It had been over something irrational.
Thinking back, Shintaro wasn't even quite sure why he'd snapped so suddenly and so harshly. It had been something about Konoha, the way he talked, the things he liked, the airheaded quality to everything he did.
It reminded Shintaro of someone he wanted to forget.
They'd been in his room, Konoha sitting on Shintaro's bed while Shintaro sat at his desk and tested things out in his song editor. Konoha had been in the middle of babbling endlessly about the usual aimless topics when Shintaro couldn't take it anymore and spun around in his chair.
"Jesus, Konoha, can you be quiet for one minute?" Konoha shrank back, but Shintaro didn't pay him any mind. "I'm busy! Can you just-- just, leave me alone! For once!"
"I..." Konoha's face fell, but his expression was replaced with something more bittersweet before Shintaro could notice. "I'm sorry, Shintaro. I won't annoy you any more."
Shintaro grumbled as he turned back to his monitor, Ene swimming around on the screen as she watched them in a shocked silence. After a moment there came a soft click from behind him, and when Shintaro turned around he was met with an empty room. He felt a twang of guilt in his stomach, but brushed it off as he turned back to his computer.
The room was quiet for several minutes as Shintaro fiddled with his song.
"Aren't you going to go after him?"
Ene had flipped herself upside down to stare at him from his other monitor, legs hanging on to one of the folders.
"No. He'll be fine," Shintaro didn't even look over to her, swearing under his breath as he messed up part of the vocals. "He usually is."
Ene's eyes narrowed, and she swung herself off the folder into a flip, landing back right side up. "That's pretty mean, Master. He looked pretty upset to me," Ignored by Shintaro, she continued, tone getting colder. "I don't even know why he puts up with you. He's too nice for someone like you, don't you agree, Master?"
Shintaro winced at the remark. "Yeah, what if I do agree, huh?" He quipped, finally turning to face her. "Will you leave me alone, then? If I'm that horrible, just go away."
Ene felt bad for pushing him that far, but she figured he deserved it this time. They exchanged cold glares for a few seconds, and then he looked away again, seeming more tired than before. Drifting off the screen, Ene decided she'd only make herself angrier if she kept talking to him.
It would be an hour before there'd be another interruption to Shintaro's tapping, this time being Momo. Shintaro started when she slammed open the door, turning around a tad too quickly in his chair.
"Alright, fess up. What'd you do to Konoha?" Her tone was nothing short of irritated, only making Shintaro's apprehension rise.
"Um, Momo...?" Shintaro ignored Ene's muffled giggles, audible from the headphones he'd left on the desk.
"Don't play dumb. What'd you say to him? I found him sniffling outside, and he told me to tell you he was sorry. Obviously, you did something to him. So what was it?" She cracked her knuckles, signalling certain doom for Shintaro if he didn't save himself.
"I-I didn't do anything--"
"That's a lie, Master!" Ene had switched the audio output to his speakers so Momo could hear. "You told him to leave you alone, and then you didn't apologize!"
He turned back to give her a mean look, which Ene responded to by sticking out her tongue.
"You're unbelievable!" Momo had started yelling at him, so he turned around to face her again. Tone turning tragic, she continued. "I can't believe my own brother is such a mean person... I'm ashamed to be your sister."
Shintaro eyed her hurt expression carefully, but he couldn't figure out whether she was kidding or not and decided that he'd be better off safe than sorry. "Ugh... Fine, whatever. What do you want me to do about it, then?"
A smile appeared on her face as soon as he'd spoken, sweetness masking what was, in Shintaro's opinion, pure malevolence. Ene's stifled snorts weren't helping, either. "Good, that was easy." The grin faded, "And go talk to him, obviously! What else would you do?! Jeez!"
Shintaro stared at Momo for a moment, eventually pushing himself out of his chair and letting out a long, drawn sigh. "...Okay, okay. Where was he?"
Momo stepped out of his way as he passed, "Uh, front of the house, last I saw him. He might be gone by now, though,"
Shintaro didn't answer, leaving the door half-open as he left the two in his room behind.
No one was outside when he exited the house; at least, no one he knew. He looked around, but he still couldn't see even a hint of Konoha's distinctive appearance. It was easy to spot him even in a crowded street, and the fact that he couldn't find him right now worried Shintaro.
Reaching the conclusion that he wasn't going to find Konoha at that moment, he turned back into the house and headed to his room, catching Momo in the hall.
"Oh, did you find him? Or..." She looked behind him, brow furrowing. "I guess not. Did you actually go and look?"
"Of course I did," he snapped, tone relaxing immediately after. "He wasn't there at all."
There was a pause following his words, and Shintaro resumed talking after it became clear that Momo didn't have anything to add. "I'm sure he'll be alright. If he doesn't come back here tonight, then I'll bet he'll be at the base. He knows how to get there, at least, so he isn't going to get lost." He hoped not, at least.
Momo didn't seem to be convinced in the slightest, but she shrugged anyways. "Alright, well, you know him better than I do..." She started walking past Shintaro, but stopped before she got around the corner. "Just... I'm still worried about him, y'know?"
Shintaro nodded, silent as she left. "Me too," he mumbled after he was sure she was out of earshot, shuffling back to his room with a weight on his shoulders that hadn't been there before.
Ene didn't say anything to him when he came in, although she did watch him while he sat down. Shintaro didn't mind; it was nice for her to be quiet for once, so he could get his work done without her being a thorn in his side.
Unfortunately, he found it difficult to concentrate anyways, even though Ene didn't seem particularly interested in distracting him. She hadn't said or done much of anything, actually, disappearing off his alternate monitor every so often to who-knew-where, only to eventually reappear and check up on him.
Giving up on productive work for the day by the time the sun had begun to set, Shintaro saved what little he'd managed to accomplish. Sighing, he pushed himself away from his computer and let his chair roll to a slow stop.
Konoha's disappearance was nagging at him, no matter how hard he tried to shake it away and tell himself that he would be fine. It didn't help that he couldn't keep his attention on anything to distract himself, and after a long while of pacing he eventually conceded defeat and fell onto his bed, wasting hours staring at the wall until his consciousness drifted off.
When Shintaro woke up the following morning, early and just after sunrise, he was still alone in his room. He didn't realize it at first, sleep still fogging his mind and memory. It was when Shintaro rolled over and grasped cold sheets instead of warmth that he remembered, realizing in that moment that the familiar loneliness had returned to his room.
Shintaro rolled back to his back, arms outstretched beside him while he stared at the ceiling.
"I hope he's okay," he whispered, and then for a long time he didn't do anything else.
Eventually, and with some difficulty, Shintaro pulled himself out of his bed. As he was tugging his clothes off, a familiar voice spoke from his desk.
"Good mooooorning, Master!" Ene's pitch went so high it made Shintaro cringe, but he ignored her otherwise. She did a flip while he walked by in the direction of his closet. "Konoha never came back, you know. So much for 'he'll be back soon', huh?"
That finally got Shintaro to look at her, although it was nothing more than another one of his dead-eyed stares. "I never said that."
She placed a hand on her chin in thought, drifting across the screen. "Hmm... I guess you didn't. You were thinking it, though, and that's what counts!" She laughed, and he couldn't think of any sort of rebuttal that wouldn't just make things worse for himself.
"Yeah, whatever. I'm gonna go check with everyone else. You're welcome to stay here, y'know," Shintaro peered at Ene hopefully, although he could already tell by the excited expression on her face that she wasn't going to remain behind.
"Nope! I'm coming with you. I'm worried about Konoha, too, even if you won't admit you are." She smiled sweetly, although Shintaro had already gone back to ignoring her.
Pursing her lips, Ene watched him slowly dress himself. Same outfit as usual, it seemed. She wondered if it ever got washed - probably not, but she was sure it probably needed it with all that sweat. She'd bug him about that later, though.
Shintaro didn't bother looking at her while he shoved his phone into his pocket and left the room, still shrugging on his jacket. The door to Momo's room was open, and he didn't see her anywhere else in the house on his way out, so he figured she'd probably already left.
Stepping out and locking the door behind him, he was immediately hit with the heat. He was fairly certain the temperature had been decreasing over the last few days, but it still made him feel sluggish.
He kept his earbuds in while he walked, however he didn't reply to any of Ene's chatter. His head hurt, he felt so tired that he was on the verge of passing out, and the list of unvoiced complaints only went on.
He hoped Konoha would show up soon so he could stop feeling so awful.
Thankfully enough, the Mekakushi Dan's "hideout", as it had been named, was within reasonable walking distance from Shintaro's home. Even someone like him could make it there with what were, in his humble opinion, minimal complaints. Ene said otherwise, but Ene said a lot of things.
When Shintaro arrived, there were only two other people there - Mary and Hibiya. Mary greeted him when he walked in, while Hibiya barely glanced up from the game he was playing. Someone had dug out an old Gameboy and thrown it at him to make him stop whining about everything, and it seemed like they'd attained what was more or less a success.
"Hello, Shintaro!" Mary smiled shyly, however it disappeared when she glanced behind him. "Oh... where's Konoha?"
He paused, stomach sinking. "Wait, he wasn't here? At all?"
She shook her head slowly, "No, I haven't seen him. I thought he was with you...?"
"He..." Shintaro took a moment before he continued, fidgeting with one of his sleeves uncomfortably. "He disappeared yesterday evening. I... yelled at him over something stupid, and I haven't seen him since."
He braced himself for her to be disappointed, to chastise him, anything, but it never came. All Mary did was frown, and say, "I hope he shows up soon."
Shintaro nodded, giving a grunt of vague agreement while he walked past her. "Yeah... me too."
She moved back into another room while Shintaro shambled over to the area where Hibiya was sitting, lying himself down on a nearby couch. Pulling his phone out of his pocket, he noticed the annoyed glare Ene was giving him.
"Hmm, remind me, what did you say earlier about Konoha?" He stared back at her for a few moments until he realized she actually expected an answer from him. Opting to ignore her question at that point, he turned off the screen and shoved her back into his pocket.
"What, don't tell me you--"
Shintaro took out his earbuds, ignoring the faint sounds of her voice that were still coming from it. Hibiya was giving him a strange look, but he didn't pay attention to that, either.
Her voice died down, and there was a moment of silence before an airhorn sound blared from his pocket, eliciting a small scream from Shintaro and shocking him enough to nearly slip off the couch, only to catch himself at the last second. As he tore his phone back out of his pocket, he caught the dirty, vaguely disappointed glare that Hibiya was giving him. Shintaro felt a moment of inner sadness that he was taking looks like that from a 12 year old, but Ene was the more pressing matter.
Pushing his earbuds back into his ears, he watched the airhorn Ene was holding scatter into pixels and disappear. "Tiiiime's up, Master! You took too long to answer my question. Aww. " She pouted, innocent and sweet as the angel she seemed to be convinced that she was.
"Holy..." He breathed, taking a moment for his heart to calm down. "Don't do that, Ene!"
She didn't pay attention to his outburst, which didn't come as much of a surprise. "The correct answer was 'I said 'he'll be fine''!" She slammed her hand on the buzzer that had appeared in front of her, ringing in Shintaro's ears and only making his headache worse. Tossing it off the screen, she cupped her face in her hands and frowned. "That was a lie, Master! Don't you know lying is bad?"
Shintaro wanted to start yelling at her, but he restrained himself in order to prevent Hibiya's opinion of him from worsening. "Yeah, so? Buzz off, Ene. He'll show up eventually."
Unfortunately for him, Ene did not seem particularly inclined to buzzing off. "You said that earlier, too, didn't you? Hmhmhm..."
He frowned, "No, I didn't, again. You said the same thing this morning. Is repeating yourself all you're good for?"
For once, she didn't seem to have a comeback to that. Content enough with the silence, Shintaro rolled over onto his side and closed his eyes, trying to grasp even a few more minutes of rest.
Only getting a couple hours of sleep wasn't anything Shintaro found unusual, but between the headache and everything else he barely had the strength and willpower left to stand up. Lying down helped, and he took a couple pills to ease off the pain, but he wasn't exactly somewhere that was quiet enough for him to relax. As the other members of the Mekakushi Dan trickled in from wherever they'd happened to have been, Shintaro was forced to repeat the same explanation about Konoha's disappearance over, and over, and over. It helped a bit when Momo finally showed up so they could talk to her instead of him, but Shintaro was pretty sure the volume of the room only got louder when she was in there anyways.
Sometime around evening, when the sunlight streaming in had dimmed to golden reds, was when Shintaro finally got up off the couch. Binking back the temporary rush of black that covered his vision when he stood up too quickly, he left Ene on the table while he ambled towards the bathroom.
When he exited, he was in the middle of closing the door behind him when he stopped, noticing that everyone had grouped themselves around where he'd just been sitting. He closed the door and approached them slowly, suspiciously eyeing the looks they gave him.
Momo was the first to speak up, "Hey... Shintaro, it's getting pretty late, and we're all pretty worried that no one has seen Konoha for the last day, so we decided we're all gonna go split up and look for him."
Ene spoke next, still on the table. "We're going in groups! Mary and Hibiya are gonna stay here in case he comes back, Kano and Seto are gonna go check the parks, Momo and Kido are gonna head towards the malls, and me and you are gonna go around the back streets! Okay?"
Shintaro had to wonder why he'd been signed up without being informed of anything first, but he wasn't really in the mood to argue. It was his fault, anyway, so he didn't really have an argument in the first place. "I..." Everyone was staring at him, and it was making him really uncomfortable. "...Yeah, sure."
Momo smiled, and then the group turned back towards eachother and chatted loudly for a few moments until they seemed to reach some kind of decision. As suddenly as they'd grouped up in the first place, they paired off and ran out the door, and then it was back to only four people in the room.
Probably having noticed the utterly overwhelmed expression on Shintaro's face, Mary flashed him an awkward smile. "They, um, said they want to meet back here in a couple hours if no one can find him."
Shintaro nodded slowly, "Er, s-sure. Thanks." She looked at him for another moment before she swiftly turned around, disappearing into the kitchen. Alone with just Hibiya once more, Shintaro finally moved from the spot he'd been standing in. Picking up his phone off the table and ignoring Ene's chattering while he put his earbuds back in, Shintaro quietly exited and left the two of them behind.
Now that he thought about it, 'around the back streets' were pretty vague instructions. He asked Ene about this and, after a few minutes wasted with jumping through hoops and empty promises, he'd managed to get a more detailed answer from her. There was a web of sidestreets to the east of him, apparently, which seemed like someplace that Konoha could have gotten lost in. Shintaro just hoped he didn't get lost, too.
Although the heat had, for the most part, subsided, Shintaro was still sweating after only a few minutes of walking.
"Hehe, Master, I wonder if everyone else can hear how hard you're panting? It's so embarrassing! And gross!"
Shintaro looked down at his phone, glaring at Ene while she giggled. "Shut up. Go away, already."
She stopped, suddenly, uncharacteristically serious when she frowned and huffed. "Jeez, fine. You're such a wet blanket! Ugh. Have fun getting lost without a map."
Shintaro was too late, however, because the screen had already turned black. He tried pressing the power button, any buttons, but nothing happened. Cursing under his breath, he shoved the phone back into his pocket and continued on.
It was when Shintaro was walking through what felt like the tenth street that he spotted, through the corner of his eye, a familiar shade of green, a telltale tuft of white. He stopped so quickly he nearly tripped himself, backing up and using the remainders of his already-spent stamina to jog down the alley.
Sure enough, he'd found Konoha, curled up between a pair of dumpsters. It'd been sheer luck that Shintaro had happened to see him, but if it was going to be the only time in his life that luck was going to take his side, he wouldn't mind. Ignoring how heavily he was breathing, Shintaro stopped in front of where Konoha had half-hidden himself.
It took Shintaro a moment to realize Konoha was sleeping, chest gently rising while his head slowly slid down the side of the dumpster. Considering he'd only been outside for one full day, Konoha looked awful. His hair was a tangled mess, hairtie long gone. He was covered in dirt, there was a rip in his pants, and Shintaro winced when his gaze landed on the bloodstain on his arm. He immediately looked away, at anything else.
The fragility, unfitting but plainly visible, made Shintaro's gut wrench.
"Kuh..." Shintaro's voice caught and he coughed to clear his dry throat, trying again. "Konoha...? Konoha, wake up."
Konoha shuffled when he heard his name, lifting up the head that had been so uncomfortably angled. He took a moment to blink open his eyes, however they widened the moment he noticed Shintaro. Immediately, he moved to cover his face with his hands, accompanied by a small "Eep!"
"Oh... jeez," Shintaro exhaled, crouching down and gently taking Konoha's hands. As he pulled them down to reveal Konoha's face once more, he was startled to discover that his eyes were already watering. Sucking in his breath, Shintaro realized he had absolutely no idea how to handle this kind of situation. "Where... were you?"
Konoha didn't try to pull his hands away, although he did look down at them while he spoke. "Well... last night I slept in a wheat field I found," Shintaro wondered how far away he must've gone to have found farms, "but a dog woke me up and bit my arm, so then I got scared and ran away, but I got lost and then I ended up back here, and I was really sleepy and my arm hurt so I decided I'd go to sleep somewhere, and..." He trailed off, seemingly run out of steam.
Shintaro's stomach had continued to tie itself in knots while Konoha rambled, and by the point he stopped he nearly felt sick. "Why--" he snapped, stopping himself when he realized it wasn't fair to be mad at Konoha. In a softer tone, he restarted, and found that he was at a loss for words anyway. "Why did you..."
Konoha sniffled. "I-I'm sorry, Shintaro... You told me to go away, so I didn't want to get in your way..." Shintaro realized that tears, not his own, were dripping down to his hands, which were still wrapped around Konoha's. "Since I was being annoying to you, I thought you'd be happier if you didn't have to see me any more. You're happy now, right?"
Konoha looked back up and smiled through his tears. Wordless, Shintaro stared at him for a few long moments until his face relaxed into a rueful smile, letting go of Konoha's hands to thumb away his tears.
"Jeez... I can't believe you," he sighed. "No, Konoha, I don't hate you, and I don't want you to go away, either. I was worried sick..."
Trailing off, Shintaro tried to stand up, but a sudden weight around his torso pulled him back to his knees. Looking down, it was Konoha's arms, with his head resting against Shintaro's chest as he stared up at his face.
"You... don't hate me?" His eyes were wide as he watched Shintaro, head shifting slightly against Shintaro's shirt.
Relaxing his body, Shintaro shifted his gaze to the side. "I... No, of course not. I shouldn't have even gotten mad at you in the first place."
"Oh!" Konoha's exclamation surprised Shintaro enough to make him look back down to him. "I'm very happy, Shintaro! I was worried I wouldn't be able to be your friend any more." He stopped himself, smile faltering. "Oh... are we still friends, Shintaro? Um, the word Momo told me... 'boyfriends'?"
Shintaro wondered if Momo had been teaching Konoha anything else he'd be interested in, but brushed the thought away before he could think about it too much.
"Of course we are, Konoha." Shintaro allowed himself a small smile at the way Konoha's face lit up as he said this, and the way his eyes softened with nothing short of undying fondness. A few moments later, however, he was startled to see that new tears were streaking through the dirt on Konoha's face. "Wait, Konoha, what's wrong?!"
"Oh..." Konoha didn't seem to have realized he was crying, and he let go of Shintaro to wipe his face with the back of his uninjured arm. "I don't know, Shintaro. I got very... happy." He tilted his head and looked back at Shintaro, obviously not certain of his answer.
Smiling tiredly, Shintaro leaned in and cupped the side of Konoha's face with one of his hands, stroking his cheek with his thumb. "That's good, then," he murmured. Hesitating a moment before he lightly pressed his lips against Konoha's own, he smothered the soft exclamation of surprise that came from Konoha. Shintaro's free hand traveled, finding Konoha's and gently intertwining their fingers.
After a moment, Shintaro pulled himself back ever-so-slightly and rested their foreheads against one another's, the hand that had been on Konoha's face moving and curling itself around his torso instead. "I never want you to disappear, alright? I'm sorry, Konoha,"
Konoha closed his eyes. "I'm sorry. I won't," he mumbled.
For a few moments, neither of them said or did anything else. With a jolt, however, Shintaro remembered that he hadn't been the only one looking for Konoha, and that it'd be more than awkward if anyone found them sitting there like that. With that in mind, he moved to pull himself away from Konoha.
"Hmm? Shintaro, what's wrong?" Konoha allowed himself to be detached from Shintaro as he spoke, arms returning to his sides as Shintaro stood back up.
"Well, everyone else is worried about you, so we probably shouldn't wait any longer to go find the rest of them." The perpetually tired look had returned to Shintaro's face, although he still made an effort to smile at Konoha.
"Oh...! I'm sorry," Konoha stood up slowly, wavering on his feet and nearly falling over before Shintaro managed to support him with his arm.
"Konoha...?" Shintaro grunted under the weight, however Konoha seemed to have managed to stabilize himself and the pressure was soon released from Shintaro's arm.
"Mm... I'm really hungry and I feel kind of... dizzy..." He seemed confused, but still made an honest attempt to smile reassuringly at Shintaro.
"Al... alright. I'll treat you to whatever you want soon, okay?" Shintaro hoped it was just the lack of food, and nothing like an infection in his arm, or an illness from that dog. He also hoped he didn't regret promising anything Konoha wanted, but that seemed less important.
Konoha beamed in approval of the suggestion while Shintaro nodded, eyes watching Konoha for a moment before he pulled out his cellphone and ripped away his gaze.
Shintaro breathed a sigh of relief as he realized that his phone was working again, and that Ene seemed to have disappeared. He punched in Momo's number and, after a brief exchange while he told her to tell everyone else that he'd found Konoha, he hung up in the middle of her complaints that he was leaving everything to her.
Shintaro turned back to Konoha, who'd been waiting beside him silently. "Alright, well, Mary and Hibiya are waiting at the base already, so we should... go."
Konoha nodded, not speaking as he wrapped himself around Shintaro's arm, intertwining their hands with care. He seemed content enough just to do that, humming a familiar song as he matched Shintaro's pace.
After a few minutes, Konoha spoke up quietly. "I love you, Shintaro,"
Shintaro nodded, the ghost of a smile pulling at his lips as he replied in an even lower voice. "...I love you too, Konoha."
Safely tucked away inside Shintaro's pocket and out of sight of either of them, his cellphone illuminated itself. Ene appeared on the screen, drifting around in a long moment of pensive silence as she listened to their soft conversation. Shintaro's tone was the one she could only remember hearing him use with Konoha, although it gave her an oddly nostalgic feeling of days long-past.
"Huh," she mumbled, deleting the audio recording she'd been taking.