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To Stop The Dawn

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The hospital bed, even in comparison to her own at home, is extremely uncomfortable; hard and bumpy and acrid-smelling. Sniffing, Mizuki tugs the thin blanket over her head, trying not to move her leg too much, and pulls out her phone. There’s a new NILE message from Iris, a quick update on her condition. It’s from three hours ago, so she’s probably already asleep in her own hospital room. While she wasn’t hurt in their encounter with Saito, the doctors wanted to keep an eye on her, in case the incident messed with her tumor.

Mizuki’s heart sinks. Iris’s cancer, Moma’s gunshot wound, Date’s eye… Her chest hurts. Swallowing hard, she opens a dumb puzzle game to try and distract herself from the bad thoughts. With the dull pain in her thigh and beeping of the heart rate monitor, she’s not going to get any sleep either way. When a nurse goes to check on her, Mizuki locks the phone screen and relaxes, pretending to be asleep. Ha. As if.

The doctors offered her some sleeping meds, but she refused. Perhaps she shouldn't have. Not having to think about anything, not being aware she even exists… Yeah. Mizuki is quite sure it wouldn't be as bad as she thought at first.

The ache throbs in sync with her pulse. It’s — better this way. It makes her focus on the stitched-up hole in her leg instead of the one in her heart. Gaping, empty, like someone peeled away her ribs and scooped out the inside. She bites her lip and, blinking furiously, returns to tapping at her phone. Between the game and the pain, she’s almost able to keep the bad thoughts at bay. They're like… like sharks in murky waters, circling around as they sniff out her blood, their grey bodies coming in and out of view. Mizuki tries her best not to notice their hungry maws, as they wait for her to slip and fall.

Don’t think about this. Not now, not yet. She solves another puzzle because she needs something to be logical. After yesterday, nothing is.

After a while, she hears footsteps coming down the hallway, too heavy to be from one of the nurses, and then the door to her room slowly opens. Curled under the sheets, she tenses, anxiety welling up. Her pipe’s away, and she's too sore to fight, but, but...

“Mizuki?”

For a split second, she doesn't recognize the voice, but then it clicks in place. “Date?” she whispers back, sitting up and frowning in his direction. “What are you doing here?”

Closing the door, he walks to her bedside and takes a seat in a nearby chair. “What do you think, twerp?” Date says in this weird new voice, too deep, too tired. “Checking on you, of course.”

“The doctors let you do that?” Mizuki says, dubious.

“Nah, I snuck out.”

“And decided to creep around the pediatrics ward, like the old pervert you are,” Mizuki mumbles out. She kind of expects him to get offended, but Date simply sighs and shakes his head.

There isn’t much light in the room, only a splinter of cold shine coming from underneath the door, a few blinking indicators on the machines surrounding her. Mizuki has to squint to make out Date’s features; he’s wearing his old coat over the pajamas, and his left eye is taped shut with gauze. He looks — awful, gaunt and exhausted, but she doesn’t really have the energy to needle him about it. They sit in silence for a moment; she twiddles with her thumbs, awkward, waiting.

Finally, Date speaks out. “Mizuki, I need to apologize.”

That throws her off the loop. She tilts her head, confused.

“Did you steal my pudding again?” She offers it as a joke, attempting to bring some normalcy into this off-putting conversation, but Date doesn’t laugh.

“It’s… God.” He drags his hand over his face, letting out a shaky exhale. “No, it’s… about Saito.”

Her throat clenches. “Ah.”

“Your parents are — are gone because of him. Because of me. If it weren’t for what happened six years ago, you wouldn’t have gotten tangled up in all of my mess. I am… so sorry, kid. I’m sorry.”

“Stop it.” She squeezes her eyes shut to keep the tears from spilling out. When she opens them, she can make out the regret on Date’s new face. God, this is all so bizarre. It doesn’t feel real. “It’s not... You couldn’t have known. I’ll be fine.” He doesn’t seem to buy it.

“Still. I’m worried about you, Mizuki. You’re just a kid and had to go through so much shit because—”

“I’m gonna be fine,” Mizuki repeats, more forcefully this time, wiping her nose on the back of her wrist. “Yeah, Mom and D-Daddy are dead, but, but…I gotta be a g-good...”

“Oh, Mizuki,” Date whispers, painfully soft. “You don’t have to be fine, you know. It’s — none of this is okay. Absolutely none.” The sound he makes is way too sad to be a laugh, and maybe that honesty is the final drop to overflow the cup. 

The icepick in Mom's eye. Daddy's mangled corpse, discarded on the floor after it was of no use. Miss Hitomi with blood and gore on her face, staring at the headless body crumpling down. Saito's smirk as he shot her, and she never saw Date make that expression, never thought he'd hurt her; the fingers which once carded through her hair squeezing around the trigger.

She cries quietly, to avoid bringing any attention. When Date reaches out to her, Mizuki clutches his hand, white-knuckled, and doesn’t let go for a long time. His grip is — off, his palm too big, and his scent, his voice… The Date she knew is dead as well, and the thought makes her want to scream.

“I’m sorry,” she gasps out, her breath hitching, “I-I am s-so so-orry— I’m—”

“Me too, kiddo.” The unfamiliar voice is tight now, strained, as if Date was also about to cry. That makes even less sense. None of this does. “Me too.”