ellipsis.

They’re nearly every night and they’re scary, but he’s learnt to stop the screams and silence his cries, so it’s not that big of a deal anymore. He hates talking about them anyway.

14.

He’s out with Hiromi when he sees him. His old teacher, Yashiro. His hair was a little longer than the years before, and styled in a way that looked far more deliberate than the barely-styled mess he'd once gone with.

Something in Satoru twisted and pulled, and his gut felt so, so strange.

The man had noticed the pair, too. He’d smiled at them, given them a friendly wave. They’d struck up a conversation, and Yashiro walked with them for a little while.

“I was glad to hear about your recovery, Satoru. To be honest, I felt a bit guilty when I heard what had happened- I should have kept you safe, as your teacher, but I couldn’t. I truly am sorry about that.”

There was something in Yashiro’s voice, then, that sent a shiver down Satoru’s spine- but when he glanced at Hiromi, he had looked fine- although upset by the sensitive subject. Satoru was probably just being weird.

He’d reassured Yashiro that it was fine, that he was okay and that there’s probably not much Yashiro could have done anyway. It seemed to please the man. He’d told Satoru that he had moved away shortly after Satoru had entered his coma, since he felt guilty and had doubts about his ability as a teacher. He began pursuing a career in politics instead, and had found a fiancée back in Tokyo. He was here to tie up some loose ends before moving on with his life.

Satoru didn’t know why he felt uneasy at that. Why his heart pulsed. Still, he smiled at the man and wished him luck.

They had to go in opposite directions soon after, and so bade each-other goodbye before leaving. It was only after, in their walk home, that Hiromi spoke about him.

“Did you notice the way he was looking at you?” Hiromi asked, cautious.

“No... what do you mean?”

“I don't know, I can't describe it...” shrugged Hiromi. They walked in silence for a few more moments before he tried again. "I guess, he was looking at you like he wanted something. Maybe he wanted you to say something? But man, it was kind of weird."

Satoru didn't know if he liked or hated the sound of that. Maybe it was both.

“Well, I guess we won't know, huh?” mumbled Satoru. What could his old teacher have wanted?

Satoru’s heart beat stuttered, and he wished he could remember.

15.

The nightmares, though they had been waning off in the last few years, kicked up again after that. With every night came about terror, another chance to wake up screaming again. They'd even focused more than before, more on the man with the evil smile and the leather gloves.

He knew that man, identity clouded by his own mind as it was. He was sure of it. Familiarity and anger, hatred and most inexplicably, comfort.

It was a weird mix of emotions and half-remembered sensations that confused him to his core.

The dreams changed over time, subtle enough that he didn’t notice at first. It’s hard to miss the first time that he dreams of that gloved hand closing around his cock and the first time he wakes up to sticky sheets.

He knows that wet dreams are normal, and that sometimes the dreams can be weird. But when every single one contains your attempted murderer, that might be a cause for concern.

He was so fucked up.

16.

One night Kenya’s over at his, and they’re talking the night away in quiet voices, and Kenya leans forward and kisses Satoru.

It’s not perfect, it’s awkward and Satoru doesn’t know what to do with his tongue, neither does Kenya. Even so, what it lacks in experience it makes up for in passion- they’re both pouring years of frustration, pining and want into the kiss. At least, Satoru is.

A hand comes to the back of Satoru’s head, but it feels just off and he couldn’t tell you why. Kenya’s teeth knock on Satoru’s lip, and he makes a keening sound, and the killer’s hands tighten in his hair and-

And Satoru realises what, who, he’s thinking about. His blood runs cold and the hands wrapped around Kenya move to push him off.

Kenya looks confused, hurt. Satoru can’t even bring himself to look at him.

“I- I shouldn’t have- I’m sorry-“ he stumbles, and he doesn’t know what to say because how do you explain this? How do you tell your best friend that a killer feels more like home to you?

“It’s okay,” Kenya reassured him, even if he looks crestfallen. “Let’s get some sleep.”

They do. The next morning, they don’t bring it up.

17.

The dreams never stop. They alternate between classic nightmares and sticky sheets. He’d tried relieving the tension before, but when his thoughts inevitably drifted to gloves and glasses. His mental image of the man grew clearer over time- new details came. It wasn’t a surprise. It felt like they’d always been there in his mind.

He knew what he looked like now, more or less. He could pick him out from a line up, or on the street, probably. It was a terrifying idea. He kept it to himself. After all, it's not like he could line up all of Ishikari and stare at them- he'd just be wasting time. That's what he told himself, at least.

His mom watched the news pretty regularly. It made sense, ex-journalist as she was- and she mumbled a lot while it was on. Probably a side-effect of her job, and Satoru usually found it pretty enlightening, honestly. She was a smart woman.

He sat with her, though he didn't pay attention to the actual television itself. Honestly, he was just waiting for some film Hiromi had told him to watch to come on at nine- which a quick glance to the wall clock told him was in about ten minutes. He'd picked up a new manga recently- on Kenya's suggestion, surprisingly, thought the boy had been engaging in the group's interests more, recently. 

Sachiko's mumbling picked up pace, and Satoru picked up on her tone. She seemed frustrated, so he looked up over his manga and at his mother. "What's up?"

"Hey, can you place this guy? He looks familiar, but I don't know where from." 

He glanced over at the screen, and froze.

It was him.

The killer.

 

Satoru remembered everything.

“Hey, kiddo, you okay?”

His mom’s voice snapped him out of it.

So, this was his would-be killer. Nishizono Manabu. At least, that was the name he was going by now.

“It’s Yashiro,” he told his mom, after clearing his throat. “My old teacher, remember?”

He didn’t know why he didn’t tell her. Didn’t know what kept his mouth shut. There was no reason not to- no reason not to tell his mom, and get this fucking murderer locked up for once and for all. Yet, he didn't.

“Hey, are you alright? You look like you’ve seen a ghost. I mean, I know you haven't seen him in years, kiddo, but...”

He felt like he had.

The tick of the clock suddenly felt oppressive. Tick, tick, tick.

Tap, tap, tap.

Leather gloves.

Yashiro.

“What’s he talking about?” he asked, carefully breathing, staying still.

His mom was dead on the floor and Yashiro’s the one who did it.

“Apparantly, his wife's family passed away. His actual wife, too. Geez, poor guy. He's taking over their positions, apparently- somewhere in the council.”

Yashiro was a murderer and his wife was dead.

His soul wanted to go home.

“I'm going to bed," he announced, getting up and leaving the room before his mother could say anything. If he had a panic attack in there... well, that was his business.

18.

Months passed, taking Satoru’s birthday and the once-anniversaries of his friend’s murders with them.

He didn’t celebrate it. Kayo looked hurt- it was the first time in years they hadn’t celebrated together. He couldn’t bring himself to act like nothing had happened when he’d came to the thought of her murderer.

The dreams stayed. He thought that because he was more or less done with puberty now, they’d end. But they never did; maybe it was the fact that he refused to touch himself now. Every safe path led to the same place in the end, and he refused to let himself do this any longer.

Maybe he was just some next level of fucked up.

His heart longed for home.

His mom was suspicious. He kept up appearances as much as he could, but she knew him and knew when something was wrong. Still, he didn’t tell anyone. He should. He thought of the trail of corpses behind Yashiro, the murders that could be prevented if he just spoke. Still something held him back.

Satoru didn’t know how to explain the whole... time travel thing. He thought he’d just blip to the future again, like last time, and be able to just... deal with all of this as a proper adult. Apparently this timeline was correct enough- or, at least, the prevented murder of his loved ones was enough  that his power saw no need. Maybe he still had things to fix. He didn’t know.

Inexplicable as it was, he knew only one person could ever possibly understand.

Yashiro.

The relationship between the Yashiro of his mind and himself was strange. Warped. Wrapped in so many contradictions and bone-deep ache, it was confusing.

Yashiro had been in Satoru’s dreams for seven years. They'd gotten him off for three. Loathing and lust fought and settled in the pit of his stomach as passion.

He hated himself almost as much as he hated Yashiro.

Nishizono was more and more frequent on the news. Satoru watched every broadcast. He tried to pretend that he mans clever comments and smirks and voice didn’t turn him on. Pretended that he was just watching it because the man was dangerous and Satoru needed to keep tabs.

(He’d always had a thing for danger, though. Why else would he have rushed into so many life threatening situations?)

He finally gives in the night after a particular interview.

He was speaking about his time as a teacher, and how it inspired him. He spoke of his last year, of one student in particular.

Satoru.

He spoke of Satoru’s miraculous recovery. Of how it showed him, inspired him, to be better.

Satoru groaned, hand moving faster.

He spoke in double-meanings, sentences sounding innocent enough unless you knew the truth. Unless you were Satoru.

“He amazed me. Going against all expectations and surviving, persevering despite it all- I won’t lie, I didn’t think he would recover.”

He didn’t think Satoru would survive. He didn’t think that Satoru would refuse to die.

Satoru amazed him.

Satoru was getting close, now.

There was one part where the interviewer asked Yashiro, “What would you say to the young man, if he were watching this?”

Yashiro looked to the camera, then. In a low tone, one that Satoru could see as nothing but intimate, clearly stated, “I enjoyed our last meeting,
Satoru. I can’t wait for next time.”

Next time.

Satoru came.

19.

As it turns out, once a line is crossed, it’s really fucking hard to keep on the right side of it.

He’d love to say that it was a one time thing, that the shame and disgust he’d felt afterwards was enough to keep him from it becoming a repeat occurrence.

It wasn’t.

Most of his friends had left Ishikari now, off to university or to seek opportunity in Tokyo. He stayed, not sure what to do with his second go at life, and Kayo had stayed, too. She’d begun renting her own place not far from Satoru, explaining that she wanted to work a little in Ishikari before moving to Tokyo with the rest of their group- and wanted Satoru to come with her.

He wanted to, of course. The past year had been enough time to come to terms with his issues, to learn to compartmentalise even more. He felt too idle, with nothing to focus on to distract his thoughts. University was too much- he didn't have enough saved, and he didn't have any sort of clue on what to even study. 

Sometimes, he remembered that Tokyo was where Yashiro was, let himself entertain a thought of seeing him again, of telling him he knew. It was unlikely they’d cross paths though, not in such a huge place.

His heart was in Tokyo. Satoru hated it.

A job at Laser Coffee as a barista eased his idle time. He moved in with Kayo, so that he allowed his mom the chance to live on her own while being able to see him. The anxiety she held from years back never really left, after all, and he remembered how scared she'd been even in his first life. This way was easier.

Kayo and he fell into easy routines- who cooked, when they ordered food, shows to watch together. They'd already powered through a good few box-sets, and decided that they both actually loved some of the Korean drama shows they found. They were pretty funny, and easy to joke about, if nothing else. It was when they were watching such a show that Satoru broke down and told her that he remembered. The episode was about amnesia, and it kind of hit Satoru. Maybe it was dumb to be taking life lessons from some cheap drama, but... he felt like he had to tell her. So he did.

There had been a lot of tears. He told her he couldn’t tell her who it was that hurt him. She told him that she knew how he felt, reminded him that he’d saved her from the pain and that it was only right for her to save him in return.

He whispered to her that it wasn’t the same, and it could never be the same. He got angry at her and said some things he didn’t mean. Horrible, horrible things that should never have been said, that couldn’t be taken back.

She cried a lot. Asked him in a monotone to just leave. He obeyed, and left the apartment for a week. He didn’t go back to his mothers. It’s not like he’d never slept under a bridge before.

The time was good for him. He self reflected, came to a conclusion.

When he went back a week later, Kayo pulled him into a hug and yelled at him for making her worry. He was in the habit of keeping his phone off, even after all these years, and so she’d had no clue where he was.

Satoru told her everything that night. About how he felt, about the shameful nature of his feelings for the killer. He explained why he couldn’t tell her. He needed to see him. Needed a conclusion and answers and more.

She didn’t like it, but ultimately accepted it. She wouldn't reject him about this, not if it meant losing him. That's not to say that she didn't try to strong-arm him back into therapy, or that she didn't have multiple talks with him, probably trying to act as a therapist by herself. But Satoru was nothing if not stubborn, and before long it was a topic they didn't bring up. He still caught her giving him the saddest looks.

It felt good to share, even if his being cried out for more.

20.

After a lot of hard work, Satoru and Kayo moved to Tokyo. They had enough funds to last them until they landed a job, and living together lowered their individual expenses. Plus, they were always a good team.

Hanging out with his friends was far more common now- movie and board game nights happened twice a week, jumping around everyone's own apartments, aside from the dorm that Kenya and Hiromi lived in. They'd gone to the same university in Tokyo, though it wasn't purposeful.

Satoru landed a job quickly enough. An illustrator for a major manga magazine. Sure, it wasn’t exactly what he always dreamed of, but it guaranteed connections and it was a car shout from working as a delivery driver.

His life here was good.

Satoru was happy.

But he wasn’t home.

21.

He didn’t know why he was doing this.

He strode into the skyscraper, trying to look confident as he approached the receptionist.

“I’m here to talk to Nishizono Manabu,” he told her, hoping to seem assertive, or at least like he wasn't some random kid wondering into a council builidng and demanding an appointment with one of the biggest-rising names.

She looked him up and down, obviously disbelieving. Damn, he sucked at acting. “And you are?”

“Fujinuma Satoru.”

She hit a few buttons on her desktop, before turning back to him. "Right, your name is on his list of authorised personal. Ninth floor, and it's one of the first offices on your left. It'll have his name plate," she smiled, much more welcoming all of a sudden.

He nodded at the woman and headed to the elevators.

Yashiro knew he’d come here.

The elevator was one of the quick ones, that took you up and down the entire building in about a minute. Some part of Satoru appreciated that, but another part felt grossly unprepared.

Still, his feet carried him forward. He didn’t bother to knock on the door, instead just opening it.

“Hm? Yamada, I hope that you’re-“

Yashiro looked up at him.

“Ah, Satoru. You finally made it.”

Satoru was home.