She tastes like green tea.

She clings to him as if he is part of her—as if she is trying to become one with him. He grips her shoulders, afraid that he might break them in his grasp if he holds too tightly. One arm snakes behind his neck and the other around his back, binding him to her.

He forgets everything. He forgets about her brother, or her obsession, or how she always that she hates him. All he realizes is that this woman—his only companion, the only person who could actually stand him—is showing him affection that he would have never imagined from anyone. An adrenaline rush explodes in his mind and he is exhilarated, free-falling, spinning.

He tentatively raises his hand to her head and combs her silky hair. Her head is warm and it shocks him that she is alive, another human being who could think and feel on her own and not a mindless, senseless robot. The realization that another human being was holding him, kissing him, perhaps even loving him gave him the greatest surge of joy.

He is happy with her in his arms. As she kisses him passionately, he is happy that she is happy with him. He wonders if she can taste him smiling between their kiss and the laughter on his tongue and feel his spirited heartbeat against hers.

She breaks away from him, her eyes flashing like the knives he always plays with. He gazes up at her confusedly and almost imploringly, but he utters no sound. She gently pushes away from him, hooking her hair behind her ear before gathering her papers from the coffee table and retreating up the stairs, leaving him shell-shocked on the couch, his heart still reverberating in his chest.

After a moment of recollection, he pushes himself off the couch and returns to his work, a hint of a smile still whispering from his lip.

This is nothing unusual.


He wants to show her how happy she makes him.

Not just when she kisses him, but when she speaks to him, when she walks into the room, when she cooks a meal even when she is angry with him, when she looks at him. He cannot explain why it brightens him so, but it fills him to the brim with joy that is almost uncontainable.

Does she feel the same way too?

He wants to tell her, I've got a confession to make. He wants to finally say, I do love humans, but for once I love one personally. He wants to admit, I don't want you to leave. Forget about Seiji, forget about that jealousy that drives you every day, forget about how you think everyone's love is selfish and impure.

He wonders if she can even tell what his own heart is like, except he himself does not understand it either.

He had originally passed it off as excitement—elation from all the amazing schemes that the humans play out in Ikebukuro. However, he came to realize that even when he stayed in Shinjuku, worked in his office with only her being the only other person he saw for days, he was perpetually happy.

They never mention each other in their conversations. The subject would stray from Celtic legends to his own sisters to the strangest topics that would leave him doubling over with laughter and even evoke a smile from her. But never about them—each other.

For him, it was enough. Before, only Seiji would make her smile, but now he claimed it for his own. He stole it—won it—and it was his to keep.

And then she had kissed him.

He didn't know why and he still does not know, but she had kissed him. He was at his desk, on the phone with one of his clients when she spun his chair toward her, pushed the phone away from his ear, and kissed him.

Just thinking about it now makes his heart jump.

He never asked why and he honestly does not want to. He wants her for himself, to hold forever without fearing of letting go. He wants someone who would not disappoint him.

When she speaks to him, he almost forgets about the Dullahan or Heiwajima Shizuo or Valhalla or even his humans. For once, the world revolves around her and only her, with nothing or no one else to intrude upon it.

Yes, he thinks. Surely—surely this is love.


Her warm hands move across his back in circles, grazing across his spine and massaging the lean muscles. He closes his eyes, lying on his stomach on his cold bed as her hands run from his shoulders to his narrow waist, fingers caressing the smooth, white skin underneath his shirt.

Her touch makes him shudder.

Her fingers lightly sweep across his nape and his muscles grow taut. Her hands wrap around his thin sides and he squirms. Her fingertips just barely reach his stomach and he clutches the sheets underneath him.

What's wrong with you, she asks.

Are you cold?

He says nothing and buries his face into the white comforter. She leans closer to him until he feels her against his back. His shirt is riding up and his limbs are too petrified to pull it back down. She rests her cheek against his sharp shoulder blade, her feathery breath tickling the back of his neck.

But he is an analytical man. He does not unquestioningly accept what comes to him.

What about Seiji, he asks.

Her hands stop moving and he regrets making a sound. He could feel her fingertips pressing down against his back as if she wants to tear off his flesh, but she makes no sudden movement. She lifts her head slightly, her long hair still brushing against his back.

What do you care, she says. And she leaves it at that.

He endures the answer, if it can be considered one, and opens his eyes. He stares at their reflection on the mirror hanging on the wall of his bedroom. The room is dimly lit by the lamp on the nightstand, so the two of them were hazy shadows in a golden backdrop. What he saw was not who they are, as if this is not actually reality but a parallel existence, a world where things that should happen but never take wing take place.

He asks her why she never lets him do the same for her. I'll be gentle, he promises. I wouldn't do anything more than that. Humans are not meat—they live and breathe and feel and love and I want to preserve that. I wouldn't try anything you wouldn't want too soon. I just want you to be happy.

She never responds. And he never asks twice. She never likes it when he repeats himself.

Her hands move lower until they are hooked on his belt. He automatically curls into a ball before she could do anything else, hugging his sides. She stares at him, waiting for him to give her an answer. He warily faces her, his fingers still wrapped around his belt protectively.

Well?

He laughs weakly in spite of himself. I've never done this before, he says.

I figured that. Who else would love you enough?

As sharply tactless as her words are, they soften him. She is the first to love him enough. She is the first to ever hold him, kiss him, even touch the bare skin on his torso. She is his first love—that he is most sure of.

He slowly uncurls and lies flat on his back, letting his arms rest at his sides as if in surrender. Her face is unreadable as she lies next to him. She turns off the lamp and bathes them in blackness. The room and the sheets are icy, but she is warm and he brings her so close that he no longer feels cold.

Between the gasps and the sighs, he almost thinks he hears her say Seiji's name.


Won't you walk with me?

She gives him an incredulous look as he holds out a hand toward her. She raises her eyebrow skeptically as he shrugs on his jacket, watching her expectantly.

Walk where, she demands.

He laughs.

Anywhere, he says.

Everywhere. I don't mind.

She narrows her eyes, her beautiful face drawn with suspicion. Hesitation ties her back, but he is still her boss and she still needs to be paid, so she consents and follows him out into the city.

What are you planning?

Nothing, he says truthfully. I just want to walk with you.

She says nothing and keeps her gaze fixed ahead. He watches her face hungrily, waiting for some sort of reaction. The night life of Shinjuku stuns him, the colorful lights dancing on the streets. It rains onto her face, bathing her in downy hues that he craves to just stop and stare.

He nudges his pinkie against hers and she nearly jumps, her hand jerking. He hesitates before slowly linking his fingers around hers as if they were bound by a promise. She makes no reaction as he squeezes her limp fingers.

How are you feeling?

She glances at him suspiciously. Why do you care?

He frowns quizzically. Why not?

She says nothing once again—always keeping her thoughts locked away. He passes it as just tiredness, perhaps—it is already ten in the evening and the streets are crowded with late-night couples and teenagers drinking in their moments of freedom.

What are we doing? she asks.

Nothing, he says. And he enjoys it. No planning, no scheming, no selling information to who knows what, just pure nothing.

And for once, he does not care about his fear of dying.

She bows her head, her hair curtaining her thin face. He absentmindedly brushes her hair behind her shoulders so that she cannot hide from him. She shoots him a glare and he grins.

Is something the matter?

She shrugs. He tightens his grip on her fingers and her hand twitches.

Are you happy?

She continues as if she never heard him and he reluctantly does not repeat himself. He wonders if she is angry with him after that night. But here she is, walking side by side with her hand in his, even afterward. Of course she is happy. And he is happy. This is love, the very same that he sees walking down the sidewalk with their palms pressed together and a red string binding their fingers, the love that he would prod and tease and watch it squirm in his humans.

He pecks her on the cheek—a shy, sweet kiss. Her shoulders hunch slightly and she turns her gaze across the street where the taxis honk their impatient horns and the motorcyclists rev their engines. He cannot see her face so he does not know what she is thinking, but even if she faced him he doubts that she could tell. They were each other's greatest mystery, an enigma they cannot escape and are constantly dying to solve.

He is an observant man. He notices exactly when she slips her hand away from his.


His mother and father were the best lovers in the world.

They had taught him what love was. Whenever he was a child and looked upon his parents, he admired how they always held hands and pecked each other on the cheek. They would dance in the living room while he secretly watched from the small crack of his bedroom door. They loved each other when they hopped on an airplane and disappeared for weeks while he stayed home waiting.

When I grow up, he remembered announcing, I want a wife like Mother and to be a husband like Father.

And they laughed and pinched him on the cheek like good parents, patting him on the head before clinging to each other, so engrossed in one another that there was no room for anyone else.

He remembers how they used to take so long saying good night to each other that he would tuck himself into bed without saying a single word to them.

They talked to each other for hours in the quiet nighttime that he could hear them through the thin walls of the apartment and he wouldn't be able to sleep.

This was how they taught him love.

Love was the empty rooms that echoed when no one else was home except him.

Love was the hollow goodbyes he recited when his parents went on business trip after business trip after anniversary trip.

Love was the crackling answering machine when he tried to call their cell phones and they never picked up.

Love was the strange emptiness that he felt whenever his mother addressed him by his father's name.

Love was the distant couple from afar that he could spy on and never touch, never affect, never intrude upon.

(And yet where did the deep, breathless kisses come from?

What place did the endless nights of pounding hearts and warm hands raining down his entire body fall into?

How could he understand the silence that fell in between them?)


I saw your brother today.

He feels her hesitate when she is running her hands through his hair. He stares past her face, seeing nothing but the brightly lit skeleton of the city outside the wide glass windows. She is leaning against his desk, nearly knocking his computer askew, but he doesn't care. He's happy, he tells himself. He's happy that she's here again, happy that he sees her one more day, that she has not left him yet.

Oh?

She knows that he has ulterior motives to mentioning this. They were both puzzles, but at the same time they knew more about each other than anyone else.

He's still with that doll, he says casually even as she is piercing his neck with her lips.

Tch, is her only reply. They hold a conversation as if they were merely talking over hotpot, something that she still refuses to do with him.

He waits for a moment, wondering if anything would ever mar the idol she set up in her mind. He seems happy, he says. Very happy with her.

Her grip on his arms tightened, her nails digging into his bones. He breathes in her kisses, letting the warmth drown his lungs. Even though it was unusual, he kept his eyes open the whole time, accepting them without blinded agreement.

Can't you be that happy with me?

He does not say it, but he thinks it. Wills it, hoping that she knew him enough to know what he wanted her to hear. If she did, she did not react. She only traces his jaw line with her pink lips and caresses his face with her blind fingers.

Do you still love him?

The guiltily curious words slip from his lips before hers could stop them. She pauses and draws back, her steely eyes drilling into his red ones. The grip on his arms becomes mechanic, almost like an iron bent and frozen around his arm. He stares back at her yearning for any answer, but dying for the one he wanted to hear.

She tells him nothing and continues to claim him. However, her kisses no longer taste like green tea anymore and her hands no longer embrace him gently. Her hands hurt him and her lips scrape his skin, leaving invisible abrasions on his heart. The more she reached to him, the farther away he felt, littered with cuts and bruises from a dagger he knew he could never call his own.

He was an inquisitive man. He wondered why she never looked at him in the face when she loved him, why she never let him hold his hands or give her a gentle kiss even in their privacy.

But isn't he still happy? She is still with him; she still does not leave.

Isn't this what love is?


He waits.

Midnight dawns upon him; even the city is falling asleep, the lights flickering feebly and its voice of traffic dying into a whisper. He drinks endless cups of green tea as if that could take the place of her kisses. He tastes the bitterness and the reluctance in his cup and his heart jolts fearfully.

She has been gone for a week.

She disappeared without a trace, like snow melting away overnight. He tried to call her phone, her company, her home, even the doll with the stranger's face, but no one could tell her where she was. For once, the information broker who pulled the strings and planned everything is without a clue.

Seiji has been missing as well.

He leans against the glass window that spans across the wall, watching the lights blink and change colors. He sees a straggler or two roaming the streets as the city is slowly bidding goodnight and his heart jumps when he sees a veil of black hair, only to realize it is not her and whoever it was is passing the apartment entrance.

How long will he stay up, hoping?

He smiles in spite of himself as he pours another cup of green tea that would keep him awake and alert for empty hours.

He wonders if he is deceiving himself for expecting her to come back.

Somehow he always knew in the back of his mind that she still devoted herself to Seiji, the holiest of holies, the diamond of her unrequited love. She is the wind that flew past any obstacle toward an unreachable, unfathomable goal while he is the fool who chases her.

Didn't she feel happy in the least bit with him?

He rests his head on the back of the couch, staring at the ceiling fan lazily revolve above his head, hypnotizing him.

She must have been happy, he mused. She too must have been trying to fill that void inside of her that her brother refused to enter. He is her glue, her plug that she could take out anytime she wants. And she is his, the stabilizer, the medicine that he wants more and more of.

(and like all drugs, she is slowly killing him)

But he is only her crutch, and once she is healed she can run away, go after her unreciprocated adoration that was the opposite direction of him.

He wants to stop waiting. To stop thinking, to stop expecting things that he of all people should know would not happen. From his lofty tower he had seen how love immediately soured into hatred or is used as a tool for concealed desires. He knows how it drives people to self-hatred, to thoughtless euphoria, to resentment and regrets and grudges.

But love was something that he could spy on but never touch, never affect, never intrude upon. He never knew what any of that meant before.

He is about to go upstairs and retire to his bed when the doorbell rings.

He knows who it is—who else would call at this time and not break down the door yet?—but he hesitates to open it. He pours the rest of his tea into the drain and nearly vomits out what he has already drunk, but he forces himself to open the door.

And like a battered soldier or perhaps a haunting memory, she stands at the door. Her every-sharp eyes refuse to look at him and a dark shadow is cast over her face. Her shiny hair is mussed and her clothes clumsily pulled onto her body. Her small, delicate hands are balled into fists and her pink lips pursed.

Look at me, he thinks, but does not urge. Is she ashamed? Or does she not want to shatter her daydream that when she kisses him and touches him she pretends he is Seiji?

He wordlessly steps to the side to let her in when neither of them utters a single sound. When she steps into the light, he realizes that the shadows he had seen on her face and neck are not imaginary, and her eyes are not glazed from the light. At first he is enraged, torn, and indignant, but soon all of that just drains away and he feels empty inside.

She steps onto the smooth wood floor of his living room, not even bothering to kick off her shoes. He closes and locks the door; for once, he has no comment to make, no words to say, nothing to hide behind. He turns toward her, wanting an explanation even though he needs none.

Well? she finally breaks the silence. She sounds as broken as she looks.

Are you going to screw me or not?

The words pierce him like a dagger but he feels nothing. She finally lifts her eyes to his and for the first time in a long time—looks at him. They tell old tales of past shed tears that she would rather die than show him.

He stands still, unsure whether to demand her to leave or to desperately search for her heart again. Though others think of him as a monster or a devil, he is a simple man. He wants and loves and breaks just like anyone else.

He slowly makes his way toward her until they are so close that her breath brushes his neck. He cannot tell what thoughts fly behind her eyes and he knows she will never let him find out. Her heart is not his to take, no matter how much he wants it.

Would it make you happy, he asks.

No, but she needs it. This much he already knows. She wants a safety net that she could plummet into when everything just becomes too much and she wants to scale the skyscraper and let herself lose balance. She needs it to feel less lonely, to trick herself into thinking that someone in this wide, vast world would care for her enough that she doesn't need to chase someone who would never love her back.

Everyone has a use.

He rests his head on her shoulder and holds her tight, trying to convince himself that he can pretend that she is his and it would make no difference.

(and you bring me to my knees, again)


When he wakes, he is freezing.

He is curled into a ball on his side, his thin arms hugging his bare torso. When he comes to, he does not open his eyes, but without even moving he knows that he is the only one on the bed. She is always gone by the time he rouses; she never stays long enough to fall asleep in his arms.

Love, he remembers, is waking up and saying good morning.

He forces himself to open his eyes even when he does not want to face the truth. The room is a dull blue-gray—it is barely dawn. He is shivering underneath the comforter even though the blankets are warm and the heater turned on.

He slowly rolls onto his back, his arms lying uselessly at his side. He stares at the blank ceiling, wondering just how easy it is to bury himself and never see daylight. The ceiling is pressing against him, crushing his ribs and squelching his lungs until he cannot breathe. His heart bursts from the weight and blood explodes inside of him, leaking and dripping from his fingertips until he is completely drained.

But all that he is doing is lying on the bed. The minutes still change on his digital alarm clock. The sun is still barely rising behind the clouds. The world does not stop to let him catch a breath.

He always wakes up alone, and for once all he wants is just another person beside him. No need for kisses or smooth hands or human desires underneath the sheets—just a warmth beside him that would not leave for another.

He feels soiled, covered in blood and mud –broken, shattered, crushed into powder—and yet nothing, as if he does not exist.

Would it make a difference if he was never anything?

He closes his eyes and tries to forget. Something pounds heavily inside of him and he realizes that his heart is threatening to shatter his ribs, rip out of his chest and die. He never once knew how heavy it rested against his lungs and constricted his breathing until now.

I don't care, he thinks to himself.

It doesn't matter to me if she doesn't love me.

Aren't my humans enough for me?

It's all right to me if she doesn't care.

He takes in a deep breath of warm air, but he is still shivering.

He is no different from anyone else anymore. He lives and loved and it fell through, but surely he would be stronger. He could take beatings and stabs and gunshot wounds. He could be thrown across the city or be crushed by a ton and he would still jump back onto his feet.

So what the hell is wrong with me now, he thinks.

Can't I just move on and pretend nothing ever happened?

He opens his eyes again but he cannot see.

…I guess I can't, can I, he realizes.

I'm as weak as everyone else.

Floodgates shatter and he watch himself drown.

What is love?

He lies alone, empty, and very cold.

This is nothing unusual.