Actions

Work Header

Until August

Chapter Text

Ah, it was perfect. An ideal form for a... rather disposable timeline.

He examined the form of his new hands and arms, from the base of his shoulder to the tips of his fingers. The new body was just as he had imagined, just like that of a normal human's but with all the strength that Awakening Eyes (what was his name again?) held. Truthfully, after so many timelines of recreating the dead boy's ideal body, making another one for himself was hardly any trouble. Maybe he should've tried it in other previous loops, after all, it certainly would've come in handy. 

Though the deceiver said he looked "creepy and suspicious as ever" and that his "taste in clothing really sucked", he believed that everything about his appearance was perfectly fine. True, maybe the red-eyes were a bit strange, and supposedly having his dark hair grown so long and styled in such a way wasn't as customary anymore, but it fit in well enough. It was a satisfying look, and the deceiver had even begrudgingly said that it seemed normal enough (though it was probably just to get him to stop bugging him), so it clearly didn't require change.

...But that was all beside the point. After all, there were... bigger matters to tackle, and there were still things to be done for this loop. An experiment, for lack of a better word. 

"I believe that you understand the plan by now," the snake started, staring down at the blond before him. 

The shorter nodded with clear reluctance on his face. 

"Well?" the taller questioned, raising an eyebrow. "Isn't this the part where you describe it back to me in detail? Or are you past that this time around?"

Confusion flashed in the boy's cat-like eyes, then vanished in an instant. 

"I saw you during one of my walks and noticed your red eyes," he said quietly, not quite looking at him. "I asked you about them and it turned out that you have the power to clear Eye Abilities." 

"Good enough," the snake dismissed. "Though I expect you to do a better acting job than that when we're at your little hideout. It's what you're good at, right?" 

The taunt remained without response as the two made their way out of the school. 

- - -

God, this was so fucked up. No matter how many times he told himself that their demise was inevitable, no matter how many times he told himself that this despicable action was just another one to add to the pile of shit he'd done, he couldn't shake off the awful feeling eating away at him. Yeah, he'd betrayed his family before and done some horrible things for the snake, but now he was just leading their future murderer straight to them. 

Never in his life had he felt so sick seeing that apartment coming into view.

Under his illusion, his hand trembled, hovering over the door. 

"You know what to do," the snake hissed behind him. 

With probably a little too much force, the door was flung open to reveal the rest of the Mekakushi Dan relaxing and lounging around the room. Kido and Seto, who had been chatting at the dinner table, stole quick glances at him. As Kano stepped through the doorway, he noticed a few additional pairs of eyes directed his way. 

Lost, he stood dumbfounded at the door until felt the other's elbow jab him on the back from behind. With hesitance, he placed a smile on his face and threw his arms out. 

"Kido, Seto!" the blond announced out, drawing all attention to him. "I have great news for you! We have a new recruit who's willing to join the Dan!" 

The two sibling's eyes widened a fraction as they stood from their seats to face him. 

"And you're sure you didn't just accidentally rope in some poor random guy like last time?" Kido raised her eyebrow as she eyed the liar's face. "Do you even remember how much work it took to convince him not to call the police?"

"Yeah, yeah," Kano chuckled nervously as he recalled the incident, putting up his hands in defense. "I still run into him on my walks every now and then, and it's pretty awkward. But I made sure that this guy actually has Eye Abilities!" 

Though he was almost convinced by then that he had been rooted to the ground, he managed to step aside to reveal the dark-haired behind him. 

"Welcoming member number ten!" he called the other out. 

Kido step forward first to greet the other. 

"I'm sure that, if Kano wasn't being an idiot, you've been told about the importance of your red eyes?" the girl asked, the trace of a smile on her lips. 

Looking eager, the snake nodded and grinned down at the three siblings. 

"Well, you see, the reason you were brought here," Seto stepped up, examining the taller with a welcoming expression. "is because-" 

"Uh-huh, you gather the people with her eyes here into your hideout," the snake finished for him. 

When Kano glanced at his younger siblings, he noticed Kido muttering "...her?". 

Seto, dumbfounded, rubbed the back of his neck as he continued. "Uh, well, yeah. You're welcome to come and stay here anytime, erm... what's your name?" 

Shit. 

Kano felt himself freeze, though it was such a simple question. They hadn't really figured that out. Everything else had been planned and accounted for, and yet- 

"Saeru Hebi," the snake drew out slowly. 

...How original.

"Ah, we're glad to have you here with us, Saeru!" the blond jumped in, feeling he should probably make himself more involved. "You get to be member number ten! I must say, it's really starting to get crowded in here, perhaps my time has finally come to move out and let the newbies take over!"

"Don't be ridiculous," Kido sighed, before turning back to... Saeru. "Anyway, are you hungry? We were just about to eat dinner, and the food's almost done. You can stay as long as you want." 

With an odd look on his face, the- Saeru nodded, then let a cheery grin cast down at all the others. 

As everyone made their way to the kitchen, a few greetings and welcomes were directed to the murderer. 

"And where do you think you're going?" a suspicious voice, Kido's voice, sounded behind him as he turned away. "You can't just recruit a new person and disappear out to God knows where, Kano. Come on, let's eat dinner together for once." 

His legs shook, and he was unsure of how much longer they would be able to support his weight, but he laughed anyway. 

"Just gotta wash up first," he excused himself, never turning to her. "I had a pretty nasty run with some mud by the sidewalk. I guess I should've watched my step, haha." 

Yeah, he deserved a mental scolding for making up that weak of an excuse.

Her eyes didn't leave his direction until he closed the bathroom door behind him.

Now he just had to figure out how to hold on for the rest of the night.

- - -

"Dammit, you can't just take up the entire couch, Kano," the focuser grumbled at the blond as he squeezed himself into the remaining space he could.

"Sorry, but I just happened to call dibs," the blond shrugged in response, picking at his dinner.

"On the entire couch?!" the boy retorted. "That's hardly fair, there's not enough room for you to just stretch your feet wherever you want! Just sit like a normal person."

"But I-"

"I can say for the record that you didn't, Kano," the liar's brother appeared by his side, shaking his head. "Come on, let everyone have somewhere to sit."

The snake observed the chaos within the apartment subconsciously.

A voice yelled from across the room.

"Turn off the TV already!" a girl's voice hollered, directed at the red-wearing teen who was seated in front of the TV.

The antisocial human and the virus had previously been invested in a round of some videogame that the snake couldn't put a name to. Supposedly, the two had some rivalry that he was unaware of, and had been at each other for weeks, demanding rematch upon rematch.

It had gotten rather competitive between the two, and the display had even attracted a few stray members to watch the game. Though he knew nothing about any of the rules or mechanics, the snake even found himself somewhat captivated by the clash of skills and confident words.

Unfortunately for the boy, though, when dinner had been called, the cyber girl had stopped the game and refused to let it resume until he joined the others.

"B-But Ene-" the pathetic teen began.

The program in question pouted as she seated herself on the various menus littering the screen. "Master, I will not allow you to continue until you eat dinner."

"You're literally the one who proposed a rematch and said 'no breaks!'" he yelled back at the screen.

"No excuses!" the troublesome girl crossed her arms defiantly. "Go eat what Kido made for you."

Knowing that there was no way to counter, the raven-haired male dejectedly walked away, muttering a small "fine" as he went.

The snake honestly wasn't sure what he was expecting when he came up with the idea to come here. He expected nothing more than dull, meaningless events that could be forgotten in an instant.

And honestly... this was close enough to just that. All this was was a mess of boring, meaningless interactions that all faded into a white noise of disappearing memories. There was simply no charm to be found when he saw all the children talk about unimportant topics and complete worthless tasks.

"Oi, uh, you said you were hungry, right?" a monotonous voice appeared by his side.

When he turned, he found it out to be the "leader" of this silly organization. In her hands was a plate of food that, in all honesty, looked rather enticing. Knowing he couldn't exactly just refuse (for obvious reasons), the snake took it, throwing out a small nod of at least semi-genuine appreciation.

"You know, uh, Saeru, if you ever need anything just tell me, alright?" the girl said unsteadily. "I know that when Momo came here, things started out kinda rough. So if you ever have trouble with anything, just ask, 'kay?"

The small, lopsided shifts in the concealer's expression and overall genuineness with her actions was, admittedly, somewhat welcoming. Though her trust was clearly misplaced, and the quick friendliness was... definitely more than what he had expected, the snake found it nice all the same.

"I appreciate the consideration," Saeru responded, eyeing the food before him. "If there's ever a problem, I'll make sure to tell you... whatever your name is."

"Kido," she said, casting an awkward trace of a smile. "You'll get everyone's names down eventually, don't worry Saeru."

Kido was too naive for her own good.

...

Honestly, everyone had bigger things to worry about than this.

"Well it's not like we're going to make him sleep outside," the conceal- Kido said with exasperation.

"Oh, but we can!" Shuuya jumped in. "We can put him through special training to make sure he's worthy to be a member of the Mekakushi Dan! I vote that we make him live at that nearby alley for a month. Make him live off the minimal resources available to him to prove his strength." 

"That's not fair," the orange haired girl replied, pouting. If he remembered correctly, she was an idol or something of the sort. "You didn't make me or Shintaro do that! And there's no way Mary or Hibiya had to go through that." 

"Gee, it was just a suggestion," the blond laughed, sitting back on the couch. "Don't take it too personally, Kisaragi."

Absentmindedly, Saeru gazed out at the window. It was completely dark now, which means a considerable amount of time had passed. This was probably the longest time in a while that he's been with all these children while they were still breathing, which was a pretty entertaining thought.

"...Maybe he can sleep on the couch?" the girl suggested again, sparing a quick look at her brother next to her. 

The teen rolled his eyes. "No. I have to sleep here, and I'm not sharing with the new guy. Who knows how loud he snores?" 

"How rude," he started, feeling it would probably fit to contribute to the interaction. "I'm right here... er...." what was his name again?

"...Kenjirou?" he tried. 

"Shintaro," the red wearing teen, apparently named Shintaro, replied with a hint of frustration. "It's Shintaro." 

He couldn't really blame him for the irritation, that was the third time today if he recalled correctly. 

"Well I'm not sharing with him," the small brown haired boy huffed, crossing his arms.  "I'm perfectly fine sharing with just Konoha." 

Ah, actually, that boy's name was Hibiya, right? He remembered a few timelines where that little girl, Hiyori, had screamed out his name before both of their untimely demises. Inwardly, he praised himself. See? He was capable of remembering at least some of these trivial details.

"Well...." the green-haired girl started again, only this time she didn't even bother continuing.

Was this how these brats usually solved problems? Because in the span of about five minutes this had gone absolutely nowhere. Finally, he came up with an idea.

"Ah, I know!" he said after a long period of silence. "What if I shared with Shuuya? He kindly invited me here, after all!" 

Everyone stilled, and the deceiver cast him a dark look. 

"...Shuuya?" the- er, Shintaro and the thief both asked. 

...Did he do something wrong? That was the deceiver's name, right?

"Uh, it's Kano," the cat-eyed boy suddenly said as the thief and the concealer exchanged looks. 

"Well I think it would work great!" smiling, the queen put her hands together as she spoke, relieving some of the tension in the room. 

"Then it's settled," the green-wearing teen (...hmmmm... actually, he was pretty sure this one was Seto) nodded, sharing the same smile. "Saeru and Kano are sharing rooms." 

The snake had almost never seen Shuuya look so openly mad before.

- - -

The moment the door closed, he tackled at the snake. Though he was pinned, or at least hopefully pinned, on his back, the dark-haired monster only cast a bored look.

"Why are you still here?" he found himself asking, glaring down at the other. "I could imagine you just killing all of us by now and being done with it."

Now he was sneering. "Or are you just gonna toy with us? Are you just making us wait until the day you finally decide to pull the trigger? Because no matter how much you try will never have a place here."

The red eyes sneered back, and a foot embedded itself in his chest, flinging him off with ease. Without warning, a hand grabbed his arm and twisted it behind his back, pulling it until it hurt. The snake leaned over to look at him with an unimpressed face.

"Hm, so rude this time around, you've always been so nice in other times before," he said. "Don't get any wrong ideas, Shuuya. This is just an innocent little experiment for this loop. However, no matter how disposable this timeline is, it was still quite a hassle to get to this point. And I can't exactly just let you... mess everything up and ruin everyone else's time."

Kano winced as his arm was twisted even further.

"I know I need to keep an eye on you, Shuuya. since you're just so smart," venom was injected in the words as they were spoken. "But, maybe just to make this a little easier for the both of us, how about we strike a deal? Refrain from spilling any secrets and stay in your rightful place, and I'll give you the privilege of knowing when your little pretend family is going to meet its end. Step out of line, and the others won't even make it close to the original deadline. How does that sound?"

At the words, he froze. Heh, if he was just going to die he might as well know when, right? It wasn't like he had much of a choice.

"Tell me when we're all going to die and I'll consider keeping my mouth shut," he spat in a snide tone, though the words were bitter on his tongue.

"One month," the snake said, and he could basically hear the smirk contained in the words. "Thirty-one days. Make a good use of it, will you?"

That was way too short a time. He didn't even notice when his arm was released. Instead, he thought about everyone else: Kido, Seto, Mary, Momo, Ene, Hibiya, Konoha, hell, even Shintaro and how they were all unaware.

They had until August fifteenth.

- - -

Saeru looked boredly at the mess of blond hair before him. Alright, maybe making a human body with no need for rest or food sustenance wasn't the brightest idea. As it turns out, night is one of the most boring periods of time to exist. When he wasn't waiting to gain control of someone's body during the day, that is. All of a sudden, the day went from passing in the blink of an eye to moving like a snail through honey. And it was frustratingly boring.

There was simply nothing to do when nobody was awake, and, though this could've been a great opportunity, he couldn't allow himself to kill them all just yet.

The whole process of getting to this point was so tedious, and he'd rather not throw away this opening. Hell, the outcome hadn't even ended up being exactly ideal, since he hadn't really convinced the deceiver of much and the two of them were still on less than ideal terms. In other times, he had managed to let down the other's guard much more, with just a few carefully placed words. However, it appeared that, though he hated to admit it, his efforts had been lacking. But it's not like it was his fault that he wanted to get to the fun part quickly.

"Go to sleep already," the blond complained, effectively cutting off his train of thought.

"Eh?" he asked the other. "But this body doesn't exactly need rest, deceiver. I could probably go days without sleeping."

In fact, it probably wouldn't be wrong to say that he would never need sleep ever. With how immensely bored he was, he was reconsidering if infinite energy was completely worth it. Perhaps if he had time, he could rework these... issues.

"You could at least stop staring at me," the boy continued.

"Ah, but what else am I supposed to do, Shuuya?" Saeru leaned his head against the back in front of him, just to spite the other. 

"Don't call me that..."

"What's so wrong with calling you by your name? I thought we were past this already."

"Just use Kano instead."

"I don't see the problem, Shuuya." 

As he spoke, he pulled the liar in only closer. If he was going to have to tolerate his... behavior for these remaining days, he might as well squeeze as much annoyance out of him as possible. Seeing the deceiver on his last nerves always proved to be funny, anyway.

...

A considerable amount of time had passed, and it was long after Shuuya's breathing had evened out.

The snake, himself, was considering maybe sneaking around the apartment to find things to do, or maybe even indulge in one of those ridiculous "night-walks" like the liar always did. Those options, though, were hardly more productive than laying here, and they were all bland all the same.

Suddenly, his listless pondering was interrupted when a bright light beamed up from Shuuya's phone. Squinting, he clumsily reached for the device until he found himself face to face with a familiar face. The virus.

The artificial girl had a solemn expression on her face as she looked at him.

"What are you planning," she spoke like it was more of a statement than a question.

Sparing a glance at the deceiver, he was satisfied to find that the other was still asleep.

"Was my entrance really that obvious to you?" the snake muttered, only mildly surprised. 

"Honestly, with such a creative name as Saeru Hebi and knowing your... you," she started, looking pointedly at him. "It was, at least for me, pretty clear who you were. Seriously, I feel sorry for whatever Kano had to go through to get you here. But, either way, that's not the point here. What are you planning?" 

"What harm is there in telling you too?" he asked himself with a sigh. "I'll get straight to the point this time, Opening. As of now, you all have one month to enjoy this loop."

"And there's nothing we can do about it," she said dejectedly, looking down at her feet, or, lack there of, as she spoke.

"Wise, as always!" Saeru responded cheerily. "I knew those few times would've at least taught you something."

"Is there seriously no way to change any of this, though?" the program asked suddenly, hesitantly.

"That's such a trivial question if you already know the answer," he fired back with a sneer. "But I suppose if our dear deceiver here screws something up for me, I can cut it short, how's that?"

"You're awful," a common response that had lost some of its bite in the latest resets.

"As I've been told," simply, he grinned back.

Realizing that there was nothing more to gain, the cyber girl disappeared and the screen went dark again. Rolling his eyes, the snake nonchalantly dropped the liar's device over the edge of the bed, onto whatever random space was available on the ground. A sigh escaped him as he resumed staring at the dark mass in front of him. Doing this was probably as good as any other human activity, anyway. 

It would hopefully get better by morning. 

Just seven more hours to go....

30 days left.

Chapter Text

At this rate, the serpent was really starting to question if the human saying about "dying from boredom" could actually be true. Yes, his logical side said everything otherwise, and it was just an exaggerated thought, but the emptiness of the atmosphere and heavy, unending silence was probably enough for someone, even a monster, to lose their mind. That was probably the only reason why his mind was idly wandering to such pointless thoughts as these. (But really, how does that Shintaro survive on a diet that consists of so much soda?)

He found himself wondering trivial things such as "Is this what it's like for 'Azami' in the Haze?" (No, it was probably much worse.) and "Why did he decide to make 'Konoha's' headphones into his ears?" (He had normal ears to begin with, so what was even the point?) and "Was this what her whole fear of loneliness was about?" Not saying that he feared being alone, of course. That kind of ridiculous thought is one that only people as silly as both of his old Masters could have.

Ah, yes, he remembered, the medusa and that man both making the same, unfortunate mistake that only benefited his existence. The two had been so caught up in their unreasonable fears that they had caused more misery for their loved ones than they probably intended. They were memories that he kept with... not much thought in mind, seeing as the two were insignificant to him now. They just weren't a problem to him anymore, so there was no real reason to cherish their pasts for them.

...

...Oh for the love of God, when was this going to end? By now, he'd lost count watching how many times Shuuya's chest rose and fell with every breath he took, not that it mattered though, since he'd long been bored of it (he had nonchalantly given up somewhere in the late three thousands).

Every signal that the boy was alive actually only frustrated the snake more, causing him to remind himself that he had to keep oh, so patiently waiting for the entertainment to come to him. He couldn't draw his gun on these pathetic morsels just yet or all this effort would go to waste, and that irritated him to almost no end.

...

...After what seemed like ages upon countless ages of waiting, two knocks sounded at the door. It was like a blessing of a calling, a heaven-sent signal that this eternity devoid of anything was finally going to end. The snake was pretty sure he'd never felt more relieved to hear a human's voice in his life.

"Kano, Saeru, wake up already!" a muffled voice called out from the other side.

"We'll be out in a moment," the snake replied with a hoarse voice as he released the now stirring deceiver.

He arose from the bed, eager to start the day because God, the seemingly eternal night had taken so much out of him, even if he did nothing but lie in the same spot for hours on end. Perhaps if he were just a little less patient or the voice had taken a little longer the apartment would've already been smeared and dripping with red. Ah, he could see it now, all of these brats sporting the same betrayed face as the opener cried from behind the screen and the deceiver sobbed and screamed on his knees.

Almost vivid memories of a copper-scented room filled with red-eyed corpses tempted him, urged him to pull out his gun, until the sound of a small crunch was heard on the wooden floor where he had stepped out, cutting through his thoughts. Looking down at his feet, he realized it was Shuuya's phone, which he had discarded onto the floor the previous night. It was bent in an unnatural shape under his foot, and bits of the case were scattered around it. The snake immediately brushed it off as an unimportant issue, figuring Shuuya could just get it fixed or something. That's just what humans usually do when their stuff breaks, right?

Another crunch sounded behind the snake after he had already placed his hand on the door knob. Stealing a curious glance, he saw a very distraught and disheveled deceiver looking down at the device under his feet.

"The fuck, how the hell did this even happen!?" the messy-haired boy cursed, gathering the pieces of the obliterated screen. "Dammit, Kido's gonna absolutely destroy me for having to buy another one!"

"Are you going to hurry up, or what?" the monster said impatiently, turning to face the other. "All your friends are waiting out there."

"I- Did you do this?!" clear frustration was shown on the other as he was questioned. "What the hell? How is this-" he waved the phone in his hand "-even possible!? It's literally bent in half."

"I can assure you I did nothing of the sort, deceiver," he glared back. "I was busy enough spending the whole night watching you."

"You spent the entire night staring at me?!"

"Of course!" Saeru replied simply. "There was just nothing else to do, since all of you were asleep. Unless, maybe if you preferred that I kill all of you just out of my own boredom. Unfortunately though, at least this time around, I can't really imagine you enjoying that very much. Well... that is, if you haven't changed, Shuuya. Ah, after I've worked so hard to get us closer, too." 

Shuuya scoffed, not even bothering to respond or fix his tangled locks as he pushed his way past the snake and, rather forcefully, opened the door. Slowly, the taller followed in his tracks, examining the minimal decorations in the hallway as they passed. When eventually they reached the kitchen, several people turned to greet them. Contrary to expectation, the concealer was absent from the scene.

"About time," Hibiya sighed, munching on... cereal? (He remembered his pathetic Master who had eaten something similar once and called it that.) "Leader's out getting groceries, since we ran out of ingredients. She said we can just take whatever leftovers are available from yesterday morning."

"Ah, of course she'd go and do everything by herself, but if it's that way-" Shuuya started breezily. It was a strong contrast from the version of the blond he had seen mere minutes ago, and it was dismaying all the same.

"Oh, and I forgot to mention," the boy continued, cutting him off. "Leader also told me to tell you that you can't have the leftover ice cream for breakfast again." 

The cat-eyed boy froze, before chuckling. "You thought I was gonna do that again? I was actually just gonna say that I wasn't even hungry and I was gonna go on a walk, but so be it! I, Kano, formally announce that I won't eat the leftover ice cream for breakfast again. Happy?" 

"Whatever," Hibiya murmured, returning his attention back to eating. 

Still grinning, the deceiver strutted over to the front door and threw it open. As it was closed again behind him, the snake caught a brief second of Shuuya's trademark smile faltering. He was willing to place bets that the boy wouldn't be back for a while.

"Wait, Kido also said- aaaand he's gone," the idol deflated as she realized that Shuuya had already left. "Well, either way, go ahead and just take whatever you want, Saeru," she turned to him now, smiling. "Anything other than my brother's soda that is, he gets... protective over it." 

"Stop drinking my damn stuff!" a voice shouted from across the room, undoubtedly Shintaro's. 

"Calm down, I'm just telling him not to!" the girl yelled back.

Nodding, the snake strode idly around as he searched for where the food would be. It probably would've been wise to just ask where the food was stored, but it was a bit late to turn back now.

After several fruitless minutes of searching various cabinets and drawers, someone cleared their throat by his side.

"Erm, it's all in the fridge," the captivator gave him an odd look as she pointed out his mistake. "You can have as much as you want, just make sure to leave some for Konoha. He has an especially large appetite when he wakes up."

Ah, yes, Konoha. The silly name for that other artificial human roaming the apartment. The one that he had possessed almost countless times to torment these children. Oh, how he already missed those days. Although, technically, he could always just create another body for himself like he had done for this loop, it was always funnier to see the everyone's traumatized faces as they were brutally killed by their so-called "friend".

Putting his hopeful thoughts aside, Saeru opened the door to the fridge. It was shown that there weren't many options available, at least, not ones that he could put names to. Curiously, he picked up a plate of flat, circular pieces of bread. He kicked the door back closed behind him, and unceremoniously bit into one of the pieces. It had... an unpleasant texture.

"Um, aren't you going to warm those?" the orange-haired girl spoke up once again, looking and sounding even more concerned than before. "I feel like those pancakes would taste better... not frozen."

Well how was he expected to know how these were prepared? The most one that old man was supported on was either a bowl of pathetic mush with milk or an unfortunate-looking plate of eggs every morning. That or other things of few variety, always paired with a way-too-hot cup of bitter coffee.

Figuring it would be too much trouble to work out how these were supposed to be eaten "correctly", the snake came up with an excuse.

"I... happen to like these better cold," he said simply, crunching another hard, icy piece between his teeth. In all honesty, he wasn't sure if his lie would've worked if he had a normal human body, considering how eating these actually took genuine effort for this artificial one.

"Well, well, well, it looks like Momo isn't the only one here with terrible tastes in food," Hibiya sneered from the spot he had claimed on the couch. "What, do you also happen to have a liking for red-bean soup with soda too?"

"They aren't terrible!" the idol (supposedly named Momo) retorted. "All of you just can't appreciate what I happen to like! And Saeru's preference in pancakes may be... er... different, but that doesn't mean it's bad."

"Are you kidding?! Who eats frozen pancakes? Who drinks red-bean soup and soda? You old hags are insane!" 

A few giggles sounded from the others as they watched the chaos unfold. No doubt it wasn't just the girl's eyes that had grabbed their attention.

"If we're so 'insane' then why are you here now?!" 

"Because I was dragged into this!"

"No you weren't, you little-"

The two continued to bicker long after the snake had emptied his plate, and Saeru passed them (and the small audience they had attracted) without detection as he went to sit himself down by the TV.

Continuing from last night, Shintaro and the virus (he recalled the boy calling her "Ene") were once again at each other's necks in a supposedly popular shooting game. Honestly, the snake had never seen the red-wearing teen look more lively in his life. The dark-haired boy had his fingers flying aggressively over various buttons and switches on a controller as he threw snide remarks and cocky taunts at his rival. It was certainly different from the dead-eyed (or actually dead) shell of a teen that he'd seen on a few occasions, to say the least.

Somewhere in the midst of the passing time, the deceiver had reappeared within the apartment (much to the snake's surprise), very eager to check up on how everyone else was doing (much less to the snake's surprise). After taking rather foolish measures to make sure that the other's were still alive and unharmed, the boy flung himself onto the portion of the couch next to him. Ignoring the shorter's dark and unwelcome presence altogether, he turned his attention back to the TV.

Though the scene before him was almost a mirror of the day before, the two competitors still managed to grab the snake's attention. Maybe there was just something naturally captivating with seeing two skilled people struggling to defeat the other, or perhaps it was the show of flashy graphics that compelled him to watch. But, he figured, though it was nice to observe now, it probably wouldn't last long, and all this watching would have him bored again. That's just how things go in this apartment, apparently.

Small, silent glances were directed at him by the digital girl, but no other signs were given to him to prove that last night's interaction had ever even happened. If she wanted to simply ignore the deadline, so be it.

The bothersome feeling of being watched wouldn't leave him, even as he focused the majority of his attention to the energetic players. Tearing his gaze from the flashing screen, he saw the deceiver casting him a dark sneer which, almost instantly, morphed and shifted into a cheery grin. If he weren't any wiser, he would've questioned if it had the sneer had even existed in the first place.

Instead, he narrowed his eyes at the other's clear aggression, but did nothing to actually acknowledge it. This was just how it was going to be, for now, so he simply passed it off as the blond's normal behavior. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Seto, the thief, give a disappointed frown before he exited through the front door.

...

After a considerable amount of time, Kido returned, and another meal passed with well-made food cooked by the concealer herself (with the assistance of the focuser). He found himself and a few others idly thanking her as everyone stood up and dispersed to finish off the day. Giving a small smile, the girl turned away to clear the table. 

The snake, himself, considered simply tormenting Shuuya until the other snapped or made a fool of himself. Either outcome seemed equally sufficient for entertainment, but before he could seek out his target, an all too familiar face appeared by his side.

"Ah, Saeru, could I talk to you for a second?" the queen asked nervously from where she stood, eyeing the ground like it held some secret.

The snake turned to her, eyeing her cautiously. Normally, the queen would take pleasure in putting as much distance between her and him as possible. Yet here she was, in the flesh, coming straight to him (perhaps it had to do with him basically invading her home). He eventually shrugged it off, seeing no harm in the queen's request. Admittedly, he was rather intrigued.

"Of course! What do you wish to tell me?" 

"Well, it's just I-" she started, more eagerly now.

"Ah, Saeru, I really think you should go help Kido with doing the dishes," Shuuya jumped in hurriedly, perhaps a bit more forced than he had intended. 

"Eh?" the taller eyed him suspiciously. "And why is that? It's rude to interrupt people when they're talking, you know." 

A few curious faces turned their way, including Seto. Across from him, the queen backed away and into the arms of the boy, clearly uneasy.

"If you're going to stay here with us," the liar trailed, "you might as well contribute and do chores or something! After all, we can't let you just live here completely free. Mary and Seto work, Hibiya cooks sometimes, and Kido is left to do basically everything else! I almost feel sorry for her!"

"Big talk for someone like you," Hibiya muttered, catching the blond's attention. 

With a too-wide grin on his face, he responded. "Oh? And what do you mean by that, Hibiya?" 

"You're such a hypocrite," the brown-haired boy said, causing Shuuya to stiffen. "You literally just sit around and do nothing! Besides being annoying, that is. In fact, even when you're 'helping Kido with chores,' you're just getting in the way! Don't you remember that time where you dropped and broke three glasses because you were 'tired'? Come on!"

The serpent could hardly his own laughter at the boy's naively spoken words. Quite the nerve had been struck within the deceiver, even if he wasn't completely aware. Multiple timelines of seeing him pathetically cry in weakness had taught him quite enough about his... inner troubles.

"Hey, well, I have a higher position than you, so I have more privileges," Shuuya bluffed, a common sight when he was backed into the corner of an argument. "And, you see, Kido excused me from doing anything after this one time where I burned dinner and, uh, almost the whole apartment. You know, I got quite the ugly scar from that!"

"Well it doesn't exactly help that we can't see it as proof," Saeru found himself muttering, earning a frustrated glare as a reward.

Shuuya quickly opened his mouth to speak, but was cut off by Kido's voice from the kitchen.

"That's a lie," the green-haired called out. "Yeah, sure, you did risk burning down the entire apartment and I had to take you to the hospital, but I didn't excuse you from anything. I just told you to take it easy for the following week!"

The eyes trained on the deceiver slowly turned judging and mistrustful (he sure wondered why), and the boy just shrank back down and folded his arms across his chest.

"Well, either way, Saeru should at least do something," he murmured, finally defeated.

"Go easy on him, Kano, it's just the second day," Seto reassured him, giving him a pat on the back. "But you know, Hibiya does kind of have a point...." 

"Fine, fine!" Shuuya said, raising his hands. "I'll help Kido with the dishes." 

The thief smiled at his own, simple deception on the other, before he returned to comforting the troubled queen, who had become way too worked up over the scene she'd just caused.

A few snickers arose within the Dan as the blond moved to the kitchen, like an animal running with his tail between his legs. The snake even found himself rather amused at the whole situation, though his grin quickly fell as he noticed the green-wearing teen at his side. Th- Mary was latched, almost stubbornly, onto his arm. 

"Sorry about Kano," the other teen started, rubbing the back of his neck. "He has a tendency to... distrust people sometimes. I bet he'll warm up to you more eventually." 

"No worries," he replied smoothly, throwing an amused glance at the direction where Kido could suddenly be heard shouting. "Honestly, the trouble he gave me yesterday was proof enough. This was only to be expected." 

To the surprise of absolutely nobody (including the snake) the boy smiled at him. 

"As for the whole work thing, you don't really have to do anything," he continued. "Kano was sort of just trying to guilt-trip you. After all, he didn't really mention how Konoha, Shintaro, and Ene don't do much around. That, and Momo only goes on occasional grocery and supply runs. But, ya know, if you ever feel the need to help, feel free." 

The monster didn't even realize he was smiling (not grinning, actually smiling) until long after the thief and the queen had left.

Ah, wait, wasn't she going to tell me something?

- - -

"Hey Kano," Seto had concerned etched on his face as he looked down at him.

"What's up?" the blond asked, tilting his head, dreading his brother's next words.

"We need to have a talk about Saeru."

Great, just what he needed to hear.

Sounding harsher than he had intended, Kano scoffed, casting his brother an offended look.

"And why do we have to talk about him?"

With a sigh, the younger placed his hands on Kano's shoulders, looking him dead in the eye.

"Look, Kano, I don't want to do anything drastic like using my powers," he said softly. "So please, I want you two to sort out whatever's going on and get on better terms. The Kisaragis, Hibiya, Momo, and Konoha are all going to be leaving in two days for a little while, and Mary and Kido have to do some shopping the day after that. That should leave you and Saeru plenty of time to talk it all out, okay?"

At the news Kano felt himself pause. Though his brother couldn't see it, his shoulders were tensed.

"Are you sure there's nothing for me or him to do?" he tried, attempting not to sound too obvious. "Separately, that is. I'm sure he'd be useful for running some errands."

"Kano."

"Maybe Mary-"

"Kano, it'll be fine." 

...

"Really? You're going to stoop this low for the others?" Saeru's condescending voice said. "It's rather foolish if you ask me."

"Ah, is a little bargaining that bad?"

He really just didn't want them to get hurt. The snake could strike at them whenever he wanted, no matter what he said about a God forsaken "deadline". Any word out of him could just be a lie, a false reassurance to hide is real intent (or was that just what he wanted him to think? God, I really am being driven crazy, aren't I?)

Sickeningly, the snake only burst out with laughter.

"Is this what you call simple bargaining?" he sneered down at him. "You must reaaally think low of yourself, deceiver. No, this is straight up begging coming from you. Though I'm flattered that you'd be willing to do anything to keep your pretend family safe, there's really nothing at risk when I can just force whatever I want out of you to begin with. ...Or have you already forgotten?"

No matter how many times he saw it, the serpent's bored face sickened him to no end. Just as he had said, even though he loathed admitting it, he was basically sitting in the palm of his hand and there was nothing he could do about it. It was like the other knew every way to make him do what he wanted, and he hated being faulty enough for that.

"Besides, what makes you think I'm even going to bother with hurting them in the first place?"

To him, it wasn't even a question. The answer came to him naturally before he had even fully registered the words, like he had been rehearsing it all his life.

"I've seen you hurt her, and that's proof enough," blurring images of red and brown taunted him.

"Hm, I would've guessed that a more primary example would be yourself, but that works, too," the other mused, unaffected. "It's quite immoral that you just decide to use your poor sister as a trap card in your arguments, though. Are you trying to achieve something? Make me feel bad? Because I believe the only thing you're doing is making yourself feel worse."

There it was again, that creepily observed knowledge that irritated him to no end. Rather than satisfy the snake with another outburst of a response, he just clenched his fists and glared. What else could he do, anyway?

"You know, maybe instead of wasting all your time stirring pointless arguments with me, you should just enjoy the few weeks you have left," red eyes narrowed at him.

"But that's exactly the point," he found himself uttering. "Nobody can enjoy a future where you're present."

Saying that was probably idea, in fact, engaging with the snake to begin with was probably a bad idea. There were probably better, less life-threatening things he could've chosen to do instead of sleeping (which currently wasn't a thing he could really do, with how things were for him right now). But it was way too late to take back anything now. At this point, he might as well just lay down and rot in the grave he'd been digging for himself.

On the other's face, the sneer vanished and Saeru was back to analyzing him, examining him closely. He barely resisted the temptation to step back as the taller took two steps forward.

"Is that so?" the dark-haired asked slowly, dragging out his words just the way he hated. "I believe that I can prove you wrong, Shuuya. I've proven others wrong in the past, and you're no exception."

Another step was taken, and the monster was right in front of him now, too close for comfort.

"I can show you that a future with my presence is still worth living him."

Lips curved up into a grin, a sick one that held ill intent.

"And, just for my own enjoyment, I can take it all away, too."

- - -

It was basically a routine built on the foundation of spite, it seemed. The two of them act all nice and friendly in front of the others who are none the wiser, then drop it when the night falls and everyone else's breaths have evened out with sleep. Then, they would end the day disliking each other even more than before, and the he would wrap his arms, almost constricting now, around the deceiver, just to irritate him further and make him remember his place.

Actually, no, it wasn't just about spite and annoyance anymore.

It was all based around hate.

Silently, he recalled the exchange they had just had earlier, Shuuya's pleas and the argument that ensued.

Ah, yes, and then those words that were still stuck in his head now. 

"Nobody can enjoy a future where you're present." 

It echoed in his head, and he thought about them over and over.

Nobody can enjoy a future where you're present.

It didn't make him exactly feel bad, it just didn't settle quite right within him. Contrary to the foolish liar's belief, the statement had actually been disproven before. Various timelines had actually shown a version of him that tolerated his presence, enjoyed it even. They were distant loops that held a now dead Shuuya that had actually willingly let down his defenses by him. A Shuuya that trusted and showed contentment with him. 

...Ah, but those times have long been reset and erased, replaced with what he had here now. 

Perhaps, if he was going to be stuck with this... troublesome liar, he might as well attempt to make one of those happen again. 

And besides, he had some things to sort out with his Old Master, anyway. 

Hm... just how far could he bend the odds with less than a month at his disposal?

29 days left.

Chapter Text

Red.

At some point in his life, it had been one of the colors he cherished the most. When the color first became significant to him, it wasn't for a reason that most others would find... particularly good.

Crimson.

It was smeared mournfully on the floor, his face, the shards from the vase he'd carelessly dropped. It lined his mother's tired and sorrowful face, and the bruises that would eventually turn a sickly purple.

That one day, it painted the apartment, left in the spot his mother once lay. It was the same color he'd seen pouring from his stomach not too long ago, but all of the traces of its cause was gone.

The color of monsters.

Their red eyes were what defined them, now. They were monsters by default, to the others and to themselves. Hiding in the corner, in the shadows, huddled together like beasts, they cursed themselves and the awful fate that their unnatural eyes brought them.

The color of heroes.

Their secret organization revolved around it. The color of summer they had flooding their eyes and filling her scarf was donned by heroes. It was the color that proved their worth, their humanity, their acceptability as humans. It was their everything, and she had helped them realize it.

The color of Ayaka.

The hair clips she wore, similar to her daughter's, were like a symbol of her role as the heroes' protector. She was their joy, the kind soul that smiled a warm summer's smile and embraced them in her arms, no matter how messy they were from the day's energetic activities.

The color of her hair clips were also the color of what she could've been, and never was.

The color of Kenjirou.

Narrowing, tired eyes stared for hours on end at various papers with words that were too hard to pronounce on his desk. He shared their odd eyes now, but there was nothing joyful to be found in it. It was, once again, the color of the monster.

The color of Ayano.

The red of her scarf was the last thing that disappeared over the edge. The red of the sunset, the snake's eyes, his eyes, her scarf, the other world that had consumed her... the color tainted everything in the scene.

And he wanted to get rid of it. But, of course, he couldn't. And it wasn't just one of those things that boiled down to "She wouldn't have wanted that" either. No, the color, cursed as it was, flowed within them, gave them life, and there was nothing he could do about it. He was stuck with the color, and it would be there to taunt him for the rest of his life. Just like....

The color of th-

Amber eyes flew open as Kano gasped awake in a cold sweat. He quickly squeezed his eyes back shut, focusing on steadying his breathing and the rapid beating of his heart. The images of Ayano and her scarf needed to disappear, so he distracted himself with slowing his breaths and the shaking of his arms- wait.

Less frantically now, the liar opened his eyes to look up at an uninterested looking face above him. One of his arms, his right one, with all its scars and poorly healed patches of skin on display, was in the grasp of the snake. With his eyes flooding red, he forced the awful reminders to disappear, which only prompted the other to arch a questioning eyebrow at him. Despite that, he didn't let go, much to his aggravation.

The blond directed his tired eyes elsewhere, deciding instead to examine the rest of the room. Light was just starting to spill through the glass of the window and onto the walls, tinting it with a warm, yellow morning glow. If he were to guess, it was probably fairly early in the morning. He couldn't exactly be sure though, since he didn't have an alarm clock, and he didn't exactly have a functional phone to check, either.

"What the hell are you doing?" Kano questioned, finally deciding to address the snake who still had a hold on his arm.

"Honestly, I didn't expect you to be up this early, Shuuya," Saeru commented blandly, rather than answering. "The sun has hardly even risen. Did you sleep well?"

"What are you doing with my arm?" the liar tried again, more persistently this time.

"Ah, you're so difficult," the monster muttered, gently turning over the limb in his hands. "I simply got bored, that's all. Since you... were asleep, and I usually never get to see you without all your foolish disguises, I thought I could try seeing just how many of these scars you have. After all, you're always so keen on hiding them, so I had every right to be a little curious." 

Even though he knew it was pointless, Kano tried to pry his arm away from the snake. As predicted, even when he tried using all his strength (of what little strength he had) to pull, the other hardly budged. Instead, the monster just continued to sweep his gaze over the unblemished skin, as if the markings were still there for him to see.

"I counted at least twelve on your left arm and you face combined," the other spoke after a pause. "I won't bother with asking how you got all of them, and, uh, I wasn't exactly planning on continuing after I got the ones on your right arm, if that's what you're wondering."

"You're disgusting," the words were stated more sourly than he'd usually allow, but he was in no position to care. His efforts to conceal were always proven to be useless when he was with the snake, anyway.

"Oh am I?" Saeru's voice was daring him now, and, like the idiot he was, he fell right for it.

"Yeah, actually, you are. A person who murders innocent people and torments their relatives is pretty despicable, if you ask me," the blond could literally hear the morphing of his tone as it went from bitter to downright seething at the monster. "Well, if they can even be considered a person in the first place, that is."

"Ah, that's just rude now, isn't it?" those red eyes suddenly turned threatening, like a snake's (and wasn't that quite the analogy) as it waited to strike its prey. "You know, I could easily give you more of these scars to hide if you don't straighten up, so I suggest you start working on improving your horrible behavior. For your own sake, that is."

Kano was trying once again to yank his arm back now, more out of annoyance and loathing than fear. The snake, still, chose not to release him, even though there was nothing interesting left for him to look at. After finally accepting that there was no point, the liar buried his face in his pillow, avoiding the snake's persistent gaze.

...

"You don't have to hide your face from me, Shuuya," the serpent's voice rang out again as sunlight continued to illuminate the room further.

"I'm not," Kano groaned, tilting his face upwards to glare at the other. "You've already seen them, right? So there'd be no point, anyway."

"Well if it's going to be that way, then there's honestly no point in covering up your scars in general," the other stated as he finally released his arm. The boy couldn't be bothered to reply, and instead just sunk his face back into the pillow.

He was really hoping that the conversation (if it could even be called that) would end right then and there, and he could just go back to sleep to capture what few hours of the morning were left with it, but alas, he could never really be that lucky with the other.

Fingers roughly tangled themselves in his hair and pulled his head upward, like a plant being uprooted. A second hand forced his chin upwards, causing him to scowl back up at the other. Saeru's thumb slowly traced over a large, nasty scar that he knew he had running across his nose. Not that it was visible, of course.

"It's really hard to see why you'd think it's necessary to conceal these," the dark-haired continued lazily. "Your face is honestly fine just the way it is." 

"Ah, is that so?" Kano challenged. "Really, I'm flattered that you think that, but I'm sure everyone else would be pretty confused if I just walked out one day with a bunch of ugly marks all over my face. Hell, I'm actually sure they'd be pretty repulsed to see what I'm like when I'm not using my eyes. Ah, you know, now that I think about it, you must be pretty out of it to think that this," he used his eyes to gesture to the blemish over his nose, "looks fine." 

"I can assure you that I'm doing and thinking just fine," The snake frowned down at him. "And I'm also sure that the others wouldn't mind that much if you relaxed your eye ability for a day or two. Or how about this? I'm sure they wouldn't mind if you just stopped trying to be so difficult altogether." 

With that, Saeru sneered and drew his face closer, examining his bewildered expression. 

"After all, that little family of yours would definitely appreciate it if you dropped that foolish disguise of yours for a while."

The liar barked out a laugh that sounded so forced it was almost painful to listen to.

"You must really have some nerve to tell me what my family wants from me," he said. "You're talking like two days is enough for you to know everything you need to know about them, but your wrong. Maybe you should just quit nosing your way into other people's business, huh? Worry about your own problems or something."

"Speak for yourself."

Frustration began to build inside of him, threatening to burst out in a rage-filled rant. He was falling straight for the snake's tricks, yet he either didn't notice or didn't care. Kano wasn't sure which.

"And what the hell do you mean by that, Mr. I Know Everything?" he was attempting to taunt the other now, though somewhere in a smaller, more reasonable part of his brain, he knew it was a mistake.

"You must really think you're pretty sneaky, huh?" the other's gaze searched deeply into his eyes. "You honestly think the others don't know about how excessively you've been worrying over them? You're here trying to deal with everyone else's problems for them, even though you already have your own dilemmas to stress about. Grow up and face them already, deceiver, stop being so pathetic," he sighed. "Humans like you are all the same."

"Don't just go pretending like you're above everyone else all the time," Kano hissed. "All you are is monster and nothing else, even if the others don't realize it. In reality, you're probably the lowliest creature of them all!"

"Ah, but aren't you a monster yourself?" a large sneer was stretched over Saeru's features now. "I've heard it in your own words, Shuuya, so if that's how you truly think, then that just means that you're no better than I am. Are you finally admitting that we're the same? About time."

"No, I'm actually not, because, unlike you, I haven't stooped so low as to killing innocent people!" Kano slammed a fist against the wall as he shouted louder.

"Oh please, none of them really 'died' and besides, what have you been doing here this entire time, betraying the people that trust you like this?" the grin on the other's face wouldn't stop growing as he grew even closer, challenging him further. "Isn't this just as bad, if not worse?"

"I-"

A bang sounded off to the side, and before he knew it, the door to his room was flying off the frame, straight towards them. Honestly, he probably would've been pretty content with it if he just died right then and there, crushed by a door, not having to deal with the snake anymore, but Saeru simply grabbed the flying wood from the air before it hit them. At the now empty frame stood Konoha, who had a confused look on his face (well, as confused as someone like Konoha could look, anyway.)

"Ahah, good morning Konoha!" Kano laughed nervously, eyeing the teen. 

"I thought we've been over this whole door problem already," the snake sighed.

"Ah... sorry, Kano," the white-haired boy said quietly, as if he hadn't noticed their shouting. "Kido just wanted me to go and get you guys.... Breakfast's being prepared right now."

"Well, it would appear that you've already done your job well enough," the monster huffed. "You can leave now, Konoha."

"...Erm, you know my name?" the other continued. "Have we met before? I'm sorry, I don't really remember ever meeting or talking to you...."

"Of course," muttering, the snake set the door aside. "It's not important. How about you just go and join the others?"

As the boy turned and left, the liar couldn't help but murmur. "I almost managed to forget that our combat specialist was created by someone like you."

"More or less. Now hurry up, we should probably go meet everyone else before they get suspicious."

"Something tells me they already are."

...

The sight he was met with at the kitchen wasn't exactly an ideal one, to say the least. When he and Saeru entered, Kido had been waiting for them, with her hands stuffed in her pockets. Seto also stood nearby, with Mary latched onto his arm. The others, like Hibiya and Shintaro, were casting them judging looks as they appeared.

"What the hell was going on in there?" Kido groaned, shaking her head at him as he took a seat at the table.

"You guys were shouting pretty loudly in there," Mary said softly, burying her head in Seto's sleeve. "Is everything alright?"

"The walls aren't exactly soundproof, you know," the green-haired girl continued, grumpily setting a plate in front of him. "If you're gonna argue, go do it outside."

"What were you two even arguing about?" Seto joined in.

"Ah... that, brother, is private information," the blond said, hoping the others would get the message. "Oh yeah, also, Konoha broke the door again."

"Dammit," Kido sighed. "You're lucky we have a new issue to deal with, Kano, but don't think we're dropping this whole incident. We're gonna have to about it talk later."

"Awww, do we have tooooo?" he leaned over the table, whining.

"Yeah, you guys seriously need to work this whole thing out, because you wouldn't shut up " Shintaro said sourly.

"And we need to make sure Master can get all the sleep he can get!" a voice, undoubtedly Ene, agreed from his phone. "Every second of sleep that he manages to get is basically precious!"

Speaking of which....

"By the way... Kido," the cat-eyed boy felt his palms starting to sweat as he spoke up.

"What?" Kido snapped.

"I'm gonna need a new phone... again," he couldn't bring himself to look at the girl as he went on.

"You what?" she said, taking several menacing steps towards him. "You wanna repeat that?"

"Listen, Saeru broke it, okay?" Kano raised his hands in defense as he considered standing up and backing away.

"Oh, for the love of-"

"I'm serious!" he jumped. By now, he could basically feel the fist that was fated to come breaking his nose. "You have to believe me, Kido! So could I go with you and Mary when you go out shopping in a couple days?"

"Kano-" Seto began, but was quickly interrupted.

"Mary and I can go get it ourselves," the dark-eyed girl said, crossing her arms. "You stay here and sort out your problems with Saeru. Got it?"

There was no use in challenging her (unless he wanted to get slapped in the face, which he didn't think would be particularly pleasant), so he finally gave up, throwing a quick "fine" at her as she dumped breakfast on his plate. Even from across the room, he could feel the snake's sneer.

- - -

"Uh, could somebody help me pack some of these?" Momo called out into the living room. "I gotta go out on tour tomorrow, but there's a lot of stuff I have to bring and organize."

"I can do it," Saeru spoke up first, standing up to join the girl.

"Well, I suppose I might as well help too," Shuuya sighed and grinned, though his shoulders were tensed.

"Oh, actually it's fine, Kano, I really only need one person-"

"No, really Kisaragi, I insist," the liar's grin only widened as he stood himself next to the idol.

"I-If you say so," the girl said a little forcefully, shifting on her feet.

Somewhere behind him, Saeru was sure he could hear Kido give an exasperated groan.

As he turned to follow Momo, he heard the greenette sigh.

"This is getting absolutely ridiculous...."

...

"Geez, how do you have so much stuff, Momo?" Shuuya asked uneasily, holding up a fourth pair of the girl's shoes.

"Well, this is all for my idol career," the girl answered, trying her best at untangling a mass of microphone cords. "Listen, you two take care of all the clothes, and I'll deal with all the equipment, alright?"

"Sounds good to me," Saeru answered as the deceiver gave a nod.

The idol smiled and left, leaving them to work in silence. A long, uncomfortably stretched silence.

The snake wrinkled his nose as he came across another ridiculously over-decorated hair tie, before he tossed it carelessly into one of many of the owner's luggages.

"Ya know, you can stop trying so hard," Shuuya sneered at him as he flung a black hair tie onto the back of the snake's head.

The taller sighed as he picked it up off the ground and threw it in with the others. "And what exactly do you mean by that? I'm just trying to be helpful, like you said yesterday."

"Well actually, I think Seto was right. You don't really have to do anything on your first week here," dismissively, the blond shrugged. "...Or, you know, ever."

"I know you just don't want me near them," Saeru stated simply, throwing a shirt over his shoulder and at the boy's general direction. "You're so helplessly naive, thinking that I really have something to gain from hurting them."

"Other than your own enjoyment, as you always say?" the boy's tone turned threatening.

"Ah, we both know I just use that to scare you, since you're so weak," Saeru heard his voice turn bitter as he unceremoniously shut the idol's case. "Look, I even admitted to it, if that makes you feel any better. How's that?"

"Is it really just an empty threat, though? 'Cause from what I've seen it sure doesn't seem like it."

The snake let out an aggravated sigh as he turned to look at the liar. "Why are you so damn difficult?"

"I feel like it's only natural that I'd want to protect everyone else from someone like you," they were facing each other now, across the room. "Not that you'd really understand what that's like, of course."

"Can't you see that I've been trying to improve for once?"

"Oh, really? Have you? Sorry, it's just a bit hard to tell, 'cause it doesn't really seem like it."

"Maybe if you weren't in my way all the time, I could show you," the snake rose to his feet and approached the deceiver.

"And what are you gonna do about it? Get rid of me? Go ahead, fucking do it, see how the others will feel about you after that!" Shuuya also stood up, wearing a sick smirk on his face. Frustrated, Saeru grabbed him by the collar and yanked him over, as if that would bring the deceiver back to his senses. Honestly, the deceiver should consider himself lucky, because if the snake weren't stuck in an apartment with all the other children, the liar would already be bleeding on the floor.

"How come this time you can't just-"

"This time this, this time that, what does it even mean?" the other spat angrily, though there was a slight waver to his voice now. "For all I know, you could be making up something about this other me that doesn't even exist, because I sure as hell can't see myself caring about some bastard like you."

"Will you just-"

"GUYS!" Momo screamed over their quarrels, her eyes blazing a bright red. Immediately, their shocked gazes turned to her. "Can't you two stand each other for just one day? Everything was fine two days ago, so what even happened?"

Shuuya grit his teeth as he glared harshly to the side. The snake and the idol didn't even have time to react as he slipped out of the taller's grasp and rushed out of the room, then sprinted out of the apartment. They both stood, dumbfounded, as the front door was slammed shut.

"What's going on?" the orange-haired girl's concerned look was trained on him now. "You and Kano have done nothing but argue and glare at each other all day! Seriously, Kano never even gets angry, much less this angry!"

"You'd be surprised," Saeru muttered, forcefully pushing his way past her. "We took care of everything you needed, Momo, thanks for letting us help out."

"I.. thanks...." Momo hesitated, then gave up on pursuing the problem altogether. Finally, it seemed like she'd realized it was useless.

It just made it all the easier for him.

The monster didn't even realize how his arm was shaking until long after he and the deceiver had left the room.

- - -

Kano pushed the door open, hoping- no, praying above all odds that he would go undetected. But, of course, his wish remained but a hopeful thought, and when he entered, he was met with with Kido, Seto, and Mary waiting for him, all with disappointed and worried faces.

"Kano...." Mary started nervously, her hands clasped together in front of her. The girl shifted on her feet as she looked at the wall besides him.

"Not now, Mary," he sighed, forcing his way past her.

"But..." she tried again, reaching a hesitant hand out to him.

"I said not now!" he snapped, causing the girl to flinch and shake. "I just wanna go to sleep... we can talk later."

The bond that he'd formed with the girl, the one that had taken weeks to build up and grow, had very likely been shattered right then and there, but he couldn't bring himself to worry about it. If she was mad at him for all of eternity, he wouldn't be surprised. He deserved it anyway.

A hand was pressed onto his shoulder, turning him to the owner, Seto.

"Seriously, we have to get this sorted out, Kano," he said seriously. "This is getting out of hand, and I know you both know it too."

The blond sighed, looking up tiredly at his brother. "Can we please get this all 'sorted out' later? I don't want to...."

"We can't keep postponing this, Kano, this has been going on for two days and it's only getting worse," Kido joined in, standing behind Mary. "Can we at least just talk about it? It's obvious that this needs to be dealt with."

"What's there to deal with when there's no problem to solve?" he placed an over-sized grin on his face as he looked at the others, all in the eye. "Everything is totally fine. Just drop it."

Not saying another word, he turned away and strode hurriedly to the hallway.

The liar couldn't help but growl as he heard the others talking behind him.

"D-Did I mess up..?" Mary's shaky voice rang out.

"It's fine, Mary, he just needs time," Seto reassured her.

"Are you sure?"

"You didn't do anything wrong, don't worry about it," Kido added, and as Kano walked away, he could feel her looking at him.

Wanting to shut out everything: the nightmares, his thoughts, everyone else, everything, he collapsed onto the bed, not even caring about whether or not the snake was awake.

28 days left.

Chapter Text

 

He didn't exactly intend to fall asleep, but if he hadn't, he wouldn't be here.

Ayano was all he could see now. She was always there, waiting for him when he went to sleep. She yelled at him, judged him, blamed him, just as she should.

This time, of course, was no exception. 

She was waiting for him again, in a location that he seemed to be visiting more and more often in his dreams. The school. The place where it happened.

"Ah, there you are, Shuuya," she said in a sing songy voice, stepping towards him. "I was getting a little worried, you kept me waiting again."

"Nee-Chan-"  he tentatively reached out to her, a mistake he made every time these dreams happened.

"Don't call me that," he flinched as her brown eyes quickly turned angry and her voice lashed out. 

Maybe the way she was portrayed in his dreams was different from the way she was in real life, but at least she was alive. He'd rather live in a world where she hated him and she was alive, than in a world where she was dead and it was all his fault.

This was good enough.

...This was more than good enough. 

Without warning, his hand was grabbed by her, and he was led to the same spot where she had fallen. Maybe this would be just like last week, where she'd forced him to watch her fall again. Maybe this would be different.

At least she was alive. 

She smiled a deceptively warm smile, a more twisted version of the one he'd known from over two years ago. The repetition of this dream was enough to tell him that this smile meant nothing good, at least for him. 

...Ah. How many times has he had this kind of dream? When did it even begin? It felt like he'd been having it for as long as he could remember, but it was obvious that that wasn't true. All he knew was that it was becoming more and more frequent, and it would probably come to a point where he would have it every time he so much as closed his eyes.

"I'm so glad you came back, Shuuya," Ayano spoke again. "I just thought of a great new way to get back at you!" 

The words matched almost nothing with her character or her tone, but he decided to accept it anyway. What she said probably could've been passed off for a taunting joke, if it weren't for the fact that her crushing grip on his hand was leading him closer and closer to the ledge where she'd jumped.

"And what would that be?" he prompted, not daring to call her "Nee-Chan" again. 

Besides, she always got pretty scary when she was angry, and that was shown to be no different here.

Instead of being given a verbal answer, he got the message when a foot forced him forward, so he was leaning over the edge and looking down at the concrete below. The view was just as he'd remembered from that day. There wasn't a cloud out of place, a speck of dirt missing, a streak of pink in the sunset absent. It was all as he had so vividly remembered... except wait- there was one thing missing. Ah, what was it again? 

The force on his back was pushing more and more, and if the girl's intentions weren't clear before, they most certainly were now.

He chose not to fight as he was forcefully shoved closer and closer to his death. Instead, he just let a bitter smile spread over his face as his sister went out of her way to end his life.

At least she's alive.

"I can't wait to see you next time, Shuuya."

With a final push, he was sent over the edge and towards the ground.

The blond boy shot up in his bed, gasping desperately for air. His amber eyes frantically searched the room, attempting to get a grasp on reality. 

Good, he sighed as he laid back down, flinging an arm over his forehead. He wasn't at the school, or the graveyard, or the Tateyama household. Nee-Chan's still gone though. No, he was at Apartment 107, in his own room, lying in his own bed.

He took a moment to close his eyes and listen to the sounds within the room. There was the gentle pattering of rain hitting the window pane outside, the soft breathing of S-

Wait.... 

His eyes reopened, and his gaze snapped over to Saeru, who was basically attached to his arm, snoring quietly. It was a miracle in itself that the snake just happened to be asleep, and even more so that he hadn't been awoken by his movements. Wiping his forehead, Kano gave out a long exhale, before he proceeded to detach himself from the other. Kido and Seto probably wouldn't mind that much if he just went on a little stroll, right? He just needed to clear his head, that was all. 

...

Gently, he shut the front door behind him, and locked it with a click. A quick glance at the dark, cloudy sky and the lit streetlights told him that it was probably very early in the morning. It was also raining, both to his dismay and his delight. The rain could probably help clear his head, but Kido would probably get pretty pissed at him for strolling out in the cold, with only a short-sleeved hoodie to really keep him warm.

After some thinking, he decided that the pros of going outside far outweighed the cons, so he began heading deeper into the illuminated city. Besides, he reassured himself, he wouldn't be out that long, maybe just a few hours. If anything, he could probably come back before anyone even woke up. As long as he didn't end up dozing off on the street again, he would be fine. Probably.

Putting his growing worries aside, the boy walked and hummed quietly to a tune he remembered from some obscure artist, not even flinching as cold drops of water hit his face.

As he approached his usual route, a large maze of alleyways, the buildings in front of him towered higher and the apartment behind him grew smaller.

He didn't look back.

- - -

The whole night had been spent constantly drifting in and out of a dreamless sleep. Time as little as two minutes and as much as three hours managed to pass as Saeru constantly dozed off. However, by the time had had woken up for good, breathing in Shuuya's trash and cigarette filled scent, the deceiver had already left. To where, he had no idea.

To say it was surprising that he left wouldn't exactly be... true, considering yesterday's incidents, but it was still a shock that the snake hadn't even noticed when the other exited the room in the first place. 

What a coward.

Rubbing his crimson eyes with a yawn, the snake clumsily exited the room to greet the others, who were, as expected, doing nothing interesting in particular. Kido sat grumpily at the kitchen with her elbows on the table as she checked her phone. Shintaro, Konoha, and Hibiya, on the other hand, all sat bunched up on the couch in front of the TV, while Momo stood next to them, casting a worried look out the window.

"Does anyone know where Shuuya went?" he asked to nobody in particular.

"That idiot probably snuck out in the middle of the night," Kido growled, picking at a plate of eggs. "He hasn't been here since anyone's woken up, and if that isn't bad enough, it's literally raining."

"And according to the forecast it's going to be raining all day," Momo added with a sigh, eyeing the screen of her phone in her hand.

"Because of course it just has to rain on the day we're going back home!" the girl's brother joined in, absentmindedly pressing buttons on the TV remote as he shifted on the couch.

"Trust me, I hate it just as much as you do," Hibiya sighed. "It's gonna be so cold!"

"I don't really mind," Konoha said dully, watching the flashing screen next to Shintaro.

"Ah, where are you all going?" the snake asked as he began to dig through the fridge. "I thought only Momo had to leave."

"Well, since Momo's going back to go on tour, Shintaro decided he might as well return to his place for a bit," Kido began, eyeing him curiously. "Also, Hibiya has to return home for a little while, and Konoha has to come with him. Me, Seto, Mary and Kano- well, sort of Kano -are all staying, though, and you can stay too if you want."

He nodded as he continued to search for something to sustain him for the meantime.

"Shuuya really causes a lot of trouble, doesn't he?" Saeru muttered idly. "If it were my choice, he'd be bleeding profusely against a wall."

"Honestly, I wouldn't want it to be any other way," Kido grumbled, not truly grasping the weight of his words. "By the way, uh, if you're looking for more frozen pancakes, I'm afraid Hibiya ate them all already," the greenette added jokingly.

"I heated them up and ate them like a sane person, I'll have you know!" the boy scoffed.

As he rolled his eyes, the monster could feel a tap on his shoulder. Turning around, he was met with the queen, who looked up at him with hope in her red eyes.

"Ah, sorry I never got back to you a couple days ago," she started softly, obviously trying her best to maintain proper eye contact. "But... I still just want to talk to you about something for a second."

"I don't have much else to do, so tell me whatever you want," he replied, closing the fridge.

"I just want to show you something real quick," the albino smiled as she led him away by the arm.

To say he was caught off guard would be a slight understatement, but he followed nonetheless. Usually, the queen was only this direct about what she wanted when she was screaming for her friends to come back.

Eventually, he found himself seated on the floor of the girl's room. The queen, herself, was digging through a couple of the shelves placed by her bed. Finally, she found what she wanted, and she picked several assorted books off the shelf and placed them onto the ground. After a full minute of listening to the rain and observing her eager face, the snake was approached by the girl.

Returning, she held a questionably tall stack of books in her grasp, which she then dropped into his arms.

"I just thought you could get some use out of these," she said innocently as she sat down, waiting patiently for him to examine them.

Picking one up with curiosity, he was most certainly shocked to find... rather obscene content displayed on the covers. Supposedly, every single one of these were in the queen's possession, but how she got her hands on them, especially with that Seto with her all the time, was a real mystery that he wasn't sure if he wanted to solve.

The snake laughed nervously. "And what's this, your Majesty? How... how exactly did you acquire this?"

She looked off to the side, donning something just short of a grin.

"It's just some manga that I thought you and Kano would be interested in," she replied. "As for how I got this... ah," she looked back up at him with an upwards curve to her lips, "that's a secret."

The vagueness was... rather intimidating, but for his own safety, the snake decided to just accept it and let it go.

"And how exactly would I 'get use out of these'?" he continued, flipping through a random book with... just the kind of imagery he expected.

"Maybe you'll see one day," Ah, again with the secrecy.

Deciding everything had been said and done, he stood up, books in hand.

"Well, I appreciate the gift, Mary, but I'm afraid I must be on my way-"

"Wait, one more thing!" the girl's small outburst momentarily surprised them both, before she continued, growing serious. "About... l-last time...."

"Oh, you're still thinking about that?" he asked the smaller, tilting his head. "I wouldn't be surprised if that's part of the reason why you gave me these. Though it's still a mystery how you got them...."

"You can't keep doing this to him," she blurted out. "You claim that you love him, and that he loves you back but you... you always just kill him every single time! You can't keep doing this!"

"And why's that? You of all people should know that the last step is always the most necessary, even if it does get... excessive at times, on my part."

"No!" the girl took a hesitant step forward. "If you're gonna say things like that, you have to be able to care for him properly! You can't just treat him like he's replaceable at any given moment! You can't.... Y-You can't...."

"I can't what?"

"You need to stop make each other suffer like this. I'm sure this isn't what you want."

He scoffed, nudging the door open with his foot.

"Then I'm afraid you don't know me as well as you thought, your Majesty."

The girl still had stubborn hope in her eyes, for what, he could only guess.

"This is simply how things work out, and you need to accept that," finally, he turned away. "Ah, thanks for the gift, though."

...

Hazel eyes cast confusion at him.

"You want to what?" Seto asked, though he clearly had heard him the first time.

"I was just considering what Shuuya said a couple days ago, and I decided since he isn't here right now, I might as well contribute to something around here," he restated, giving a careless shrug.

"Are you sure?" the other asked. "It's pretty cold out there, even if it's basically summer, and today I'm mostly just carrying a bunch of heavy boxes. There's nothing really interesting for you to do, if that's what you were thinking."

"It's not like I really have anything else to do," it was becoming an all too common phrase at this point.

The dark-haired boy eventually just smiled and nodded.

"Well, if you really feel like it, you can help out! Come on, let's go."

...

Lifting and carrying boxes was probably one of the least difficult things he'd done this entire loop.

The thief had led him to a rather generic store with numerous trucks waiting to be unloaded. All they really had to do was transport the supplies from the trucks to the store. Running over children was a far more entertaining use of trucks, in his humble opinion.

"Exactly what kind of enjoyment do you find in working jobs like these?" he found himself asking the other boy.

"Well, sometimes the work itself is a bit bland, but sometimes I meet really nice people, and hey, I'm supporting my family, so it all balances out!" Ah, how naive.

There was probably supposed to be some kind of pun involved, given how the hairclip wearing teen had two tall, precariously balanced stacks of boxes in his arms, but the snake decided not to encourage him further.

"So now it's my turn to ask, why did you decide to help out specifically when Kano wasn't home?" the thief asked, turning to look at him.

"Simple, I knew he would never approve and would try to stop me," he said. "I'm sure the last couple days made it evident enough."

"True, true, again, sorry about that!" the other laughed, grabbing a rather large box of supplies. "He's just a bit protective, is all. He always feels like he has to do everything himself."

"Doesn't it get troublesome at times, with how he's always hiding everything from you? His brother?"

"Well, it does get me pretty worried sometimes," the other sighed as he finally placed the tower of boxes down. "He was always able to be more honest back when we were younger, both when we were in the orphanage and when we were living with Ayano, but...."

The snake could practically see the distance that was starting to grow in the teen's eyes.

"I dunno, he's always been worrying more about others than himself to begin with, but after Ayano left us two years ago, he just started disappearing. Not like how Kido can disappear, of course, but it's a little frightening all the same."

"It's pretty unfortunate, if you ask me," he murmured, setting down his own set of supplies.

"Yeah, sorry I was rambling," the shorter added. "I just hope he gets better, because he hasn't been letting me or Kido do anything recently. He probably thinks we don't know about what's been going on."

"What exactly has been going on?"

"I'm not exactly sure if I should say, he might not want more people getting too concerned over it."

"No, no, it's fine, I understand."

"Sorry about the rambling, again."

"Really, it's not a problem."

...

"Can I ask you something again?" the snake perked up as he was spoken to.

"What is it?"

The boy looked, almost awkwardly, off to the side as he spoke. "Why do you call Kano 'Shuuya'?"

"Simple. That's his name, right?" it was clearly a bluff, but the other either failed to notice it or didn't acknowledge it.

"Well, his first name, yeah, but me, Kano, and Kido haven't really called each other by our first names in a while," Seto said. "I'm pretty sure some of the others don't even know our first names, so how did you know his from the beginning?"

He left it at something simple. "Reasons."

If the other was going to conceal information, he might as well, too, right?

"I see," Seto smiled softly, as if he'd realized something. "Well, I hope you two start getting better soon, because I'm pretty sure Mary doesn't really like it when you two fight."

"She doesn't?"

"Nobody really likes it in general, for sort of obvious reasons, but she always gets really upset and worked up over it. It really seems like she wants you two to get closer, sometimes. N-Not saying that I know for sure or why, it's just that it appears that way, is all."

It was his turn to say it now. "...I see."

"By the way, I'm glad you and her became friends so fast," Seto added. "She's usually really shy to others, but you two were able to talk almost right away!"

"What can I say?" he shrugged. "She was just very eager to talk to me."

"You don't have to say, but... what exactly were you two talking about?" Seto finally set down his last load of boxes as he turned back to him.

"That's a secret."

As the two of them continued to chatter about meaningless subjects, the snake began to notice just how easy it was to converse with the others. Hell, it wasn't even so hard to talk to Ene. (though he was sure most of it was just an act.)

Everyone here must be that naive, huh?

And of the two others who actually know about the deadline, only one of them really seems to care.

"Ah, by the way, have you bought Mary any odd novels recently?"

"No, she's never really asked for any books before. I'm pretty sure she had enough in her old house in the forest where I found her. Why?"

"No reason in particular."

- - -

By the time he'd finished his rounds around the city, he was already reduced to a sneezing mess. Ducking down into another alley, he was also dismayed to find that the graffiti he'd sprayed on the wall a couple days before was already mostly gone.

Okay, so maybe going out in the rain wasn't the best idea, he decided as he rubbed his arms in an attempt to conserve whatever ounce of warmth was left in him.

At this point, he was pretty sure the icy cold water had already soaked through all his clothes and flooded his feet through his worn out boots. The falling droplets, once upon a time, had been like a steady rhythm to distract him from his thoughts, but now it was more like a reminder of just how stupid he was.

Sneezing for the thousandth time, he decided it would probably be wise to finally head back to the apartment. Due to the heavy layer of clouds in the sky, it was fairly hard to tell what time it was, but, judging by how all the streetlights were now back on, he knew that it was at least nighttime.

Shivering uncontrollably, he slowly made his way back home, with each of his footsteps causing a small splash on the ground. Maybe if he weren't already soaked to the bone, he would've annoyed a few random people by childishly jumping in the massive puddles, but that would probably just end up making him feel worse.

By the time he'd sluggishly pushed the door open, his head already felt heavy and his breathing was ragged. As he headed to his room, he tossed his muddied boots to the side, somewhere relatively close to the front door.

God, he was probably going to be in some deep shit tomorrow, wasn't he?

Ah, who cared? He was just so tired.

- - -

Sleep was just on the verge of consuming him, he was sure. So apparently despite this body's superhuman traits, it still required rest. The snake silently noted that as his thoughts began to disperse into meaningless buzz.

He just barely registered it when the door to the room opened, but by then he was too close to dozing off to care. In fact, he hardly felt it when another, ice-cold weight collapsed onto his chest.

However, unlike with the door opening, he actually bothered to examine the cause. Slowly inching his eyes open, he saw a trembling figure sprawled over him, taking unsteady breaths.

Deciding he was too tired to engage conversation with the troublesome deceiver, the snake settled with just curling his arms around the smaller's back and closing his eyes.

Ah, could deal with Shuuya's antics tomorrow.

27 days left.

Chapter Text

The images, the temperature, the sounds, and the atmospheres of those days he all remembered in almost vivid detail. Looking back on them, he questioned if he made some sort of error.

...

He remembered the blazing summer heat on that day.

"You know, I'll never understand how you got me to feel this way, deceiver," he'd said that day.

The other laughed, a soft laughed that held not a care in the world. "Ah, I bet you'll figure it out one day. I suppose I just have that kind of effect on people, eh?"

"That doesn't exactly help."

"It's not like it really matters, though, right? You've got all the time in the world to sort it out."

"...Of course."

...

He remembered the thoughtful amber eyes on that day.

"Have you ever thought about how strange it is?" the boy asked.

"How strange what is?"

"The fact that this was supposedly the body of Nee-Chan's friend. Heheh, it's a little awkward when you think about it too much! Not that I'm complaining, of course."

"Well if it's really such an issue, I could probably just make one for myself. Creating this body for Awakening Eyes is honestly never any trouble, so creating another for me would hardly be an inconvenience."

"Oh really? Huh, that's sort of a strange thought. I wonder what you'd end up looking like then!"

"Is it, though? It'll just have it look however I want."

"Knowing what you want isn't always as obvious as I say, you know."

"Is that so? Well, what do you think I'd end up looking like, then?"

"Ah, now I have to guess? Hmm, well... basing off of the body you have right now, I could imagine you with black hair, probably about as long as that, or maybe longer. Hmmm, maybe you'd have red eyes, too? Y'know, because of the snake thing and all."

"I could see that, it makes sense."

"Hahah, what if you also had fangs and scales all over your face or something?"

"Alright, that's just pushing it. Sure, keeping some of my original traits would be a perk, but I don't want to look too ridiculous."

"And what about a forked tongue too?"

"Shuuya."

"Kidding, I'm kidding! That would be pretty funny though, right?"

"Funny wouldn't exactly be the same as functional though, would it?"

"Ah, come on, it was a joke."

...

He remembered the lingering warmth on that day.

"Huh."

"What is it?"

"What exactly am I supposed to call you? In my head, you're just kind of... 'snake' but that sounds like a pretty lame name if you ask me."

"Does it look like I have any ideas?"

"Well, you're 'Clearing Eyes' or whatever, right? So maybe something along the lines of that?"

"I don't think 'Clearing' or 'Clearer' would be very suitable names, 'Deceiving'."

"Fair enough, that does seem pretty lame...."

"...Ah, how does Saeru Hebi sound?"

"...That's also pretty lame."

"Ah...."

"But I still kind of like it! It sounds better than anything else I could come up with."

"And what else did you come up with?"

"Eheheh, nothing in particular."

"Right...."

...

He remembered the smile that held more warmth than any summer on that day.

"Heyyyyy, you love me right?"

"Eh? What's all this about?"

"Come on, say it!"

"And why do I have to do that?"

"Pleaaaase? Just say it!"

"Ah, why say it when I can show you?"

"Eh? Show-?!"

He pulled the other in for a quick peck on the lips.

"Does that answer your question, Shuuya?"

"Ah, I think I need you to repeat that! I didn't quite get it the first time."

"You're ridiculous."

"Come on~!"

"Hmm... if you say so, then why not?"

...

He remembered the sitting summer heat dissipating on that day.

"..."

"You're awfully silent."

"Right, right... it's just that it's been a while since I've been here."

"Really? You used to come here all the time."

"That's true, but eventually I realized that... that...."

"..."

"I-..."

He wrapped his arms around the other as the sun and its scorching heat began to disappear under the horizon.

"It's honestly fine, Shuuya. It's not like you have to force yourself to move on or anything."

"But... I mean... you said...."

"..."

"..."

"It's fine."

...

He remembered the the boy's snuffed out spirit on that day.

"Huh, and I thought I was the only one who arrived late!"

"..."

"Hm? Cat got your tongue?"

"Shuuya, it's August fifteenth."

"..."

"..."

"I know... but... do you really have to...."

"Yes, I do."

"B-But surely after everything-"

"Shuuya, we've been over this."

"Ha... no matter how many times I remind myself, there's just no way to actually be ready for it, huh?"

"You understand what's at stake here, right?"

"Y-Yeah...."

"You know why this has to be done, right?"

"I...."

"Right?"

"Yes...."

"Then move over. This has to be done. I'll even save you for last, how does that sound?"

"...."

Chapter Text

Within the nearly silent apartment, the snake shifted in the bed as he awoke. The monster wrinkled his nose in displeasure as he breathed in the now all too familiar scent of garbage and smoke.

Opening his crimson eyes, he realized that he had his face buried in damp, messy, blond hair. Shuuya was breathing softly, with his body curled up on top of his chest and his hands holding onto his shirt. Remembering the past few days, the snake decided it would probably be wise to separate from the other before he woke up, but as he attempted to inch away from the blond, the boy's grip on his shirt only tightened as if he didn't want him to leave which, of course, was extremely unlikely.

He briefly considered just shoving the other off and getting started with the day, but eventually thought better of it. The blond would probably only see malice in his actions if he was woken up to being thrown on the ground, after all. Giving a sigh of exasperation, the snake settled with just sitting upright while Shuuya continued to snore. Dealing with his anger at the probably unwelcome contact would probably be slightly more tolerable than dealing with his pained seething, anyway.

After several long, boring minutes of staring at the liar's scarred, sleeping face, Saeru decided he would just be better off waking the smaller up.

Roughly jabbing a finger at Shuuya's forehead, the snake spoke.

"Shuuya, wake up," he said as the other whined sleepily.

Slowly, the boy stirred, and his amber eyes opened until they were locking with the snake's. Immediately, the marks on his face vanished and a tight grin took over his confused glare.

"Ah, good morning Saeru," he said in a voice that was biting, as usual. "Would you mind letting go of me?"

"And why should I?" the snake sneered back at him. "You weren't exactly complaining when you got here yesterday."

Rather than entertain him further with an answer, the boy began to squirm out of his hold. Just to frustrate him even more, the snake deliberately chose not to release his grasp, and strengthened it instead.

Watching the other's continued struggle with a taunting smirk, Saeru took notice of how his movements were ever so slightly altered in comparison to usual. His fighting seemed almost sluggish and lacking, until he gave up altogether and collapsed back with an exasperated groan. The snake's smirk only widened as realization dawned on him.

"Ah, are you feeling well, Shuuya?' the liar's exhausted looking form froze for a second, before the boy laughed aloud.

"Of course!" Shuuya smiled, though Saeru wouldn't be surprised if that was just part of the illusion projected by his eyes. "In fact, I'd almost say I've never felt better, if you weren't, hm, trapping me here. Though I must say, I wouldn't expect someone like you to be very worried about it, so why did you ask?"

"You're so foolish as always, Shuuya, you didn't even bother hiding it well," the dark-haired muttered as he set a crushing grip on Shuuya's wrist. "You got sick, didn't you?"

The boy winced, his image flickering as he squirmed more. As the snake's hold grew tighter, his pathetic mask was reduced to pieces, and the illusion was cast away to reveal a messier, more tired looking version of the deceiver with bags under his eyes and a slightly more pale and bitter looking face.

"Alright, alright, you got me, I got a little bit of a cold, happy?" it didn't exactly help the liar's case when he sneezed right after the words, right onto the snake's shirt no less. Sniffing, the blond continued as if nothing had happened at all. "It's not that big a deal, though, I swear! I'm perfectly fine- ow ow ow!"

"How many times do I have to tell you before you realize that lying is useless against me?" the snake's eyes narrowed as his grip tightened further. "Really, you shouldn't even bother wasting your energy on it."

"Oh really?" the blond arched an eyebrow at him as he managed another smile. "And what exactly are you going to do about it, hm? Because- agh!"

"Kido was right, this truly is getting ridiculous," the snake figured it wouldn't be long before the boy's wrist would be snapped right in half.

"Huh? What did you say?" Shuuya tilted his head in mock confusion, before he sneezed once again, more loudly this time.

"Nothing. Anyway, I'm afraid that since none of your other friends are around for you...."

The snake figured that if there was going to be a single chance in this loop where he could get the deceiver at least slightly off edge and off his case, it would probably be now.

"...I'm going to have to take care of you."

"Ehhh?" the boy's amber eyes widened as he lay, startled.

And, since he really had nothing else to really do, he might as well go through the tedious effort to make it happen. Besides, maybe this could finally prove to a... few select others that he was capable of being a good person. At least if his plan worked, it would rid him of a few minor inconveniences that the Shuuya of this loop brought him.

Also, having the other being able to trust him again would be a rather pleasing result for a few additional reasons....

"I expect you to stay here while I find something for you, Shuuya," despite the other's hurried and confused protests, the snake rose out of the bed to make his way to the kitchen. "Even if you manage to run as far from this apartment as you can, I will find you and drag you back here. I just wanted to make sure we were clear on that, before I leave you here by yourself."

"I... er...."

Reevaluating his decision as he exited the room, the serpent concluded that there were only benefits to be gained from gaining the deceiver's trust. Well, minus all the work, that is, but it would still probably be worth it in the end.

He was sure that this would be a relatively easy feat, seeing as it was something he'd done before, and unintentionally at that, but, right in the middle of the hallway, he stopped in his tracks, realizing that he wasn't really even sure of what he was doing. He'd never really had to deal with a sick human before... so what exactly was he supposed to do?

Usually, when that old man was sick, he'd just "sleep it off" and ignore most of the problem altogether. And unfortunately for Saeru, that example wouldn't really help him here.

Then, he recalled how, at some point in the previous days, Ene had begrudgingly distributed his phone number (which she had mysteriously gotten a hold of) to all the other members of the group, saying that Kido wanted to make sure that "everyone was able to keep in touch with each other" if anything happened.

Though he hated to admit it, Saeru would probably have to ask one of the children for help.

If Shuuya knew about his current dumbfoundedness, he would probably end up teasing him endlessly as he mockingly laughed from the ground, but the snake quickly put that image aside as he navigated to Kido's contacts.

Me: Shuuya got sick, what am I supposed to do?

While he waited for a response, he could basically hear the sound of the girl slapping her forehead.

Kido: Of course he got sick....

Kido: Well we just ran out of soup... so just make sure he drinks a lot of water while we're out

Kido: And do not let him go outside under ANY circumstances

Kido: Also make sure he doesn't climb out the window

Me: Of course, that much should be obvious.

Kido: Also don't destroy the house while we're out or else I might have to send Ene to look after you

Me: That won't be necessary.

Casting his eyes back upwards, Saeru made his way over to the kitchen. Seeing the apartment so quiet and devoid of life certainly wasn't something he was unfamiliar with, but when it was for a reason other than the occupants being dead, it was definitely a sight to behold.

Scoffing at the thought of it, he snatched a glass that was sitting in a cabinet. With the container in hand, he walked over to the sink and turned the handle, allowing water to flow out freely.

As he impatiently tapped his foot, waiting for the water to reach the top of the glass, his thoughts wandered back to what Kido had said. 

If he wanted to gain Shuuya's trust, he couldn't be careless or let anything go wrong. This would probably be one of his only chances, so he definitely couldn't just let the other escape. Maybe he could block the exits.... And if that virus were to get in the way.... 

"Dang, I'm surprised you and Kano haven't wrecked anything yet." 

Speak of the devil. 

Turning around so he could lock eyes with the face on the TV screen, the snake smirked. It hadn't even been half a minute since they'd started conversing, and the cyber girl already held a grimace on her features.

"Is that so? It's surprising how little faith all of you have in me to-" 

"The water's overflowing," Ene suddenly cut in, clearly uninterested in his banter. 

The dark-haired cursed quietly under his breath as he realized that water was, indeed, now overflowing out from the glass and splashing onto the ground. Quickly, he turned off the sink, and decided to just ignore the large puddle on the floor altogether.

"And exactly what business do you have here?" the snake continued, pretending that the incident had never even happened. "What happened to bothering that troublesome Shintaro everyday? Have you finally gotten bored of it, after all this time?"

The girl shrugged as she idly looked somewhere off to the side. 

"I just thought that since you two are always causing so much trouble that I might as well stay here and make sure nothing goes wrong," she said simply before turning back to him. "Why are you two always at each other's necks this time, anyways?" 

"Ah, so it's answers your looking for," he muttered, loud enough for her to hear. "Well, first of all, I just want to clarify that it's always Shuuya that's causing trouble, not me." 

"So you're provoking him," Ene's eyes were narrowed with suspicion as she eyed him. "But why? You never even bother with him outside the... usual. At least from what I've seen, that is."

The snake rose a hand up to his chin thoughtfully. "Right, I forgot you weren't there for very long last time... ah. Just know that it doesn't concern you, and that I don't need you getting in my way right now. So would you so kindly leave us to sort out our issues?" 

Sighing, the virus pouted. "How can I trust you and Fox Eyes to not kill each other while nobody's around? And I don't mean literally, obviously!" 

"I don't exactly expect or need for you to have any kind of trust in me, I just need you to stop being such a bother so I can deal with Shuuya's... issues."

"But that's the problem!" she moved closer to the screen and looked at him daringly. Red X's began to manifest around her from within the TV's display. "Considering everything that you've done so far, how am I supposed to trust that you won't do the same thing again? If I'm not able to believe that you won't screw this up, then why should I think I can or should leave you and Kano alone?"

"Listen here, Ene," the snake glared. "Whatever you think you should or shouldn't do doesn't matter, and it won't change anything. All that should matter to you is that I already know how to deal with Shuuya, and I don't need you here getting in my way to do so. And if it makes you feel any better, I can reassure you that we won't destroy anything. Understood?"

Ene once again opened her mouth, clearly intending to say more, but closed it when she probably realized that this would go absolutely nowhere. Giving a sigh of defeat, the girl gave one last hesitant look at him, before her image and the red symbols flickered with static and disappeared from the screen.

Finally, the annoying distraction was out of the way. The snake grinned with satisfaction as he briskly made his way back to Shuuya's room. 

Surprisingly, when he entered, the deceiver hadn't left. Instead, he had huddled himself on a corner of the bed, and was looking, rather bitterly, out the window. The moment Saeru so much as stepped into the room, the blond went straight back to glaring at him.

How charming.

"I'm surprised you weren't trying to crawl out the window," the monster murmured as he shoved the glass of water into Shuuya's hands.

With a blank expression on his face, the liar examined the clear liquid, as if he was having trouble deciding on whether or not it'd been poisoned, and if he should drink it. Eventually, he supposedly reached a decision and gulped down the water, deliberately avoiding the snake's red-eyed gaze.

That was all that happened for at least two, painfully extended minutes as Shuuya drank and, very subtly, shrank away more and more from the snake's relentless staring.

...

Finally, setting the now empty contained down, the deceiver spoke up, a resigned look on his tired face.

"Why are you still trying?" the only thing locking his amber eyes with the snake's was most likely the eye ability he held. "Why are you still trying so hard to make yourself look like a good person to everyone else, when you're just going to kill us all?"

"I haven't been trying that hard, I've just been looking for things to do to kill time," the snake responded easily.

"I saw you and Seto yesterday, you know. You've went through the trouble to make sure you could help him without any obstacles."

The serpent's red eyes widened, even if only by a mere fraction, as Shuuya spoke, his fists clenching.

"You're just trying to make yourself look better in front everyone else, but for what?" the blond's voice rose as his expression grew defiant. "Why even bother if it's going to be such a chore for you?"

"You're the only one making it hard here, Shuuya," ah, he definitely wasn't saying the right thing, he was almost sure of it now.

"And why shouldn't I?! The only thing you're doing by making everyone trust you is making it harder for them when you finally- finally...."

Despite his attempts to hide it, the liar's voice caught in his throat, and even with his powers up, it was evident he was trying to choke back a sob.

"I just don't understand...." his shaky voice whispered. "Why do we have to suffer like this..? Why can't we just live normally? Why did you have to come here?"

Wet spots, definitely tears, started to dot the area of the bed under Shuuya's face as he attempted to continue. But, rather than words, the only things he could manage were an unfitting grin and forced out noises.

It was an awfully pitiful sight, and Saeru could only sigh at it as his own eyes flashed a brighter red, tearing down the liar's crumbling defenses and temporarily stealing away the medusa's power in his eyes. As much as he was tempted to, hurting the deceiver further probably wouldn't be the best course of action to take right now.

Shuuya froze, with the exception of his shaking arms, as he realized that the mask that he had become so overly-dependent on had been taken away. Bloated tears were streaming down his face, and a mess of scars littered his frame as he continued to force down helpless cries. In retaliation, he buried his face in Saeru's shoulder, effectively concealing his disheveled state from the other.

The sight tugged at a distant memory within the snake, and he slowly moved to embrace the liar in response. Shuuya stiffened briefly at the contact, then collapsed back into the snake, breaking down all over again.

"Why are you making us live like this?" his muffled voice cried out. "Why... I just... what's the point?" 

"You're going to have to clarify, Shuuya." 

A fist, determined yet weak, collided with his chest as the deceiver shouted. "What's the point of living in this damn world like this if we're just waiting to be killed by you?! Dammit...." 

Normally, this is where the serpent would've laughed, but he thought better of it.

"Do you really not see it?" Saeru said, staring at the smaller's trembling back. "Even if your lives have been cut rather short, that doesn't mean there's absolutely nothing left to live for. You can't just give up when there's still plenty left to do before the end." 

The stubborn struggle always makes the end more enjoyable, anyway. 

"It's not like there's nothing good left to be found in this world," he continued, as Shuuya wailed. "You already have everyone else, right? Surely that's enough for you."

Even though his voice had been altered by his helpless crying, the liar laughed bitterly. "Ha... you think everyone else's gonna be there for me, huh? After everything I've done? I'm sure you've thought it too, Saeru. Sooner or later, they're going to figure me out. Sooner or later, they're going to leave me. That's just how it works, anyway!"

"Ah, but that's where you're wrong," the snake felt a grin come to his face as he his face closer to the other's. "I'm still here, Shuuya. And unlike everyone else, I won't leave your side, no matter what you do."

The blond stilled, and the grip on his shirt tightened significantly.

"In fact, it's safe to say that I'll be here until the day you die, so you have no reason to complain."

Loud, mournful noises ripped through the air as Shuuya sobbed only louder, maintaining what was now more like a death-grip on his shirt than anything. The serpent's smirk stayed stuck to his face as the other's sounds died down to weak hiccups and whimpers, then eventually soft, evened out breathing.

Saeru was pretty sure he'd stayed there for hours, laying back down on the bed with the liar slumped over him and tears soaking through his clothes.

It wasn't the cleanest start he'd seen, but everything was going close enough to how he'd planned it.

His decent-enough knowledge on the deceiver's background was enough to supply him with what he shouldn't and shouldn't say when the time was right, and he was confident now that things would be very different when the boy woke up.

Ah, there's just one more thing, though....

...

"Oi, is anyone still here?" Saeru jolted awake as he heard a voice call out, paired with the sound of footsteps.

He didn't exactly recall falling asleep, but he assumed that a considerable amount of time must've passed for that to happen. A couple hours, at least.

Before he was able to respond, Kido appeared at the entrance to their room, a frustrated look on her face. When she saw the two of them, though, she relaxed, though she still seemed somewhat confused.

While the greenette stood there, examining the room, Mary appeared behind her with a questionably large plastic bag of items in her hand. She, too, saw them, and her red eyes widened, then lit up.

"You said he was sick, right?" Kido asked suddenly.

Saeru nodded, looking back down at the sleeping liar before him.

"I'll go prepare soup or something," she continued. "Just make sure he eats some after he wakes up, alright?"

"You can trust me," he responded simply as he looked, rather concernedly, at a widely-grinning Mary.

Kido nodded in appreciation before she walked away, the queen eventually following in her wake. Ah, it was going to be one of those long days, wasn't it? If he was going to have to lay here, waiting for Shuuya to wake up, he might as well read one of those books Mary offered him....

- - -

For once, after weeks, hell, maybe even months of torture, he was able to sleep without dreams. No nightmares of Ayano or reminders of the past bothered him when he'd managed to doze off, and he was eventually woken up to the sound of pages being turned.

Sleepily, he lifted his head to investigate, and found himself stuck between the snake's face and, as he expected, a book that he was reading. Curiously, he spared a glance at the pages, but immediately turned back when he caught sight of the images. It seemed very likely that this was part of Mary's collection, so it was definitely questionable why the snake had it, and even more so why he was actually reading it.

"What the hell are you reading?" Kano said, only faintly aware that he was once again laying on the snake. Apparently, it was his new way of ruining his sleep, since putting his head on his shoulder just wasn't good enough.

"Ah, Mary rather kindly recommended these to me yesterday while you were out," the snake responded. "Why? Are you also interested in this kind of literature?"

"No, no!" Kano quickly said, shifting to get up. "Anyway, uh, are Kido and Mary home yet?"

"Mhm, Kido should be cooking something for you as we speak."

"She's going to murder me...."

"Shuuya," the snake suddenly said, lifting his gaze to look at him. If he had Mary's power, he was sure that his stare would freeze him for life.

The blond could hardly bring himself to look at the snake as he responded. "...Yeah?"

"Remember earlier," the other continued, flipping another page. "I'll have you know that I plan to stick by my words, Shuuya. I want you to be able to... trust me."

The liar could still feel traces of long-shed, pathetic tears on his face as the serpent spoke.

He wasn't convinced of anything in the slightest.

"I'm willing to bet that that's a promise that you can't keep," he sneered in response, this time without his power.

The snake would probably just leave him behind like all the others, he was sure of it. Why should he trust a cunning trickster, anyways? (Big talk for someone like him.) Even as he thought that, the other had one of those unsettling grins stretched across his face, only solidifying his belief further.

"Yet another challenge, is it?" the snake asked, though the liar couldn't completely grasp the meaning behind the words. "Don't fret, Shuuya. I'll prove that I stay true to what I say. I'll stay with you until the end with this timeline, I'll get you to trust me, and I'm sure I can make you love me all over again."

The unexpected words pierced through him, and liar's eyed widened as panicked surprise and confusion took over his features. "You wha-"

"Hey Kano, you up yet?" Kido called out as she approached the room.

"Yep!" he quickly altered his demeanor as he answered, fixing a smile on his face. The hood-wearing girl then came into view at the doorway, a bowl of soup in her hands.

She nodded approvingly at him, before she handed him the food.

"Eat up and rest, you need to get better," she told him, casting an odd glance between him, then Saeru, then the book he was reading.

"Eh, and what do you mean by that?" the liar quickly said in an attempt to avert her attention away from the snake's amused sneer.

"Saeru told me you got sick from running around in the rain yesterday," she answered, narrowing her eyes judgingly at him.

He quickly sent a glare at the snake's direction, before he turned back and sighed. "Ah, of course he told you...."

"Well you don't have to be that way, Shuuya...." the taller said innocently.

"I'm sure he's just trying to look out for you, or something," Kido attempted to reassure him.

"Right, right, anyways!" he, rather forcefully, picked up the spoon Kido had handed to him and laid back down against the snake. "You said I needed rest, right? I need some peace and quiet if I want to be able to do that so... shoo!"

Jokingly, he gestured Kido, who was rolling her eyes, away and out of the room.

"Oh right, by the way, everyone's returning tomorrow," Kido announced as she left.

"Already?"

"Yep, so you two better not cause another scene," now it was time for Kano to roll his eyes.

Sighing, he stuffed hot pieces of vegetables in his mouth as the other continued to read, occasionally arching a brow at the obscene dialogue.

"I suppose we'll see about the whole 'loving' thing eventually, huh?" he even need to bother turning around to know that the snake was smirking again.

"Don't be ridiculous," the other said. "I've done it before, and I can do it all over again, I'll show you."

The blond crammed more food into his mouth so he wouldn't have to respond.

"You'll be falling for me again in no time."

Considering how they had less than a month to live, that seemed extremely unlikely.

- - -

"Wow... what happened while we were out?" Mary asked in wonder with a muffled voice as she continued to eat. "Kano and Saeru haven't even glared at each other all day!"

"I suppose they finally sorted out everything," Seto said with a relieved look.

"About time, too," Kido added, eyeing him and Shuuya with suspicion. "After all, we wouldn't want them disrupting everything when the others return. Right?"

"We're right here, you know," Saeru remarked as he glanced at an uninterested looking Shuuya.

"Well, we're just glad that you guys aren't arguing anymore," Seto smiled at him."What exactly happened?"

"That's private information!" Shuuya cut in with a nervous grin. "Right, Saeru?"

"Yes," he replied, simply going with the flow for now. "None of what happened concerns any of you."

"Did anything interesting at least happen?" Mary daringly tried again.

"Not really, Shuuya here just-"

"By the way, Mary, er, did you happen to give Saeru any of your... books?"

The girl displayed a small smile as she looked back down at her dinner. "Yeah... I was actually planning on giving some to you too, Kano!"

"E-Eh? Why?" he was sure that if the boy didn't have a mask up, his face would be dusted some shade of red. Ah, and wouldn't that be a sight?

"I just thought you would be interested, that's all," the albino dismissed, directing her eyes off to the side.

"What books?" Kido and Seto both asked, examining her with confusion.

"There were just some really interesting ones from the ones in the forest that I thought they'd like," Mary shrank away slightly as she responded, the pitch of her voice raised. "Saeru seemed to like them, so I thought Kano would too...."

"Well, I think I'm- "

"I think Shuuya would enjoy them, too!" the snake smiled triumphantly as the other gave him a look of pure disbelief. "You should suggest some to him, too."

The girl's mouth curved upwards and she and nodded as Shuuya sputtered. Seto and Kido exchanged puzzled looks, before they shrugged it off as another one of the liar's overreactions.

...

He wasn't sure how long he'd been laying here, skimming through the queen's novels as Shuuya lay somewhere off to the side, but he knew it was far past the time the deceiver usually fell asleep.

"Why are you still up?" he decided to ask the smaller.

"Ah, I just slept too much during the day, that's all," the blond said as he shifted to lay on his back rather than his side.

"If you want, you could join me in reading some of Mary's-"

"I'll pass, I've already read a couple on my spare time anyway."

"Have it your way."

The seconds passed by as slowly as ever, but the snake wasn't bothered by it. He already had the girl's ridiculous books to occupy his time, and it still proved to be funny how Shuuya would stare suspiciously over at him when he thought he wasn't looking.

This is just be how things would be for now, he figured, but it was good enough for him. Surely, things could only get better for him from here.

Then Azami would have to admit defeat again for sure.

26 days left.

Chapter Text

Geez. How late even is it?

Kano groaned as he turned on his new phone, the bright screen of the default lock-screen wallpaper blinding him. Large numbers at the center displayed the time for him, and he couldn't help but sigh as he looked at them.

It was only four in the damn morning, and the whole night he hadn't dared to close his eyes for even more than a minute.

Instead, he had not-so wisely (or as everyone else agreed on calling it, "Kano-smartly") passed the time by periodically cycling through staring at the wall, stealing occasional glances at the snake, shifting and turning about every two minutes, and reassuring himself that sleeping was definitely not worth it. Well, not worth the nightmares, that is. The exhaustion and the even more tiring effort it took to hide it was a whole different story.

Ah, right, but the nightmares....

That awful shadow of Nee-Chan would be waiting for him once again, sitting dormant in the back of his mind, buried in the summer heat until he slipped from reality and allowed the guilt she fed on to consume him once again. Then, she'd probably shove him off a building, find some other way to kick his ass, or just make him suffer in general, like she always did.

...Just the mere thought of it made his blood run cold.

Quickly turning his attention back to his phone, which a very grumpy Kido had handed him hours before, he wasn't surprised to see that everyone else's numbers were already saved to his contacts.

He was even less surprised to see how the background had been changed to a colorful backdrop featuring various images of Ene, and how the apps had been scrambled and rearranged into random places, somehow renamed to remind him to take out the trash later.

Without a doubt in mind, he concluded that it was the virus' doing, rolling his eyes and almost letting a small laugh escape him. He probably deserved it anyway for getting his phone broken for the second time in the month.

Whatever, he could fix all this sometime later.

"You know, you really should get some rest already, Shuuya," an all too familiar voice said once again. "You're still sick, and you're not exactly... built to not require sleep, like I am."

"Sorry, but if you want to go counting on my face again, today just isn't your lucky day," the sound of fabric shifting sounded in the once-silent room as he turned to grin at the snake.

Red eyes side-glanced back at him for a moment, before the taller just rolled his eyes and went back to silently absorbing the content of whatever Mary thought was a good idea to give him.

Ah, right, wouldn't he also be given some of those later?

Seriously, sometimes it was almost scary how weird her whole deal with those books were.

Actually, looking at the whole ridiculous situation he was stuck in, Kano wasn't exactly sure what he was meant to make of... whatever the hell this whole thing was.

What was he supposed to call this, letting the snake call him by the name that only brought him bittersweet memories, letting him hold him in his sleep, pretending that everything from before had just been swept under the rug and was now completely normal after whatever the hell of a "confession" or whatever earlier was?

Come to think of it, why was he even letting any of this happen in the first place? The snake probably couldn't threaten him here, or at least not to the same extent as before, if he defied him. And besides, this all was probably something so unimportant to the other that he wouldn't receive much backlash for refusing it, right?

Ah, but this was "Saeru Hebi" he was talking about, and he couldn't be sure about anything when it came to him, no matter how much he thought he understood the other. For all he knew, failing to follow the smallest order from the snake, even if it wasn't really an order at all, could result in having the necks of all the Mekakushi Dan members broken in an instant.

Hm, maybe that was it?

It was certainly a possibility that it was just fear that held him in place, simple as that. Maybe the fear of defying the other, especially when he'd been keeping himself breathing for so long been loyal for so painfully long, was what kept him from simply pretending that the other didn't even exist in the same household as him.

It had certainly been a drive for his actions in the past.

...But no, he already knew, somewhere deep inside that it wasn't that. It wasn't that body-paralyzing kind of fear that motivated him, not this time, at least.

No, there was something else, another possibility.

Maybe that was what held the answer he was looking for.

As his eyelids started to grow heavy, he recalled times under the school, times that had even occurred only days before, where the snake would casually remark, as if it was normal, how he was different or the same from other reiterations of "him" that had supposedly existed before a certain tragedy happened.

...One that he and everyone else was just waiting for right now.

He remembered, still as perplexed about it as when he'd first experienced it, how the other would just randomly drop idle observations at times that he would least expect, like they were just small comments that regular people could make in a regular interaction together.

'Huh, that scar on your nose is almost in the exact same place and orientation as last time. I must say, I'm somewhat impressed....'

'So you have that jacket this time around? What a shame, I always liked the same one you had last time better. Ah, not that you'd remember, though, which is pretty unfortunate.'

'Hmm, that silly line again? Come on, we should be far past that point by now. You didn't mind me calling you Shuuya last week, or last time either! In fact, I'm pretty sure you even liked it.'

And then there were the other days, where there would be sour words and disgusting tears on his part. Right, the days where he would feel particularly awful about the weight of his lies and his monstrous powers, and the snake would ramble, always paired with a sneer, about how "similar" they were, as monsters, just waiting to be rejected by everyone else.

Without even noticing, he closed his eyes and let his thoughts and memories flood him.

'Y'know, we'd work so well together, deceiver. If everyone else is just going to outcast us, the least we could do is be there for each other, right? Maybe we could work together again? Ah, especially since we've been such good partners in the past.'

Moments like those only served to make him feel even more hopeless and totally stupid, as he basically stared a supposedly easy choice right in the eyes, but made no real move to either accept or deny it.

'Aw, don't be that way, Shuuya. There's no reason for me to really mind if you're a monster as you say, anyway. It's just that kind of thing that happens to make us so alike, you know.'

...It was probably just curiosity, right? Right. 

He thought back to all those strange moments that had happened, and even what the snake had said just hours before, and he reassured himself that he was just curious on what the snake meant, and what his motives were.

If it wasn't fear, then that was the only reasonable explanation.

Eventually, as various memories from the highschool continued to play out before him, like a movie being replayed for the tenth time, reality began to slip from his grasp, until it faded altogether behind closed eyelids.

...

"Ah, Kano, why are you so god damn stupid?"

It was so like him to be this careless, and now he was paying the price for it, ending up here again. If she weren't standing here in front of him right now, he would be giving himself a hard slap on the face.

"Eheh, brighten up, Shuuya, you always act like being here is a bad thing!" a figure, although it was really just a blurred memory, stood before him. "Or do you just not want to see me again?"

She was playing an innocent and clueless facade again this time, it seemed. By now, he was almost confident that he'd seen all of her masks, ranging from aloof to downright manipulative. It sure reminded him of something.

"Oh right, I just remembered, I've got plenty of plans for us, today!" she said, hastily grabbing his hand, as if she was eager to start another one of her secret missions back from the days in the Tateyama household.

"Ah, but, don't we need... Tsubomi and Kousuke here, too?" he said those words out of self-preservation, hoping that it could buy him enough time to just wake the hell up already, yet he regretted them almost immediately.

The girl's brown eyes lit up with wonder, and he could basically hear the gears of calculations and ideas running through her head. It would've been something like a nice nostalgic sight, if he weren't basically shaking where he stood. Whatever she could think up here would surely only cause dread.

"Oh, you're right, Shuuya! Actually, come to think of it, maybe I should just go carry out my plans wirh them instead, for once, since you're apparently bored of your big sister already...." the brunette's words grew disappointed at the end, though the corners of her lips quirked upwards in interest.

"Wait, no, that's not what I meant!" the sound of his heartbeat was sounding and echoing back to him a thousand fold as he held up his hands. "H-How about this, we can do whatever you want together today instead!"

If she actually agreed, he knew he'd be in deep trouble not much later.

"Aw, but it's such a great idea! Why, do you have anything else in mind, Shuuya?"

"I-" he could pretty much feel her eyes boring into him as he stuttered, a cold feeling taking over his body.

"Aw, come on, Shuuya, do I have to come up with something completely by myself?" the girl whined, before strutting towards him. The red of her scarf trailed behind her.

Red, the color of danger.

"No, I- uh," his mind basically stopped and gave up on him as both her hands came up and squeezed, no- crushed his own.

Yeah, he was totally dead meat now.

"Shuuya...." suddenly, all emotions were wiped from the girl's face and voice as her eyes dulled.

...

"It's time to wake up."

"H-Huh? Nee-"

"Wake up already."

"I-"

"Shuuya," a voice jolted him out of the dream and back into the real world. "I don't think the others would appreciate it if I used excessive force on you so early in the morning, you know."

On instinct, mostly from experiences with both Kido and the snake, he flinched, and he could basically feel the other rolling his eyes, though he couldn't see him.

Opening his eyes, Kano saw that he had his vision obscured by dark hair covering his face. Grunting, he brushed it away, and immediately took notice of how he had been shifted (Or did he get here on his own? No, he'd definitely been moved) so he was laying against the snake, who had an arm slung across his shoulder and over his chest.

Nearly blinding light was already filling and illuminating the room through the window.

"Mm..?" the blond incoherently responded as he rubbed his eyes.

"Ah, I knew you weren't dead yet," already sounding mildly annoyed, the dark-haired replied. "For the fifth time already, Shuuya, it's time to wake up. Momo said that everyone else is going to be coming back soon and that we should probably get up. She already made breakfast."

"Momo..? You mean Kido?" he wriggled against the other's grasp as he ran a hand through his hair, wincing as his fingers caught on and tugged at knots and tangles.

"Eh, same thing" the snake replied carelessly, detatching his arm from around him and sitting up. "Now come on, she's probably going to get mad that you've kept her waiting."

"Huh, she never really gets mad when it's this early, as long as I'm not still outside," Kano struggled to keep his eyes open as he stood and fumbled tiredly around for a comb in front of the mirror.

He couldn't help but wrinkle his nose as he, in his drowsy blindness, picked up one of Mary's unholy doujinshis, sitting among a group of knocked over spray paint cans. No doubt the snake had just tossed it onto his desk after he'd finished reading it.

"She must be angry with you a lot then, and for good reason," the snake nonchalantly stated. "Because from what I've seen, you're out until morning almost all of the time."

Finally, after a few more seconds of bleary-eyed searching, he found what he was looking for, and began yanking through the tangles in his hair and erasing the bags under his eyes. As the blemishes on his form faded, he could catch the taller narrowing his eyes from his reflection in the mirror.

"...Huh. From what you've seen, you say?" Kano quickly questioned with a grin, avoiding the snake's gaze as he picked at a few last clumps of messy hair. "What the hell is that even supposed to mean?"

There was an unusual pause from the snake, leaving room for uncomfortable silence as the liar waited for an answer.

Seconds continued to tick by without a word, and it felt like it was long past the time he'd fixed his hair.

By now, he was really starting to question if he actually wanted to know the answer, especially if it was one from the snake, no less.

...

A considerable amount of time had passed with the other's reflection staring contemplatively into the mirror, and the blond could do little more than shift on his feet as he felt more and more exposed in the silence by the second.

He was just about to speak up again when the taller had supposedly made a decision, and his crimson eyes finally darted away from his gaze.

"You don't need to know," despite the snake's carelessly thrown out response, the original atmosphere of the room was beyond the point of being salvageable. "Let's just go, it would be rude to leave everyone else waiting, right?"

Deciding that questioning probably wouldn't be the best course of action, the liar just nodded, slamming the comb just a little too harshly back onto a free spot on the desk.

The implications of the other's words alone were enough for him to stay silent as they both exited the room. 

- - -

The door burst open from beside him.

"Guess who's back!" a cheerful voice shouted from outside.

"Momo, please just get out of the way already...." another, much less energized one sighed.

Breakfast was a rather amusing sight for once, as the captivator strutted into the room, loudly announcing her arrival with her brother, Hibiya, and Konoha all trailing behind her with a mix of expressions. Shintaro, in particular, appeared rather worn as he stumbled into the apartment drenched in sweat, muttering something about praising the existence of air conditioners.

"About time," Seto said jokingly. "We were just about to start eating without you!"

A small scoff could be heard from the deceiver as Saeru sat himself next to him, but he only gave a smirk in response as everyone settled into their basic routine. He could see how the liar slipped on his mask, preparing to humor and deceive them all.

What a stupid procedure, predictable as always.

Putting that aside, he, too, tried his best to engage in some kind of "normal" interaction with one of the others.

Though it wasn't his forte, conversing with just about anyone other than Shuuya proved to be at least relatively easy. Apparently it was something that he would have to work on, sometime later.

To the snake's relief, through the entire duration of the morning, not a single odd glance was directed to him or the deceiver. Instead, everyone busied themselves with casually chatting about other trivial topics, which he couldn't help but feel somewhat grateful for.

He didn't need any confusion or suspicions about yesterday to be raised, though he was confident that it was only a matter of time before someone pointed their sudden change of positions out.

Then, suddenly, after everyone had finally finished eating, Mary, hardly uttering a word, grabbed Shuuya's arm and proceeded to drag him to her room. A few others, like Shintaro and Momo, looked at the two with both confusion and amusement as the boy was pulled away.

The whole way, he attempted, and failed, to plant his feet on the ground, throwing excuse after excuse at the girl. 

"Mary, you know, I'm pretty sure I was supposed to do something today!" the blond tried. "Right, uh, the dishes!"

"Wrong," Kido said back. "That's my job today, Kano. You have dish duty tomorrow."

Then, looking off to the side, she added with a mutter, probably loud enough for everyone to hear. "If you don't skip them again, that is."

"Pfft, well," the blond pulled himself away from Mary as he gave a nervous grin. "If I just do them today, then you won't have to worry about me 'skipping' them tomorrow, right?"

The glare Kido sent back seemed to quiet the other almost instantaneously, and Mary simply gave a light smile as she spoke up. "Don't worry, this is only going to take a little bit, Kano.... I just think you'd be interested in what I have for you!"

The snake couldn't help but snort as, now everyone in the room, watched the strange scene with interest. Nobody even bothered to make a move to stop the girl, until the panicked liar disappeared into the her room.

Saeru had to trust, though he could really only hope, that the deceiver's nosiness this time around wouldn't get him into any trouble here. Knowing him, though, he would almost certainly cause some kind of predicament for himself.

"Wait," Kido started suddenly, narrowing her eyes at where her brother once was. "Wasn't Kano supposed to take out the trash today?"

Actually, judging by the girl's dangerous tone, it was questionable if Shuuya would even live long enough for anything to go wrong.

- - -

By now he had completely given up on acting coy, and was now just seated with a blank, probably also dead-looking expression on his face as book after book continued to surround him, as if they were forming some ritual doom circle with him as a sacrifice, or something along those insane lines. From the absolute hell of a week he'd been having, experiencing that kind of thing happening to him would honestly be one of the least shocking things he'd gone through as of recent.

Seriously though, at this point, Kano really couldn't help but question if he actually wanted to know why Mary was going through all the trouble to give these to him and Saeru. Surely if she was being this insistent for this kind of thing, it couldn't be for a good reason... at all.

"O-Oh, and this one is, um," Mary began again, yanking one of the cursed objects out of a shelf. "Ah, this copy's a tiny bit worn, but it should be fine.... Oh, also, it has some, um...."

"Alright, alright," Kano swiftly dismissed, acting unaffected. "In the end, another book is just another book and all that, but, uh, why?"

"Huh?" the albino tilted her head at the question. "Why?"

"Why exactly are you giving these to me?" he asked. "...And, uh, Saeru, too."

"I told you... I just thought you'd like them," Mary muttered as she set her findings down by him, stubbornly puffing out her cheeks.

By now, it was an excuse he'd heard way too many times, and, as a self-proclaimed master of lies, he really couldn't help but be curious for the truth.

"Ah, come on, don't be that way," idly, the blond rubbed the back of his neck as he sighed. "I'm supposed to be the one doing all the lying here, and that obviously isn't the only reason why. Come on, just tell me the truth!"

The girl quieted, which he decided meant she was either contemplating her answer, or was just keen on not answering altogether. Either way, he wouldn't get anywhere if he didn't keep searching.

"Y'know, I bet you told him why, right?" he tried, and was pleased when the girl's red eyes widened a fraction. It was all he needed to keep going.

"Well, it's just... ah...." Mary clumsily fumbled for words as she tried, and failed, to piece something together that was even vaguely close to a coherent sentence.

"What? Is it something between only the two of you?" ideas were starting to form in his head now as he continued to dig for answers. "Something I can't know about, perhaps? Ah, like a secret that you're not letting me in on? That's no fun...."

As he continued to press, Mary's eyes began to dart around the room. Maybe it would've been wise to just let everything go right then and there, but of course, out of his own naivety, he only persisted.

And he decided to pull his last resort.

"...Would it happen to have anything to do with some version of me from 'another time' or something weird like that?"

Ah, that was it, he was sure of it now.

The quarter-medusa jolted and froze in place from where she stood, and the liar couldn't help but feel somewhat proud of the satisfaction that came with seeing it. Her body language was basically screaming at him that he was on the right track.

Still, though, he couldn't help but feel somewhat disappointed with the answer.

It was honestly by far one of the last possibilities that he had hoped would explain the snake's motives, but, he decided bitterly, it is what it is.

There was just something, something that was probably important, that he hadn't quite figured out when it came to this whole "resetting" and "loop" mess that the snake always talked about. His understandings of it were just so frustratingly limited, and he felt that no matter how much be tried to wrap his head around it, he could never really comprehend it. The entire deal and concept of it all left him lost and confused with what to make of it, and it was almost a wonder how he could hate something he knew so little about so much.

The endless questions and theories he had building up in his head stayed eternally unanswered, so all of its important parts sat mere inches from his fingertips, taunting him, so he couldn't figure out anything more about it on his own.

He truly thought that his knowledge of the timelines were forever going to stay as simple as "when he finally kills us, Mary will turn time back."

But, ah, the answers could probably be found here, now that the opportunity was showing itself. After all, it was the "queen" who controlled the timelines, right?

He just had to kill two birds with one stone.

"Of course, that idea's a bit silly, maybe, I know, but it was just an idea," playing it off as idle thinking, the liar once again tried prompting Mary into speaking, knowing that she wouldn't exactly tell him anything on her own. (Knowing her, they could probably sit here for hours without her saying a thing to him.)

As the girl continued to fidget in place, Kano, despite himself, couldn't help but let an intrigued sneer spread across his face.

Of course. It was all so stupidly obvious to him now that of course the "queen" or whatever would know about all the loops and what happened in them. Why hadn't he ever asked her about it before?

As the blond continued to ponder, he swore he could hear the rusty gears grinding in his own head.

Ah, maybe it was because he was too scared to know about the truth back then, or maybe he had decided that it wasn't relevant to him. Well, of course it had to be relevant, since.... But, still, if he just ignored it didn't let its existence affect him, then it wouldn't have much of an impact on his "normal" life.

...But now he could see, ever so clearly, that there was something in the midst of all those "loops" that, though it didn't really matter to him right now, obviously mattered a lot to Mary and the snake.

...And it had to do with him, didn't it?

His sneer only grew as the dots connected and clicked together his mind. Surely this would be the answer that he'd been searching for, for about two years now. This, right here, would be what would explain the snake's strange words, and even stranger behavior, right?

Man, is this what it feels like to be Shintaro? Lucky bastard.

From the growing agitation appearing in Mary's red eyes, the blond knew in the very back of his mind that maybe, just maybe he should've turned back and given up his search, staying blissfully unaware of anything, but no. By now, he was confident that he was in too deep to back down. His chance was now.

And besides, when was he ever smart enough to know when to stop in the first place?

"Come on, don't leave me hanging!" Kano said to the girl, spreading his arms wide in what could've been seen as a welcoming action. "It's rude to not answer people when they ask you questions, y'know."

"I... I shouldn't say," Mary finally responded, and as she did, she looked off to the side, then back at him. The contemplative look on her face was a warning to him, but again, he ignored it.

"But Maaaaary," he whined, though the smarter part of him was basically laughing aloud now, fully aware that he was pushing his luck now. "Now I need to know! What are you two hiding from me?"

"Kano, you wouldn't want to...."

That meant she was caving in, right?

"Ah, but I'm really curious now! Just tell me, I can take it! Th- eh, Saeru's already told me enough about the whole timeline deal, I just need to know what happened!"

He just needed to get a little closer to the answer....

"I'm sorry, Kano!" Mary raised her voice as she finally locked eyes with him "But I can't tell you!"

Shit.

Quickly, the liar tried to break eye contact with the quarter-medusa, but it was already too late. Pupils dilated and irises flashed bright red at him, and before he could even think, a cold feeling went over him as his limbs were set in place.

His eyes were locked. He was unable to move.

A still, shocked silence took place of whatever he was going to say next.

Honestly, he really should've seen this kind of thing coming, getting so close to the answer only to be yanked away from it at the last second. It was just how this world worked, after all. If he had the ability to, he would've sighed and rolled his eyes, just like the snake does.

"O-Oh no!" the albino's hands rose up to her mouth as her voice rapidly rose in pitch. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry! I didn't mean to that time, Kano! I can... I'll get Saeru!"

Gee, it would really help if he could speak right about now. Maybe, if he was lucky for once, Kido would offer to throw him in the dumpster again, so he could contemplate his failure, then give himself a well-deserved scolding.

- - -

The snake sighed and rolled his eyes.

As he entered the room, he dismissed apology after apology that came from the panicked queen. He could pretty much feel the eyes of some of the others as they peered curiously at him and the girl.

Shuuya, wide-eyed and leaned forward in what seemed like anticipation sat, perfectly still and frozen, on the ground in front of the door, with books circling him in such a way that the snake couldn't help but arch a brow.

Approaching the smaller, he couldn't help but grin in a mix of amusement and smugness. The pleasant feeling of being right really seemed to pay off, after so many timelines of carefully observing the deceiver's habits.

"It was bound to happen to him, I'm sure," he said, flicking the forehead of the petrified boy before him experimentally. "If I may ask, what exactly did he say to you to cause this?"

"Nothing, nothing, really!" hurriedly, the queen waved her hands out in front of her. "He just asked me some... things about, ah...."

"...I see," he stated. "Well, I suppose I'm going to have to take him back, for now. We wouldn't want him unfreezing and escaping, right?"

"Right...." the girl's eyes were directed at the ground now, as if she was scared that if she so much as glanced at anyone, they would immediately freeze like Shuuya had, regardless of her eyes. "I'm sorr-"

"Ah, don't be so ridiculous, Your Majesty," the snake narrowed his eyes down at Mary as he attempted to find a suitable way to carry the deceiver. "I already said it's fine, didn't I?"

Slowly but hesitantly, she nodded. "...Yeah."

She looked at him as if she wished to say more, but made no attempt to do so as she stood, tangling her fingers together nervously.

The snake silently offered her another moment, but quickly saw that there was no point as she focused her attention back on the floor, biting her lip.

If she didn't want to say anything about it, so be it. It was just less trouble for him to deal with later, anyway.

Nonchalantly, the dark-haired scooped up the liar's frozen form by the waist, and made his leave.

At this rate, he was slowly becoming sure that this particular timeline would feel the longest out of them all.

...

Patiently, sitting with a leg crossed over the other on the edge of the bed, the snake waited for the effects of the queen's eyes to wear off.

In the meantime, he poked and prodded the deceiver's cold face, both out of boredom and fascination, impressed by how the girl was capable of completely petrifying another, and even the state of their eyes, even if it was just for a short while.

Maybe if it weren't for his own ability, she would've been able to use the power to her advantage in times of need.

...Actually, no, she'd probably be too petrified herself to actually remember to use it. She rarely really used that power on her own, even if it was needed for self defense.

Kind of like a complete contrast to how Shuuya exercised his ability.

Now that he thought about it, looking at how he used his own power, Saeru was somewhat surprised to realize that it wasn't exactly used... often. Of course, he needed it to take control of his vessels and all that, but as for clearing eye abilities, he never found a lot of use for such a thing.

Sure, on extremely rare occassions it was helpful for rendering the concealer basically useless, or blocking out the thief's power, but other than for small moments like those, he didn't put it to much use.

Maybe it was because he never really needed it all that much. When the focuser or the captivator used their powers, they never really caused any trouble for him, and in a few select timelines it even did the exact opposite. As he imagined before, the queen would probably never dare to even try using her locking eyes on him, and using awakening eyes' power only ever proved to be helpful. Along with that, he could always just use pain to cancel out Shuuya's power, and since the thief was so intent on not using his ability and he was hardly ever hindered by the concealer's, there really was no real reason to bother with his eyes.

How ironic that the most useful ability he could possibly have was one that he almost never had a use for.

Wait, right, but there was still the exception of those uncommon times when-

"Ow, ow- would you stop-" Shuuya complained as he finally regained control over his body. "I'm not frozen anymore!"

Ah, yes, the rare occasions where it was necessary to use it on him.

The boy continued to whine as he stubbornly swatted the snake's hand away. In response, the dark-haired couldn't help but sneer, wiping all traces of boredom clear off his face.

"Ah, you know, I think I liked you better when you couldn't talk back," he muttered jokingly, keeping his finger pressed into the other's cheek, frustrating him only further.

"Well, of course you would," the blond spoke under his breath, pulling the snake's arm down by the wrist. "Since I'm so 'troublesome', after all."

"Come on, you don't have to be that way, Shuuya," Saeru reassured with a smirk. "Besides, it's your little... phases that end up making the day interesting sometimes."

The boy sputtered. "Phases? What's that supposed to mean?"

"You know, when you start acting up for ridiculous reasons?"

"I have no idea what you're talking about," Shuuya shrugged innocently as he looked away from the snake.

"Take for example, hm... ah, like that time you threatened to kill me?" the snake, despite his minimal attempts, couldn't stop the grin from spreading on his face as the blond stilled, as if he had been frozen once again. "Of course, it's not like you could ever really manage that, but it was still rather amusing. I daresay it made my day."

"That... I... uh," while he struggled for words, the blond's eyes frantically searched the room, as if he was trying to find a good way to escape out of the conversation.

"KANO!" a voice boomed from the hallway, causing the smaller to startle. Saeru was able to quickly identify is as Kido's.

Right, didn't she say something about...?

"Y-Yeah?" Shuuya hesitantly called back.

"Take out the damn trash already," the girl responded grumpily. "You were supposed to do it literal days ago and I even told Ene to remind you this morning!"

"Sorry, sorry, I'll go take care of that!" quickly, the liar stood up and left, not looking back.

The snake tilted his head with curiosity as the sound of boots hitting the wooden floor slowly faded.

...Ah, perhaps mentioning all of that wasn't the best idea, considering the goals he wanted to achieve.

He would have to make sure to keep that in mind for later.

...

Saeru had almost gone the entire day without being questioned about yesterday. Almost.

He'd been hoping that everyone would be too distracted either by their friends' arrivals or the event with Mary earlier to actually notice that anything was off, but appeared he just wouldn't be so lucky this time.

Momo was the one to mention it first, during dinner. The snake probably should've seen it coming, as he and Shuuya had last argued right before her eyes, only days before.

"Y'know," she started suddenly with her mouth full. "Saeru and Kano haven't acted up all day!"

"Shocking, right?" Shintaro scoffed. "Ene and Hibiya were literally placing bets on them starting a food fight today."

"H-Hey, wait a second!" the brown-haired boy started, temporarily abandoning his food to shoot the teen a look. "Don't tell them that!"

"Are you kidding?" the virus pouted from the TV screen. "I would never do something like that, Master! In fact, that was actually all you!"

"What? Why are you trying to frame me for this?" Shintaro hurriedly said. "You can't be serious!"

"Anyways, Momo does have a point," Ene changed the subject as she squinted her eyes, feigning suspicion. "One day Saeru and Fox Eyes are perfectly fine, then they're all shouting and glares, then suddenly it's like nothing ever happened!"

"What even happened while we were out?" Hibiya raised an eyebrow as he eyed the snake.

There it was again, that nosy bore of a question.

"Oh, nothing much," Saeru attempted to brush the whole deal off, though he was aware that the others wouldn't give up so easily.

They were always so stubbornly protective of each other, regardless of whether or not they were looking death in the face.

"Yeah right," Shintaro replied, his dark, calculating eyes searching him. "Kano's not the kind of person who would completely stop hating someone in just one day for no reason."

"And how would you know that, Shintaro-kun?" Shuuya, thinking on his feet as always, taunted the raven, resulting in him scowling and backing right down. "I stopped not-liking you pretty quick, right?"

"Er, well, anyway, if Kano and Saeru don't want to tell us then it's fine," Seto covered, with a face that basically pleaded 'please don't start another fight here, guys' to the two of them. "All that matters is that things are fine between them now."

"Hopefully," Kido and Shintaro both muttered, then exchanged looks.

And apparently, that was how the exchange was meant to end, with only a couple confused looks still coming from the other members. The snake couldn't help but sigh.

If he really had to work around the others' careful eyes to make things go his way, so be it.

Though their ignorance on his and Shuuya's pasts worked well against him, raising eyebrows and suspicions, there were also ways it could be used to his advantage.

From what he could see, the only real obstacles in his way were that all-too mistrustful Shintaro and possibly that prying Ene, if he let her get too confident. And even then, he could probably just throw them off without even batting an eye or considering another forced reset.

If he just played his cards right, this waste of a timeline might actually end up being more useful than he would've initially thought.

- - -

No matter how much Kano squirmed and protested, the snake wouldn't let go of him.

Though he would never actually admit it out loud, and would never usually admit it to himself, he didn't completely despise his apparent role as a human pillow. (Eh, after all, he had to be useful for something, right?

But, even so, he was fully aware that it probably wasn't a good idea to encourage the snake any further on this... whole ordeal. God knows what would happen if he let his stupid self get too comfortable, especially considering that his doom was only weeks away.

Keeping the thought close in mind, he turned his head to look at the other. Once again, the crimson eyes that he had once come to hate looked at him with curiosity.

"What do you need, Shuuya?" the snake seemed to be analyzing his very soul like always as he spoke, only making him more determined to escape the other's grip.

"You know, it would be pretty nice if you could let me go," the liar considered being straightforward at first, but almost immediately abandoned it for more excuses and taunts. "I get claustrophobic since you're always holding too tight! Not to mention it's way too hot for that! It's the middle of summer, y'know!"

"And if that's how it is, then why didn't you mention it before?" the other countered. "On the contrary, I think you're lying to me and you actually don't mind any of this. I can provide proof from other times, if you want."

His eyes thankfully hid the ridiculous shade of red that was probably covering his face right about now, and he instead settled for just looking off to the side, allowing annoyance to show.

"I'll pass," he muttered, and as he turned back he swore that the other had started grinning, as if he'd just seen something particularly hilarious.

"Are you sure, Shuuya? Ah, and they're such fond memories that I have, too," as if to prove a point, the other used his arms to bring him closer.

"Sounds pretty creepy if you ask me," the aggression that he would usually hide had somehow manage to seep out, so his words were spat out at the other, much to his quick regret.

"To you, maybe," probably still with a sneer, the snake rested his face on his shoulder. "But the knowledge proves to be useful more often than you'd think."

Seeing that their conversation was, once again, going nowhere (since when did talking to the snake ever mean anything "good"?) the blond promptly closed his eyes and settled for ignoring the other.

At some point, without him really noticing, the snake's hold lulled him to sleep.

- - -

If the small struggle that Shuuya had given him earlier was bothersome, it came nothing close to what it seemed he had to deal with every night now.

Saeru couldn't help but find himself curious for what caused this. What alteration in this time was responsible for the blond's constant shifting and turning in his sleep. That, and the tight grips he latched onto the pillows, or his clothes, or even the snake's clothes, as if that was the only thing that could ground him to this world.

It didn't exactly help that there probably wasn't much he could do about it, either. Chances are he'd probably just, instead, be left to deal with this minor inconvenience until the timeline came to its close, since the other would surely find some way to lie his way out of answering, regardless of whether or not he had control over his eyes.

Honestly, it was pretty unfortunate.

He'd somewhat accepted it a while ago, that this was just Shuuya's nature. He was simply too much of a liar for his own good, and that would never change unless it was forced upon him.

If that was just the end of it, dealing with the liar could've been simple and the snake probably would've been able to unlock all the secrets and hidden truths about him by now. But no, much to his misfortune, stubbornness also had to be one of Shuuya's biggest traits.

If honesty was forced out of him too much, he'd only wrap himself tighter in his lies, until even taking his eyes away wouldn't allow the snake to find him. (An especially tragic timeline had taught him that.)

Instead, he had to work around all of the other's cunning schemes and means of self defense if he wanted to gain actual trust.

That always ended up being a more... lengthy part of the process, but it was just as important nonetheless, almost as important as killing was to the loop.

Ah, kind of like what Mary had said about "taking care" of Shuuya.

...Aside from the whole part about not killing him, that is.

As the snake thought about it, he couldn't help but sneer and see it as anything but naive, how the queen was so dead set on believing that he would end this wonderful game for such an expendable, though useful, pawn.

This entire predicament with the deceiver was just a side show for the main act, an extra bit of entertainment that he could squeeze out of the loop if he felt like making the effort. He wouldn't just let himself die for such a trivial human act, and that's where the queen's supposed "understandings" ended.

Hell, he probably would've just gone through this timeline the normal way and let the last loop be left to be forgotten if a certain liar hadn't forced quite the promise upon him.

Why did he even bother agreeing to it, anyway?

Hm, maybe he was just too nice for his own good or something like that. It sure seemed like a possibility, since it was still a wonder to even himself why he'd accepted in the first place.

Or maybe it had more to do with his basic "purpose" for existing, instead.

Even if Shuuya's dying request had been something that could only be described as foolish wishing from a naive soul, well, granting wishes was just his kind of thing.

Yes, that seemed to make more sense.

And for that, and that alone, he would tolerate the difficulties, the stubbornness, and the troubles of this more bothered Shuuya.

Ah, but what if something went wrong this time, even after so many runs of success?

Well... this timeline was already coming so close to its closing, anyway.

And it wasn't like he had to keep his promises word for word, anyway...

Oh, and as for Mary's words? Ah, they never really altered his plans in the past, so why should they now? She wasn't cunning enough to trick anyone with her foolish ideas, especially him.

No matter how many times she tries to use the circumstances to her advantage, no matter how many times she tries to tell him that Shuuya doesn't want this, that he doesn't want this, these children are still going to die.

Besides, what good would it do for him to take out the most fun part of the game?

Sacrificing a little progress with the deceiver wasn't that hefty of a price, the snake reassured himself.

25 days left.

Chapter Text

Another, more uneventful morning passed after an even more bland night rushed by. Before Saeru knew it, he was lazily seated in the living room next to Shintaro, wondering what would occupy his time today. By now, he'd mostly settled into the routine of what was apparently a "normal" day to the children (which mostly consisted of the same, meaningless chatter and repeating the same activities from before), but he couldn't help but feel a little restless from the lack of action surrounding their lives. 

As it turned out, most of that only occurred when they were either receiving their abilities, interfering with terrorist attacks, or being killed off.

Sure, he was definitely one to appreciate consistency, but when those repeating actions held little to no lasting entertainment or variation (like tormenting the deceiver or even Ene), he was left completely bored, just like how he was now, laying around, wasting time and just waiting for when something different would occur.

Perhaps he could try tormenting the jersey-wearing teen next to him, but knowing how irritable and boring the other was, and seeing how insistent he was on scrolling through his phone instead of interacting with the others, he knew that that decision would only lead to disappointment. Besides, with how unpredictable he could be with his power sometimes, the risky potential for trouble was just too bothersome for him to even bother with.

Just for now, it would probably be best to avoid him.

Ah, if he'd previously known what living in this apartment (or living "normally" in general) would be like, he would've waited to join later, just so that he could kill everyone here faster. Oh well. Maybe that knowledge would at least be useful for another time.

For now, he just had to hope that impatience wouldn't overtake him before the deadline was even met.

And that, once again, was what he did, for what felt like hours, though he was perfectly aware that it was only several minutes.

Just when he felt like he was done sitting around, already considering the endless ways he could torment and bother the queen, or maybe Shuuya, or even Shintaro, two voices sounded by the door. 

"And where do you think you're going?" looking back behind him, he could see Kido standing in front of the door, blocking Shuuya's way. 

"Just out for a walk," the boy shrugged with a laugh. "I'll be back by dinner, don't worry!"

Ah, that line again.

With an innocent-enough look on his face, Shuuya reached for the doorknob, only to be stopped when Kido quickly smacked his hand away, earning a small "oww" from him.

"I'll have you know that I haven't forgotten what happened last time you said that," she grumbled. "Not to mention what happened last time you went outside on your own in general."

"But Kidooooo," he whined, trying to push his way past her again. "There's nothing to do here!" 

The blond was met with a swift kick to the ankles, causing him to stumble with a surprised yelp.

"Nothing to do here my ass," Kido muttered. "Just stay at home. It's basically a thousand degrees outside there, anyway."

"But I-" 

"No buts," she snapped. "Just-" 

Finally, Saeru decided to step in. "If it's too much of a risk to let Shuuya go out on his own, I can just accompany him." 

Instantly, the other opened his mouth to protest, but when he saw the questioning look Kido gave him, with an eyebrow raised, he nodded, seemingly defeated.

Perfect.

Grinning with satisfaction, the snake stood up to join the two siblings by the door. As Kido shuffled away from the entrance, he caught Shuuya gazing up at him, a tired look in his eyes.

Eager to leave, he turned to thank Kido, only to see that she'd already slipped away from the conversation, without him noticing. 

"Well then," he said, still staring at the spot where she once stood. "Shall we?" 

That tight, warning-like grin was on Shuuya's face as he nodded at him again, shoving his hands into his pockets. For now, Saeru decided to ignore the clear sign from the other, and opened the door, feeling the heat of the sun radiating into the room. Behind them, Shintaro, who was still seated on the couch, let out a sound of annoyance.

"It's too damn hot out there," he called behind him. "Close the door before it starts burning in here."

The snake was about to retort when he finally took notice of the ear buds he wore, which he had somehow managed to fail seeing before. So even if he had tried talking to him it would've been pointless, huh? Perhaps it was for the best.

Beside him, he gestured to Shuuya, who just huffed and walked out the apartment, not bothering to even spare a glance at him. 

When Saeru shut the door behind them, he immediately took notice of the almost-blinding light of the sun and the familiar sound of alert cicadas.

Shuuya groaned as he shielded his eyes. From how he looked now, already beginning to sweat, the snake questioned how long it would be before he simply melted, or even burst into flames.

Quickly recovering, the blond hurried away from the apartment and towards the town. Anticipation accompanied his steps as he trudged ahead, through the streets.

It didn't even take a second of thought or hesitation before he began following after him, taking a brief note of some of the odd looks they were given from other, more insignificant humans. He wasn't exactly surprised, as they were both dressed in equally unfitting wear for the middle of the summer. The temperature, of course, wasn't much of a bother to the snake, thanks to his artificial body, but it was clear that the story for Shuuya was different.

Apparently, he'd decided that going outside wearing long sleeves, jeans, his jacket, and, hell, even dark boots in the midst of the blazing summer heat was a good idea.

Clearly, though, he was suffering the consequences for it now, as each step he took was joined with breathless pant, and every few feet he travelled was marked by a hand reaching up to wipe his forehead. If the other weren't so compelled to avoid him, maybe the snake would've offered to carry him.

Sadly though, that would have to wait for another time.

Eventually, the stroll led him and Shuuya to an old bench, seated under a dying tree that provided just enough shade for it to be tolerable to sit on. Without being severely burned, that is.

Next to him, Shuuya basically collapsed into the seat, throwing an arm over his face and gulping in heavy breaths as the sun's summer heat continued to beat down on him.

He looked almost as worn as the bench they were seated on. Looking at him now, it definitely seemed likely that he was, at some point, going to collapse.

Obviously, if the snake weren't here, the other would probably be wandering, causing trouble, managing to get hurt, or visiting other locations of particular value. Not sitting here, probably contemplating what the hell to do with a future murderer following him around.

Already, Saeru was remembering the steep downhill road that was the day before, and decided that he might as well make some attempt to initiate an actual, decent conversation.

Ah, but what exactly do people talk about in situations like these?

...

"Nice weather we're having, eh, Shuuya?"

After a few seconds of nothing passed, the snake spared a quick glance to see a sweat drenched deceiver burying his face in his hands, basically deflating before his eyes.

Ah, not again.

This time, though, as their conversation once again fell flat before it could even really begin, the fretful buzzing of insects consumed the usual silence, keeping him company.

He wasn't sure whether to appreciate it or be annoyed by it. At least there was something to compensate for the emptiness this time around, but it wouldn't exactly have been necessary in the first place if Shuuya actually tried working out some form of normalcy with him, would it?

Nevermind. The cicadas were definitely irking him now. Damn bugs were too noisy anyway.

"Come on, at least I'm trying to get something meaningful out of this," Saeru sighed, but continued to wait anyway, tapping a finger on his leg with growing impatience.

Another set of seconds flew by as the other eyed him with exhaustion, like he was contemplating just giving up and jumping straight into the ocean, swimming out to the farthest point on the earth from him, effectively cutting the amount of problems he'd have to deal with in half. The thought was an amusing one, yet the snake felt somewhat frustrated with it nonetheless.

Finally, though, after more precious time had flown and faded away, the blond supposedly collected his thoughts, let out a long, exaggerated breath, and promptly stood up, still eyeing him warily through red eyes.

Just for a moment, the cicadas stilled in anticipation as the snake tilted his head.

"It's way too hot out here," Shuuya groaned, wiping once again at the sweat gathering on his forehead.

There we go.

"Well, you did choose to wear long sleeves, after all," the snake pointed out, eyeing the tan shirt that the other wore. "...And a jacket."

"I'll have you know that it holds a little of something that we call 'sentimental value'," the liar replied with new confidence, a dark sneer playing daringly on his face. "Something that I'm sure you'd know plenty about."

"Y-"

"Still though," Shuuya fanned at his face with his hand as he brushed him off. "I'm pretty sure I'm gonna die out here. Heh, I guess Kido was right."

"Then let's go back," Saeru murmured as he stood, choosing to simply ignore the other's insult.

"You can go back," Shuuya managed a grin as he muttered under his breath, rolling his eyes when the insistent buzzing of insects resumed. "I have other things to do, and I'm sure you have your own plans, right?"

"I'm sure you already know that I'm not going to leave," he decided to grin back. "Besides, I'm already well aware that you'd rather attempt to spend your time trying to avoiding me."

The other grimaced with a small "maybe", before proceeding to make his way into a shaded alleyway, tucked between two tall buildings only several steps away. Neither of them bothered with any other words, as the snake joined him, following close behind. Ahead of him, Shuuya perfectly navigated the area, going through various turns and paths without a moment of hesitation.

It seemed that no matter how far they traveled, the bothering sound of insects wouldn't leave him.

Every single littered path, every single faded brick wall, and every single piece of molding, rotting waste all blended into one, vast, unwelcoming mess as the two of them continued, and the snake found himself growing more and more displeased by it by the second.

Of course, he continued following (for obvious reasons), but he still couldn't help but wonder just what kind of enjoyment the blond found in exploring these foul-smelling, trash ridden places. Really, what was so special about getting lost in these grimy, dark roads?

Perched on the walls they passed, eight crows looked down on him, staring at him with interest.

Finally, after some time and just a bit more walking, Saeru found himself face to face with a large, concrete wall. It was nothing different from the others, just another dead-end for someone to be cornered into.

He arched a brow at Shuuya, who was examining it contemplatively, like the space between the bricks held some kind of secret. Taking a closer look around, the snake noted that there was a respirator mask sitting on a closed dumpster, and a collection of various spray paint cans tucked away in the bricked corner, which Shuuya was approaching right now. 

"And what's that for?" Saeru asked, looking at them with a newfound curiosity. 

"Graffiti," the other responded simply with a blank face. "Kido said that I couldn't keep these in the house anymore after the time Konoha found them."

The snake let out a small "hm" in response, turning his attention back to the large wall spread out before him. Now that he thought about it, it was almost like a canvas, albeit a worn and dirty one that definitely didn't belong to either of them.

Wasn't there a thing that humans called "vandalism" or something of the sort? Ah, it probably wasn't that important.

Falling back into silence, the liar attached the mask to his face and took hold of one of the spray paint cans. A red one.

He approached the wall again and got to work, covering the space with random designs, drawings, and words. After only a few moments, the air started to smell strongly of paint, almost overpowering the stench of trash.

Through the sounds of Shuuya's work, the buzzing of cicadas cut restlessly through the air. Above them, the birds continued to examine them with interest.

The snake watched, mildly intrigued, at the display, but quickly took notice of Shuuya's relaxing expression. Strange, he almost looked... serene? Calm? It was something just short of those lines, as the boy's loosening mask also revealed the more bitter part of the person that he was, just barely seeping through the cracks in his deception, minimal yet all-too noticable.

Something about it only compelled him to speak up again. Whether it was to spite the liar again, to try and dig up more information about him, or to try again at engaging a conversation, he wasn't really sure.

"Is this the kind of thing you take enjoyment in during your spare time, Shuuya?" he asked, amused when the boy flinched, as if he'd forgotten he was standing right behind him. "I must say, for someone who hates being alone so much, it sure seems like you enjoy solitude."

Making the other tense further, he rested his head casually on the liar's right shoulder, giving an interested-enough sound of acknowledgment at the drying paint.

Almost instantly, like it was a defensive instinct, Shuuya's expression morphed into something unbothered and dismissive.

"Doing this just helps me clear my thoughts and relax, that's all," the careless tone in his voice which was usually used to strengthen his facade, only made the snake more eager to break through it. "It's... calming, I guess. It sure is interesting how you think I hate being alone, though."

There was a small, almost missable pause as the two of them stood almost completely still, before the deceiver quickly moved to cover up his tracks.

"After all, you're always here to, er, keep me company, right?"

The not-so subtle look of judgement in his eyes added an extra bite to the words, and Saeru was willing to bet that the boy was sporting a smirk, or maybe even a sneer, under the silicone mask he wore.

"Ah, it's just that you're always so insistent on staying around the people you care about, even when you're perfectly aware of their eventual departure," Saeru decided to trail on on, taking satisfaction from Shuuya's momentarily panicked expression as he wrapped his arms around him.

"No matter how clearly it has to be spelled to you that they can't stay forever, you just can't help but cling to whatever semblance or chance of a possibility exists that you can keep them by your side," he continued, almost lazily. "I, of all people, would know that best. After all, that's almost always what ends up bringing you to me."

The deceiver's expression hardened as he continued to stack colors on colors. "I feel like it's justified that I'd want to prevent my family from dying by any means possible. Not that you would understand that, of course."

The feathers of the dark birds on the wall began to ruffle as the sound of cicadas increased in volume.

The snake let out an exaggerated sigh, deciding to simply brush off the insult before one of them got hurt. He probably had to bring Shuuya back in one piece, after all. "And yet, even when all hopes are ripped away from under your feet, even when all chances of living and keeping them alive drop to a definite zero, you always stubbornly try to throw every little thing you have left in you to protect what might as well already be gone. Funny enough, that's actually why I usually end up killing you first."

Shuuya paused, then continued as if he'd heard nothing, though the snake could see how his hand wavered in place.

His silence only prompted him to continue.

"You know, there was this time where you were left, ah, I think second to last, and the ghost girl had just been shot."

The other's hand curled into a fist.

"You tried to cover her wound, and even had the nerve to cry and scream at her not to leave you, even when she was on her last breath. Even when I had a gun pointed against your head. You were so caught up on trying to save and keep lost causes in your company that you didn't even seem to care when I finally put you out of your misery. All you cared about as making sure that you'd never have to see another moment in your life where you'd be left alone, because you were too afraid to face it. Or better yet, when that girl with the red scarf-"

Suddenly, there was the sound of something clattering onto the ground as the blond's fist suddenly swung over to hit him in the face.

Around them, the cicadas finally silenced, though the birds stubbornly remained.

To the snake, the hit, itself, hardly felt like anything, which was either a product of his own resistance or the boy's weakness. Despite that, though, he couldn't help but be taken aback, just slightly, by the sheer amount of raw, unfiltered rage in Shuuya's eyes.

The snake quickly reached out a hand to snatch and restrain the other's by the wrist, causing the shorter to flinch back harshly, with fear briefly flashing on his face.

Saeru rolled his eyes as Shuuya took a small step back. "Relax, will you? I'm not killing you just yet-" 

Instantaneously, fury came back to replace fear, reappearing just as quickly as it had disappeared.

"God, what the hell do you want from me?!" Shuuya yelled out, tearing his arm back. "If I'm just gonna get killed by you, one way or another, then why are you still staying around? How come, only now, are you bothering to tell me anything, when it doesn't matter anymore?"

"Tch, I already told you why," he could feel irritation beginning to surface as amber eyes once again glared at him. "Have you already forgotten? I'm pretty sure it's only been a couple days since...."

"And how is telling me how I died supposed to help your cause?" Shuuya seethed. "I don't need to know how weak I was when I supposedly died. I don't need to know that we're all going to die again, or that Mary resets the world, or whatever else you have to say about all of that!"

"Look, how am I supposed to know what you need or want to know?" the snake said back. "Since you're not exactly open about what you want, I have to rely trial and error. If it's so hard for you to try and work this out, then at least try and pretend, since it's already what you do best."

The blond gave a low chuckle as he sneered, regaining composure. "If nobody else knows, there's no point in making another act, right? And even if you try to make me, it won't matter either, since I'm just gonna die."

Saeru scoffed. "If you really thought that, you would've tried to tell everyone everything by now."

Shuuya stilled and stared thoughtfully for a moment. The snake sneered at the sight.

"See? You know that if you tell them, they'll all be killed, because of how you're tied to their lives," he spoke. "It's exactly like what I said! You're too scared to accept that they're going to die, so you want to delay it as long as possible."

"...Actually, on the contrary," the boy paused in his words, tilting his head in a nearly innocent-looking way as he spoke. "I think that... it would be better if you killed us all sooner. At least if you did that, then the others wouldn't have to suffer knowing that they made the mistake of trusting you."

"Oh? Well, as interesting as that is, if I did that now, I'd be breaking quite a few promises. Besides, who are you to judge when your friends should die? You say that they're making the mistake by trusting me, yet here you are, making such claims and betting their lives like this."

Careless laughter bubbled up from Shuuya as he shakily shrugged. "Eheh, well, you know me, selfish as always."

"You humans just need to accept that your lives are only temporary. Just come to terms with the fact that you and everyone else have to die at the end of the story, and that's it. Nothing else has to change for you except for that."

"But...."

"Hm?"

That small tilt in Shuuya's form, which the snake usually found endearing, somehow looked almost taunting now. Scornful, even. "Ah, I mean, it would be easier for you to just get it all over with, right? You can just...."

"Shuuya," the snake shifted forward as the other's voice cracked.

"Haha," by now, the boy's forged tone was nothing short of pitiful. "I guess you're right, I just don't want them to have to... go."

"It's bound to happen," if he got closer now, the liar would probably just panic and run back to his power, so he decided to stay, only a foot away from him."After all, it's not like you're the only thing occupying their existences in this world."

"So what about you, huh?"

The snake hesitated, thrown just a little off-guard. By his side, as if it, too, felt his sudden unease, one of the crows fled, leaving the rest to continue observing them.

Shuuya continued. "Why would you bother sticking around with a no-good liar? Even after knowing every horrible thing he's done?"

In all honesty, the reasons at his disposal were endless, yet there was something that told him that even if he listed them all, the other still wouldn't believe him. At least not here. Not right now.

"You just happen to interest me the most, is all," he said dismissively. "At least, I can actually bother to remember your full name."

"It's just that simple to people, huh?" the boy stared up contemplatively at the sky as he spoke.

"I'll have you know that I'm not just a simple-minded 'person,'" the words seemed to catch the liar's attention, though they were only muttered quietly under his breath. "And besides, I'd actually say that, to me at least, it's overly complicated. Well, as of the... latest timelines, that is."

"Hm? How so?"

"Ah, you said you didn't want to know about those anymore this time, right?" quickly, the snake cut the other off before he could respond. "Just know that it's nothing that you need to know, and it's none of your business."

The deceiver looked ready to dig deeper, but ultimately decided against it. Instead, he just shook his head and turned back to the wall. The spray paint that the snake didn't recall him retrieving was, once again, in his hand.

"Hey, so the other day.... You're really planning on staying like this forever?" 

When the snake moved over to look at him, he could see a hazy and dazed look on the other's face. "Hm? Forever, you say? I don't exactly recall saying that." 

This seemed to cause Shuuya to snap out of it, as focus returned to his eyes and he sported another grin. "Eh? Oh, sorry, sorry, I was just remembering something else, is all." 

"Something else? Like what?" already, he had a pretty good idea on what the other was probably thinking about, but he also decided it probably wouldn't hurt just to try asking anyway.

"Aah, it's nothing," he tilted his head back as he smiled. "Either way, you didn't answer my question. So, what do you say?" 

It was only then that he realized that he was only humoring the other now by stalling like this. It was only then that he realized he was, for once, off-guard, not knowing what the other wanted or what he was expecting.

Not that he minded that, though. What he found more unsettling was the look in Shuuya's eyes, like he was striking some sort of deal where he knew there would be no turning back. One that he already knew wasn't worth the risks or the costs.

"Well...." he started. "For starters, it depends what 'forever' is supposed to count as." 

"Forever," Shuuya said with sly tone similar to that of a fox's. "Is until you kill us all." 

"...But how come are you, only now, accepting my invitation? What exactly do you have planned in your head right now?" the taller narrowed his eyes as he eyed the other curiously. 

"Nothing good," he shrugged. "But nothing important, either. I'll just put it as 'joining your game', how about that? Now come on, answer already!" 

Silence greeted him again, but this time it was filled with expectant energy, just waiting to be broken. Even the crow that had left before joined back into the scene with a partner, only adding to the frozen anticipation in the air.

It took a few seconds of wary examination of the boy's half-covered face for the snake to realize that, already, he'd been thinking on the question for too long. The answer was simple, right?

"I'm sure you're already aware that I'm happy to accept."

So why did the awkward shifts in Shuuya's face and the doubting look in his eyes fill him with such unease?

"Now it's my turn to ask," the snake tried. Why-?!"

It took him a few moments for his mind to register how Shuuya's lips were pressed up against his. Slowly, his shoulders tensed.

Ah, this was... new.

Whatever this was couldn't exactly be called a kiss, with how the other was clearly attempting to hide the awkward ways he fumbled without direction, as if he was searching for something lost in the dark, not exactly sure what to do, but he welcomed the unpredicted results with a grin anyway.

If this was how his plan was going to go, so be it.

Dimly, he noticed how he had been pulled forward so the blond's back was pressed against the paint stained wall. It was still unclear to him just what the boy's intentions were, or just how far he was willing to follow through with them, but that didn't stop him from stepping only closer to him as arms found their way around him.

There was a buzzing sound, and they both froze as an almost shrill voice split through the air.

"Alright, Kido says it's getting late, so you better have Kano with y- you...?"

Unconciously, the snake had pulled out his phone as Ene appeared with a now unreadable expression on her face.

With a forced, exaggerated sigh that was just barely containing what would probably be angry yells, the virus shrugged. "You better bring him home in one piece, Saeru, or else everyone's going to come together and rip your limbs off, one by one, you hear me?"

As Shuuya quickly shoved him off and essentially "lost it", the snake just gave a devilish grin. "I'd say that's highly unlikely, Ene. We're both perfectly aware that I can do whatever I want with little to no consequences, but whatever you say."

Ene gave a shudder and threw him a dark, blue-eyed glare before she disappeared. On the screen, he could see a message from Seto retelling him what the girl had already said, just without the threats.

"What a shame," he stated. "I was hoping we'd have more time to properly talk, though I guess that's just going to have to wait. I can trust that you won't be trying to evade me any longer, right?"

"Yeah...." the boy looked almost sick as he detatched the respirator mask from his face, giving him an unsteady and lopsided grin. "Anyway, Saeru Hebi, let's just head back. Everyone's probably waiting on us."

"Of course."

The mask was carelessly thrown back on top of the dumpster, causing the crows to scatter in a panicked burst of sounds and feathers.

- - -

"It's all gone," Kido grumbled, her arms crossed.

"What?" nervously, he laughed, trying his best to ignore the ever-darkening scowl boring into him. "It can't all be finished, right?"

"Maybe if Shintaro had watched the food like he was supposed to, there would still be some left," rolling her eyes, the girl stole a quick glance at the teen in front of the TV before continuing. "Instead, Konoha ate it all, so you're gonna have to go for the leftovers."

"Dammit," the boy sighed.

"By the way...." dark eyes were narrowing at him now.

"Hm?" quickly, he risked a look at the blue-haired girl dancing around the screen, and he could've sworn that the heat sizzling on his face was enough for the others to notice.

Ah, he'd really tried to push his luck, hadn't he?

"You two could really use showers," Kido said. "Both of you smell like trash. Especially you, Kano."

Behind him, the snake wrinkled his nose.

"I'll go first," he offered. "I can always eat later."

As he left, Kido suddenly gave a surprised look at him.

"And, uh, Kano," she started.

"What?"

"How did you get... paint on your jacket?" she pointed at the stained cloth as she spoke. "It's all over the left on the back."

Hesitantly, he turned to see that, of course, there were, only now, stains on the jacket that he'd worn for probably years. Smeared mostly around the back of the left shoulder and sleeve were streaks of gray, a trace of yellow, and just a single, mocking speck of red.

"I guess I just screwed up, is all," he said dejectedly as he looked back. "Man, am I really going to have to get a new one?"

From the corner of his eye, he thought he saw blue eyes staring at him.

"Idiot," Kido scoffed. "It's mostly just dark gray. If it's dealt with well enough and fast enough, it should be hardly noticable. Here, just give it to me for now."

The liar quickly handed his jacket to the girl, who was now turning to leave.

"You might need some new jeans, though," she added nonchalantly. "I don't think bright red's gonna fade away so easily."

As he watched her leave, Kano couldn't help but give a small, frustrated "aw man" as he saw that there was, indeed, clear crimson covering his jeans, and even some blue on the sleeves of his shirt. He was willing to bet there was even some paint in his hair, too. Unfortunately, unlike with his jacket, that would have to be dealt with later.

Unconciously, he wandered over to the kitchen, hardly resisting the ever-growing urge to slap himself in the face. Along the way, he passed by a sleepy-looking Mary finishing the dishes.

Nonchalantly, he greeted her. "Hey Mary."

The girl threw a quiet "hi" back as she she turned off the sink, clearly trying her best to stifle a few yawns.

"So how was it?" she asked softly.

"Huh? How was what?" as he spoke, his hands automatically moved to dive into the pockets of his jacket, a small habit he picked up. Unfortunately, without the possession of his jacket, he just ended up awkwardly slicing his hands through thin air, earning a small amused giggle from Mary.

"How was the walk, of course!" she said, regaining just a bit of energy.

"It was fine, I guess," casually, he continued. "Nothing all that interesting happened, really. Anyway, how's Seto been doing?"

"Oh," Mary replied. "He was actually worrying about you a bit."

"Hm? Why?"

"He just said that you've been looking a bit tired recently. He thinks that you're just not getting enough rest."

"Aw, he's just being paranoid," Kano laughed. "Y'know... you look pretty tired yourself. You should go and get some sleep."

The tired albino just yawned, giving him a small grin and a nod before shuffling away into her room. Before she closed the door, he caught her casting him one last, unreadable look from the door frame, when she probably thought he wasn't looking.

As the girl finally disappeared, Kano slumped. Ah, he'd totally dug his own grave by now, hadn't he?

Finally, he reached his original destination, wrenching the door of the fridge open, far too harshly. With his short interaction with Mary basically forgotten, the blond gave in and buried his face in his hands with a groan.

What the hell was he even thinking? Maybe he should've thought it through more, agreeing to the snake's strange "promise" of a plan, but it was far too late to take back anything, by now.

Ah, maybe he should've just convinced the snake to finish him off, after all.

But no, surely there was someway to flip this into a win-win scenario, right? Initially he'd imagined he would be able to figure out the snake's plans, his motives, see if he would really, truly, honestly be able to be trusted in the way that the others before him couldn't, but now he was much less than sure.

With how unpredictable the other was, there really was no way of knowing if he would ever get anywhere with this, huh?

The sliver of confidence and determination that had pushed him forward before completely disintegrated before him in an instant. Sure, he had, in every way, expected- no, anticipated disappointment, and he'd thought of all the wonderful ways that his actions could backfire on him for a short-lived future, but he hadn't exactly thought about what would happen if he didn't get himself killed on the spot.

Maybe, in reality, he just managed another screw up, staining the chances of a decent last portion of life with absolute hell, misery and all things in between. Maybe the snake was just luring him in to toy with him and prove that no, he really wasn't ever going to get a damn break when it came to this world and the people he cared for.

Maybe he'd just dug a grave for not only him, but all the others, too. One by one.

Before the piling thoughts could spiral out of control, a brief reminder in the form of a memory scolded him, lightly reminding him not to think of his actions in such a way.

Right, just try to see it in a slightly different light.

Maybe, in some truth that he simply couldn't face, it all just boiled down to him giving up and caving in. It probably made sense, he decided. As long as he was still alive, the snake would keep persisting, almost always achieving his goals, regardless of the amounts of times that he'd try to reassure himself that no, such a thing couldn't possibly happen, and the snake couldn't possibly make him actually reciprocate.

It had to be. There was just no use in fighting back, and God knows what measures the other would've taken if he'd tried to push his fate back for too long.

Yeah, he was just too weak. That's all.

Ah, she wouldn't have taken that for an answer, either.

"Hey, have you been listening at all?!" a familiar voice said.

Giving a small sound of surprise, he removed his phone to see a serious-looking Ene and some unread text from Kido telling him that dinner was ready.

"Oh, Ene," he said, offering a smile as he kicked the fridge closed. He wasn't hungry, anyway. "What's up?"

"What's going on between you and Saeru?" she said with her arms crossed.

"Straight to the point, eh?" he gazed at some space above the device as he spoke. "You sure you wouldn't rather try kicking Shintaro's ass in that festival game or whatever?"

"Kano, listen, I just want you to be careful," the cyber girl said. "There's something fishy going on with that guy, and I'm not sure where he's going with it yet."

Hesitantly, he asked back. "...Do you think anything important's going on? Something I'd need to know?"

Even if this got him nowhere, it wouldn't hurt to ask. Probably.

"Maybe," she said. "But I'm not really sure. I haven't noticed or heard anything much yet that you wouldn't already know about."

"Ah, really?" he laughed, despite the complete let down. "That's a shame. I'll try not to get into any trouble, but you know me!"

"Uh-huh," on the screen, the girl eyed her like she was going to say more, like she wanted to ask something but wasn't sure if she was willing to take the risk.

Apparently it wasn't worth it, as she disappeared and the wallpaper of his lock screen began fading to black.

So it was just up to him to figure all this out, huh?

- - -

"Oi, Saeru," behind him, Kido spoke. 

He turned to her, and could see how she was staring at the water dripping down his hair onto the floor. 

"Sorry about that," he said quickly. "There were no, er, t...owels left. Anyway, would you happen to know where Shuuya is?" 

The girl paused, giving him an odd stare, only to give an amused snort. "He's just checking on his jacket that he managed to paint. Would you happen to know exactly why it was like that?" 

Briefly, he considered telling her about earlier, before quickly pushing the thought away. It'd already taken a lot of work and some luck to get himself here, potentially ruining the boy's reputation probably wasn't the best course of action to take. For now.

"He was probably just being careless, is all," the snake dismissed, his gaze slowly slipping away from Kido's. "You know how he is." 

"You'll get used to it," she sighed with dissatisfaction. 

"Just like I'm supposed to get used to his constant lying?" he said back. 

Kido gave the question some thought before she responded. "You just have to be patient. He'll let up when he's comfortable. Or when he actually wants to be discovered." 

"When he's comfortable, huh?" he started. "If that's the case, then why do you always insist on cancelling his powers by hitting him? I wouldn't exactly call that comfortable, at least when that's the kind of direction you're trying to go."

This seemed to make the girl stop and think. "Well, he's always insisted on it when he couldn't get rid of his power on his own, even since we were young, and it sort of became a habit," another pause. "...But I can see what you mean by that."

With a small, slightly more awkward version of a reassuring smile, Kido spoke. "I'll keep it in mind."

Silently, he nodded, suddenly starting to feel his body grew heavy. Right, he was supposed to sleep, wasn't he? 

He turned to the hallway, but Kido began once more before he could leave. 

"Oh, and, would you be able to help with breakfast tomorrow?" she said, shifting ever so slightly on her feet. "Mary's seemed a bit distracted recently, so I've been thinking of letting her have a break. But if it's too much trouble, you don't have too." 

"No, it's fine," Saeru said, stifling a yawn. "Just call me when you need me." 

As his eyelids grew heavy, he didn't even recall when he finally landed on the mattress in Shuuya's room and fell asleep.

- - -

By the time he'd stepped out of the shower, the rest of the apartment was dark, and he was willing to bet that everyone else was asleep. Quietly, he slipped down the hall and into his room, shutting the door softly behind him. 

When he'd arrived, he expected to see the snake awake and grinning at him, but instead he was just met with a dark room and a sleeping Saeru taking up the entire space of the bed. He groaned, climbing over the snake's limbs and eventually settling in the largest free space he could find, right under his arm. When he finally laid his head down, he grumbled, realizing that of course the pillows were soaked too, since the uncomfortably warm room wasn't bad enough. Almost instantly, the snake rolled over to latch onto him. 

As wet hair began to stick to his face, he tried squirming, already ready to just scream and either kick the other off or climb out the window and call it a day. Unfortunately, his attempts only seemed to restrain him further as the snake held on tighter. 

"Shuu...." he muttered under his breath. 

Eventually, he just gave up altogether, and settled for simply staring at the ceiling through the other's snoring. 

Slowly, he recalled what Ene had said earlier, how she told him to be cautious and how there was probably- no, almost definitely something going on. He recalled how she stared at him contemplatively, completely unsure and hesitant, but brushed it off almost immediately. 

It was probably pointless to try asking her of anything or getting her involved in too much. After all, she probably hadn't even seen or heard of half the shit that snake had done or will do. 

He just had to hope that he hadn't screwed himself over too much, with the stunt he had somehow convinced himself to pull.

Sighing with exhaustion, he leaned into Saeru.

24 days left.

Chapter Text

Three loud knocks resounded from the door, rebounding around the room and waking up Saeru in the process. In response, he simply grunted, pulling the warmth in his arms closer to him. Shortly after, he could hear a gruff voice calling out to him.

"Alright, Saeru," Kido's muffled voice sounded. "Get up, try not to wake up anyone on your way out." 

The snake rubbed his eyes to yet another summer day as he murmured out a barely coherent reassurance to the girl. Under him, he could feel something shifting, which his mind slowly recognized as Shuuya, who'd probably entered the room when he'd fallen asleep. A small grumble accompanying another shift confirmed his suspicions.

Slowly, he opened his eyes to be met with the small amount of light filtering into the room and onto the messy blond hair that was once again in his face. Only half awake, he managed with lifting his head and unwrapping his arms from around the deceiver.

When he finally got around to sitting up, he stole a quick glance at Shuuya, who was clearly pretending to be asleep beside him. Unceremoniously, he flicked the liar's forehead.

"I know you're awake," Saeru muttered as the blond groaned.

"What are you getting up for?" the other asked, nudging his hand away from his face.

"Ah, there we go," he sighed. "Good morning to you too, Shuuya. I'm just assisting Kido with breakfast under her request, that's all."

"Ah...." groggily, Shuuya rolled over onto his stomach, only to bury his face into the pillows.

"Why, is there anything you would happen to be worried about at the moment?"

The other seemed to still for just a small moment, before he replied with a muffled "...No." not even bothering to face him.

"Hmm, I see.... Did you... er, sleep well?" he quickly received his answer as the shorter looked back up at him, his eyes lined with dark circles and his overall appearance disheveled. "Ah.... Well, maybe you shouldn't have gone out so late, then."

"You're the one that kept me up, actually, since you keep grabbing me in your sleep" Shuuya hissed out, dropping his head back down onto the bed. "If you're planning on being stuck with me, you could at least stop grabbing me in your sleep."

"And how am I supposed to help with that? If I do it unconsciously, I don't think it can really be avoided," he quickly dismissed the blond as he stood up, moving to gaze at himself in the mirror.

Looking past the glass' chipped and slightly cracked state, he spotted messy tangles in his hair and slight traces of dark circles under his eyes.

He picked up a comb sitting by his hand, wrangling the clumps of knots out, so that he wouldn't look like a complete mess, before finally heading out the door to confront Kido. Just before he left, he briefly checked on Shuuya, who was faced down in the bed, taking even breaths.

Once again, he was pretending to be asleep.

Grimacing, he made his way down the hallway and to the kitchen, where Kido turned to greet him.

"Hey," she said simply. "Sorry if I bothered you, I just needed an extra hand for this."

"Really, it's fine," he dismissed as the girl turned to dig through the fridge. "Though, if doing all this is so much trouble, why do you still bother with cooking for all thes- the others? They're perfectly capable of making something themselves, I'm sure."

"I enjoy cooking for them," Kido said, tossing a few ingredients onto the counter. "Could you go get a bowl? One of the big metal ones will do."

He nodded, making his way over to search the cabinets.

"Also," she added. "It just feels nice."

"Nice?" Saeru questioned, cursing quietly when he sent a large pot clattering to the ground.

"Yeah, it's just nice doing stuff for them," Kido responded, walking over to pick up the fallen container at his feet. "I'm their leader, after all, and what kind of leader would I be if I didn't take care of everyone?"

"But doesn't it get boring?" the snake asked, finally finding what he was looking for. "Doing the same thing repetitively, everyday?"

"Not really, it's not like I make the same thing all the time. And besides, it's sort of a nice routine, getting up early to do something for everyone that I care about, you know? Something pleasant."

"Pleasant, huh," Saeru mused.

"Oh, and, could you get one of the pots out, too?"

"What about the one that fell out?"

"We need a smaller one."

Back to searching, it is.

"There's probably something that you find pleasant that you do every day, too, right?" he could hear the fridge being opened beside him once again as Kido spoke.

"There aren't really many note worthy things that I even bother remembering with every- er, day," quickly, he corrected himself as he found an appropriately sized pot.

"I'm sure there's something," Kido replied, taking it from his hands. "Maybe it's just something you don't think about much, even though you find it nice to do all the time."

"Maybe tormenting Shuuya? Or even Mary?"

At this, the girl stilled, before letting out a small huff of what he presumed was laughter.

"That works," she said. "You got along with them pretty well, huh?"

"Ah, it's fairly complicated with Mary," he said contemplatively. "Even I'm not really sure what we'd call with our little relationship. With Shuuya, it's... almost more simple."

"He-"

"He hardly seems to even remotely trust or genuinely like me."

"Hm? I'm not so sure about that," Kido hardly even seemed fazed. "Maybe at first, since he always seemed to be looking, or I guess glaring, at you when he thought nobody would notice, but I mean.... Well, he already lets you call him by his first name, which is already interesting, seeing how he's insisted on using his last name for years now. Me and Seto were already a bit surprised by that, but then there was also that other day."

It was already obvious what the girl was talking about, but the snake questioned it anyway. "What was so important about all that?"

"For starters, he seems to trust you enough for you to be able to see him without his m- eyes, scars and all."

"Ah, but, Clearing Eyes, remember? I can just do that all on my own," he replied breezily. "And he has to tolerate it anyways, since we share the same room and all."

"But he was also crying," Kido added.

"So?" it wasn't much of a surprise, given just how weak the other tended to be, despite his fronts.

"Me and Seto haven't even seen him cry in years, Saeru," the girl said. "I talked to Seto about it and he was pretty shocked. Kano never lets his defenses down that low, even without his eyes, unless he's either been messed up really bad, or he actually doesn't care if you see him like that or not."

He turned to retort, point out that she was most likely incorrect, because what had happened was most likely the former, but hesitated when he saw the way Kido stared at him, watching him carefully. Her dark eyes were narrowed.

"...No, no, you're probably right," Saeru said. "He probably trusts me in... some way."

"So now what I'm wondering is why," she continued, appearing satisfied enough. "When he brought you in, he claimed that he just saw you on a walk, but not only did you already know his name, but you were clearly acquainted with him. What's up with that?"

"Ah, I was wondering when you were going to ask that."

Kido shrugged. "I thought it was just Kano lying again, as usual, didn't think about it that much. But after that day, it was pretty obvious I was missing something important. I'm just curious what, if you don't really mind."

"Well...." he stalled, running through any possible excuses in his head.

No, she wouldn't believe it if he said they really had just met on a walk. Yes, she would get suspicious if he mentioned the dead girl, and yes, he would probably get something wrong if he tried weaving a story about the highschool. Ah, what would be believable enough to pass, but simple enough to be able to stay vague?

"...Graffiti."

"Huh?"

"I encountered him while he was spray painting, simple as that," he dismissed, throwing it out as carelessly as possible. "I suppose he just started trusting me more from there."

Hardly audible, he could hear the girl mutter. "So that's why he's always out," but then, much louder, she continued. "But when he brought you in, he also said he just happened to notice your red eyes on a walk, which was a lie. In that case, wouldn't he have brought you in when he first saw you? 'Cause, uh, not to sound rude or anything, but your eyes are always red, from what I've seen."

"It's- I told him they were...."

Frantically, he searched around for something to fit. Hadn't the captivator used something before as an excuse for her own red eyes in the past? Glasses? Lenses?

"...Contacts," he said slowly, trying to keep it nonchalant.

"So I'm guessing you've been asked about them before? 'Cause, y'know, Momo had that same problem, and she said they were just colored contacts, too."

"...Yes, and I didn't know about their use or significance until-"

"Until you joined us?"

"Well, actually-"

"Ah, Saeru, Kido, good morning!" they both jumped as a voice sounded from the hall, and they turned to see Shuuya casually walking their way, his steps sounding heavy. "Making breakfast, I see. Mind if I join?"

Kido turned to Saeru, shooting him a serious look before turning back to the blond. "What are you doing up so early?"

"Couldn't sleep," the blond shrugged. "Turns out member ten isn't very stealthy, he woke me right up!"

"That's not-"

"Annnnyways, can I help?" the other leaned forward on his feet, a slight edge to his tone. "Pretty please?"

Kido sighed, smacking her own forehead. "Fine, but only if you actually help this time."

"Promise!" Shuuya laughed with a too-wide grin, once again pretending like he could just brush everything off with a big enough smile. "So, what are the orders, Danchou?"

The greenette pursed her lips together tightly, before finally accepting the other's persistence. Well, at least for now, judging from the look on her face.

"Alright Kano, Saeru, let's just get this over with. Here's what I need you two to do...."

...

"God dammit..." Kido cursed as the same bag of flour was dropped for probably the fourth time that morning, dusting the ground a powdery white. "I'll clean this up, one of you go and set the table. Oh, and I'm pretty sure the coffee's ready, now."

"Roger that," Shuuya called back. "Saeru can-"

"Actually, Kano, since you're closer, you can do it," the girl grumbled, fumbling with the now almost empty bag on the ground.

"Whatever you say, Danchou," the blond gave a light sigh, turning back to the cabinets behind him.

Now left with nothing to do, Saeru simply waited, watching as the boy struggled to reach the shelf where the plates were stacked. After some time, he finally managed to drag them out, narrowly avoiding dropping one, and turned back to the table.

Suddenly, a loud beep sounded next to the taller, and he turned to see the coffee pot filled to the brim with steaming liquid. Ah, it's been a while since he's tried it, albeit in someone else's body. Curiously, he reached out for one of the mugs, one that was precariously seated on the edge of the counter (much to Shuuya's earlier distress), right next to the machine.

As he poured himself a cup, he heard Kido's voice again.

"Hey Saeru, could you get the sugar for that, too? Forgot to grab it."

Of course. Humans usually put that in their coffee, right? Probably. He searched around various cabinets once again, until he found a bag of it sitting around on a shelf.

"And then Kano, can you- nevermind, he left," finally Kido reappeared at his side, looking at what was presumably where the boy had once been. "Saeru, could you go and call the others?"

"Of course," he responded, not missing the odd look Kido gave him as he scooped up two handfuls of sugar, dumping them into his mug.

He carried the drink with him as he knocked on the others' doors. They all responded with either a tired "coming" or a groaned out "be there in a sec" as he told them to come down. Finally, he reached the couch where Shintaro laid sleeping, and promptly tapped him on the shoulder before settling back down at the table, where Shuuya had apparently reappeared. The boy grinned up at him, with his own mug in his hands. He rolled his eyes back at him, taking a long sip of the hot drink in his hands....

...And promptly sputtered it out.

He coughed, attempting to get the utterly repulsive taste of it out of his mouth, spilling coffee all over his clothes and nearly dropping the porcelain in the process. Saeru scowled, slamming the mug back down on the table as Shuuya snickered.

"Oh, not much of a coffee person?" the other laughed. "I guess it's not exactly for everyone. Maybe you should've tried putting more sugar, like I do!"

He gave the steaming drink a salty look as others began filtering into the room, muttering out greetings and making comments about the food. Sure, he'd expected it to taste bitter, but there was something else that was off about it that he couldn't quite place.

Maybe coffee had just changed that much since he'd last had it? Maybe he hadn't added a sufficient amount of sugar? He wasn't sure.

He stayed waiting, observing the room and the boy in front of him as the seats were slowly filled. Finally, Kido returned, proudly setting down a pile of hot food in the middle for everyone else to see.

"Eat up, guys," she announced, a small grin tugging on her lips as Momo and Mary happily exclaimed, and even Shintaro and Hibiya perked up in sudden interest.

Almost immediately, everyone started tackling and shoving for the... er, what were they called again?

"Hey, Kido, I know something good that you could put in these," the orange-haired girl turned to the taller with a bright smile.

"What?" she raised an eyebrow.

"Oh, great," Shintaro murmured, rolling his eyes. "Now Momo's gonna ruin pancakes again."

...Right, those. Pancakes.

"Aw, come on," Momo sighed. "What's wrong with adding s-"

There was a shocked sputtering noise at one of the ends of the table as Konoha spat out his coffee onto the table, quickly wiping his mouth and uttering a quiet "Sorry...." under his breath.

Shuuya chuckled, seated next to him. "Guess that makes two people who aren't really fans of coffee, huh?"

"More for us," Kido murmured, taking a long sip of the dark liquid.

"That's a bit weird," Hibiya added, eyeing the albino curiously. "Because I remember that he li-"

"Hurgh-" Mary spilled the contents of her mug over the table as she dropped her drink down. She shuddered in apparent displeasure, staring down at the new stains on the wood. "Kido, I think... there's something wrong with the coffee."

"What do you mean?" the girl took another long sip. "Tastes fine to me."

"Come on, guys, I'm sure it's perfectly fine," Kano laughed. "Kido's perfectly capable of making coffee, I'll have you know. See? I'll even...."

Saeru watched as the blond tipped his head back, downing the liquid in the mug, only to slam it back down with a shudder and a barely put together smile. His hands shook slightly as he gripped the handle tightly.

"Eheh, maybe I put a little too much...s...." realization slowly dawned in the boy's amber eyes, and he shot him a look. "...sugar. Hey, Kido, is there anything weird with the sugar?"

"Huh?" Kido moved over to examine the contents on the counter. There was a few moments as all eyes were drawn to her, before her hold on her mug suddenly grew tighter. He could've sworn he heard a small crack from where she stood, as she turned back to the blond. "Kano, did you- oh my Go-"

"Did I what?" he noticed how the boy leaned forward ever so slightly, craning his neck to see what the problem was.

"Kano this is the third damn tim-"

"Third time for what?"

"Kano, this is literally salt!" Kido angrily picked up the bag, jabbing an accusing finger at the word "Salt" under the label.

Ah, so that was it. It was already obvious that everyone would turn to blaming Shuuya first, especially with how some were literally turning to face and stare judgingly at him.

"I swear, I didn't do it!" the blond waved his hands out before him frantically, his eyes darting between Kido's disappointed stare, Mary's indignant pout, and his own amused gaze.

"I mean, you've done it before, already, so...." Shintaro muttered, but quieted again with a small grimace when Shuuya shot him an especially tight grin.

"Not only that, but you were gone after Saeru put the sugar on the counter," Kido huffed, setting the bag back down.

"I didn't do anything this time, I swear!" at this point, jt all just sounded like nonsense pouring out from the other's mouth as he attempted to correct them, pointing fingers at him. "It had to have been Saeru!"

"You really think he wouldn't see the word 'salt' in all caps on the bag?!"

On one hand, he could probably just leave Shuuya hanging like this. After all, who could cover the tracks of a careless mistake better than a liar?

"Not when it's in tiny text under the huge stupid brand name!"

But on the other hand....

"Kano, I swear to God I'm gonna-"

"Kido, it's fine, it was my mistake," Saeru quickly jumped in, just as the girl took a threatening, tensed step towards Shuuya. She turned to shoot him a wary look, her eyes narrowed, before she finally, reluctantly, took a step back.

Kido gave Shuuya one more doubting, suspecting look, before sighing and grumbling in defeat. "Fine, whatever. I'll give you a pass this time, but only because you've only been here like, I dunno, a week. But this better not happen again, got it?"

Now it was time for Shuuya to look in disbelief, even if it was only flashed on his face for the briefest second, followed up only by a sudden stiffness in his shoulders.

Saeru nodded as Kido stormed back to her seat, muttering something about why it was "best to drink coffee black around here." Shuuya let out a single, choked out laugh as everyone else quickly settled back into routine.

...

Apart from the coffee-incident and a few random conversations of little-to-no interest, nothing really happened. Saeru gave a small sigh as he nonchalantly drained the contents of his mug into the sink and down the drain, before turning away.

As he made his way back towards where everyone else sat, he saw Shintaro pass by him.

"You might wanna change to something else, y'know," the boy muttered under his breath, hardly even looking at him. "Wouldn't wanna get coffee on the couch."

"Come again?"

"'Cause, you know, you got coffee on your clothes and everything," Shintaro seemed to slowly wither under his gaze as he spoke. "And that's probably, uh, not... good."

"Right, right," he responded idly, checking intently to see if any recognition was held within the other's eyes. "I'll take care of that, don't worry."

Three-quarters of the way through the sentence, the other had already turned away to leave, muttering small curses and glaring at his phone, leaving him to simply stare at his back until he finally made his way back down the hall, towards Shuuya's room.

It was only by the time he was already through the door that he realized that, like what Shintaro had said, he'd left a small trail of coffee in his wake, dotting the ground as the liquid dripped down his hands. He cast a disdainful at the mostly-soaked fabric of his shirt.

He hadn't really considered requiring another outfit for this timeline, leaving him slightly irritated as he tried to figure out a plan. How... inconvenient. There probably wasn't any time to sneak out and acquire a new one, at least not without raising some suspicion.

He glanced thoughtfully around the room, before a dark shape at the edge of his vision caught his attention. Slowly, his gaze drifted over to a black shirt haphazardly strewn over the dresser. Ah, it probably wasn't the greatest plan, but it would have to do, at least for the meantime.

- - -

"Wait, are those..." Kano trailed off slightly as the snake raised an eyebrow. "...My clothes?"

"I'm gonna need new ones," the other said, shrugging. "I had others, but they, ah, got lost." 

He could see Kido and Shintaro giving him an odd look from behind the snake. 

"Huh... lost, you say..." he muttered. 

"Yes, so-" 

"Hold that thought for just a moment!" Momo suddenly jumped in, appearing at his side.

"Wait, Momo," he startled as the girl suddenly took on a determined expression. From the corner of his eye, he could see Kido turning her head to their direction. "You're not-"

"If you're thinking of going out like I think you are," she started, ignoring his complaints. "Then I suggest we all go on a shopping trip!"

"That wasn't exactly what I meant-" 

"But why not?" the girl said. "We've hardly done any hanging out since you arrived, and it would be fun!" 

"Well, if Momo's going, then I have to come along," Kido added. "It'll be convenient, anyway, since we're gonna need more groceries pretty soon. You come with us too, Kano." 

Now it was his turn to protest. 

"Aww but why?" he pouted at her as he spoke. "It's not like I need to come." 

"Don't you remember what happened to your jeans? You're definitely gonna need new ones." 

"Welllll, I can just go find some on my own time, it's not like I need to go while S-" 

"Kano." 

He stole a quick look at Saeru, then back at her. Sure, maybe it felt just a bit like his eyes were burning, and maybe his vision was blurring and going out of focus constantly when he didn't have anything to really occupy his attention on, and sure, maybe it was also taking about three times as much effort to moves his limbs than usual, and sure, he'd originally planned to sleep it off during the day, especially without the snake occupying half of the damn bed, but how could he refuse? It would probably just he a waste to try and lie his way past Kido this time, anyway.

"Ah, fine, you got me."

"But does Momo need to accompany us?" Saeru questioned, eyeing the girl's optimistic smile. 

"Yep!" she said. "I was thinking I'd go shopping for new shoes later, but like this we can all just go together!"

"Gee, Kisaragi, again?" it was obvious already from the look on Kido and Saeru's faces that there would be no further arguments, so he could only sigh, resigned. "Didn't you already drag Kido along to find new ones earlier this month?"

"Maybe if they hadn't been tossed into the ocean on tour, you would've been able to excuse your way out of this one, but you can't escape this time," Momo said smugly, her arms crossed over her chest. "Now come on, are we going or what?"

She bounded out the door almost immediately, urging Kido, who was following behind her, along. In front of him, Saeru gestured at the door almost tauntingly.

"After you," he grinned.

"How charming of you," Kano said, sneering back. "I think I almost feel honored."

He stuffed his hands in his pockets as he passed the snake, following Momo's lead. His sneer quickly reverted back to the usual grin as Kido turned back, checking to make sure he was following.

Saeru reappeared next to him in almost no time, still with that all-too satisfied look on his face as they walked side by side.

A few feet ahead of them, Kido and Momo walked on, the latter staying close to Kido to avoid detection through the small crowd.

Once he was sure he was out of earshot from the pair, Kano spoke up. "So, met while spray painting, huh? Where'd that cone from?"

"It was simple and believable enough," Saeru responded. "Why? Was there an issue with it?"

"Hmmm, not that I can think of. Anyways, next question! What's the whole excuse for your eyes, huh?" he let out a small chuckle to accompany the bite of his voice. "So you tell me they're contacts, and then what?"

"I disabled your Eyes, of course," the other spoke almost too straightforwardly, as if it was just another random topic for small talk, unimportant and easy to brush off. It was almost as puzzling as it could be frustrating. "Maybe to make it more convincing, I'll say it was also an accident."

"Convincing for them, maybe. With you, it's never an accident," he mumbled, and the snake continued on, acting as if he hadn't even been paying attention.

"Right, then, afterwards you reacted accordingly, and eventually I learned about the Eye Ability. How's that?"

"'Reacted accordingly,' what's that supposed to mean?"

"Ah, you know, your ability gets disabled all of a sudden, probably before you've even anticipated it and then you end up settling for r-"

"C'mon you two, hurry up already!" Momo called back ahead of them, Kido trailing just a bit ahead. "Or else we're gonna leave you behind!"

He probably would've said something like "Yeah, we'll catch up!" or "Just give us a sec first!" had Saeru not already started walking ahead to meet up with them. Reluctantly, he followed, until the two of them were directly behind Kido and Momo.

Briefly, he shot a questioning look at Saeru.

"You'll see," the other uttered back with a newly entertained grin.

Just the sight of it made him feel uneasy.

For now, he decided to put his focus elsewhere, forcing his gaze ahead and away from the snake. Just for now.

"Sure reminds you of old times, eh, Kido?" he quickly addressed, letting out a content sounding sigh.

"Hm? Like what?" 

"Y'know, when you, me, and Seto all had to go on grocery runs together! Like when we first got the apartment. Now it's usually just you who goes."

"Oh, I guess so," Kido looked thoughtfully ahead. "Minus Momo and Saeru, though."

"But what about when I first joined?" Momo asked beside her.

"Oh yeah, I see what you mean, Kisaragi," he let his grin widen as the girl turned to look at him curiously. "You've been dragging us around on trips ever since you first came in! Not to mention the terrorist attack."

"Well, it's probably a good idea to have backup, right? What if my another attack happens and my eyes make me target, or I accidentally get myself noticed by everyone in public? You'll never know!"

"Eh, but it wasn't even a problem when it happened," out of the corner of his eye, he could see Saeru staring curiously at them. "It even helped us! I'm sure you'd be fine on your own."

"But that was because Danchou was there! I would've been doomed on my own."

"I mean, it couldn't have been that ba-"

"Wait, wait!" Momo suddenly cut in, before turning to look at the snake. "Saeru, I bet you haven't heard the story of how the Mekakushi Dan took down the mall terrorists, right?"

"Hmm?" he said. "Oh, I already know."

"Aw, what?" the girl seemed to deflate at the others response. "Who told you?"

"Well, you see, I just so happened to t-"

"C'mon, Momo!" he, maybe just a little too insistently, cut the snake off, turning to Momo. "Do you really think I would pass up on an opportunity to tell a newbie the grand tale of how I single handedly thwarted a group of terrorists?"

"Ah, yes," Saeru responded nonchalantly, eyeing him warily. "That."

Hesitantly, he glanced at him.

"Well, there's no way you actually believe him, right Saeru?" Momo let out a mock sigh of disappointment. "You can't possibly think that's what happened at all, especially when it came from Kano, of all people."

"At the very least, he seemed to serve a decently important role." the snake muttered, deciding to play into the story with him. "...From what I heard, at least."

"Yeah, Momo, at least leave me some credit!" he beamed up at her, throwing his arms out proudly. "Especially since I ended up doing most of the work."

"You pretended you were a hostage and helped Momo's brother," Kido said. "That wasn't 'most of the work.'"

"I also had to carry him back, though, remember? And he was pretty heavy, too! That guy needs to exercise more, I swear," a small, sour bite in his tone somehow managed to slip past him and into the end of the sentence, but either nobody noticed, or they were pretending they hadn't. To his relief, it seemed to lean more on the former.

"Mary and I still ended up doing more than that," Momo retorted. "Heck, even Kido did more! We were the ones that actually stopped the terrorists."

"I'm sure Mary and Kido- or maybe even just Mary could've done that part on her own," he scoffed, his arms crossed.

"Even if that were the case, that still doesn't mean you did most of the work! I'm pretty sure even Shintaro and Ene ended up doing more."

"Pssh, Shintaro?" he barked out a way-too harsh laugh at the other's name, quickly attempting to cover it up with a lighter chuckle afterward. All it did was make him force out an awkward sound between a biting cackle and s choked out snicker. "I coulda just stolen his damn phone and plugged Ene in myself! I'm sure he wouldn't have minded."

"Yeah, but that isn't what actually happened, so you didn't do more than them," thankfully, Momo wasn't looking at him anymore. Rather, she was staring defiantly ahead of her. If his voice was already slipping away from his control, he dreaded to know what his face was like.

The snake continued to grin calmly.

"Well I still...." he pulled his head further over his face, glancing carefully at Kido and Momo's backs, then Saeru's red eyes. "I still, uh-"

"So you admit it?" turning. Momo was turning back to him now.

His eyes were darting around now, in a panic, and it was only then that his mind finally registered that they were no longer walking. Instead, the four of them were standing by a crosswalk, waiting off the two seconds still available because they probably wouldn't all make it past in time. Cars waited nearby, as if impatient.

One second.

"Ah, come on Kido, we can make it!" he didn't make eye contact as he took a step forward, already knowing that nobody would follow.

"Kano, we'll just wait for the next o-" he didn't even wait for her to finish as he dashed ahead, not even minding the hesitant shifting of the cars beside him or the annoyed faces of passengers inside. Instead, he just grinned widely.

"Aww, come on, guys, you can make it!" he called back at them, even as a car narrowly avoided crushing his ankles. A small shiver went down his spine as the vehicle passed by, taking the wind with it. Ah, at least if he'd gotten hit, he would've had a good excuse for his problematic state, at the cost of a scolding from Kido and Seto, and maybe a hospital bill.

"Kano come back!" 

"Too slow?" he sneered back at the three. "Too bad!"

"For God's sake...." Kido muttered. Momo laughed nervously from beside her, eyeing the sudden traffic separating them.

"I'm going on ahead, meet you there!" he waved, standing up on his toes to look over the crowd of people, before turning away, still grinning.

As he rushed ahead, he heard Kido's fading voice. "Gee, did you have to deal with this every single day?"

Then, hardly audible, he could hear "Something of the sort."

Eagerly, he rushed ahead, maintaining the same grin on his face as narrowly avoided colliding with random pedestrians. He almost barreled straight into a child and their mother ("I'm sorry!"), just barely ducked past a small family ("My bad!"), a lone boy ("Whoops, my mistake!") and other various people, almost all of them passing him brief, annoyed looks as he slipped past them and got in their ways.

At some point, without him truly noticing, he had managed to reach the glass doors of the mall. He stumbled through, panting and nearly collapsing on sore legs and a hurting side, because of course it would never cross his mind to drop the act when the others were out of view and just walk like a normal person, and of course his horrible sense of judgement wouldn't be fazed by the fact that the miraculously dreamless sleep he'd slipped in and out of offered him little to no energy at all.

Taking a deep breath, he collapsed into a bench, awaiting the others' arrivals.

Ah, he felt sorry for the people he'd nearly crashed into earlier. Their days had effectively been interrupted, and all because he was being paranoid about whether or not his powers were still active.

I see you're bothering people with your see-through lies and rash actions again, how foolish.

He almost wanted to laugh, questioning if Saeru could be irked by it, too. Ah, probably not, considering how he could basically see right through him to the point of frustration. Besides he never, and still doesn't, really count as a "person" in general, as if the previous day weren't proof enough.

Complete rejection, utter ridiculing, hell, maybe even the fate of being left dead against a wall was what he would've expected, would've taken, yet here he still was, living by the snake's whims.

Well, for now, at least. It would probably only be a matter of time before the day would come that he'll regret his actions. Ah, and then how long would he have left after that to keep regretting? Days? Weeks? Maybe just a mere seconds, so it could be both the first and last thing he'd ever remember.

Would it be a trick up the snake's sleeve, another one of the world's fake promises of happiness, or his own stumbles and failures that'll drag him into his inevitable downfall by the fated date of August fifteenth?

Ah, as entertaining as the thought was, it probably wasn't up to him this time, was it?

He grins at the idea, nonetheless.

Finally, Kido, Momo and Saeru, the odd-looking group that they are, come into view and he sits up, smiling widely up at them.

He wonders if Saeru, even if he can see through it, is annoyed by that too.

- - -

"You sure you'll be fine on your own?" Kido asked doubtfully, looking between the two of them.

"We'll be just fine!" Shuuya shrugged it off, already turning away. "I'd be more worried about you and Momo! Better hope you don't get noticed with all these potential fangirls around!"

Kido quickly turned to him for confirmation, glancing at the boy with suspicion.

"I'm sure we'll both be fine," he replied, though he couldn't exactly blame her when her questioning transformed into doubt.

"Well, if you say so," the girl sighed, turning back to Momo, who was waiting beside her. "You guys remembered to bring your wallets, right?"

"Wallets..." just faintly, he recalled the word holding some meaning, but it was now lost to him. It probably couldn't be too important. And even if it was, at least enough for him to be asked about it, it was most likely Shuuya had one in his possession, so there was no use in being concerned. "Er... yes, we did."

"Just checking. Anyways, I'm trusting that you'll be fine, but if something happens just text me or something, alright?"

"Of course," apparently satisfied, Kido nodded, before she and Momo turned and walked away. He watched until the two of them faded into the crowd, away and out of sight, before turning back to Shuuya, who was already a few paces ahead of him.

When he caught up, the other didn't respond, abandoning his previous smile for a blank look ahead.

"I think I see what you meant, now, thank you very much," Shuuya said, shouldering through the crowd with quick steps. "You could've given a heads up or something," he let out a greatly exaggerated exhale. "Buut I guess it doesn't really matter."

"Are you sure about that?" he stayed close behind, keeping his eyes trained on the shorter. "I was almost concerned, I daresay you almost looked scared."

"Aw, really? Man, I sure wonder why. Though, I'm sure that's not something that would surprise you as much as it should, so it wasn't that big of a deal, right?"

"Well, you sure do make it seem like-"

"Aaand would you look at that? Woah, we're here already!" Shuuya stopped in his tracks to gesture welcomingly at some basic looking store in a corner. The interior was fairly large, sporting a basic wooden floor and a blandly colored wall. Only a few other people were inside, dotted around the store. "Let's make this quick, so you don't have to stick around for too long, eh?"

"...Of course, lead the way."

"Me? Ah, and I thought you were the one doing all the formal and chivalrous stuff."

"Pardon me?"

"Nothing, now let's get searching, shall we?" Shuuya looked back expectantly at him as he was led inside, toward a corner of the store, completely empty of other people.

Shuuya got to work immediately, picking out several new pairs of jeans and a black shirt (Carelessly, he had thrown out a "Might need a new one 'cause, y'know, reasons," as he eyed him.) meanwhile he just stood there, examining the selections with no real direction. Surely anything he ended up picking would seem natural enough, right? There was no possible way to screw this up. But just for good measure....

"You know, Shuuya...." he started, watching as the other turned to look curiously at him. "I believe I recall you saying a little while back that my preferences in clothes 'really sucked', right? So why don't you suggest something?"

He grinned as Shuuya cast him a dumbfounded look, before looking carefully between him and the rows of shirts around them.

"Huh," the boy murmured, feigning thought as he dug through the rack. "What's something that suites you...."

Saeru watched boredly as Shuuya continued to look, before he finally perked up and yanked one out. "Ooh, what about this one? I'm sure it would be pretty fitting for you, right?" he teased, shoving a dark shirt with a design of a snake in front of him.

"Very funny," he wrinkled his nose as he stared at it distastefully. "Maybe something less... on the nose. I'll have you know I have at least some taste in decency."

"As if you aren't 'on the nose' enough by yourself," Shuuya commented dryly as he put it back. "It just made the most sense, is all. Maybe a shirt with scales? I guess it would fit better...."

"I'll pass," he hissed out, crossing his arms.

"If you insist, but it's fine, because I have an even better one!" the other snickered, before pulling out yet another shirt, this time with a design of something he couldn't quite recall the name for. "I think this one really speaks to you!"

"I'm not sure that... whatever that is can really 'speak to me'," he squinted, staring at the much-too colorful design. It looked like some kind of a board, paired with wheels.

"Man, this one's no good either?" Shuuya let out a thoughtful hum as he examined the shirt again, before putting it back. "There's probably something else here, too.... Oh!"

The boy pulled out what appeared to be a leather jacket, a wide grin on his face. "I heard they made these out of special leather, can you guess what of?"

He scowled, causing the other to flinch back, just slightly. The grin didn't fade. "Maybe when we reach the deadline I'll skin you alive. It would be fitting, I suppose."

Shuuya hung the jacket back with the others. "Can't take a little joke? Man, that's disappointing!"

"I take back what I said about requiring your input," he dismissed, turning to sift through the selection himself. "Because clearly you lack an understanding of actual decency."

"'Lack understanding?' Please," the blond rolled his eyes, stuffing his hands back in his pockets. "But fine, have it your way, let's see if you can do better."

Idly, he picked out several plain shirts (all ranging from dark gray to black, it just seemed to suit him best) and jeans (of the same color range for the same reasons), before he suddenly remembered something.

"Shuuya, doesn't your little group have some theme going on, or something of the sort?"

"Huh? Theme? What do you mean?" Shuuya looked up at him from his phone, which he had apparently pulled out earlier.

"Like, don't you all wear something in common, something like that?"

"Oh, you mean the hoodies? Yeah, what about them?"

"Well, maybe since I've already been accepted in, I should receive one for myself."

"Accepted sounds like a little bit of a stretch" Shuuya murmured. "But sure, I guess, if it makes you feel better."

"Maybe one like yours? It looks decent enough."

"That's even less original than your 'name,'" Shuuya snorted. "Besides, I've basically claimed this as the designated 'Member Number Three' jacket!"

"Maybe a red one? Since you all are so infatuated with that color."

"Nah, we already have Kido and Shintaro with red jackets. The less mix-ups with laundry, the better."

"...Right."

After a considerable amount of rejections, he ended up sticking with a black short-sleeved one, very similar to Shuuya's, except it was bigger and it lacked the white parts.

"I think this one will do nicely," he grinned with satisfaction, picking at the sleeves.

"It kinda just looks like you're copying me, but I guess it helps your look a bit," Shuuya mused. "Pretty sure that's, like, two sizes bigger than what you need, though."

"What do you mean? The ends of yours just barely reach you knees, mine hardly even go that much over them. I'd assume knee-length is customary, correct?"

"Uh, well, that's different!" the shorter glanced at the ends of his jacket.

"I see.... Well, I believe we're done here, Shuuya," he slipped the jacket off, hanging it over his arm with the other clothes.

"Hmm, actually..." Shuuya finally commented, eyeing the clothes draped over his arm. "I think all black won't really work."

"I don't see what's wrong with keeping it simple."

"You already look scary enough on your own," the other examined him closely, before shrugging. "Wouldn't want to scare Kido or Hibiya with a pair of red eyes staring at them from a walking mass of darkness in the middle of the night, right?"

"Are you attempting to hint at something again, Shuuya?"

"Not really," the boy's gaze slid somewhere off to the side as he spoke. "Anyways, you should probably find more balance, less of the same color everywhere."

"Ah, but what's the point? It's completely trivial all the same."

"If you really wanna stick with being an edgelord, I guess."

He scoffed, remembering the several times Ene had addressed him by the same title.

"Fine, have it your way," he sifted through the variations of the same jacket, placing the one he'd picked up back. "What about this one then?"

"Kido's already got purple."

"This color?"

"Dark gray's basically the same thing."

"Ah, so picky," he sighed, "What about this? Uh, light gray, I'd assume."

"I don't think white really suits you, either," Shuuya examined the fabric closely, narrowing his eyes. "But I guess it's not taken, at least."

"Well, if it looks so bad, then you could just turn yours outwards and we could switch places," he muttered.

"Nah, it was never a good look for me, just take it!"

Saeru sighed, draping it over his arm in place of the previous one. "If you so wish, fine."

"Huh, you really are uncreative," Shuuya murmured, eyeing him boredly. "You pretty much just copied off of what you were wearing earlier. And my jacket, of course. You should've just gotten one with snake patterns on it, just to sell it."

"Sell what?"

"Your utter lack of originality," the other sneered. "Because really, 'Saeru Hebi?' Your outfit? Gee, you really know how to think inside the box, huh?"

"I simply would've gone for a black jacket if it weren't for you."

"And that would still be copying," Shuuya laughed. "Just like I said!"

"Well whatever, it's not like it matters in the end. Let's just go now, shall we?"

He turned back to where they entered, prepared to leave, only to be stopped as Shuuya's voice sounded out behind him. "Uh, you know we do a little something called 'paying' when we get stuff, right?"

"Payment?" he stilled, then turned back. "Yes, of course, I was referring to paying. Ah, could you do it though?"

"What? Why me?"

"Because you have the... wallet," he tried, and grinned when the boy grimaced and nodded, taking the clothes from his hands.

As Shuuya turned to the counter, where some bored looking human resided, Saeru gazed out the building, at the others passing outside. Behind him, he could hear Shuuya laughing and joking his way through the transaction, with all his grins and games up at full force.

"Having trouble there, sir?"

When Saeru turned around, he could see the person at the counter, a man, watching as Shuuya dug through his pockets, chuckling nervously.

"Heh- just gimme a sec, I think I... uh-oh....."

The man at the counter waited patiently as Shuuya continued to search through his pockets, now at a much more frantic pace. As Saeru stared, he seemed to shrink away just a tiny bit, before Shuuya spoke up again.

"Huh. I think I left my wallet back at the apartment," he said, feeling around at the pockets of his hoodie and jeans one more time. "You have yours, right?"

Suddenly, the his mind clicked as the definition of the word came back to him. Now he recalled, that was where humans store currency. Ah, right, but his was....

"Actually I think that's still with my old Master..." it then occured to him that he probably should've taken the dead man's possessions with him whilst disposing of him. What use would they have been to him, laying several feet under the ground, anyway?

"Your old... what?" he stared blankly at him.

"It's still at the school with... anyways, you sure you don't have yours?" later, at some point, he'd have to go and retrieve it from wherever it had been left.

Shuuya froze, before letting out another small chuckle, eyeing the employee. "Eh, just another moment, I'll get this sorted out real quick, 'kay?"

Saeru watched the man let out an small sigh as the liar quickly snatched his phone from his jacket's pocket, frantically tapping at the screen. There was a moment where they all waited, before the boy rose the device up to his ear, tapping his foot as he awaited a response.

Just barely, he could hear what sounded like a voice.

"Ah, heyy Kido!" Shuuya gazed idly out the entrance of the store as he spoke. "Could you help me and Saeru? You see, we-"

There was a sudden spike in Kido's voice, a cutting edge to the concealer's tone amking the blond jumped slightly.

"Uh, actually yeah, I did," Shuuya spoke nervously, staring back at him and the employee, who now had his arms crossed impatiently. "Sooo, could you just stop by and help us out real quick? We're at that one clothing store by the entrance... no, no, the other one, yeah."

Eventually, Saeru found himself crossing his own arms as he stood there, waiting.

"Alrighty, just get over here quickly! Oh, and tell Momo I said 'hi', okay bye!"

The deceiver's expression didn't change as he hung up, shrugging at Saeru. "They'll probably be here soon, just gotta wait a bit. Hopefully not too long."

"I have a feeling that she'll be-"

"Are you two being serious right now?!" they all turned to see Kido storming inside, glaring accusingly at Saeru. "I literally asked if you guys brought your stuff, and I would've just gladly given you whatever you needed if you didn't had said you hadn't. Yet you two decided it would just be better if me and Momo come back for your sorry asses!"

"Kido, there you are!" Shuuya laughed. "Yeah, funny story about my wallet. Well, I left it-"

Her gaze sharply turned to meet his, and the boy shrunk away as she clenched her fist. The girl hadn't even approached him yet, and Shuuya was already backed up, bumping right into him. Kido took on a deadly look.

"I swear if I have to hear another word come out of your mouth," she uttered slowly.

She drew her arm back, aiming right at the deceiver, before she glanced back up at Saeru.

"Dammit," she hissed. "Whatever, it's fine."

Reluctantly, she stepped back, before quickly jamming her once raised hand into her pocket, pulling out her wallet, and shoving a stack of money into his hand.

"Huh?" Shuuya asked, staring at the currency. "Aw, Kido, that's so nice of y-"

"Not another word from you," she returned to glaring, stuffing her hands back in her pockets. "Just don't let it happen again, or else I will have your heads, got it?"

"Of course," Saeru responded, eyeing a crowd that had suddenly formed outside the store. "Ah, but, Kido...."

"What?"

"Didn't you say you had the idol accompanying you?" just barely, he could see Momo's head peeking out from the center of the crowd.

"Mo-" Kido froze, her gaze snapping to the empty space at her side, before she turned around, taking notice of the sudden commotion outside. "...Shit!"

Saeru looked on, amused as the concealer hurried over, trying to push and shove her way through the crowd, attempting to reach out to the girl in the center. Behind him, he could hear Shuuya giving now nervous laughs as he paid the cashier.

Eventually, the other joined him outside, observing the excited crowd as it grew, gathering more and more people from within the building. In the middle of it all, Momo frantically searched through and around people for Kido, who was attempting to struggle to her in the midst of it all.

"Man, sure looks like they could use a hand," Shuuya observed, watching as Kido was pushed all the way back to the edge of the crowd. Saeru could see her mouthing curses as she attempted to trudge through once again. "Maybe if we help them we'll start getting on Kido's good side again."

"Right... seems reasonable enough. And what do you suggest we do?" he asked.

"Well...." he flicked his gaze back to the boy, only to he met with the face of a familiar orange haired girl. Of course. "Maybe I could lure them over and distract them!"

"But what are you going to do while Kido and Momo escape? Continue until you've been drowned in a sea of people?" Momo's face smiled mischievously up at him. "Am I going to need to come and rescue the crowd or something?"

"Not really. All I have to do is turn the corner, make sure nobody sees me, and, I dunno, bash my head against a wall or something. Then we'll be all good!" he watched as the face before him morphed ever so slightly, putting on a smile and adding some brightness in the eyes that, almost-undoubtedly, matched Momo's.

"Although that plan would work, I'm not sure what makes you think bashing your head in would be the best course of action," Saeru pointed out.

"My powers, duh!" the figure gave a wide smile, that just sparsely showed the hint of a smirk.

"Shuuya, you are perfectly aware that I'm right here, right?" he raised an eyebrow as he was handed a bag, where their goods were stuffed inside. "I'll just deactivate it on my own, from here."

"Ehh, maybe, but...."

"Besides, at least I'll actually be able to control and time it. And it will hurt far less."

"Ah, but I-"

"Wait, how did she get over there?"

"Guys, Momo Kisaragi's this way!"

Almost instantly, all eyes turned to them.

"Ah, welp, better run!" beside him, Momo's image laughed, before darting away.

Hurriedly, the crowd spread and followed, leaving behind the real Momo and Kido, who were probably already getting away. Saeru watched carefully as the other slipped around the corner, out of sight, before he allowed his own eyes to glow red.

When he saw the perplexed faces of the humans as they caught up, he knew that he'd probably done something right. Eventually, they all dispersed, and he could see as Shuuya reemerged, joining back by his side, still wearing Momo's optimistic smile.

"Man, being an idol must be scary," the boy remarked. "Especially with Momo's eye power, they were almost on me in no time!" 

"You're welcome, Shuuya," he added curtly.

"What was that?" the innocent expression that didn't belong to him finally reverted back to the teasing smirk he was more accustomed to. "Oh, right, and great team effort, too, I guess. You really didn't need to bother, though."

"At least it was convenient, and I spared you a head injury," ahead of them, Saeru spotted Kido and Momo by the entrance, waving and signaling.

"Sure, convenient, let's put it that way," Shuuya waved back. "Maybe that'll make it sound like it's actually something helpful."

"I don't see why it wouldn't be, especially when you've called it convenient so many times in the past already."

"Huh?"

"Oh? My bad, wrong one."

"..."

- - -

Stifling a yawn, he stared at the bed, which was basically waiting for him to crash and collapse into it.

"Ah, right, and here's this back," he heard Saeru's dismissive voice off to the side, and was hardly given much more of a warning before his shirt was tossed back to him, landing almost perfectly on his face.

"Aw man, I bet it's got your sweat on it," Kano commented, picking it off his head and examining it. "Probably smells, too!"

"Well, if you'd prefer, I'll gladly keep it," the other said. "It fits me better, anyway."

"Nah, Seto said I'd grow into it one day. Besides, it looks better on me."

"I don't think I've ever seen you grow more than an inch taller than your current height, Shuuya."

At that he froze, almost snapping out of his dazed and exhausted state. Quickly, he cleared his throat. "Oh. Well, either way, I'm keeping this shirt, 'cause it's mine, not yours. It just needs to be washed a few times, first. Maybe several, for good measure."

"Wow, I think I'm almost offended," Saeru replied dryly, watching as the he threw it back over the chair where it had been tossed sometime earlier. "But have it your way. At least you can be reassured that I won't have to 'borrow' from you again, right?"

Finally letting a yawn escape him, Kano fell into bed, already feeling the edge of sleep tugging him down. It was already draining enough when he had to play along with Momo's whole mall tale that had occupied most of an otherwise uneventful dinner, so he couldn't even be bothered to confront the snake when he joined him and, and, as usual, attached himself around him.

Instead, he just ended up letting out something between a grunt and a sigh, shifting just slightly. Dully, he heard Saeru's breathing paired with his own, as he eventually let his heavy, fluttering eyelids close.

When, at some point, the darkness had finally taken over, and all traces of the real world were washed away, he was once again confronted by the illusion of his own sneers and insults, donning a red scarf that didn't belong to it, in a summer setting that lacked any temperature or promise.

Despite himself, he clung to the warmth around him, deciding to take that instead.

- - -

Restlessly, he skimmed over another one of Mary's books, listening to some clock's ticking and Shuuya's heavy breathing. Briefly, he checked the time, then flicked his gaze back to the book's pages, then Shuuya, then at the window. Outside, the sky was dark, with only the moon and a few scattered stars really standing out.

It was probably late enough, he decided, closing the book and setting it down somewhere in the dark. If there was a good time to go retrieve his Master's possessions, it would probably be now, in the dead of night.

He moved to get up, and was mildly startled as what he assumed to be hands tugged him back, just slightly. Narrowing his eyes, he saw the deceiver's scarred and shaking hands balled up in the jacket he'd purchased earlier that day.

Giving an amused hum, Saeru unhooked the boy's fingers from around the fabric, only to be stopped again as they went for his own hands. Sighing, he removed them again, and this time, Shuuya's hands froze, before moving to press against his own body.

He would be fine, Saeru decided. He'd return eventually, and the boy would probably remain unaware that he'd ever even left.

Quietly, he stepped out of bed, gently opening and slipping past the door. When he looked back behind him, he saw Shuuya, curling in on himself, on his side, in the spot where he'd just been reading. This time, he was actually sleeping.

He closed the door behind him, and headed out.

23 days left.