Flipping open his phone to check the time, Kei Takanashi frowned down at the screen when he saw exactly how long he’d been sitting at C-mart’s food court table. Waiting, wasting his time for a whole half hour. He sighed, although honestly it sounded more like a grotesque mixture of a sigh and a growl. Leo always kept him waiting when he didn’t want to be. Why was that? Out of all the friends he’d ever made in his life, it was Asahina who seemed to push him closer and closer toward his wit’s end. He could actually tolerate Shizuku’s nonsense better than Leo’s - and that was saying something. Is that ever saying something. She’s totally out there. Another minute ticked by on his phone’s screen. Oh come on Leo. Show up already…
Tapping his fingers on the table didn’t do anything for him except to rile him up even more. This was ridiculous. Time was a luxury that he couldn’t afford to throw away for no reason. None of them could. Fighting MINDs wasn’t simple, no matter how often he wished it would be. Battles already ate away huge portions of his time, and walking through almost endless labyrinthian floors took even more time than fighting did. And then he still had school to deal with after all that. Leo may think that a lucky pencil he bought online means death to studying, but consider Kei old-fashioned. He needed to get his school work done and keep his grades in decent condition if he was ever going to focus on closing Jungian tunnels and defeating MIND entities.
Compulsively he went to the messages menu and began scrolling to no avail. Zero texts saying ‘Hey dude, I might be late’, no missed calls or voicemails… Just radio silence, minus the radio. Being friends with that guy was going to kill him quicker than any MIND would.
But the more he thought about it, the more worried he became. One of Leo’s most defining traits was how loud he was. Boisterously loud. He never shut up, like, at all. If somebody stood outside a large group of people with Leo in the center, you could probably hear him over the roar of the crowd. That was just who he was, the type of boy he’d been since the beginning. Quick with a witty one-liner or a joke, he definitely wasn’t the type to keep his friends in the dark about where he was or when he’d be coming. He especially knows better than to treat his childhood best friend like that, Kei thought with a deeper frown. He had seriously thought about calling his absentee friend, but he realized that if he did he’d end up chewing out the dope and he really didn’t want a reason to feel like he was the biggest asshole on the planet. Being remotely upset with Leo could put him in the path of those golden puppy-dog eyes, and that would instantly make him regret every second of his berating. There was nothing he hated more than kicking puppies when they were down. Actually, he hated kicking puppies, period. It was no damn wonder that Leo managed to con him into doing virtually anything he wanted. A blink and a smile was all it took and before Kei knew what was happening there he was, signed up for whatever stupid adventure his friend had planned.
“I’m way too soft on that moron,” he groaned. Stressing over the brunette was starting to kill his appetite, so he decided to send a quick text demanding that he hurry up before snapping his phone shut and opening up the lid on his steaming bowl of ramen. It had more than likely sat long enough anyway, courtesy of the no-show. “I need to practice putting my foot down with him. Build up an immunity to that… that look. Ugh.”
He had just picked up his pair of chopsticks and pulled them apart to begin eating his meal when a familiar tune barely reached his ears, a catchy little jingle that he was sure he’d heard somewhere else too. Hadn’t he listened to these exact notes just the other day? Where had he…?
Irritably he placed the chopsticks down, glancing around the store to find the source of the noise. The C-mart clerk glanced up from reading his magazine at the counter, smiled, and then went back to it once he realized that his sole customer didn’t need any assistance; and by sole customer, that meant that Kei was literally the only customer around. The whole place was empty, save for him sitting at the table. Nobody else was here right now.I have heard that little song before, though. I’ve heard it so many times I could hum it perfectly from memory. Where’s it coming from, then?
Craning his neck, Kei tried to look over the small aisles of merchandise to see if there were actually other people shopping that might have otherwise been hidden from view. He couldn’t see anything, so he tried getting up out of the chair. Then he walked down every aisle until the clerk began to give him concerned looks. It probably didn’t help that he was crouching and peering around every corner, mumbling to himself whenever he didn’t see what he was looking for.
After a fruitless five minutes of searching, he finally returned to the table feeling like he was missing something, a very important detail of some sort. The sound was small and brief, it had played just once, and he wasn’t hearing it anymore. Could that mean that whoever had been playing the tune had secretly left? Or was he simply hearing things?
Kei shook his head and reached for the chopsticks again. “I must be losing it.”
When his phone vibrated abruptly in his pocket, he couldn’t stop himself from startling a little. Damn my nerves. A harsh grumble escaped his lips as he yanked the device out and flipped it open a tad too forcefully. Reading what was on the screen, he was glad he had. For a second.
“What!? What does he mean, ‘he can’t make it’!?” he practically snarled, quickly working to send his own irked reply. If Leo couldn’t make it, why the hell didn’t he say so half an hour ago? That was too much precious, precious time down the drain. It may not seem like a lot to other kids, but Kei was not like them - a fact that Leo constantly loved to remind him of. Once his fingers ceased their angry typing long enough to hit send, consequences be damned, he slammed the phone down onto the table again and shoveled a scoop of ramen into his mouth. “I don’t care if he guilts me into oblivion, I’m not going to forgive him for this!”
Hardly two seconds later he got another text, his cell rattling loudly on the table as he swallowed the mouthful without even tasting it. This reply was way too fast. Did Leo even bother to read these things? As expected, the next message wasn’t much better than the first. “All he can say is, ‘Sorry bro’. That’s it.”
Kei let out a breath and closed his eyes, clasping both hands together against his lips as his index fingers pointed like a gun towards the roof. He could do this. He could stay calm. Getting snappy with Leo would bring him pain later on. He knew that from experience, and now it was too late to turn back from it. The irrational text he’d just sent was already causing major damage, providing that the stupid ass actually read it. Getting up in the teen’s face about all his shortcomings would only make things that much worse.
So, Kei decided to try the self-soothing technique that Chikage used to keep herself from kicking Leo straight through the earth’s crust and into hell. Breathe, he told himself. Take a moment to reign in your volatile emotions. You can’t rail on him for being who he is. Well, you can, but there should be a good explanation for it. You don’t have one of those right now, so just… relax…
This rationale helped to ease the tension somewhat. He could feel it ebbing away, flowing out of his body in gradual waves. By the time he felt neutral about the whole situation, he had received a couple more texts from Leo. Nodding in affirmation, he moved to read them. Both were severely apologetic and the more recent of the two sounded anxiety-ridden, a quality that Kei had never suspected his friend of having.
Okay, that was a bit of an exaggeration; but he assumed that kind of stuff because he hadn’t seen Leo stay down for long. If the guy felt worried about something it usually lasted for a set amount of time, after which he appeared to get over it and go on with life. He was an optimist with a forgiving soul, and that was the main thing that Kei had always admired about him. It seemed like the brunette possessed a special ability that he himself could never quite get the hang of.
Was that why they had become such fast friends in the first place? All the arguments and annoyances aside, they each had a certain type of foreign quality that the other lacked. He began to wonder if Leo ever saw anything in him that he desired to emulate one day. Then again, who would want to be an antisocial, blunt jerk like me?
He swiftly shook off the distracting thought. Self-derision was to be reserved for when he was completely alone and severely depressed which, thankfully, he was experiencing neither at the moment. Besides, there existed other dilemmas that demanded his attention. He needed to be focusing on them instead.
Glaring down at the now lukewarm bowl of soggy ramen, he pushed it back and leaned his elbows on the table as he browsed his contacts for Leo’s number. If that idiot wasn’t going to explain himself, he might as well milk an actual apology out of him to make this colossal waste of time amount to something, at least.
It didn’t take him long to find the number, and he dialed it as soon as he saw it. There was ringing coming from the phone’s speaker as he held it up to his ear. But then he heard something else - that obnoxious, familiar ringtone that he absolutely could not mistake. The damn thing sounded so close too…
He turned his head sharply towards the C-mart window, and he glimpsed a light blue sleeve and green collar of a shirt ducking behind the wall.
No. No, he didn’t. That jerk didn’t just…
The lines in his face etched deeper into his skin, making him appear almost murderous as he sat there, staring. That’s where the jingle had come from earlier. It was Leo’s text tone, the one that he had been so proud of when he first bought it that he played the preview constantly - until Kei threatened to drown his phone in the river. That damn liar had been here the whole time.
His eyes narrowed to dangerous slits as he heard Leo answer the call. “H-hey, Kei! What’s going on?”
“Oh, you know. Same old,” he replied, his tone freezing the air around him. “I’ve been sitting here for - I was going to say half an hour, but now it’s been more like an hour.”
He heard the nervous cough on the other end and smirked evilly. Good, he thought. Feel bad. Suffer. That was immediately followed by an awkward laugh. “Um… Well, I uh… The cell service here… It’s not very good…”
“Mm. I bet.”
“Why don’t you spare me the stream of lies and just tell me what the hell it is you want, Leo?”
Strangely, his voice dropped to a reluctant mumble. “Sure, I guess so. Where do you want to, uh, meet up?”
“How about right here?” Kei asked, rising from his spot and stalking over towards the window with purpose in his every step. When he reached the glass, he rapped hard against it with his knuckles. “Get your ass inside. Move.”
Leo jumped and stumbled into the open, gazing wide-eyed at him. That look plainly stated that he’d been oblivious to the fact that his hiding skills weren’t working in his favor, big surprise. What Kei didn’t expect to see was the blatant crimson blush that had spread across his paling cheeks. Never had he seen such a vulnerable, almost shockingly off-guard reaction. Normally he was greeted with a casual wave and a smile, or Leo would make his way over and just break into ceaseless conversation with no precursor other than a mere, “Hey dude.” Either way, it was fairly obvious that he was happy to see Kei.
But this look, this purely horrified stare, showed in no uncertain terms exactly how badly he wished to be anywhere else. It was a brand new sensation, directly off the shelf. Being stared at like he was one of the horsemen of the apocalypse wasn’t too unusual, but to get that from Leo? Plucky, cheery, easygoing Leo? The kid he’d spent his entire childhood - hell, practically all of his life with?
Leo gaped wordlessly back at him, that alien expression growing worse by the second. Did Asahina have a fever? He was fairly sure that he hadn’t seen a face that red before, not even when someone was really sick. Looking truly concerned now, Kei motioned to his own face. “The hell’s with the redness? Are you sick or something?”
The discovery of his condition seemed to mortify Leo. Blinking his eyes, which oddly made them become even more vulnerable-looking, he quickly turned on his heel to sprint down the street without another word. Kei kept his phone to his ear as he rushed to the door, hoping to convince the fleeing moron to change his mind and come back; however all he got was a dead ring that signaled that the call had been ended. “Leo? Leo!” He pulled the phone back, staring at the screen incredulously. “Damn, he hung up on me!”
That instant was what fueled Kei’s curiosity and yes, slight fear, to the point where he could mentally set his anger aside. Something major was off with the teen, and there was no way of knowing what that could be unless he asked outright. He definitely wouldn’t get that chance if the instigator of his annoyance slipped away. He thinks I’m gonna let him bail on me after all this… Like hell!
Maintaining his stern expression to ensure that Leo had no illusions of talking his way out of an explanation, Kei bolted out of C-mart after him. “Don’t you dare run away! Not after I spent all this time waiting for you!”
The clerk observed them run off into the distance with a sigh, eventually taking notice of the half eaten ramen bowl still sitting on the table, forgotten. “Welp, looks like I have yet another bowl to feed to those stray cats outside. Why does nobody finish their ramen around here…?”
Kei was panting hard by the time they both turned down the umpteenth street in their relentless cat-and-mouse chase. Amamiya wasn’t too big of a city and they had both lived in it for years, long enough to know their way around without needing a map. Still, this was dragging on and amazingly Kei wasn’t even sure if he remembered this part of town. The buildings were old and faded, and there were starting to be less and less people he knew walking down the sidewalks. Staring in front of him, he caught a glimpse of Leo’s bright clothes as he skidded around another corner and disappeared yet again. Shit. He had always known that Leo was fast given his long legs, but he hadn’t expected him to be this fast. If he could run like this, why was he so damn slow in battle!?
Suddenly, something completely unrelated to his current situation came to him. “Wait a sec. When we were little… He was letting me win all those races?” He slapped his hand hard into his face as he rounded the same corner the brunette had taken minutes earlier. “He could have beat me anytime he wanted, but he just let me win. Jeez. He’s way too nice for his own good.”
Leo was the perfect definition of Mr. Nice Guy. Nobody ever got to him, no matter how many times they insulted him. He never turned down a friend in need - or even a stranger in need, for that matter. Cheering sad folks up was entirely his business, and he never failed to make somebody laugh or at least smile a bit when they needed it. He’d even succeeded with Kei a few times, and that was a big deal considering how stoic his facial expressions tended to be. Everything about that boy was just… just…
He smirked. “Leo’s a puppy. There’s no better way to put it.”
Speaking of, he had lost visual on said puppy. He slowed down to a walk as he tried to get his bearings, but nothing he saw looked the least bit familiar. Old, rusted playground equipment sat abandoned in a dirty park near him, the empty swing set creaking in the breeze beside an ominous cluster of looming buildings. Tilting his head up towards it, Kei grimaced. People were supposed to live in there…? Cracked and chipped brick walls lined the one side of the complex, half built and forgotten. Sounds like babies crying and the occasional scream drifted down from the upper levels, making him infinitely uncomfortable as he passed. All around him stood chain-link fences with sections flattened or torn down, barely able to keep anyone out of anything anymore. Best guess, he had wandered into a run down part of town where the apartments were small and the people in them even smaller.
If that wasn’t shady enough, the local clothing choices definitely were. Ratty and dark jackets with turned up collars, hats with long brims that covered the face up almost completely, beady eyes staring out like rats ready to scavenge for survival. Not exactly the safest place to be, not even during daylight hours. Pulling his phone out of his pocket, Kei decided to try calling Leo. Just in case the jerk decided to pick up.
“Hmph. He’d better, after leading me on this wild goose chase…”
Choosing to lean against a telephone pole, he kept his eye on all of the curious strangers that walked by him. If anything happened he couldn’t summon his MIND to protect himself, not against normal humans. There was no way he’d let himself stoop as low as the other MINDs that they had met. He’d be forced to run, and he wouldn’t get very far as tired as he was.
Jet black pupils ran over him as each person on the sidewalk noticed his out-of-place presence. Casing him out, he assumed. Trying to gauge if he had anything of value to steal, or if he was valuable enough to take advantage of. Their gazes unnerved him, and he found himself praying that Leo would stop being difficult for five seconds and just answer his damn phone. “Come on, man. Just talk to me,” he whispered to himself, tapping his foot impatiently. “At least help me pretend that I’m going to be getting out of here soon.”
His parents didn’t know where to look for him if he went missing. Leo’s parents were probably in the same boat. They couldn’t afford to mess around out here, and he was sure that moron knew that deep down. But here they were anyway, cavorting about like this was no more than a stroll in the park. Running blindly into a strange section of Amamiya that they had never been to before was dumb, no question. And it was severely out of character for Kei to act like an idiot of that caliber. He wasn’t one of those special breeds who took phenomenal bets on a whim, without care of cost. Why had he felt so compelled to follow Asahina into this darkening abyss? He must not have been thinking clearly. Surely the risks outweighed the benefits.
Well duh, but I couldn’t let that dumbass get himself in trouble. He has this habit of attracting danger to him and I… I care about him. I don’t want him to get stuck up shit creek without a paddle. He needs somebody to look out for him, and in the absence of our friends or an adult like Mr. Ogata, that job’s left to me.
Why does it seem like it’s always left to me…?
He nearly jumped out of his skin when Leo’s voice finally reached him from the other end. “Hey. Um… Sorry about ditching you like that, Kei.”
“Damn right, you’d better be sorry,” he growled, taking in a deep breath to steady his racing pulse. “I followed you all the way out into the middle of… wherever the hell this is, and I had better get some amazing answers to account for my struggles today or else I’m going to - “
“You will, I promise. Just… hurry and tell me where you are.”
Leo sounded serious for the first time in… Hmm, when had he ever been this serious? Grasping the gravity of a situation was never something he’d excelled at; that was always Kei’s forte. This could be a warning sign of some kind, but he had no clue how to interpret it. “I was kind of hoping you could tell me,” he replied, glancing around. “Don’t tell me you’re lost too?”
“I’m not. I actually called a taxi so I could search for you.”
Now that was strange. “Why did you need a taxi?”
Leo sighed, and he heard a noise like he was shifting his phone to his other shoulder. “Because it… it’s not a good idea to be walking around out there. I realized that pretty quickly, and when I lost sight of you, I…”
“You’re worried about me. Don’t be, I’m the one who should be worrying about you.”
“More like afraid for you,” Leo amended, his voice solemn. “Dude, you know how there are some places that you just shouldn’t go?”
Kei lifted his eyes up warily. A few carefully cloaked men had shown up while he was talking. He hadn’t noticed how close they were getting until now. Under the brims of their black fedoras he could see sinister grins, and beneath their coats he thought he saw the glint of metal in the fading light. Maybe Leo was right to be scared for him.
“Tell me the abridged version,” he muttered, doing his best to seem unaffected when he pushed off of the pole to turn down a nearby alley.
“Where you are… where I led you… I’m pretty sure it’s a red light district.”
Kei had heard that term before, but nobody had told him the significance behind its meaning. “Okay, and that is…?”
“I don’t know for sure, but it’s real bad. I mean plain, awful, horrendous bad! Mr. Ogata wouldn’t tell me what kind of stuff goes on, but he reiterated a bunch of times to find you so that he could get you out before anything did!”
“You talked to Mr. Ogata?” Thank the gods that he had even that much sense in him.
“Yeah, I called right after I discovered you were gone.”
“Well, that’s some good news, I guess.” Kei shook his head, sighing the same sigh that an irritated mother might use on her troublesome son. “Man. To think, all this could have been avoided if you weren’t being such a pain.”
Leo’s breathing hitched a little. “A-about that, er… I really wanted to talk with you. It’s… I just…”
Footsteps sounded from behind, echoing throughout the alleyway and setting every possible nerve on edge. Kei shushed him quickly, gritting his teeth as he looked over at the swarm of black headed his way. What they had been hiding in their jackets were now out and glistening. Guns, big ones. “Now’s not the time. I’m being stalked.”
As soon as the brunette heard that his voice grew tense, desperate. “What!? By who!?”
“Men with guns and fedoras. I can’t see their faces. Listen, I can’t stay here, so meet me at - “
One of the tall people in the front of the pack pointed at him, and he froze. “Hey, you! Make another move and I’ll rip you to shreds! Understand?”
The clicking of guns being cocked proved that this was no simple threat, and Kei wisely moved his arms up over his head. While he was doing this, he managed to discreetly deposit his still open phone onto a nearby window ledge. Leo’s protests buzzed through the line, but he ignored them. It was possible that none of these men saw where he had put his cell, and if that was the case then leaving it open would allow him to give his friend some crucial information that could speed his rescue.
“There we go, nice and high. ‘Atta boy. I swear, they get younger every day,” another man commented with a snicker.
“Who cares? The younger they are, the longer they last.”
The tall man stepped forward, placing the muzzle of his gun at the base of Kei’s throat while the group that was tailing him formed a circle around them both. Tilting the brim of his hat back with a thumb, he ran his narrowed eyes up and down, taking in the state of the boy’s dress and his nonchalant expression. “Wow. Schoolboy, second year. Out on an adventure in the slums, are you?”
Hard as it was to stay calm in a moment like this, Kei kept up the look with aplomb. “Possibly. Who are you and what do you want with me?”
His interrogator quirked his lips up. “Quite the attitude you have on you,” he snapped around the toothpick in his mouth, his gaze moving up towards the skies. A hand gestured to the many armed strangers surrounding him. “Those with spirit are harder to break, but once you do, they’re all yours. Isn’t that right, boys?”
Dark chuckles and murmurs whispered on the breeze, tickling Kei’s ears and teasing his brain with ideas of what was going to happen. “I won’t do what you ask.”
“Is that so?” The man turned his back to him, once more addressing the crowd. “You hear that? This boy won’t do what we want. He’s a brave little urchin, isn’t he?”
In an instant he found himself being shoved to the ground, and before he could react a heavy boot was leaning hard on his throat. “But, last I checked, urchins are thin. And weak. And when they don’t come home, it’s the same sad story. The streets around these parts are harsh, kid. They claim many of us, swallow us whole. Sometimes bodies are spit back up again, but a lot of the time they aren’t.”
The pressure on his neck continued to grow, and against his will Kei gasped for breath. Seeing this made the man grin larger, and he knelt down to better hear the wheezing. “Do you really want to be erased from the face of existence? Hm?”
Slowly, grudgingly, Kei shook his head.
“I didn’t think so. You see, my men are good at making liabilities disappear. Been doing it for years. They could dispatch you from this sorry little life with a wink and a smile. But I don’t want that for you. I have bigger plans, better plans. The sooner you go along with them, the easier your breathing will be. Am I being clear? Do I need to explain further?”
He stomped down onto Kei’s throat to get his point across, and he barely had enough air to croak, “No…”
The tall man gave a single acknowledging nod, removing his foot so that the boy had room to cough and hack. “Good, because I absolutely detest repeating myself. This place doesn’t suffer cocky idiots like you. But don’t worry, I’ll have that trained out of you in no time.”
Turning to one of the other cloaked men as he slung his gun over his shoulder, he muttered, “Take him to the Swirling Ripple and have his clothing stripped. No identifiers, so that means nothing stays from his old life. Remove all possessions you can find, and be thorough for god’s sake. I don’t need the police sniffing around with a missing person’s report. The less they can see, the better it is for us.”
“Yes sir,” the other man replied, turning to bark orders to his allies. “Alright, you heard the boss. Drug him up and let’s get this over with!”
At last getting a bit of a guess as to what this all was, Kei rubbed at his aching throat. “You… You’re yakuza?” he croaked.
The man looked at him from over his shoulder and snorted. “Che. What does it matter who we are? All you’re going to see is a ton of pussy and cock. I’m leaning more towards cock, though. You’ve got that kind of feminine look that’ll really draw the men in.”
There was no room to be alarmed as he felt the presence of a sharp sting in his neck, followed by blessed silence.
Drifting in a sea of pitch darkness, Kei was at peace. He hadn’t slept quite this heavily in a long while, and it felt good. No stress, no worries, no problems that needed solving. It was just him staring at the backs of his eyelids in a dreamless, shapeless void. His body was floating on a cushion of clouds and his mind was still. Everything was perfect, suspended in a plane of unreal zen that he had never achieved before.
If only I could stay this way forever.
Of course, then reality had to come crashing in.
First he heard the squeal of tires. A sharp turn here, an even sharper turn there. His head lolled uncontrollably with each lurch that the vehicle made, and then he was made aware of the terrible headache that he was suffering from. Groaning, he reached a hand up to his temple. “What…? Where…?”
Sitting up was a mistake. Almost instantly he bashed his head against a piece of hard metal. “Ow! What the…” His eyes tried to take in the scenery, or what he could make of it in the shadows. A small, cramped space. That wasn’t giving him much to go on, so he turned to his other senses instead. A fuzzy interior brushed against the skin of his hands, the scent of sweat and blood mingling with exhaust fumes, and a couple of blinks later he realized where he was. “The trunk of a car? Am I being kidnapped!?”
Kei tried to reach for a latch, if there was one; but his hands stopped, held fast to something by long chains that clinked loudly against each other. Staring down at his wrists, he frowned. Handcuffs, and they were attached to ungodly steel links that even the best pair of wire cutters would have to admit defeat to.
Great, trapped with no way out. He could only hope that Leo and Mr. Ogata had gotten everything they needed from his phone so that they could come after him. Assuming that those hat-wearing assholes had given him anything usable to pass on.
This was such an awful mess. When he woke up this morning, he definitely hadn’t considered that his day would take such a disastrous turn. Leo acting strangely, then running off with no explanation. Him following that stupid ass into unknown territory and getting abducted by a shady group of men that he was fairly certain were notorious yakuza thugs. Being transported in the back of a car to a creepy club that was probably a strip club. Could things possibly get any worse?
“I wish Leo was here,” Kei found himself uttering. “That guy really knows how to comfort someone. Not that I need comforting, but…”
… Who am I kidding? I’m in bad shape, here. If Asahina were with me, I could have someone to talk to, laugh with. Even his annoying attitude would be preferable to this, lying here alone in the back of some car.
Another harsh bump shook the back end as the tires hit a pothole or some other obstacle harder than necessary. Kei felt weightless for a split second, his entire body hovering before slamming back down onto the floor with a thud. There was a rattling sound, as if something had been shaken loose, and then a familiar sharp sting - except this time, it was on his rump. A needle had pierced his buttocks. Some strange needle that held a mystery concoction was being injected into his ass.
“Perfect,” he complained dryly. “What now, am I going to start tripping out? Next thing I know, I’ll be sitting next to a unicorn or some shit.”
Suddenly the vehicle screeched to a halt. He heard the slamming of doors and heavy footfalls coming towards the trunk. Someone slipped a key inside, he heard the lock release, and then light came flooding in.
He peered up, nearly blind, at the businesslike mask that the tall fedora man was wearing. “How was the ride? First class, only the best for the likes of our newest clients.” The man’s eyes traveled towards a spot behind him and he shivered at the blood-curdling smirk that lit up his face. “So many memories, this car. I wrapped up my first kill and placed the body right in that corner there. Pop was so proud.”
Kei watched with bile rising in his throat as the man reached for his chains, probably to unlock them from the secure box they were mounted in; but, lightning quick, he was yanked off. Gunfire sounded in the area outside the car, and he was left wondering only for a moment. Leo’s head popped into view, looking down at him with so much fear that it almost seemed unnatural.
“Kei… You’re… you’re not hurt…” He wiped his eyes on the back of his sleeve before reaching in with his demonic left hand. Kei watched with a stunned, open-mouthed expression as the chains snapped apart with little effort. It was like watching a knife cut through butter as those claws tore through the steel binding him. “I’m so relieved… I thought I might never see you again…”
Those golden orbs shimmered with unshed tears, another thing that Leo rarely ever showed to anyone. And, in that moment, his soul was left unguarded. Peering into his eyes, Kei saw so many feelings that had been previously pushed away. Concern, love, devotion and a million other sensations were passing through his gaze, pouring out of him in an endless torrent of emotion that filled Kei with vast warmth. Was this what Leo had wanted to talk about earlier? Why couldn’t they have just explored this more instead of screwing around in a shitty part of town that had nearly gotten them both sold into sex slavery?
After a second or two the brunette appeared to have gathered up some control over his emotions, blinking them back and sniffling loudly. He looked like he wanted more than anything to pull Kei into a hug. Somehow he managed to refrain, settling for giving him an intensely relieved smile. How handsome, Kei thought with the cock of an eyebrow. He briefly regretted making the brunette feel so upset, although he had started this whole charade so he didn’t feel too bad about it.
Huh, he was starting to feel a little… funny. Not like he was high or anything, but his mind felt clear as a bell and there existed the strong urge to speak whatever was on it out loud.
Leo reached in and carefully pulled him out of the trunk, setting him on his feet only to grab him by the shoulders and shake a bit too roughly. “Did they do anything to you? Did they touch you anywhere? Please tell me they didn’t!”
The first answer that entered his mind came out of his mouth. “Yeah, they did touch me.”
Leo’s face erupted into a flaming blaze of rage. “Where? Where did they…?” His voice was shaking so hard that he almost couldn’t speak.
“Right here,” Kei answered happily, pointing at his throat where, unbeknownst to him, there still lurked a footprint-shaped bruise. “Oh, and here and here,” he continued, pointing at his arms where they’d grabbed him.
He watched Leo’s tense body relax incrementally at the admissions. “Jeez… Dude, that wasn’t the kind of touching that I meant. Although, that bruise does look pretty nasty…”
He reached up to run his fingers gently across the black and purple coloring of the skin, and Kei felt the need to inform him, “It does hurt, but I don’t mind if you touch it. My skin feels nice when you touch it.”
Startled, Leo pulled his hand back, his cheeks burning with redness. “What…? K-Kei!? You can’t - I mean, you don’t just say stuff like that out loud! What’s wrong with you!?”
Kei shrugged. “Nothing. I feel fantastic. My head hasn’t been this clear and focused in a long time.”
Leo peered cautiously at his friend, crossing his arms and tapping one demonic finger against his bicep. “Okay then. That’s really weird, bro.”
“Hell yeah it is. Since when have you ever talked to me with so much… I dunno… verve, I guess?”
“I have verve, it’s just way more subdued than yours.”
Cocking an eyebrow, Leo steered Kei towards the taxi that Mr. Ogata had hired for them. “Right. How about we get in the car for now, and then take you to the hospital for a checkup? Sound cool?”
Kei shook his head vigorously, breaking free from Leo’s grip to turn back towards the fray. Yoichi had brought a rifle of his own and was laying down suppressive fire on the sinister group of men, buying the two some time to get to the car. He shook a fist angrily at the enemy as he started forward. “No way! I want to see that guy get filled full of holes for what he did! I’m going to help Mr. Ogata take him down!”
“Wha - hey! Kei, you can’t do that!” Leo exclaimed, panic rising in his tone as he reached for his friend. “Get back here!”
“Damn it, Asahina!” Yoichi growled, glancing over his shoulder as he sent another mobster scrambling for cover. He pointed with two fingers at the taxi. “Get Takanashi out of here before he gets killed!”
“I’m trying, dude!”
“Try harder then! The last thing I need is for a stray bullet to take you kids out!”
It was a bit of a fight to get Kei to listen, but eventually the astounding strength of Leo’s MIND arm was too great to break free of. He had wrapped it around the teen’s waist and was using it to pull him back towards the taxi.
“Let me go, Leo!” His arms gripped at the tough blue skin, attempting to yank or pinch it in order to force the arm to let go. “Come on, this isn’t fair!”
The arm merely tightened around him, and he could sense the frantic beating of a heart in the chest that was pressed so tightly against his back. “Life isn’t fair, Kei!” he whispered in his ear. “Want to know how I know that?”
Rolling his eyes, he answered, “Because you love me, and you’re not sure if I’ll ever love you back.”
The dragging stopped. Kei got his wish - the demon arm let go of him. But when he turned to see what had warranted his release, the stare that Leo gave him made him take a step back. “How…? H-how do you know that?” he demanded quietly.
Blinking, Kei stared down at his feet. “It wasn’t hard to figure out. You were either blushing from a mad fever, or you were blushing because…”
All of the information clicked together, making him let out a sound of understanding. “I get it now. That’s why you left me hanging at C-mart. You wanted to tell me, but you were afraid that I’d reject you.”
The shoulders sagged, and Leo hung his head. “Wouldn’t you? I mean, I’m not exactly prime real estate, Kei. You’re always calling me names and I thought that we were destined to be stuck as friends… like, forever.”
Why was he saying such moronic things? Oh, yeah. Because he was a total moron. Kei stepped up to Leo and stared into the tall boy’s anxiety-ridden face. “Idiot is a term of endearment, dumbass. And I literally have no idea why you think you aren’t worth loving.”
“But I get on your nerves all the time! We argue about almost everything and no matter what I do, you never seem impressed!” He reached for Kei’s shoulders again, this time squeezing them as he pleaded, “I don’t know what I have to do to show you that I’m good enough! Everyone sees me as the comic relief, and I… I’m more than that. I can do more, I am more! I’ll do whatever it takes to make you see that!”
Kei smiled, and it was a wonderful thing. It had never felt so perfect or so beautiful before this instant. “I know you’re more than that. I see it every day. You don’t have anything to prove, Leo. Sure we argue, and sure I think you can be extremely annoying…”
Leo turned his head away with a subtle sob, but Kei reached for him and cradled his face in his hands. “… But I love you just the way you are. It doesn’t matter if I’m impressed or not. You have always been good enough for me, and I need you to understand that you earned my love a long, long time ago.”
The words would have sounded so surreal to Kei if he had been in any other state, but as it was he just knew that this was the truth that had hidden deep in his heart for so long. He honestly wasn’t sure if he would’ve been able to admit his love for that dork under any other circumstances than these. It had probably required the gentle coaxing of whatever drug he was under to make the profession come out naturally. Anyway, it was clear that this was what Leo needed to hear; his eyes sparkled in that way that Kei simply could not ever resist. “I… did…?”
He nodded, grinning widely. “Yeah, you did. I can’t resist puppies, you know that.”
Leo smirked a little and leaned in closer. “I’m not your dog. You know that, right?”
“That remains to be seen,” he replied cryptically. They were inches apart when the tall form of the man that had kidnapped Kei stepped up behind them. Wiping his bloody mouth off on his sleeve, he swung his gun into position, swaying as he stood in the dying sunlight. Crimson riddled his jacket, and a few smoking holes lingered in the brim of his rumpled fedora.
“If we can’t have him, then neither can you,” he snarled, aiming at the duo just as Yoichi turned from shooting down the last man.
Kei wasn’t sure how to react to this abrupt threat; but again, Leo stepped up to surprise his friend. In the amount of time it took for any of them to blink, the brunette jumped forward and swung a punch directly at the man’s head. Of course, he didn’t look too worried. He actually laughed when he saw the blow coming. How much damage could one teen’s fist do?
The bastard had no idea that the equivalent of a freight train had just hit him in the jaw.
To him, the left arm was a simple, frail-looking teenage boy’s arm. How could he know of the otherworldly strength that boy possessed?
He landed with a heavy sound, falling flat on his back instantly from the power of that uppercut, knocked out cold in a puddle of his own blood. Turning back to Kei, Leo thumbed at his nose victoriously. “I knocked his block clean off. How’s that for revenge?”
Kei chuckled. “Hm. Alright, maybe you’re a bit closer in relation to a wolf than a puppy. Although I don’t think you were the one responsible for the deadly wounds that will end up killing him.”
Leo walked up to his friend and took him in his arms. “Being a murderer is overrated anyway. So…” He blushed adorably as Kei looked up into his eyes. “Uh… does this mean we’re going out?”
“Unless you don’t want to be with me anymore.”
“I-I never said that…!”
“Good, because I never meant that either.”
Leo was smiling at him, but the worry was still lurking in his eyes. “I dunno, man. Something’s kinda off about you. I really want you to get checked out, okay?”
Kei groaned. “Do I have to, mom?” he asked sarcastically.
Leo cocked an eyebrow. “Don’t be a smartass. I…” Looking away, he rubbed shyly at the back of his head. “I just need to be sure that you’re not hurt. I couldn’t live with myself if something happened that I could have prevented, you know?”
Kei sighed, finally allowing himself to relent a little. “Fine, fine. Don’t pull the puppy-dog eyes on me. My poor heart can’t take it. If that will stop your fretting I’ll go get the nurse to look me over; but I swear that I’m fine!”
Leo gave him a radiant smile then, one that melted his entire host of inner organs on the spot. “Thanks, Kei.”
Without any warning, he swooped in and placed a tentative kiss on Kei’s slightly parted lips. The sensation of having someone else’s mouth on his was a strange but welcome delight. He found himself closing his eyes and surrendering to the taste and feel of those supple lips, deepening the kiss as he saw fit. Instinct brought Leo’s arms further around his waist and his own arms slung themselves around his partner’s neck, gently tugging him down, closer, deeper. The slightest flick of a tongue teased a moan from the back of Kei’s throat, and the sound of it encouraged Leo to delve further inside.
The combination of taste, sensation and emotion was divine. This was true perfection.
And then Yoichi had to go and ruin it by tugging the still embedded needle out of Kei’s poor behind.
He yelped from the abrupt pain and their kiss instantly broke apart. Panting slightly, Leo glanced over at the detective irritably. “What the hell, dude?”
Ogata simply held the needle up in between two fingers for all to see. “The kid says that he’s fine, then I find this sticking out of him. I’m not entirely sure what was in here but considering the honest mood Kei is in right now, I’d say that this might be some kind of truth serum.”
Leo examined the empty syringe for a second, and then looked back down at Kei. “Did they really stick that in your…?”
“Hell to the no,” he interrupted, massaging the cheek where it was tender. “I think that happened when I was getting jostled around in the trunk of the car. The driver hit a bump and then I felt a prick in my ass.”
Kei cocked his head to the side as Leo suddenly flushed with color. “Uh… What? Did I say something odd? All I said was that I felt a prick in my - “
“Okay, yup! I got that part! You don’t need to say it again!” Leo turned away from them and hurried stiffly over to the car. “C’mon, let’s get going already! I’m sick of this place!”
It had been a few weeks since the hospital visit and Kei was still enraged with what they had found. By the time he’d gotten there a decent amount of the stuff had already worked its way out of his system, but the nurses had taken blood to make sure. Trace amounts of tranquilizer and truth serum. He had felt so sharp that he had said literally anything honest that had come into his mind.
Which included how much he loved Leo, apparently.
He earned my love a long time ago… Is that really the truth? But of course it was. Even when the serum was long gone his heart knew that was the one and only answer. He had just been so consumed with doubts and other thoughts that he hadn’t had the clarity to see the truth for what it really was. That serum had thrown the rest of the clutter away, and given him the space he needed to see what was lying underneath. So, in a way, that misadventure and the truth serum mishap was a good thing…?
He refused to fully believe that, but he was glad that Leo was back to being his usual self again. After their shared confessions he livened right up to the point where Kei was almost getting to the same level of annoyance again. Except this time, Leo seemed to dial it back around him a little more than normal. He was less the overexcited teenager and much more sincere. Kei recognized it proudly as him growing up - very, very slightly growing up. There was still a lot of room for progress. And speak of the devil…
“Hey Kei, what’s going on?” Leo asked, stepping into the Ogata Detective Agency’s main lobby with a smile. “I didn’t think you’d get here this early.”
Kei half-smiled in response. “Likewise. I haven’t known you to be early for anything except breakfast, lunch and dinner.”
“A man’s gotta eat!” He shrugged playfully before flopping down onto the couch beside his boyfriend. “But really, why are you here? The others aren’t gonna show for a while yet.”
Leaning back against the couch cushions, Kei stared up thoughtfully at the roof. “I just wanted some quiet. I was thinking.”
He smiled a little bigger. “About you.”
Leo blushed, still a bit embarrassed to be hearing those kinds of comments. “I hope they’re good thoughts.”
Kei cocked an eyebrow. “Why wouldn’t they be?”
“I dunno. It’s just… It all feels so weird, right? No, not weird, that sounds negative… Okay, yes, it feels weird,” he mumbled, ending on a sigh. “I’ve been imagining this for so long that it doesn’t feel real sometimes. I’m afraid that when I open my eyes, I’ll be lying in my bed and this will all be some crazy dream I had…”
He glanced over to see Leo’s vulnerable face again. The one he had hoped he’d banished, for a little while anyway. Wanting to ease the uncertainty in those eyes, he moved over to sit in his lap. “If you can feel this and still assume you’re dreaming, then you my friend are one hell of a dreamer.”
Leo jerked at the contact, the red all over his face worsening as he sputtered, “D-dude! You can’t just…!”
“Why not? Are you ashamed?”
He quickly shook his head. “Of course not! I love you,” he said firmly, “and that’s never going to change! B-but… I…”
There was a bead of sweat trickling down his face, and Kei observed it as it ran in a slow descent along his cheek and down below his jaw. Hm, that’s interesting.
Deciding to test a theory, he rolled his hips while pretending to be adjusting himself to have a comfier seat. Leo squirmed and gasped, hurriedly backing away as far as he could and slapping a hand over his mouth.
“Something wrong?” Kei asked innocently.
“Mm-mm…” Leo shut his eyes tightly and tried to brush him off of his lap, but he securely held on to the armrest and back of the couch in an effort to steady himself. Leo wasn’t getting rid of him that easily.
“You sure are acting like something’s wrong. What is it?”
Kei repeated the action again, this time a bit harder. Leo’s demonic hand flew to the armrest, claws tearing into the fabric and causing the stuffing to ooze through the holes. His other hand whipped down to shove half-heartedly at his boyfriend’s thigh. “Gah! C-C’mon dude… stop it…” he moaned, although that too sounded like a lie.
“I’ll only stop,” Kei explained with another grinding motion, “if you tell me what’s wrong.”
“Mnn… I…” Leo’s head fell back against the couch, chest heaving as he tried to catch his breath enough to speak. “I… I want…”
The hand that was pushing against Kei’s thigh began to gradually slow down until it was no longer trying to move him away. Those fingers hooked around underneath and yanked him even closer. Okay, now this was getting arousing.
Leo’s golden eyes simmered with a heat that Kei had seen only in his wildest imaginings. The grin on his face was absolutely feral. “I want you. Let me have you.”
Now, Kei wasn’t really the type to blush often, but this was enough to tease one out of him. “I see. Uh, for the record, this is still Leo talking, right?” Somehow he had the strangest feeling that maybe, just maybe, this might be someone else speaking through him. “I’m… I just want to make sure because I’ve never heard you say that kind of stuff before. Leo?”
He watched Leo blink in surprise, and then a bellowing laugh that absolutely did not belong to Leo exploded from his chest. “You’re a perceptive one, human. I almost wish that you had been the one to possess my gauntlet in this fool’s place. But what’s done is done. Now, kindly step aside so I may be with my true love.”
Kei’s mouth fell open in utter shock. Leo’s MIND was possessing him!? Was that even possible!? Obviously it was since it was happening right this second, but…
Hold on. Who was his true love?
Oh. My MIND is his lover, isn’t that right?
Abruptly the voice of his own MIND rose up in the back of his brain. “That’s right. He’s asking for me.”
Well then, tell him I can’t do that! Kei frantically replied in his head. I’m not going to let you two use our bodies for… well…
“Sex? I don’t blame you. You and the other human haven’t even done this yourselves yet. It would not be right to steal your first time away from each other.”
Yes, right! Exactly! He was so relieved that his MIND, at least, was being reasonable. Look, I don’t want to get in your way, but can’t you do that without taking us over? Isn’t there another option?
His MIND was silent for a while, considering this. After a minute, she sighed. “I don’t believe so. MINDs are a version of you from another dimension. They live similar lives based on the ones you lead, except they often turn to violence. There is no room for sex or love in that world. The only way to act on such feelings is through a human vessel - like you and your new boyfriend.”
Kei rubbed at his forehead. I was afraid of that. I’m sorry, but I can’t allow that to happen. At least, not right now. Can you tell him that for me? I’d rather not get torn into strips of meat for denying him.
“Of course. He will listen to reason if it comes from me.”
Thanks. Make sure he knows it’s not forever, only until me and Leo get things figured out between us. We’re still getting used to all this relationship stuff.
He knew that the conversation had ended when he felt the absence of his MIND for a moment. Watching carefully, he noticed the shifts in expression on Leo’s face due to his MIND’s influence. Happiness, surprise, anger, more anger, extreme ire, reluctance, resignation, and the last one to finish off the list was a frustrated but somewhat understanding look. Then it appeared that Leo had fallen asleep for a short minute, which signified that his MIND had left them to their own devices at last.
I’m obviously the voice of reason in these relationships, Kei thought with a chuckle.
When his boyfriend finally opened his eyes, there was a flicker of panic in them. He sat straight up and gripped hard at Kei’s face. “Did he do anything!? He didn’t force you, did he!?”
“Nope. My MIND managed to talk him down, so no worries there.”
Letting out a deep sigh, Leo collapsed onto the couch. “That’s good.”
Kei leaned over him with a frown. “Yet you look anything but relieved.”
“I’m worried, Kei. What if… I mean, these feelings that you and I share, what if it’s just something that manifested from them?” He gazed sadly up into the eyes that had always given him the answers he needed. “Maybe you and I don’t love each other, but our MINDs do so that means that we’re drawn to each other because of them. Then that means our love isn’t… it’s not real.”
Kei rolled his eyes. “You know, there’s a reason why you’re supposed to leave all the thinking to me.”
Leo frowned. “This isn’t funny, dude! Seriously think about it for a second! I could be right, you know!”
”But you’re not.”
“But I could be!”
Kei shook his head with finality. “But I know for a fact that you’re not.”
“And how exactly do you know that?” he demanded, crossing his arms. “What makes you so sure that this isn’t just a side effect of being connected to our MINDs?”
Kei leaned back and crossed his own arms for effect. “Well, for one thing, I’ve loved you ever since I was little. Have you forgotten that, moron?”
Leo opened his mouth to argue, but the words were all jumbled up. “I… that… it’s not… but… huh.”
“You earned my love ages ago. I said that, and it’s the truth. I couldn’t have lied about it if I’d wanted to, Leo. Honestly, I’ve loved you since before we had an inkling that MINDs existed. What about you?”
He blinked a few times, and scratched at the back of his head again. “S-same…”
Kei smirked. “See? There’s your answer. Now quit over-thinking everything, that’s my job.”
Chuckling, Leo sat back up and gently caressed his lover’s face. “I am terribly sorry, sir.”
“I’d prefer you call me Your Gracious Royal Majesty.”
He leaned closer, their lips just barely touching as he whispered, “That’s a bit of a mouthful, isn’t it? Let me make it up to you.”
“And how do you plan on doing that…?”
Leo simply waggled his eyebrows before kissing him hard. It would have been the great start to a hot and steamy evening…
… if the whole gang hadn’t waltzed right in on them at that very second.
“Oh, hey guys,” Sana said, waving at them as if there were nothing steamy going on at all. She crossed the floor to sit in one of the armchairs directly across from their couch. “Having fun?”
Kei actually had the grace to pull away calmly and shrug, but Leo fairly snapped at her, “Why don’t you go mind your own beeswax, Chikage!”
“Yeesh, take it easy. It’s not like we never expected this to happen someday.” She twirled a lock of her hair around her finger as Leo gaped in pure shock. Almost to herself, she added quietly, “Although I didn’t think you’d be bold enough to go at it right in the middle of Mr. Ogata’s office like this.”
Glancing back, Kei watched with amusement as his lover facepalmed. “Oh no… Was I being that obvious…?” he groaned.
“Kind of,” Kotone admitted, sitting down in one of the other open chairs with a shy smile. “I mean, Kei is always a bit hard to read, but you… Um, you’re pretty open about things, Leo.”
“You are,” Lina agreed, giving the brunette a scathing look from where she stood behind Sana’s chair. Her butler gave an apologetic nod of his own as she continued. “Open enough to allow whatever drivel fills your brain to spill out unchecked. Honestly, I cannot believe that someone as reserved as Kei would be a perfect match for the likes of you. It boggles the mind.”
“Thanks for that. I really needed to hear it,” Leo grumbled, pouting slightly as Kei moved over to sit beside him instead.
“Come on, guys. I said to be supportive,” Yoichi chided, although he had a humorous smirk on his face as well. “Although they aren’t wrong, Asahina.”
He frowned harder, obviously not thinking it as funny as they rest of them did. But Kotone was the first to take an earnest stance with the duo, smiling at them like she was their proud sister. “But really, I think it’s great that you two are together. You’re close already, and you know what they say: friends often turn to lovers later on. It’s the most logical next step.”
Sana nodded, flicking the golden hoop in her hair with an idle finger. “I believe it. This would be kinda hard to explain if that wasn’t even a little bit true.”
“As long as Kei manages to shut that boy up somewhat, I’ll gladly be happy for the both of them,” Lina said with a small smile.
Kei grinned at them all. “Don’t worry about that. I have a plan.”
“Huh!?” Leo glanced alarmingly over at him. “What kind of plan!? What the hell, bro!? I thought you were supposed to love me for being me!”
”And I do, really,” Kei cooed, reaching over to pinch his lover’s cheek teasingly. “But if you think that I’m going to sit here and endure years of the same old annoyances, you are mistaken.”
“Owowowowowow…! Kei… s-shtop…!”
Leo was flailing his arms helplessly as Kei tugged on the small section of his cheek. “You will behave yourself, or else you’ll have me to deal with. Hm?”
He nodded frantically. “Yeah shure! Whatever, jusht let go! Leggo, leggo! My sheek hurtsh!”
Everyone watching laughed and, standing a bit away, Yoichi couldn’t help that warm feeling that was brewing in the depths of his heart. These kids were something else, and he certainly wasn’t going to let anything happen to them if he could help it. For the sake of Kei and Leo’s budding relationship, he had to make sure that they all came out of this okay. They were all his responsibility now.
“Mr. Ogata! Make ‘im leggo!” Leo wailed.
But Yoichi simply smiled. “I sincerely doubt that I can, kid.”