Makoto Kubota no longer recalled when he stopped being used to coming home to an empty house. Ever since he'd picked up his "stray cat" from the street about a year earlier, Tokito would be waiting for him, eagerly anticipating his return. And Kubota had come to look forward to hearing his enthusiastic "Welcome home, Kubo-chan!" the minute he opened the door.
It wasn't completely unusual for the smaller boy to be out on occasion, though. Kubota's work for Kou-san forced him to keep irregular hours and it was impossible to predict when he would come home. Sometimes Tokito ventured out, short trips to the grocery store, the arcade or the bookstore. Kubota figured that was a good thing. For the longest time, the strange young man with no name or past or memories had been too scared of the outside even to venture three steps out the door alone. Still, there was an empty feel to the apartment when Kubota came home and Tokito wasn't there. Without Tokito, it did not feel like home at all.
He did not think much of it when he came back to a Tokito-less apartment late one day, not at first. He took off his shoes upon entering, neatly placing them next to the door, took off his long coat and settled down on the couch with a cigarette and a newspaper. Tokito had probably gone out to get a late-night snack somewhere. He'd return when he'd return.
But slowly, inexplicably, he began to feel uneasy. It was not that Tokito was taking too long in returning; he'd stayed out longer than that, playing a game at the arcade or something. It was that Kubota steadily began to get the feeling that something was wrong.
He picked up the phone and dialled the number of Tokito's cell. No answer. He frowned. It was unusual for Tokito not to answer his phone – especially when it was Kubota calling.
When the doorbell rang, he almost jumped. Almost.
The deeper, inner parts of himself, the parts that worried, fretted, cared, in ways he was not willing to accept, even to himself, were kept under too tight a control, safely locked away under lock and key, to even allow him to show an outward reaction other than stubborn stoicism when there was no one there.
"Alright, already," he muttered, when the bell rang again, urgently. He rose slowly, folding the newspaper and putting it on the couch. "I'm coming."
Detective Kasai had his hand raised, ready to push the doorbell once again, when Kubota opened the door. The scruffy-looking man glared at his nephew. "Makoto. About time! I almost thought you weren't home."
"Yes, yes," looking from his uncle to the awkward-looking young man that was with him. He only barely succeeded in hiding the relief he felt to see Tokito safe and sound and in one piece. But he could tell from the tension between the two that something was amiss.
Kasai-san had a strong grip on Tokito's collar and he looked put-out. On his part, Tokito was looking away, refusing to look Kubota in the eye – a sure sign that the black-haired young man was ashamed or embarrassed about something. His friend and caretaker was alarmed to see that the boy's clothes were dirty and torn – and was that blood on his arm? Fortunately, Tokito did not look hurt. At any rate, he was well enough to glare at the wall as if his eyes could bore holes in it.
"Ah, you've found him," Kubota quipped. "I was wondering where he went. I was all ready to put up a poster at the 7/11. I'd looked under the couch, too."
"How the hell would I fit under there?" Tokito snapped. He squirmed and glared at Kasai. "Let me go already! You said you'd take me home – we're home. You didn't have to drag me here, you know."
Detective Kasai released him, but made no reply, Kubota noted. A bad sign.
"Go clean up," he told Tokito. The young man cast one last look over his shoulder at Kasai and left for the shower. Kubota turned to his uncle. "Coffee?" Whatever occurred between the two, he'd be sure to hear the entire story sooner or later.
"He got caught up in a drug raid," Kasai told his nephew as he sat at the kitchen table, nursing a cup of steaming coffee. "He was right in the middle of it when the police burst in." He looked grimly at Kubota over the rim of his coffee cup. "I had to pull quite some strings to get him out. He's got no name, no background – if he gets arrested, it'll mean trouble. Keep an eye on him. I'm not covering for him again."
"Right," Kubota said, taking a sip from his own coffee. Behind his outward calm, his thoughts were churning. "But I can't stop him from going where he wants to go."
His uncle looked at him, his eyes having regained some of their usual humour. "No? You should have trained him better. Wack him on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper."
Kubota smiled in his coffee. "I'm not so sure that works on cats. They get offended."
Detective Sakai stood up and stretched. "Well, figure something out. I don't want to see Toki-boy hurt." His expression turned serious again. "He got shot, you know. The bullet grazed his arm – I doubt it hurt him much. But it could have been a lot worse. He should be more careful. That right hand of his might make him really strong and all, but he's not immortal." He looked sternly at his nephew, who met his gaze without flinching, his face impassive. "And neither are you."
"I'll talk to him," Kubota promised. "This drug raid… any relation to Wild Adapter?"
"We thought so at first," Kasai said. "That's the reason Araki and I were there, and it might have been what attracted Toki-boy as well. But so far, there's no sign of it. No abnormal drug victims, nothing out of the ordinary. But we've only started to clean the place out – no telling what we might find. I'll keep you informed. If you can keep yourselves out of trouble."
"Gotcha," his nephew said.
Tokito did not appear in the living room again, not even after Kubota had let his uncle out. Like a kitty hiding after doing something bad, Kubota reflected, amused by the thought. Never mind. He knew were he had to look.
He knocked on the bedroom door and entered without waiting for an answer. His smaller friend was sitting curled up on the bed, dressed only a pair of clean jeans. A towel was wrapped over his wet hair, hiding his face from view.
"Hey," Kubota said, placing the first aid kit he'd fetched from the kitchen on the floor and sat down on the bed. "Kasai-san said you were hurt. Let me see."
"I'm fine," Tokito growled, curling up tighter. "It doesn't hurt at all."
"You don't want me to look at it, fine," Kubota retorted. "I know wounded animals don't like to be touched and I'm not a vet. I'll go get Kou-san…"
"Alright, alright!" Tokito snapped. He turned his body to his friend, still avoiding his eyes. "But I'm telling you, it's nothing."
Kubota was relieved to see the wound wasn't serious, as Tokito had stated. It was a mere scratch on the young man's upper arm and it had already stopped bleeding. He set to cleaning the wound anyway, drawing a hiss from Tokito as he poured disinfectant on it. "Owww – Kubo-chan, that hurts!"
His friend raised an eyebrow behind his glasses as he dressed the wound. "You got shot and now you complain? I thought you said it didn't hurt."
"It does when you pour that stuff on it!" Tokito snapped. In a much softer tone, he added: "Kasai-san was really angry."
"O-ho," Kubota thought to himself. "So it's bothering him." Aloud, he said; "Yeah, well, you could have made things real different for him if you got caught, you know." His voice came out a little sharper than he intended and Tokito winched slightly. "He wasn't very happy about having to cover for you. What were you doing there?"
"I-I heard some rumours," the young man said, a hint of defensiveness creeping into his voice. "About Wild Adapter. I thought I'd check it out. I didn't know the police was staking the place."
"That's 'cuz you acted and didn't think," Kubota chided gently. "You're too impulsive. Don't you know about curiosity and cats?"
"Yeah, well – what should I have done?" Tokito snapped. "I might have lost a valuable lead on the drug if I hadn't. So what if I get hurt or caught? Kubo-chan, wha- "
His words were cut short by a yelp of surprise as Kubota grabbed him by the waistband of his jeans and pulled him down over his lap. "What are you doing? Ow!" He yelped again as Kubota slapped him on the seat of his pants. He twisted his head back and glared at his friend. "What was that for?"
"You're a bad kitty," Kubota scolded. His voice was playful, but his eyes were not. "Kasai-san told me to teach you to behave." He gave Tokito another slap on the backside.
"Ow! That hurts, Kubo-cha- " The boy tensed when he sensed Kubota making a movement, expecting to be swatted again. But Kubota folded over, curling over his smaller friend's naked back and resting his head on his arms. Tokito suddenly felt something hot and wet drip on his back. He twisted on the bed to see what was going on. "K-Kubo-chan? Are you crying?"
There was no answer. Getting worried, the young man wriggled off Kubota's lap and sat down next to him. Kubota stayed in much the same position, his arms resting on his knees now and his face hidden between them. Tokito was at a loss as to what to do. "Kubo-chan? I'm sorry!"
Kubota shifted. Not saying anything, he lifted his hand, placing it on Tokito's head, softly ruffling his hair. Tokito leaned against his shoulder, breathing in Kubota's scent. Familiar. Comforting.
"I was scared."
Tokito lifted his head an inch. "What?"
"When you didn't come home. I was scared. Worried. That maybe you didn't want to. When Kasai-san brought you in, told me what you'd done… I was actually relieved."
"You're kidding me?" Tokito said loudly, scowling at his friend. "Why wouldn't I come home? I live here, don't I? Where would I go?"
He raised himself up. "I belong here! With Kubo-chan!"
His friend bowed his head, his expression unreadable. And smiled.