Notes: In today's episode of 'I'm destroying all the canon you know and love', let's deal with duel spirits—and how in this version of Neo Domino, they're weird (… at least, at the moment).

This chapter was obnoxiously difficult to write, so I apologize if it's as messy as I feel like it is?


The office he's given temporarily has the lingering smell of coffee and the long lasting stench of sickness, accented terrifically with ugly yellowing walls and a computer so out of date for Neo Domino City that it has a screen. It's a cramped room with a tiny desk and three metal folding chairs for Johan and potential visitors, plus a single lackluster tableau of a bushel of flowers hanging on the wall, gloomy and grey even in painted reds. The only positive thing Johan can think to say of the room is that it has a window—a window, but not a nice view, because there's something about Neo Domino City that doesn't sit well with Johan, that makes him innately uncomfortable and anxious to leave the city's boundaries.

It is, however, out of the question for him to leave now, as the plaque on the door neatly announces the office of JOHAN ANDERSON—SENIOR SPIRITUAL CONSULTANT. It's an office that he thinks he's qualified for, sure, but it's not one he plans on keeping for too long, because there's only so much of hospitals and wards and Neo Domino that he can take. It's too different from his usual lifestyle, being here—so different, in fact, that sometimes he finds himself realizing all too suddenly where he is, what he's doing, as though he's waking from a trance, waking up into the middle of his life. But Johan does his best to ignore the epiphanies, does his best to adopt to Neo Domino's lifestyle, and works his hardest to help the patients for whom he's consulted, if only because it brings him his daily bread.

It's all just really weird, almost unnatural. Where he is now doesn't feel like Japan at all—or at least not the Japan that he knows and remembers. It's probably just his warped version of the archipelago playing with his judgment—after all, who thinks of sea salt and shrimp and big brown eyes when they think of Japan? Who thinks of an island with endless sunshine and laughter and stupid seventeen-year-old sleepovers? The common vision of Japan isn't one so innocent or nostalgic—Zero Reverse's scars still haven't cleared away, after all, and left in the devastation's wake is a broken city with shattered values and stupid systems.

The tall, grey building calls itself the Center for the Spiritually Unstable and towers in the center of the city, two blocks from the Arcadia Movement but miles away in terms of citizen support. The mental institution is more-or-less a dumping ground for people that society deems strange; in Neo Domino City, people who can see spirits are rare or weird and unwanted, and spiritual "problems"—the likes of which Johan's been dealing with all his life—are just too confusing or too time consuming to be dealt with.

That's why they called Johan, spelled his name wrong on the "refurnished" office door, and offered to pay his rent.

Johan's not sure if he's more in it for the money, for the field of work, or for—he sighs, glances at his idle phone—something else entirely.

But he's here.

His fingers drum idly on the keyboard as he reads his notes and rain begins to fall and he's here.

Presently he sets down the papers and his hand moves to the cup of hot chocolate on his desk; his eyes take the opportunity to look to the boy in the chair facing his desk. Leo's been surprisingly quiet for the time Johan's been typing away at his computer; there's a look about the boy that suggests that the cloud that's enveloped his life has taken more than his sister and his good humor. Johan scowls. There's no reason why a little boy like him should look so sad—no good reason, except for the little girl Johan saw earlier today that doesn't deserve her current fate, either. The spiritual troubles that Johan usually encounters aren't ever so drastic, so scary; usually, the subjects can't even see Ruby, and if they can't see other's spirits, they aren't as bad as it's made it out to be—really, with the exception of cases like Luna, Johan thinks seeing spirits isn't bad at all. It's nice, to have these powers, to see these spirits, because they're like imaginary friends that are all too real and all too loving and they're always there when you need them. For this reason particularly the situation of Luna and Leo guilts him and scares him like no other—this reason, and the reason that the files he's accessed about the twins have listed no parents, no guardians, no family.

And Johan's been there. He's done that.

And if living through it's not enough, he's seen it, too; seen it too many times, still can't wrap his head around the number of people that act so ridiculously stupid. Leo and Luna aren't over ten years old—what the hell could such small souls have done to deserve solitude? He eyes the kid in front of him and shakes himself and strives to finish typing his damn reports as quickly as possible, newly determined to help their case, freshly annoyed at himself for taking his patient notes by hand.

The other adults think him odd for preferring pen and pencil, but Johan can't help his preferences; computers may be faster, more advanced, but they make him feel like he isn't doing anything himself, because he needs to do something with his own two hands. It's a personal choice he tends to regret when it comes time to type his notes – something he has to do immediately, and something he's doing right now. Somehow he feels like he's betraying Leo by choosing the paperwork over the paper doll the kid seems to have become.

Leo doesn't even have the capacity to occupy himself. He's staring at his hands, at his feet, at the ugly grey floor, and he doesn't fiddle around or sigh or ask questions or anything, just sits there in quiet and it's unnerving to watch him. Ruby sees the boy's discomfort and, saddened, appears on Johan's desk, looks at him for counsel, and at his nod leaps to the boy and rests her head in his lap, comforting, calm; and though Leo can't see her and has no idea that she's there, he's stimulated, an invisible button on his being pressed that shakes him, and he looks up, catches Johan just as the man returns his gaze to his never ending paperwork.

"Um," speaks Leo, and his voice is weak, "Mister Andersen…"

"Johan," the adult corrects without looking at him.

"Ahh… Johan-oniisan—"

"No, no, just Johan. It's okay, Leo."

"Right… okay, well, um, Johan." Leo hesitates, bites his lip, stares nervously down at his feet again before he can summon his courage again. "You… you said that you could help Luna, right?"

"…Right," says Johan carefully.

"Then…" begins Leo, and he takes a deep breath, looks up, his eyes wide, tearful, "Then why are we here?"

And there it is, right there, that look and that voice and Johan feels like absolute crap because he's done it again, he's promised something and he's going to fulfill it, but it'll take time, time that he's not sure the people that are depending on him have.

"I'm sorry, Leo," he apologizes, with what he hopes is warmth, "I know I told you I'd get you to Luna as fast as I could, but I have to settle a few things before they'll allow me to."

The warmth is lost on Leo, whose eyes freeze at the words so quickly that Johan, feeling antagonized by someone so young, finds it difficult to keep the stare—but he does. Leo's heart can't even sink anymore, he's so used to this—so used to people giving him a chance and some hope and then quietly telling him that the hope isn't his to have.

"Oh," says Leo steadily, "so… you're just like all the other grown-ups?" As he speaks, he looks as though he'll cry, and when Johan opens his mouth to respond, Leo looks away and, yeah, there they are, the tears begin to flow, fat and wet along his cheek. Johan curses under his breath—he's not bad at handling children, per se, but he knows that with Leo it's going to be a lot harder to calm him down, a lot harder for Johan to explain himself. Because Leo's not the one in the coma, not the one lost in a dream in a hospital bed. He's the one walking to school alone every day, waiting in a smelly hospital room for something to be different, just waiting, waiting, and feeling absolutely useless.

But there's nothing new to tell him, Johan knows, because he saw Luna and Ruby saw Luna and there was no helping her—not like this. Johan doesn't have spiritual powers. He never did. All he has is their sight.

It was partially a lie, he thinks. What he did to Leo. Smiled at him. Implied that he would be able to see his sister today.

See, Johan's not allowed to do any of that unless he can get a response from Luna. A single twitch, toss, or turn. And that's something Johan's incapable of doing.

But he knows someone who is capable.

Pick up your phone.

He grits his teeth.

"I will get you to her, I promise," Johan says. He doesn't think Leo believes him.

"But not today?"

"I'm sorry."

"I think I'll go home," says the boy, and he stands up and marches to the door, and it's late, almost nine'o'clock. Johan wonders if he should offer to walk him, or if Leo has someone else downstairs to take him, or if he has anyone to do anything, really. Ruby appears beside her brother, makes soft sounds and looks sad. Leo doesn't turn. He swallows, runs down the hallway and slams the door behind him.

And just as Johan gets up to run after him—


One new message.