When a boy has saved the world at seventeen even before taking college exams, the mundanity of everyday life becomes uninteresting to tackle.
In truth, when it came down to cases Mikagami Tokiya had made no provision past avenging his older sister and striking down her killer. He had fully expected to spend his life in pursuit of vengeance. Despite school counselors wringing their hands and tearing their hair out over his tremendous potential and his equal indifference to further education, Tokiya had never planned to make something of himself.
He hadn't figured himself for a future past a quiet, most likely unmourned burial.
Things were different now. Against all odds and common sense included, their mismatched Hokage group had won the day against Tendoujigoku and the rest. They were the winners. They had done it.
Meguri Kyoza, his grandfather, was dead.
Where Recca and the monkeys paraded triumphant -- Yanagi-san sharing in their sense of victory, sans disparaging comments in his opinion -- Tokiya remained empty. His sense of accomplishment was hollow. After shaping himself into a blade as keen and deadly as Ensui itself, single-minded as a sword, Tokiya suffered from a lack of process. He, an educated upperclassman, had read about this: it was a syndrome not unlike the veteran returning from war.
He had won, but it was a hollow win.
"I'm going," Mikagami Tokiya said to a silent, empty house.
Tokiya took up his school bag and looked down the long, seemingly endless street that led to his school. Soon, the school advisers would expect him to begin studying for college entrance exams. According to convention he should have begun studying already, flawless grades notwithstanding. All of it made him feel tired and a good deal older than his seventeen years.
He began to walk, and his thoughts picked up their pace.
If he was truly honest with himself it was less the fact of dealing with everyday life than the certainty that there was nothing, and no one, to help him fill it. Mifure was dead, and Yanagi-san beyond his reach. He could even admit ungrudgingly that Recca was worthy of his princess.
Recca had his future, his parents, and his princess, Yanagi. Yanagi had her whole life ahead of her despite all expectation, and a doting boyfriend. Domon had a family business to grow into and his hopes for Fuuko. Fuuko had a little sister, and grand ambitions. He, Tokiya, had...
Memories of mismatched eyes. The thought of a single rose tendered for him alone. The certainty of a lone playing card on a shelf at home and the knowledge that anyone he might have had a chance with was gone; that was what Tokiya had.
There was business that had been left unfinished, but now enough time had passed that it was done no matter where the chips lay. Tokiya recognized that many things in life did not leave behind a clean break. There would be no closure for his feelings, and he was alone.
These thoughts ran their course in his mind every day as they had for the past six months, and still Tokiya was at an impasse. He moved mechanically through the everyday motions of life, but it was all hollow.
Along the street another black-uniformed boy was trudging toward school, hands buried in his pockets, head tucked low. As Tokiya passed him, he caught a glimpse of an earring that swung from one pierced lobe, an accessory strangely familiar to him.
The boy lurched into him unexpectedly and they both stumbled.
"Watch it--" Tokiya began curtly, and his ice blue eyes widened.
"Hey, hey, sorr--" The boy cut himself off mid-word and his face split in an astonishingly happy grin, one pert canine flashing at him. "You! Tokiya-niichan!"
"Koganei," Tokiya uttered, astounded. "What...what are you doing here?" He stopped, teetering on the edge of improbability despite the presence of the boy on the sidewalk before him. Tokiya had barely gotten the words out of his mouth when Koganei latched onto him, hands dipping in precarious places on his body but hovering at the limit of propriety.
Tokiya disentangled himself gently, pushing the boy at arm's length and giving him a thorough inspection. He ignored the fact of unusual physical contact for now, attributing it to the boy's gregarious nature and the fact that he'd been gone -- supposedly for ever.
Koganei Kaoru had been thirteen when he had disappeared through the time-rift with Kurei. Now he looked older -- though only a bit taller -- and his face was tanned and cheerful and his golden-green eyes were knowing, years out of place in the young face.
"I knew that would be the first question," Kaoru said mournfully, smile dropping from his mobile expression. "Not 'How are you, Kaoru?' Not 'We've missed you, Kaoru!' Definitely not 'Welcome back, Kaoru!'"
"You left," Tokiya said gently, and despite the quiet of his tone there was a razor's edge of blame within it. You left without a word to me. Though they had never talked much about afters, Tokiya had entertained certain thoughts. Those had gone into the time-rift with Koganei.
As for the other...Tokiya knew that person was gone for good.
Koganei's expression clouded. "I'm sorry. Kurei...Kurei needed me, you know?"
"I know." Tokiya's hand tightened on the handle of his school bag. "We should go. School will start soon." His expression closed down in impassive lines.
"Niichan..." Koganei's face was a study in conflicting emotions. He shook his head. "No, no...don't let it bother you..." This was muttered as if to Koganei himself. "Aren't you going to ask what happened? Play hooky with me!"
"On your first day back?" Tokiya raised a pale brow. He supposed it didn't matter. "I thought I did ask. So, how did you come back?"
"Kurei thought he was going to die," Koganei said matter-of-factly. "We were there for a couple of years, he and I. And this is all I grew," he continued in disgust, digging a thumb into his chest.
Tokiya regarded him with expressionless eyes.
"All right, all right," Koganei said with a sidelong glance, catching the import of that look. "We went up against an army, in the end. Me 'n Kurei. And he said...he said..." Koganei's eyes unfocused.
To prompt him, Tokiya gripped the boy by the arms, telling himself this was vital data they needed, though Team Hokage no longer had the means to fight.
"He said I have to live," Koganei concluded, looking miserable. "Even though he was already dead. Then he gave me a big push."
"That was two days ago."
Tokiya gave him a hard look, releasing him. Koganei rubbed at his own arms, not quite seeming to register the pain. "You've been here two days? Where are you staying?"
Koganei shrugged, looking anywhere but the hardness of Tokiya's eyes. "Here and there."
"Fine," Tokiya said dryly. "From now on, you're staying with me."
Amber-green eyes blinked up at him. "For real?"
"For real." For anyone else, the offer would seem impulsive. For Mikagami Tokiya, the sudden offer was the culmination of a great deal of thought, and the arrival of Koganei in his life was the final element of a complex equation clicking into place.
"Y-You mean it! Niichan!" For the second time that crazy, sun-brilliant morning Tokiya found himself fielding an armful of enthusiastic boy and quite at a loss for what to do about it. When Koganei pried himself loose, this time, his eyes were suspiciously bright and he stood close, fidgeting, smiling uncertainly.
"So I figured...Tokiya-niichan...there's something I wanted to do, still. And there's more than one reason why I'm here."
Tokiya's hand was still at the nape of Koganei's neck. He was unsure if that was quite the place to put it but figured it was unoffensive enough. It was certainly better than half the places the boy had grabbed him already. "Yeah?"
Koganei's youthful, pretty face was pensive. "Joker. Joker-han, you know?"
Tokiya blinked. "I don't follow." Mention of Joker socked him directly to the gut. Yes, he remembered Joker...even if they hadn't "officially" met.
"Kurei said, before he sent me back, to take care of Joker and everyone." Koganei shook his head. "I...I don't quite get what that means, but I know Joker said he'd come after and leave the rest up to me, and he never came back."
"Joker's dead?" Tokiya felt a queer feeling pool in his stomach. Those laughing, mismatched eyes...
Koganei tugged at his sleeve, expression turning fierce. "But that's exactly it, niichan! If Kurei said to take care of it, that means there's still a chance! Joker's the best at what he does, there's no way he'd go down so easy."
"So...that something you want to do, you want to find Joker," Tokiya hazarded, not having to reach very far for that conclusion. A sensation of relief and, oddly enough, disappointment flowed over him. For this kind of quest, not having Ensui could become a liability. Their decisive victory had ensured that never again would the weapon curse his family.
"Un!" Koganei confirmed, then turned, taking himself out from under Tokiya's hand, golden-green eyes gleaming up at him. Without warning he was glomming again, throwing himself into Tokiya's arms, sturdy legs locking with surety about Tokiya's midsection. It had been a long time, but Koganei was still short. "After you and I get it on, niichan." Then, outrageously, he rubbed his gold-toned cheek against Tokiya's.
Tokiya felt himself turning blue. "Ko-Koganei..." he stuttered. Street...they were in the middle of a street...
Koganei pulled his face back. "Eh? Oh, wait, am I assuming too much?" he said, assuming an innocent face. "Oh...are you an' Fuuko-"
"Don't be stupid," Tokiya snapped, a bit more harshly than he intended.
Koganei's smile fell. "Sorry. I'll-"
Reflexively, it seemed, Tokiya's arms tightened, as if to prevent Koganei from leaving his arms as abruptly as he'd entered into them. That one motion was enough to cause Koganei's face to light up, but Tokiya was already saying, "I'm not with Fuuko."
Wide eyes blinked at him innocently, on a level with Tokiya's own. "Good. I'd hate to have to kill her."
Tokiya knew he was turning blue, and it wasn't from the impact of Koganei's startling words. "Get down," he said curtly.
"Fine, fine," Koganei grumbled while doing so, and peered up at him sidewise again. He stuck his hands in his pockets in an obvious ploy for goodwill. "Play hooky with me?"
Tokiya passed a reflexive hand over his sleek dark hair and the tail at the nape of his neck. "I'm flattered that you're willing to kill for my attentions, but there are certain conventions to be upheld, especially in public." He ignored the "playing hooky" comment for the nonce and took another hard look at the younger boy. "Just how old are you, anyhow?"
"About fifteen, almost sixteen," Koganei said nonchalantly. Then he shot Tokiya the most impish look imaginable. "Make you feel like less of a perv, niichan?"
Tokiya was shaking his head slowly. "How did you even know -- I never even..."
"It's called 'perceptiveness,' niichan. I've got it."
Tokiya unbent enough to bestow a smile, small and ungrudging, giving in to the inevitability of Koganei Kaoru. "Welcome home," he told him at last. Words long since trapped inside him were released once more.
Koganei's smile rivaled the brilliance of the sun. "I'm back," he said in answer.
They walked along the street together.
"So...about this playing hooky..."
"Forget it, we're going to school."
"Whaaaat? You're mean! When I lived with Recca..."
"Well, now you're living with me."
Pause. "I am, aren't I? For real?"
A sigh, then sincerity. "For as long as you'll stay, Koganei."
More than anything else, I've wanted to say those words to someone: welcome home.