You don’t know how to do that, mostly because you’ve never known anyone that’s died. Besides, you think you’re supposed to be sad to do that kind of thing, and you’re not sad. In fact, for as much as you’re prone to stressing about everything under the sun, you’ve been weirdly calm since you found out about Bridhe and you’re not sure why. Maybe… maybe you’re just doing it wrong.
You’re probably just doing it wrong.
So you don’t mourn. Instead, you clean.
You clean their apartment, because Sollux asked you to take care of it while they’re gone.
You clean their apartment because unlike you, Dirk hasn’t been weirdly calm since he found out about Bridhe, and you know it’ll just escalate if he can’t do something to Fix It.
You clean up the pieces of wings that crumble like burnt paper when you try to pick them up from the bathroom floor.
You clean up the black ink pools on the tile and the splatters on the wall and the desperate-looking smears along the counter.
You clean up the smell of damp wood and rot that makes your skin prick and Dirk’s eye ache with bad memories, replacing it with the smell of 409 and bleach and cigarette smoke.
You clean and clean and clean until there’s no trace left that anything was ever wrong. Until you’re just a guy apartment-sitting with his boyfriend for some other friends who went somewhere, and now you’re waiting for them to get back.
Because Sollux said he was going to bring Bridhe back.
Bring him back as what though? It took giving up so much to save your dumb ass and you weren’t even dead yet. How much would they take away this time?
For the next few hours, you sit with Dirk on the now spotless bathroom floor, knees to your chest and your
sixth seventh eighth cigarette of the night between your lips.
Sollux said he’d bring him home, but would there even be anything left of them to come home?
The human mind has a strange, inefficient way of processing information. You think at one point you must’ve understood how plants grow, back when your brain was the summation of Tokyo University’s archives and the entire internet. Maybe you still do, but sometimes it’s hard to know what’s what when your head is cluttered with the memories of the dead. Memories of things that haven’t happened yet.
There’s a white door in the middle of the station that you’re sure you’ve never seen before. No one goes in or comes out; they’re all waiting for the train that’s pulling into the station, on time to the second because Japanese trains are never early and never late. As you reach for the handle, a woman’s voice sounds over the intercom:
“Now arriving, 3:04 to Sendai. Have a nice day.”
The door swings open. It leads to a closet. You know this because of the seeds – row after row of tiny green sprouts, suspended in the shallow water of a hydroponics system that seems go on for miles.
Whoever put this here built an efficient set up. The plants grow visibly even as you look on, lanky stalks pushing up and up and up until they’re almost chest-high, outer layers peeling away to become orange and black leaves that rustle like paper in the wind. Shh shh shh shh. You watch in fascination as they sway, faster and faster, until all at once they leaves take off in a startled flurry, stalks snapping back as the dark cloud of wings disappears into the void.
You wake up in a quiet fit, sheets crumpled and twisted around your ankles. You feel dry, somehow simultaneously exhausted and jittery with leftover caffeine. There taste of alcohol lingers in your throat and your teeth are numb with rotted sugar. You wonder vaguely if you woke Dirk with your sleep-rapping again.
It takes several minutes and a lot of muttered cursing before you manage to drag yourself over to the bathroom. You lean heavily against the counter as your brush your teeth, elbow locked and neck craned painfully low over the sink. Shh shh shh shh — the brush moves slowly in the same corner of your mouth over and over. Water swirls lazily before vanishing down the drain. The world blurs in and out of existence as you squint hard against the florescent light, contemplating a dark spot on the tile that you’re sure you’ve never seen before.
What even is that? You spit minty foam and lean down for a closer look.
Oh. It’s a tiny, black moth. You stare at it for a long time, sleep fogged brain meandering over its significance and coming up with nothing. You poke at it carefully with the back end of your toothbrush, but it doesn’t move. You think it might be dead. Oh well.
You rinse your mouth, gulp down two full glasses of water, and flop back into bed.
You stand in front of the crowd at the edge of the platform. In a few seconds, the 4:44 to Shinjuku will be passing through, traveling at exactly 283 km/hour.
On the other side of the
white black door, you think you hear someone crying.
There are SO MANY BANANAS and you wish you could take every single one home with you!!
…But Dirk says that would be irresponsible if you don’t have the time to dedicate to properly caring for all of them. With you new job starting soon, it looks the most you’ll be able to manage is four. However, the shelter volunteers assure you that thanks in part to Dirk’s generous donation, the other
bananas rabbits will be very well cared for until they can find homes of their own.
After almost three solid hours of deliberation (and pets), you pack up four bananas into the carrier and load them into your car. When they get home, a brand new, state-of-the-art, wall-sized custom cage will be waiting for them. Of course, this will only be after you take care of the very important business of A) naming them, and B) rubbing your face all over them for at least another hour.
Rather than spending the day waist deep in
bananas rabbits like you’d been hoping, you ended up stuck in bed, covered in sweat and fine tremors. Your head hurts, your stomach hurts, and the inside of your mouth somehow manages to feel both raw and strangely gummy at the same time. When you try to swallow, it reminds you of that one time you got a stick of takoyaki stuck in your throat (which ended up being 2xs Awful Combo because you subsequently realized takoyaki is one of the few foods your don’t like, and yet you had to keep tasting it for nearly an hour after your managed to get it down, but that’s not the important part okay? Get out of the parenthesis.)
…Yes, no one cares about how much you hate the taste of takoyaki (although your tongue does taste vaguely of seafood for some reason). The important part is that your throat feels like it has a phlegmy, burning, pingpong ball lodged in it, which happens to be the exact description Janine-ssi used to describe the primary symptom of Streptococcal pharyngitis when you had you went to turn in your paperwork at the school. Streptococcal pharyngitis is, of course, strep throat, a disease most common amongst the following:
You intend to rectify this minor oversight as soon as you’re well enough to get to a doctor’s office, but for now you take another sip of honey tea and hit play on the Studio Ghibli movie on your laptop. You feel terrible for derailing Dirk’s carefully planned trip to the pound, but he assured you that the bananas would all still be there, waiting for you to take them home.
> N01-Z: Go for a walk. [x]
The day you came back to Tokyo, you started wearing your hood up again. Dirk’s mentioned it in passing once or twice. He knew you were nervous about coming home. It’s okay to need a security blanket sometimes, he says. Yeah, you know. He asks if you’re alright. You make some flimsy excuse about the unusually cool weather and the on and off rain. Skinny boys with no insulation. You’re alright.
Time elapsed since last battle: 27 days, 12 hours, 18 minutes, and 53 seconds. Your blackbook is in your bag back at your house because you know you won’t need it. When you can sleep, you sleep well into the afternoon and wake up feeling confused and hollow. When you can’t, you lay watching the numbers on the clock and hyperventilate quietly until it’s time to get up. You’re starting to lose weight again. Anego still can’t quite look you in the eye.
It’s not raining now, but the sky has been grey since early this morning. Coats and unopened umbrellas swarm in and out of the station. You walk with your head down and your hands in your pockets, glitch-hop blasting unheard from buds dangling behind your ears. The music is nothing more than force of habit these days; rap gives you anxiety and no amount of bass is enough to drown out the static of your own thoughts. Even now, it takes conscious effort to unclench your jaw, tension bleeding up into soft temples. You massage the bridge of your nose with long fingers, knuckles slightly swollen from the constant popping. Without anything to occupy your hands, you can’t seem to stop.
Robots don’t have anxiety. Robots are robots. Only biologicals have psychological issues like that. Robots are metal and wire and anything that goes wrong can just be programmed out. You know this. Robots don’t have anxiety.
You repeat this to yourself over and over even though you know it’s completely wrong. You’ve always had anxiety. Tightness in your chest before you had muscles to contract. Tightness in your throat when your speech came from processors and a speaker embedded in your faceplate. Swallow. It doesn’t help. Your fingers twitch, tongue licking traces of tobacco from your lips. You need a cigarette. You need packs of cigarettes. They’re in your bag at the foot of the bed. It’s okay to smoke in the suite. It’s okay to smoke everywhere in Japan. You don’t move. You have to focus on your breathing or else it’ll stop. What an inconvenient thing. Anego should’ve fixed that a long time ago, so why didn’t she?
Because you’re not a robot anymore. You know this. Oxygen comes even slower as you clutch the pillow tighter over your nose and mouth. You keep forgetting to blink.
Turn on the TV. You can reach the remote from here. Write. Your blackbook is in your hoodie, maybe. You’re not sure which one. You could watch a movie online, something you’ve seen before so you don’t have to pay attention. Maybe you should take a shower. Baths make you feel better. There’s a TV in the bathroom. Turn on the TV. Your heart is so loud in the dark. Faster and faster. Breathe breathe breathe. Stop. You’re going to wake up Dirk.
A strange sound escapes into the pillow. 3:06 AM. The white-blue numbers on the clock blur into blots of watery light. You wish Dirk were awake. You can’t remember where your lighter is.
You’ll be fine in the morning. Just lay there and don’t move and wait for the day to start. You have to be fine then. It’s not fair to everyone else if you’re not. No one wants to deal with your funny thoughts and your weird heartbeat. You’re a good robot. Robots don’t have anxiety. Robots don’t have panic attacks.
You tell yourself this over and over even though you know it’s completely wrong.
You’ve been doing that. Your face is starting to hurt.
> Okay, fine. Get up and do something.
It’s, like, four in the morning in Tokyo. You’ve eaten all your snacks from the conbini and watched about as many variety shows and J-drama reruns as you can handle. The arcade is closed, and even if it wasn’t, you already got yelled at for spending all your money on Bridhe’s early birthday present of sixty-one UFO catcher cats (worth it). You’re completely uninspired to write and Izura-aniki broke your Rilakkuma headphones. Basically, you’re lying face down in the middle of the floor because there’s nothing to do.
> Wow, way to be a huge baby about everything.
Yeah? Well… maybe you are a baby. Maybe you’re a baby and someone is gonna feed you pancakes and play with you.
You roll over onto your back and concentrate really, really hard on becoming tiny.
It’s not posh and glamourous like the cafes you see in movies, or even the coffee shops you and Dirk occasionally frequent in Westwood. Like everything else in Tokyo, it’s small and crowded and the ceiling feels way too low for your ridiculous height. The lights are florescent and the concrete floor is packed with small tables and mismatched chairs pushed end to end. Elbows touch and people shimmy sideways past each other to get to the counter, where bear-faced cups and neon parfaits appear next to a glass display case full of those familiar, too realistic but very much plastic cakes, cookies, and meal sets that supplement the chalkboard menus on the wall.
And amongst the chaos, filling every last available inch of booth seat, tabletop, windowsill and room corner… is Rilakkuma.
You’ve never seen a more perfect place in your entire life. Brown and yellow and white and pink with kawaii black eyes accent more shelves and piles than seem physically able to fit into a single building. Posters of Rilakkuma in his various costume lines plaster the walls — blue and white bathing suits for summer, yukata and uchiha for matsuri season, striped underwear and honey-splattered wings. Charms and keychains hang like Christmas decorations, and everything from hats to bento boxes to special edition chocolate truffles sits behind a small, plastic price tag. As you step past the doorway, a Rilakkuma meets you at eye-level, stacked precariously high upon the progressively larger and larger dolls to form one of several bear towers.
The few remaining seats that aren’t being used by customers are occupied by plushes the size of toddlers, and you end up sitting the one whose chair you stole on your lap, resting your chin happily on his soft head as you grin at Dirk from across the table. Beneath each chair is a pair of Rilakkuma house slippers for guests to use when they retrieve their orders. You, of course, are already appropriately clad in your Rilakkuma hoodie, and you flip the hood up before proceeding to scan the menu card for this month’s drink specials.
Everything is Rilakkuma and nothing hurts.
(Except maybe your wallet.)
Logically, you always knew it was possible. Probable, even. If you were still a robot, you could calculate it out to several million decimal places.
(If you were still a robot, you wouldn’t need to in the first place.)
You understood what the words meant. Understood that it wasn’t like having a cold or even dying of an inoperable brain tumor.
Because those things weren’t your fault.
It’s okay, though. You’d make peace with it eventually. In the mean time, you’d just deal with it the same way you dealt with every other stress.
You take another drag.
Maybe it was petty. Sometimes you still clung to the excuse that you were technically only three years old, even though you really did know better. But hey, it wasn’t you who started this fight.
No, you were just gonna be the one to finish it.
Twenty minutes and two cans of spray paint later, and you were quietly transportalizing out of Bridhe’s house. You felt a little sorry for Andy’s sake; god knows he did nothing to deserve a living roomful of ten foot tall, neon purple cocks. But it had to be done, and collateral damage was inevitable in this kind of situation. You just hoped the burning fleece smell would be enough to wake him before the flames in the center of the floor spread too far.
Maybe next time Bridhe would reconsider before swapping out your Rilakkuma kigu with a fucking Hello Kitty as a joke.
You did land already. You landed, like…
Shit, what time is it even right now?
You’ve just woken up from your nap at the ryokan after your nap on the taxi after your nap on the flight (so this is what Dirk meant by “jet lag”), and you’re barely even aware of your surroundings. All you know is that you’re hungry as hell and the half-eaten bag of cheese flavored Mr. Squid you bought in a daze at Haneda Airport isn’t gonna cut it.
You paw sleep from your eyes and lazily pull on your hoodie, wrinkling your nose at the distinct smell of recycled plane air clinging to it. There should be yukata around somewhere for you to change into, but you can’t be bothered to look right now. You’ve been holding it for the better part of a day after bashing your head on the way-too-low lavatory ceiling (the flushing was really loud and fast and it scared you okay, 黙れアホ．．．) and you need to pee something fierce.
Relief, two cigarettes, and a splash of cold water later, you’re finally conscious enough to set yourself to the task of finding something to eat. A glance out the window shows afternoon light and the beginning of a rainstorm. You can’t think of more perfect weather to come back to.
Welcome home, Noiz.
Silence (Love, part 2).
You sit side by side on the couch. Dirk’s has his laptop, you have your phone, and another shitty Syfy movies goes ignored on the TV.
The only sound that passes between you is the rapid tap-tap-tap of fingers on keys and touch screens. Colored text appears in shared chat windows. Dirk reblogs a gay love quote. You respond with a picture from the goldmine of the “unicorn” tag. Raised eyebrows over pointed shades. A crooked smile bathed in backlight. Legs touch, tangle together in familiar, lazy intimacy.
The conversation goes on for hours.
No one says a word.
> N01-Z: Dream his memories.
They said you never fell in love, but that’s not true.
Eight years old, parking garage in Shibuya. You’d been begging anego for weeks to let you tag along with her and her cool, older friends. The underground wasn’t a place for kids and you ended up bruised, jostling to see the battles… but in the lyrical chaos, swallowed up by bass beats and rap elites — show stopper soul rocker / volatile track dropper / vicious conviction crowned victorious / one hit addiction i need more of this — you fell about as hard as a boy ever could.
“Just did, babe.”
You think maybe you’re supposed to feel bad when she storms out, but you don’t. Mostly, you’re just amazed at how they still manage to get so damn indignant when you kick them out in the morning, like you don’t do this to every girl wanting to go home with you after a battle. Like they think they’re gonna be special.
The smoke burns harsh in your lungs as you lay staring up at the ceiling. Years ago you realized that you don’t feel things the way most people do, that there’s probably something wrong with you. You make a half-assed attempt at something like regret, but after a while your brain defaults back to stringing together rhymes.
Sometimes, when you need to feel a little more normal, you like to pretend you’re one of anego’s robots.
Beneath your skin, the bed gradually turns cold.
The roar of the bullet train is deafening when you step of the platform. Blind and virtually mute from the aphasia, your sense of rhythm is flawless as ever; your body doesn’t even have time to touch the tracks. The pain lasts for a fraction of an instant.
They say when you die, your life flashes before your eyes like a movie. You get a soundtrack instead. Not hip hop tracks, but little things. Familiar things like rain over the city. Cracked knuckles, speaker static, your baby bro’s gattling gun typing. The whir of hospital equipement. A heartbeat against bare skin.
You hear anego crying at night, a sound she tried to keep hidden behind closed doors on the other side of the apartment. You hear the eulogy at your own funeral.
Slowly, slowly, your dying mind transposes all of Tokyo into a pitch-perfect symphony, until—
Noiz. Hey, wake up.