A/N: Inspired by some conversations I had about Naoya and his many lives. This isn't part of my Best Laid Plans series (in fact, it directly contradicts the events of Everything on a Silver Platter), but I'm using the names from it just because I'm more comfortable writing with those names than I am the manga name. So for reference, our protagonist is Keiichi Kimura, while his parents are Kenta and Mizuki.
They talked about him like he was an object. To them, he was just an inconvenience, something that got in the way of their nice, content life. The hospital bills, the physical therapy, transferring schools, everything about Naoya inconvenienced them. They didn't need to justify themselves in conversations by saying that there was "no other choice"; he knew the real reason. The older relatives just didn't like him. It was easier to drop him off on the doorstep of an uncle he'd never met.
Fine. He didn't want to live with them anyways. Those old bastards could play around with numbers and money and go back to their easy life if they wanted to. He'd just have to show them just how much he cared about their comfortable lives.
He stared absently out the window as the car passed through the suburban Tokyo neighborhood. This place looked boring compared to where he'd lived before. It was the kind of neighborhood old grannies lived in, so there probably weren't any other kids. Not that he could hope for too many friends to begin with, with his looks and his personality.
"We're here, Naoya-kun."
The car pulled into a driveway and came to a stop. Naoya stepped out and pulled his backpack out with him. The house was as boringly suburban as the rest of the neighborhood, only one story and a garage that didn't look like it'd been used all that much. The nameplate by the front gate read "Kimura". Naoya followed the man in the suit to the front door of the house and the man in the suit knocked on the door. An adult woman answered the door, blinking in slight confusion at the man in the suit. Clinging to her leg was a small, blue-haired toddler.
"Ah, you're—So that makes you…" She looked down at Naoya and held her hand out to him. Naoya loosely shook it. "You must be Naoya-kun! I'm your aunt, Mizuki. And this is…" She nudged the toddler forward. He couldn't have been more than four years old. "Keiichi. Say hello, Keiichi!"
"'ello," the child said. He quickly scurried behind Mizuki's leg after introducing himself.
"He's always like that. So shy…"
Naoya looked down at the child. This was his cousin? He was expecting someone older, someone without that glint of innocence in his wide, blue eyes. And yet, something about Keiichi felt familiar. It couldn't have just been the family resemblance. No, it was something in those innocent eyes. Something that was drawing him in… drowning him…
Where was he? This place was… it wasn't right, it was…
His heart thumped hard against his ribcage. He felt weird. He needed to sit down.
"Naoya-kun? Are you alright?"
There were voices in the fog. He looked up and smiled the smile he'd practiced over these past few weeks. "I'm fine. Let's go inside, Aunt Mizuki." He followed her through the doorway and the fogginess faded from around him, bringing him back to the house. His legs felt weak as he walked in, and he collapsed onto a cushion by the table.
"Are you sure you're okay?"
He nodded. "I'm just tired… I'll be fine." Was "tired" even the right word? He wasn't sure. It felt more like his entire body was rebelling against him.
His aunt completely ignored him. "Well, you did have a long car ride to get here, right? So it's understandable that you're tired." She quickly switched gears, saying, "We're thinking of putting you in Keiichi's room. It's the only one that has any room in it right now. We can set your computer up in there too, but it's your responsibility to make sure he doesn't mess it up."
"I understand," Naoya said.
His aunt laughed. "You don't need to be so formal with me, you know! After all, we'll be living together from now on."
Naoya smiled weakly. "Okay." For the millionth time that day, he wished he could be back home.
Life in his uncle's household wasn't much different from life at his old home, but there was a certain emptiness to it. It lacked the privacy he'd had in his old house, since he was sharing a bedroom with a toddler, and he didn't have the same intimacy with his uncle and aunt that he'd had with his parents.
Unlike before, when his mother had at least stayed at home most of the time, both his aunt and uncle worked during the week, which often left Naoya in charge of watching over Keiichi. He quickly learned how to change a diaper and to take him to a toilet when he needed to go, and he learned which foods Keiichi liked and which ones he wouldn't touch (graham crackers were his favorite, while he couldn't stand the taste of leek). He made sure Keiichi got his naptimes and his playtimes, and he made sure he got to preschool when Naoya's aunt couldn't take him.
At the same time, Naoya found himself taking up hobbies he'd never even considered before. On a whim, he'd picked up seedlings from the market and planted a few. They never grew for long, always withering away for some reason or catching some kind of disease that wiped out the whole crop, but they were fun while they lasted. He'd started looking into programming too, though it was mostly a bunch of gibberish to him.
Every now and then, he'd feel strange emotions, emotions that didn't fit him. He'd know things he was sure he'd never learned, like how to till the soil so that his plants grew better. But he also knew not to plant anything, because God had cursed the soil he touched so that nothing would grow there again. No one needed to tell him these things; the knowledge just came to him.
But the worst was probably the dreams.
The first of them came after he'd been living with his aunt and uncle for a year. It was simple and bizarre. He was in a field he couldn't recognize, screaming at the sky, and everything was withering all around him. Naoya awoke in a cold sweat, his face wet with tears. He didn't know what the dream was or what it was about.
He shook and whimpered in his futon, sobs racking his body. He was terrified, but he didn't know why. He wanted to be held, but didn't want to get up and crawl into his aunt's room either. He was starting to pull the cover closer to him when he felt tiny arms wrap around him from behind.
"Naoya… don't cry…" Keiichi's voice sleepily said.
"Go back to your own bed," Naoya whispered, but Keiichi pressed his forehead against Naoya's back and shook his head.
"Wanna be with you," he mumbled, and Naoya relented. He never fell back asleep and he felt uncomfortable in Keiichi's arms. The feelings that didn't belong to him said that he didn't deserve to be embraced by someone like this, and yet they were glad because of it. At some point before the sun came up that morning, he pulled a sleeping Keiichi away from him and tucked him into his futon. He sat listlessly on the edge of the futon and buried his head in his knees, and sat like that until the birds chirped the first notes of morning.
Another year passed, and Keiichi reached school age. Since the elementary school and the junior high were nearby, Naoya walked Keiichi to school every day and walked him home when school got out. The dreams had begun to get more frequent at this point, but he didn't tell anyone about them. If they heard he had dreams about killing Keiichi, they'd have him hauled away.
One day, as they walked back to the house, Keiichi spoke up.
"Naoya, why aren't you my brother?"
Naoya looked down at Keiichi. "What do you mean?"
"Someone saw me walking with you and thought you were my brother. When I told them you were my cousin they said I was lying." Keiichi lowered his head into the collar of his jacket. "I wish I had a real brother."
A real brother… that was something Naoya couldn't be for Keiichi, as much as he tried. Still, it felt right to suggest this now. "If you'd like, I can be your brother for you. You can call me 'oniisan' if you'd like."
"Oniichan… Niichan…" Keiichi rolled the word over his tongue a couple of times. "Naoya-niichan! Naoya-niichan!"
"There you go!" Naoya laughed. An odd feeling of pride rose in his chest. Was he really that glad to be called "brother"? He'd never had any feelings on the subject before, but somehow he was glad to hear it come out of Keiichi's mouth. He patted the boy on the head again and the two of them started walking back home.
That night at dinner, Naoya couldn't focus. He missed most of the conversation his uncle and aunt had, giving only vague answers when they asked him questions. He didn't have much of an appetite, and it was odd, because he hadn't had much to eat that day either. Everything felt oddly muddled.
"Guess what, guess what? Naoya said we're brothers now! He's my niichan!" Keiichi tossed his arms into the air, along with a good amount of his rice.
I'm Keiichi's brother. His brother? No, cousin. Just his cousin.
"Kei-chan! Don't throw food!"
"Don't 'shhh' me, young man!"
We're cousins, but we're brothers. That makes sense. But why does it make sense?
Naoya picked at his food, never once lifting his chopsticks from the bowl. The thought of eating made him feel sick. The longer he sat here, the sicker he felt.
Why does it matter? It's just a cute nickname. I'm his… his…
He put a hand on his head. There was some kind of noise bouncing around in his head, drowning out the static of Keiichi's laughter and his aunt's speech and his uncle's television programs. He couldn't understand a word of what the background noise said, but the voice was familiar. It was an authorative, masculine, ageless voice, and even though he couldn't understand the words, he felt the intent enough, and for some reason, it made him angry.
Naoya picked up his bowls and stood up. "I'm going to go to bed," he said. "I don't feel well."
"Alright. Sleep well, Naoya-kun!" his aunt said without a hint of concern. Naoya dumped his dishes in the sink before limping away to the bedroom, and he collapsed onto his futon without taking his clothes off.
He woke up, and his body was on fire.
The room was dark and there was no smoke, but Naoya was sure he was burning, the heat radiating from his skin and his brain and his bones. He felt feverish, his thoughts all jumbled. He wanted to scream, but something in his throat had locked up and all he managed was a weak whimper. Sweat stuck to his body like flypaper as he rolled about on his futon. But even with all of the noise he was making, even with how quick his brother always was to comfort him when he had his nightmares, Keiichi wasn't moving. In fact, he seemed quite sound asleep.
Don't you care that your brother's in this kind of pain? Naoya demanded. Of course he didn't care. Selfish Abel, favored Abel, loved Abel. He'd never been abandoned, seen as a nuisance, not like he had. Of course Abel would—
Abel? Who was Abel?
The answer: that boy was Abel. He couldn't remember his brother's name anymore. That name Abel had displaced it. He forced himself to pull up the memory of that boy's name—Keiichi, that's what they called him in this life—and then, "Life? How many lives? How many lives?!"
The answer: approximately one hundred. Ten thousand years by eighty years, give or take for expanded and decreased lifespans in different lives. He'd lived his longest in those early days, when man's hubris had not led God to curse them with the lifespans they had today. He'd lived long lives with him hated by everyone around him, unable to grow the simplest of foods to help sustain him. And then he'd died, and he'd come back as someone new.
How much he hated this curse. How he hated living with all of these memories, all because the Lord wanted to make an example of him. So He'd goaded him into killing innocent, callous Abel, and then He'd punished him for it.
He hated God, and so he was punished.
He started to chuckle and pulled his arms close to him. He understood now. He understood everything now. He only wished it had come sooner. He'd lost so much time this way. He continued laughing, the sound echoing through the small room.
The blankets next to him shifted. The little boy in the futon next to him sat up and rubbed his eyes. "Niichan? Are you okay?"
Naoya turned to face God's favorite child. At the sight of those innocent eyes, he began to laugh even harder.