Every day was the same.

Nothing ever changed. He was never late for school, always arriving within the same three-minute period. He went through his classes in an attentive stupor; interaction with other people was forced. When he got home, he stopped for little more than a few minutes to make his presence known before retreating to his bedroom.

He rarely drew or painted anymore. His materials lay scattered about his room as though he did nothing else, but in reality, he had touched them only a few times since that abhorred day. He had been so sure that Riku would, if nothing else, be a source of inspiration in this dismal life called normalcy. Time and again, this hope had been crushed.

Daisuke knew he was being dramatic. It had already been three years, and yet he still was unable to move on. He was suffering with a life that was nothing short of perfect—he had a steady girlfriend, flawless grades, loving parents, and plenty of friends. But his reaction was only natural to him. It was called for. He had never realized how much he'd loved that annoying voice in the back of his head until it was gone; Dark was gone, sealed away just like the art he used to steal.

Needless to say, Risa wasn't taking it very well. She managed to put up a façade that was almost as smooth and opaque as Daisuke's, but it was riddled with tiny little faults that tended to give her away. Riku, conversely, would have been glad for Dark's absence if not for her treasured sister's anguish. And she would have grown tired of this anguish if not for its utter sincerity.

Satoshi was the only other person who knew what had happened. Ever since Krad had left the picture, Satoshi's father had all but abandoned him. As a matter of fact, it was only for the sake of his reputation that he bothered to keep the boy at all. Regardless of any of this, however, Satoshi had refused to bear the name of his father. Neither he nor Daisuke quite understood why, but Satoshi had exchanged the name Hiwatari for his true name, Hikari. No matter how many times he and Daisuke discussed it, he could only say that it felt like the right thing to do. Daisuke often wondered whether Satoshi really was so relieved to be rid of Krad.

Today was no different from the rest. Daisuke walked home with Riku in near silence while Risa rode the train. It hadn't always been this way—they used to talk. They had simply run out of things to say.

He walked her to her door, smiling just as warmly as he did every day. She turned away from the door and he gave her a brief but tender kiss, pulling away to find her smiling up at him. Her eyes glittered with tiny stars until one fell streaming down her cheek, and Daisuke bid his "sacred maiden" farewell.

It was all so wrong.

"I'm home!"

Daisuke's voice, deeper now than it had been three years ago, but not by much, sounded like sunlight after a storm. It was only as bright as the clouds would allow it to be, but no matter what, it always managed to burst through the gloom.

"Oh, welcome home, Dai!" Emiko exclaimed. Until that moment, she had been busying herself by cleaning the already spotless kitchen; now she threw down her sponge to embrace her son. "How was your day?"

Daisuke laughed inwardly. She was so enthusiastic. "It was fine. We got our tests back today. My scores were second again."

Emiko released Daisuke and he picked up his bag, slinging it over his shoulder on his way to the stairs. He found his grandfather on the sofa, newspaper in hand, but his father was nowhere in sight.

"Oh, Daisuke, that's wonderful! At this rate you'll do better than Hiwatari soon!"

Daisuke came to a halt at the foot of the stairs. Without turning around, his voice demandingly gentle, he said, "Mom, it's Hikari."

By the time she could formulate an appropriate response, he had vanished. And even then, all she could say was, "Oh. Right."

Upstairs, Daisuke mechanically set his bag down by his desk and pulled out his textbooks. Rather than actually sitting down to do the work, however, he remained standing to stare at the blank canvas that sat idly on his easel across the room. On the floor around it were tubes of red and blue paint; the palette nearby was covered in crumbling chunks of dried purple.

At his feet, Wiz whined like he had without end for the last three years. Daisuke looked down at him and smiled, and a tear ran down his cheek.

"I know, Wiz," he said, unable to keep his voice strong anymore. "I know."

The boy's brilliant crimson eyes flicked back to the violet gobs of useless acrylic paint, and the tears became rivers on his face. He fell to his knees, gripping his shoulders, silently releasing the emotions that had surfaced against his will. Not a sound escaped his lips except the ragged gasps that allowed him to breathe. Wiz whimpered quietly and Daisuke snatched him up into his arms, and he lost it. He couldn't think. He wanted to reach out and turn all of that paint into the face he missed so terribly, but he couldn't, and he knew it.

There was a remarkable difference between crying and this heaving that racked Daisuke's body. When people cried, Daisuke knew, they wailed and sniffed and babbled about their misery. They were constantly wiping the tears out of their eyes. They could breathe. This pain was the kind that stole away all of the air in his lungs, the kind that pounded relentlessly into his temples and lasted longer than the tears. This was what he had been left with.

When Wiz whined again, Daisuke seemed to realize for the first time the condition he was in. In one fluid motion, he placed Wiz on the floor and rose to his feet, haphazardly drying his eyes with one hand as he stumbled to his desk.

He knew he was being dramatic.

He knew, but he couldn't help it.

Homework was Daisuke's savior. It forced him to focus on something, keeping his mind from wandering to those agonizing memories. It stopped him from forgetting that he was alone and having conversations with the silence.

But he always finished too soon. After arranging his books by size in his bag, Daisuke stood and stretched. A lingering ache tore at the sides of his head. With a drawn-out sigh, the redhead made his way downstairs in search of tea, only to meet an appetizing aroma in the hallway.

"Hey, Mom," the boy greeted his mother as he entered the kitchen. Emiko looked up from her work and beamed.

"Are you getting hungry already, Dai? Or did you just smell this delicious minestrone all the way upstairs?"

Daisuke shook his head, grinning. "I'm just looking for some tea. Do we have any peppermint left?"

"Oh. Yes, I'm sure we do—it should be in the cupboard."


He didn't mind this kind of interaction. It didn't require anything special.

Daisuke found the box he wanted and made his tea as quickly as he could without appearing desperate to get out of the kitchen. His headache wasn't getting any better, though, and what he really wanted was to go to sleep. The thought of eating dinner hadn't even registered in his mind.

When Emiko noticed Daisuke heading back toward the stairs, she frowned. "Do you have a lot of homework, honey?"

Daisuke stopped on his way and turned to smile at his mother. He hated lying to her. "Yeah, I'm sorry. Just call me when dinner's ready, okay Mom?"

"Sure." Her response was brimming with concern. She knew he wasn't coming down again that night.

By the time Daisuke was in his room again, his cup was half empty. Peppermint tea was so easy to drink; it cleared his head and let him breathe. He finished in another few eager gulps, inhaling it in a way that was better suited to a water bottle.

Placing the empty cup on his desk, Daisuke struggled to avoid letting his gaze fall on the canvas again. He couldn't bear the blank white, and yet for some reason he found himself unable to move or cover it. It was taunting him, this emptiness that would not disappear or be filled. All he could do was ignore it.

Wiz watched as Daisuke clambered up the ladder to his bed. He didn't even bother to change his clothes or pull up the sheets, and as soon as Wiz could make it up the ladder to join him, he was fast asleep. The tiny white creature whined, waited for a response, gave up in dismay, and nestled into Daisuke's side.

Wiz missed Daisuke almost as much as he missed Dark.