Preparations for Repairs

By: Aviantei

A Zaregoto One-Shot

Surely even some sin is better than this nothingness, right?

Heshiro Chokiko is sitting in a karaoke bar in Kyoto, eating ramen. She really doesn't know what to say, since the usual conversation topics that get brought up don't seem appropriate for a date. And she wants this date to go well, considering it's the first one she's had since high school and probably the first real date she's ever had at all. So instead of speaking, she just keeps sending the ramen to her mouth, not even caring that at some point she's probably going to end up staining the designer clothes her older sister sent to her as a gift a few birthdays back.

It's probably the clothes that make this feel different. If Chokiko had her way, she would have been sitting here in the same casual clothes as always, but Kunagisa Yuuku wasn't having any of that. Chokiko's hyper roommate had practically been sitting in wait at the door, ambushing her the second that she tried to leave. The clothes do look nice, but the low cut neckline of the purple shirt is awkward and the fabric of the light jacket is far too thin to retain enough heat for her tastes, despite the fact that it's black.

At the very least, it seems like Ii got the mandate, too, seeing as Chokiko's date is also dressed nicer than usual. The tiger print shorts have been replaced with a pair of white pants, and the hooded t-shirt giving way to a tight fitting black one whose sleeves reach two-thirds of the way down his arms. Even so, he looks more comfortable, since it's probably just the nicest outfit he had in his bag instead of something he's never worn before. Not to mention the vest is there, same as always, concealing god knows how many knives inside of it.

Zerozaki Hitoshiki is mimicking her strategy of taking to the ramen, although with probably nowhere near the same intent.

The date was actually Yuuku's idea, too. After all, they never had a chance to have a date the last time Hitoshiki was in town, and that was a year ago. This probably would have happened nights ago if it weren't for the fact that Chokiko was buried in schoolwork when Hitoshiki showed up, preventing them from doing anything recreational. Tonight is her first free night as well as his last night here, prompting the decision for them to go out and have some alone time.

But to be perfectly honest, Chokiko prefers their relationship without real dates, because she knows how to handle those. She's much happier with just having Hitoshiki around for a little while, the way he snuck into her bed the first night he came back and is always around to drive her back home after a long day of school. Sure, she'd rather have that all the time, but with the way things are, that's impossible, so she settles.

Ultimately, though, the ramen is gone and Hitoshiki calls an emplyee up to take the bowls away. Chokiko tries to think of something to say, and Hitoshiki just smiles at her, slightly shifting the tattoo on his face. It's a half-lazy half-sheepish smile, and it preludes him breaking the silence. "Sorry if you wanted to go someplace nicer, Choks," he apologizes. "I just really don't have a clue where to go for something like that, since I've never really dated before. And the ramen's really good here so I just figured…" Hitoshiki shrugs, and Chokiko wonders if she's been thinking too hard.

"No, it's perfectly fine," she replies, wishing she could smile just as easily as he can. The way he does it is just so natural, but it's something she's never really been good at. She could fake a smile with hardly any effort, but a real one is a hard thing to do. "I was kind of hoping we didn't do anything overly fancy… To be honest I really didn't want to do this date thing in the first place."

"I know what you mean. I wasn't all that interested, either, but Yuuku practically threatened me to do to it, all with a straight face, too. Not much really freaks me out, but when you can list off that many gruesome things to do to a person while smiling… It kinda makes your skin crawl, you know?"

Chokiko gives a small nod, thinking about a few things. She's rather surprised that Yuuku's so worked up over their relationship, since it's never really seemed that way. Then again, there hasn't been much opportunity for her to show this, and it kind of makes sense, considering the kind of person Yuuku is. Out of their small group, she's the only one that classifies as fully human enough to care so much.

Of course, if someone like Hitoshiki thinks Yuuku's behavior is unsettling, what does that really say?

The karaoke staff member opens the door, coming in to collect the now empty ramen bowls. Down the hall, someone else's door is open as well, letting the echoes of an older anime theme song filter in before getting cut off by the door closing. Chokiko tries not to think at all about what she's going to say next, because when Hitoshiki's around, it really doesn't matter, date or no.

"I'm kind of surprised someone's actually singing that," she comments. "It's from a really old series; it probably came out when I was in elementary school, if not earlier. The voice of the person singing it sounded like a young girl, too…"

"Oh, were you a big fan of that stuff when you were younger?" Hitoshiki asks, a teasing grin forming on his face. "Or maybe you still are. There are plenty of people who are closet otaku, but I never would've pegged you for one. Where do you hide your stash in that no privacy apartment of yours?"

Chokiko lets the comment on her no walls, open roomed apartment slide, shaking her head. "I was never really into it that much, even when I was little," she says. "I mean, Aniki was and all, so I ended up watching a lot of it back when he was in charge of us. But I could never bring myself to like it because…" Chokiko wonders if she should even bring this up, but Hitoshiki's curious expression eggs her on. "Well, to be honest, I was always kind of jealous of every single character I ended up seeing…"

Hitoshiki leans back against the couch cushions, folding his arms behind his head with a thoughtful look directed towards the ceiling. What he doesn't do is laugh, tell her it's stupid, or anything else like that. Instead, what he does is ask, "What made you jealous of them?"

Chokiko starts a bit at his reaction, but goes to answer, even if she is looking at her hands folded in her lap instead of him. "Well, when I think back on it, I was already damaged a little by that point… I had friends and lived what would be considered a normal life, but I never really felt anything about it. So when I started watching all the shows with Aniki, I was surprised to hear them talk about all of the emotions and such you hear about from those types of shows. At first I thought it was because they lived in all these fantastic situations, but I ended up seeing some of the more 'slice of life' style things, and realized I was missing something… And I got really jealous because people no different than me got to feel all of these incredible things and I was missing out, for who knows what reason…

"Of course, when I got older, I learned to distinguish fiction from reality, and I realized a few things. I realized that there was no way for every single person ever to feel those things, and that all the adventures in action shows were fake. And then I felt better, just by knowing that no one really lived that kind of life…"

Chokiko feels a bit awkward, having just prattled on about her insecurities like that with no restrictions. It's something she hasn't even talked to Yuuku about, or even her family. Sure, they all know that her morals and sense of emotion is shattered, damaged, but none of them know this. She takes a peek at Hitoshiki through her bangs, and the male is still in thought with his eyes glued to the ceiling.

Suddenly, Chokiko decides to stand up, legs knocking against the table. Hitoshiki doesn't jump, but does turn his gaze on her, eyebrows raised. "W-well, we shouldn't waste time on useless babble like this!" she says, trying to banish the nervousness from her voice. She's trying to ignore the fact that her face is red as well. "You're paying for this place, so we should at least make use of it! Is there anything you want to sing?"

Chokiko can tell Hitoshiki doesn't really want the conversation to change, but he lets it anyway. He props his elbows back on the top of the couch with a slight shake of his head. "I'm not really into imitating other singers, so you go ahead," he offers. "Besides, I really don't know much about your music taste, so this is a good opportunity to find out. Have tons of fun for both of us."

Hitoshiki says it as if such a thing were possible, but Chokiko tries not to think on it as she walks to the front of the room by the selection screen. The previously untouched remote is expertly maneuvered control the screen, where she tries to choose what to pick. She can sing most of the anime-related songs, but doesn't really want to. After all, he wants to hear her taste, and in music, knowing isn't exactly liking, which eliminates most of her repertoire.

Chokiko finds the only band on the list whose name she cares about and chooses one of the options at random, singing out the second there are words available to do so.

Easy na rituu issai
yurusu jyakuhai
RESCUE-tai mo
dakara please kiss me
please kiss me
all night…

"Broken" is the best word Chokiko has ever found to describe herself, simply because there is nothing else she could possibly be. Her morals are shot, were that not evident enough by the fact that she is currently on a date with a boy that has been referred to as a "homicidal monster" and other such unpleasant things, sometimes to his face, sometimes not. Her emotions are just as bad, mainly nonexistent. While she doesn't know what it's like to feel exclusively "bad", she can't really describe what it means to feel "good," either. It's almost unfair, but Chokiko definitely knows how to deal with it.

She isn't so foolish to believe that singing words about the feelings will make her be able to feel them, either. She sings because it's there, something to do. No one likes wasting time, and at the very least, Chokiko knows when she likes something and when she doesn't. And there's something about what she's singing that she likes, even if it's some emotion she's completely missing out on.

Once the music stops, so does Chokiko, not knowing what to do. She could keep singing, but the past minutes have felt like a waste of time when she could spend it talking to Hitoshiki. Then again, he did seem truly fascinated by the concept of listening to her. But at the same time, all it amounts to is a stream of empty words pouring out of her mouth, and that's nothing more than a waste.

Hitoshiki's already beside her when she puts down the remote, staring at the screen. "NICO Touches the Walls, huh?" he asks in reference to the band. Chokiko nods, not wanting to move. The boy is in such a proximity to her that grabbing his hand would be no less of a hassle than breathing. For whatever reason, her cheeks begin to heat up at the thought which Hitoshiki glosses right over. "It's not exactly the choice I would have guessed for you, Choks, but it fits."

"Hitoshiki-kun, do you like any particular music?" A noncommittal shrug gets shot right back at her. It's not that much of a problem, since she really doesn't have any input to that particular conversation. Hitoshiki doesn't even bother to ask for details on why she likes the band, knowing she can't describe it. He's the only one who doesn't slip up—her brothers, her sisters, her parents, her few friends, they all try to pretend like there's nothing wrong with her and make the mistake.

Why do you like this? I don't get it, what's so great about it? Why do you want to do this? What's that face for? How come? I just can't understand it at all, can you? They're all the same mistake, but he never forgets, even after all this time not seeing each other. Maybe because there's something he recognizes from it, part of his own inability. An aftereffect of sharing the same fourth of the image that is reflected, a secret quadrant only shared by two people that acts as a reminder; that's probably why she likes his presence so much. It's to the point others would call "attached."

However, it's simply a feeling known to Heshiro Chokiko as Zerozaki Hitoshiki.

"Eh, you done already? You want some fresh air, then? Sure thing, Choks, it was gettin' way too stuffy in here for my tastes anyway."

"It's probably far too late to mention, but I met your brother."

Being early May, the night air is rather nice to walk through. The light jacket around her shoulders seems like a waste, but it isn't a hindrance, either, so Chokiko doesn't bother with taking it off. The sudden start to a conversation has captured too much of her attention anyway, making her focus be on the boy who stands below her. His eyes look up, somehow locking onto hers without really trying to. Or maybe that's just her own eyes desperately trying to hold contact with his.

"Aniki or Betayo?" Chokiko asks, trying to get the scenario right. Meeting one is just as likely as meeting the other, though, but it still holds an effect on how the conversation will go.

"Um…" Hitoshiki pauses to think, his eyes looking to the night sky for answers. Losing eye contact, Chokiko looks up as well. Even though the sky is clear, she can barely see the stars at all. It's one of the hazards of living in a place like Kyoto. "Tall guy, brown hair, disturbingly green eyes, glasses, looks like he never goes outside?" Hitoshiki tries, and Chokiko nods.

"That's Aniki," she confirms. "Both of my brothers somehow ended up as close to shut-ins, so it's almost a miracle that you even encountered either of them at all. Aniki's even harder to find at that." It's a dry report, one without any emotion that doesn't convey any of Chokiko's own feelings. She does like her brothers, though, although not to the extent that she has found herself liking being around the boy she's walking with now.

Hitoshiki's expression is puzzled. "How does one become something that's 'close to' being a shut-in?" he asks, derailing the topic. Such transitions are normal with him, not forced at all.

"Well, they're both obsessed with computers and online gaming," Chokiko says. "Aniki makes his living doing computer repairs and upgrades as a home business in the corner of Akibahara. Betayo's just started high school this year, but he still games whenever he has the chance. They're close to shut-ins because they spend as much time inside and online as possible, but they still see the value of leaving the house every so often. Although, Betayo's much more like a hikikomori than Aniki is…"

Hitoshiki nods, as if the explanation makes perfect sense. What's more surprising is that he nods as if an explanation like that is perfectly normal, even though it isn't. It's an explanation he really shouldn't be satisfied with, but somehow is. "Ah, that explains a lot. I get it now."

"Explains what?"

"Nothing too important, Choks, forget I said anything." Hitoshiki waves a gloved hand in the air, almost sweeping the issue away. "So anyway, I was in Tokyo taking advantage of this Slasher that was running around and attacking people. The police were so focused on them it made getting what I needed to easy. I met him while going to buy myself some lunch. Nice guy. That's all I wanted to say, really."

Chokiko makes a mental note to contact her brother and ask about the encounter that she'll probably never go through with. She knows she should be more concerned that her boyfriend has dropped a note about killing people into the conversation, but just isn't. It's something she accepted the night they first met, a knife looming far too close to her throat for comfort. It's something she just took as natural all the times they met up under the bridge and just talked. It's only a remote desire to know that makes her ask, "How many was it?"

"'How many'?" Hitoshiki repeats, the question not fully registering. "Oh, you mean people in Tokyo? I really don't remember to be honest, Tokyo? I really don;t gistering. "et up under the bridge and just talked. It'mforta note about killing pe. Numbers usually don't stick with me for more than the amount of time I've spent in a place. I think if I remembered the exact number of people I've killed I'd probably go crazy or something. Why?"

The throw-back of the conversation to her catches Chokiko off guard, and it takes a minute for her to respond. "I wanted to know just how many people it usually takes for you to be satisfied," she says. Hitoshiki gives a small smile.

"You were curious," he corrects. Chokiko takes a bit to realize that he's right. Looking at it from a definition standpoint, that's what she was. Even if it's not exactly an emotion, she still registered some form of response. Not wanting to lose it, Chokiko burns the connection of the sensation with the name curious into her memory, right next to Zerozaki Hitoshiki.

"I guess it really just depends on my mood," Hitoshiki says, words coming out slow and metered. It's almost like he doesn't even really know what he's saying as the words come out and has to wait to make sure each one of them is correct. "Sometimes I can get away with just one person, others I need to go out and cut up as many people as I can in one night. Sometimes it's so bad that I don't even care about getting caught, just that there's someone under my knife. I try not to think too hard about it, but there really is no set number.

"But you're different, Choks." Chokiko stops walking, her eyes never leaving him. They haven't been walking for the past few minutes, but that's irrelevant. "When it comes to you, something about just one little cut is enough to hold me over until I can go crazy on someone else. I get the urge to do what I do to others, but once I get a few cuts in that's enough." Hitoshiki holds out his hands—his small, agile, gloved hands—and looks at them for a moment. "Zerozakis aren't supposed to be able to hold themselves back."

Chokiko remembers this from a conversation on a certain river bank. The Zerozaki family, a group that's barely a family other than their shared last name. No blood relation between the members whatsoever, with a few rare exceptions. What makes them a Zerozaki is a killing instinct, one that sets them out to kill others and then execute murder in an amazingly artful way. Once they decide that they want someone dead—whether on purpose or impulse—their subconscious doesn't rest until they succeed.

And yet, Chokiko is fairly certain that she is being told that an unstoppable killer instinct is sedated just by the mere act of cutting her. If that's the case, a silly dream where Zerozaki Hitoshiki and Heshiro Chokiko could stay together without worrying about being caught for murders doesn't seem too far off. Chokiko likes the idea more than she realized.

"I mean, it's not perfect, but it's something," Hitoshiki continues. One hand is shoved in his pocket; the other is pulling a knife out of his vest. Its blade glints in the light from the streetlamp. Hitoshiki twirls the knife around his fingers, treating it more like a toy than a weapon, as if the number of people he's hurt and killed with it is insignificant. "It holds off the feeling, but only for so long. I don't think it'll ever get so bad that I'll actually kill you, but in the end someone needs to die. It's actually just about that time…"

Chokiko nods in understanding. She doesn't want Hitoshiki to leave so early—it's only been a few days, and that's nowhere near enough. The idea of waiting around for a whole other year for him to come back is not acceptable. She wants him to stay, to not have to leave. She'd tell him to kill someone in Kyoto if it weren't for the fact that it would tip the police off, bringing the World's Greatest Private Contractor with them.

"Are you feeling something right now?" Hitoshiki keeps his voice low, one hand cupping her cheek. He has to stretch a little bit to complete the action. Chokiko nods, not knowing the name of but recognizing the presence of some emotion in herself. "This isn't really a good place to start, but if your face is anything to go by, you're sad right now."

Sadness. It's not a foreign idea to her, but Chokiko finds it strange. She closes her eyes committing it to memory as well. For some reason it's easy, the emotion burning through her strong. Hitoshiki's hand on her face is making it ebb away, a steady decline. "I don't want you to leave," she admits. If she's right, that's the most likely reason that she's sad. She's sad about the idea of him leaving.

When Chokiko looks at him again, Hitoshiki is smiling. "Come on, it'll only be for a little bit this time, Choks, I promise," he says. Chokiko wills herself to believe him. "I was gonna try and be back as soon as possible. If I'm not back in the next month you can assume the feeling you have towards me is anger, alright?" Hitoshiki chuckles.

"Alright," Chokiko answers, not knowing what else to say. Hitoshiki's other hand comes up to her face, the knife he's holding meeting its usual spot on her cheek. The already tender flesh is broken, a scar re-opened for who knows what time. The pain registers with her, but Chokiko doesn't care. Hitoshiki finishes the movement by pulling her face down so that their lips touch.

It's actually the first time they've kissed. Everything else has been words and philosophies and knives compressed into less time than a month. It's been enough for them to get attached to each other, but it never seemed right to consider them dating. That's why this is the first date and this is the first kiss. Chokiko doesn't know if what's going on is romantic or not, but she definitely likes it better than what she's had before.

It stays chaste. When he's done, Hitoshiki only makes the necessary movements to rest his forehead against hers. If the position's uncomfortable for either of them, with the awkward angles they have to take to be on even ground, neither of them utters any complaints. Chokiko's cheeks are starting to heat up, and she almost wants to ask Hitoshiki to confirm the emotion for her but doesn't want to ruin the silence.

"I think I understand what you were saying, Chokiko," Hitoshiki whispers. Her full name is almost hypnotizing from his mouth. "When you were talking about being jealous of them. I think I understand what you meant. And I think I understand what I want to do about it, too. Do you mind if I talk for a while?"

Chokiko shakes her head. Hitoshiki pulls back, and she stands up straight. The boy stretches, the knife staying in his hands. Chokiko wonders if reopening her scar was enough for him or if he needs to go out and kill someone soon. He's usually pretty honest about these sorts of things, though, so it can't be that bad of an urge if he's offering to talk to her. They walk up the street in silence for a bit until Hitoshiki stops at a bench and sits down. He gestures, and Chokiko takes the seat next to him.

"You wanted a life where you could experience those feelings, right?" Hitoshiki starts. It's an awkward beginning, but that's not what makes Chokiko speechless. What does is that she's never considered the idea before. "s never considered the idea before. "What does is that she', right?"akes the seat next to him.

e soon. He'aying in his hands. ChYou wanted that sort of life but you gave up on it because you thought it was an unreasonable reality. Was that because you thought it was unrealistic for everyone or just for the person you realized you were becoming?"

Hitoshiki almost looks sad. His eyebrows are sloped and his tattoo is shifted, his lips parted slightly. No, it's more of a look of pity, except his gaze isn't directed towards her. "That's not important right now," he says, not waiting for an answer. It's probably for the best since Chokiko wouldn't know how to respond anyway. "The point is, with that in mind, you didn't bother to go out of your way to try and get emotions. Except you're not some emotionless monster. You're a person with real feelings, you just have a hard time recognizing them when they come.

"I think we can fix that. I really, really do believe that Chokiko. I think that if we worked together you could have the sort of life you wanted. It wouldn't be easy. And I couldn't always be here to help you. But I could be around to do as much as possible. I could come back to help you stay as long as I can and be away as little as possible. There would be issues with it, but it could happen. These knives I have would cut you open who knows how many times, but it honest-to-god could happen. I would stay by you for that. You deserve it."

He's been talking fast, his words coming out as if they're his breath, nonstop. Hitoshiki seems almost out of air, but he's smiling at the same time. Chokiko is almost breathless herself, not sure how to respond to this boy saying beautiful things. He recognizes her as she is, and has made a plan for helping her out. And at the same time it's only a suggestion, without forcing the idea on her. Hitoshiki will help fix her, but only if she wants to be fixed.

Hitoshiki lets out a breathless chuckle, almost like he's berating himself. "Look at me," he says, words aimed at the empty sky. "I'm starting to sound like Damaged Goods." He sits up on the bench properly, turning to face Chokiko. "You don't have to take anything I said seriously. It's far too much of nonsense to ever be considered a masterpiece." He slides over on the bench, getting a bit closer. "But that aside, what do you say, Choks? Give me one more for the road?"

At first, Chokiko think he means a cut—and he does, the knife biting back into the same cut, going deeper than before. But that's short lived, the knife clattering against the bench as it slips out of Hitoshiki's hands, him dropping it in favor or another kiss. It doesn't go any farther than the first, but it lasts longer. Chokiko can hear one of their hearts beating inhumanely fast—or maybe it's the sound of both their hearts pounding wildly out of sync.

And when it's over, Hitoshiki pulls back, the lighting disguising the faintest traces of pink on his cheeks. Chokiko is left speechless, but it's alright. There are no words that could convey any thoughts that haven't been shared in this moment. Hitoshiki pg disguising the faintest traces of pink on his cheeks. Chokiko is left speechless, butlaces one last gentle kiss on Chokiko's forehead and stands up, starting to walk away.

"Later, Choks."

Chokiko is left sitting on the bench, not certain how she should react to everything. H itoshiki's words are stuck in her head, resounding in ideas that Chokiko doesn't know if she should accept as the truth. She's disconnected herself from the past so easily, and whatever faint amounts of emotion she had back then are incomprehensible to the person she is now. She can't deny or confirm Hitoshiki's theory.

It bothers her. What if it's true? What if every little thing he said is absolutely right and she might squander it because she isn't sure? What if it's false and she's about to agree to something that isn't what she wanted? There is no way to know for certain. There is also no need to worry about what she wanted when she was younger. All that matters is what she wants now.

"Hitoshiki!" Chokiko calls out his name, standing up from the bench. Hitoshiki stops at the end of the street, but doesn't turn around. Chokiko feels out of breath already, but takes a steady inhale before shouting her feelings.

"I don't know what kind of life I want, but I know I want you to be in it!"

In the end, that's the truth. It's too much trouble to sort through the blur in her heart that is her feelings. They're just as mysterious to her as always. And in the end, it doesn't matter if that's how they stay or not, because Hitoshiki doesn't care one way or the other. Regardless if Chokiko stays as the Damaged Failure or is somehow put together again—never Human Goods but something—she just wants him to be there. And she knows that no matter which one the reality ends up being, he'll be okay with it.

Hitoshiki doesn't verbally answer, but he holds up an arm and waves. He disappears around the corner after that, and Chokiko is left standing under the streetlights, alone. Her face is flushed, and there's a steady stream of blood running down her cheek and dripping onto the front of her clothes. She doesn't care. She takes the feeling in her chest and puts a name to it before turning the other direction to head back to her own home.

Even if she's completely wrong, Chokiko will always consider the feeling she has right now as happy.

On the other side of the city, Zerozaki Hitoshiki is convinced he just proposed to his sort-of girlfriend.

"Ah, so that's how it went." Ii, the Damaged Goods, sits across from the Human Failure contemplating the situation. He doesn't seem too interested, and it's driving Hitoshiki insane. Ii never cares about anything enough to get worked up about it; Hitoshiki would almost prefer talking to his older brother right now, but that's a pretty big almost.

Hitoshiki sighs. "How am I supposed to handle this sort of thing? I've never dated before, but I can tell something's wrong with all this. Chokiko and I have been barely seeing each other for a year, if you can even count it as that much. We go on our first date, then this happens. Last I checked, that's the very definition of going too fast."

Ii shrugs. Hitoshiki doesn't even want to bother to respond. If what he's doing is going too fast, then his mirror image's relationship is the very definition of going too slow. Between the two of them, there's no way they should be able to contribute to the solving of each other's problems. Any other time Hitoshiki would just pick out some random citizen and babble to them until they're dead and hopefully have an answer, but he can't do that right now. Besides the fact that it's too risky, he doesn't even feel remotely close to his killer instinct.

Because of Chokiko.

"Oh man, and Choks isn't very good with relationships either," Hitoshiki says. "What if she's doesn't realize what I said? What if she doesn't understand what she'd be getting herself into by marrying a guy like me? Dammit, what if she doesn't even want that and I just forced it on her?"

This is what's really worrying him. Hitoshiki likes Chokiko. He likes her a lot. Because of this, he's fully aware of her existence, of what sort of entity she is. Somewhere between him and Ii, a Damaged Failure. And when you look at someone like that, it's reasonable to assume she wouldn't want anything to do with him.

"I think you're underestimating Heshiro-san," Ii interjects. "From what you told me she said, I think she understands what you were trying to say. On top of that, I believe she accepted. At least that's what it sounded like to me." Ii pauses, looking to the ceiling as he thinks something over. "How many people do you think you'll need to kill to afford a wedding ring?"

"This is serious!" Hitoshiki shouts, slamming his hands down on the floor in front of him. The comment on his lifestyle is not appreciated right now. Somewhere in his subconscious, he makes a note to apologize to Ii's neighbor later for all the noise.

"It's a serious question. I mean, if you're actually going through with this, you should at least offer to get her a ring. That sort of thing's expensive. But you blow insane amounts of money on all your knives, so what's the difference?"

Hitoshiki frowns and wonders just what the expression is doing to his tattoo. He falls back onto the floor, head landing on the messy remains of the futon he's been using. "Ugh, I don't know man. Marriage just seems like it's going way over my head. I'm not even sure if I meant to say that or not."

Ii stares at him. "Well, are you okay with it?" he asks. Hitoshiki sits back up. "Even if you proposed and she accepted that only makes you engaged. It's not like it'll be some big scandal if you break it off. She's pretty easygoing and you're the Human Failure."

"I mean…" Hitoshiki says, staring at the wall. "I guess it's not like I don't want to marry her…" He can feel his cheeks heating up. He hasn't blushed in ages, which only makes it all the more embarrassing. "And if she's okay with it then it should be alright…" At this point it's more like he's talking to himself. Ii watches and smiles at him. Hitoshiki scowls. "Don't make faces like that at me, what do you have to be happy about?"

Ii blinks, almost like he didn't realize he was smiling. "I don't know what you're talking about. Weren't you going to leave tonight?"

That's the beauty about talking to Ii; the conversation doesn't have to come to a logical end. And a good thing, too, because Hitoshiki isn't in the mood to spill his guts to Damaged Goods anyway. "Nah, I'm gonna leave tomorrow morning," he says, laying back down and rolling over to the mess of blankets. Hitoshiki struggles, trying to find a way to untangle them and get comfortable with the least amount of effort.

"Good night, Human Failure," Ii says. Hitoshiki's back is turned so he can't see what the other boy is doing.

"G'night, Damaged Goods."

When Hitoshiki wakes up the next morning, he almost goes to visit Chokiko to take her to school. His bike is parked outside her apartment complex, and it would only take an elevator ride to see her again. But there's something about the previous night that he doesn't want to disturb, so he drives away, without any idea where he's going.

Somewhere with a lot of rich people, maybe. Even if Chokiko doesn't want a ring, having some extra money saved up won't hurt.


Oh, I guess I'm the only person that likes Zaregoto enough to write about it. Okay.

Regardless, I really admire Nisioisin's work. And Hitoshiki. Definitely Hitoshiki. Such admiration is not healthy. Anyways...

I had developing Chokiko for quite some time. I originally intended to write a full story, but I got the inspiration for this first instead. After picking away at the document in tiny bits for way too long (read: over a year), I finally buckled down and finished it around last summer.

It now has found its way to you.

I fully intend to write their main story, The Ability to Breathe, which takes place a year before this, in the future. I'm not quite sure when in the future that is, though.

I make references to two other (much more notable) anime/manga/novel series. Can you find them?

If you liked this, keep an eye out. The Ability to Breathe will happen someday.

Thanks for reading!

[POST] 111314