"Ah, you're still delayed? When do you think you'll be returning? …I see. No, of course not! Everything here is fine. You worry too much sometimes!"

A bit puzzled, hazel eyes darted toward the projection of the voice.

"I understand. I'll see you soon, okay? And stop worrying! I'll be fine!" a sigh and then, "I miss you too. Bye."

When the teen disconnected the call, he peered over at his roommate with a weak smile. "I couldn't tell him the truth, you know."

The owner of the hazel irises frowned. "Then, what are you going to do, Misaki? You know that the upcoming semester isn't going to be cheap, and you just quit your job due to complications."

Misaki sighed, flopping back down onto his bed and stared up at the ancient ceiling. "I know, Toudou, but this is Nii-chan. I've already told you how paranoid he gets, to a point he still treats me as if I'm eight," he paused to reach for the compressed newspaper lying on the floor, "I couldn't possibly ask him for help. Not now; I'll figure it out on my own."

The blond sluggishly observed his friend reading the crumpled ads for what easily could have been the hundredth time today. "Do you really think something else is going to magically appear?" he teased, ducking when the same paper launched toward his direction in the form of a ball. "I'm just saying… if you haven't found anything yet, it's not going to just appear out of nowhere."

"Don't I know it!" He scowled, rolling on his side to glance over at a portrait of his older brother and he. "I just don't want him to know I can't support myself. I got through the semester fine, but he was helping. I told him since the job I've had for a few years was paying off, that I'd be fine with the next semester…"

"Only you didn't count on losing it when they decided to up the price of tuition," Toudou finished grimly.

Misaki chose to respond with taciturnity, his emerald eyes peering over into their narrow kitchen, which he strived to keep organized. "It's getting to a point I might go join a cleaning service… since I seem to be good at that."

"Yuck," his roommate gagged, "I can't imagine going into other people's houses and cleaning them." He paused, his gaze darting over to the brown clock upon the walls. "Speaking of working, I need to get going. I'll ring you if the coffee shop has any openings. I'm always checking for you."

The brunette nodded and swung his legs over his grounded mattress, cringing when his bare feet contacted with the frigid, wooden panels. "That would be great, thanks. I should have applied with them way back, but of course I was too stupid not to."

"You just wanted something different and besides, you had already been with them for a year." Toudou faintly grinned, latching together the cream colored buttons of his jacket. "I'll see you tonight. Maybe we can actually do something since it's the weekend, and, by the grace of the gods, I finally have a Saturday off."

The brunette hummed in response, listening to the door softly close.

Another night down the tubes.



The Devil's Portrait




A few hours after Toudou's departure, Misaki roamed the drizzly streets, the yellow gleam of the street lamp breaking through the evening fog and bathing him in its comforting glow. It was already a bit after seven, yet he had absolutely no desire in producing dinner; not when he was pessimistic about his current troubles. He grimaced, his fingertips skimming the brick corners as he walked by a few of the closed shops. This part of town barely held any suitable dining establishments, and it wasn't as though he was famished. Perhaps he could substitute the nightly meal for his usual rice.

"What the hell am I going to do?" he murmured to no one but his own self. "A few months ago, everything seemed so much easier. All was going well and now I…"

Just about a year ago, he had been accepted into Mitsuhashi University, by the skin of his teeth. His grades were horribly fallacious, and he slid through the university's gap with just a few points behind. His best friend, Toudou Shinnosuke, had gotten in a year before and Misaki felt slightly belittled to know he was starting at nineteen years of age, instead of what the usual requirement was.

Still, he was extremely grateful to at least caper over that hurdle. The first year had been one laborious journey after the next, as the morning professors weren't exactly benevolent. But, Misaki had no choice in the matter, not if he knew he was going to continue his job at the restaurant he had been working for two years now. That was the only place he regarded as a comforting atmosphere. Only, a few weeks ago, they decided to relocate the quaint place further into town.

It wasn't that Misaki couldn't find a way there, but traveling every day when he was barely supporting himself and paying rent on the apartment he shared with his friend; it just seemed futile. And now he was jobless and struggling to find a way to keep up with his tuition. It was a relief to know he had concluded the year and summer break was only a breath away, but preparing sooner than later, was always the best measure.

"Why can't anything ever be easy?" he frowned, passing by the sliding doors of the small, corner market. "Why not?" He shrugged. "There's nothing I really want around here. I'll just pick up some instant ramen and head for home…"

Quitting now was merely the option, especially with how lodged in the corner he had become. The only reason he had undergone the entire procedure, was the obligation for his brother. "Nii-chan rejected the chance to go there to take care of me when our parents died, the least I can do is continue his major at the school he wanted to go to so badly, but…"

Misaki's thoughts were intercepted by a screech a few paces away from him. A woman that appeared to be in her late twenties rushed by; her shoulder-length hair whirling around her in a sea of ginger, ruby lips firmly drawn together. Her disposition practically wafted of dilemma and by the way she was bellowing into the cell phone, it was a prodigious one.

"I'm aware of the situation!" the woman shouted, ignoring the stares all around her. Her free hand was harshly clutching at the handle of her designer pocketbook, her painted nails digging into the leather material. "Look, I'm on my way now and we'll discuss it there; out of his listening range, because you know how ticked off he already is."

The woman scowled, glaring down at her Blackberry with irritated-navy-blue eyes. "What do you mean you already began discussing it? I told you to wait for me, did I not?! I said I had to stop and pick something up and then I would be there… Fine, just sit there and wait until I get there!"

Her heels then roughly clicked against the dirtied floor, her well-dressed form rushing out of the store and back into the darkened streets.

For a few seconds, Misaki stood there blankly staring at where the woman once stood. She seemed so worried, and yet…

"Oh geez," he scowled with a slight blush, "Am I really this bored that I'm trying to figure out a stranger's problem? I need to just get what I came here for and get the hell back home!"

As he was purchasing his ramen and a few other objects he had collected, a vibration emerged from his pocket before the Kan Theme song loudly followed. Misaki coughed; a bit embarrassed he had caused a disturbance within the quiet store. Fumbling through his pocket, he pulled the device forward and recognized the name instantly.

"Toudou? You're done already? It's only…" he paused, peering down at the black numbers of the clock on his screen, "…what? Well, hurry up and tell me!"

End notes: I have absolutely no idea what color hair or eyes Toudou has, so I'm only going by black and white images.

Well, this is going to be rather interesting.