Little Boy Blue
Mahiru is tired.
Kuro can see it, in the way his folding isn’t as neat, in the way the vegetables in their dinner aren’t as uniformly chopped, in the way his head bobs during school lessons, his laughter isn’t as loud, how he doesn’t check half so well before he crosses the street and needs the ever watchful hand of Sakuya to drag him back from the curb, a shout on the subclass’s lips, scolding and fussing about the car that had just whizzed past their little group.
Mahiru is tired, but he refuses to rest.
And it’s driving Kuro mad.
It’s as Mahiru is jerked and prodded, worried and fussed over by his trio of school friends, that Kuro makes a decision.
His Eve will get some sleep, whether he wants to or not.
Thankfully for him, he knows Mahiru wants it. The frustrating part is that his stupid, incredible, wonderful human doesn’t think he’s earned it. Not yet. Not when there was still more to do.
Which meant, joy of joys… He needed some help.
Good thing he had three ready made volunteers right there with him on the curb.
Now to convince them.
The easiest part, by far, was getting them to go along with his plan. Slipping into Mahiru’s bag to use the cellphone Tooru had bought him (every time he thought about it, he still couldn’t believe it. His own phone, his own clothes, his own games, his own… Everything, really), he sent a single text to three different numbers.
Mahiru’s exhausted. Help me get him to chill out?
The hard part…
“Hey, Mahiru! It’s been a while since we all last had a sleepover, right?”
“Huh? Oh, yeah, it has…”
“Since we’re already going to be walking you home to make sure you don’t wander out into traffic…”
“It was an accident!”
“Party at Mahiru-sama’s place~!”
“Would you stop with that stupid… Fine! But Sakkun is paying for the food!”
… Wasn’t actually that hard? But, well. Leave it to the grungy joker to just… Steamroll his way into Mahiru’s place, invited or not. And become a steamed cabbage in the process.
The power of Mahiru-sama is frightening indeed…
The first order of business when the five of them arrive at Mahiru’s apartment is taken care of handily by, once again, Sakuya.
“Pizza time!” he crows, tapping the order into a website Kuro only vaguely recognizes the name of. It’s not a delivery app, but the website’s own page, and while he’s busy with that, Kuro hops out of Mahiru’s bag, ready to go fetch blankets and pillows from the linen closet in order to set them all up.
Except Mahiru’s two human friends beat him to it.
All the better, he thinks, as he hops up onto the couch to watch them spread things out right in front of the TV. The living room is small, the area they’ve chosen to occupy even more so, but it’s what he would have chosen for Mahiru, too, to cram them all together, to surround his Eve with the simple pressure and warmth of his loved ones crowded close.
Not for the first time, and certainly not the last, Kuro is so… Grateful for Mahiru’s friends. Before him, and even after him, they will love Mahiru like a brother, like a family, know him in ways he can’t, the same way Gear knows him in ways Mahiru never will.
And that’s fine. To be known is to be loved, and more than anyone, Mahiru deserves it.
“Mahiru, can you help Ryuu-chan? I’m gonna go make sure Sakuya doesn’t burn your kitchen down trying to make popcorn.”
“Hey! I’ll have you know, I’m always the one who makes the popcorn when Shamrock can’t!”
“And how much of it do you burn?”
“Less than you, so nyeh.”
… Maybe he should go watch them.
“Ah, Kuro, don’t get your fur on the counter!”
At the least, Mahiru seems to already be feeling better. It’s like magic. The best kind Kuro has ever seen.
Kuro spends the night as a cat, nestled in Mahiru’s lap or lying across his back, little paws kneading his Eve’s flesh and purring up a storm, extra sweet and extra soothing, while the other three pile around them. Mahiru is… Quiet. But not a bad quiet, no. A good quiet, letting the presence of the other people in their home wash over him, their bickering and their teasing, not a host but just a friend, just another kid, a kid with greasy fingers and a half drunk bottle of cola and two boxes of extra large pepperoni pizzas with cheesy bread set out before them.
“Where the heck do you find these pizza places I’ve never heard of?” Ryuusei asks after a particularly long cheese stretch has him craning his head back and holding his arms out, making the other three laugh, “This is great.”
“Vampire SNS,” Sakuya tells him proudly, and snickers once more at the tongue click it nets him.
Much to Kuro’s surprise, after building their little nest, the green haired vampire had graciously given up his preferred spot next to Mahiru without a word, instead settling himself shoulder to shoulder with the short one, Ryuusei, while he and Koyuki had pressed themselves up against Mahiru like they were trying to merge with him. It’s a tangle of arms and legs, like cats lying one on top of the other, physical closeness that speaks volumes of the emotional one they’ve cultivated with each other, and which they were slowly, Kuro felt, trying to ease him into.
It was a strange feeling. Being included.
But it wasn’t one he hated by any means.
Ryuusei flops his head against Mahiru’s arm, cheek squishing ridiculously as he squints at the screen. “Who picked this again?”
The crunching from Mahiru’s right stops, and a bowl of half eaten popcorn, buttery and with the perfect amount of salt, is nudged his Eve’s way. Wordlessly, Mahiru grabs up a big handful of it, stuffs it in his mouth with a knowing little smile, a sort of carelessness Kuro can never seem to invoke on his own.
The shuffling of fabric, and Koyuki leans onto Mahiru’s shoulder as well, the barest hint of a pout to his voice. “Does it matter? Even bad movies are fun when we’re together.”
“You’re cheesier than this pizza,” Sakuya teases, and Mahiru grins, laughs, finally says something, the exhaustion all but gone from his voice.
“That means Koyuki definitely picked it.”
“So you’re the one responsible!” Ryuusei shouts, and Koyuki flicks popcorn at him, bounces it right off his head.
“Shut up! You can change it, y’know.”
“Well, we’re already this far in,” Mahiru muses, and Sakuya quietly plucks the floor tainted popcorn up to place on a napkin, “Might as well finish it.”
Kuro is… So glad that Mahiru has friends who can do this for him. To do the things he can’t. This sense of total normalcy, of being just another teenager… It’s not really something he can help with. Not really. He knows he’s the type to overthink, to become discouraged when his efforts don’t get immediate results.
But now Mahiru is laughing again.
It’s everything he could have asked for.
Hours upon hours later, the only light in the room is from the flickering TV screen, and the only sounds are the soft breaths of four teenage boys, fast asleep right there on the floor.
Kuro finally rouses himself, gets up, stretches, and carefully picks his way down Mahiru’s back. Only then does he allow himself to transform back into a human, cracking his neck, his back, and sighing heavily at the relief it grants his stiff joints.
It’s time to get to work. All that effort would be meaningless if Mahiru woke to a mess, so clean up crew Kuro shall be.
First go the soda bottles. Back into the fridge, without a label or a care for who had drunk from what, because it’s not like those four cared anyway, but Mahiru hated to waste food. Honestly, Kuro was in agreement on that much, but especially when it came to his favorites. So, twisting each cap tightly back into place, he made sure to set them up in plain sight so that they’d be finished in the morning (and if not by their owners, by him), blocking the light of the fridge with his own body and the tails of his coat so as not to disturb the quartet of friends.
Next were the pizza boxes. Each one was completely empty, but that was no surprise, given that there were two shared between the five of them. Even the little banana peppers included had been devoured. If Kuro had to guess… Mahiru. For some godforsaken reason, his Eve adored things that set his mouth on fire, and no amount of “it’s not that spicy!” would change Kuro’s opinion that Mahiru, sweet faced, stubborn, wonderful Mahiru, just wanted to see what the fires of hell tasted like.
(And maybe he was a bit of a baby when it came to peppers, but clearly that wasn’t his fault)
Onto the counters the pizza boxes went.
Next came the bowl of popcorn, filled with nothing but unpopped kernels, then the plates, then the napkins, then the painstaking process of picking up every infernal piece of popped corn that had been jokingly thrown about between friends with zero thought for who would have to clean it up all up.
Considering how many Sakuya had tossed, he had a feeling the other vampire had known Kuro would take it upon himself to tidy up their garbage, and found himself cracking an annoyed, if fond, smile.
Mess more or less taken care of, Kuro had one last task to complete, and fetching the fluffiest quilt he could find from the closet that hadn’t already been used to pad out the hard tile in front of their TV, he carefully, carefully, spread it out over the pile of sleeping boys. Not a one stirred, not even Mahiru.
His smile turned ever so slightly bitter.
Well, that was fine. That was good, even, because it meant that, more than he’d thought, Mahiru had needed this night, this little slice of being normal, of simplicity.
Looking at each face in turn… He thought that maybe, all of them had.
Tucking himself into the crook of Mahiru’s neck was easy, a warm, furry weight that had his Eve curling up even more, ever so slightly, setting off a chain reaction as each teenager also shifted, one or two murmuring in their sleep, shuffling closer to each other like small birds seeking safety and comfort during a storm.
And that was fine, too. Kuro would watch over their dreams, every one.
Sleep tight, guys. Sweet dreams...
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Sky of Atoms: Death Stranding Fanfic Ch. 18
There had been a time where Higgs could have dug solitary confinement. He did after all live the life of a hermit for three years up until meeting Gene. Now that it had been weeks since Higgs last seen her, since he was first detained within the UCA territory, he felt like he was going insane. People had been in and out wanting to talk to him, to interrogate, to hurt, but it didn’t break him down unlike not knowing if Gene was alright or not. There was a point Higgs had to assume she was dead, and he needed to move on. Why else wouldn’t anyone give him answers? Then there was the thought that maybe Gene was alive and well, and she didn’t want to see him, didn’t want anything to do with the terrorist that killed her family and thousands. Higgs wouldn’t blame her one bit if that were the case, merely thankful that he managed to save her in time and she was going North like she wanted.
Higgs never thought he had the capacity to care so deeply for someone’s goal besides his own. He was also never one that was afraid of death. Having been the vector of an Extinction Entity along with a carrier of DOOMs, Higgs was far past the thanatophobia most humans had. When his execution date was given, Higgs didn’t flinch. He didn’t break down nor panic, just zoned off. He knew the beach awaited him and from there he’d walk to wherever all things meet the true end. When Gene invaded his thoughts however during the restless nights since the courts dictated his fate, Higgs felt dread. He felt anxiety pulsate all throughout him. Higgs wasn’t afraid to die, but now he had someone he wanted to protect. He wouldn’t be able to go through with death until Gene was taken care of, until he got some sort of acknowledgement Gene was going to live on. Higgs always had a death wish, but Gene was free of that burden and he knew life was precious to her.
“To tell you the truth, I’m terrified of dying.” Gene said to him one night, the two lying down on a hillside on fresh grass as they felt the warmth of the campfire blanket their bodies as they attempted to find stars in the void sky. The smirk Higgs had from a previous joke, disappeared as his eyes darted around, listening carefully.
“It ain’t all that bad.” Higgs offered with a shrug, causing Gene to lean up, legitimate curiosity in her features along with concern towards him.
“You had a near death experience before?” Gene asked as Higgs nodded in return, still not looking her way but keeping his gaze up at the blue night sky.
“Several. If you count the DOOMs and the nightmares that come with it, but yeah I have. The first was when I was a boy. My daddy choked me out and I saw it, the damn beach the scientists on the news wouldn’t shut up about when it came to the afterlife. It was cold, like a hurricane had gone through. Then there was the sun, and Gene, I could have sworn I could touch it. Hold it like a ball and toss it back to space. I felt like I was in my own sandbox, I felt safe. There was no fear. I felt like I came to a home I forgotten about. The only time I was scared shitless was when I could feel myself being pulled back to the living.”
The fondness behind Higgs’s words caused Gene to let out a sad sigh on his behalf, and Higgs, not expecting the reaction looked up at Gene awkwardly.
“What?” Higgs piped up, confused and a little embarrassed. Maybe he should have kept his mouth shut.
“I’m not trying to be corny, but don’t go off dying anytime soon. I’d miss you.” Gene said sadly as Higgs’s lips pulled up into a smirk as he laughed at the compassionate plea.
“Honey, you wouldn’t last a week on this trip if I wasn’t around. I plan on dying after this is done. Sides’ if it did happen, I could try putting in a good word for you, though I could probably book you an express ticket to hell. At least its warm there.”
Gene glared at him and playfully slugged his shoulder, the two of them chuckling and shaking their heads as they focused back up at the sky.
Gene paused, trying to get her thoughts together. She never had anyone to talk about this stuff with, not even her parents were comfortable with the topic of life and death. They had seen the first wave of the Death Stranding back then, how it consumed and ruined the world, and it was a haunting subject. Gene partially blamed it being the reason she had a hard time coping with staying put in one place for too long. She wanted to see everything possible before death came for her.
“Do you think that people can share their beaches?”
Higgs thought to himself for a long moment. The straight up answer being yes, and given everything he had experienced it was the case. It could happen. However, he didn’t want to go off on a tangent trying to bother explaining to Gene everything he had learned about death from being Amelie’s personal puppet to kick start the Final Stranding. He turned his head, seeing Gene was already facing him.
“I think that if people are that attached to one another, they’ll find a way.”
Gene snorted, laughing so hard it made Higgs start to burst in his own fit. He wasn’t sure why her laugh was this triggering for him, but he was growing to enjoy it. This was the second week into their trip, and he was already finding it refreshing to be himself around Gene. There was an aura she had that made Higgs feel like he could be heard and didn’t have to put on a mask.
“That was the most cringiest sentimental bullshit I’d ever heard leave your mouth, you should write cards for a living.” Gene finally said as Gene returned the slug from before, hitting her shoulder rough as Gene yelped and rubbed the spot.
“Fuck you.” Higgs laughed.
Higgs was pulled out of his memories as he could hear the main entryway into his cell being opened. No doubt, it was probably going to be more UCA agents and officials asking him over and over what had become of Homo Demens, how Higgs executed his plans so brilliantly back then, if Gene was in league with him or not, questions he just about had enough of. He was in for the shock of his life when a familiar figure stepped into the room, standing on the other side of plated glass that separated Higgs from all contact. The years had been kind to her face, hair was much longer and in a ponytail; her Timefall ravaged body still hidden from the world.
Higgs slowly stood up, his eyes widened and his body stopped working for the briefest of seconds. He wasn’t sure if he was dreaming or not, but either way, Higgs wasn’t appeased in the slightest. She was the last thing Higgs wanted to deal with.
“Fragile.” He mouthed as she neutrally approached him, stopping only when the border between them had gotten in the way. Arms crossed, Fragile silently studied Higgs like one would examine the clockwork of a pocket watch. There was some pity in her gaze as Higgs reverted to his old self, smirking and giving a taunting chuckle to bait her.
“Did you come here to gloat?” Higgs asked, gesturing with his arms. “Say I told you so?”
“I don’t understand why you think I’d be wasting my time doing that. I’m not you Higgs. Your projection of yourself onto others is childish at best.” Fragile said, her voice soft yet firm as she shook her head.
“Why else would you bother to come here? Back on the beach you said I’d no longer be a part of your life and you’d no longer be a part of mine. ” Higgs countered, his voice already growing with agitation as Fragile scoffed, showing off a smirk of her own.
“I had to see it for myself. That you were still alive. Don’t be thinking this is some sort of family reunion.” Fragile said as a matter of fact. Higgs could see from how she carried herself that Fragile had grown a lot. She wasn’t this coy businesswoman with hidden strength, instead much like her company logo, she wore it on her sleeve. Higgs could see the damage he had done to Fragile both mentally and physically back at South Knot did little to wear her down.
“Sorry to disappoint you, but the Extinction Entity wouldn’t let me die.” Higgs said with a sneer, glaring towards her. As much as Higgs had craved some sort of company during his confinement, he wanted Fragile gone. Higgs didn’t want a reminder of his old self nor did he need her cursing his life once again.
“Amelie must have saw something in you. There was a point that many people saw what you had to offer, even me.” Fragile said honestly as she watched Higgs glance down towards the side. He was visibly angry. Being old business partners, Fragile learned over time when Higgs was growing frustrated. He had this boyish way of handling things, not looking others in the eye being one of them when Higgs felt like he had been caught red handed with something.
“She was a stupid bitch that couldn’t make up her god damn mind, and look where it got everybody.” Higgs said bitterly, finally glancing up as he forced himself to step closer to the glass. He gazed at Fragile for a long while, his brows tensed in a glare.
“What do you want from me?” Higgs asked.
“I wanted to know if what I heard through Chiral Network was true, that you saved someone who had been shot. I was in the neighborhood doing business when you were arrested.” Fragile said, getting to the point as Higgs looked quite taken aback. Of all the things he could imagine her coming to see him for, that was far from mind.
Higgs didn’t answer, giving a simple nod as Fragile too returned one. “That’s something you would have done before you got involved with Homo Demens. Seems strange.”
“Me being a human being with complex feelings that surprising?” Higgs asked sarcastically, giving a scoff as Fragile smiled and shook her head.
“You having the capacity to care for someone other than yourself is shocking. Even when we worked together, you always looked out for number one. I took it as you were a reliable business partner, that had aspirations and didn’t have time to dabble in the un-necessaries. This porter I heard about must’ve done a number on you to get you to give a damn. I’d like to know what that secret is so one day, if I encounter another like you, I know how to handle it.”
“Did you come here to bullshit or what?” Higgs asked, his tone very much irritable but he had taken it down a notch. There had to be a point to all this, right? There had to be some deeper meaning to it otherwise, why would someone, whom he screwed over–an enemy, come knocking on his door?
“I came here to apologize to you.” Fragile said, further taking Higgs aback as he shook his head, leaning against the glass wall now.
“Funny, how you went out of your way to beat the snot out of me and convince me to kill myself and now you suddenly have a change of heart years later.”
“Don’t get me wrong, I’d feel more comfortable if you were dead.” Fragile said and continued. “But I’ve had time to think about what happened to us long ago. There were signs that your DOOMs was getting worse. You were having more nightmares and hallucinations; I didn’t see it as an Extinction Entity trying to pursue you. I turned the other cheek when you needed it most. That is what I am sorry for. Everything else from that point forward, you deserved and then some.”
Higgs chuckled. “So you’re saying sorry to make yourself feel better, that right?”
“Maybe a little. You’ll never know.” Fragile said, copying one of Higgs’s signature catchphrases he used all the time before Amelie had come into the picture.
“Water under the bridge.” Higgs said, mirroring when Gene forgave him for his actions towards her when Homo Demens first attacked on her delivery route.
They went into a mutual silence of sorts, both trying to negotiate with their minds about why either of them were talking to begin with. Fragile explained herself, but Higgs couldn’t help but feel there was something else to it. With how much she hated him, the way she expressed it on the beach three years prior, Higgs never thought in a million years he’d see Fragile again. Not in this life.
“I came to offer you one last thing. Since I know you won’t be getting anything special prior to your execution, I thought this was the least I could do to make up for my neglect.” Fragile said, the honesty in her voice making Higgs swallow as he could feel something pining in his gut. Was this too good to be true? He wasn’t sure, but regardless, he had to try to reach out, he had to show someone his vulnerability towards Gene. Higgs knew he needed to swallow his pride and take the plunge or else he was never going to live with himself.
“Can you deliver something for me?” Higgs asked as Fragile simply nodded.
“I said anything, so yes. I can do that.”
“The gal I saved, her name is Gene Dawkins. She’s trying to go North. There anyway you can help her with that?” Higgs asked, his voice teetering on begging as Fragile looked confused. She went over some things in her head, trying to figure out what his angle was before responding.
“Is she the cargo?” Fragile asked.
“I’ll see what I can do.”
“Please do. She’s worked too hard for it.” Higgs said, the sincerity in his voice teetering between being proud of Gene and also deeply troubled. Fragile took one last look over Higgs and how exhausted he was, staring at him like he was an abstract painting one was trying to find the deeper meaning of in a museum. It didn’t take her long to connect the dots, her eyes widening subtly when she realized why Higgs was going out of his way; to waste his one chance at potentially saving his own skin on another.
“You love her.”
There were no words that needed to be spoken as Higgs looked at Fragile with a deep stare, one that conveyed everything he had been through and everything he felt towards Gene. He could feel his heart thudding against his chest as he allowed those feelings to express themselves fully through his face. Higgs was never one to wear his true emotions on his sleeve, but in this moment of weakness and pleading, he wanted to show someone, even Fragile herself how much he cared about this one porter.
Tagging: @deathstrandjng @evillpasta @kusooi @justfanjunk @lucyfer-thorn @septicteara12 @bl00dypalace @apocalyptic-demen
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