I see a pattern here with this story. Posted the first chapter in 2005. Second in 2006. Third in 2007. I do hope to remedy this disturbing trend. Thank you all for sticking around.


Catch-22

III


Someone was with him.

That was the first thought that entered Toboe's sleep-filled mind as he opened his eyes. Then he took in several deep breaths, wondering for a while why it felt so hard to breathe. He glanced upwards at the ceiling and stared at it before suddenly frowning. Where am I? The golden-eyed man blinked several times, trying to understand his situation. He last remembered rain—rain and him deciding to go out for a walk. Toboe smiled a little ruefully at his reckless action. Look where it got me.

"Do you always smile to yourself?"

Toboe would have jumped had he not been lying down. As it was, his head jerked suddenly to the side as he finally spotted the other person he had sensed in the room. Kiba's even stare bore down on him and warmth filled Toboe's face.

"K-Kiba! So you…"

The older man nodded slightly and stuck a thermometer into Toboe's open mouth unceremoniously. "You fainted on me yesterday. My place was closest so I brought you here," he explained in his usual direct tone.

"Uh…"

"Don't talk. I need to take your temperature."

It struck Toboe as odd to see the distant and quiet man so…human. And then his thoughts stopped. That was right. He had only met Kiba two days ago. To be quite frank, Toboe should have been experiencing more concern for his own safety in the hands of this stranger. But for some reason he was not afraid. He was not even nervous—except for the times Kiba would catch him off guard. He was just inexplicably at ease with the older man. And that disconcerted him more than anything else.

"Sorry to crash on you like this," he said quietly as Kiba pulled out the thermometer.

Kiba shrugged and then placed a tray of food on the bureau beside the bed. "Eat. Your fever hasn't gone down completely and you need your energy," he directed softly.

Toboe took the steaming bowl of soup humbly and was surprised by how quickly it revived him as he took small spoonfuls. Kiba watched him all the while, unmoving and impassive, and that was perhaps the reason why Toboe finished up his meal so quickly. He wiped his mouth with a napkin and handed the empty bowl back to Kiba speedily.

"Thank you."

In trying to recall a time he felt more vulnerable, Toboe's mind drew up a blank. He smiled sheepishly at Kiba as he took away his bowl and left the room temporarily. But it was very strange indeed. He was never one to be so careless about his health. Yesterday's events seemed like a blur in his head; Toboe must have really been delirious. He remembered the conversation with Kiba but he could not remember what they were talking about. Images of lunar flowers kept flashing through his mind. Toboe shook his head.

"Flowers…"

"What about them?"

This time Toboe really did jump. Kiba smiled slightly. "Sorry," he said.

"You have a knack for scaring people."

A small smile was offered in response. "My sister says the same thing," replied Kiba.

"Oh, so you have family?" blurted Toboe. He paused as he realized the rudeness of his query. "I mean…you just don't seem like the type…"

"She's the only one I'm close to. My father is still recovering from my sudden career change and we haven't spoken to each other in a few months," Kiba said calmly.

Toboe's interest was piqued. "Career change?"

"I'm in botanical studies. But I was in medicine before. Father was quite devastated."

Toboe could not help but laugh. Despite the graveness in which Kiba spoke there was an undeniable sense of wryness in his entire delivery that amused Toboe greatly. After a few moments he quieted down his chuckles in respect of his host. "I'm sorry but… Really, your father shouldn't be so cold to you. There're a lot of fields connected to botany. And it's certainly much less stressful than becoming a doctor."

"That's what I said. But parents are difficult in that way."

"Why did you switch anyway?"

Kiba did not say anything for a while, pondering the answer. "I guess you could say it was in my dreams," he finally said.

"What?" Toboe stared at the older man in confusion. It was just as he expected. Kiba was the most complicated person he ever met—and the fact that the man did not even try to be clear made him all the more difficult to understand. But all this talk about botanicals suddenly made him remember what he and Kiba had been discussing prior to his…collapse. Flowers. Or more specifically…

"The lunar flower."

Now it was Kiba's turn to stare at Toboe strangely. The younger man smiled sheepishly. "I just remembered. You and I were talking about lunar flowers yesterday. You were really interested by them. So…is that why you decided to go into botanicals?"

Toboe's words hit Kiba sharply. He never would have thought the younger man to be so astute with his easygoing, naïve nature. But Toboe had hit the mark almost dead-on. The only thing he was missing was the reason why the lunar flowers had attracted him in the first place. But Kiba did not intend to tell him that—his sister's reaction had been bad enough. And he did not want the young man to think of him as some kind of nutcase—which even Kiba sometimes accused himself of being.

"Partly," Kiba said. Then he decided to add something more. If only to clear some of the doubt in Toboe's eyes. "It's also got something to do with history—mythical history at least."

Toboe's amber eyes glittered brightly as he grinned. "Kiba…you're so mysterious."

The sincerity and understanding in his tone surprised the older man. Kiba was often loath to reveal much of his intentions and thoughts for fear of people rejecting him. He had learned early in his life that keeping silent was the best solution. Even if he did intimidate some people with his reticence, at least he did not garner unwelcome attention and scorn. For Toboe to be so unconditionally open to his lacking answers was a genuine surprise for him. That he did not ask any more questions and simply accepted was something that relieved and warmed Kiba.

"I don't mean to be. But sometimes it's better."

"That's true I suppose. But you shouldn't keep everything to yourself. It might help to confide in someone you trust," was Toboe's sage advice.

Kiba's eyes flashed. "I don't trust many people."

Toboe laughed. "Well, then I guess that has to change."

Sensing that a distraction was needed, Kiba diverted the topic elsewhere. "What are we going to do about Tsume?" he asked, more to himself than anything else.

"Oh, he's in trouble, right?"

Kiba frowned slightly. "He wishes to be left alone—even though he knows it'll only result in something disastrous. Streets are no place for one man."

Toboe cocked his head to the side. "Why do you worry? I mean…we only just met. Despite the rather…odd way we sort of fell into each other's lives, we're still complete strangers," he pointed out, not without a hint of curiosity.

The dark-haired man jerked suddenly, turning to look at the bedridden man bewilderedly. "I…" Kiba paused. "I don't know. Just something in me…tells me I should help him because he can't do it alone."

"Nice answer." Toboe grinned at the startled look on Kiba's face. He shrugged. "I feel the same way. Strange, isn't it? We've only know each other for what, two days? But for some reason I'm more at ease with you guys than I am with people I've known all my life." Toboe laughed a little, shaking his head. "Does that make any sense?"

"No. But it's certainly a better explanation than the one I've been harboring."

Toboe smiled. He then looked at his watch. "Wow, I really was knocked out for a while. I hope Sensei didn't have a fit when I didn't show up today," he murmured idly. He shifted his gaze back to Kiba. "I think I should get going. I'm feeling better now. Talking can really heal a person."

The younger man laughed at his own joke. Kiba cracked a small grin, more amused by Toboe's behavior than anything else. Truly a weird kid…but I guess it's not a bad thing. "You should take it easy for a while," he advised even as he watched Toboe crawl out of his bed. The man faltered for a bit before regaining his balance. "I could walk you back…"

"No, no, please don't. I've intruded on your privacy enough!" protested Toboe immediately. He looked around the room. "Um…where's my coat?"

Kiba pointed to the hallway outside. "Follow me," he commanded simply.

Toboe walked after Kiba hesitantly. Though he felt comfortable with the older man, he also could not deny the fact that Kiba was an intimidating figure. It was not so much his appearance as it was his demeanor. The dark-haired man was soft-spoken and distant, but there was also a very intense aura about him. It was a sharp contrast that caught Toboe's interest right from the start. Kiba was hot and cold simultaneously, but from what Toboe had observed, it seemed the cold dominated most of the time. But when he had started talking about the lunar flowers, Toboe saw that fiery intensity shine through. It was overwhelming, but also reassuring—it proved to him that Kiba was indeed human.

"Cool place," commented Toboe as his eyes roamed the airy apartment.

Compared to Kiba's room, which had been a jumble of books and papers stacked on the floor and desk, the rest of his home was virtually clean and Spartan. The only furniture he had was a table for the kitchen and a single long sofa in the living room. There was a television and stereo set, but both were completely ignored—as evidenced by their matching linings of dust.

"I don't use these rooms very often," Kiba said, a little sheepishly. He had only just realized himself how completely barren his home was. Generally, the only guests he ever entertained had been limited to Sora—and she never complained much about anything.

Toboe chuckled. "Don't worry about. It's still nice. I see your room is really where you live," he said amusingly.

Kiba reached into the closet by the door and pulled out the younger man's jacket and umbrella. "It stopped raining a while ago," he said.

"Thanks." Toboe pulled on his coat and took the red umbrella from Kiba's hand. "I guess I'll be going now. You'll call me if you find Tsume? If he needs a place to stay I certainly have the room. And I wouldn't mind the company either."

The dark-haired man hid his smile. "I will. I have a good idea of where he is. He'll listen to me one way or another," he said.

Toboe raised an eyebrow at that. "Somehow, I know you meant that as a joke, and yet I can't help but be surprised by how you said it."

Kiba narrowed his eyes. "I'm not sure what you're trying to say, Toboe."

The younger man felt a chill run up his spine as he heard his name slip from Kiba's lips. "Um, nothing. Never mind," he said quickly, rushing for the door to only find it locked. Toboe played with the latches for several seconds with some humiliation before Kiba finally reached over and unlocked the door for him.

"Steady," the older man said quietly.

Toboe bit his lip, nodding. Where did that come from? Just by saying my name? Or is it something else…? He fought down the blush from blooming across his face as he cast a sidelong look at Kiba. "Thanks for everything. I'll…talk to you later then?"

Kiba's eyes bore back at him coolly. "Yeah. I'll get back to you on Tsume."

The golden-eyed man nodded and then hurried out the door, pulling it closed with a quiet click. He walked down the hallway and called for the elevator, sighing. Things were getting more and more bizarre lately. He had no idea whether this was a good thing or not. Toboe watched dazedly as the elevator arrived with a light ping and climbed in slowly, directing it to the main lobby.

When he walked out of the building he was greeted by the bright nightlife of Tokyo. He tilted his head back to stare into the inky blue sky, splattered with glittering dust.

"Rakuen?"


Someone was watching him.

Tsume felt a prickling down the spine of his back and cursed inwardly to himself. He had been hoping to do some strategic thinking today. His gang was gone. His turf was no longer safe. And Tsume had nowhere else to go. What, then, could a guy like him do? Fortunately, living off the streets had turned Tsume into a pretty resourceful guy—if only there was no one else to interrupt his planning. With barely restrained agitation, Tsume whipped around to face the intruder.

"It's you."

Toboe smiled cheerfully. "Hi. How are you?"

The silver-haired man did not look pleased. Tsume all but growled at Toboe when he approached him, but that did nothing to deter the younger man. Tsume scowled to himself. How in the world did Toboe find him anyway? He leaned against the battered windowsill crossly.

"What do you want?" he barked.

"Nice place…but doesn't it get cold with all the holes?"

Tsume's eyes flashed dangerously. "Look, punk, I don't need you criticizing me about how I live—"

"I'm just concerned for your health is all," interrupted Toboe. He looked at Tsume kindly. "Winter's approaching. Do you really think you can survive it in this—pardon my expression—dump?"

Tsume grabbed Toboe by the shoulders painfully, furious. "Who the hell do you think you are? You can't just come here and lecture me. We're not friends. You don't owe me anything!" he yelled.

Toboe watched the taller man patiently, not at all disturbed by the evident rage in his eyes. "I want to help," he said simply.

"He put you up to this didn't he? Fucking bastard…"

And then suddenly, Tsume released him. The silver-haired man walked back to the window, folding his arms with a deep sigh. "Why are you here?" he asked after a moment's pause. His tone was calmer now—a sudden contrast to his anger only seconds earlier.

Toboe blinked innocently. "We're not friends, but we're acquaintances at least. I know you may not trust me but I trust you. And I want to help. It's only a place to stay. I have plenty of room. You'll just have to watch out for my dogs. They can be a little protective. But they know you already so it should be all right," he said.

Tsume looked at him in disbelief. "Are you serious?"

"Of course. Why would I be joking about this?"

"Because you're a goddamn idiot?"

Toboe laughed. "That's kind of mean."

"I have nothing to offer."

The meek tone in Tsume's words made Toboe pause. He watched the older man stare at the wall behind him—impassively—but Toboe could feel the tension and humiliation in him. Tsume was a proud man. He did not want other people's help, especially if he had nothing to give in return. In his world, it was give and take. The two always came together. Toboe smiled winningly and placed a hand on his shoulder, startling the man.

"Hey, come on. You don't need to offer me anything. I'm askingyou to stay. I don't want anything else of you," he said reassuringly.

Tsume stared hard at the younger man for a while, as if gauging him for any deceitfulness. After a few moments, he finally relented. Sighing, he looked down at the floor. "Thanks," he muttered.

Toboe understood it took a lot for the man to say the word and nodded. "You're welcome. Now come on!" he replied, guiding Tsume away by the arm. He had a feeling the older man was not a touchy-feely kind of person, but Toboe disregarded the notion anyway. He felt oddly at ease with the other man—like he knew he could be more teasing and playful without Tsume snapping back too meanly at him. He did not know why or how he knew this—he just did. So Toboe went along with his instincts.

"Fucking let go of me, kid!"

Almost laughing at the surprise in Tsume's tone, Toboe looked back at him and released him. "You need to loosen up a little, Tsume. Not everyone in this world has an ulterior motive," he said.

"You wouldn't be so optimistic if you lived my life," replied Tsume.

Toboe considered this for a moment. "Maybe."

Tsume's eyes flashed. "How can you trust me? How can you trust him? We don't even know each other. We came together by chance—nothing more."

"But that's where I think you're wrong," spoke Toboe quickly. He paused and looked at Tsume determinedly. "I don't think it was chance that brought us together. I mean… I don't know. I would normally never think much of it except…except I feel like I know you guys. When I'm around you, I'm more comfortable than I've ever been around even my own family. I can't explain it but I know it's there—that feeling of…belonging."

For a long time neither of them spoke. Tsume stared at Toboe sharply once he finished. He had no idea what the kid was saying—did not want to even think about it. Tsume had never belonged anywhere in his life. Hell if he was going to start believing in the wishful thoughts of some go-happy child. Then he stopped. Child. He looked over Toboe. The young man was certainly not a child despite his idealistic outlook on life. Yet Tsume kept picturing him as a child in his mind—someone who had not yet come to terms with the world and its cruelty. Why? Tsume shook his head.

"Screw the sentimental bullshit. Let's just get out of here," he sighed, his mind tired and his patience thinning.

Toboe nodded. "We're going to have to take the train."

"Kiba told you where I was."

"Yes."

"He visited me a few days ago. Told me to go to you. I told him to fuck off. I didn't think he'd tell you to come to me."

Toboe smiled. "Kiba's a persistent guy."

"Too persistent," muttered Tsume. He looked at Toboe. "Who does he think he is? Our leader? And who do you think you are? Our caretaker? How about that other guy? Hige? Have you included him in your philanthropic escapades too?"

"No. Hige's a bit of a mystery. I don't know whether he's lost or just purposely making himself lost."

Tsume gave a bitter laugh. "Well, that's brilliant. He struck me as nothing more but a cocky bastard. Psychoanalysis my ass."

Toboe hid his amusement. They walked in companionable silence until they reach the train station. There, Toboe paid for both their tickets—much to Tsume's dismay—and they boarded without too much dispute. Toboe wondered what kind of life Tsume led that he was so unwilling to allow other people give him favors—or even treat him kindly without expecting something in return.

The ride passed by wordlessly. Tsume stared out the window most of the time, his expression masked. When they reached their stop, Toboe led them out of the station and back to his apartment. The entire journey took perhaps ten minutes. But Toboe had never felt time pass by so slowly in his life. By the time they reached his home, the tension was so thick Toboe almost drowned in it. He greeted Opal and Ebony enthusiastically when he opened the door to his apartment, welcoming their warm feelings.

Kiba was cool, but Tsume was ice. There were glimpses to a softer side—a more human side—but he had buried himself under so many layers it was difficult to perceive anything else but his sarcasm and coldness. And like Kiba, there was a passion in Tsume. Unlike Kiba, however, Tsume was well aware of its presence within him. He knew when he was being uncontrollable and he did not care. At the same time Tsume could hide his emotions so well, you never knew what hit you once he released it. Toboe told himself he had nothing to fear from the older man, but he really had no idea what Tsume was capable of when pushed to his limits. From what he had observed so far, Tsume was most accustomed to expressing his emotions physically rather than verbally—which meant they had a long way to go before reaching a middle ground.

"That Kiba… What does he think he's doing… Trying to get us together for some other wild journey or something?"

"What?" asked Toboe in surprise.

Tsume froze. "What the hell am I saying?" he said to himself, frowning deeply. He looked at Toboe. "Seems like strange things have been happening ever since I met you guys. I don't even know why… Never mind."

"You too?"

At this, Tsume started. Toboe stared earnestly at him. "Have you had any dreams? You know…of a lunar flower and a girl?"

Tsume kept his face neutral. "Not of a white flower or a girl—of a mysterious forest. A cursed forest. It was a graveyard not meant for anything living. Yet I was there. Others were with me too. I don't remember how they looked."

Toboe listened raptly. "Do you think they mean something?"

"I don't know," replied Tsume, closing his eyes. He sat down on the couch, propping his feet on the table. "I don't care."

"Do you really?"

Cutting amber greeted Toboe. "Don't."

Toboe resigned himself over to Tsume's temper. He wanted to talk more about the dreams. He wanted to better understand them. He knew there was something amiss about his meeting the others. Toboe knew there was more to everything that was happening now between the four of them—four different strangers with nothing in common except perhaps these visions. But Toboe had not spoken to Hige since their initial meeting. He wondered if the other man was also victim to these phantom images. Kiba spoke nothing of himself—but Toboe had naturally assumed from the man's interest in the lunar flower that he too had experienced some kind of vision. Why were they all so connected like this?

"Storm's coming."

Tsume had walked up to the balcony, staring at the clear sky. Toboe looked at him in confusion. "It looks like a nice day to me."

The silver-haired man continued watching the skyline. "I can feel it in the pressure. A storm is on its way."

"Bad?"

Tsume grinned slowly—a sinister expression. "The worst."


Someone was talking to him.

Blinking out of his stupor, Hige tuned in long enough to catch a comment.

"Damn, we've been having some bad weather lately."

Hige looked out the window as lightning cast Tokyo in a blinding flash. He hummed in agreement and then turned back to his work. He and his classmate were working on a project together. Well, "together" in their case meant splitting up the material in half and working individually. Hige preferred it this way. They were both studious—he knew he did not have to worry about his partner slacking off. And when Hige really got into his work, he tended to ignore everything else around him. They had been at it for three hours now. The library had become empty. Many of the patrons had left earlier to escape the deluge outside. Hige had not even noticed it until his partner pointed it out.

"We should head home, Hige. We can meet up again tomorrow."

When Hige got into his working rhythm, he usually stayed in it until everything was done. His portion of the work was only about halfway complete—he would not be satisfied leaving it now. So Hige put on an easygoing smile. "Nah, you can head back, Jo. I think I'll stay a bit longer," he said reassuringly.

Jo raised his eyebrow at him. "You sure, Hige? I don't think this storm is going to let up any time soon. Do you even have an umbrella?"

"The station's only a block from here—I can run it."

Chuckling, Jo stood up and gathered his books. "If you say so. Call me when you get home."

"Ah, you worrywart. I'll be fine," teased Hige.

"Hmph. Sure. Brush off a friend's concern," sniffed Jo. He slipped on his coat and then began walking out of the study room, waving. "Smell you later, loser."

"Right back at you, stupid."

They always had that kind of relationship, Hige and Jo. Both had known each other since their freshman year and after a whole semester of casual nods—due to the fact that they shared three classes together—Hige finally broke the ice one day by turning around in his seat after class, sticking out his hand, and introducing himself formally. And that had been the beginning of their friendship.

Jo was one of the few exceptions in Hige's life when it came to dealing with people. Generally, Hige preferred being alone. He found people interesting, but he also found them a little too troublesome to deal with most of the time. Hige was a good-natured guy. He had a friendly smile and a wicked sense of humor when he chose to wield them. Otherwise, he was obscenely indifferent when it came to human interaction. If the individual was not worth his time, he would treat them kindly and nod along in cheerful pretense. There were very few sincere people left in the world. Hige was rationally cold because he did not want to waste his time sifting through these hypocritical individuals to reach the worthy ones. Those who appreciated his sarcasm and did not stare at him in open shock at his sometimes morbid sense of humor were the ones he befriended—the ones who accepted his happy grin and harsh judgment.

He would make one hell of a psychiatrist one day.

Hige snickered to himself. He looked up, however, when a shadow covered his papers. Who he saw made him grin slowly. "Kiba, right?" he asked casually.

The dark-haired man was holding a small collection of books in his hand. "Hige," he greeted back. "Work?"

"Nah, this is a project. Muy importante, man. Yourself?"

"Same."

Hige nodded, eyeing Kiba over. Here was a man who befuddled him completely. That memorable accident from two weeks back came to his mind. Hige had been too preoccupied with teasing Tsume and chatting with Toboe to pay much attention to Kiba—something which he regretted a little afterwards. But, Hige thought with a smile, it seemed fate had decided to throw them together again. And Hige was not going to miss this chance. From what he recalled of their first dinner, Kiba had been mostly silent, talking only a little to Toboe. Hige pondered over this for a while.

"So…have you spoken to Toboe and Tsume?"

Strange acquaintances they were, Hige knew that much. At the same time, he had never met a bunch of more interesting fellows than these three.

Kiba blinked. "Yeah. Tsume's staying with Toboe now."

"Whoa, rewind. How the hell did that happen?"

Now that had taken Hige in for a loop. These guys must have been more in contact with each other than he originally assumed. Weird, since he figured Kiba and Tsume would try to avoid companionship as much as possible. Perhaps it was Toboe's doing? The younger man was a sweet soul—Hige never thought he would have the gall to confront Tsume.

Kiba gave a nonchalant shrug. "He needed a place to stay. His gang was rounded up by the cops. Toboe said he could stay over at his place. I tried convincing Tsume but eventually it was Toboe who won him over," he said.

Hige smiled in wonder. "Well, I'll be… All this happening and you didn't even bother telling ol' Hige?"

"I didn't see a particular reason to."

Bluntness could sting. Hige had not encountered someone like Kiba in a while. The man's standoffish demeanor was not deliberate, but it was a fact that he was painfully honest a little too often—and that would also keep people away. However, Kiba did not seem to mind his isolation—seemed to prefer it actually. Interesting. Hige thought he was independent, but this Kiba had totally outrun him for his money.

"So you boys getting along all right?"

"Well enough. I don't think Tsume likes me very much, though."

Hige laughed. "Don't you remember the dinner? I think that guy probably hates me," he said.

"We're doing dinner again tonight. Do you want to come?"

That was a sudden change in topic. Hige blinked at its randomness. "Umm…sure. Got nothing else planned anyway," he agreed, smiling. "Toboe's place?"

Kiba nodded.

"Don't talk much do you?"

At this Kiba started. He looked at Hige in question. The latter laughed. "Well, you're all Mr. Tall-And-Silent. I mean, it's not a bad thing of course. But in conversations it's usually a two-way street. Even I'm not good enough to talk for two people—nor do I care for doing so."

"What is there to talk about?"

"Well, how about this funky weather, man? I mean, honestly, do we usually get this much rain during the season? I thought it was called April showers—not November showers."

"You can't predict Nature," replied Kiba calmly.

Hige shook his head. "I guess not," he said, looking at the books in Kiba's hand. "So what class are those for?"

"Environmental studies."

"Major?"

"Botanical studies."

"Nature boy—that makes sense. You have that whole wild, untamed look to you."

Kiba frowned a little. "I do?"

"No, I only said that to get a reaction from you. Although now that I think about it…you do have a wild look about you."

"Is this your idea of conversation?"

Hige laughed heartily. "I'm sorry, I don't mean to offend you or anything! But dude, you seriously gotta lighten up. What do you like? Favorite music? Food? Game? Movie?"

"I'm not a movie person. I don't really listen to music. As for food, I don't care what it is as long as it won't make me sick."

"Jesus. I'm gonna have to do some work with you, man. I can tolerate the no movie and music aspect, but food… Food is… God, you have to be pickier with your food, dude. There is such thing as good and bad cuisine. Your words were just an insult to all food connoisseurs around the world, Kiba!"

Kiba stared at him with some amusement in his eyes. "Sorry."

"All right, Toboe's cooking is top notch—even I can't disagree with that. Tonight, savor it. Remember the taste of his cooking and then we'll go to some other place next time and compare. Got that, Kiba? Remember the taste."

"I'll remember the taste, Hige," replied Kiba, smiling.

Hige sighed. "You really are a piece of work."

The rest of that afternoon fell into companionable silence as they both proceeded with continuing their work. Once they were done, Kiba deemed it time to head for Toboe's place. Hige followed him out the library—the storm raging on. When Kiba opened up a bright umbrella with tropical patterns, Hige did not say anything. But Kiba later criticized him for being unable to hide his smirk. As they walked to Toboe's apartment under the colorful umbrella, Hige felt happy. As little as he knew about these strangers, he felt like they were long lost friends. And when Toboe opened his door and greeted them warmly, Hige damn near forgot he had only talked with him once before, and hugged the younger man cheerfully before engaging in bright chatter. When he spotted Tsume glaring at him darkly from the corner of the room, Hige waved. The silver-haired man rolled his eyes and Hige laughed.


TBC