This makes more sense if you've read Stigma. I was reading it, and it struck me how Stork looked like a slightly mutated Kubota, and Death/Stalk looked like Tokitoh all grown up, and thus the idea for the fic. For the record, I think Tokitoh would be much stronger; he's the strong one anyway, but this is a what-if fic, a bit of self-indulgence for a whimsical idea I could not shake off, with a bit of stretching of time, characterization and canon facts.

The first time he saw him, he thought perhaps he was hallucinating again, though that had gotten better in the last few years, no more outright visions, stalking people for blocks and scaring them, just mutations from the recesses of his mind that crept up on him when he slept, so he slept as little as he could.

The boy there, he reminded him vaguely of Kubo-chan, perhaps what Kubo-chan might have been at that age, with those empty eyes, a child so damaged there was nothing left, no wounds or scars to be hidden away, the abyss of a human shell the only hint of what went on before. Probably a result of the war, he was alone at any rate. He was not tall, and that was wrong somehow; Kubo-chan not towering over him. He'd always imagined Kubo-chan would be tall, towering over the other kids, no matter how old he was. But he'd grown some inches himself, too late.

They had stared at each other, the boy clutching a cross and he felt inclined to sneer at the absurdity of it, Kubo-chan never believed in gods, never needed them. Later he would understand the boy was not religious that way, despite the cross he wore everywhere, just as he had understood Kubo-chan did have a god after all. He turned away and started walking, and after a beat he heard footsteps trailing his, as he knew they would.

There was no funeral, or wake, or service. No body, no ashes, no grave or tomb. It was as if he'd never existed, as if he was as imaginary and invisible as he once thought he was. He didn't know what was worse. Kasai-san's disappointed, resigned stance, Takizawa-san's eyes always on him, worrying, trying to coax a smile out of him, words dying on his tongue, or the unlicensed bastard's nonchalant, almost expectant look. He wished they would leave him alone, how Kasai-san took to dropping by all the time, shifting all the attention and concern to him as if he was his nephew now. Hours died away under the shower, long after all the hot water was used up, his hand hurting especially badly, the burn almost continual nowadays.

Anna visited, with huge sunglasses and glossy painted red nails, and when she removed the glasses he saw her eyes were smudged and matching her nails. They went to a café, like the first time, the cigarette between her fingers trembling a little. She ordered for both of them, insisted he had to have something, but she was the one stirring the coffee endlessly, never taking a sip. She had asked him if she was worse off because she never had him in any sense of the word, or if he was because he did, in every sense. He didn't reply; she didn't want one. When her coffee was sludge she petted his hand, slid the sunglasses back on and disappeared into the crowd. He did not watch her leave.

Saori-chan turned up a few weeks later and he did not know how she knew, and he did not care. She was a bit different from the last time, layered with greater cynicism, less of a child. She tried to tell him she knew how it was, once she'd lost her boyfriend too, but it could get better. He supposed she might, theoretically, but he didn't just lose a boyfriend, and he was beginning to suspect it would never get better. Then she said Kubo-chan really did care for him, and he could only stare at her; did she think that would make him feel better. He did not yell at her this time, he only said I know, which he did, really, all this time, instinctively. After she left he still did not cry though he broke a plate, for old times' sake, even if it no longer made him feel better.

He took to calling the boy Bluebird after a while, and the boy knew him as Stalk, as people around did, or maybe one of his various alias, or a name he used more than the others. He didn't let the boy use the name though, because they were all not his. He had no real name to begin with, having lost it along the way. Minoru was a curse, perhaps nothing more than a tag on a lab animal, much like No.36794A, something he wanted to throw away. He'd only considered the name randomly given to him, plucked out of a tv show, his name. But nobody knew him as that anymore, nobody even knew that, and he thought he'd lost that name back then; the wind had taken it, as it had taken the ashes from his glove. Anyway, he was no longer the same person who answered to it.

He fed the boy and kept him in the apartment and tamed him, much the way he vaguely recalled Kubo-chan did with him, only vaguely because those memories are faint now. What he remembers better, or feels, is the sense of security that crept in after a few months, warm bed and food and hands. He was always being watched initially, but that soon grew into a comfortable presence, accompanied by a smile always for him, the type of smiles that overflowed not of teeth, but into the eyes. He stopped wanting to run, could not remember why he even wanted to at first.

The boy grew and grew, filling into Kubo-chan with inches of height, lean powerful muscle and presence, although he never was him. It was like a blurry photo, with the camera out of focus, and no matter how he shook it the focus was never right. The clouds of smoke lingered everywhere, but it was the wrong brand. His eyes brilliantly violet, but his hair was not dark enough, not fine enough. He would hold himself up, lounge at the table in a similar manner, but the facial expression was wrong, or the picture would just seem wrong, somehow. It was a constant game of spot the difference.

He initiated the boy to what was once Kubo-chan's world, now his. Taught him how to spot the women, how to use them, make them work for him. Skilled him in the finer intricacies of drugs, to identity them with a taste. Made a bodyguard for himself, who doubled as a useful killer always on call. He was a useful personal assistant who could be called upon to do everything, anything, as long as it was taught to him. He got the boy to make the dirtiest money, tainted his hands with blood that could never be washed off, showed him the darkest abyss of the human soul, the seediest underworlds, made him an expert on where the light never reaches. Still, there was the darkest of places, one which the boy, now a man in his own right, had never been to. There would be time for that, which was inevitable. As he had learnt by heart.

The boy was devoted to him. He would do anything for him, just for his approval; that much he could see, that he was the whole world to the boy. It made him sick. The boy was Kubo-chan, but not Kubo-chan. He had picked him up for the resemblance, had tried to mould him, make him fit, but the shoes would always be too large. The problem was he knew he was not Kubo-chan, and he would never be, for him. He wanted the boy's devotion, and when it was given to him in excess he could only throw it away. Kubo-chan was not this. He loved the boy, loved how much he mirrored Kubo-chan, loved him because there was nothing else to love and hated him, hated how he was running around in Kubo-chan's skin and wearing his face, hated him for that he could never have again.

It had happened gradually. Kubo-chan's cigarettes were lying around, half-full packs here and there, and cartons tucked away in case of emergency. He didn't want to touch them, but he didn't want to throw them out either. One afternoon he'd been bored to tears, caught sight of them, still carelessly lying on the kitchen counter and wondered what fascination they held, that Kubo-chan could not stop smoking them. He tried one, coughed and choked badly, but the smell got him. It had smelled like Kubo-chan was in the room. He made himself finish it, and initially smoked only when he wanted to remember, but thereafter he could not stop, just like Kubo-chan.

He had kept the clothes for the same reason and dilemma. At one point he experienced a delayed growth spurt, and it seemed a natural progression to move over to Kubo-chan's section of the wardrobe. He stopped wearing T-shirts and sneakers, and adopted Kubo-chan's tendencies for black, black from head to toe, except for a white top. The first time he tried on Kubo-chan's favourite black long coat, it had been warm and comforting, almost like being hugged. He would not wear any other coats after that. Kubo-chan's shoes were too big, he simply did not grow into them, so he had an identical pair made, 2 sizes smaller. When his eye sight started deteriorating from the years of all-night gaming sessions in front of the television he had a pair made in the same design, much as he could recall. Everything had been a process of slow, barely conscious erosion.

A few months later, he woke up with a start, dreaming of Kubo-chan. When he adjusted to the sunlight streaming in, he found he suddenly could not remember what Kubo-chan looked like exactly. During the dream everything was out of focus. In a flash of panic he searched his memory, to no avail, and started tearing the apartment apart, trying to recall, looking for something to help him recall. It was futile, but he could not stop. He knew there were no photos, there wasn't even a camera in the apartment in all the time they've stayed there. After a whole morning of frantic hunting he collapsed on the floor, exhausted, vision blurred. He rubbed his eye with his glove, and found it was wet, for the first time. He also found he could remember what Kubo-chan looked like now. In the next few weeks he would find things getting wet for no apparent reason. Wetness dripping into his game controller, on the keyboard and it fell into his coffee on occasion. When he read manga the pages would be stained, and he sometimes woke up to find his pillow wet, dried tracks running down his face.

It was a number of years after the boy had followed him to the apartment. The boy must be in his late teens, and adored him desperately. One night he'd offered himself to him, and to his surprise he took it. He had stayed celibate in the intervening time, out of a complete lack of desire for anyone else in that aspect. In the darkness, in his half-asleep state, however, he had a weird feeling Kubo-chan was standing there. He hadn't rejected the boy, and it became something they did. At the start he would pretend it was Kubo-chan, but he soon gave up on that. His skin had memorized the trace of Kubo-chan's fingers and tongue and refused to be led otherwise. He didn't know why he kept at it. The boy was happy enough, as much as he tried to hide it though that wasn't why he allowed it. He always topped; once he tried to bottom, wanting to feel as Kubo-chan had made him feel, but it didn't work and he was left feeling empty and wanting.

He knew the boy, the man was in something that might have been called love with him, always wanting more of him, from him. He could only kiss him, detachedly, searching in the empty hollow of his mouth for the familiar taste of seven stars, but finding only himself. Sometimes he bit down harder than he'd intended, attacked him roughly, drew blood, but the other never complained, being as nonchalant as he'd wanted from him. Kubo-chan never behaved as if he was eager, never gave any sign he liked or wanted it, but the desire ran deep, flowing into him from where fingers and lips ended and face began and he would collect it, and hold it for the both of them. The boy, however, did not get it and he could only kiss him mockingly, restrainedly, the way he never was with Kubo-chan.

It was only sex to him, so he never stayed, never slept in the same bed after that. In fact, most of the time after it was over he stood up, got dressed immediately and left. He could not stand to be in the room, he had to get out. Sometimes he could feel the boy wanting to ask him to stay, but it never came out, and the boy only took what was offered to him. The last night, everything was as usual, until the boy (man by now, but it was hard to break the habit) asked, attempting nonchalance in the process, for him to stay. He could feel the trepidation in his tone, the nervous tension in the air, the longing from the man left behind. It felt like suffocation; he rejected him and left, ignoring the disappointment.

He had just shut the door when he realized in his haste he had forgotten his wallet. He entered the room again, to find the boy kneeling over the trash can, shattered glass next to him. He watched him tear the photograph up, the photograph of the two of them. A force welled over him, the memory of frantically tearing another apartment apart, looking so desperately for just one photograph. The glass was like the mug he'd once broken, when his hand hurt, spilling coffee everywhere. It was Kubo-chan's mug. Kubo-chan took him shopping for a new mug afterwards, and had bought a pair of matching mugs. He'd insisted, "But it's just your mug that's broken! Mine is fine."

Kubo-chan smiled teasingly at him, "Well, I like this mug. And they only sell it in pairs, you have to get both or it wouldn't be a complete set. One by itself would be so lonely, don't you think? You can use the new one, your mug is rather old anyway. We can go home and smash that too if it'll make you feel better?"

He'd blushed furiously, called him stupid, and when they got home Kubo-chan tossed his old mug into the trash, looking rather happy as he did. Kubo-chan made coffee straightaway, to "break into their new mugs" and he had to admit, though not to Kubo-chan, that the sight of matching mugs placed in front of him on the table, steaming with hot coffee after the cold outdoors, felt like something homely, comforting, and very all right.

The boy turned around then, having just noticed his presence. Something dark and unstoppable rushed into him and all he could see was red, red everywhere, a thing trying to get out of his head.

The next thing he remembered was blood everywhere, the boy's body bleeding heavily. He hadn't blacked out like this for a long time; there was nobody to stop him when he did since Kubo-chan died. He looked around, and noted the resemblance to the scene where Kubo-chan had died. He tlited his head back and laughed.

"Stupid Kubo-chan, you told me to stay, you said you wouldn't leave, it's all your fault you asshole…"

In the days of the aftermath he kept going back to the last moments. Kubo-chan had told him to keep living, which was pretty much a given, and told him to take care of himself, which was harder. He took over his gun, and learnt how to use it, skillfully, because there was no one to take care of him now, and there were still people out there trying to get him. Kubo-chan had never let him touch it, he rarely even saw it. Kubo-chan was always protecting him, and not only that, but keeping his hands clean, and untainted by doing all the killings himself, covered the dirty work. He did not have that luxury now.

The night he made his first kill, he was cornered in a back deserted alley by yakuza members, forgetting he could not wander around at night as he wished anymore, now he was alone. They drew guns on him, staring at his gloved hand expectantly, and he could only think about how Kubo-chan was not going to appear, coat flapping coolly and scare them off or execute them. He hated himself for being so weak, wondered when did he start depending on him so much, didn't he always use to fight his own battles. One bullet nearly got him while he hesitated about killing, which put an end to the whole thought process.

That night, back safe in the apartment, as he scrubbed off the blood, fingers shaking uncontrollably, he cursed and ranted at Kubo-chan. He'd always thought, if he ever thought about stuff like that which he rarely did, that he would be the first to go, the hand and drug and all. Or they would go together. He was not deluded that they would have plenty of time together, and knew enough to live only for the day, come what may the next, but he did not imagine Kubo-chan would end up dead and he all too alive, perhaps for a long time to come, alone, and suddenly he did not know how to proceed. They had believed for a long time tomorrow would not come for them such that when tomorrow did come, but only for him, it was horribly wrong.

The next day he visited Kou-san, the first time in months, and told him he wanted to get rid of his furry hand.

Kou-san eyed him, a gaze he matched minute for minute. Finally the other man spoke.

"Very well then, but how are you going to do it?"

He exhaled. "I know I can't go to the hospital, so I'm going to do it myself."

"Is that wise, Tokitoh-kun?"

"I need your help. Not for that, but for what happens after."

Kou-san gave him another look. "This is not a rash decision then?"

He shook his head. "No. I…my hand hasn't been getting worse. It's been staying like that for a while now. I need to get rid of it. The yakuza will never leave me alone as long as I have it. I can't stand the sight of it anymore. Besides."

He turned away. "Kubo-chan got killed trying to help me. I know he didn't want to get mixed into the yakuza stuff again, but he did it because I wanted to. If I hadn't insisted, if I had left it alone, maybe he wouldn't…"

Kou-san made use of the moment to get tea from the backroom. When the man reappeared with the cups, he asked, "Will you help me? I don't want it there anymore, there's no use to it. I don't care anymore. I just don't want anyone else to be hurt because of it."

Kou-san only nodded.

It was one year later, when he tracked down the man again. This time, there was a young boy clinging to him, a boy he was trying to protect. His eyes were no longer empty, the way he held the boy, looked at him, it was all recognizable. It was ludicrous. Did they not know things didn't work like that. They would only be torn apart. He shot him. He had to. Kill this not-Kubo-chan, show him the darkness he had been saving for the last. The boy was yelling and crying somewhere in the background and getting in his way, reminding him too much of what he did not want to recall. He got rid of him. He saw the anguish on the man's face, no longer directed at him, and this was both right and unacceptable. Now the man would understand, what he'd felt, every time he looked at him.

A gun was drawn at him, and the man was saying, "This pain is all I have," and he laughed and laughed, watching him hug the boy closer, so like the two of them once upon a time, so like Kubo-chan, but Kubo-chan would never hurt him, but Kubo-chan already did, did the worst thing he could do. This pain was all he had too, it had killed him, and he had nothing in the end, but ghosts parodying his past, such a cruel reenactment, taunting him, and aiming guns at him.

He let the bullet bury itself in him, and he did not pull the trigger.

He hit the earth and saw the sky and thought it was a good thing Kubo-chan never had to see the war, never had to see the other products of the war, like a sky that wasn't blue, never had to see him like this, but it was all his fault anyway, so it didn't count. His cigarette had fallen out of his mouth; he wondered how Kubo-chan managed to keep it there no matter what, the only times setting it down when he needed both hands to touch him, or when he didn't want to burn him accidentally.

His hand found the swallowtail on his neck. It came after he got into the business, but he didn't get it just because it was what the yakuza did; he liked it. Also there was this time, when Kubo-chan was still here, and they were very young. He was kissing Kubo-chan tentatively, face pressed into his skin, while Kubo-chan was stroking his back, as they curled up around each other on the bed. Kubo-chan smiled at him, and murmured, that feels like a butterfly kiss. At his bewildered, almost embarrassed look, Kubo-chan only shook his head lightly. "Let me show you," he'd replied, and the way Kubo-chan's eyelashes glossed over his skin making him shiver had felt incredibly like the fluttering of a butterfly's wings in his palm. At the tattoo shop, he'd seen the picture, and liked the darkness, the fragility. It seemed fitting, with the memories stirred up, and it was his secret, the feeling of Kubo-chan's lashes lightly brushing his neck, his sensitive spot.

The bullet hurt incredibly, more than his hand once did. He couldn't help smiling though, thinking he might have his chance to seriously kick Kubo-chan's ass now, and yell until his voice was gone, but it would feel good. It would be the real thing, and not some pale imitation. He hadn't wanted to do it himself, was never able to, but this was okay, this was fine.

Finally, he would demand Kubo-chan make some coffee for him. He'd never been able to get it to taste the same, all these years.

The true darkness…

What was that loneliness he used to look at?

I think I understand it now, an empty pain that had sunk deep inside his wounds…the pain of emptiness and sadness that goes on forever.

Tit comes over, and holds my hand, and everything is fine now. It could have been worse. Tit can't see with his eyes now, but he's been seeing with his heart all these time, and seeing much better than I ever did. He is so much stronger than I am, really. I wouldn't cry for him, not when he isn't. He's still here, and I don't see how much better it could've been.

I smile at him, knowing he can hear it, "I said goodbye to him."


"Is it really okay, leaving your binoculars here…"

Tit is grinning cheerfully, "I can't use them, so he can have them. Maybe he'll find that special person he was looking for…"

And so he is, I suppose. For a long time I thought I could be that person, when he was my whole world. But I should have realized, he already has a special person, who wasn't here anymore. The loneliness, his loneliness. Maybe he'll be able to find his special person now he has been released from the darkness. All the time he was carrying it, the stigma of death, he was merely the darkness that had swallowed him a long time ago. He was but reflecting the emptiness that was left of him after his special person, whoever he was, had left and taken parts of him along, parts he didn't need to survive but were the most important things to him.

The way he looked at Tit, hard as it is to imagine, perhaps once he was like Tit too, but he hadn't been able to save that person. The last time he said I love you, he was looking at me, but he wasn't seeing me. Someone whom I had reminded him of, possibly. He said my name, the name he had given me, not another name, but it felt as though he had said the wrong name. He had loved, someone, in the past. Not me, definitely, but it doesn't matter now.

Tit says, "Let's go," and we do, and I could be his special person, this I can do, as we walk under his blue sky.

some lines quoted directly from Stigma