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Today so far has consisted of: Date being a lazy piece of shit, arriving into work five hours late, only to get shoved back into his car by Boss telling him to “go to the doctor’s already, Date, you’re making Pewter depressed”.

So. Here they are. Date wants nothing more than to crawl back on the sofa and do nothing, nothing at all.

“...So why can’t you just, I dunno, give it to me directly? You have access to every single one of my brain cells.”

“The implication that you have more than one brain cell is worrying,” comes Aiba’s smooth reply. “And we may be connected while I’m inside your socket, but…” She lets out a sigh. “Injecting medication directly into your body? Do you really believe that I’m capable of something like that?”

“Guess not,” Date mumbles.

If Aiba was human-shaped, and not “currently a fat hamster with a giant eyeball staring at me from the steering wheel”-shaped, he just knows that she’d be raising her eyebrows at him.

What would she look like as a human..?

...Suspiciously lobster-coloured, probably.

“What,” comes Aiba’s resigned voice, “are you thinking about now?”

“It’s nothing, alright?”

“...Why are you so hesitant about this? You’ve been receiving this prescription for a few months now. I thought you had gotten over your initial reluctance.”

And, of course, she immediately gets it anyway.

“It’s not related to that, okay?” Date sighs and tilts his head back, still careful to keep an eye (heh) on the road. “It’s… y’know.”

A beat of silence, before Aiba lets out a sigh of her own. “I don’t know. That’s why I’m asking.”

The pharmaceutical’s within walking distance now. Date leans forward and keeps an eye open for any empty spaces. He doesn’t speak, not until he’s reversed and tucked in the car. Unfortunately, Aiba doesn’t need a corporal form to glare daggers at him.

“Date?”

His hand rests on the bottom of his seatbelt. “It’s Mizuki, alright?” he mumbles.

Aiba’s voice softens. “Ah.”

He winces, his insides crawling at the pity in her voice. He doesn’t need it. He’s a fully grown ass adult, even if he’s missing an eye, even if he can’t remember jackshit, even if his brain seems incapable of being like anyone else’s. “She’ll be back from school by the time we get back, and you know how nosy she is. I can’t hide this from her.”

“Do you think she’ll care?”

Wiggling her out of the steering wheel, Date pokes Aiba into his socket with a grimace at the squish of artificial goo. He’s never going to get used to that. “It’s… not like that,” he finishes lamely.

Aiba hums. “Then what is it like?”

“It’s… her parents are awful. Both of ‘em.” A stranger walks past the open car window, giving him a dirty look — fuck, was he talking out loud again? “She deserves someone who can actually look after her. Not… me.”

“You don’t think you’ll be a good parental figure for her?”

Date barks out a laugh, the noise scraping the inside of his throat. “You kidding? She has more memories than I do. I’m missing an eye. I spend most nights at Marble. If it wasn’t for Boss, no way would I have this job. I’m barely holding myself together — and I’m meant to look after a whole kid? One who’s been through more than enough as it is? I don’t want her to see this stuff and for her to realise that I’m probably even more of a mess than her actual parents are.”

“Didn’t you offer?”

“Yeah, ‘cause there was literally no one else.” ‘Boss’ and ‘children’ are not two words that should ever go in a sentence together, and Pewter was more likely to dissect the poor kid like she was a curious science experiment.

Aiba says nothing. Date gathers together every modicum of energy in his body and heaves himself out of the car.

The visit itself is fine. The bored-looking employee shuffles around in the back before emerging to give him his prescription. They list off the usual instructions; Date nods, not really paying attention, knowing that Aiba will have him covered.

“You should still listen,” she chides. Date, quite frankly, is too tired to care.

Collapsing back in the car, he starts it up and stares at his reflection in the mirror for a long moment. Tatty hair falling out of the bun he’d shoved it into this morning. The bags under his eyes are deep enough to dig his fingers into. The deep wrinkles in his jacket. He looks like shit.

God, he’s pathetic.

In the back of his mind, Aiba hums.

The drive back is a blur. He unlocks the apartment door and opens it.

"I'm home," he mumbles, the words stumbling out on auto-pilot. He's not — he doesn't know if he'd call this place that, doesn't really know what 'home' is, really, but—

"Welcome home!"

...It always makes Mizuki happy to say those words to him.

She's hunched over at the desk, putting… slugs into a jar.

Slugs.

Sure. Whatever. If putting slugs in a jar makes her happy, Date would gladly buy her a jar the size of the apartment.

“Those aren’t slugs, Date!” Aiba cries. “Those are clione limacina! They’re a type of pelagic sea slug—”

“So they are slugs,” he interrupts.

“No! You have it all wrong—”

Mizuki’s giving him the “I think you need to go to hospital” look again. He really has to stop speaking to Aiba out loud. “...Yeah,” she mumbles. “They’re slugs. Clione, to be exact.” Eyes darting down to her lap, her fingers squeeze around the table. “I-if you don’t want ‘em, I can leave them outside, just please don’t throw them out—”

“Hey hey hey.” Date holds his hands up, the paper bag crinkling as he does. “You can keep them if you want. We have plenty of room in the fridge.”

The naked surprise — no, fear, is something that makes Date’s blood boil red. He wants to find Renju and Shoka and—

“Date,” Aiba warns.

He exhales.

Anyway. The point is that Mizuki’s face lights up with a smile so tentative, so delicate, that he’d gladly shove glass shards into his other eye for her.

Funny how much you can care for someone that’s only been living with you for a couple of months. The power of kids.

“Has anyone ever told you how morbid you can be?” Aiba murmurs, sounding halfway between curious and concerned.

“R-really!?” Mizuki asks.

Date nods. “Yeah.”

Squealing, Mizuki jumps onto her feet — and then stops, walking right up to him and leaning on her tip-toes, barely reaching his waist. She is so small.

“What’s this for?”

“Oh, this?” He wiggles the bag in his hand as though she really could be referring to anything else. “It’s for… uh…”

Mizuki tilts her head. She doesn’t look judgmental. Just curious.

“It’s… huh.” God, does he want to run away. But he forces himself to swallow and sit down on the couch. After a few seconds, Mizuki plonks down on the other end of it, nibbling on her lip. “You ever notice me being… sad?”

His heart drops into his stomach when she immediately nods. “Sometimes, yeah,” she mumbles into her shirt collar. “It’s… not because of me, is it?”

Said heart tumbles out of his body entirely. “Oh — God, no, Mizuki — no, it’s not you.” The clumsy words trip over themselves as they escape his mouth. “It’s not you at all, I promise.”

If anything, it’s the opposite. Already, she’s brought more colour into his monochrome world than anything else ever has. He has Aiba, yeah, but she’s a talking eyeball, and doesn’t always really feel like a different person. Boss and Pewter are work friends, and it’s awkward being around people who know you better than you know yourself, but don’t say a damn word about it. Any memories at Marble are tinged by that sweet nothingness of alcohol.

Mizuki’s his roommate. She’s someone he sees everyday. It’s strange.

But it’s not bad.

Mizuki stops picking at the frayed sleeve of her shirt. Man, he needs to buy her a new one. “...If you’re not sad because of me, then why..?”

Isn’t that the million yen question? Date sighs, leans forward and rests his elbows on his knees. “I have something called—” Oh, he wants to puke. But he needs to do this, for her sake. “—it’s called depression. Basically, sometimes, I get really sad for no reason.” He pops open the paper bag and takes out the capsule. The tablets inside rattle against the plastic. “This is medicine I take to make me feel better. It doesn’t always work, but… it helps.”

For a few seconds, Mizuki says nothing, lips pouting out. She rests a hand under her chin. “It’s like… when you fall and hurt your knee, you put a plaster on it to make it better?”

“Yeah. Along those lines.” Date smiles. “But think of the wound not as physical, but as mental, and it’s always there.”

“So you always have to try to make it better?”

“Yeah.”

Is he explaining this okay? Should he really be explaining this at all? But Mizuki doesn’t look overwhelmed, just pensive, and she is a crazy smart kid. Aiba’s being quiet, too, and it’s only when she’s talking that Date knows he’s fucked up.

“Depression isn’t always just being sad,” he continues. Mizuki’s been through a lot of crap. No doubt that, especially as she gets older, she might run into mental health problems of her own, if she doesn’t somehow have them already. If Date can talk about it now, to the best of his ability, and if it helps even just a little… “You can feel tired, or angry, or — well, nothing. Sometimes you don’t have the energy to do anything.”

Mizuki tucks her hands under her legs and leans forward, kicking her feet against the sofa. “Is that why you just lie on the sofa sometimes and don’t go to work?”

“...Yeah.” He swallows. “Sometimes — especially if I don’t take my medicine — it’s… hard to do anything. Impossible, really.”

Before Mizuki can say anything or get lost in her own head, Date leans over — slowly, carefully, projecting his movement so that she has plenty of time to move away if necessary. She watches him with wide eyes, shoulders tensing up, slumping only when Date’s hand ruffles her hair.

“Thanks for listening,” he says. “And, uh. If you ever — I dunno — you ever feel bad, or off your game, or just… anything.” He tries for a smile. “I’m always here for you, okay?”

She glances down and, after a few seconds, gives a shaky nod. She doesn’t look at him directly, and he knows that she won’t take him up on that offer, not at first, but he’ll keep working on it until she can.

“But enough of that stuff.” He prodes the jar of slugs — sorry, cliones. There’s one that’s definitely glaring at him. “Tell me about these little guys. They got names?”

Mizuki’s face brightens. “Uh, duh. This one is…”

She goes rambling off, lost in her slimy little world, and Date listens and banters back as he prepares dinner.

“You did good, Date,” Aiba says while he’s taking his afternoon tablet, pride in her voice.

Date’s chest tightens. He swallows, watching Mizuki cackle as a clione flops off the side of the jar onto another one. “...I doubt that, but thanks.”