Tokyo Demons Book 2: Chapter 4
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Trigger warning (self-harm) for prologue scene.
Nakajima rang the doorbell again. One of the grocery bags in her arms tilted dangerously at the movement; she quickly shifted the weight closer to her body. She peered down into the bag. It didn’t have the eggs, at least. She rested it on the stone step.
She still heard no movement behind the door. She rapped her knuckles against the wood. It felt old and soft under her taps, a testament to the building’s age.
“Ochi,” she called, loud enough to penetrate. “It’s me.”
Still no reply. Nakajima shifted the remaining bag to her hip, then pounded at the cracked door.
“Ochi,” she repeated, louder. “Let me in.”
She knew he was there. Their last phone conversation had been from his landline, and she could tell, from his tone, that he’d been curled up somewhere in his sleeping robe. He hadn’t left in 30 minutes. She pounded against the wood.
A slight scraping noise prickled at the edge of her ears. Nakajima pulled back from the door and tilted her head toward the second floor.
One of the small windows overlooking the doorway had been cracked open. She watched a thin white envelope, crisp and neatly folded, slide a few centimeters outside. Then the window closed, pinching the letter in place.
Instinct blazed a cold trail from her brain down every pathway in her body. Forty years of training took over as she dropped the bag with eggs to crack against the concrete.
Nakajima rammed the sole of her shoe against the sliding door. The soft wood splintered beneath her, detaching the piece of the door that held the lock clasp. She dug her fingers into the new hole and ripped the door open, hard enough to pull it from its overhead grooves to topple diagonally in the doorway. She slipped past it.
She leapt over the genkan and Ochi’s abandoned shoes. One pair of his house slippers was missing, so he wasn’t barefoot. She threw the second door open and raced for the stairs.
She could hear sounds now–soft movement overhead, running water. She ran up the stairs, the quick taps of her shoes near-silent out of habit. She filtered out the sounds of her breath, the rustling of her clothes. The running water snapped off. She could hear him sit; the weight of his body creaked against the old floorboards.
She spun around on the second floor. At the opposite end, over the entry to the house, the bathroom door was closed. His bathroom slippers were outside…
As were one other pair, the last ones he could be wearing.
Nakajima flew down the hall, her body silent silk as she braced her shoulder for the door. The silence exploded when she rammed into it, filling the air with sharp cracks as she tore the door off its frame to crash in the bathroom. She waited a half-second for it to fall before she ran in on top of it, the wood splintering beneath her shoes.
Ochi was lying in the empty bathtub, morning stubble on his face and his robe tucked carefully around his wide body. His bloodshot eyes rolled to her, but he didn’t move.
Nakajima saw the pill bottle resting on the tub edge. She leaned over and snatched the bottle with one hand and a fistful of Ochi’s collar with the other. She heaved him onto his knees as she read the label.
Acetaminophen. 32 tablets, 300mg each.
Nakajima tossed the bottle, stepped into the tub, and rammed two fingers down Ochi’s throat. He gagged and doubled over; she pulled out to let him breathe, then rammed again. He vomited over her hand, a thin, watery flood that scattered pills to ping against the tub. She plugged the bath before any went down the drain. Then she gagged him again, drawing forth more pills to travel in rivulets around her shoes.
After ten minutes, the minimal contents of his stomach stopped coming up. Nakajima counted 30 pills in the tub. She lifted several with slippery fingers. The pills were barely disintegrated; she could still read the grooves marking the brand and dose.
She took a long breath and unclenched the muscles in her body. Her heartbeat began to slow. She closed her eyes, once, to give herself a moment of quiet calm.
Her mind unfolded from its narrow focus, giving her broad awareness once more. She dropped the pills into the tub and stepped outside of it, leaving the panting, half-naked Ochi coughing in her wake. She pulled a handkerchief from her pocket to wipe her hands.
The fallen door cracked under her. She stepped into a narrow sliver of floor so she could heft it up on its edge. She leaned its width against the doorframe, leaving the entryway into the hall open.
“Get up,” she said thinly as she walked to the bathroom window. She pulled the tucked note from the window and tore it to pieces. “This is your last day in this house.”
Ochi took a shuddering breath. He wiped his mouth and swung his eyes up to her.
“I don’t care that your father wanted you to take care of it. You can’t stay in the place where your mother killed herself.”
Ochi swallowed. “He…knew what he was asking me,” he mumbled.
“He didn’t. He understood your mother, not you.” Nakajima glared at him as she tossed the torn letter in the garbage. “And her dream-reading couldn’t hold a candle to what you face. He was a fool to think you could handle this.”
Ochi rubbed at his eyes. He slumped back into the tub.
“Your liver wouldn’t necessarily fail you for days with that dose. Were you planning to wait in that tub?” Nakajima let out a breath. “You have work tomorrow.”
“I…I don’t know.” Ochi closed his eyes. “I don’t know, Chikako.”
Nakajima stared at him for a long moment. When he just lay there, his eyes closed as he wheezed weak breaths, she checked her watch.
She walked back to the tub. Carefully, she pulled the wet, stained robe from him. His naked body shivered.
She unplugged the tub. She sprayed him gently with the detachable faucet head, letting the remnants of his stomach wash down the drain with a stream of pills. She plugged the drain, turned up the water, and pulled back as the tub began to fill. She unhooked the washing stool from the wall so she could rest it on the floor.
“Himura-kun can cover for me at the station for a few hours.” She lowered herself onto the stool. “Ten minutes to soak, then tea. Then we’ll pack your bags and take you to a hotel.”
Ochi ran a hand over the damp stubble on his face. He didn’t reply.
Not that he ever did. Nakajima leaned back on the stool, the sounds of the filling tub expanding in the silence.
*Note: Shoes are often removed prior to committing suicide in Japan.
Ayase was running across the room when Jo’s voice rang out. Despite herself, despite her defensive aggression at seeing him shake Kadoyuki, she stopped in her tracks. Her higher functions disappeared from her sleep-deprived brain.
The room around her had gone silent as death. Against the wall, in Jo’s grip, Kadoyuki’s panicked stutters cut through the quiet.
“No!” he cried weakly. “That’s not…I can’t…!” His hands frantically clawed at Jo’s fist. “P-please don’t hurt me!”
The words broke the spell. Zayd called out from somewhere behind her; Ayase’s heart dropped to her stomach as she ran the last steps.
But she didn’t need to intervene. Jo abruptly released Kadoyuki, the slight twitch between his brows implying guilt behind his anger.
Kadoyuki recoiled against the wall. He stared up at Jo, then threw his wild gaze around the room.
“I…” Kadoyuki frantically shook his head. “Th-that’s not it! I can’t read minds!”
Jo’s mouth clenched to reveal gritted teeth. “You’re lying,” he snapped. “You knew exactly what I was thinking!”
“But I didn’t…!” Kadoyuki trailed off, his legs shaking beneath him.
“How did you do it, Kado?!”
Kado released a thin, panicked whine as he clutched his head. He squeezed shut his eyes.
“I…I can just hear you.”
Ayase stared at him. As she tried to process that, Daniel spoke up.
“Kadoyuki,” he called carefully. “Are you saying you can hear thoughts?”
Kadoyuki sobbed, his hands dragging down over his temples. As he slid down the wall, he curled inward, his body tightening into a huddled mass.
Ayase’s mouth dropped open. She wanted to ask him to clarify, but her mind was suddenly a scattered mess of memories that tried to piece themselves together. Kadoyuki knowing things he shouldn’t. Finding people who were hidden. Listening at doors.
“I know what it’s like to be everyone.”
That…that couldn’t explain everything. It couldn’t. What did he even mean?
He can hear thoughts? Ayase repeated in her head. Like what? Can he hear this?
“Yes,” Kadoyuki mumbled from under his arms. “I can hear that, Watanabe-san.”
A cold, unnerving confusion tangled up in her heart, followed almost immediately by dread. As the full realization dawned on her, her head jerked to Sachi.
He was white as a ghost. He stared at Kadoyuki in silence, his eyes wide behind his glasses.
Detective Ochi turned on his heel. He walked out of the room without a word. A few seconds later, Ayase could hear the back door of the church slam shut.
“C-calm down.” Daniel threw up his hands. “Everyone needs to…j-just calm down, please.” He brushed past Sachi. “Kadoyuki-kun.”
Kadoyuki curled tighter into his ball as Daniel approached him. The man dropped into a squat, leaning in with gentle care.
“It’s all right, Kadoyuki-kun. Please don’t be upset.” He smiled weakly. “Now we can help each other, all right? And there’s precedent for your power–I’ve read about telepaths before.”
Kadoyuki shook his head. “I’m not a telepath,” he whined. “I can’t transfer anything. I-I just absorb! I just hear you!”
“Well, granted, but…one-sided telepathy exists, too. It’s actually a form of–” Daniel suddenly cut himself off. He furrowed his eyebrows.
“You know what I mean by ‘telepath’?”
Kadoyuki didn’t answer. He just sobbed out a breath and started mumbling words that Ayase didn’t understand.
Daniel stood. As he frowned in thought, Jo swung his head up.
“What the hell is he mumbling?”
Daniel brushed a hand. “He’s praying,” he said quietly. “Give him a little space.”
“Give him space? He’s been listening to our thoughts this whole time, and he needs his space?!”
Daniel sighed. “It probably happens to him passively, Jo-kun.”
“Right. He can’t turn it off!” Jo ran a shaking fist across his chin. “Like everybody else here. You can’t control your powers, so I’m not supposed to judge! Poor supers. Poor fucking supers.”
Emi cleared her throat. “Jo-kun,” she said quietly. “You’re technically not normal, either.”
“Which I found out yesterday. And which I told everyone in this goddamn church this minute I found out, even though I can’t feel people or spy on people, or…control people!” he snapped, throwing a severe look at Zayd. “Because I told myself that I was gonna work with everyone here to get through this thing with Core. And I know that hiding shit, even personal shit, could make us just vulnerable enough to get us all fucking killed.”
He scowled down at Kadoyuki. “You hid this from us,” he growled, “because you know exactly what we think of you.”
Kadoyuki’s mumbled prayers dropped to whispers. His white-knuckled hands dugs into his clutched knees.
“Please, Jo-kun.” Daniel rested a hand on Jo’s shoulder. “That doesn’t matter now.”
Jo shrugged him off. He let out a breath near Daniel’s face.
Daniel paused. “You…smell like you’ve been drinking.”
“I had a few goddamn shots! Everyone needs to shut the fuck up about it!” Jo angrily pushed past him. “Screw this. I’m going to bed.”
Ayase saw Daniel and Zayd exchange looks. Zayd watched Jo leave, but didn’t follow.
“Whoa.” By Emi’s side, Kiyoshi suddenly blurted his surprise. He rubbed at his eyes. “Uh…is he mad? Are you guys mad?”
Emi sighed. “Nobody needs to be mad.”
“Yes,” Daniel agreed, clearly distracted. “Nobody needs to be…” He licked his lips. He dropped back into a crouch by Kadoyuki.
“Kadoyuki-kun,” he offered, “you still live with your parents, don’t you? Are they your birth parents?”
Kadoyuki went rigid. The stream of foreign words stopped.
“I think I mentioned this before–psychic powers are inheritable traits. And the current school of thought is that it’s an X-linked trait, since there’s such a strong pattern of inheritance from mother to son.” He tilted his head. “Is your mother a psychic?”
Kadoyuki’s head snapped up. Terror gleamed in his tear-filled eyes.
“Please!” he begged. “Don’t talk to my family!”
Daniel paused. “Have you told them you can do this?”
Kadoyuki’s eyebrows slanted. “What do you…I-I can’t hide it from her! She’s the only one I can’t hide it from!”
Daniel opened his mouth, then closed it. He hesitated.
Kadoyuki suddenly surged forward on his knees, clasping his hands together in prayer. “Please!” he begged. “Don’t tell her you know about us! She’ll only get worse if…” His eyes widened. “B-but now she can hear it in me! She’ll hear it in me if I go back! Oh, God, Jesus, Mary!” He frantically clawed at his hair. “I can’t go back!”
Ayase’s heart flipped in her chest. “Kadoyuki,” she managed at last. “No one’s going to interfere with your family. We won’t…tell your mother anything.” She looked to the room. “Right?”
Kadoyuki burst into tears. “It’s too late!” he wailed. “She’ll hear it in me!”
Emi twisted her mouth. “Then…she can hear thoughts, too.”
Kadoyuki just cried. But Daniel, for his part, suddenly got to his feet.
“That can’t be right.” He turned to Emi. “That’s not how it works.”
Sachi, finally, looked up from his shocked share. “What…?” he asked weakly.
Daniel let out a breath. “The trait of being a psychic is passed from parent to child, but not the actual power. For some reason, the mutation manifests differently between generations. I’ve never heard of a parent and child having the same power.” He glanced at Sachi. “If you inherited your mutation from your birth mother, she wouldn’t be able to feel emotions through touch. She’d have something different–maybe she could alter memories, like Wipe, or maybe she’d be some sort of compulsionist.
“Kadoyuki-kun,” he said at last. “Do you have the same power as your mother?”
Kadoyuki buried his face in his hands to sob. When he didn’t respond, Kiyoshi, for some reason, left Emi’s side to join Kadoyuki. He crouched down like Daniel had done.
“Hey, man.” He suddenly wrapped his arms around the smaller boy. “Don’t cry.”
Kadoyuki jerked back, his cry choking off in his throat. He scrambled to get away from Kiyoshi’s arms.
“D-don’t touch me!” he shrieked.
Kiyoshi was undaunted. As he advanced on the cowering classmate, Emi quickly ran over to pull Kiyoshi off.
“Kiyoshi, he doesn’t like that. Give him his space.”
“He doesn’t need space. He needs a friend.” Kiyoshi frowned. “We’re your friends, Kado. You don’t have to cry.”
Based on the slight slur to Kiyoshi’s voice, he was still taking those pills. But Kadoyuki stared up at him. He hiccupped once, tears rolling down his cheeks.
The moment of near-calm helped snap Ayase to attention. She held out her hands.
“W-we’re your friends,” she repeated, finding the line weirdly appropriate. “We’re not gonna hurt you, Kadoyuki.”
Kadoyuki sniffed. He deliberated for a long moment, then looked up through wet eyelashes at Sachi.
“I’m…sorry,” Kadoyuki breathed.
Sachi’s lips twitched, but he didn’t manage a smile. He averted his eyes.
“Okay,” he murmured.
“Sachi…” Kadoyuki shakily got to his feet, his back to the wall. “I-I’m sorry.”
Sachi paled again–not that he’d had much color left. “Okay,” he mumbled again. “I get it. You could hear what was in my brain, so you…right. Okay.” He laughed weakly, but it came out like a wheeze. “No wonder you’re so uncomfortable around me.”
The look on Sachi’s face surprised Ayase. She knew he would be embarrassed–obviously, they were all mortified–but there was something a lot stronger under that. He almost looked…guilty.
“I-I feel like I should apologize,” Sachi rambled. “To everyone. I’m always reading you, and I didn’t really understand what it felt like until now. I’m sorry to put you through…” He trailed off and looked back to Kadoyuki. “And you, Kado. I’m sorry for…”
Kadoyuki hiccupped. He ran across the room, the action so sudden that Sachi recoiled a step. Kadoyuki stopped centimeters from Sachi and stared up at the taller boy.
“I hear everyone,” Kadoyuki said breathlessly. “Which means I hear everything. And it gets bad sometimes, but…I wasn’t judging you.”
Sachi opened his mouth, but no words came out. He let out a fractured sound and averted his eyes.
“Sachi.” Kadoyuki gripped both of Sachi’s arms. “I wasn’t judging you!”
Sachi went rigid at the physical touch. His wide eyes dragged back to Kadoyuki’s glassy gaze.
And then Kadoyuki released him. He rubbed a fist across his eyes and turned away.
Sachi swallowed hard. Ayase saw him brush a hand across where Kadoyuki had grabbed him.
Zayd let out a breath. “Enough,” he said at last. “You are all exhausted. We cannot discuss this rationally right now.”
Daniel, clearly lost in thought, straightened. “Oh. Er…Sachi-kun, you should probably get some rest. All the futons are in the closet. And Zayd, will you watch over Kiyoshi-kun?” Daniel glanced at Ayase and gestured for her to join him. “I’ll need Emi for a few minutes.”
Ayase was confused. At the mention of sleep, her existing aches throbbed; the corners of her eyes burned. She had to force her heavy body over to the priest.
Daniel leaned over to whisper something to Kadoyuki. Kadoyuki looked up, rapidly blinking his eyes.
That bloodshot gaze swung to Ayase. He stared at her a second, then let out a shuddering breath. He nodded.
Daniel lit up. As Kadoyuki shuffled for the exit, Daniel gestured for Emi as he gripped Ayase’s arm.
“I think we can get a few more minutes,” he breathed. “He’s a bit better around you and Emi.”
Ayase hesitated for a second. Her own panic, shoved down out of necessity, flared back up again.
He could get in her head. Without even touching her. It was like Sachi’s power–only much, much worse. Her muscles clenched.
Daniel smiled weakly. “I know,” he whispered. “But we’re all equally humiliated. Except for Sachi-kun, of course, who’s known Kadoyuki-kun for years.” He shook his head. “Poor Sachi.”
Ayase’s chest ached. Sachi was already pulling futons out of the closet, but his hands were shaking. He dropped one on the floor; Kiyoshi stumbled over to help.
It was the last push she needed. Ayase followed Daniel and Emi out of the room.
Daniel was careful to give Kadoyuki a few minutes of quiet the kitchen. He made tea, laid out some food, and finally sat at the table with Ayase and Emi. He cleared his throat.
“You should eat something,” he offered.
Kadoyuki slumped in his chair. He looked worn down now; the tears had dried from his lowered eyes.
“I’ll just throw it up,” he mumbled.
Ayase swallowed and tried to keep her mind blank.
It was…difficult. Questions clattered around in her head, accompanied by snatches of memories that filled her with horror. She’d already come to terms with Kadoyuki seeing her naked, but…what had he heard in her head? Had he heard her thinking about Sachi? About Kiyoshi?
Ayase quickly tried to push the thought of her head. But the less she tried to think about, the more it persisted. She couldn’t forget that day she’d curled up alone in the church to work through her feelings on Kiyoshi. Had Kadoyuki been anywhere near her? Had he heard that?
And what about that time in the kitchen, right after Kiyoshi’s rescue? Kadoyuki had definitely been there.
Then he knew that when Sachi touched me, he sensed my sex dream about…!
Kadoyuki slowly looked up at her. Ayase stiffened in her chair.
“It’s not embarrassing,” he said quietly. “Not compared to the things that live in other people’s heads.”
Ayase felt blood rush to her face. “P-please don’t do that,” she blurted.
Kadoyuki’s mouth trembled. “Daniel-san is right,” he breathed. “It happens passively. I don’t ‘do’ it.”
The look of utter dejection on his face made her stomach drop. Emi reached over the table in sympathy.
“Please tell us how it works, Kadoyuki-kun.”
Kadoyuki took a long breath. He rubbed his mouth.
“It’s not…all thoughts,” he mumbled at last. “Only concrete words that people think to themselves. So if you’re remembering an image, or mulling over something abstract…I can’t hear that. It’s just the words.”
“Do you hear the words in your head?” Daniel asked. “Or is it through your ears?”
“M-my ears. If I cover them with my hands, I can’t hear anything.”
Daniel brightened. “Excellent. I’ve absolutely heard of this before. It’s technically a type of empathy, and empaths are the most common psychics that exist.” He paused. “Which is still a tiny percentage of the population, of course.”
Ayase furrowed her eyebrows at Daniel. He cleared his throat.
“Kadoyuki-kun,” he said gently. “The literature on this is spotty, since so few psychics were properly studied until this century. But I remember reading one hypothesis on how your power works…and forgive me if I’m getting some details wrong.”
Daniel folded his hands. “The brain is a powerful organ that burns a lot of the energy in our body. Like all other types of metabolism, our bodily processes aren’t completely efficient, and as a result we release heat as a byproduct. So, technically, when we think, we’re releasing heat. The process of thinking isn’t just localized to the inside of our head–we’re releasing something external, even if it’s small, when we process a thought.
“The physics of sound aren’t complicated. Sound is basically vibration and pressure waves, and even though the human ear can only detect certain frequencies, there’s plenty of sound that we can’t hear. Like dog whistles, for example. Heat causes another type of molecular vibration…it’s not the same, but from what I understand, it can translate into sound under very specific conditions. Just not necessarily sound we can hear.”
Daniel shook his head. “Anyway, the thought is that perhaps, when we think and release heat, a psychic like Kadoyuki-kun is picking up some sort of wave out of that. Both his ears and his brain can translate that frequency into something he can hear. So this is possibly both a brain mutation, and a body mutation–in his ear. A combination of brain and slight body mutations is present in some psychics, although this is all speculative…” He trailed off in thought. “I don’t suppose you would let me examine your ears?”
Kadoyuki twitched. Daniel dropped it.
“My point is, it’s quite a remarkable power you have, and I’m happy to say that we understand it a bit–even if the actual mechanisms are shaky. You’re not the first person who’s been able to do this.”
Kadoyuki’s mouth sank into his face. “I know,” he whispered.
Emi exchanged looks with Daniel.
“Your mother,” Daniel clarified. “You two honestly have the same power? If she can hear thoughts, and you can hear thoughts, then…hm. You could essentially communicate like telepaths, even if you don’t technically have that ability.”
Kadoyuki crumpled down in his chair. “Please,” he cried weakly. “Don’t ask me about my mother!”
“Daniel-san,” Emi interjected. “That’s not important right now. We should deal with what’s in front of us.”
Daniel closed his mouth. When he didn’t have a follow-up, Emi turned to Kadoyuki.
“We want to understand how you’ve been using your power, Kadoyuki-kun. How did you find Wipe? How did you first find Adam-san?”
Kadoyuki swallowed. He rubbed his eyes.
“Even…even when people are quiet, they’re still thinking. They’re always thinking.” He stared at the table. “But it’s fragmented. I hear pieces of thoughts, like broken conversations or whispers to ghosts. I usually ignore it, since it can be disturbing, but…sometimes I hear something I can’t get out of my head.”
He closed his eyes. “In the f-first week of school, I was trying to stay away from Touya. I went anywhere crowded so he couldn’t get me alone.” His voice started to tremble. “I w-went to the student lounge, to Blue Light, to anywhere I knew classmates would be. And I heard that some of the tougher boys met up at a bar named Kiseki, so…I went to that neighborhood sometimes.
“Once, when I was sitting in the bar, a dangerous-looking man came in with terrible thoughts. He knew about the Byakko gang, and he was thinking of attacking the restaurant, of killing people…he had a date in his head that he kept repeating.” Kadoyuki closed his hands into fists. “He mentioned ‘dumping a body’ at the scene of the attack. I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t tell the police, and I wasn’t even sure he was serious, so I…I followed him out and memorized his car. And when that day came, I waited for him there, just in case he meant it. I bumped into Oda-san there.”
Ayase’s eyes widened.
“I could hear Adam-san’s thoughts from inside the trunk. I think he was trying to play dead.” He swallowed again. “It was the same with Wipe. I heard thoughts in Motoi, so I followed them, and then I heard him thinking from inside that closet.”
Ayase, despite herself, was surprised. There was a part of her that had always thought of Kadoyuki as a meek person. But…that wasn’t exactly true, was it? And it wasn’t just what he was describing now. He’d run into the fire at Motoi. He’d tackled Wipe in that safe house.
Emi took a long breath. “And Touya?” she asked softly. “Have you heard Touya’s thoughts?”
Kadoyuki’s mouth pulled into a tight line. His hands began to shake.
“I don’t…know if he’s supernatural,” he whispered. “I can’t sense an ability like Sachi can. But his mind is…different.”
Daniel opened his mouth, but Emi shushed him with her hand. They waited for a long stretch of silence.
“He thinks in exact fragments,” Kadoyuki breathed at last. “Places, names, events. He repeats them, but sometimes he changes the order or adds thing, like he’s…arranging pieces of a puzzle. It’s so exact and strange–it’s what drew me to him in the first place. I thought he might be different, like me. Perceiving the world in a different way, since the organization of his mind wasn’t like anyone else’s.”
Kadoyuki hiccupped. “But when I paid more attention, the fragments started to scare me. He was thinking of guns and death, and he was arranging them like the others–alongside thinking of school, of tea with his father. He would think of my classmates. Of Honda-san, of Oda-san…”
He trailed off. Emi leaned in.
“Of you, Kadoyuki-kun?”
Kadoyuki choked. Tears filled his eyes.
“And then he took you to the hospital?”
Kadoyuki gritted his teeth as tears rolled down his cheeks. He clutched his injured arm, the bandage thick under his sleeve.
“I-I get sick when I’m upset,” he whined. “And he knew I was upset. He…” He broke down in his seat, burying his face in his hands.
“He wanted me to get better!”
Emi bit her lip. Kadoyuki dropped down against the table and buried his face in his arms, his weak cries wracking his body.
There was something awful about those cries. Ayase heard a new shade of frailness behind it, deeper and more insidious than his usual fright.
She remembered him falling to his knees and clutching her in that bathroom.
Words spilled out of Ayase before she realized it. “C-can we stop for today?” she blurted. “Please?”
Daniel sighed. “Of course,” he murmured. “Thank you for talking to us, Kadoyuki.”
Kadoyuki continued to cry. Ayase sat in silence with Emi and Daniel for several long minutes. She felt like she should say something, but had no clue what would help.
Daniel’s eyes eventually fell on the clock. They widened.
“Oh.” He scraped back his chair. “I’m very sorry, but…Emi, it’s almost eleven.”
Emi blinked. “Shouri-san.”
“We need to help Aisha-san with her. Er, Ayase-kun?” Daniel winced. “Would you mind staying with him?”
Ayase nodded. As Daniel and Emi rushed out of the room, Kadoyuki’s sobbing dropped into a quiet whimper. He didn’t raise his head from the table.
“G-God help me,” he whispered. “God help God help me God help me…”
Ayase’s eyes burned. Exhausted and upset, she lowered her chin to the table. She watched Kadoyuki’s trembling form through blurry eyes.
She didn’t know how long they sat there. She closed her eyes, trying to organize her thoughts. She didn’t want to think of anything personal, but…he already knew of everything personal. Her thoughts had been an open book since the moment she’d met him.
“It’s not embarrassing. Not compared to the things that live in other people’s heads.”
Ayase’s eyes squeezed tighter. Her mind had always been her safe space. It had provided comfort and protection when she didn’t trust the world around her. And now, unbeknownst to her, she’d had a person occasionally inside there with her. A quiet boy with burning eyes.
She grappled with her thoughts until her mind shut down on its own. She shifted into blackness…and welcomed its silence.
Her eyes snapped open when someone touched her. A shudder jerked her limbs.
Adam stood over her. He pulled her, stumbling, from her kitchen chair.
“Shh,” he whispered. “Bed.”
Ayase’s mind reeled. As she tried to focus her blurry eyes, she saw Kadoyuki, slumped over in his chair, fast asleep at the kitchen table. His head was still buried in his arms.
Adam tried to shake him awake. When he didn’t respond, he suddenly hefted the boy into his arms. Ayase spluttered at him as he hooked an arm under Kadoyuki’s legs.
“H-he hates being touched!” she hissed. “If he wakes up like that, he’ll freak out again!”
Adam cocked his head at her. She gripped her temple and remembered the language barrier.
She was too exhausted to figure out the English. Kadoyuki didn’t stir in Adam’s arms, so she gave up. She double-checked Kadoyuki’s chest to make sure he was still breathing…he was out cold, and his shallow breaths were unnerving.
“Okay,” she replied at last. “Bed.”
Her gaze lingered on Kadoyuki. He looked so…different when he was asleep. He was still pale and gaunt, and his hair was a tangled mess, but…it was a relief to see his face devoid of emotion. The creases around his mouth and forehead had vanished, leaving him in a state of unusual peace.
And if he was unconscious, he was out of her head. Her discomfort faded as her walls came down.
He…he can’t help it.
Ayase swallowed. He can’t help what he hears, she repeated, a mantra to soothe her paranoia. He hears us all equally. He can’t escape what’s in our heads.
The way he’d looked at her when she’d thought of Sachi and Kiyoshi…it had been so unbothered. So adult. Her roaring internal debates had barely pinged on his radar.
Ayase knew, realistically, that Kadoyuki had been exposed to things she couldn’t fathom. Her persistent, lingering empathy rose up again. Kadoyuki was like her. He was like Sachi and Kiyoshi and Jo. A classmate thrown around by powerful forces that had robbed him of a normal life.
They were all victims. They were all together in this. And they…they were friends, weren’t they?
Ayase didn’t want their suffering to pull them apart. She wanted it to unite them.
A shuddering breath puffed past Kadoyuki’s lips. Adam adjusted him in his arms; Kadoyuki’s cheek flopped against the man’s chest.
The intimacy of the moment was so foreign to Ayase’s eyes. Before she realized it, she’d reached out to tentatively rest a hand on Kadoyuki’s head.
He didn’t respond. She slowly, shakily, stroked his head once.
Adam chuckled. When she jerked her gaze up, the man raised an eyebrow at her.
“He’s just…asleep,” she murmured. “I may not have another chance to reach out.”
She knew Adam didn’t understand. But she still felt compelled to say it.
Proceed to Chapter 4, page 2–>