Splintered Worlds

Chapter Three

Insipid grey light was peeking around the drapes drawn over his windows, lending the room the faintest hint of illumination as Kojima blankly stared up at the ceiling, an arm draped over his forehead. Managing little more than a sluggish, lacklustre blink before his head rolled aside for bleary brown eyes to peer at the clock on his bedside table, he had to struggle to mute the curse creeping up his throat when he saw the numbers that greeted him. Fucking hells, time to get up already. A grating, irate groan escaped into the silence of his bedroom as he wearily scrubbed his hands over his scrunched-up face, stubble rasping against his palms. Before he could barely even begin to wonder where the night had gone, his mind cut the thought short with a moody snort. Oh. Right. You spent it staring at the ceiling, waiting for someone to call to tell you that fucking dumbass went and got himself killed, remember?

Smothering his abrupt urge to unleash a volley of swears that would've been vile enough to turn the air blue, Kojima settled for clenching his jaw and fixing the ceiling with a murderous glare for a moment longer before shoving himself upright. That didn't stop his insides from seething with fury, helplessness, and concern, however, even as his alarm clock chirped its first note and was rewarded with the side of his fist slamming down on top of it. When that seemed to fail utterly and completely in shutting it up, Kojima slid it a dangerous sidelong look before he swiped it off the nightstand, his mood barely even allowing him to register the way the cable slithered after it, plucking taut only for a moment before the plug popped out of the wall to skitter along until it joined the heap of junk on the floor.

When he realized that a blossom of disapproval was unfurling inside of him, he uttered a low growl as he hunched over his knees and irritably scrubbed his fingers back through his hair. "I know, I know," he grumbled. "'Temper temper, Mako.' Can you really fucking blame me?!" He demanded of his empty bedroom in exasperation. "For all I know that luckless half-wit could be rotting in a ditch somewhere, and-"

A breath of placation ghosted through him, cooling the embers of his temper like a mother cooing consolations to her young before a question rose to the surface of his mind.

Kojima took a slow, steadying breath before muttering a soft, cynical, "Doubt it," as he reached for his phone. He plucked the charging cable from its port and let it fall limply to the floor, slumping back against the headboard, inhaling gradually to brace himself for what he knew, in his gut, he would find. He powered on his phone, and…

Surprise surprise.

No missed calls, no emails, no texts… Nothing.

Dark, severe brows crawled up into laconic arches. "Told you so." He collected his glasses from the bedside table and flicked them open before sliding them onto his face and turning his attention to the contacts in his phone, scrolling down the list until he found the one he was looking for: Hatori Inoue. Thumb punching itself down on the name, he lifted it to his ear with a scowl plastered to his face. You'd better pick up this time or else I'm gonna be real pissed. Folding an arm across his diaphragm with a tetchy breath while he waited for a tell-tale click to interrupt the dial tone, and Hatori's familiar voice to slip into his ear with a veritable cornucopia of apologies, Kojima felt the knot that had tied itself in his stomach tightening, growing harder and colder with each ring that went unanswered.

C'mon…

Ring…

C'mon c'mon c'mon…

Ring…

Hatori I swear to god, if you don't pick up…

Click.

Kojima straightened, hope and relief flaring brightly inside of him – but only for a moment before a woman's stiff, automated voice doused them in urine and flung them into the sea with cinderblocks lashed around their ankles. "We're sorry, you have reached a number that has been disconnected or is no longer in service-"

It took everything he had, every ounce of not-inconsiderable willpower he'd ever possessed and then some to keep himself from throwing his phone into the wall with enough force to shatter it into a million tiny pieces. Instead, it slipped through numb fingers to plop down onto his blankets.

The conciliatory cooing rose within him again like a warm summer breeze, cradling him close as he furled over his knees and clutched at his head with trembling hands, labored, quivering breaths hissing in and out through his nose, but it did little to assuage the cresting surge of dread. He blinked hard, scrambling for any piece of rationale he could cling to. No, no, he's fine. He's gotta be. You'd've felt it if he wasn't, right? You'd've felt something… right? That's the way it's always been, why would it change now?

Sucking in a long, stuttering breath as he fought to calm himself, aided by the warm reassurance of the presence inside of him, slowly, gradually, the convulsive trembling lessened to a mild tremor, and Kojima scrubbed his quaking his hands over his face before he reclaimed his phone from his sheets and terminated his call. He dumped it back onto his bedding and felt entirely too much like a child who'd just had an anxiety attack, taking solace only in the attentive soothing of his mother while she shushed into his hair and tenderly stroked a hand up and down his back as she rocked him.

Gods above. He was a fucking grown man, and here he was having a nervous fucking breakdown because Hatori wasn't answering his phone.

Fucking hells, man, get a hold of yourself.

The presence departed, slipping away from its place around his shoulders like a silken shawl before it faded back into the confines of his troubled mind, worry still unavoidably gnawing at him as he considered the uncharacteristic absence of his co-worker, but it had been eased down to something more manageable. And manageable would have to be good enough. Hatori may have been missing, but that didn't change the fact that Kojima still had a job to do today. After all, today was the first day of classes, and while his real job never truly went away, this one demanded more tests of self-restraint than he was entirely comfortable with. He never had liked teenagers – even when he'd been one of them.

Even with his flawed eyesight, peering discreetly over the edges of his glasses as he paused from reading, he could tell the big oaf was sauntering towards him. He was too light on his feet for being as tall as he was, too fast for his broadening shoulders, and entirely too meek, too polite, every time he was stopped during his wander through the classroom to politely decline another student's invitation to sit with them. He'd been getting bombarded ever since he'd set foot in the classroom on his first day – lavished with attention by the girls who thought he was handsome physically and cute in the personality department, and boisterously harassed by the boys who always wanted him on their sports teams or in their clubs to add a little something with his uncanny skills. The boy genius, the devil on the sports field, and the first-year who'd secured a place for himself among second-years.

The mere sight of him annoyed Makoto something fierce – him and his sweet personality and that magnetic charm he couldn't turn off if he tried. Hells, he didn't even seem interested in the attempt. He was probably looking down his nose at everyone behind that cutesy little mask of his, the fucking priss.

But after declining yet another offer with a sheepish smile and an apologetic half-bow, the soft-spoken giant resumed course towards his window seat, and where he'd been reading his book, slouched in his chair with an elbow draped over its spine. It took everything he had to bite back an ill-tempered groan and maintain the carefully arranged expression of indifference that he wore on a daily basis. It probably soured regardless, and that certainly couldn't have been helped by the black eye and split lip he was currently sporting.

"Um… Hello."

Dark eyes flicked up over their lenses to pin the new guy with an unwelcoming stare. He was fidgeting with the lunch he'd brought in a plastic bag, a subtle flush rising in his cheeks and the beginning of a timid grin playing at the corners of his lips.

"I'm sorry for bothering you, but… May I sit with you?"

"Why?" He snorted softly and jerked his chin at the classroom in general. "Go sit with one of your fanclubs." Maybe it was unduly harsh of him to respond that way, but if the new kid was hurt by it, he didn't let it show. And that annoyed him, just a little.

"Well…" The other student, with his soft, fluffy brown hair and his boyband good looks, considered his words for a moment, rolling them around in his head, before brown eyes flicked up and he pinned Makoto with a self-abashed smile, broader and more sure of itself than the first he'd seen. "I'd like to get to know you better, if that's all right. I think maybe we have more in common than it seems. Oh! I-I'm Hatori Inoue, by the way."

He kept his eyes fixed in a dead stare on the tall student in front of him – too goddamn tall, in fact, to be a first-year. The fact that he would've had to crane his neck if the new boy had come any closer – and the suspicion that he hadn't, for that precise reason – vexed him immensely. "I know who you are."

"So…" Inoue innocently drawled, brows crawling upwards into the feathery fringe of his hair, "May I sit, Kojima-san?"

Kojima-san? His mind sneered. Stifling an irritated breath, he found himself struggling to remain calm, to keep his temper in check, as he glared down at his book and moodily ran his tongue over his front teeth. "I get the feeling you're not going to accept no for an answer." He slanted a dour look up at the younger student. "Even if I tell you to go fuck yourself… are you."

Gods, why did his smile keep getting bigger? Most people would be tripping over themselves or spluttering in indignation, mortified by his shameless disrespect, but Hatori fucking Inoue just seemed to be making himself more and more comfortable. And yet, there was no malice to match his own, no challenge for the local delinquent. He just pursed his lips as they grinned, gaze wandering around the ceiling for a moment as though airily scrutinizing a simple inevitability. "Mm…" Inoue fixed him with an apologetic, lopsided grin, head tilting as he clasped his hands behind his back. "Afraid not."

Lids drifting shut, he pulled in another steadying breath through the crack in his lips, and tried to ignore the worry prowling around inside of him as he released it back into the muted morning atmosphere, squaring away his troublesome feelings in their appropriate boxes.

Wherever you are, Hatori… Bleak brown eyes cracked themselves open, staring down into the abyss. Gods, just come back to me safe.

-x-

Three…

Darkness behind closed lids. Heat on his face. Rubble and concrete beneath his broken body. The distant chaos of battle washing over him like the tide.

I'm sorry…

Two…

Dampness, fire and agony blanketing his body from a million accumulated hurts. Breath ghosting out through his lips.

I've failed you again…

One…

But the indescribable pain in his chest was the same, always, as his mind, his soul, drew inwards, fading into the abyss.

Always

Reset.

Weary grey eyes pried themselves open as they had innumerable times before, dark lashes fluttering in the watery grey light as he stared up at the white face of the ceiling. His body felt heavy, lethargic, and ached, even though it rested upon his bed with all the stillness of a corpse upon a coroner's table.

Back again.

Shiki drew in a shallow, tentative breath, wincing but utterly unsurprised by the white-hot blossom of pain that flared across his ribs as his lungs expanded. The breath froze in his throat, dark brows furrowing in discomfort, and he held it hostage a moment longer before his lids drifted shut, and the breath slowly trickled back out through his nose. Without moving any more than he absolutely had to, he gently pushed aside his blankets and lifted his head to watch while he gingerly probed the ache blanketing the left side of his ribcage, mindfully tracing his fingers along each arch of bone in an attentive search for fractures or breaks.

As always, however, he found nothing but phantom pains, and as his mind settled deeper into the confines of his own body – head lowering itself once again to his pillow with a strained exhalation – other aches and pains began rousing themselves to greet him. Razor-bright lines of lacerations carved themselves over his skin, the raw spread of multiple scrapes and contusions blossomed into steady discomfort; the sharp, throbbing ache of a broken bone in his left arm nagged him for his attention, and the piercing burn from a gouge in the meat of his thigh demanded everything he had to keep himself from attempting to massage the sensation away. He remained still, did his best to will the tension from his body, and focussed on his breathing in the darkness behind his eyes.

Just breathe. The locations and severity were all new, but the pain itself was as familiar as a childhood friend to him now. Let it pass…

Jaw gritted, locking the groan in his throat, he slowly, gingerly pushed himself upright, mindful of the ache reminiscent of a dislocated shoulder as he peered down at the worn grey fabric of the t-shirt he'd woken in. He ran his good hand down his torso in a search for any blood or discoloration that could have leached into the cloth, but as always, there was nothing.

He could still feel the hot spray of gore on his face, matting the shaggy, layered black locks of his hair, yet even as his chilled fingers wandered up to his cheek, he knew he wouldn't find anything. That was the way it had always been; but still, he checked, driven to do so by the cold ball of dread in the pit of his stomach that worried relentlessly that one day, things might change, and the phantom pains would no longer be only phantoms.

For now, however, as silver irises turned towards the room's singular window, the morning was as it had always been. Wan and grey and full of his recollections of hurts, and an overwhelming sense of exhaustion. Even so, remaining ever-mindful of his many phantom wounds, he cautiously pushed the rest of his blankets aside and reached over to silence his phone before it could utter more than a millisecond of its alarm in a display of timing so impeccable it verged on uncanny. Of course, in reality – as with so very many things in his life now – it was nothing more or less than a matter of practise.

Shiki allowed himself a moment to collect his thoughts as he eased himself towards the edge of his narrow bed, beaten and bruised muscles protesting every inch of the way, before he turned his attention to the window of his small, one-room apartment and stared blindly at the dismal nothingness beyond. He knew the weather would quickly improve as the morning went on – by the time he nearly reached the Academy, the sun would be out in earnest, the pristine blue sky almost scorched free of clouds – but for the time being, he couldn't help but feel as though the world at large was expressing its sympathy, mirroring his perception of what his life had become. Dismal, washed out, all but consumed by an overwhelming sense of futility and isolation. Trapped in a bubble, a prison of his own making.

And tired. Gods, he was so tired… Tired of waking in this room, tired of taking inventory of his hurts, tired of reliving the same events over and over, only to inevitably fail at the end of it all. No matter what he did, what he changed – no matter what he sacrificed...

Always, he failed.

Roughly shunting the notion away when the first tendrils of temptation began creeping into his mind – urging him to give up, to rest his weary soul and let everything end once and for all – Shiki seized his thoughts by their lapels and forced them to focus, much as it pained him, on the absolute and utter silence that filled every nook and cranny of his small apartment. There was no salvation in self-pity – not for him. He'd brought this upon himself even while knowing full and well its implications.

He eased himself onto his feet, buckling and hastily redistributing his weight – jaw clenched to the point of aching, from frustration as much as anything – as he remembered the pain lancing through his thigh, and the ghostly aches blanketing his entire left side as though he'd been swatted into a concrete wall by a colossus. But then again, in a sense, that was exactly what had happened.

You were reckless, and now you get to pay the price, he silently admonished himself, leaning heavily on the post at the foot of his bed as he gently flexed his leg. A feeble attempt, at best, to soothe the cramps tearing his muscles apart as though he still had that thing lodged in his flesh and bones – but there was nothing to be done for his mangled side, except to ride it out.Chest heaving, head bowed, he lingered there for a moment, eyes clenched, knuckles white as they gripped the post, face twisted into a mute rictus of both pain and reprimand. You've been getting reckless, Shiki. That stops now.

He forced himself away from the bedpost and tottered, limping, towards the bathroom, hugging his not-broken left arm to equally unbroken ribs. Gingerly rolling his shoulder, it took everything he had to look past the indicative pain of a dislocation and focus on the fact that his shoulder was still firmly planted in its socket, moving as easily as a generously oiled piece of machinery. There was no grinding of bone against bone, or needles of tiny fractured slivers against his nerves. His shoulder was fine – just like the rest of him – but gods, did it still hurt.

Flicking on the bathroom light, Shiki faltered at the sight of the reflection that greeted him in the mirror. Even though it was his own face staring back at him, these days, he always felt like he was looking at a stranger. He always felt like something should have changed, but his hair was still the same inky black he'd been born with, with the same curious shift to a slightly more brownish hue towards the ends. It was still layered, with the longest locks brushing the middle of his neck before the shaggy cut shortened to jaw-length around his ears, and shortened yet further until his bangs terminated just beneath his sharp, mirror-silver eyes. He'd thought it stylish once, and liked the way the longer bangs with their subtle wave at the ends framed his angular face when he pulled the rest into a half-pony. He'd thought it – both in style and the nonchalant way he commonly wore it – softened his fine, if severe bone structure and made him seem more approachable.

He would have laughed at the vanity of it all, now, if he'd still been capable.

Now, scrutinizing his reflection with keen, critical eyes that were far too old to match his nineteen-year-old countenance, he couldn't help but think of his hair as an inconvenience, something to hamper his vision and distract him during those many moments in which he simply couldn't afford to be distracted. As always, however, the memory of a soft, loving smile and the feeling of fingers thoughtfully combing themselves through his hair smothered his overwhelming desire to simply shave it all off.

Unfortunately, as close as he still held that memory to his heart, he no longer had the luxury of allowing himself to dwell on it overmuch. He'd learned to deprive himself of that as he had with so many other things, all in the name of focusing on his objective, the thing for which he strived time after time without ever truly succeeding.

But what if, just this one time, he let himself savor those quieter moments?

He severed his mind from its wistful contemplations with a sharp jerk of his head, denying the fantasy, mood souring, and returned his attention to the task immediately at hand.

Gingerly pulling his shirt over his head even as his body protested, muscles plucking themselves taut, aching beneath an invisible strain, Shiki hung it off the door's handle. He eased himself out of his pajama pants with a stifled groan, relying on the wall to help him balance on his not-injured leg, and sent them out of the bathroom with a flick of his foot before shutting the door behind him, more out of habit than anything. After all, he lived alone. There was no one to walk in on him save his personal demons.

He padded across the tile in the small bathroom to the plastic stool in the open bathing area and carefully lowered himself onto it, absently massaging the ache in his side as he turned the water on and waited for it to warm. Once it had, he bent his head under the spray, allowing the water to simply sluice over his body for a long moment, centering him, allowing his mind to drift in the perfect nothingness gradually swelling inside of his skull, before he slicked back his hair and commenced yet another morning ritual while he washed.

He checked his scars, hands smoothing over ashen skin and lean muscles. Calloused fingertips noted the location of each and every raised ridge of scar tissue or old, puckered wounds that riddled his body. A patchwork of injury, that's what he'd been reduced to. After he'd thoroughly examined all of his old wounds, however – inspecting them with military efficiency to ensure that they hadn't changed – he moved on to his most recent batch of phantom pains as the water washed over his flesh.

Shiki rarely had the opportunity to experience pleasure anymore, the feeling wrung clean out of him by routine, but as he inspected his hurts in the soft hiss of running water and the steam that began clouding the bathroom around him, he was reassured by the fact that most of them were only phantom pains. There was a new laceration across the leanly muscled planes of his stomach, the pale flesh of the scar as smooth as though he'd had it for years, while a faint, puckered mass interrupted the porcelain skin of his thigh, but that was all.

There was no discoloration anywhere as he inspected himself under the steady, calming stream of water. No bruises across his ribs, no scrapes on his hands or knees, no scabs or raw, seeping wounds. Only a babe's fistful of fresh scars to add to a collection that would have horrified anyone who'd seen him in any state of undress during the previous school year. After all, he'd gone from skin marred only by the mundane nicks and cuts one inevitably accumulated over the years to a motley patchwork of scars that belonged to someone who'd grown up in a pit, fighting and suffering for the pleasure of others.

He'd never quite figured out why the scars accumulated, but in the end, he supposed it didn't matter. As long as they didn't hamper his mobility. But as his fingers trailed pensively over the trio of lacerations slashing down his chest, that didn't stop him from trying to remember what it had been like to have skin unmarred by the evidence of his struggles. It must have been beautifully smooth, the next best thing to perfection, before he'd consigned himself to this hell.

Shiki gradually lifted his head and peered into the small mirror affixed to the wall before him, lashes fluttering as he blinked rivulets of water from his eyes. At least you still have your face, he numbly murmured to himself, fingers lifting of their own accord to wander down the porcelain skin of his cheek. There were tiny nicks that had developed, true – the most noticeable being one that neatly bisected the outer wing of his left brow, and another, even thinner one that grazed his right cheekbone, with a faint third lancing up from the sharp corner of his jaw – but he never failed to marvel at the fact that while his body told an explicit tale of his past, his face – young, supple skin forever at odds with the age suggested by his eyes – had yet to be mauled. Small favours, I suppose.

A face that had been maimed over the brief two-week break between his second and third year would draw far, far too much attention, and would prompt too many different lines of questions from too many sources – none of which he could address, even if he'd wanted to. The change in his attitude stoked too much curiosity as things were.

He supposed he could have stopped going to school at any time, but…

A tiny smile, saturated by an undercurrent of both affection and melancholy evident in those wise hazel eyes.

No. That was one sacrifice he could not bring himself to make.

Mind flooded by the hiss and splash of water as it beat back the hush, Shiki continued washing himself in the same detached manner as an automaton, never truly registering the movements, never caring to inject any more energy than what was strictly necessary to complete the task. He rinsed the suds from his hair and body with absent-minded sweeps of his hand as he directed the wand over his flesh, and dunked his head beneath the spray one last time – idly noting the wet little trails carving themselves over his skin, following the swells and valleys of his physique – before he reattached the shower head to its mount on the wall, and turned the water off. The asphyxiating silence rushed in to claim the room, its tyrannical hold challenged only by the soft, wet plips of water – dripping from the shower head, from the tendrils of hair draped around his bowed countenance, and from the little ridges of his stool – as he sat there, arms limp at his sides, knuckles brushing against the tile, staring down with empty eyes into the maw of the nothingness that may as well have replaced the floor.

Before his thoughts could breach that emptiness, reminding him yet again of his most recent failure and the anguished faces that accompanied it, he gently pushed himself to his feet, raking his hair back from his countenance and slicking the water from it as he padded over to collect a towel from its rung on the wall. He busied himself with drying his hair and the many tender aches blanketing his body, and when he wandered back into the hush of his one-room apartment, he didn't bother to spare even the most perfunctory of glances for the black-clad man suddenly present in his peripherals, leaning with hands neatly folded behind him against the wall between the bathroom door and the tiny kitchenette. He might as well have been just another piece of furniture for all the mind Shiki paid him as he made his way to his bed to finish towelling the moisture from his skin, and the man remained utterly silent even while Shiki tossed his towel aside and turned his attention to collecting his uniform from its usual place in his wardrobe.

While he had remorselessly ignored his unannounced guest, Shiki could still feel those keen eyes tracking him as he moved about his room… but familiarity had long since rendered him immune to the shame or embarrassment he would have once felt at knowing that someone was staring at him in such a state of undress. He would have blushed from head to toe, fumbling as he pulled his clothes on; now, his only concern was the insistent ache of his phantom pains, and the way they made every gesture, every shift in his position, something slow and tender as he dressed himself for the day ahead, sliding his arms into his sleeves and easing his crisp white shirt over his shoulders, masking his litany of scars.

The awkwardness was gone, but that didn't change the sheer weight of the man's scrutiny, the sense of that cold, calculating gaze meticulously devouring him and everything he was. The only thing Shiki truly felt was the undercurrent of tension stretched taut beneath the deafening silence attempting to smother them both, as though the man were waiting for permission to speak.

But Shiki knew full and well that he wasn't. He didn't need it. He didn't want it. Shiki's permission meant nothing to him. It never had.

While Shiki turned his attention to his slacks, the man cocked his head, jaw-length locks of white hair slipping into his equally pale face, across the inky black triple moon marked on his forehead, as those yellow eyes scrutinized him. When he spoke, his voice was devilishly velveteen, deep and enticing, an aspect of his being perfected for the sole purpose of seduction and persuasion, but his words… A wry edge had been steadily wearing its way through that purring warmth, and Shiki was entirely too aware of just how sharp the blade hidden beneath that velvet really was.

Honestly, he would have preferred the silence.

"How much longer do you think you can keep this up for, Shiki?"

This again… Ignoring the comment, Shiki slung his tie around his neck and padded past him with his jaw gritted to finish readying himself in the washroom. Pale grey eyes took on a steely cast as he briefly brushed his hair, separating it and pulling an elastic from his wrist to tie it up in a half-pony. You're getting impatient in your old age, Janus.

Janus fluidly slithered around the doorframe to monitor his progress in the mirror, his pose unchanged, and the harsh fluorescent light made the marking on his ashen forehead stand out in stark relief – a horizontally-oriented triple moon, two inky black crescents framing either side of a perfect circle, dark as pitch, blacker than the void left by a dead star. "Your kind weren't meant for this, you know. Sooner or later," the man absently mused, "it will break you."

Expression hard, Shiki did his best to ignore him as his hands sped through the process of manipulating his tie into a knot, but Janus's voice found its way into his thoughts all the same.

Undeterred by his stony silence, Janus gave an airy, dismissive shrug of a single black-clad shoulder, his voice light and nonchalant. "But what do I know, right?" Before he'd even finished speaking, his form began dissolving, crumbling around the edges like specks of ash that floated upwards as they disintegrated into fading plumes of shadow. He was all but gone, his last words echoing faintly from within both the asphyxiating hush of the washroom as well as Shiki's thoughts as he airily drawled, "I'm only a demon."

It was only once the phantom had vanished entirely that Shiki allowed his brisk, purposeful actions to slow to a crawl. Only once he was absolutely certain that Janus was gone did he allow his head to bow, fingers curling into white-knuckled fists around the rim of the sink, his entire body stiff with a sickening, conflicting mixture of both dread and resolve.

Because sooner or later, he knew, it would break him, just as Janus had said. Much as it grated at him – much as he wished to deny it, to argue that Janus was merely trying to discourage him – the demon was right, and he knew his business better than anyone. There was only so long the human mind could withstand subjecting itself to the trials that Shiki had. There was only so much trauma it could endure, and as deeply as he yearned to ignore it, Shiki couldn't quite manage to shake the burgeoning feeling that his time was running out.

This time, he promised himself. This time will be different.

Registering the moisture at the tip of his nose a moment too late, Shiki froze, able to do nothing more than stare at the small red droplet that plipped against the white porcelain of the basin. He remained frozen, mind rendered utterly bereft of thought as numb fingers reached up to tentatively dab themselves against the wetness at his nostril… and when he took his fingers away, he found them stained a lurid scarlet with his own blood. Steely silver eyes flashed up to the mirror, and sure enough, a warm crimson bead – its path altered by the course of gravity as he'd lifted his head – began carving an ominous trail down his upper lip.

The first flash of fear was quickly overwhelmed, however, by the stone cold will of his resolve, and bloodied fingers furled themselves into a fist as he steeled himself against what was to come. All of his failures, all of his suffering, all of the ruinous decisions he'd made and be forced to make again in his quest for a resolution, once and for all…

"How much longer do you think you can keep this up for, Shiki?"

His fists tightened, blood displaced by the pressure of his clenched fingers, seeping into the crevices of his skin as silver irises hardened to diamond, and bore into those of his reflection. This time it has to be different.

-x-

To Be Continued…

-x-

So, like it? Hate it? Wish it would spontaneously combust? Leave me a review and tell me all about it! C'mon, I wanna hear everything!

I've had this done for a while now, but I kept waffling over whether or not I wanted to make this chapter longer and continue onwards with other events in the day. Eventually I decided not to, since there was probably enough in that second scene to digest as things are, haha. I'm still trying to find each character's voice, but that'll come with practise as I work on this sucker. (I guess I'm too accustomed to working on GotB/Redux, since those characters are so… familiar to me. I have to admit it's a little strange to be working on characters who haven't been prancing around in my head and basically developing themselves for the better part of… going on 17 years now, at least. Holy hell, I feel old.)

Anyways, let me know what you think! Let's get a conversation going, and I'll see you all next time! Happy holidays, guys!