A few days later, things are almost back to normal. Nothing new has happened since that morning in bed, or at least nothing that Nikaido will admit to. If he feels even the slightest cold spot, Nikaido has taken to squeezing his eyes shut and chanting to himself that there is no ghost because he can see those and they don't touch him, until he's one hundred percent sure that it's nothing. Whether because of sheer force of will or because anything haunting the apartment is just sick of hearing him say that phrase over and over, Nikaido doesn't know and doesn't care.
Yokoo is less composed.
"Are you sure?" Yokoo asks for the twenty-fifth time. Nikaido doesn't even bother answering. "I'm calling my brother to cancel."
"You are not," Nikaido says. "It's their anniversary and you promised to baby-sit weeks ago. When was the last time you even saw your niece?"
"I don't want you here alone," is Yokoo's answer to that. His concern is sort of sweet, in a way that makes Nikaido want to wring Yokoo's neck.
"That's tough meatbuns, because I live here," he says, as calmly as he can manage. Throwing a tantrum will not help his case. "Anyway, I'm going over to Kento's in a while, so just chill out, would you? I'm supposed to be the panicky one, in case you forgot."
Yokoo heaves a sigh but stops arguing, finally. It's the kind of fight that Nikaido hates most, the kind where they aren't exactly fighting and nobody's actually wrong, and he gets up while Yokoo is hunting around for his keys to hug him goodbye just a little more tightly than necessary.
"Sorry," Yokoo murmurs, face pressed against the top of Nikaido's head. It's good to hear, since Nikaido certainly wasn't going to say it. "Mail me when you get to Ken-chan's place, all right?"
"Yeah, okay," Nikaido agrees easily. While Yokoo's fretting works under Nikaido's skin sometimes, it does make Nikaido feel good that he's something worth fretting over, to Yokoo. "Tell them next time I'll come help babysit," he adds, trying to lighten the mood. "Then they won't ask you again."
Yokoo laughs, then kisses Nikaido goodbye and says he's off.
"Come back safely," Nikaido says, sighing quietly when the door clicks shut behind Yokoo. He hears the clunk of Yokoo re-locking the door, and then testing the handle.
Nikaido lazes around for a while longer, taking his time checking his mails and taking a long shower before getting dressed. There's no rush to get to Senga's since he's spending the night, and it's nice not to be rushed on his off day. In the end it's his stomach growling that gets him moving, and he plans to grab something from the corner combini on the way to the train station.
He's outside the door and halfway to the elevator, when something catches his eye to the left. It's the door to the apartment next door to theirs; there's a set of keys dangling from the lock, and the door is slightly ajar. Nikaido pauses, almost just leaving it, but then he thinks about what Yokoo would do to him if he left his keys in the door like that, and decides to take pity on his neighbor.
The key is on an idol keychain, Nikaido notes with amusement as he pulls it free from the door, one of those cheap things you get from a gatcha machine in an unofficial shop. The back side of the plastic is covered with purikura stickers, the faces faded from being touched, but Nikaido can make out the figures of three girls giving cheerful peace signs.
"Hello?" Nikaido calls into the apartment. He nudges the door open just a little more with his foot. "Excuse me, but you left your keys in the door."
No one answers, and Nikaido hesitates for another couple seconds before deciding to go in and make sure that nobody's collapsed on the living room floor or anything dramatic like that. He doesn't want to bother taking his shoes off, so he leans in from the genkan as far as he can, looking straight through to the kitchen, and then off to the right into the living room, but he still doesn't see anybody.
"Is anyone home?" he tries again. There are some some pictures hung on the wall nearby, and Nikaido recognizes Sato Kiku in several of them. She looks so much happier in the pictures, her smile bright and her hair swept back from her face. There's no scar on her face either, Nikaido notices. It must have been a recent accident.
Still getting no answer and satisfied it's not some sort of medical emergency, Nikaido backs out of the apartment and pulls the door firmly shut. He debates leaving things as he found them, but it doesn't seem safe and he'll feel terrible if the Satos get robbed or something. He locks the door and takes the key with him downstairs. Not wanting to lock anybody out, Nikaido uses the key to open the Satos' mailbox and puts it inside. Although he can't relock the mailbox that way, he figures nobody will know the difference if he pushes the little door shut. If the key's still there when he comes home, he'll call the landlord.
Stomach appeased with combini onigiri, Nikaido starts a mail to Yokoo on his way into the station to explain what he did in case the neighbors question Yokoo instead of him about their key and locked door. He's barely paying attention to where he's going, moving from habit to the right platform, and so ends up bumping right into a knot of girls at the bottom of the stairs.
"Oh, sorry!" Nikaido fumbles with his phone, nearly dropping it. "My fault..." He trails off as he notices the familiar dark blue blazers all three girls are wearing. "Hey, my neighbor wears that same uniform, she must go to school with you. Do you know a Sato Kiku?"
All three girls exchange nervous glances. One girl mumbles something about the vending machine and scuttles off, further down the platform. The second girl smooths her expression back to neutral, but the third still looks nervous as she lurks at her friend's shoulder. Her arm is in a sling, Nikaido notices, the dark blue fabric of it blending in with her uniform.
"We know her," the neutral girl says. "She was our classmate, but then she was in a car accident."
"The scar on her face?" Nikaido asks. The two girls nod. "I see. You said she was your classmate? Did she get held back while she was recovering or something?"
The girl opens her mouth to answer, but the announcement that the train is arriving blares over her words so that Nikaido can't hear what she says. Before he can ask her to repeat herself, there's a commotion behind him, and he's just turning to look when one of the girls screams.
The third girl is teetering on the edge of the train platform, the heels of her shoes at the very edge of the concrete. Her eyes are wide and panicked, her arms flailing for balance so that the few bystanders brave enough to try grabbing for her can't get a grip. Her foot slips off the edge of the platform just as the train rushes into the station, and then everything is the screech of brakes and the screams of the girls, echoing in Nikaido's head so that he can't even think.
The two school girls dash towards the accident, but Nikaido backs up, one step, then two, until he's back at the stairs leading down to the platform. When people start to leave to go back upstairs to switch to other train lines, Nikaido lets them sweep him along. He feels dazed, light-headed, and once upstairs he goes back outside and finds himself in the backseat of a taxi without remembering exactly how he got there.
"Just a station or two over will get you past the stopped train," the driver says, glancing between his navigation system and the alerts on his phone. "Another suicide, I bet. What a mess."
Nikaido feels nauseous even thinking about going into another station and onto a train right now. He wills himself not to be sick in the back of the cab and gives the driver Senga's address instead. Whatever the ridiculous cost of this fare is going to be, Nikaido is hardly in a state to care.
When he gets to Senga's apartment building, Senga buzzes him in without any questions, so it's not until he's opening his door for Nikaido to come inside that he gets a good look at him, still pale as a sheet and skin clammy with nervous sweat.
"What took you so--" Senga cuts off, brown eyes concerned. "Nika, what happened? Are you okay? Are you hurt?!" Senga hustles him into the apartment, and Nikaido notices with surprise, or as much surprise as he can feel in his state, that Kitayama is sitting on Senga's couch, hands halted over his laptop's keyboard.
"I'm not hurt," Nikaido manages, dropping heavily into the seat next to Kitayama. Senga turns to get a glass of water from his kitchen, and Nikaido finally starts to calm down a little with Kitayama's shoulder warm against his. He looks over, a little bit of curiosity working its way through everything else. "What are you doing here?"
Kitayama shrugs. "Somebody had to figure out what was going on, since you keep insisting it's nothing, it's nothing."
"Making a big deal about it makes it worse," Nikaido murmurs, uncomfortable.
"Sticking your head in the sand doesn't solve anything," Kitayama retorts. He turns the laptop slightly to the side so that Nikaido can see more easily, although it's wasted because Nikaido doesn't have his glasses on and can only squint at the glare. "Turns out your building had a suicide last year."
"That's what happened at the train station," Nikaido blurts out without meaning to. Kitayama blinks at him, and Senga comes back just then, chewing on his bottom lip unhappily.
"A suicide?" he asks. He hands Nikaido the glass of water, and Nikaido takes a sip gratefully.
"A schoolgirl fell in front of the train." Nikaido has to set the glass on the coffee table because his hands aren't steady enough to hold onto it without spilling it all over himself. "I was talking to her friends one minute, and the next..."
"She fell?" Senga asks when Nikaido trails off. "So it wasn't a suicide?"
"And what were you talking to schoolgirls for?" Kitayama asks with a raised eyebrow.
"Because they were wearing the same uniform as my neighbor," Nikaido explains, although Senga and Kitayama's faces say that he isn't explaining anything, really. "I keep running into her in the elevator and stuff, but she has this scar, and then today she left her key in her door, and there was no one in the apartment to give it back to...anyway, I was just curious if they were classmates of hers. Her name's--"
"Sato," Kitayama interrupts. "Sato Kiku."
Nikaido's jaw dangles for a second before he can get any words out. "How do you know that?"
Kitayama slides the laptop the whole way onto Nikaido's lap, and Nikaido swallows hard, because the picture in the middle of the article about the suicide in his building, is a picture of Sato Kiku, the same picture that Nikaido had seen in her apartment. There's something unsettling about how cheerful she looks in the middle of an article about suicide, adding to Nikaido's sense of unreality.
"That's...impossible..." Nikaido says weakly. His stomach rolls, and he's afraid he's going to be sick.
"It says she was depressed after a car accident left her disfigured," Kitayama says. "Her parents thought it would be better when she went back to school, but it sounds like she couldn't fit back in after being out for so long."
"I'm telling you, it's impossible!" Nikaido snaps, shoving the laptop back into Kitayama's hands. He doesn't want to see it, doesn't want to hear anymore. "I've talked to her! She talked back to me, there's no way she could be...it doesn't work like that!"
"She threw herself down the elevator shaft," Kitayama continues, voice firm like he can make Nikaido face it by sheer force of will. He shudders. "No wonder it was so cold in that thing."
"The hallway isn't heated!" Nikaido shouts, voice shrill. "I'm telling you, I was in her apartment this afternoon!"
"Nika, you couldn't have been." Senga is leaning in to read off of the laptop's screen. "It says her parents couldn't be reached to comment because they moved out of Tokyo just after the suicide."
"I'm telling you, I was in there!" Nikaido leaps to his feet, nearly sending both Senga and the laptop toppling to the ground. His heart is pounding so loudly in his ears that he can barely even hear himself shouting. "There's no way she's dead! I don't want to hear anymore!" Senga and Kitayama exchange a glance, both of their faces tight with worry, and suddenly rage washes through Nikaido, a welcome change from the fear and anxiety he's been feeling for weeks now. "I'm not crazy, dammit! Take me back over there right now, and I'll prove it!"
"Nika, no!" Senga gasps, horrified.
"Let's do it," Kitayama says, standing up as well. Senga's jaw drops, and he stares up at Kitayama with an expression full of betrayal. "I'll drive. Kento, stop looking at me like that. It's not like there's any other way to resolve this, since avoiding it sure hasn't worked." Kitayama gives Nikaido a narrow look, and Nikaido glares right back. "Unless you have a better plan?"
"It's not safe!" Senga protests. "He said that girl died on the train platform, that she fell! How do you just do that? What if it was her, that girl?"
"It doesn't work like that," Nikaido insists, already heading for his shoes at the door. "You two don't know what you're talking about. This is all some crazy mistake."
Nikaido stews in the front passenger seat of Kitayama's car the entire way back to his apartment, repeating over and over to himself that they're definitely wrong and his neighbor for sure exists. Anxious to get it all over with, he can't stop tapping his feet or fidgeting with his hands. The moment the car is parked, Nikaido all but bolts from it, jogging up to the door with the key out. He hears Senga call his name behind him, but Nikaido only slows to get his key in the front lock, his hand shaking too much to do it quickly.
Inside, Nikaido opens the neighbors' mailbox and finds the house key exactly where he left it. Slamming the little door shut again, Nikaido skids around the corner and slaps the button for the elevator.
"Would you hold on a second!" Kitayama is hollering at him, he and Senga coming up from behind. They're almost caught up to him when door to the elevator opens. Nikaido steps inside, then somehow the doors slide shut quickly enough to cut him off from Senga and Kitayama. "Press open door, you asshole!" Kitayama's yell is muffled by the heavy door.
Whirling around, Nikaido reaches over and jabs at the button, but nothing happens except that the lights flicker.
It's nothing, Nikaido tells himself, it's nothing, it's nothing. The elevator starts to move, and Nikaido looks over to see the button for his floor is already lit up. The skin on the back of his neck prickles, like somebody's watching him, but he can see in the vague reflection of the metal doors that there's nothing behind him. Nikaido concentrates on taking deep, even breaths and looking straight ahead. It's so cold Nikaido feels like he ought to be able to see his breath
Just after the fourth floor, the lights go out completely.
"Stop that!" Nikaido shouts, maybe a little hysterically, every hair on his body standing on end. The elevator dings that it's reached the 5th floor and the lights flick back on like nothing happened. Just before they doors slide open, Nikaido catches a glimpse of a second face reflected vaguely by the metal, every bit as pale as his own.
He should wait for Senga and Kitayama, but when Nikaido looks to the right, he sees that the door to the Satos' apartment is slightly ajar, just like earlier. Looking down at the key in his hand, Nikaido sets his jaw and strides forward, determined to prove that he is not crazy, and that Sato Kiku still lives here. He grabs for the door handle, and throws open the door as wide as he can.
Inside, the apartment is totally bare. There is no furniture and no pictures. The only thing that mars the layer of dust on the bare wood floor is the print of Nikaido's own sneakers, going up to the edge of the genkan and then back again.
The same fury that filled Nikaido earlier in Senga's apartment wells up in him again, and he stomps the whole way into the center of the apartment, leaving another set of footprints in the dust and not even noticing when the door slams behind him.
"What do you want?!" he yells at nothing, looking from bare wall to bare wall. "Where are you?!"
Arms slide around Nikaido's waist from behind, and a soft body presses against his back. Nikaido stiffens like ice water's been poured over his head, and his stomach heaves with how it feels like the way Yokoo hugs him from behind except it's all wrong, terribly wrong.
"You came to see me," a soft voice whispers right in Nikaido's ear, like rustling leaves. Kiku sounds so pleased, and Nikaido swallows hard against his stomach trying to crawl into his throat. He wants desperately to tell her to let go, but Nikaido can't make any sound come out of this mouth, throat closed up with panic.
Somehow the bare room melts away in front of his eyes, and Nikaido blinks in the suddenly sunlight of a high school hallway. Students brush by him, males and females both in familiar dark blue blazers, but they don't seem to notice him. Kiku's arms are still firm around him, holding him in place.
Down the hallway a few meters, a small group of girls is leaning against the windowsills, gossiping together, tossing their hair when certain boys walk by in their own groups. Nikaido recognizes a few of them as the girls from the train platform.
"They said they were my friends," Kiku murmurs in Nikaido's ear, grip digging into his stomach. Her voice is tight with anger. "But they forgot all about me. They never came to visit me. But that's okay." Kiku giggles. "I went to visit them instead."
"Please," Nikaido manages. "Please let go of me."
Kiku ignores him. Just then another Kiku comes out of the classroom door, head down and hair in her face, and brushes past Nikaido as she hurries by. Although Nikaido isn't walking or moving, somehow they follow her anyway, to the staircase at the end of the hall. On the landing halfway down, in between floors, a tall boy is leaning into a girl with her back pressed against the wall. His hair is just a little too long to be neat, uniform just rumpled enough, and Nikaido doesn't have to be any closer to hear to know the kinds of things he's whispering to that girl in between kisses.
"He used to bring me to this stairwell," Kiku hisses, and she isn't giggling now. He can feel the sharp edges of her fingernails through his shirt. "He told me he liked me, and I let him kiss me. I let him touch me. He said he liked me."
The other Kiku is trembling with the same anger, ugly hurt all over her face as she stomps down the stairs. When the other girl notices Kiku approaching, sees her expression, she gasps, drawing the boy's attention over his shoulder, but all he does is give her a dismissive glance before turning away. He only gives Kiku his full attention when the other girl wriggles out of his grip and escapes down the stairs, face pink. Even then, it's only to call Kiku a couple cruel names.
Now that Nikaido can see the boy's features clearly, he realizes with unease that the boy's face bears more than a passing resemblance to his own.
The boy turns to leave, and Kiku's hand shoots out to grab his forearm. He tries to yank it free, but she hangs on grimly. They tussle for a few seconds before he he can break her grip, but he's too close to the edge of the stairs, and the momentum of throwing his weight backwards takes him right down them, head hitting the sharp edge of a step with a sickening crack before he lands in a limp heap at the bottom, limbs all at wrong angles.
Kiku stares down in horror for two or three seconds, and then turns to bolt back the way she came, letting her hair swing over her face to hide her tears.
"I ran home," Kiku says, and Nikaido closes his eyes, wanting nothing more than for her voice to stop, "but my parents weren't home. They were always at work, they always left me alone. No brothers or sisters, no friends, no boyfriends, always alone. Better off dead."
"I'm not him," Nikaido pleads. "Please let me go."
"You aren't him," Kiku agrees, sounding happy. Her biolar swapping of emotions makes Nikaido's skin crawl. "Nikaido-kun is so much nicer. You always talk nicely to me. You don't make me do things."
"Please," Nikaido all but sobs, squeezing his eyes tightly shut. "I just want to go home!"
"Silly~. You are home."
Nikaido's eyes pop open, and he's back in the empty apartment. He runs for the door as fast as his shaking legs will carry him, and slams it shut behind him. His legs give out and he slides to the ground with his back pressed against it, like he's trying to keep it shut with his weight. When Kitayama and Senga spill out of the stairwell a minute later, gasping for breath, Nikaido is still sitting there, face buried in his hands and hiccuping with little sobs.
"Nika!" Senga shouts, dropping to his knees and throwing his arms around Nikaido. Nikaido clutches at Senga's jacket, pressing desperately against him. Senga is so warm, sweat-damp and alive, and Nikaido irrationally feels that Senga himself can keep Kiku away, just by sheer aliveness.
But when Nikaido looks up, Kiku is sitting in front of his door, cross-legged with her skirt riding up. She winks when she catches Nikaido looking.
"She's still there," Nikaido says dully. His terror has faded to a dull throb of panic every few seconds, like he's just too exhausted to keep feeling it continuously. Kitayama is on the phone, he realizes distantly, telling Yokoo what's happening and probably getting him all worked up, but Nikaido feels like it doesn't even matter. It's not like Yokoo can see Kiku, after all.
"Let's go back," Senga says, still hugging Nikaido tightly. "Let's get out of here."
"It doesn't matter." Nikaido lets his eyes fall shut, not that it blocks out the image of Kiku leaning against his door. His head lies heavily against Senga's shoulder. "Whether I stay here or there for a night or two, what's the difference?"
"Nika, stop it!" Senga gives him a shake. "If that thing is still here..." He trails off with a shudder, then starts trying to heave Nikaido to his feet, telling Kitayama to hurry up and get off the phone to help.
"Where else would she go?" Nikaido asks, more to himself than anybody because he doesn't expect an answer really. He gets one, though, Kiku's soft laughter following them into the stairwell because Senga point-blank refuses to get in the elevator.
"Come back safely," she calls after them.
Once they get him back in the car, it's like Nikaido's batteries have been completely drained, no energy left for anything. He curls up in the backseat and falls asleep almost immediately, and is slow and cranky to wake up when Senga shakes him awake back at his own apartment building, like an oversized toddler.
"It's not like I'm going to make a break for it," he snaps at them when Senga and Kitayama sit on either side of him like guards on Senga's couch. "You don't have to be my freaking bodyguards."
"Quit being such a crank," Kitayama orders, rolling his eyes. "Normally we couldn't pay you to be alone for ten seconds. And we did just run into a ghost-infested building for you, asshole."
"Mitsu," Senga reproaches. Nikaido stretches out between them like he could care less, except to dig his chin into Senga's thigh a little too hard and to kick at Kitayama's thigh 'accidentally.'
He falls back asleep like that, Senga's hand rubbing his shoulder back and forth soothingly. Hours later, he wakes up in the dark, disoriented and groggy and with somebody crawling onto the couch with him. He sucks in a breath to yell.
"Shh, it's me," Yokoo says, and Nikaido deflates like a balloon. Yokoo somehow fits his skinny frame in between Nikaido and the back of the couch, and Nikaido rolls over to throw an arm over Yokoo's waist and bury his face in Yokoo's chest. "Hiromitsu told me everything. What should we do?"
"Dunno." Nikaido lets his eyes fall shut again, holds Yokoo to him that much more tightly. "Sorry."
"Idiot, you didn't do anything." Yokoo heaves a sigh that seems to come from so deep in his chest that Nikaido feels it in his too.
Nikaido thinks about the face of the boy Kiku had pushed down the stairs and thinks that's not exactly true, but he doesn't try to explain.
In the morning when they do go back to the apartment, they can hear from the hallway noises and voices coming from their door, and Nikaido nearly turns right back around.
"Easy, easy," Yokoo soothes, grabbing Nikaido's hand and dragging him forward. The uncarpeted floor is too slick for Nikaido to dig his heels in effectively, and Yokoo gets to the door and throws it open before he can kick up a serious fuss.
Both of them blink at the sight of Tamamori and Tamamori's mother standing in their kitchen.
"Don't just stare, come in here and help," Tamamori-san orders. Nikaido and Yokoo obey, Nikaido tugging the door shut behind him when she adds that no wonder they have all sorts of things in here if they stand there with the door hanging open.
"Good morning, Tamamori-san," Yokoo greets properly, elbowing Nikaido so that he does the same. "How did you get in?"
"Taisuke-kun leant me your spare key. You boys look terrible," Tamamori-san tsks. "Yuta told me everything. Here." She puts a bowl of water and a cloth into Yokoo's hands. "It's salt water, to purify spirits. Wipe down your doorway. Twice, so you don't miss anything. You know that entrance is in the northeast corner of your apartment, right? You might as well have a doorway straight to hell."
"Mom, seriously," Tamamori grumbles, his own superstition only apparently stretching so far. His eyes keep darting over to the state Nikaido and Yokoo are in, though.
"Don't 'Mom' me, young man," Tamamori-san says crisply. "Don't think we aren't going right over to your apartment after this, I don't need any more panicky phone calls at one in the morning."
"No way, you might scare off the tengu that cleans my bathroom," Tamamori retorts, thumbing over his shoulder. Nikaido looks over to see Miyata standing on a chair, tying a glass wind chime up at their living room window, the other window already hung with one. Miyata taps his nose and winks at Nikaido, making him and Tamamori both snort.
Nikaido's attention is drawn back to the kitchen when Tamamori-san takes one of his hands and drops several bundles of cinnamon sticks in it. They're so fresh that their scent stings Nikaido's nose.
"When Yokoo-kun is done with the salt water, put one of these over each doorway." Tamamori-san gives the front door another sideways glance. "Maybe two on that one. Do you have anything from that girl? Something that could draw her in here?"
"No, of course n--wait," Nikaido corrects himself. He reaches in to dig around in the front pocket of his bag and pulls out the house key from the day before. The idol keychain still dangles from it cheerfully, and Nikaido thinks he's going to get the chills every time he sees that guy now, geez. He hopes they never meet on a music program.
"Uh-huh. Come with me." Tamamori-san turns Nikaido by the shoulders and marches him out the door, Yokoo squeezing against the wall to let them by. Nikaido gives him a baleful look, but Yokoo doesn't even try to get in Tamamori-san's way.
She marches right up to the door next door, Nikaido trailing reluctantly behind, and looks it over critically.
"Put it back exactly as you found it," she instructs. Nikaido gives her a pleading look, but she just folds her arms and stares back until Nikaido shuffles forward to fit the key back in the lock, keychain twirling a little where it dangles. Tamamori-san bows to the door, claps twice, and bows again. "Please stay in your own apartment, Sato-san. It's rude to go into others' homes without being invited."
"Is that going to work?" Nikaido asks fretfully as Tamamori-san turns to go back like it's all been settled.
"What did you try, ignoring it?" Tamamori-san asks with a raised eyebrow. Nikaido glances back at the other door over his shoulder.
The key is gone.
The last thing Tamamori's mother does before they leave is to hang a wreath of fresh rosemary on the inside of the door.
"It has to be fresh," she instructs, mostly to Yokoo since she's more than familiar enough with which of them is more dependable. "When the needles start to drop off of it, you'll have to make a new one."
"Thank you," Yokoo says, even as he wrinkles his nose at the idea of dried rosemary needles all over his floor, no matter how good they smell. "Thanks you for all your help."
Her last words of wisdom are that it wouldn't hurt to christen the place all over again.
"You know, just to make it feel like home properly," she says with a wink, before she pulls the door shut firmly. They can still hear Tamamori and Miyata laughing at them through the door, Nikaido's cheeks burning when Yokoo looks at him with a raised eyebrow.
"I mean how well can it work when it can't even keep those assholes out?!" Nikaido demands, and Yokoo laughs so hard that he has to brace his hands on his knees to keep from toppling over.
"Come on," he says when he can breathe again, grabbing one of Nikaido's hands and pulling him along towards their bedroom. He shushes Nikaido when Nikaido starts to protest. "It's fine, even if you don't want to fool around. I just want to be in my own bed for a few hours until we have to leave for work."
Nikaido lets Yokoo shove both of their jeans off and then push him down onto his back. Despite his claims of pure intention, Nikaido isn't surprised at all when Yokoo crawls onto the bed and over top of him, his weight settling onto Nikaido's as he leans in for a kiss. Yokoo takes the most comfort from touch, after all, and Nikaido can't say he's much different after all.
"Okay?" Yokoo murmurs against Nikaido's mouth a few minutes later. Nikaido mumbles agreement, feeling safer than he's felt in days with Yokoo's warmth and weight pressing him down into the mattress. Yokoo is slow and careful, almost slower than he ever was their first time, and it's finally Nikaido who demands that Yokoo just touch him already before he fucking does it himself.
Yokoo reaches in between them to palm both of them at the same time, and Nikaido forgets about everything except for arching into Yokoo's touch, Yokoo's mouth against his neck, the muscles of Yokoo's back under his fingers.
Afterwards Yokoo pulls the blankets over both of them, trapping their bodyheat and sprawled half over Nikaido. Nikaido guesses that Tamamori-san must know what she's talking about after all before he dozes off with his face buried in the curve of Yokoo's neck.
A week later, things are about as normal as they ever get. Their butai is opening in a few days, and Nikaido is so busy with dress rehearsal and costuming and tech runs that he barely even sees the apartment more than a few hours a night, if that. Yokoo has still been refusing to let Nikaido out of his sight, not that there are that many hours in a day when they could possibly be in different places anyway, but this morning Nikaido ran to the combini for breakfast all by himself and the world didn't end, so maybe they're making progress.
"Be grosser," Senga says when Yokoo settles on the mats to watch casually while Senga and Nikaido spend part of an afternoon break running through one of their pair scenes.
"Jealous much?" Nikaido asks. Senga sticks his tongue out. Nikaido makes a show of looking over Senga's shoulder. "Ghost choreographer-san says your hiprolls suck."
Senga's eyes widen, and he checks over his shoulder, but when he looks back, Nikaido is laughing. "Shut the fuck up," he says, punching Nikaido in the arm. Nikaido just laughs harder. After what he's been through, even the guy in the bathroom doesn't seem that scary any more. Yesterday when he started up with those scales, Nikaido snapped that he was sharp, and that was the end of that.
"There you are," Fujigaya says, sticking his head in the room. "I'm supposed to tell you that we're done for the day."
"What?" Senga and Nikaido stop scuffling, blinking at Fujigaya. "It's not even five yet. What happened?"
Fujigaya rolls his eyes hugely. "Kitayama's solo blew out the soundboard again."
"I told him it was just too hot." Yokoo shakes his head sadly. "We can't have fangirls spontaneously combusting."
"I told you, stop encouraging him!" Fujigaya slaps at Yokoo's shoulder. "It's a software glitch! They're going to have to run a bunch of updates and reset the whole thing, so there's no point in us hanging around for hours and hours. Ne, Wataru, come out to eat with me? It'll be ages until we have another day we can do it when normal people do."
"Taisuke," Yokoo starts, but Nikaido interrupts.
"He's going." Nikaido stares Yokoo down when Yokoo tries to give him the eye. "Kenpi and I are practicing anyway, and you two haven't been out in ages. You don't have to worry so much, okay? It's fine."
"Please?" Fujigaya begs, making his eyes big and sad. Yokoo sighs and says fine, fine.
"Text me when you're leaving here," Yokoo tells Nikaido, in his voice that means no argument is acceptable. "Text me if you stop to get food. Text me if you do anything besides breathe."
"Got it," Nikaido agrees, doing his best to look serious and dependable. Senga and Fujigaya make gagging noises at them, but Nikaido doesn't care. They don't see the shit he sees, and they haven't been through what he and Yokoo have.
"Honestly, I'm starting to wonder who the crybaby here is, exactly," Fujigaya says as he pushes Yokoo out the door with him. Yokoo just tells him to shut his face.
It's another hour before he and Senga are satisfied with their parts, and they take their time showering and changing into street clothes since there's no rush to let the staff lock up, for once. Senga suggests ramen, and Nikaido's growling stomach answers for him, making both of them laugh. Nikaido dutifully texts Yokoo when they're on the way to the place, when they get to the place, when they order their food, and even sends a picture of his ramen when it arrives.
"He's really being serious about that?" Senga asks. Nikaido shrugs.
"If I do exactly what he says, he'll get sick of it sooner, right?" Nikaido points out with a wink. His phone chimes, and Nikaido looks down to see he's got a message in return. "Says he's heading home now. Maybe the restaurant kicked him out for eating all their food."
Senga nearly chokes on his ramen laughing, and Nikaido laughs too, self-satisfied. His own ramen is delicious, warming both his stomach and his soul, and Nikaido is entirely satisfied with life when they finally tug their coats back on and head out. Senga offers to walk Nikaido the whole way to his door like a gentleman, and Nikaido tells him cheerfully to go fuck himself.
His good mood lasts until he gets out of the elevator and sees the shredded mess of the rosemary wreath lying in front of his and Yokoo's door, needles scattered all over the floor. Ramen turning to a rock in his stomach and adrenaline making his his skin prickle with cold, Nikaido runs for the door and jams his key into the lock as quickly as his fumbling fingers will make it work.
Yokoo is sprawled out in the middle of the living room floor on his back, Kiku sitting on his stomach, pushing his shoulders down against the floor as she looms over him.
"Watta!" Nikaido yells, making both of them turn their heads towards him. Watta's eyes are so wide that Nikaido can see white nearly the whole way around his irises.
"Welcome back, Nikaido-kun," Kiku says. Her smile is sharp and her scar stands out, livid against her paper-white skin. "You locked me out. You didn't come to see me anymore."
"It's her, right?" Yokoo asks, voice thin like he can't get enough air. He still must not be able to see her, and Nikaido shudders at the thought of invisible hands grabbing at him and throwing him to the ground.
"Get away from him," he orders Kiku. It feels like he's moving through molasses, his limbs heavy with fear, but Nikaido still manages to take one step forward, then another. "Don't touch him!"
"All because of this guy," Kiku says, voice full of disgust. "You want him instead of me. You said you liked me!"
"I did not!" Nikaido shouts, rage momentarily overpowering the fear and pushing him foward, but he stops cold when Kiku puts her fingernails on Yokoo's chest and Yokoo gasps raggedly.
"If I get rid of him, you'll like me again," she insists. She presses down with her fingertips, and Yokoo cries out in pain.
"LEAVE HIM ALONE!" Nikaido roars, charging the last few steps to slam his shoulder into Kiku. He wasn't even sure it would work, but Kiku is knocked off of Yokoo and into the coffee table. Yokoo curls up on his side, coughing, clutching at his chest.
"Out," Yokoo gasps, "get out, get out."
"Shut up," Nikaido growls, yanking up Yokoo's shirt to see scratches already oozing blood. There are handprints around Yokoo's wrists too, he notices, red skin already mottling with bruises. He looks over his shoulder to find Kiku, but she's gone. "Get out of our house!" he bellows. "Get OUT!"
All the breath whooshes out of his lungs when something grabs his ankle with iron fingers and yanks, so that Nikaido's legs slip out from under him and his back hits the floor hard. He makes a wild grab for Yokoo's hand and misses by a mile as the force holding him drags him across the floor so fast everything is a blur, towards their front door. The back of his head cracks on the step down into the genkan and Nikaido yells a curse, stars bursting behind his eyes and sudden dizzyness making everything roll.
Even disoriented, Nikaido figures out where he's headed as soon as he gets dragged through their doorway and sees the door to the next apartment down wide open. Desperate, he grabs at the only thing nearby and manages to grab the edge of the umbrella holder. He hurls it forward with all his strength, wincing as it clangs across the floor, but the hand holding his ankle abruptly lets go and he slides to a stop.
Nikaido struggles to sit up, ass and shoulders burning from being dragged, head spinning. He reaches up to touch the back of his head, wincing as he feels the warm, slick blood already matting down his hair. There's a sudden burst of noise from the alarm that makes Nikaido's ears ring; Yokoo must have hit the panic button on their door intercom.
Through the haze of panic and noise, Nikaido pushes down the way his instincts are screaming at him to flee, because Yokoo's still in the apartment and Nikaido is not leaving him alone with Kiku. He struggles to his feet, gritting his teeth against a wave of nausea. He tries to go back towards his own door, but it's like trying to run after spinning around with his head on a bat, and he only manages to stagger a few steps to the side. He stumbles into the edge of the elevator bank, and stands there panting a moment, shoulder against the metal.
"Takashi!" Yokoo calls, voice hoarse, and Nikaido looks up to see Yokoo in the doorway. Little spots of blood are dotting his shirt, but he seems all right otherwise, if shaky. He's staring at the floor in horror, and Nikaido notices dully the streak of blood that leads across the floor to him, from his head wound.
"Don't come out here," Nikaido begs. "I don't know where she is!"
"I'm right here, Nikaido-kun," Kiku says in his ear, and those arms wrap around his waist again, cold and strong as iron. "I won't leave you. We're going to be together forever."
"Don't back up!" Yokoo yells, voice more panicked than Nikaido's ever heard it before. "The elevator's right behind you!"
He must not have heard it because of the alarm wailing, but Nikaido feels a draft across his back and realizes that the elevator doors must have opened. Nikaido freezes, afraid to struggle because he isn't sure which way he'll tip, the room still spinning crazily.
Yokoo is running towards him, and Nikaido thinks about the girl on the train platform, arms windmilling, trying to grab anybody within reach. He can feel his weight tipping backwards just as Yokoo grabs his hands and yanks forward, hard enough that Nikaido should go sprawling on his face, but Kiku's weight against his back is so heavy, so much heavier than a high school girl's weight should be, holding him in place.
"Takashi, please," Yokoo says desperately, tugging so hard his feet slip forward on the floor, towards the elevator shaft.
"Leave him alone," Nikaido whispers to Kiku.
"I only want you, Nikaido-kun," she says, sounding so happy, like she's hugging a favorite toy.
Nikaido looks into Yokoo's panicked eyes and gives him the most reassuring smile he can. "It'll be okay, Watta. This time I'll take care of you."
"NO!" Yokoo roars, but it's already too late, Nikaido letting his hands slip out of Yokoo's, closing his eyes as he tumbles backwards into the dark, open mouth of the elevator shaft.
Fujigaya sits on Yokoo's couch, looking him over with a deep frown. Yokoo keeps his eyes fixed squarely on the television, even though he barely remembers what they're watching.
"Seriously, Wataru," Fujigaya starts.
"I'm fine," Yokoo cuts him off, because he's heard it all before, a hundred times. "Thank you for bringing me dinner. You should stop worrying."
"How can I stop?" Fujigaya demands. "Forget coming back to work, when was the last time you even left the apartment?"
Yokoo shrugs, noncommittal. There's no reason to, really. His washing machine is in here. His mother or brothers visit and bring groceries, the others mail him or bring him food sometimes. If they want to see him, they know where he is.
"You're not fine," Fujigaya insists, but it's quieter, more resigned. "We miss Nika too, you know. You're not the only one!"
"I know that," Yokoo agrees. It's not the same, but it's not worth fighting about either. Fujigaya starts to cry, whether the tears are sad or angry or frustrated, Yokoo doesn't know. He lets Fujigaya hug him and cry himself out, but Yokoo doesn't cry with him.
Eventually Fujigaya gets up to leave, and Yokoo thanks him again for visiting.
"It'll be a while until I can come again," Fujigaya says, slinging his bag over his shoulder. It doesn't surprise Yokoo; it's been weeks since he saw Miyata or Kitayama, and even Senga seems to have given up on him. Tamamori has refused to set foot in Yokoo's apartment since the accident. "We're starting up work again. I'm going to have a drama in the spring."
That makes Yokoo smile a little. "Congratulations. I'll definitely watch it."
"Please come back?" Fujigaya asks, trying one more time. "Please just come and see everyone?"
"I'll try," Yokoo says. It's what he always says, and they both know he won't. The door shuts behind Fujigaya with a soft click, and Yokoo sighs quietly in relief. He flips off the television and sets the remote on the coffee table, then leans back and closes his eyes, listening carefully into the silence of the apartment.
"Are you here?" he asks. There's a slight pressure against his shoulder, something that might be fingers brushing his uncut hair back from his jaw. Yokoo smiles.
At night, when Yokoo is curled up on his side of the bed, Nikaido crawls down from the end of the bed, where he usually sits, and settles against Yokoo's back, one arm tight over Yokoo's waist, rising and falling with his even breath.
"I'm right here," he tells Yokoo, squeezing him as tightly as he can. Under his arm, Yokoo's breath hitches. "I won't leave you. We're going to be together forever."