All characters © Amano Akira
Summary: Ken remembers how it was before.
Chikusa had been a bright boy, brighter than most people attributed him for. You could tell from his slanted eyes, milky skin and coal-black hair that he was an Italian-born Japanese, like many of the younger generations of the Estraneo. He was a boy who found enjoyment in simple things like puzzles, gadgets, sweets, and showers. His vitality took many forms; from the way his fingers would dance with strings and wires down to his never ending spate of energy and the way he would laugh in the rain as it cleaned his skin. He was charismatic, inventive, always thinking of new possibilities.
He had also been Joshima Ken's only friend.
Ken hadn't met him until one day, when their family had gathered all of the boys and girls their age to inform them that they'd be going to school to receive mafia training. It was a special school, they said. Some of the children were excited. The more perspicacious looked around skeptically.
He had first spoken to Chikusa at their "school," after one of the "classes;" this one involving twenty children running around in a pen as the orderlies fired strangely-shaped guns at them. A boy had died. Chikusa raged to anyone that listened that this violated human rights, that this wasn't justice and that they should fight back in any way they could. He wanted to see the governors and the humanities police and anyone else who could put a stop to this. After a while, 'anyone that listened' just happened to be a sandy-haired boy named Ken.
Ken shared the boy's strong sense of ethics so he agreed, but he also didn't want to get Them angry. They had pulled two of his teeth out today.
So Chikusa did just what he planned. He bit the orderlies. He kicked chairs over. One time he had even tried to pee on the doctor with the stitched face. He cursed them and their mothers and suggested they engage in sexual congress with various farm animals. It was funny for a while, and Ken found he could smile, even though most of his teeth were gone by that point.
During the late nights when the whispers of dawn were still long from being heard, Chikusa would call out to him in the dark, and Ken would answer. There was a boy here, apparently, who had been given a special eye. A quiet boy. Someone who fell under the radar due to his extreme placidity and lack of resistance; a good child. Chikusa was interested in him because he felt like the boy was waiting for something.
"Maybe he'll get us out of here," Chikusa offered. Ken doubted it, but he felt grateful that even in a place like this that stank of yellow malignity and salty cries, someone could give him hope. Him, with his throbbing gums and dentures that would shun any women he wished to kiss later on in life. He reached a small hand out, tentatively, and Chikusa grabbed it firmly. It was warm and filled with the lovely pulsing fire of future dreams.
Since they were all still technically family, the doctors refrained from identifying the children by number. It was the least they could do and was merely a plastic sense of comfort, a last effort to play human by those that only seemed to take the shapes of them nowadays. Last names were given, first names rarely. Ken knew his friend as Kakimoto, but in the early days of the experimentation his mouth was too sore to pronounce much and he ended up referring to everybody as "him," "her," or "you." It was Chikusa himself who suggested Ken call him Kakipi. The nickname was easier to say with an aching mouth, yet it didn't deviate too far from his original surname.
A pity the scientists and orderlies didn't abide by it. Rowdy, they called him. A contumacious, disobedient brat. A yammering four-eyed parrot that they had no use for. Ken saw their disapproval and sometimes had to hold Chikusa back in his antics, afraid that he would surely be killed if he went too far. But Chikusa continued to cause as much chaos as he could. He threw what little food they were given back at the cooks, the doctors, splattering their clothes. The other boys and girls had even laughed one time when he tripped one of the scientists and the man fell flat on his face like a spread-eagled marionette.
One day Chikusa hadn't been there anymore. Ken heard that they had taken him away to "teach him some obedience."
Ken had felt sadness before; he had been separated from his mother, his father, a warm bed. His own family had imprisoned him, and the scientists did strange things to his mouth that hurt terribly. But he was even sadder that day. A throbbing pain deeper than the one in his gums poisoned his chest and his mind, turning it blue and shades of gray. He cried for the whole night until the moon bled into the faded gradient of the daylight sky, convinced that the only friend he'd made here had surely been killed. His battered mouth said a name over and over again, hoping that just once the quiet would be broken with its answer.
In the morning, he found out that Chikusa hadn't been disposed of at all. It was something worse. Ken realized at once when they brought him in that he had lost his best friend.
Kakimoto Chikusa might as well have died, for he ceased to exist after that night. He was lobotomized at age nine.
"Wha?" Ken whips his head around, though the act is a pointless one. There are no lights in Kokuyo Land, and as the nights turn there are only sounds and smells to guide him.
"You were dreaming."
"Eh? I was?" Ken sits up on his couch, feeling more than seeing the shape of Chikusa on the other one, where they sleep.
"Yeah," Chikusa says. "You were muttering, or something. It woke me up."
Ken yawns. "Whoops. Sorry, Kakipi, go back to sleep."
Chikusa had been right about the boy after all.
Another Italian-born Japanese, his name was Rokudo Mukuro and he unleashed a tirade unlike none other. Taller than average for his age, thin as a whipcord, and more dangerous than anyone could imagine. Ken had heard that they hadn't even used anesthetics when they removed his eye, and that they'd done it with a scalpel. He wasn't sure if the scalpel bit was true, but it wasn't hard to believe that it had been highly unpleasant.
Unlike Chikusa, this boy with the messy cowlick had waited quietly as they deemed him docile, pleasant, and even allowed him a weapon for experimental purposes. Ken began to watch this boy because he had been of Chikusa's interest, and nothing more. As time passed, gradually, Rokudo Mukuro captured Ken's as well.
Chikusa hadn't even been able to unwind the bandages yet when this all happened. Ken had not been allowed to see him until that day, when their cell doors had been shattered and they allowed to wander the corridors like puffs of ghostweed on water...
Ken marked that day as one of the greatest ones in his life; even better than that one Christmas when he was four and his father had gotten him a new Hulk action figure. He didn't need that toy anymore seeing as his own personal version of the Incredible Hulk was standing before him, taking the shape of a pale boy with mismatched eyes. For the rest of his life Ken would remember that date and year, the one glorious holiday where a child had singlehandedly slaughtered his entire family. Mukuro had been crying as he did it, Ken remembered. Then he had proceeded to laugh for hours.
Rokudo Mukuro had long since noticed their interest in him and didn't seem in the least bit surprised by it, almost as if he had expected such a thing. He asked Ken if they would like to come with him. Ken was more than eager to abscond and he had already planned on taking Kakipi with him, partially because he wanted to see just who was it he was really bringing along. He hadn't yet witnessed the operation's aftermath, nor did he care at that moment in time.
"Come on, Kakipi, let's go to the vending machine. We're out of choco-bits."
Ken's halfway out the door with a few paper yen crammed into his pocket, but Chikusa merely looks stonily up at him from the couch. His fingers are entwined in yo-yo string. "Must I?"
Ken blows his breath out in an explosive sigh, but to Chikusa it sounds more like a groan. "It's good for you," he answers. "If it wasn't for me you'd never get out of the house. Now let's go."
With a single shrug, Chikusa unwinds the string from his fingers and puts on his coat.
They had fled to their other home, Japan. It had taken some time and numerous illegal efforts, but in the end three grimy, bloodstained minors were able to smuggle themselves into the outskirts of Tokyo. Ken still couldn't believe how they had done it, though he had a theory that Mukuro had used his strange eye on whoever happened to question them, somehow, since no one really seemed to take notice of them. It was as if they weren't even there.
It was then, once they were somewhat settled and clinging to one another for support, that Ken discovered he had to make an effort to reach Chikusa. Kakipi just...wasn't the same.
He would sit in his room all day, hardly doing anything, staring phlegmatically out of the warped glass of his window. Like a cat that's been neutered and has lost its spunk to wander, Ken thought. Fortunately because it was a prefrontal lobotomy performed by the mafia and not by qualified surgeons, it didn't seem to come with all of the alleged side effects; Chikusa didn't need to be re-taught how to write or use the bathroom. He didn't bloat like a beached fish. His motor functions and intelligence remained unaffected. But the operation had fulfilled its intention. Chikusa's eyes, once a jocund hue of blue-gray, had become milky marbles in which dust had fallen and gathered.
When asked a question, Chikusa could deliver a perfect response. He knew who he was, where he was, and he suffered from no apparent amnesia. From time to time he did exhibit emotions, but they were dulled to the point of being almost robotic. He had turned into a paper boy, a logy conglomerate not of organs and tissues but of a bland material like styrofoam. Or cellophane. An unnatural calmness had settled in, more similar than Ken would have liked to admit to the kind of serenity that most people saw in shock-trauma victims. It didn't matter that Kakipi was in the next room over. Ken missed him.
Even Mukuro seemed a little perturbed by Chikusa's utter vapidity, and that was saying something giving Mukuro was a child near impervious to disturbing things. However, he was also one who only intervened when necessary, and it immediately became visible to him that Ken planned to tackle this on his own. So he said nothing.
Chikusa closes the front door and gives his friend a look of disdain. "You didn't have to yell at the delivery boy."
"But he forgot the frigging anchovies," Ken replies loudly, his tongue rolling out in annoyance. The scar slashed across the bridge of his nose bunches up as he wrinkles his nose. "I hate it when people can't do their jobs."
"Honestly, Ken," Chikusa sighs, taking a slice of pizza out from the box, "If you calmed down a little maybe we could even stick with one restaurant."
Ken bristles, but on the inside he is smiling. "Was that sarcasm?"
Joshima Ken had never been taught proper etiquette and knew nothing of restraint, but those who associate with him today would blink in astonishment if they were told that he had been a mild-mannered boy.
In fact, the Ken of today bears a strong resemblance to the Chikusa of seven years ago.
He realized soon after coming to Japan that the only way to reach post-lobotomized Chikusa was to go wild. In every sense possible. Perhaps doing so would stir those quiescent emotions inside and spew them forth in a Pompeii of sentiments. Sometimes, on the good days, he could catch a glimpse of his friend, but those moments were much too seldom. With extreme antics, he could maybe get the old Kakipi back to say hello. Even if it was just for a little while.
So Ken did just what he planned. It was easier than expected. There was already a template of anger to mold, a bitter and acerbic rage at the mafia for doing terrible things to him; to everyone. To Kakipi. They had taken a bright boy, perhaps a brilliant one, a boy who could have been great, and had destroyed his future.
At first even Ken was appalled at his own behavior. He yelled at Chikusa. He yelled all the time. He threw things across the room and refused to shower. He bought plastic water guns from the department store, pointed them at Chikusa, and told him to run because they were filled with special bullets. At times he would act like an animal, biting things, scratching himself in public, drooling over Chikusa and his things, and chewing the other's clothes with his new teeth, among other things. As it became a routine, Ken was actually okay with acting like a barbarian, if it was for Chikusa. Any endeavor that might educe a reaction was necessary.
Rokudo Mukuro watched everything silently, right eye pinwheeling in knowing amusement, and if one looked close enough into that shiny red iris, they might have seen just a tincture of respect.
Ken won't admit it aloud, but he's rather proud of what he's done. Chikusa will leave the house voluntarily now; there are times when it has been he himself who suggests they go somewhere. He expresses wants, needs, and occasional surprise. He will smile at something ludicrous and even scold Ken for his antics. Ken doesn't mind.
To anyone else who passes by it seems as though they are arguing all the time. It's always the same rigmarole: Ken's flailing and shouting, Chikusa's quiet but blunt rebuttal. Mukuro's chuckle. Sawada Tsunayoshi is terrified of them all and has many a time dreamed of Ken turning into a wolf inside his clothes.
As usual, the Vongola don't understand anything, blinded by the dim-witted smoggy veils of the mafia. They aren't arguing, not really. It's been a routine for years, as quotidian as using the latrine and something so natural that it's become a way of living. He only knows how to disagree with Chikusa—anything to constantly provoke a response, and Ken's adopted a leonine temper after years of effort. It's helping, he thinks.
But Ken still waits for that day, hopes for that day, when Chikusa will look up at him, smile, and say "Hi, Ken," with all of the ebullience he once had.
He waits for the time when Chikusa finally loses his temper with him. In private, he sometimes confides to Mukuro that he can see the real Kakipi, struggling to get out. And Mukuro smiles, because his eyes lay rest on more than just the six paths behind them. He sees it too, or so he tells Ken, but personally he's not so sure.
Maybe one day Chikusa will run into the rain again, laughing. And Ken will follow, allowing himself the luxury of a long-deserved shower. Chikusa is the one reaching through the bars this time, and it is Ken's job, it has always been Ken's job, to grab the hand and pull him out of his own mind. The time will come.
"What were you dreaming about last night, Ken?"
"Why, was I doing weird shit in my sleep?"
Chikusa shakes his head slowly and the flaps on his hat swing back and forth. "No, you were smiling."
After seventeen years, Ken hasn't given up.
He's still waiting.