Chapter 1: Kido
Kido is helping Mary cook when it happens.
She normally does the cooking, a result of the rest of the Dan being near incompetent when it comes to anything cooking related. Mary has been hovering around her during the prep for meal times lately. She'd peak out from behind the fridge, and jump up with a squeak every time Kido brought the knife down to the cutting board. Or she'd pretend to be reading one of her books at the table, except you could barely call it pretending, since she'd spend the entire time looking into the kitchen.
Subtlety was her worse trait, apparently, right below social interaction.
In the end, Kido had to come out and ask her if she wanted to help. Kido isn't a patient person, but she doesn't like the idea of loosing her temper with Mary, and she doesn't want to shatter the trust that took her so long to build up.
So now Mary is fidgeting, fluttering around her shoulders while Kido slides the tray of cookies into the oven – she doesn't normally bake sweets, but Kano's whining was insufferable, no matter how many times she smacked him over the head.
"You won't have to use the oven, Mary," she says. Then as an afterthought, "We can make frosting and decorate the next batch, if you want."
Mary gasps. "Really?"
"Sure," she says, pulling out the plastic she keeps in the bottom drawer. She doesn't normally decorate food, and when she does, it's just messy frosting applied with a butter knife – that's normally Seto's thing, and, once again, curtesy of Kano's complaining. She doesn't see much point in making food look pretty, but if Mary is doing it and it will calm her down, she doesn't see an issue.
Mary puts her hands on the edge of the counter, and leans over where Kido puts down the plastic. She's looking at it so intensely, it makes Kido worry she might freeze it with her powers, even though she knows her ability only works on living things.
Kido goes and digs around the drawer beneath their silverware. It's full of all the miscellaneous cooking utensils that they couldn't fit anywhere else. She eventually finds the metal frosting tips – not before nearly stabbing herself with a knife that isn't supposed to be there – and drops them in front of Mary.
She leaps up in the air and squeaks, as she's apparently prone to do.
"Um," Mary says, surveying the counter. "What do we do know?"
And then it happens, like a switch flips in her brain, and memories she tries so hard so shove down creep up.
She remembers sitting on a chair, dragged away from the dining room table and into the kitchen. She had been in the corner of the room, yet she could still feel the waves of heat, lapping at her bare legs from the oven.
It made her eyes water.
Ayano balanced the tray in her one hand, covered in a thick mitten that was much too big for her hand. It clattered on the countertop where she set it down, and she shook her hand once she took it out of the mitten.
"Ha," she panted, "that was kind of heavy with just one hand. Oh, Tsubomi, you can come back over now!"
She obliged, hesitantly walking back next to her. The cookies were black in spots, lumpy in other spots, and all in different sizes. Ayano was proud and smiling, all the same, standing above them with her hands on her hips, and a smear of batter on her cheekbone.
"What do we do now?" Kido asked.
"Um," Kido says, and there's a lump in her throat that she doesn't like being there, and suddenly she really just wants to let the cookies burn in the oven while she takes a cool shower.
"Uh, Kido..." Mary mumbles. She has a hand up, like she wants to reach out, but she doesn't know if she's allowed to, or if she'll get bitten for doing it.
Kido shakes her head, like that will dislodge the memories. Even if that did work, she knows they'll just come back when she's alone, which is worse. Even if her pride wouldn't let her admit it.
"Yeah, I'm fine, sorry. Sudden headache," she lies.
"Oh!" Mary says. "Do you want me to go get you some medicine? Seto just bought some." Mary looks like a puppy trying to hold back it's excitement, like there wasn't anything she'd rather be doing then walking to the bathroom to get her medicine. If she had a tail, she'd be wagging it.
"No," Kido says, but it comes out as more of a quiet laugh. "I'm fine, thank you though. Why don't we finally get the frosting ready, yeah?"
Chapter 2: Seto
It's raining when it happens, and he doesn't have an umbrella.
It not that Seto dislikes umbrellas; actually the prospect of disliking umbrellas sounds silly to him. They're practical, after all.
(He remembers getting caught in an unexpected rainstorm with Mary, once. Her hair had gotten so waterlogged that it felt like she weighed a ton when he lifted her onto his back, and it had been a struggle not to slip and fall on his face.)
He likes the feeling of the rain on his face, the way the air smells so crisp the morning after, how the buildings reflect off the puddles, and all the kids, jumping in murky water, soaking themselves through their coats and laughing.
It's nice, in a sort of melancholy way.
He had forgotten his umbrella at the hideout – thanks to his bad habit of never checking the weather before leaving for work. He can't say he minds it though; it's refreshing. He pulls his hood over himself tighter and keeps walking, letting his shoes squish into the puddles and soak them through – he'll probably have to wash them when he gets back, with how muddy it is. He doesn't mind, but Kido always gets on him if he ends up tracking mud inside.
He stops a cross walk and waits for the light to turn. The white paint is faded and barely their, chipping on the edges and mixing with the water in the potholes. On the other side, there's a boy walking up to it, trailing behind an older girl and holding an umbrella as high as he can so it can goes over both their heads. He catches her smoothing her hair down, so it doesn't snag on the metal hinges when it slips too low.
Then, he remembers, running through the streets. The water kept splashing against his legs as he ran, then dripping into his open boots. It was soggy and uncomfortable and gross, but he didn't notice it.
He didn't know how to get out, how to get away from the voices in his head, the ones asking why he's running, calling him rude for brushing against someone's dress pants that they just got pressed and dry cleaned. Calling him dirty.
He stopped, bending over and crouching, grabbing his knees – cold, clammy, wet – coughing and gagging and gasping and—
"Kousuke?" Calls another voice, a girl's, worried and—
He swallowed back another shudder and stood. It was hard, the ground felt like jelly and he was standing on lead stilts, but he stood anyway, listening to her voice with his eyes closed and hair plastered to his cheeks and ears and forehead.
He pushed through the crowd, through the disgruntled voices, and buried himself in her shirt, against the trim of her school uniform that she didn't change out of because she was too busy looking for him, too worried about him.
The rain is gone and there's an umbrella over his head, and he can hear her thoughts – no anger, no disappointment. Just worry. Care. Love.
He sniffed and wrapped his arms around her.
Seto pauses, and realizes he's been staring at the boy and his sister too long, because people have started crossing the street. He shakes himself out of the stupor and crosses himself, making sure to pull his hood around himself tighter, to keep the rain out.
Chapter 3: Kano
Kano thinks about Ayano a lot.
It's all a writhing, unstable mix of guilt and comfort and sorrow, along with the throb of wounds that can never seem to heal. They only ever scab over, leaving him bruised and calloused, aching every moment he lets himself forget her.
He thinks about her during the odd jobs he picks up when they're low on cash, when he's pestering Kido for the nth time, teasing Mary for mispronouncing words that she only read in books, or petting the stray cats he meets in back allies.
Taking back allies around town is the easiest for him. He knows them like they're apart of him, now, like they're another living, breathing organ. It's comfortable, despite the rotting trash and broken glass – he just has to know where to go to avoid the drunkards that like to pass through.
Cats seem to like the allies more than he does, though. They stick their noses into the jagged tears in the plastic bags, pulling out the leftover food from restaurants and the rich families that throw away half their plates. The ones that don't know what it's like to starve.
He remembers walking to Ayano's school late one evening. She had texted them, letting them know that she was staying after to study with a teacher. Of course, Kano took that as being an ample opportunity to walk home with her – he didn't want her walking home alone in the dark, even if she was his older sister.
He remembers her soft, scolding face, and the laugh that he put out just for her sake.
"Shuuya," she chastised, shaking her head and pulling her bag further up her shoulder, "do you really walk through here? It doesn't seem safe."
Kano shrugged, kicking a malformed pebble out of the way. It bounced off a dumpster with a hallow reverb.
"It's quicker," he said. It isn't actually – maybe by a few minutes, if he bothered to time it. He liked it because there weren't a lot of people; he didn't have to put up his defenses all the time.
Ayano sighed, defeated, pulling the sleeves of her sweater around the heels of her palm. She paused.
"What's that?" She asked.
Kano followed her line of sight to the corner of the dumpster he kicked at – it was one of the cats that are always loitering around. Probably white, but it looked more gray with the dirt matted to it in the dying light. He squatted down to its level, sticking out a finger. It peered up at him from the rotting fish was going at, fixing him with a calculated stare.
"It's one of the cats that hang around here," he said after a moment, once it decided that bumping its head against him was an okay idea.
Ayano squatted down next to him. "Does it have a name?" She asked, softly, like if she spoke to loud it would run away.
But then the memory fuzzes out around him, giving way to the decrepit buildings with their chipping bricks, and the aging cat before him. It's older now, with more scars and a chunk missing out of its ear. It meows, a broken, grating sound.
Kano sighs and squats down again, letting it rub against him, letting it stick its fur into his jacket.
He'd have to wash it later.
Chapter 4: Mary
Mary doesn't know Ayano.
She's nice, she thinks. From the way Seto looks into the distance, like there's something there she can't see, and describes her as kind and loving. The way Kido talks about her, with one of her rare, fond smiles, on. How she said she was optimistic to a fault.
Kano doesn't talk about Ayano to Mary. He changes the topic, finds something to tease Mary about without a second thought. Suddenly her questions slip from her mind, because she's too busy being embarrassed and dodging his laughs.
At first, she thought it was annoying, maybe even rude – although it's not as though she ever had the courage to say that to his face, at least without pulling her hair in front of her face and cowering behind it.
But she's stuck thinking about it, curled in a ball under one of her new velvety blankets – they had boughten new ones; the old ones were littered with holes, and smelled musty, no matter how many times they washed them – and thumbing through her mother's old diary. It sends a wave of bittersweet sorrow over her, and she lets it wrap around her in the form of the blanket, and lets herself believe it's her mother's arms.
It's so soft and warm and melancholy.
It hurts her heart, to picture her mother, ragged, weakened and beaten, something that Mary can't help but blame herself for.
It's then that she's struck with the thought that Ayano is to Kano what Mary's mother is to her.
She knows the looks on Kano's face, once he thinks she's gone, but she's really just sat down on the floor out of his peripheral. They're startlingly close to her own, the suffocating remorse of spending years locking yourself away out of fear and guilt.
The comforting warmth of a person, being snatched away in an instant, leaving the cold hollow void, too lonely, too familiar.
She doesn't know how that makes her feel.
But Mary thinks that if Ayano is anything like her mother, Shion, she would like to meet her.
Chapter 5: Ene
Ene doesn't think about Ayano for a long time; Ayano is a girl from a life that isn't her's anymore. She's content to push the memories down (it's hard, since it feels like trying to shake a strip of scotch tape off her fingers; she can do it though, she's done it before). She's content to let the feelings fester away, at least until she can forget them all together.
She has a different life, now. Different responsibilities.
"What's all this?" She asks, pitching her voice sickeningly sweet, and it's to the point that even she finds it noxious. "Don't tell me you visited some adult store or something."
Shintaro huffs – there's a smattering of pink on his cheeks. It's so enticingly easy to rile him up. "No, I don't leave the house." He shoves a cardboard box onto his desk with some effort. It's battered and covered in different layers of ripped tape, like it's been reused and remailed over and over. He swallows. "Not that I would go to one if I could, though."
She hums. "Sure you wouldn't! Anyway—" she pointedly ignores him sputtering out some unintelligible argument (she'd probably be able to poke holes in it even if she did listen; it's always fun to do, but she's feeling more curious than mischievous at the moment), "—what is this?"
He sighs, gathering himself back up again. "Just some old phones and shit I found and was planning on going through later. You can look through them if you want. Just don't mess anything up."
"I've never messed anything up, ever."
Shintaro mutters something under his breath that she can't pick out – he's probably scared of retribution, which is a nice thought – and he pushes the box to the side of his desk, so he's still able to sit down and reach his computer. He turns it on and doesn't say anything else, so she takes that as some form of dismissal and switches over to mentally sifting through what's in the box.
Most of them she can't connect to, probably either dead or broken; she's not going to consider the possibility of there being a military grade firewall on anything Shintaro owns, or he would have used it on her by now. Everything seems like it's all years old anyway, so it's already a miracle that some of them even have a charge left in their internal batteries, nevermind their SIM cards working. She lets herself fall into the one with the most recent technology, pushed down to the bottom of the box – newer things are always more comfortable than old ones. Old technology makes her lag and sputter around. They always feel claustrophobic, like a shirt that's too tight.
It flickers on around her, screen lighting up white in the box (it's a smartphone, which is at least comforting. Shintaro always seems to be consistent on all of the technological advances going around). The phone vibrates twice, and the screen switches from white to blue.
Welcome back, Ayano, it reads, and Ene feels like she can't breathe, even though she knows that's impossible in this body. Auto installing updates. This may take a moment. Please don't turn off your device.
Something like bile feels like it's resurfacing inside her – distant memories that she wishes she could just swallow whole and forget, and a pointless life that she wishes she could have stomped out herself.
The dial spins, and there's a 0% at the bottom.
She thinks she knows why this was pushed to the bottom, next to all the dust bunnies and dead spiders.
She doesn't know why Shintaro has Ayano's phone.
It's ticked up to 27% now.
She doesn't know why it hurts her.
She leaves the phone before the updates have finished, and the screen flicks back to a dull black.
If Shintaro notices her being quieter than normal, he doesn't comment on it, just takes the box out of the room as if he's remembered something, and then gets back on his computer.
Chapter 6: Shintaro
Shintaro can't help but see her in the color red, in the scarves that his classmates wear in the winter, in the soft, summery smiles that the school counselors would delve out like candy.
That was before he dropped out, of course. They tried to talk about his failing grades, but their smiles never measured up to her's – that was when he realized that there wasn't much point in sticking around.
He still tells himself that he's glad he did it, that he choked back their fake sympathy for long enough. They didn't know what it was like, they didn't know the guilt that was suffocating him from the inside out.
So, he walks past the various shoppes that line the streets – he's only out because of the Mekakushi Dan, because Ayano is still reaching him from the local graveyard, like a glob of gum he can't scrape off. He hates it – and he's trying not to pay attention to the way Ene whines in his pocket. She always wants out to see the festivities, even though she can just hop into some CCTV camera to see it all herself. There's not much point to her whining, other than to annoy Shintaro.
Everything is decked in red and green and white. Red glass ornaments that dangle from the fake pine trees in shop windows; their plastic, green pine needles that the employees scatter around to make things seem more alive. There's even fake snow inside. It's annoying, and a fire hazard if nothing else.
He remembers everything – August 15th after August 15th, death after death until his own, when he remembered everything, the meetings with Ayano, where she pleaded with him to remember something, anything of substance.
Her sad face was gross. He didn't like looking at it.
He remembers one Christmas in the past, where they sat in their empty classroom in his mind.
"This is for you," she had said, wrapping her scarf around his shoulders. It was warm against the drafty windows. The school still hadn't called anyone to install new ones.
He suddenly felt too warm. "I don't want your scarf," he said, batting her hands away.
She just laughed. "Please. I don't need it anymore. I think it'd mean more if you had it. At least by now."
He didn't know what she meant by at least by now, but the world melded away in red, and he forgot again.
But he remembers now.
And he grasp the phantom warmth between his fingers. He hates the way his eyes sting.